19th Century Creoles in New Orleans, Louisiana

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New Orleans Mardi Gras in the early 1890s

In the 1800s, the Creoles of New Orleans were composed of two groups, the Creoles and Afro-Creoles, who had different values, languages, occupations, and status of women.

The Creoles of New Orleans were composed of two groups, the Creoles and Afro-Creoles, (white-mix and blacks) who had different values, languages, occupations, and status of women.

New Orleans Creole in the 19th Century

The Creoles of Louisiana were the white, upper class, French speaking society of New Orleans. There were also the Afro-Creoles whose ancestry derived from Europe and African slaves. The “Creoles” (the upper class white society) were offended when the term became “indiscriminate[ly] used…to cover the colored Creoles as well as white French-speaking New Orleanians.” Today, the term Creole refers only to the Afro-Creoles.

Values

The Afro-Creoles attempted to emulate the same values of the more elite community, the Creoles. Therefore, the Creole and Afro-Creole communities held the same values which helped them draw closer together. Both cultures placed the importance on property and family. Not surprisingly, early marriage was expected and celebrated for Creole women.

Language

Although both the Creoles and Afro-Creoles incorporate the French language into their dialect, there are subtle differences between the two dialects. The Creoles speak standard French, which is spoken by the descendants of the French upper classes in and around New Orleans. This is slightly different from the Afro-Creoles who speak Louisiana Creole. Louisiana Creole is a blend of various languages: English, French, and possible African or Spanish.

Employment

There was no set position and social class that defined Creoles and Afro-Creoles. Creoles in New Orleans ranged from the lower classes the more prosperous and elite classes. Some Creole women actually owned and operated grocery stores, market stores, and coffee shops. Unfortunately, Afro-Creoles were rarely able to reach the same economic status as the white Creoles in the 19th century. In this era, some Afro-Creoles were enslaved. Some of the free Afro-Creoles worked the same jobs, sometimes alongside, slaves. A majority of free Afro-Creoles held occupations equivalent to poor white immigrants. These jobs included: washerwoman, street vendor, domestic servants.

19th Century New Orleans’ Women

As mentioned earlier, women were expected to marry and raise a family. However, the different socio-economic classes of these women reflected different burdens they faced. The women of the upper-class felt watched, being forced into a position where everyone looks at them as a role model and their husbands treated them as objects; this burden is referred to as the “curse of the pedestal.” The working-class women faced a different oppression in which they were unable to move into a better occupational position and were often a part of indentured servitude; this burden is referred to as “the curse of the totem pole.” The Black women, the Afro-Creoles, were still not free from slavery; their burden is referred to as “the curse of the chattel.”

In the 19th century, there were huge distinctions and a few commonalities between Creoles and Afro-Creoles in New Orleans.

Sources:

  1. “Louisiana Creole.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 3 Feb. 2007 Louisiana Creole.
  2. Kein, Sybl, ed. Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana’s free People of Color. Baton Rouge: LA State UP, 2000, pp. 158-178.
  3. Jackson, Joy J. New Orleans in the Gilded Age: Politics and Urban Progress 1880-1896. Baton Rouge, LA State UP, 1969.