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189 seven Cane River Culture T he economic and religious underpinnings of the community manifested themselves in many aspects of daily life. Large and stately homes graced the larger plantations. Musical training for the youth nurtured an appreciation of the arts. Education—even university study abroad—equipped each new generation for its role as citizens of distinction . All the graces and amusements enjoyed by affluent white neighbors thrived among Coincoin’s offspring, although the social intercourse of the Creoles of color was largely restricted to the confines of their own extended family. The maintenance of law and order was, in their view, their own responsibility . Its enforcement by their leaders kept peace among them and set the standard they observed in society at large. In appearance, the population was striking. “Latin” might be the most appropriate descriptor. Old and treasured photographs reflect attractive faces of mostly a Gallic model. Although complexions varied, many were fair. Blond and light brown hair was not uncommon; and, in more than one case, eyes were said to have been blue. The perplexity of census takers and their consequent errors are easy to understand. Records created by the Anglo physician engaged by the Census Bureau in 1860 make that point. A newcomer to the parish, John W. Thomas attempted to follow instructions to record race as it appeared to him. In doing so, he misidentified at least 4 percent of the population parishwide: at least 76 of its 1,614 families. In twenty-three of those cases, he perceived Cane River’s Creoles of color to be “white.”1 In specific branches of these multiracial families, the various elements of their genetic stock were plainly visible. The portrait of Grandpère Augustin depicts him as pecan colored and solidly built with broad features. His half-brother Nicolas, Coincoin’s eldest son, was said in legal testimony to be a black man “appearing to be a real African.”2 Augustin’s grandnephew the forgotten people 190 Barthélemy LeCour, according to a grandson, was “tall, over six feet, with bronze-colored skin, a long nose, and black hair.” LeCour, reportedly, never had to shave. When his young grandson questioned why this was so, his Native American heritage was explained to the lad.3 In character and personality the people varied just as widely. There was Augustin, long venerated for his wisdom, and his brother François, remembered more than a hundred years after his death as “the strong man.” There was Auguste, the risk-taker, who entered every endeavor on a grand scale. There was Rose, the courtesan, who began life as a slave and launched herself with no assets other than her attractiveness, amassed a sizable estate, then ended her life as a servant—a striking contrast to her cousin Perine, a plain and pragmatic woman who, despite her wealth, lived frugally, shared generously, and is well remembered as her family’s memory-keeper. There was Oscar, the jack-of-all-trades: merchant, tailor, ferryman, schoolteacher, billiard hall operator, and undertaker. But of them all, the strongest personalities were undoubtedly Augustin and François. Affectionately called Grandpère by all his extended family, the oldest Metoyer brother was the acknowledged patriarch of the clan. After the death of Metoyer and Coincoin, Augustin became the family head, assuming responsibility for the welfare of all “his people.” His word was law, his judgment respected, his person honored. Regardless of how hotly a dispute was waged by individuals within the community, legend holds, when Augustin the arbiter gave his decision, no one dared question it.4 His reputation for controlling situations and behavior that might reflect negatively upon his community is well supported by existing records. A search of criminal process records for the parish during this period reveals no conviction of a Cane River Creole of color for any infraction of the law. The reverence accorded Grandpère Augustin extended to the smallest incidents of everyday life. A favorite story on the Isle relates the fondness of the elderly Augustin for sitting on his front gallery, rocking in his favorite chair while he watched passersby on the main road in front of his house. The younger members of the family, with all the haste of youth, tended to gallop down that road; but once in sight of Augustin’s house they would rein their horses to a slow trot. Respectfully they approached. Their hats were tipped as they paused to greet him with a “Bonjour, Grandpère...


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