A microcosm of exaggerated societal extremes—poverty and wealth, vice and virtue, elitism and equality—New Orleans is a tangled web of race, cultural mores, and sexual identities. Jennifer M. Spear brings together archival evidence from three different languages and the most recent and respected scholarship on racial formation and interracial sex to explain why free people of color became a significant population in the early days of New Orleans and to show how authorities attempted to use concepts of race and social hierarchy to impose order on a decidedly disorderly society. She recounts and analyzes the major conflicts that influenced New Orleanian culture: legal attempts to impose racial barriers and social order, political battles over propriety and freedom, and cultural clashes over place and progress. Strikingly argued, richly researched, and methodologically sound, this wide-ranging look at how choices about sex triumphed over established class systems and artificial racial boundaries supplies a refreshing contribution to the history of early Louisiana. Essay on Sources.
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Print Send Add Share. Notes Abstract: The gens de couleur libres of New Orleans occupied a unique position as worldly practitioners of the arts. This situation was created by social, legal and cultural circumstances. Louisiana, as a French colony, implemented the "Code Noir," to control the large population of free people of color. These laws, although designed to control, granted opportunities for free people of color. This led to a three-caste social system with the gens de couleur libres occupying the central position, between whites and enslaved peoples.
Before American concepts of race took hold in the newly-acquired Louisiana, early 19th-century New Orleans had large population of free people of color. New Orleans is unique among American cities for its complicated colonial and racial history. The city was French and then Spanish before Louisiana became an American territory in
In the context of the history of slavery in the Americas , free people of color French: gens de couleur libres ; Spanish: gente de color libre were people of mixed African , European , and sometimes Native American descent who were not enslaved. Lucia , Dominica , Guadeloupe , and Martinique , where a distinct group of free people of color developed. Freed African slaves were included in the term affranchis , but historically they were considered as distinct from the free people of color. In these territories and major cities, particularly New Orleans , and those cities held by the Spanish, a substantial third class of primarily mixed-race , free people developed. These colonial societies classified mixed-race people in a variety of ways, generally related to visible features and to the proportion of African ancestry. It referred specifically to free people of mixed race, primarily African and European. In the Thirteen Colonies settled by the British, later to become the United States, the term free negro was often used to cover the same class of people — those who were legally free and visibly of ethnic African descent.