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86 four Background of the Major Allied Families C ommunity expansion was essential for the Metoyers of Isle Bre­ velle. While Anglo-Protestant America condoned marriages between cousins, the Roman Catholic church proscribed it to the fourth degree . Yet colonial Louisiana provided no means of legal marriage outside the church, and Catholic culture in the new American regime still expected marriage to take place within that church. As a matter of practice, colonial priests seem to have applied marital proscriptions only to their free, white parishioners. Whether this stemmed from disregard or a sense of impracticality is debatable; but the statistics are not. The relatively few couples of color who were legally wed in colonial Natchitoches, free or enslaved, were spiritually united with no apparent effort to discern whether they were biologically related and, if so, how closely.1 That laxity continued after the Louisiana Purchase. The diocese of Havana transferred the spiritual welfare of Louisiana to the diocese of Baltimore , which had far too few priests to keep America’s western fringe supplied . Meanwhile, Coincoin’s youngest children and grandchildren came of age and needed spouses. Cane River’s free colored population was expanding ; but many were kin, to one degree or another, by blood (consanguinity ) or marriage (affinity). Tradition holds that, as the Metoyers entered the social and economic mainstream, a visiting priest warned Augustin of the dangers of intra-family intermarriage and that he, for decades thereafter, brought in new youth from elsewhere. Table 1 provides, in broad brushstrokes , the statistical opportunities they could tap within the parish and the state. However, those statistics do not speak to the difficulty of finding exogamous partners who shared their culture and class and were not legally barred by enslavement or laws against miscegenation. 87 background of the major allied families That dilemma was not unique to Cane River. John Hope Franklin, pointing to marital patterns in North Carolina’s Chavis family, quoted a naïve earlier historian who accused that family of inbreeding “to an appalling extent .”2 In context, the situation was neither appalling nor uncommon in any American community where limited population meant a limited choice of mates.3 Among families such as the Metoyers and the Chavises, however, marital options were further constrained by all those issues other than population density. Despite the long-standing view that early black-activist Bayard Rustin called “the sentimental notion of black solidarity,”4 strong lines of social demarcation within black and brown America have been the historical norm. Free status, racial composition, religion, economic expectations , political views, and cultural traditions were all important considerations in choosing a mate. A study of Metoyer marriages of the colonial and antebellum period reveals their challenges, their self-imposed parameters, and their efforts to reconcile one with the other. When Coincoin’s children reached maturity, only Augustin found a bride of appropriate age and temperament among the few free people of color available on Cane River. His brothers chose from the larger number of multiracial slave girls, but only after the family accumulated the funds to purchase the freedom of each bride. None of the brothers took for his wife a girl in bondage. Class consciousness was already a part of their psychological makeup. Table 1. Population Growth of Louisiana’s Free People of Color Year Metoyer Clan Parish State 1785 8* 8 1,175 1810 52 181 7,585 1820 75 415 10,476 1830 183 532 16,710 1840 —** 657 25,502 1850 362 881 17,462 1860 411 959 18,647 *This figure includes only the members of the nuclear family and their destined spouses who were already free. **No accurate tabulation can be made of the clan’s population for 1840 since one page of the enumeration of Isle Brevelle for that year is missing. the forgotten people 88 Throughout the decades that followed, the most obvious criterion employed in the selection of spouses—aside from free status—was color. Blacks were systematically excluded by them in selecting life partners. Again, that was a characteristic of “aristocratic” families of color. As James Hugo Johnston explained in one of the earliest studies of free nonwhites in the Americas: “There were agencies that tended to force many of the mulattoes into a caste apart from the mass of Negro population. When relations of affection existed between the white father and his mulatto children, such fathers were often inclined to consider their offspring not as Negroes but as persons of their blood...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780807155332
Related ISBN
9780807137130
MARC Record
OCLC
857769407
Pages
480
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-31
Language
English
Open Access
No
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