Racial Identity and Reconstruction: New Orleans's Free People of Color and the Dilemma of Emancipation - Fordham Scholarship Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Great Task Remaining Before UsReconstruction as America's Continuing Civil War$

Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780823232024

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823232024.001.0001

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Racial Identity and Reconstruction: New Orleans's Free People of Color and the Dilemma of Emancipation

Racial Identity and Reconstruction: New Orleans's Free People of Color and the Dilemma of Emancipation

(p.122) 7 Racial Identity and Reconstruction: New Orleans's Free People of Color and the Dilemma of Emancipation
The Great Task Remaining Before Us

Justin A. Nystrom

Fordham University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at case studies of the way the Civil War and its aftermath affected free Creoles of color. Antebellum New Orleans society was divided broadly into three groups, with Creoles of color forming the vital middle ground between bound black slaves and free whites. Because these Creoles both obscured the relationship between race and freedom and served as a model to those slaves who would be free, white governments passed a series of laws increasingly restricting Creoles' freedoms. The war and early fall of New Orleans changed this three-tiered system in dramatic and unexpected ways. The ensuing end of slavery destroyed Creoles' former racial identity and forced them into a more rigid social structure of white and nonwhite. Many families reacted by taking a series of small steps across several generations to assume a white identity in this new bichromatic society—with varying degrees of success.

Keywords:   Creoles, Civil War, Antebellum New Orleans, racial identity, social structure

In his famous 1911 memoir of New Orleans’ Creoles of color, Rodolphe Desdunes commented acidly on those members of the Afro-Creole community who had “disowned and rejected not only their fellow blacks but even their own kin” by crossing the color line after the Civil War. In “passing” for white, charged Desdunes, these individuals lived “in a moral depression that seems to represent the last degree of impotence.” A generation later, historian and fellow Creole of color Charles Barthelemy Roussève observed with only slightly less disdain that during Reconstruction some fair-skinned free people of color had crossed the color line to avoid losing status.

To accomplish this purpose they resorted to various subterfuges. Pages are missing, it is said, in the notarial acts in the office of the recorder of conveyances at New Orleans. … Yet it is definitely reported that in certain cases these records were destroyed to obliterate all legal evidence of Negro blood in persons (in some cases of high rank in the city) who were then transferring into the white group.

Racial passing clearly distressed Roussève and Desdunes as well as countless other Creoles of color, and it is easy to understand why. Writing in the early decades of the twentieth century, these men could reflect back with regret on the battles for racial equality fought and lost during the era of Reconstruction and Redemption.1

As the historian David Rankin has noted, it is indeed “difficult” to quantify how many of the city's free people of color who were capable of doing so actually elected to cross the color line. Roussève suggested optimistically that “most free people of color chose more nobly to remain with the underprivileged Negro population and to work loyally toward the improvement of its status.” The evidence presented in this essay, however, suggests that racial passing in its many forms was not at all unusual among those who had once belonged to New Orleans's free colored community. While many individuals who crossed the color line undoubtedly harbored misgivings, cross it they did.2

(p.123) If those who crossed the color line had hoped to form a new (presumably white) identity, it is important to define first what that identity entailed. The recent outpouring of scholarship on the subject of whiteness has made it possible to define what the term white meant to those engaged in racial passing. Since the early 1990s, historians and sociologists have put forward thought-provoking arguments about the formation of white identity, particularly among ethnically or economically marginalized segments of the American people whose forbearers hailed from continental Europe. In short, many ethnic groups sought not just visual identification with whiteness but a broader cultural embrace of what Toni Morrison has called the “master narrative.” Viewing racial passing in both regional and historical contexts—the South in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—the main focus of this study must lie with the denial of African ancestry. While the literature on whiteness and white identity formation has illuminated the plight of various marginalized groups who occupied a racial borderland in the era of American apartheid, to Desdunes—and certainly other turn-of-the-century New Orleanians of both African and European ancestry—passing was less about becoming “white” as defined by modern identity studies and much more about severing one's ties to their African past.3

For the Francophone culture of Afro-Creole New Orleans, passing involved important cultural dimensions. It entailed not only the rejection of African heritage, but a full embrace of Gallic, and at times elements of Spanish or Germanic ancestry along with retention of Roman Catholicism and often the French language. Indeed, in passing, Afro-Creoles rejected only a portion of their past. Even Desdunes's Nos Hommes is testimony to the fierce pride Afro-Creoles took in cultural accomplishments that were decidedly Gallic in origin. This strategy also made perfect sense when one considers it in the context of whiteness studies, for the white ancestors that many Afro-Creoles could claim did indeed belong to the “master narrative.” If one agrees with the widely accepted notion that race is more social construction than biological fact, it is possible that elite Afro-Creoles had already formed a partially white identity, a fact that would have made the self-denial of African blood less philosophically problematic.

Invariably, the question of racial passing has led to a debate over the political actions and moral rectitude of New Orleans's free people of color during the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras. Desdunes and Roussève portrayed elite, fair-skinned Creoles of color who had crossed the color line as either self-serving or at the very least weak in their devotion to the cause of racial equality. In a similar vein, and marshalling a large amount of statistical (p.124) evidence to support his point, Rankin detected the presence of a “pigmentocracy,” or racially conscious caste-system, within New Orleans's Afro-Creole community. According to Rankin, the most elite Creoles of color found greater identification with white New Orleanians than they did with their darker-skinned associates. Other historians downplay such divisions, depicting instead the solidarity and racial activism of the city's Afro-Creoles. The influential work of Joseph Logsdon and Caryn Cossé Bell posits that economics and not skin shade was what most frequently divided the city's free blacks. Writing on the topic of racial passing among Louisiana Creoles of color, Shirley Thompson probably most accurately defined the issue as being “at the nexus of an official history of celebratory achievements and an unofficial but collective memory of painful and problematic episodes.”4

Instead of engaging in a debate over the morality of passing, however, this essay focuses on the motivations of Afro-Creoles who crossed the color line in the decades that followed emancipation. The moral component of racial passing is neither here nor there, for as the evidence presented suggests, within the same person could lay both the desire to champion racial equality and to pass for white. Those who sought to cross the color line often lived public lives that stood at odds with their private aims. For this reason, this essay dwells on the utterly human dilemma faced by fair-skinned free people of color who, beset by familial and societal pressures, redefined their self-identity to combat the perils of an uncertain future.

There were many different paths taken by Creoles of color who passed for white. A few crossed the color line so dramatically that it could have come straight out of a Charles Chesnutt novel. Discarding their black identity at New Orleans's city limits, these people began life anew in a distant town where they might prosper from the opportunities that white America could bestow upon one of its own. Far more common, however, were those who stayed in place or made incremental moves, dancing around the margins of the color line, employing subtlety and long-term tactics in their precarious balancing act between New Orleans's black and white worlds. For most of these individuals, passing was incremental in action and multigenerational in outlook. It was an insurance policy against an unknown and unknowable future—one in which the acknowledgment of African ancestry might forever foreclose on their (and, more important, their children's) aspirations for full citizenship. Sometimes this approach worked; other times it did not.

While the evidence presented here supplies a relatively concrete picture of the methods used by mixed-race people to cross the color line, the same evidence delivers far less certainty about the motivations behind such actions. For those who lived in the immediate post-emancipation period, the preservation (p.125) of status—both social and economic—must have played a significant role in the decision to pass. More difficult to quantify, and without doubt more controversial, is the question of whether free, fair-skinned, mixed-race people ever fully conceptualized themselves as black in the same fashion freedpeople had in the post-emancipation environment. Yet, much as the work of David Rankin suggested twenty-five years ago, some of the cases presented here reveal that some members of this caste identified strongly with the white, Francophone aspect of their heritage.

In antebellum New Orleans, free people of color occupied the middle stratum of the city's three-tiered racial caste system. While they did not fully enjoy the benefits of white society, neither did they suffer the degradation of slavery. Although this dynamic had taken root in other parts of the American South, it was in New Orleans, with its large and prosperous segment of free people of color, that the middle caste came to play such a crucial role in the larger social pyramid. About half of the city's people who possessed some amount African blood were free, and their presence made a vital contribution to the overall dialogue of race in New Orleans. Despite the value they brought to the community, free people of color were second-class citizens with circumscribed legal rights and absolutely no political voice. The arrival of the Americans to New Orleans in 1803 signaled the beginning of a gradual tightening of manumission laws aimed at stemming the growth of this community. The free colored population not only represented a dangerous contradiction to the philosophical underpinnings of race-based slavery, but by mingling and at times cohabitating with slaves, they blurred the boundary separating the free people and slaves. As in many other slave states, Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, spurred Louisiana's legislature to adopt increasingly restrictive laws governing the movement of the free people of color. Along with New Orleans's reconsolidation in 1852 (the city had been separated in three municipalities) came repressive laws that required free blacks constantly to prove publicly their free status. Some Afro-Creoles with sufficient financial means chose to leave such indignity behind forever, fleeing to France, Haiti, Mexico, or other countries where their status as free men went unchallenged. In 1857 Louisiana outlawed manumission entirely.5

The fall of New Orleans to Union forces on April 26, 1862, contained an element of double-edged irony for the city's free people of color. On one hand, the invasion rendered null and void the increasingly oppressive race-based laws passed by the slaveholding regime over the previous decade, and it renewed hopes for full citizenship. On the other hand, the upheaval and the tangible prospect of Confederate defeat also brought with it significant disadvantages, not the least of which was the ultimate liberation of slaves held in bondage by (p.126) free people of color. Of more pressing consequence for a larger portion of free blacks, however, were the dramatic demographic changes taking place. During the war, the arrival of freedmen from the plantation regions around New Orleans began a trend that resulted in a fast increase in the city's black population. According to John Blassingame, during the 1860s African Americans jumped from roughly 12 to 25 percent of the Crescent City's population. Not surprisingly, many whites in New Orleans were not happy to see this change—but they were not alone. Some of the city's free Afro-Creoles also expressed displeasure with these newcomers, noting that most came with no prospects and lived by the largesse of charitable operations. Furthermore, unlike the Afro-Creoles, they were Anglo, Protestant, and largely uneducated.6

Many elite Afro-Creoles did not immediately react to emancipation by trying to pass for white. Instead, from the start of the Union occupation through the Radical ascendancy in 1868, this caste played an active and conspicuous role in fighting the war and in shaping the racial politics of Reconstruction. Although a substantial number of the city's prominent free blacks had organized under the banner of the Confederacy's Louisiana Native Guards, this gesture yielded little tangible support to the slaveholders’ cause. While a few wealthy free blacks may have felt some loyalty to Louisiana and its slaveholding regime, many others who joined the Native Guards did not share this view, joining only out of a sense of community pride, obligation, and perhaps even fear. The arrival of Union forces in 1862 led to a rapid reorientation of loyalties and priorities. As a result, many of these same men, along with other free blacks, quickly pledged their loyalty to the Union and served in the federal army despite suffering great prejudice. The French-speaking Afro-Creole elite viewed itself as the natural social and political leadership of all blacks in Louisiana, and this attitude drew criticism from non-Creole blacks. At the same time, this same caste worked diligently to achieve racial equality for all blacks. Even at Reconstruction's bitter end, and indeed well beyond it, elite Creoles of color and their descendants continued their activist politics.7

Despite their notable activism, however, the more imperiling dimensions of emancipation clearly affected the racial self-identification of those mixed-race New Orleanians who had always been free. The elimination of laws that governed the movement and behavior of the city's free blacks also removed key obstacles to crossing the color line. While the removal of such restrictions did not immediately grant the free black population anything approaching citizenship, combined with the upheaval of war and occupation and the suspension of normal civil government, conditions were far more conducive to the forging of new identities than they had been in the antebellum era.

(p.127) While the case studies presented in this essay do not form a statistically complete picture of racial passing in New Orleans between the fall of the city to the Union in 1862 and the turn of the twentieth century, they do illustrate the different mindsets of mixed-race individuals who struggled with their own self-identity in the wake of emancipation. One common factor shared by all of them, however, was a sense of vulnerability. Whether they bravely faced such adversity or succumbed quietly to its influence, those who had once belonged to the city's free colored population recognized that they had much to lose in the post-emancipation ebb toward a strictly bichromatic racial paradigm.

Documenting the lives of such individuals would have been much more difficult only ten years ago. Census records, so crucial in tracing an individual's trajectory over a broad expanse of time, have been made far more accessible by online genealogical tools. More important, such electronic search engines linked to federal census data have allowed for a fairly accurate reconstruction of an individual's chronology, telling us where and when those who sought to secure a white identity may have first taken action. The ability to digitally cross-reference the indexes of multiple states has also allowed, for the first time, tracing of the diaspora of those who in crossing state lines seem to have also crossed the color line. Likewise, the compilation of birth, marriage, and death records into electronic databases by both private enterprises and state agencies has facilitated such research. When used in conjunction with more traditional sources, such as court testimony and government documents, one can successfully uncover the paper trail of passing. Unlike the statistical analysis of Rankin, this article does not examine a broad range of individuals across a brief time span. Rather, it considers the multigenerational legacy of emancipation and Reconstruction on free people of color by tracing family units over a span of forty to eighty years, beginning in the antebellum period and lasting until the era of Jim Crow. The family case studies presented here underscore the importance that heritage, blood ties, time, and geography had on the decision to pass.8

The uppermost echelon of New Orleans's elite, free colored population belonged to an even more finite subset of individuals who had always lived their lives on the margin of both free black and white societies. Their light skin tone, Francophone cultural outlook, and wealth defined their social station and informed their worldview. Family ties and family interests were of paramount importance.

The dealings of the extended Esnard and Raynal families between 1850 and 1920 illustrate the presence of a multigenerational vision for preserving privilege. This vision included not only the drive for financial success but also a flexible attitude toward racial self-identification. Joseph Raynal and John Benjamin Esnard may have become publicly involved with the racially charged arena (p.128) of Reconstruction-era politics, but behind the scenes both the Esnards and the Raynals placed an insurance policy on their families’ futures by moving the next generation into the orbit of white society.

Joseph Raynal moved within the most elite circles of antebellum New Orleans's Afro-Creole society, and as such had much to lose in the upheaval of war and Reconstruction. Unlike the wealthy Saint-Domingue black planters who had fled the island to Louisiana during the American period, the mixed-race branch of the Raynal clan could trace its ancestry back to the Spanish colonial period, and perhaps even earlier. Although the records that speak to the matter are incomplete, Auguste Raynal, and later his son Joseph, described themselves as “planters” and as such might have been slaveholders. Without question, the family was one of means. By the time a census official came to their home in the Fifth Ward in 1860, Joseph Raynal's mother Suzane had amassed a personal estate that she valued at $15,000. It is therefore not surprising that like many other free men of color of his class, Joseph's sixty-five-year-old father volunteered to serve as a sergeant in the First Native Guards once the state seceded.9

As with millions of Americans of his generation, the Civil War profoundly altered the course of Joseph Raynal's life. After New Orleans fell to the Union in the spring of 1862, he received and briefly held a commission as a captain in the Sixth Louisiana Colored Infantry. After the war, he doubly identified himself with the Republican regime of Governor Henry Clay Warmoth, serving as both a colonel in the state militia and as a commissioner for the metropolitan police board. The “Metropolitans” served as the police force in New Orleans and in surrounding parishes. This heavily armed force also functioned as the Republican Party's paramilitary wing and served as probably the single most conspicuous reminder to all of the new political order. In accepting these prominent positions, Joseph Raynal had seemingly set out on a bold course as both a Republican and as a man of color.10

The 1860s had also proven eventful in Joseph Raynal's private life. Sometime during or immediately following the war, he married Marie Rose Olympe Esnard, a young woman from a large and prosperous free black family. In December 1867, they welcomed their first and only child into the world. Their daughter, Marie Ella Raynal, had neither a white parent nor a white grandparent, but that did not stop them from procuring a birth certificate that identified their child as white. In February 1870, Olympe Raynal died at just twenty-seven years of age, making Joseph Raynal a widower and leaving behind a young daughter who would one day seek passage into white society.11

Joseph Raynal's brother-in-law, John Benjamin Esnard, was of the same generation and as such faced many of the same heady decisions as war engulfed (p.129) his homeland. Like Raynal, both of Esnard's parents were people of color. His father, Siméon Esnard, was born in Cuba in 1805 and was likely part of the large migration of free blacks whose odyssey had begun with the revolution in Saint-Domingue. By the late antebellum period, Siméon Esnard was the head of a large family and operated his own shoe store in New Orleans's First Ward. As with Raynal, John Benjamin Esnard joined the Union Army after the occupation. After the war he came home and became a representative from St. Mary Parish, a sugar planting region in Louisiana's Acadiana region. There he remained until 1868, when violent elements inimical to his career as a Republican forced Esnard's retreat to New Orleans. The ensuing investigation by the House of Representatives into that year's violent election, however, revealed that Esnard was quick to differentiate himself from the freedmen. Under oath, Esnard declared that he was “of French descent” and that he could not tell whether he were “a white man or a colored man.”12

On June 6, 1874, Esnard married Josephine Florentine Krach, an unremarkable detail in of itself except for the fact that his bride was a white woman. Esnard's marrying across the color line seems to answer the question of his self-identity, but the reality was far more complex. The details of this union offer a rare glimpse into the sort of fluid racial identities that occupied the margins of Southern urban life in the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, although white, Josephine Krach was no stranger to interracial marriage—her stepfather was a Creole of color. She was most likely born in the Alsatian region of France to a Louisiana man and a French woman. Josephine's father died a few years after her birth, however, and her mother sailed to Louisiana, presumably leaving Josephine and another daughter in the care of relatives in France. There she grew into womanhood, learning French as her only tongue. Meanwhile in New Orleans, Josephine's mother met and in 1858 married an Afro-Creole man by the name of Pierre Dejean. Although antimiscegenation laws forbade such unions, the couple had their marriage solemnized in a ceremony at the city's Holy Trinity Catholic Church, an institution that served primarily the German community in the Bywater area of town. Mme Dejean probably first became acquainted with Esnard during Reconstruction. A keen businesswoman, she had amassed a considerable amount of capital that she sought to invest in both real estate and commerce. Impressed with Esnard's financial skills, Dejean placed a large portion of her fortune under his management. Like the servant in the parable of the talents to whom much was given, Esnard had proven himself worthy of greater rewards. When Dejean's daughters came to New Orleans from France in 1871, Esnard began to court his future wife.13

Even before the Republican Party lost control of Louisiana, the Esnards and Raynals had already begun their journey across the color line. With the Compromise of 1877, these efforts intensified, but with mixed results. Marie Ella (p.130) Raynal, the daughter that Joseph and Olympe Raynal had registered as white in 1867, married in New Orleans a presumably white man from Michigan named August Summers. Unlike her parents, however, Olympe Raynal Summers encountered difficulty in registering her firstborn as white. Instead, Louis Aristide Summers received a “C” denoting race on his January 1895 birth certificate. Perhaps unsure himself, the recorder a year later merely left blank the space denoting race on younger brother Charles Henry's birth certificate. Possibly because of this setback, the Summers family changed Louis Aristide's name to August Jr.—the name that he would successfully carry not only into adulthood but also across the color line.14

Despite his brief but conspicuous stance as a Louisiana “black” Republican, John Benjamin Esnard and his descendants seem to have passed into white society more easily than his older sister's grandchildren. Undoubtedly his marrying a white woman facilitated such a transition. At the same time, crossing the racial line created a division of color within the Esnard clan. By the turn of the twentieth century not only did Esnard and his six children live as white, so did the family of his business partner and younger brother Siméon Jr. Yet, unlike John Benjamin, Siméon had not married a white woman, nor had he ever registered his children as white at their birth. In 1910 Siméon found his family recorded as “mulatto” on the census. His claim that his parents had been born in France—a false claim—went recorded by the census official but did not change the clerk's verdict on racial classification. The white classification of John Benjamin and his family went unchallenged that year, but his brother's experience might have served as a cautionary tale. Perhaps such close geo-graphic proximity with next of kin who were clearly too dark-skinned to pass for white posed too great a risk to his children's futures. Whatever the inspiration may have been, by 1920 John Benjamin Esnard and his family had moved to Los Angeles, where they would remain forever white. To underscore the point, just as his brother Siméon had done in New Orleans a decade earlier, John Benjamin Esnard informed census officials in 1920 that both of his parents had been born in France.15

One might easily dismiss the experiences of the Esnards and Raynals by suggesting that they were mere bit players in the grander scheme of Reconstruction-era politics, but even far more politically prominent men faced a similar dilemma of self-identity when confronted with the hard facts of a rapidly changing racial environment. The son of a wealthy white Frenchman and a free woman of color, Charles St. Albin Sauvinet came from a similar background as Joseph Raynal and John Benjamin Esnard. Thirty years old on the eve of the Civil War, he was a man of considerable substance and cultural refinement, and (p.131) by all accounts so fair-skinned that anyone who did not know otherwise would have described him as white.16

Like many other men of his generation and caste, Sauvinet recognized the possibilities that accompanied the regime change in 1862. Although he had served as an officer in the Confederate Native Guards, he quickly tendered his services as interpreter to General Benjamin Butler after the fall of New Orleans to the Union. From that moment, Sauvinet's political star was on the rise. When Butler formed the first black regiments from Louisiana, Sauvinet received a captaincy. What was unusual about his service in the war was that, unlike most of his fellow elite Afro-Creole officers who nearly to a man resigned their commissions in protest against ill-treatment, Sauvinet managed not only to serve out the entire war as an officer but even received a promotion to regimental quartermaster. When the war was over, he returned to New Orleans and served as the head cashier for the Freedman's Bank, won a seat as a city alder-man, and in the election of 1870 attained the office of Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff.17

An event took place in January 1871, however, that would publicly challenge all of Sauvinet's assumptions about his own racial identity. He and two white men had gone to the Bank Coffeehouse on Royal Street in the French Quarter to discuss business over a midday drink. It was a place that Sauvinet knew well. Only a few weeks earlier he had gone to the Bank in his official capacity as Civil Sheriff of Orleans Parish to discuss rent payments with the bar's proprietor, Joseph Walker. As the two sipped cognac and wrapped up business in Walker's upstairs office, the barman paused and asked if Sauvinet might be able to do a favor for him. Walker had been told that Sauvinet was a colored man and that he would appreciate his no longer coming to drink in the bar because it would hurt his business. Sauvinet responded that he “had always drank in all houses and that it was too late now to go back.” Now, as he sat at the table with his two drinking companions, it became clear to Sauvinet that the Bank Coffeehouse meant to deny him service. He refused to “cause a fuss” at the time, but a few days later he filed suit against Joseph Walker for being in violation of Louisiana's civil rights law of 1870.18

The trial that ensued revealed the confusion and contradictions that resided in a man like Sauvinet. One might interpret his actions in court as those of a man crusading for racial justice, but one could also just as easily see the deep personal outrage felt by a man who sensed the imperiled nature of his own privileged status. By his own admission, Sauvinet had “been in the habit of going to all the bar-rooms [in New Orleans] for the last twenty-five years” and had visited the Bank “times and times over,” even drinking “on special invitation of the proprietor at his own bar, once if not more.” Ironically, new laws (p.132) intended to protect the rights of black people now threatened Sauvinet's ability to move freely within white society. When the defense's counsel asked point-blank if he were a colored man, Sauvinet responded, “whether I am or not I do not know myself—but I am, and was legally for this reason; that prior to the war and before the Congress of the United States had passed laws granting and giving citizenship to men born on the soil whether colored or not, you had always refused me.” Others had defined him as black, according to Sauvinet. Such a temporizing reply only encouraged further cross-examination. When asked, “Have you not stated that you are as much a white man and of white blood as any man in the community?” Sauvinet retorted, “I have stated so.— Ain't I?”19

While one might not be able to completely define Sauvinet's own sense of self-identity from his court testimony, other evidence suggests that he wished his children to be considered white. When registering his three children with the recorder of births in Union-occupied New Orleans, Sauvinet made sure to secure a white racial categorization for each of them. These three children would not see their parents grow into old age. Sauvinet's wife, Angela Chesse, died in 1868. A decade later, distraught over his youngest son's terminal case of yellow fever, Charles Sauvinet committed suicide in the front bedroom of his family's home. When seventeen-year-old Charles Silas Sauvinet died two weeks later, the medical examiner produced a death certificate that bears a “C’’ denoting race. Eldest son James Nelson Sauvinet, however, had by 1890 passed into white society—first as a traveling musician in Texas and later as a music instructor in Memphis. A daughter born in New Orleans in 1867 later married one of the thousands of Italian immigrants who came to the city in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Whatever struggles Italians may have encountered in being accepted into white society in turn-of-the century New Orleans, their children all passed successfully into white society, perhaps never knowing the entirety of their own heritage.20

The decision to become involved in politics made by some free men of color could also jeopardize the aspirations of family members who sought to cross the color line. One particularly unusual case involves the siblings of a prominent black Republican politician named William H. Vigers. The offspring of a wealthy slaveholding white commission merchant who had emigrated from Denmark and a mixed-race mother, the Vigers children clearly enjoyed the privileges granted to free blacks of high birth in antebellum New Orleans. While such evidence might not fully indicate the community's perception of them, like many other members of their racial caste and economic status, antebellum city directories failed to add the denotation “f.m.c.” or “f.w.c.” behind their names. Coming into their majority before the start of the Civil War, both (p.133) William and older sister Caroline had begun work as school teachers while the remaining younger siblings—ranging in age from eighteen to four—lived at home with their recently widowed mother. Positioned as they were, it is not difficult to imagine the family quietly passing into white society amid the upheaval of war, occupation, and Reconstruction. When the war was over, however, eldest son William saw an opportunity to become something more than merely the privileged mixed-race offspring of a white man.21

William Vigers had made himself every bit as conspicuous during Reconstruction as Charles Sauvinet, and this fact foreclosed on his siblings’ efforts to quietly cross the color line. As early as 1865, Vigers had become involved in Louisiana's universal suffrage movement, and he eventually served as the chief clerk of the Louisiana House of Representatives under the Republican regime and as the recording secretary of his party long after the Compromise of 1877. Vigers's post-Reconstruction employment in the Custom House on Canal Street also identified him squarely with Republican politics. Yet his public life contrasted sharply with the actions of his siblings, who came of age during the turbulent years of Reconstruction. Immediately after the war, city directories failed to identify Caroline or William Vigers as colored, but as William became more readily associated with the Republican regime, his racial classification as a colored man appeared in print beside his name. Caroline and her other younger stayed out of politics, and as a consequence, temporarily avoided a public designation as black. Although Caroline had taught at a segregated school for colored children, she and her other siblings continued to engage in the precarious exercise of straddling the color line. In 1890 William and Caroline, along with younger siblings Charles and John, all lived under the same roof at 206 Conti Street, where all but William incongruously passed. Twenty years later, and a decade after William's death, Caroline, now retired; John, a city policeman; and a niece were all recorded in the census as white. How successfully they had crossed the color line remains unclear, however, as each received a “colored” classification on their death certificate.22

For mixed-race people who had earnestly championed the cause of racial equality after the war, probably one of the most frustrating legacies of the period was the brutal lesson of failure that seemed to inform the decisions of the next generation. While the Esnards, Raynals, and Sauvinets quietly laid the groundwork for their children's racial passing—and perhaps themselves questioned the extent of their own common cause with the freedpeople—others fully embraced the goals of equality only to find their aspirations crushed by an inherently racist society. It must have been doubly bitter when even the most steadfast supporters of civil rights found that their children rejected the burdens associated with being an agent of social change.

(p.134) Peter Joseph had given over the better part of his adult life to Republican causes. After serving as a private in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, Joseph returned to his native New Orleans, where he became an officer in the state militia as well as a captain in the Republican administration's Metropolitan Police. In March 1874, he successfully brought suit against the owner of a popular theater known as the Academy of Music for violation of state civil rights statues after the establishment's doorman had refused his admittance to a show. In September of that same year, he quite literally laid his life on the line for his party when the “Metropolitans” engaged in a bloody battle with the White League in the streets of New Orleans. Undeterred by increasing violence against authority figures, Joseph continued in the service of the police until spring 1877, when the “Redeemers” (conservative Democrats, also known as “Bourbon Democrats”) put this force and most other remaining state-run apparatuses devised by the Republicans out of business.23

Not long after the Democratic Party regained control of Louisiana in 1877, Peter Joseph managed to parlay his connections within the Metropolitan Police and Republican Party into a federal patronage job at the U.S. Custom House. By 1880 he had been promoted to captain of night inspectors and worked alongside other prominent Afro-Creole political activists like William Vigers, Paul Trevigne, and Arnold Bertonneau, some of whom later engineered the landmark segregation case Plessy v. Ferguson. Yet by the 1890s, even a dedicated individual like Joseph had seen enough. In the three decades since the end of the Civil War, he had witnessed the slow erosion of the rights he had fought so tirelessly to secure. Perhaps for this reason he moved his family to Denver, Colorado, and returned to his prewar trade of bricklayer. Although the Joseph family did not cross the color line in the West, the lesson of postbellum defeat was not lost on his eldest surviving son, the ironically named Sumner Geddes Joseph. When he walked into the Kenosha County, Wisconsin, courthouse to register for the draft in 1918, Sumner Joseph declared himself a white man.24

Emancipation and its attendant social change presented yet another set of challenges to free women of color. While freedom represented a giant step forward for thousands of enslaved black women, it also posed an enormous threat to the caste-conscious distinction held by black women who had always been free. No matter whether one belonged to the elite or more middling classes of New Orleans's free women of color, one's status as a lady, and not merely a woman, was something to be guarded jealously. For poorer free women of color in particular, emancipation swept away the one characteristic that had elevated their status under the antebellum regime. For this group to preserve their social status, marrying a man of means or somehow attaching one's self to white society proved to be attractive options. Only through the acquisition (p.135) of wealth or a white identity could a woman of color hope to preserve, let alone improve, her position in society. Conversely, life as a single black female with few private resources in post-emancipation New Orleans could lead directly to a life of drudgery in a low-status, low-wage job.

The social upheaval that accompanied emancipation must have been particularly upsetting for financially marginal single young women of color, such as Louise Drouet and her older half-sister Sylvanie Morgan. Eighteen and twenty-one years of age, respectively, at the end of the war, they were not old enough to have established themselves in society during the antebellum regime. Now they had to do so in a social terrain that was much different than the one in which they had been born. Their mother, herself a fair-skinned, mixed-race free woman of color, had been a placée—a professional mistress—to their respective fathers, who had both been white men. Their mother's abrupt death in 1858 had left the girls under the care of extended family in the city's free colored community.

Louise Drouet had one advantage that her half-sister did not. Unlike Samuel Morgan, who had disappeared from New Orleans not long after the birth of his daughter Sylvanie, Louis Flourange Drouet had taken a particularly active interest in the life of Louise. By 1861 Louis Drouet had instructed his daughter's mixed-race relatives to enroll Louise at the St. Augustine Convent, a boarding school operated for young women of color on St. Claude Avenue in the historically Afro-Creole neighborhood of Trémé. As societal norms collapsed all around the convent's walls, Louise Drouet remained within, acquiring both education and moral instruction befitting a young lady.25

A chance event in the fall of 1865 opened the door to a kind of social mobility that Louise Drouet might have only dreamed about. Her wealthy, bachelor father collapsed in his garden one afternoon and had to be carried inside by a very concerned tenant, a German immigrant named Schwartz. When he awoke later that evening, Drouet openly acknowledged the poorly kept secret of his daughter's existence to Schwartz. “Why do you not take her with you?” quizzed Schwartz, to which Drouet replied, “Perhaps it would be better for her to remain in the convent.” The tenant was incredulous and urged Drouet to bring his daughter to live at the house. After all, he pointed out, Drouet was terribly ill and needed someone to take care of him. “I'm afraid people will talk about that,” fretted the sickly old Creole. “Let people talk,” Schwartz fired back. Two weeks later, eighteen-year-old Louise came to live with her father.26

Over the next seven years, Louise grew into womanhood under the roof of her father and lived the life of a young, white lady. With a few notable exceptions, Louis kept little counsel with the rest of his vast extended family, and Louise became the central focus of his attention. If those around him did not (p.136) suspect the fair-skinned Louise to be the illegitimate issue of his union with a free woman of color, her father did nothing to disabuse such notions. Indeed, this aging white Creole seemed to be complicit in his daughter's subtle bid to cross the color line. When a census official came to their home in 1870, he undoubtedly believed that a young woman with such a father and an Irish domestic servant was white.27

Sylvanie Morgan also seemed to enjoy her half-sister's proximity to white society. She became a frequent visitor to the Drouet house while Louise lived there, even after Morgan's marriage to an Afro-Creole man named Eugene Duvernay. Indeed, she also seems to have had aspirations of crossing the color line—if not for herself, certainly for her children. Like other mixed-race people of fair complexion, Sylvanie Duvernay acquired birth certificates declaring her children as white, starting with her firstborn in 1868. Her half-sister's public association with white society was but one additional step toward her own family's incremental change in racial identity.28

Louise Drouet's plans of living the life of a white lady came to an abrupt end with her father's death in the fall of 1872. The few white relatives who had met Louise suddenly became far less cordial to their first cousin and moved swiftly to cut her out of any possible inheritance from her father. When Louise sued the estate for alimony, one of her primary claims outside of paternity was that she had been brought up as a lady and was of “too delicate a constitution” to perform the sort of menial work that her cousins now suggested she undertake to support herself. Although she had won her case at the lower court, an appeal to the state supreme court reversed the decision, and Louise was left penniless. In 1878 she married a politically active Afro-Creole man named E. P. Ducloslange, but none of their children ever passed into white society. Her children worked as seamstresses once they reached their late teens. It was an occupation that Louise's white relatives had suggested she take up to support herself instead of praying for support from her father's estate.29

In contrast, at least one of Sylvanie Duvernay's children managed to cross over into white society, though with great travail. Eugene Duvernay, born in 1869, moved in 1900 to Mobile, Alabama, where he married a mixed-race woman. Both successfully passed for white on the 1910 census, but by 1920 their racial classification had reverted back to mulatto. It required a move to Cleve-land, Ohio, sometime before 1930 to finally make the transition permanent. As an illustration of how multigenerational in outlook racial passing could be, according to a living ancestor who had always defined herself as white, her grandfather, the son of Eugene Duvernay, had told his children that he had been adopted.30

(p.137) The presence of complicit relatives, both black and white, could make a great deal of difference as to whether a mixed-race individual successfully passed for white. Such was the case with the ironically named Blanche Penn. She was born in January 1859 to Josephine Keating, a seventeen-year-old free woman of color, and Davidson Bradfute Penn, the son of one of the city's wealthiest white men. By the time of the 1860 census, Blanche and her mother had gone to live with the extended mixed-race Keating family. The coming decade, however, brought great change to all parties. Shortly after Blanche's birth, Penn married a white woman, then served for the duration of the Civil War as an officer in the Confederate Army. After the war he became involved in Reconstruction-era fusion politics and eventually became the favored candidate for governor under the banner of Liberal Republicanism. Things did not turn out so well for Josephine Keating, who died in 1868 at the age of twenty-five. Blanche went to live at her Aunt Olivia's mixed-race boarding house. Perhaps confused by the unusual array of white and mulatto boarders—not to mention that Blanche carried her father's family name—the census worker recorded the eleven-year-old as white. Indeed, on the actual census record, she had been grouped with white boarders with whom she had no blood relationship. The entire household—black as well as white—must have known about her mixed-race background. As Virginia Domínguez points out, “Many colored Creoles protect others who are trying to pass, to the point of feigning ignorance of certain branches of their families.” Eight years later, Blanche Penn gave birth to a son, Alfred, the issue of her marriage to a white man named George Wright. A young widow by the time of the 1880 census, Blanche and her son had successfully passed into white society.31

Taken collectively, these case studies help to form some preliminary assumptions about members of New Orleans’ free black community who crossed the color line in the decades following emancipation. Antebellum blood ties with white New Orleanians undoubtedly influenced not only their decision to pass, but also informed their self-perception as being something other than strictly white or black. Indeed, for much of the free colored population of New Orleans, the construction of their unique racial identity had been generations in the making by the time emancipation threw the entire racial order into disarray. Ill at ease with the uncertainty of the postbellum racial dynamic, some members of the free black community sought to preserve their family's status by redefining themselves as exclusively white.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of these case studies, however, is that racial passing appears to have been less often an individual enterprise than it was a collection of incremental deeds that spanned multiple generations. While some did not cross the color line, this did not prevent them from enabling the eventual passing of their children. Indeed, with many of these cases, the journey (p.138) across the color line began with a birth certificate declaring a mixed-race child as white. Those who crossed the color line also seem to have uniformly done so with the complicity of either white or black relations. The act of passing, at least until a new identity had been secured, was simply too complicated for most individuals to accomplish alone. Conversely, uncooperative black or white relatives could, and did, prevent a mixed-race person from passing.

Until a more systematic analysis that encompasses a broader cross-section of the free black population of New Orleans is conducted, many questions about identity and racial passing within this culture will remain unanswered. Nevertheless, as this essay has shown, the journey across the color line was far more complex and time-consuming—though no less dramatic—than the fictitious tales of passing written by turn-of-the-century novelists. Moreover, these tales of individuals struggling with their own identity testify to the long-lasting effects of war, emancipation, and Reconstruction on America's racial consciousness.


(1.) Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes, Nos Hommes et Notre Histoire—Our People and Our History: Fifty Creole Portraits, trans. Sister Dorothea Olga McCants, (1911; Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 18; Charles Barthelemy Roussève, The Negro in Louisiana: Aspects of His History and His Literature (New Orleans: Xavier University Press, 1937), 99–100. When discussing Creole New Orleans, it is important to define what one means by the potentially contentious term Creole. I defer to the judgment of Joseph G. Tregle, who applies the definition to all individuals of any race born in Louisiana and of Latin ancestry. “Creoles and Americans,” in Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization, ed. Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992), 140. For a discussion of the variant definitions of Creole, particularly in Afro-Creole terms, see Sybil Kein, ed., Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana's Free People of Color (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), xiii–xvii; Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, “The Formation of Afro-Creole Culture,” in Creole New Orleans, 60–61.

(2.) David Rankin, “The Impact of the Civil War on the Free Colored Community in New Orleans,” Perspectives in American History, 13 (1977–1978): 401; Roussève, The Negro in Louisiana, 99. For an excellent study of the legal aspects of racial “passing” in Louisiana, see Virginia R. Domínguez, White By Definition: Social Classification in Louisiana (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986).

(3.) For one of the earliest key works in whiteness studies, see David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London, New York: Verso, 1991); for a work focused specifically on the American South, see Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890–1940 (New York: Pantheon, 1998). Toni Morrison has used the phrase “master narrative” or referred to the same in many of her works. See, for example, Beloved: A Novel (New York: Plume, 1988).

(4.) David Rankin, “The Politics of Caste: Free Colored Leadership in New Orleans During the Civil War,” in Robert R. Macdonald, John R. Kemp, and Edward F. Haas, eds., Louisiana's Black Heritage (New Orleans: Louisiana State Museum, 1979), 107–46; Joseph Logsdon and Caryn Cossé Bell, “The Americanization of Black New Orleans,” in Creole New Orleans, 201–61; Shirley Elizabeth Thompson, “ ‘Ah Toucoutou, ye conin vous’: History and Memory in Creole New Orleans,” American Quarterly 53 (June 2001): (p.242) 235. Whereas literary critics have written much about racial passing in popular fiction, the historical literature on the topic is relatively thin. The principal synthesis in this regard is Joel Williamson, New People: Miscegenation and Mulattos in the United States (New York: Free Press, 1980). See also Stephan Talty, Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White Culture, A Social History (New York: HarperCollins, 2003). For works that take a similar approach to investigating Afro-Creoles, see Frances Jerome Woods, Marginality and Identity: A Colored Creole Family through Ten Generations (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972); and Gary B. Mills, The Forgotton People: Cane River's Creoles of Color (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977).

(5.) For a discussion of antebellum New Orleans's three-tiered racial caste system, see Kimberly S. Hangar, “Origins of New Orleans's Free Creoles of Color,” in Creoles of Color of the Gulf South, ed., James H. Dormon (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996), 22–23; Jerah Johnson, “Colonial New Orleans” in Creole New Orleans, 53–55; Desdunes, Our People and Our History, 3–9, 111, 134–35; Logsdon and Bell, “The Americanization of Black New Orleans,” 207–11; Judith Kelleher Schafer, Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846–1862 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), xiv–xvi, 1.

(6.) John W. Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 1860–1880 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), 25–77; Domínguez, White By Definition, 133–36.

(7.) This is the central narrative of both Desdunes and Rousséve. For a more contemporary narrative of the role played by New Orleans's free black community in the Civil War, see Stephen J. Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest: André Cailloux and Claude Paschal Maistre in Civil War New Orleans (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000); James G. Hollandsworth Jr., The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience during the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995); and Caryn Cossé Bell, Revolution, Romanticism, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718–1868 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997), 222–75.

(8.) Fee services such as Ancestry.com as well as the Louisiana death, birth, and marriage indexes have sped up this research an immeasurable amount.

(9.) A large number of white and black slaveholding Creole refugees came to New Orleans in 1809, bolstering the population, wealth, and Creole attributes of the city's free black population. See Nathalie Dessens, From Saint-Domingue to New Orleans: Migration and Influences (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007); and 1860 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication M653, roll 418, p. 363. A search of the 1850 and 1860 census slave schedules produced no details of the Raynals, though this may be an issue of indexing. Auguste Raynal was born in 1796 in New Orleans. Auguste Raynal and his son appear in postbellum city directories as planters living at 338 Main St. d 2. Gardner's New Orleans Directory for 1866 (New Orleans: Charles Gardner, 1866); Gardner's New Orleans Directory for 1867 (New Orleans: Charles Gardner, 1867); Andrew B. Booth, Records of Louisiana Confederate Soldiers & Confederate Commands (New Orleans: [—], 1920) 3:258.

(10.) Joseph Raynal, Complied Service Records, Record Group 94 (RG94), National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.; Report of the Adjutant General, Louisiana State Militia, 1870, Jackson Barracks Military Archives, Chalmette, Louisiana; Edwards' Annual Directory to the Inhabitants, Institutions, Incorporated Companies, Manufacturers, Establishments, Businesses, Business Firms, etc., etc., in the City of New Orleans for 1870 (St. Louis & New York: Edwards & Co., 1870); Dennis C. Rousey, Policing the Southern City: New Orleans, 1805–1889 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996), 126–58.

(11.) Birth Certificate, Marie Ella Raynal, Orleans Parish Birth Records (OPBR), Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge, 47:91; Death Certificate, Olympe Raynal, Louisiana Death Records Index (LDRI), Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge, 46:840.

(p.243) (12.) 1850 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, roll 238, p. 28; Eric Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 71; David Rankin, “Origins of the Black Leadership Class in New Orleans During Reconstruction,” Journal of Southern History 40 (Aug. 1974): 425, 428.

(13.) See the testimony of Mme J. B. Esnard in Succession of Pierre Dejean (Jules, Victor J, and Arthur Dejean vs. Mrs. Josephine Schaeffer, Widow of Pierre Dejean), no. 19588, June 24, 1887, Division A Orleans Parish Civil District Court. Josephine Schaeffer, the mother of Josephine Krach, possibly had ties to this parish through her first husband.

(14.) Birth Certificate, Louis Aristide Summers, OPBR 103:799; Birth Certificate, Charles Henry Summers, OPBR 112:142; 1900 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T623, roll 572, p. 1B; 1920 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, roll 620, p. 9B. There is some question as to the ethnic background of August Summers. His death certificate bears the racial description of “white or Mexican.” Death Certificate, August J. Summers, LDRI, July 5, 1948.

(15.) 1900 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T623, roll 572, pp. 5A, 7B; Birth Certificates for Marie Louise Esnard, 91:518, Marie Josephine Esnard, 86:276, and Marie Florentine Esnard, 87:752, all in OPBR; 1910 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, roll 521, pp. 67B, 129B; 1920 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, roll 112, p. 12A.

(16.) The Louisiana State Museum possesses an 1832 portrait of Sauvinet's white father, Joseph Sauvinet, by Jean Joseph Vaudechamp. Sauvinet v. Walker, no. 3513, 27 La. Ann. 14, (1875).

(17.) Sauvinet v. Walker; Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers, 190; 1870 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication 593, roll 522, p. 583.

(18.) Sauvinet v. Walker; New Orleans Louisianian, Mar. 2, 1871.

(20.) Birth Certificates for James Nelson Sauvinet, 34:442, Charles Silas Sauvinet, 34:443, and Marie Clothilde Sauvinet, 34:443, all in OPBR. These three offspring appear to have been registered on the same day, Feb. 18, 1863; Death Certificate, Charles S. Sauvinet Jr., LDRI 71:573; New Orleans Times, July 26, 1868; New Orleans Times, July 24, 1878; Daily Picayune, Aug. 11, 1878; Houston Directory, 1889–1890 (Houston: Morrison & Fourmy, 1889); 1910 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, roll 1519, p. 317B; 1920 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, roll 1763, p. 8B (James N. Sauvinet). A wealth of genealogical data on the Sauvinets descended from Angela C. Sauvinet D'Arpa had been placed online by Rosemary DeFiglio, a great-granddaughter of C. S. Sauvinet. Formerly posted at http://rand.pratt.edu/~defiglio/tree.html, the link is no longer active. A hardcopy of this site in the author's possession.

(21.) 1850 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, roll 235, p. 15; 1850 U.S. Federal Census—Slave Schedules, National Archives Microfilm Publication M432; Gardner's New Orleans Directory for 1861 (New Orleans: Charles Gardner, 1861). C. S. Sauvinet also lacked any denotation of color in antebellum city directories. New Orleans Directory for 1841 (New Orleans: J. L. Sollee & Co, 1840). City directory entries for the free black branches of the Esnard or Raynal clans do not bear racial designations either. Michel & Co. New Orleans Directory and Commercial Register for 1846 (New Orleans: Michel & Co, 1846); Death Certificate, William F. Vigers, LDRI 17:338; Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers, 219.

(22.) Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers, 219; New Orleans Weekly Louisianian, Apr. 14, 1872; New Orleans Weekly Pelican, Aug. 20, 1887; Charles Gardner's Directory for New Orleans, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869 (New Orleans: Charles Gardner, 1866–69). William Vigers first appears as “(col'd)” in 1870. Edwards' Annual Directory (New Orleans: Edwards & Co., (p.244) 1870); Weekly Pelican, Oct. 1, 1887; Soards New Orleans Directory (New Orleans: Soards, 1890); 1910 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, roll 520, p. 10B. Caryn Cossé Bell relates an antebellum equivalent of this dynamic in Revolution, Romanticism, and Afro-Creole Protest, 128–29.

(23.) Peter Joseph, Compiled Service Record, National Archives RG 94; Report of the Adjutant General, Louisiana State Militia, 1870; Peter Joseph v. David Bidwell, 28 La. Ann. 382 (1876); Justin A. Nystrom, “Redeemer's Carnival: The Urban Drama of Reconstruction in New Orleans” (PhD diss., University of Georgia, 2004), 155–56.

(24.) Applications for Appointments as Customs Service Officers, box 17, Record Group 56–246, National Archives Building Washington, D.C.; Appointment Registers of Customs Service Employees 11:365–421, Record Group 56–241, National Archives Building Washington, D.C. Like John Benjamin Esnard, Arnold Bertonneau moved to California around the turn of the century, where he and his descendants successfully crossed the color line. Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers, 18; 1920 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, roll 117, p. 12A; 1880 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T9, roll 464; 1900 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T623, roll 118, p. 9A; World War I Draft Registration Cards, M1509 (online database), National Archives Building Washington, D.C. Sumner Geddes Joseph passed as white the rest of his life. 1930 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T626M, roll 2578, p. 9A.

(25.) Unless otherwise noted, personal information about Louise Drouet and Sylvanie Morgan comes from Louise Drouet vs. the Succession of L. F. Drouet, no. 4800, 26 La. Ann. 323 (1874). For a discussion of the custom of plaçage, see Violet Harrington Bryan, “Marcus Christian's Treatment of Les Gens de Coleur Libre,” in Creole, 50–53; Joan M. Martin, “Plaçage and the Louisiana Gens de Coleur Libre: How Race and Sex Defined the Lifestyles of Free Women of Color,” in Creole, 65–68; M. Boniface Adams, “The Gift of Religious Leadership: Henriette Delille and the Foundation of the Holy Family Sisters,” in Cross, Crozier, and Crucible: A Volume Celebrating the Bicentennial of a Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, ed. Glen R. Conrad (New Orleans: Archdiocese of New Orleans, 1993), 370–73.

(26.) Drouet vs. the Succession of Drouet.

(27.) 1870 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication 593, roll 519, p. 350.

(28.) The children of Sylvanie Morgan and Eugene Duvernay received a variety of classifications on their birth certificates: Elizabeth Duvernay (1868) 47:283—white; Eugene A. Duvernay (1869) 53:283—no color recorded; Sylvania Duvernay (1872) 60:59—no color recorded; Adelaide Duvernay (1877) 71:652—colored; Samuel George Duvernay (1880) 104:138—no color recorded; Frederick Allen Duvernay (1883) 104:203—no color recorded; Maria Leado Duvernay (1884) 104:407—white; all in Louisiana Birth Records Index, Vital Records Collection Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge, La.

(29.) Drouet vs. the Succession of Drouet; Louisiana Marriage Records Index, Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge 6:590. Edouard Phillipe Ducloslange had been a delegate to the 1872 Republican state convention from the same ward as Governor Henry Clay Warmoth. New Orleans Weekly Louisianian, July 1, 1872; 1900 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T623, roll 574, p. 3A.

(30.) 1910 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, roll 27, part 2; 1920 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, roll 35, p. 27A; 1930 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T626I, roll 1775, p. 16B; Rebecca Darling to author, Mar. 21, 2003.

(31.) Blanche Penn is registered as “colored” on her birth certificate. Birth Certificate, Blanche Penn, OPBR 6:383; 1860 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication M653, roll 256, p. 296; Death Certificate, Josephine Keating (July 7, 1868), LDRI (p.245) 43:18; 1870 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication M593, roll 520, p. 712; 1870 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication M593, roll 520, p. 667; Birth Certificate, Alfred Hugh Wright, OPBR 72:410; 1880 U.S. Federal Census, National Archives Microfilm Publication T9, roll 459, p. 226.4. In a twist of irony, Davidson Bradfute Penn married the sister of Charles Conrad Jr., one of the attorneys who represented Louise Drouet in her suit against her father's estate. Drouet vs. the Succession of Drouet; Domínguez, White By Definition, 161.