was a recognized extralegal system in French and Spanish slave colonies of North America (including the Caribbean) by which ethnic European men entered into civil unions withnon-Europeansof African, Native American and mixed-race descent. The term comes from the Frenchmeaning to place with. The women were not legally recognized as wives but were known as; their relationships were recognized among thefree people of colorasorleft-handed marriages. They became institutionalized with contracts or negotiations that settled property on the woman and her children, and in some cases gave them freedom if they were enslaved. The system flourished throughout theFrenchandSpanish colonialperiods, reaching its zenith during the latter, between 1769 and 1803.
It was widely practiced in New Orleans, where planter society had created enough wealth to support the system. It also took place in the Latin-influenced cities ofNatchezandBiloxi, MississippiMobileAlabamaSt. AugustineandPensacolaFlorida;1as well asSaint-Domingue(now the Republic ofHaiti). Plaçage became associated withNew Orleansas part of its cosmopolitan society.
In recent years, at least three historians (viz.Kenneth Aslakson, Emily Clark, and Carol Schlueter) have challenged thehistoricityof plaçage and have referred to many of its features, including quadroon balls, as a myth.23
The plaçage system developed from the predominance of men among early colonial populations, who took women as consorts from Native Americans, current free women of color that came to America from places such as Saint-Domingue and some enslaved Africans. Adding to what was known as free people of color in Louisiana, and especially New Orleans, during the colonial years, from whom wealthy men would choose. In this period there was a shortage of European women, as the colonies were dominated in the early day by male explorers and colonists. Given the harsh conditions in Louisiana, persuading women to follow the men was not easy. France recruited willing farm- and city-dwelling women, known as casket orcasquette girls, because they brought all their possessions to the colonies in a small trunk or casket. France also sent women convicted along with their debtor husbands, and in 1719, deported 209 women felons who were of a character to be sent to the French settlement in Louisiana.4(France also relocated young women orphans known asKings DaughtersFrench:filles du roi) to their colonies for marriage: to both Canada and Louisiana.)
A print by Dupin afterJean-Antoine Watteaudepicting comfort women embarking unwillingly for the Americas. Whether comfort women, casket girls, or aristocrats, French women were reluctant to migrate to the French colonies.
Historian Joan Martin maintains that there is little documentation that casket girls, considered among the ancestors of white French Creoles, were brought to Louisiana. TheUrsuline order of nunssupposedly chaperoned the casket girls until they married, but the order has denied they followed this practice. Martin suggests this was a myth, and that interracial relationships occurred from the beginning of the encounter among Europeans, Native Americans and Africans. She also writes that some Creole families who today identify as white had ancestors during the colonial period who were African ormultiracial, and whose descendants married white over generations.5
Through warfare and raids, Native American women were often captured to be traded, sold, or taken as wives. At first, the colony generally imported African men to use as slave labor because of the heavy work of clearing to develop plantations. Over time, it also imported African women as slaves. Marriage between the races was forbidden according to theCode Noirof the eighteenth century, but interracial sex continued. The upper classEuropeanmen during this period often did not marry until their late twenties or early thirties.Premarital sexwith an intended white bride, especially if she was of high rank, was not permitted socially.
White male colonists, often the younger sons of noblemen, military men, and planters, who needed to accumulate some wealth before they could marry, took women of color as consorts before marriage or in some cases after their first wives died. Merchants and administrators also followed this practice if they were wealthy enough. When the women bore children, they were sometimes emancipated along with their children. Both the woman and her children might take the surnames of the man. When Creole men reached an age when they were expected to marry, some also kept their relationships with their places, but this was less common. A wealthy white man could have two (or more) families: one legal, and the other not. Their mixed-race children became the nucleus of the class offree people of colororgens de couleur libresin Louisiana and Saint-Domingue. After theHaitian Revolutionin the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many refugees came to New Orleans, adding a new wave of French-speaking free people of color.
During the period of French and Spanish rule, thegens de couleurcame to constitute a third class in New Orleans and other former French cities – between the white Creoles and the mass of black slaves. They had certain status and rights, and often acquired education and property. Later their descendants became leaders in New Orleans, holding political office in the city and state, and becoming part of what developed as theAfrican-American middle classin theUnited States.
By 1788, 1500 Creole women of color and black women were being maintained by white men.6Certain customs had evolved. It was common for a wealthy, married Creole to live primarily outside New Orleans on hisplantationwith his white family. He often kept a second address in the city to use for entertaining and socializing among the white elite. He had built or bought a house for his place and their children. She and her children were part of the society of Creoles of color. The white world might not recognize the place as a wife legally and socially, but she was recognized as such among the Creoles of color. Some of the women acquiredslavesand plantations. Particularly during the Spanish colonial era, a woman might be listed as owning slaves; these were sometimes relatives whom she intended to free after earning enough money to buy their freedom.
While in New Orleans (or other cities), the man would cohabit with the place as an official boarder at her Creole cottage or house. Many were located nearRampart Streetin New Orleansonce the demarcation line or wall between the city and the frontier. Other popular neighborhoods for Creoles of color were theFaubourg MarignyandTrem. If the man was not married, he might keep a separate residence, preferably next door or in the same or next block as his place. He often took part in and arranged for the upbringing and education of their children. For a time both boys and girls were educated in France, as there were no schools in New Orleans for mixed-race children. As supporting such a plaçage arrangement(s) ran into thousands of dollars per year, it was limited to the wealthy.
Upon the death of her protector, the place and her family could, on legal challenge, expect up to a third of the mans property. Some white lovers tried, and succeeded, in making their mixed-race children primary heirs over other white descendants or relatives. A notable inheritance case was the daughters ofNicols Mara Vidal, a former high official in Spanish Louisiana, who with their mother, Eufrosina Hisnard, successfully petitioned the U.S. government in the 1830s to intercede on their behalf to secure a portion of Vidals estate.78
The women in these relationships often worked to develop assets: acquiring property, running a legitimate rooming-house, or a small business as a hairdresser,marchande(female street or country merchant/vendor), or a seamstress. She could also become a place to another white Creole. She sometimes taught her daughters to become places, by education and informal schooling in dress, comportment, and ways to behave. A mother negotiated with a young man for the dowry or property settlement, sometimes by contract, for her daughter if a white Creole were interested in her. A former place could also marry or cohabit with a Creole man of color and have more children.
Creole woman of color with maid, from a watercolor series by douard Marquis, New Orleans, 1867.
Creole women of color out taking the air, from a watercolor series by douard Marquis, New Orleans, 1867.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, places were not and did not become prostitutes. Creole men of color objected to the practice as denigrating the virtue of Creole women of color, but some, as descendants of white males, benefited by the transfer of social capital. Martin writes, They did not choose to live in concubinage; what they chose was to survive.citation needed
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, after Reconstruction and with the reassertion of white supremacy across the former Confederacy, the white Creole historians,Charles GayarrandAlce Fortier, wrote histories that did not address plaçage in much detail. They suggested that little race mixing had occurred during the colonial period, and that the places had seduced or led white Creole men astray. They wrote that the French Creoles (in the sense of having long been native to Louisiana) were ethnic Europeans who were threatened by the spectre of race-mixing like other Southern whites.
Gayarr, when younger, was said to have taken a woman of color as his place and she had their children, to his later shame. He married a white woman late in life. His earlier experience inspired his novelFernando de Lemos.
Marie Thrse MetoyerditeCoincoin became an icon of black female entrepreneurship in colonial Louisiana. She was born at the frontier outpost ofNatchitochesonCane Riverin August 1742 as a slave of the post founder, the controversial explorerLouis Juchereau de St. Denis. She would be, for twenty years, the place of a French colonial merchant-turned-planter,Claude Thomas Pierre Mtoyer, who was two years her junior. At the onset of their plaçage, she was already the mother of five children; she would bear ten more to Mtoyer. In 1778, he freed her after the parish priest filed charges against Coincoin as a public concubine and threatened to have her sold at New Orleans if they did not end their relationship. As a free woman, she remained with Mtoyer until 1788, when his growing fortune persuaded him to take a wife who could provide legal heirs. (He chose another Marie Thrse, a white Crole of French and German birth.)
In setting Coincoin aside, Mtoyer donated to her his interest in 80arpents, about 68 acres (280,000m2) of unpatented land, adjacent to his plantation, to help support their free-born offspring. On that modest tract, Coincoin planted tobacco, a valuable commodity in the struggling colony. She and her children trapped bears and wild turkeys for sales of meat, hide, and oil locally and at the New Orleans market. She also manufactured medicine, a skill shared by her freed-slave sister Marie LouisediteMariotte and likely one acquired from their African-born parents. With this money, she progressively bought the freedom of four of her first five children and several grandchildren, before investing in three African-born slaves to provide the physical labor that became more difficult as she aged. After securing a colonial patent on her homestead in 1794, she petitioned for and was given a land concession from the Spanish crown. On that piney-woods tract of 800 arpents (667 ac) on Old Red River, about 5mi from her farmstead, she set up a vacherie (a ranch) and engaged a Spaniard to tend her cattle. Shortly before her death in 1816, Coincoin sold her homestead and divided her remaining property (her piney-woods land, the three African slaves, and their offspring) among her own progeny.
As often happened among the children of plaçages, Coincoins one surviving daughter by Mtoyer, Marie Susanne, became a place also. As a young woman, apparently with the blessing of both parents, she entered into a relationship with a newly arrived physician, Joseph Conant from New Orleans. When he left Cane River, soon after the birth of their son, she formed a second and lifelong plaçage with a Cane River planter, Jean Baptiste Anty. As a second-generation entrepreneur, Susanne became far more successful than her mother and died in 1838 leaving an estate of $61,600 (equivalent to $1,500,000 in 2009 currency).
Modern archaeological work at the site of Coincoins farmstead is documenting some of the aspects of her domestic life. A mid-nineteenth century dwelling, now dubbed the Coincoin-Prudhomme House although it was not the actual site of her residence, commemorates her within the Cane River National Heritage Area. Popular lore also has, erroneously, credited her with the ownership of a Cane River plantation founded by her son Louis Metoyer, known today asMelrose Plantation, and its historic buildings Yucca House andAfrican House. Her eldest half-French son,Nicolas Augustin Mtoyer, foundedSt. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church, the spiritual center of Cane Rivers large community of Creoles of color who trace their heritage to Coincoin.91011
There were many other examples of white Creole fathers who reared and carefully and quietly placed their daughters of color with the sons of known friends or family members. This occurred withEulalie de Mandville, the elder half-sister of color to the eccentric nobleman, politician, and land developerBernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandville. Taken from her slave mother as a baby, and partly raised by a white grandmother, 22-year-old Eulalie was placed by her father,Count Pierre Enguerrand Philippe, cuyer de Mandville, Sieur de Marigny, withEugne de Macarty, a member of the famousFrenchIrishclan in 1796. Their alliance resulted in five children and lasted almost fifty years.4
Portrait of Bernard de Marigny, flamboyant Creole millionaire and the half-brother of Eulalie de Mandville de Macarty.
Portrait of Augustin de Macarty, military man, mayor of New Orleans, and brother of Eugne de Macarty.
In contrast to the Macartys stable relationship, Eugnes brotherAugustin de Macartywas married and was said to have had numerous, complex affairs with Creole women of color. When he died, several women made claims on behalf of their children against his estate.12
On his deathbed in 1845, Eugne de Macarty married Eulalie. He willed her all of his money and property, then worth $12,000. His white relatives, including his niece,Marie Delphine de Macarty LaLaurie, contested the will. The court upheld his will. After Eulalies death, their surviving children defeated another attempt by Macartys relatives to claim his estate, by then worth more than $150,000. Eulalie de Mandville de Macarty became a successfulmarchandeand ran a dairy. She died in 1848.
Rosette Rochonwas born in 1767 in colonialMobile, the daughter of Pierre Rochon, a shipbuilder from a Qubcois family (family name was Rocheron inQubec), and his mulâtresse slave-consort Marianne, who bore him five other children. Once Rosette reached a suitable age, she became the consort of a Monsieur Hardy, with whom she relocated to the colony ofSaint Domingue. During her sojourn there, Hardy must have died or relinquished his relationship with her; for in 1797 during the Haitian Revolution, she escaped to New Orleans, where she later became the place of Joseph Forstal and Charles Populus, both wealthy white New Orleans Creoles.
Rochon came to speculate in real estate in theFrench Quarter; she eventually owned rental property, opened grocery stores, made loans, bought and sold mortgages, and owned and rented out (hired out) slaves. She also traveled extensively back and forth toHaiti, where her son by Hardy had become a government official in the new republic. Her social circle in New Orleans once includedMarie LaveauJean Lafitte, and the free black contractors and real estate developersJean-Louis Doliolleand his brotherJoseph Doliolle.
In particular, Rochon became one of the earliest investors in theFaubourg Marigny, acquiring her first lot fromBernard de Marignyin 1806. Bernard de Marigny, the Creole speculator, refused to sell the lots he was subdividing from his family plantation to anyone who spoke English. While this turned out to be a losing financial decision, Marigny felt more comfortable with the French-speaking, Catholic free people of color (having relatives, lovers, and even children on this side of the color line). Consequently, much of Faubourg Marigny was built by free black artisans for free people of color or for French-speaking white Creoles. Rochon remained largely illiterate, dying in 1863 at the age of 96, leaving behind anestatevalued at $100,000 (today, an estate worth a million dollars).
Marie Laveau(also spelled Leveau, Laveaux), known as thevoodooqueen of New Orleans, was born between 1795 and 1801 as the daughter of a white Haitian plantation owner, Charles Leveaux, and his mixed black and Indian place Marguerite Darcantel (or DArcantel). Because there were so many whites as well as free people of color inHaitiwith the same names, Leveaux could also have been a free man of color who owned slaves and property as well. All three may have escaped Haiti along with thousands of other Creole whites and Creoles of color during the slave uprisings that culminated in the French colonys becoming the only independent black republic in the New World.
At 17, Marie married a Creole man of color popularly known asJacques Paris(however, in some documents, he is known asSantiago Paris). Paris either died, disappeared or deliberately abandoned her (some accounts also relate that he was a merchant seaman or sailor in the navy) after she produced a daughter. Laveau was styling herself as the Widow Paris and was a hairdresser for white matrons (she was also reckoned to be an herbalist andyellow fevernurse) when she metLouis-Christophe Dumesnil de Glapionand in the early 1820s, they became lovers.
Marie was just beginning her spectacular career as avoodoopractitioner (she would not be declared a queen until about 1830), and Dumesnil de Glapion was a fiftyish white Creole veteran of theBattle of New Orleanswith relatives on both sides of the color line. Recently,vagueit has been alleged that Dumesnil de Glapion was so in love with Marie, he refused to live separately from his place according to racialcustom. In an unusual decision, Dumesnil de Glapionpassedas a man of color in order to live with her under respectable circumstancesthus explaining the confusion many historians have had whether he was truly white or black.13Although it is popularly thought that Marie presented Dumesnil de Glapion with fifteen children, only five are listed in vital statistics and of these, two daughtersone the famous Marie Euchariste orMarie Leveau IIlived to adulthood. Marie Euchariste closely resembled her mother and startled many who thought that Marie Leveau had been resurrected by the black arts, or could be at two places at once, beliefs that the daughter did little to correct.
Sebastopol: Thisplantation houseand property was built and cultivated by Don Pedro Morin in the 1830s in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. It was bought twenty years later by Colonel Ignatius Szymanski a Polish American who later served in the Confederate Army, and renamed Sebastopol. At his death, Colonel Szymanski willed this estate to his place Eliza Romain, a free woman of color, and to their son John Szymanski.
The termquadroonis a fractional term referring to a person with one white and one mulatto parent, some courts would have considered one-fourth Black. The quadroon balls were social events designed to encourage mixed-race women to form liaisons with wealthy white men through a system of concubinage known as plaçage.14Monique Guillory writes about quadroon balls that took place in New Orleans, the city most strongly associated with these events. She approaches the balls in context of the history of a building the structure of which is now the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Inside is the Orleans Ballroom, a legendary, if not entirely factual, location for the earliest quadroon balls.
The origin of quadroon balls can be traced to theredoutes des filles de couleurinCap-Francaisin the French colony ofSaint Domingue.1516
The French colony, where the male population outnumbered women, white women were few and there were few alternatives to prostitution for free women of color, was known in the Caribbean for its Mulatto Courtesans, whose trademark was elegance, a haughty demeanor and the demand to be courted.15As there were no brothels in the colony, where sex workers worked independently, these balls were the place where the most exclusive courtesans met their clients; having met, they were set up as the official housekeeper or openly kept as mistresses,15and when their male client died or left for France, they were normally left with money, property or slaves for their future support.17
Many refugees from theHaitian Revolutioncame to New Orleans and settled between 1791 and 1804, both white, black and free people of color who where used to the placage system in Saint Domingue.
In New Orleans in 1805, a man named Albert Tessier began renting a dance hall where he threw twice weekly dances for free quadroon women and white men only.18These dances were elegant and elaborate, designed to appeal to wealthy white men. Although race mixing was prohibited by New Orleans law, it was common for white gentleman to attend the balls, sometimes stealing away from white balls to mingle with the citys quadroon female population. The principal desire of quadroon women attending these balls was to becomeplaceas the mistress of a wealthy gentleman, usually a young white Creole or a visiting European.19These arrangements were a common occurrence, Guillory suggests, because the highly educated, socially refined quadroons were prohibited from marrying white men and were unlikely to find Black men of their own status.
A quadroons mother usually negotiated with an admirer the compensation that would be received for having the woman as his mistress. Typical terms included some financial payment to the parent, financial and/or housing arrangements for the quadroon herself, and, many times, paternal recognition of any children the union produced. Guillory points out that some of these matches were as enduring and exclusive as marriages. A beloved quadroon mistress had the power to destabilize white marriages and families, something she was much resented for.
According to Guillory, the system of plaçage had a basis in the economics of mixed race. The plaçage of black women with white lovers, Guillory writes, could take place only because of the socially determined value of their light skin, the same light skin that commanded a higher price on the slave block, where light skinned girls fetched much higher prices than did prime field hands.20Guillory posits the quadroon balls as the best among severely limited options for these near-white women, a way for them to control their sexuality and decide the price of their own bodies. She contends, The most a mulatto mother and a quadroon daughter could hope to attain in the rigid confines of the black/white world was some semblance of economic independence and social distinction from the slaves and other blacks (83). She notes that many participants in the balls were successful in actual businesses when they could no longer rely on an income from the plaçage system. She speculates they developed business acumen from the process of marketing their own bodies.
. A novel about a mixed-race slave who is brought toSaint-Domingueand is eventually taken toNew Orleanswith her masters family. Herquadroondaughter is introduced to society as a place.
(1880) by . He also wrote the short storiesTte PouletteMadame Johns LegacyandMadame Delphine, which portrayed the place as societal outcast.
. A young man is engaged to a woman until it is found out that he is already involved with a place in New Orleans and has a child with her.
. The book was later adapted as a film by the same name, starringIngrid BergmanandGary Cooper. But it, like the film, falls apart after the action and the heroine move on toSaratoga SpringsNew York.
. This series of novels features Benjamin January, a free man of color, inNew Orleansin the 1830s. His mother and half-sister are also featured; both are places. His wife is the daughter of a place.
. Acoming of age novelabout a young man making his way in Creole New Orleans. it was adapted as a film by the same name.
. A historical romance following the life of Sylvia Dupont, a young woman raised to be a place. Dupont marries a free man of color and struggles with the consequences.
Sarah Riggs(screenplay),R.B. McGowen Jr.(story)Quadroon- 1971 film following preparation of prostitutes for presentation at the annual Quadroon Ball set in 1835 New Orleans.
premiered atBerkeley Repertory Theatre, January 31 March 16, 2014.
Beyonc Knowles, in her Formation music video, features visuals of places. This song was released February 6, 2016.
, a folktale featuring the institutions of octoroon balls and plaçage.
– a 2000 TV movie featuringDiahann Carrollas a place andVanessa Williamsas her daughter struggling with the thought of also becoming a place.
Chained to the Rock of Adversity, To Be Free, Black & Female in the Old South,
edited by Virginia Meacham Gould, University of Georgia Press, 1998
Melle, Stacy Parker Le (4 September 2013).Quadroons for Beginners: Discussing the Suppressed and Sexualized History of Free Women of Color with Author Emily Clark.
Katy F. Morlas, La Madame et la Mademoiselle, graduate thesis in history, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, 2003
Placage and the Louisiana Gens de Couleur Libre
, inCreole, edited by Sybil Kein, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2000.
Monique Guillory, Under One Roof: The Sins and Sanctity of the New Orleans Quadroon Balls, in
, edited by Judith Jackson Fossett and Jeffrey A. Tucker, New York University Press, 1997.
United States Congress (1834). Transactions in the Floridas.
American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States
Clinton, Catherine; Gillespie, Michele (1997).
The Devils Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South
. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp.238239.ISBN
Mills, Elizabeth Shown.Marie Thrse Coincoin (17421816): Slave, Slave Owner, and Paradox, Chapter 1 in Janet Allred and Judy Gentry, ed.,
(Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2009), chap. 1, pages 10-29
The Forgotten People: Cane Rivers Creoles of Color.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Which Marie Louise is Mariotte? Sorting Slaves with Common Names.
94 (September 2006): 183204; archived online at
Violet Harrington Bryan, Marcus Christians Treatment of Les Gens de Couleur Libre, in Creole, edited by Sybil Kein, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2000.
Caryn Cosse Bell, The Real Marie Laveau, review of Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau, by Martha Ward, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2004.
Monique Guillory, Under One Roof: The Sins and Sanctity of the New Orleans Quadroon Balls, 68-9
Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, Matt D. Childs, James Sidbury:
The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade
The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue
Blue Coat Or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-revolutionary Saint Domingue
Monique Guillory, Under One Roof: The Sins and Sanctity of the New Orleans Quadroon Balls, 80
Monique Guillory, Under One Roof: The Sins and Sanctity of the New Orleans Quadroon Balls, 81
Monique Guillory, Under One Roof: The Sins and Sanctity of the New Orleans Quadroon Balls, 82
The Free People of Color of New Orleans, An Introduction
, by Mary Gehman and Lloyd Dennis, Margaret Media, Inc., 1994.
Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century
, byGwendolyn Midlo Hall, Louisiana State University Press, 1995.
, by Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon, Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans
Afristocracy: Free Women of Color and the Politics of Race, Class, and Culture
The Strange History of the American Quadroon − Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World
, by Emily Clark, The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
Travels by His Highness Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach through North America in the years 1825 and 1826
, by Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach; William Jeronimus and C.J. Jeronimus, University Press of America, 2001. (The Duke relates his visits to quadroon balls as a tourist in New Orleans.)
, (An abridged translation from the original French by Stuart O. Landry) by C.C. Robin, Pelican Publishing Co., 1966. (Robin visited Louisiana just after its purchase by the Americans and resided there for two years.)
at theWayback Machine(archived June 29, 2006), Creole genealogical newsletter, dated June 20, 2003, on the genealogy of Marie Laveau, also related to the Trudeaus, page 5.