In 1720, thirteen deported French Bohemian (Romani) families disembarked in the floundering Louisiana colony. Anti-Bohemian sentiment combined with a growing French Empire in need of able-bodied and reproductive laborers to dislocate these families from their already precarious lives. Over the next century, as Louisiana increasingly developed along new and more intransigent racialized lines, Bohemians navigated and helped construct this emergent racial order in diverse ways. Despite the formation of an initial Bohemian community in eighteenth-century Louisiana, their descendants were eventually distributed into new colonial racial categories. The racial potential of Louisiana Bohemians declined as their actions, especially their sexual choices, determined where they, and their descendants, might racially situate. Both self- and other-ascribed Bohemian identity eventually, if unevenly, lost relevance in French, Spanish and U.S.-controlled Louisiana as other more powerful racialized categories and identities prevailed. This article attends to the history of the colonial Louisiana Bohemian community in order to broaden the historical knowledge of the Romani diaspora, complement the existing scholarship on the Louisiana colony and state, and continue to fine-tune our understandings of racial formation in early America.


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pp. 659-698
Launched on MUSE
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