Sunday, April 1, 2012

Louisiana Myths:Quadroons & Octoroons

by Christophe Landry
On 20 December 2010, I chimed in, rather haphazardly, on a segment of NPR (National Public Radio) News called How Multi-Ethnic People Identify Themselves (in the United States). Throughout the segment, most of the callers seemed to be living in a chemist’s vile, where they bound themselves by the principles of Race Science and the now defunct One Drop rules.
You may recall that One Drop was legislation passed in over a dozen Southern U.S. states during United States Apartheid, or Jim Crow, defining who was “black/Black” with the same tactics that Adolph Hitler used in defining who was a Jew in Germany: a drop of black/Jewish “blood” made you one. Terms pertaining to one drop, based on “blood quantum,” said to measure blood quantity, include Mulatto (1/2 Negro), Quadroon (1/4 Negro), Octoroon (1/8 Negro) and so on.
Now, that drop of blood can further be decoded here, because there are more egregious ideas behind this science of race (during Jim Crow era), but what it means in practical terms is that having any documented, or documentable ancestor, that was of a dark hue and the lowest position in the Western European socioeconomic cast system, also made you, their descendant, a permanent fixture in that same position generations later. This is, of course, despite many other cultural elements since that forefather or foremother, and despite even perhaps a rise in socioeconomic status since that ancestor. That one ancestor made you, generations later, what that ancestor was, generations earlier.
During the segment, there was a caller who spoke of the complexities of self-identification in the United States, specifically pertaining to avoiding racial categories and the almost calculable topic of Louisiana was thrown in. When discussing multiethnicity, or multiraciality (for me, the two are one in the same concept, by the way), New Orleans and Louisiana are almost always included in the conversation, where Louisiana Creoles are reported as having historically self-identified as Quadroons and Octroons and even going so far as to having stately balls called Quadroon Balls in New Orleans.
Given the pervasive nature of this storyline of Quadroons and Octroons, their debutante balls and the refusal to identify with conventional race terms in Louisiana, even puzzling for Louisianians, I decided to take a closer look at the origins of this Louisiana reputation.
In order to analyze this subject closer, I need to cover some historical periods as they account for the cultural development in contemporary Louisiana (sorry for those who hate to read!).
FRENCH PERIOD (1699-1763)
Through the scholarship of many historians, we understand that while (present-day) Louisiana was a French colony, the composition of the population was more, or less, along these lines: Wolofs, Senegals, Bambara, Choctaw bands, Chitimacha, Caddo bands, Ishák (Atákapa), Washa, Acolapissa, Bayougoula, Quebecer fur traders (“pelletiers,” in French) and military officers, military officials from France, a handful of women (as wives for those Quebecers and French officers) from France and Québec, an entire colony of Alsatians, Lorrainers, Allemanophone Swiss and Rhinelander Germans.
Digging extensively into the parochial and civil records for this periods, we also know that not all Wolof, Senegal, Bambara (Bamana) and others were not slaves. Certainly they were not in the majority, but I have reason to believe that many arrived in Louisiana free, as the sidekicks of some military officials (particularly Spaniards located in present-day Texas and Mexico).
In 1724, within one generation of the arrival of the first shipload of slaves from Senegambia, the French Crown promulgated a body of laws concerning the governing of slaves and free colored persons in the colony. It was known as Le Code Noir. Louisiana’s Code Noir mirrored a code previously issued in the Caribbean, but had its own particularities as well, which we will discuss later.
Between 1718 and 1738, a twenty year period, we begin to see (new) terminology employed in Louisiana ecclesiastical and civil records, pertaining to the physical description of colored persons in the colony. Those terms were: griffe/griffon(ne), griffe sauvage(see), mulâtre(sse), nègre/négresse and sauvagesse. These were all also called Creoles, which typically was agglutinated to the expressions above (i.e. nègre créole). Now, Creole was then used for the sole purpose of differentiating foreign from local, that is, those individuals born elsewhere with those born in the colony and used for all humans. So, nègres, even without creole affixed, were overwhelmingly understood to be creoles, because if they were born elsewhere, then the specific name of their National affiliation would be provided (e.g. Nation Sénégal, Nation Bambara, Nation Manéga etc).
Let’s decode the terms.
griffe/griffon: someone of copper (often deep) hue. Person could have any number of phenotypical features, though the hair texture quite often was soft or fine. The term griffe is hard to track; it is attributed to a mythological figure during the Middle Ages who appears on the coat of arms of many families and kingdoms. But it is also the name of the claws of animals and equally the name of a breed of dog, the Griffon Hound.
griffe sauvage: were of same hue and features as the griffe above, except that this expression lets you know that this particular griffe has at least one parent that is Atákapa, Choctaw, Tunica or some other First Nations person.
mulâtre: were the blend of coffee and milk, giving any number of hues, but most widely light brown, wheat-colored, with more yellowish undertone or overtone. Their features would’ve ranged from Western European to Wolof or someplace in between. Out of all of these terms, mulâtre (and griffe sauvage) is perhaps the only one that signals a crossbreed of two types of folks, as mulâtre derives from the word mule which is the crossbreed of a horse and a donkey. Mulâtre, however, was consistently used a physical descriptor, rather than hints at ancestries.
nègre: was the person whose hue was the darkest brown (“almost black”) and with often woolen hair (from the Tropics along the equator). The term nègre, quite literally derives from the Latin term, negro, for “black.” Négrillon/négrillonne and négrite were dimuntives used for nègre.
sauvage: is the person who predated the French, Quebecers and Germanic peoples. It is difficult to pinpoint a specific hue for these often non-related small groups of dwellers. Some had the yellowish hues of Eastern Asiatics, others had the copper hues of the griffe sauvage and still some were dark brown. The term sauvage, though, comes from the French word for “savage.”
The Code Noir of 1724 did not enumerate physical descriptors of persons of color, nor did it publish a hierarchy of the products of cultural blending. It only made references to nègres, mulâtres and gens de couleur.
Censuses taken during this period enumerated Blancs libres/Gens de couleur libres/Esclaves (Free Whites, Free People of Color, Slaves).
SPANISH PERIOD (1764-1803)
When the French monarch secretly transferred Louisiana to his Bourbon Spanish first cousin, the nearly 40 year period that followed would see Louisiana culturally and economically flourish.
On the one hand, the Spanish period initially witnessed a rocky beginning. Spaniards were not initially welcomed in Louisiana by the Francophone (and perhaps Creolophone) population. The first Spanish Governor-General, Antonio de Ulloa, was reportedly run out of the colony in 1768. He was replaced for a year by the French Governor-General who had preceded him, Charles-Philippe Aubry. When Carlos III insisted on Spaniards in the colonial government, he sent the Irish-born Spanish military genius, Alexander “Alejandro” O’Reilly, who was known in Louisiana as “Bloody O’Reilly.” He acquired that nickname because he allegedly murdered several local Francophones in New Orleans to prove his point to the Francophones: stand in my way and I will obliterate you. O’Reilly remained only one year, before Luís de Unzaga replaced him in 1770 and remained in office until 1777.
On the other hand, likely due to a nearly invisible Hispanophone population within the colony, compared to the much more numerous Francophone and Creolophone populations, and perhaps also due to colonial wars elsewhere, the Spaniards were a bit more lax than the French Intendents.
During this period, the cultural composition of Louisianians became more complex. For starters, the Spanish Crown sought slaves who were not Muslims, which accounted for a massively Congo presence within the local slave population. The Congos were from what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Congo. Historian Gwendolyn Midlo-Hall noted in a radio interview that during this period, many of the slave households consisted of Wolof wives and Congo husbands, which I have substantiated in extant civil and parochial records.
The Spaniards also successfully permanently resettled Canary Islanders and Spaniards from Málaga and Granada in Louisiana. The latter were sent to Bayou Teche and the former on Bayou Lafourche, Bayou Manchac and at Bayou Terre-aux-Bœufs in St. Bernard Parish.
It was also during this period that Catholics of Scottish and Irish descent from Pennsylvania and Maryland fled to overwhelmingly Catholic Louisiana.
They were met by 2,900 other Catholic political refugees who had been expelled from their land in Nova Scotia. They were sent to live on Bayous Teche, Vermilion, Carencro, Lafourche, on the Mississippi River at Cabannocé (St. James Parish) and to San Luis de los Natchez (Natchez on the Mississippi River).
And the First Nations populations were changing in profound ways also. The Tænsas, Houma and Tunica, who, during the French period, were located in extreme Northeast Louisiana had during this period relocated to the Bayou Lafourche-Mississippi River junction. The Chitimachas who were originally on Bayou Lafourche (the military district under the French, Le District de la Fourche-des-Chétimachas was named specifically because of their presence), relocated to Bayou Teche (most of them). The Biloxi who were in and around New Orleans fled north into the Marksville area and south to Bayou Lafourche. And the Eastern bands of the Atákapas originally on Bayous Teche, Courtableau and Mermentau, those who did not culturally marry into the new Creole population, dropped everything and migrated east into Calcasieu and Vernon parishes. Finally, many of the bands of the Caddos from Northwest Louisiana were descending the Red, Cane and Mississippi rivers into the southern half of the colony.
In addition to all these resettlement patterns, the Spanish government, while by no means any less oppressive than other colonial governments, allowed for far greater freedom to the slaves. The Spanish legal code of coartación allowed slaves to not only work on weekends and to plant their own plot of crop or make special trinkets and useful items, but to also sell those items and crop, money which could be later used to purchase their own freedom. What’s more is that slaves could congregate on Sundays in New Orleans in a place aptly known today as Congo Square, on the edge of the vieux carré which was both a marketplace for purchasing, selling, and bartering goods, but a religious ceremonial ground, where slaves reportedly praised their extra-catholic gods.
Evidence also suggests that the (French) Market in New Orleans was a common ground to which Biloxi, Chitimacha, Acolapissa, French, Spaniards, Creoles, slave and free flocked.
All of this interaction gave rise to a new breed of consciousness as well as cultural traditions and customs. As a result, an expansion of the 5 physical descriptors was necessary and some terms were completely replaced with Spanish ones.
Physical descriptors during the Spanish period include:
negro: used in the same manner as the French nègre.
mulato: used in the same manner as the French mulâtre.
grifo: used in the same manner as the French griffe, griffon and griffe sauvage. Although in Spanish-speaking Caribbean cultures today, grifo is used (in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic) to describe someone of extremely fair skin, with woolen hair.
indígena: used in the same manner as the French sauvage.
New terms include:
moreno: which literally means “brown” in Spanish (“marron” in French). The term used today in Louisiana English, “marronee” surely comes from “marron.” Marronnee is an adjective used in the same manner as the contemporary Hispanophone Caribbean adjective grifo.
pardo: which also means “brown” in Spanish, though used as a synonym for mulato, so lighter in hue than a moreno.
cuarterón (cuaterona): brown but with far lighter overtone in the skin and with closer to Western European facial features.
mestizo: general term meaning “mixed.” In Louisiana, when it pertained to Euro and First Nations, “mestizo indígena” was used. When it pertained to First Nations and Negros, it was grifo (outside of New Orleans where Spanish language was not enforced in administrative documents, but was used by some clergymen and administrators who were Francophone and learned Spanish).
The Spaniards in the Cabildo tolerated usage of French in official colonial publications, but enforced Spanish in New Orleans. Still, some priests and registrars and clerks in the hinterland learned Spanish, like Alexandre Joseph François de Clouet, military commandant of the Attakapas and the Natchez districts. Those who continued to write in French added additional terms, mostly clergymen, which mirrored the Spanish terms. The Attakapas and Opelousas Districts are great examples.
The original 5 terms still exist. New additions in French during the Spanish period include:
négresse griffe: I’ve only ever seen this a handful of times, it’s usage being the same as griffe. More evidence suggesting a person of darker hue, with finer hair than normal.
quarteron/carteron: same usage as cuarterón above. The Francophone clergymen writing in Spanish often spelled quarteron “cuarteroon.”
Documents drafted in Spanish during the Spanish period, pertaining to colored persons almost always used either “pardo,” “moreno” and “negro.”
In a 1777 inventory of the slaves of the deceased, Paul-Augustin de la Houssaye, two enfant twins were listed as one being griffe and the other quarteron, both twins born of the same two parents.
Spanish censuses taken in Louisiana enumerated Libres/Esclavos (Free, Slaves) and within the Free tolls, Pardos, Negros, and the rest were not assigned adjectives, understood to be “blancos.”
With the treaty in 1803 between Napoléon Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson, still more cultures came to Louisiana and more socio-cultural and political complexities.
It was during this period that roughly 10,000 refugees from Cuba and Hispañola (both sides) fled to Louisiana, doubling the entire population of New Orleans, but tripling the side of New Orleans’s Free People of Color population.
The slave revolt at Destréhan, La Place and Norco in 1811 immensely changed the legal privileges that Free People of Color (FPOC) and slaves enjoyed by an already wary Protestant Anglo-American population whose customs and traditions, especially in relation to persons of color, differed from the Spaniards and the French.
The Royal Decree or Cédula de Gracias issued in 1817 by the Spanish Crown for its American colonies lured many Louisiana Creoles free (and slave) to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba. But, it also instigated a level of back-and-forth migrations between Louisiana and those places that would last until the beginning of U.S. sanctioned Apartheid (1891).
Despite social and legal actions leading to official apartheid in 1891, social interactions continued to take place and even more complex relationships and products thereof grew.
Outside of New Orleans, in parochial and civil records, records continued to be written in French (and often with an English translation) until well into the 1930s. Those written in English where specific terminologies were employed, simply anglicized the French version.
Physical descriptors during this period (new ones in French), include:
quarteron(n)é: a degree lighter in complexion and closer to Western European “white” features.
tierceron: a degree even lighter in complexion than the quarteronné. I have only seen this in one document. The enfant, Charles Joseph de Penne, was the only child, of all his siblings, born to same parents, who was described as such by the clergyman Ange-Marie JAN at Saint-Martin-de-Tours in St. Martinville in 1813.
couleur libre/de couleur libre (c.l.): nearing the war, this overarching term became the common term used for all free persons of color, regardless of hue and other features. It literally means “Free colored.”
gens de couleur/gens de couleur libres (g.d.c.l.): used interchangeably with c.l. above. Literally means “Person/People of Color, Free Person/People of Color,” (FPOC).
personne(s) de couleur/ personne(s) de couleur libre(s): used interchangeably with g.d.c.l. above.
homme de couleur, homme de couleur libre, hommes de couleur libres (h.d.c.l.): means “Free Man of color” and “Free Men of Color,” (FMOC).
femme/fille de couleur, femme/fille de couleur libre (FDCL): means “Free Woman/Girl/Women of Color,” (FGOC, FWOC).
Terms used in documents drafted in English, translated from Latin terms were:
A 19 Feb 1851 slave inventory (written in French) of Adélaïde-Léontine Le Normand, wife of Charles Landry (first cousins twice removed and ancestors of mine), inhabitant near La Fausse-Pointe in St Martin Parish revealed a family whose father (Narcisse) and mother (Éloïse Lindor) were described as nègre and négresse, respectively. One daughter, Victorine, was mulâtresse, her brother, Antoine, was described a griffe and Philippe, another son, was described a nègre.
Joseph Eusaël Edwin Narcisse.Son of Antoine Narcisse and Marcéline Bérard.
In St. James Parish, the succession of the late Jean Vavasseur, late of Convent, native of Cap-Breton-des-Landes, France, was written in both French and English. The slave inventory in French only described a handful of the 24 slaves. In the English translation, all were called Negroes. In subsequent probate documents, written in French, 15 year old Jefferson is called a mulâtre, his mother (Aimée) a griffe and siblings (Justilien, Victorine, Alexis), nègres. In probate documents in English, all of them were called Negroes. In 1860, when Jean Vavasseur’s widow died, a sheriff sale was established for remaining slaves of her estate. Written in French, Aimée was described as a négresse créole.
Jefferson Vavasseur, son of Jean Vavasseur and Aimée Vavasseur.
A Civil War claim filed in 1872 by Charles Condley, a native of St. Martinville, son of an Englishman and a FWOC named Palmyre Rivière, described himself in the petition “I look like a white man. The Confederates kept trying to make me join their ranks, because they thought that I was a white man. I was born free before the war. My mother was a quadroon, my father a white man.” He never called himself an octroon.
As time went by, the census enumerations and categories of U.S. Louisiana became more complex as well.
The categories pertaining to physical features in U.S. Census from 1810-1930 include:
1810: Number of Free Persons and Number of Slaves in Household
1820: Number of Free white persons under 16, Free white persons over 25, Number of Slaves, Number of Free colored persons, Total of all persons in household (Free, Slave, FPOC)
1830: Number of Free white persons under 20, free white persons 20-49, Total number of Free whites, Total number of persons in household (Free Whites, Blacks or Slaves)
1840: Number of Free white persons under 20, free white persons 20-49, Total number of free white persons, Total number of Free colored persons, Number of total slaves, Total number of persons in households (Whites, Colored persons, slaves)
1850: Under “description” it states Color: White, Black, Mulatto, however, enumerators wrote in Copper (New Mexico), Yellow (throughout the country, used for Indians), and Indian, in addition to White, Black and Mulatto which the census called for exclusively.
1850 Slave Schedules: Black and Mulatto.
1860: Under “description” it states Color: White, Black, or Mulatto.
1860 Slave Schedules: Black and Mulatto.
1870: Under “description” it states Color – White (W), Black (B), Mulatto (M), Chinese (C), Indian (I).
1880: The actual document reads under “Physical Description”: Color (White, W., Black, B., Mulatto, Mu., Chinese, C., Indian, I.). In addition to those 5, enumerators wrote in Mexican.
1890: Fragments remaining indicate “Whether White, Black, Mulatto, Quadroon, Octoroon, Chinese, Japanese or Indian.”
1900: Under description, simply states “Color or Race.” Write-ins include: Black, Caucasian, Chinese, Colored, Eskimo, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Mulatto, Negro, Polynesian, Polynesian Hawaiian, Portuguese, Red, Spanish, White, Yellow.
1910: Under physical description, it states “Color, or Race.” Write-ins include: Black, Chinese, Colored, Cuban, Filipino, Greek, Hawaiian, Hindu, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Mulatto, Negro, Polynesian, Puerto Rican, Spanish, White.
1920: Under physical description, it states “Color, or Race.” Write-ins include: Black (B), Chamorro (C) (Guam only), Chinese (Ch) – codes as Asian, though original write-ins are clearly “Ch”, Filipino (F), Hawaiian (H), Japanese (J), Mexican (Mex) – codes for Latino, even though Latino does not exist in the write-ins, Mulatto (M), Octoroon (Ot) born in Italy, Belgium, Russia, Hawaii, etc, Polynesian (Pol) and White (W).
1930: Under physical description, it states “Color or Race.” Writeins include: Chinese (Ch) – codes this as Asian, but write-ins are “Ch” for Chinese, Filipino (Fil), Hawaiian (Ha), Mulatto (Mu), Negro (Neg), Japanese (JP), White (W).
Of particular interest is the fact that, despite Louisiana’s multicultural presence and abundance in physical features, White, Mulatto, Negro or Black were the terms used from 1850-1930 in 90% of the census enumerations.
In 1920, there were only 38 Octoroons enumerated in Louisiana, half of whom were born in Italy, another fourth hailed from the U.S. East Coast, another fourth from Louisiana but all with Anglo surnames and ties to the Midwest and the U.S. East Coast. Not a single household in 1920 in Louisiana categorized as an Octoroon carried common Latin Louisiana surnames.
And I have not even spoken of the numerous families who, in Louisiana, fluctuate from Mulatto to Negro to White and back to Negro in census records, all by different census enumerators, of course.
Gwendolyn Midlo-Hall, a Latin American Historian, offered breakthrough primary sourced information into the French and Spanish slave trade in Louisiana. She not only published a book on her findings, but also has a database online on her website, a downloadable database (requires File Maker Pro for reading) and scores more. It really is a treasure trove for serious researchers. Her database is now available on and is there named “Louisiana Slave Records 1719-1820.” The period 1719-1820 correspond to the periods she researched and made available.
What we learn from her research, among other things, is that during the French Period, more than half of the slaves to come to Louisiana, came from the Senegambian region, and during the Spanish, from the Congo.
Sénégambie, 1707.
I would like to caution folks on two things, though:
a) Be careful with how you categorize the Senegambians and the Congolese, who did not represent monolithic populations.
For instance, Senegambia covered the delta of the Senegal and Gambia rivers. The kingdoms, yes, you read correctly, kingdoms, located in the north, namely the Oualle (Wolof), Jalofe, Foule (Fula) all descend from Mauritanians who fled Mauritania beginning in the 12th century, right around the time when the Almoravid Berber dynasty (A.D. 1000-1200) began forcing local populations to convert to Islam. The dynasty covered all of present-day Morocco, Mauritania and part of Senegal.
There, in Mauritania, the ancestors of the Wolof (they got this name once established along the Laf, an area of Senegambia, from which comes the name, Walaf, “people of the Laf,” which later became Wolof.), called the Bafour or Bafot by the Almoravid, through trade, commerce, religion and circumstances, mixed heavily with the other local populations, including the Tuareg (“Les hommes bleus” – the Blue Men) and Peul (Fula(ni)), two semi-nomadic Western Sahara Dessert populations, who themselves have heavily shared history/ancestry with the Berbers.
Specialists in Nilothic archaeology and DNA argue that these groups all hailed from the Nile River Valley and moved West with time (as is the argument for the rest of the population of the continent of Africa).
Fula(ni) woman.
In the Southern portion of Senegambia lied the kingdoms of Mandé peoples, whose ancestors had arrived there from further south along the Niger River. They are the Mandinga, Soso, Bitouin, Melli, Bambara (Bamana), Soninke, Dyula and others.
These folks are credited for being the first on the continent to produce woven textiles and are the creators of the Ghana and Mali empires and for expanding the Songhai empire across west Africa.
Bambara/Bamana women
Many of the Mandé and northern Senegambian populations are Muslim and at least until the slave trade began, Arabic was the common language among them – none of their languages, while related (some of them) are not mutually intelligible. In addition, they have different histories, folklore, lifestyles, beliefs, phenotype, physical bodyplans and do not all get along.
That’s not even speaking of the Congo, which is a much larger region with a very diverse population, history, and with over 200 (Bantu family) languages spoken (not including the dialects of those languages).
b) Midlo-Hall’s database offers searches (from among other categories) via “racial designation.” Most of them are the physical descriptors (not racial designations/blood quantum) I described earlier. But there are three to four that are curious ones and necessitate small mention here. They are mulatto grif, mulatto rouge, chino and octoroon.
Out of her entire database, there is only one octoroon, named Geneviève, in a document drafted in Mobile in the year 1770. Now, it is not impossible for an octoroon to exist in this year, especially because some slaves arriving from Africa were already described physically as mulâtres. But for an Octoroon to physically exist, history and physique require at least 3-4 generations of blending with a Northern or Western European, which means that Geneviève’s grandparents would’ve been born way before the slave trade brought slaves to Louisiana.
That’s not the concern, though. The concern is whether or not Geneviève is actually described as an Octoroon in the original 1770 document.
I raise this concern because, curious about the mulatto grif and mulatto rouge descriptors (aka “racial categories”), without a response from Midlo-Hall explaining the descriptors herself, I pulled original documents where her database says these descriptors exist.
When I pulled the documents, the originals often had no physical descriptor, at all, for the slave and others had a different descriptor, all together.
For a descriptor as common as griffe, even, which Hall’s database codes as “grif-usually means mixed black and Indian,” there are cases where her coded grif descriptor does not correspond to the original record. An example is the 1787 inventory of the slaves of the deceased wife of François Décuir, natives of Pointe-Coupée and residents at the Attakapas. It lists the descriptor for a slave named Jeanneton as grif, however the original has no descriptor for her, at all, in the first instance, and in later portions of the estate, she’s described as a négresse, on the other hand.
Beware and always pull the originals. You never know what you will discover!
I have here given a cursory look at several periods in Louisiana and U.S. history. We have taken a glance at the French and their descriptive expressions, the Spanish and Anglo-American Administrations.
In addition to parochial and conveyance materials, I have presented the progression of terminologies employed in U.S. censuses and exposed those specific to “persons of color” in Louisiana.
I have not located a single shred of evidence suggesting extensive use of U.S. Anglo-American legislated Blood Quantum terminology in Louisiana. Better stated, there is no evidence suggesting that the physical descriptors (adjectives) used by Latin Administrations in Louisiana (French and Spanish) were synonymous to the nouns used by Anglo-Saxons, based on blood/ancestral quantity.
My conclusion, at this point, is that Louisiana has acquired the reputation of self-identifying Quadroons and Octoroons not from Louisianians themselves, but from Anglo-Americans imposing terms they use on Louisianians. And even still, Louisianians in Louisiana generally cringe when called a Mulatto. My theory is that this sentiment is because when declared a Mulatto (noun) in English, it does have a biracial connotation which many Louisianians do not identify with. Even those Louisianians who identify, in English, as Black and African-American today, will declare in Louisiana Creole “mo françé! mo françé” (I’m French! I’m French!) and in Louisiana French “tout quelqu’un icite, c’était français,” (Everyone here was French) but will not be able to fully articulate why they identify as Black and African-American in English.
Mulatto, in English, is therefore not used in the same manner as mulâtre, which is used as an adjective more than a noun and remains a physical descriptor, rather than a derogatory state of being a bastard or “half-breed.” Griffe can still be heard in the Louisiana Creolophone hinterland, but remains, as mulâtre, a physical description used in Louisiana Creole and sometimes in Louisiana English. Quarteron and quadroon are virtually never employed in Louisiana Languages and when used in English, is almost always related to Quadroon Balls and followed by Octoroons. Though, almost no Louisianian will use either of the latter two terms to describe others nor describe themselves.
In the next draft, I plan to take a look at Quadroon Balls. Did they or did they not exist? That’s the question.


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Thanks again, Christophe–I often share info like this with my family. I’mnot as well-read as you are, however I did find 8 or 9 travelers to Louisianain the early 1800′s who reported visiting Quadroon Balls. I think I lookedall of these up googling. These were all lst-hand reports–unless somewere completely fictionalized and reported as fact. So I don’t doubt thatthere were lots of Quadroon Balls, though I accept your challenge thatthey may not have been as pervasive as it would seem from romanticizedreports.I wanted to add here that I have also read how Frence Creoles-of-Colourin the late 1800′s believed that they were a NEW race, so that theycould honestly report that they were not “African” or “Black” or even“Mulatto.” Remembering that this was before an understanding ofgenetics, I suppose we can look upon that belief with compassion. Partof the belief, of some anyway, was that combining white men withAfrican women produced this magic, whereas African men with Frenchwomen could not produce the effect.Have you encountered much regarding that theory?Thanks again for all you share—”Your Distant Cousin” Michael Vanhille

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This is exactly the type of dialogue I always hope to inspire on my site!
I am not familiar with the 1st hand accounts you mentioned, but I am very interested in having the sources to assess them with my own eyes.It’s not that I do not trust your judgment, it’s that I’ve become naturally skeptical of “Quadroons” and “Quadroon Balls” regarding Louisiana, and would liketo verify the sources of the writers and origins of the writers. I’ll bet any money that they did not speak French or Spanish.
On the new race, yes, I have read about it. Remember, Latins were always open to courting, marrying, and living with women who were from the continents of Africa, Asia and the Americas. Their willingness was, in part, developed through the catholic church which, in their countries, supported instead of condoning it. The missionary priest DE LAS CASAS is an example of that in Mexico, Father Antonio DE SEDELLA, also a Spaniard, is another example of that in New Orleans (1790s-1830s), Father BORIAS, the curate of St. Joseph in Breaux Bridge, LA (1880s-1910s), a Frenchmen, another example. In fact, the list is so long for the curates from France, Spain (and I assume Portugal), that I cannot list them all.
In addition to the curates, the commandants of military districts, governors of provinces and upper provincial administrations (in Louisiana, and I suspect elsewhere), did the same.
So, they argued that they could only convert Amerindians, Africans and Asians by marrying them, assimilating them, and producing children with them … children of a brand new race.
The French still kind of believe as such, referring to people who look like me, for example, as “métis(sé)” rather than one of the 4 “races.”
Whether or not they included French women with other men, or French men with other women, I am not aware of, but certainly people like the Joseph BOULOGNE, Chevalier de St. Georges and Alexandre DUMAS and many other mulâtres and quarterons, some from Louisiana, moved to France and all married French women without prohibition.
This clip explains A LOT about Latin cultures and how they see people:

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