Louisiana Creole people refers to those who are descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French and Spanish descent. The term was first used during colonial times by the early French settlers to refer to those who were born in the colony, as opposed to those born in the Old World. After the Civil War, in response to the imposition of a binary racial classification imposed by the increasingly dominant Anglo-Saxon society (and the anxieties provoked thereby), some Creole scholars such as Charles Gayarre and Alcee Fortier began to assert that the word Creole referred exclusively to people of wholly European descent. But, references to "Creoles of Color" and "Creole Slaves" can be found in colonial-era documents. The term is now commonly applied to individuals of mixed-race heritage. Both groups have common European heritage and share cultural ties, such as the traditional use of the French language and the continuing practice of Catholicism; in most cases, the people are related to each other. Those of mixed race also have African and sometimes Native American ancestry.
The term "French Creoles" came to be applied to Creoles of European or white ancestry. Creoles of color", in use in the Colonial era but popularized in the 19th-century, came to refer to mixed-race people of African and European ancestry (primarily French and Spanish), who were native in the area before the Louisiana Purchase. Some Creoles of color may also have Native American heritage. Both groups of Creoles may have additional European ancestry, such as German, Irish or Italian, related to later immigrants to New Orleans. Most modern Creoles have family ties to Louisiana, particularly New Orleans; they are mostly Catholic in religion; through the nineteenth century, most spoke French and were strongly connected to French colonial culture; and they have had a major impact on the state's culture.
While the sophisticated Creole society of New Orleans has historically received much attention, the Cane River area developed its own strong mixed-race Creole culture, as did Frilot Cove and the Rideau Settlement. These Creole enclaves have had a long history of cultural independence.
Map of North America in 1750, before the French and Indian War (part of the international Seven Years' War (1756 to 1763). Possessions of Britain (pink), France (blue), and Spain (orange)
An early 1718 history of New Orleans defined "Creole" as "a child born in the colony as opposed to France or Spain." Through both the French and Spanish regimes, parochial and colonial governments used the term Creole for ethnic French and Spanish born in the New World as opposed to Europe.(Logsdon). Parisian French was the language of early New Orleans. Later it evolved to contain local phrases and slang terms. The French Creoles spoke what became known as Colonial French; over time, the language in the colony differed from that evolving in France. It was a Roman Catholic culture, practiced by the ethnic French and Spanish, and their mixed-race descendants, who developed as a third class of free people of color in New Orleans particularly.
The transfer of the French colony to the United States in 1803 under the Louisiana Purchase and the arrival of Anglo-Americans from New England and the South resulted in a cultural confrontation. Some Americans were reportedly shocked by aspects of the cultural and linguistic climate of the newly acquired territory: the predominance of French language and Catholicism, the free class of mixed-race people, and the strong African traditions of enslaved peoples. They pressured the United States' first Louisiana governor, W.C.C. Claiborne to change it.
Particularly in the South, which was a slave society, slavery had become a racial caste. Many whites considered it a binary racial society, with all who had African ancestry classified as black, regardless of their proportion of white or European ancestry. Although there was a growing population of free people of color, particularly in the Upper South, they generally did not have the same rights and freedoms as did those in Louisiana.
When Claiborne made English the official language of the territory, the French Creoles in New Orleans were outraged, and reportedly paraded in the streets. They rejected the Americans' effort to transform them overnight. In addition, upper-class French Creoles thought many of the arriving Americans were uncouth, especially the rough Kentucky boatmen (Kaintucks) who regularly visited the city, having maneuvered flatboats down the Mississippi River filled with goods for market.
Realizing that he needed local support, Claiborne restored French as an official language. In all forms of government, public forums and in the Catholic Church, French continued to be used. Most importantly, Colonial French and Creole French remained the language of the majority of the population of the state.
Colonists had referred to enslaved blacks who were native-born as creole, to distinguish them from new arrivals from Africa. Over time, the black Creoles and Africans created a French and West African hybrid language called Creole French or Louisiana Creole French. In some circumstances it was used by slaves, planters and free people of color alike. It was still spoken by some in Central Louisiana well into the 20th century. Creole French is typically not spoken in New Orleans any more, but certain words and phrases are still used. Creole people and culture are distinct from the Cajun people and culture, who are descended from French-speaking refugees forcibly resettled by the British from Acadia in Canada to Louisiana in the 18th century.
Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, better known as "Madame X", was a Creole from New Orleans
Adah Isaacs Menken, Creole actress, painter and poet.
As in the French or Spanish Caribbean and Latin American colonies, the Louisiana territory developed a mixed-race class, of whom there were numerous free people of color. In the early days they were descended mostly from European men and enslaved or free black or mixed-race women. French men took African women as mistresses or common-law wives, and sometimes married them.
Later, wealthy young white Creole men often took free or enslaved mixed-race women as mistresses or consorts before, or in addition to, their legal marriages, in a system known as plaçage. The young women's mothers often negotiated a form of dowry or property settlement to protect their futures. The men would often transfer social capital to their mistresses and children, including freedom for those who were enslaved, and education or apprenticeships. Mixed-race sons of wealthy men were sent to France for education, while daughters were educated in the local convent schools.
As a group, the mixed-race Creoles rapidly began to acquire education, skills (many in New Orleans worked as craftsmen and artisans), businesses and property. They were overwhelmingly Catholic, spoke Colonial French (although some also spoke Louisiana Creole French), and kept up many French social customs, modified by other parts of their ancestry and Louisiana culture. The free people of color married among themselves to maintain their class and social culture. The French-speaking mixed-race population came to be called "Creoles of color". "New Orleans persons of color were far wealthier, more secure, and more established than blacks elsewhere in Louisiana."
Under the French and Spanish rulers, Louisiana developed a three-tiered society, similar to that of Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, St.Lucia, Mexico, and other Latin colonies. This three-tiered society included a prosperous, educated group of mixed-race Creoles. Their identity as free people of color was one they had worked diligently towards and guarded carefully. By law they enjoyed most of the same rights and privileges as whites. They could and often did challenge the law in court and won cases against whites (Hirsch; Brasseaux; Mills; Kein etc.). They were property owners and created schools for their children. There were some free blacks in Louisiana, but most free people of color were of mixed race. They acquired education, property and power within the colony, and later, state.
Creole girls, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana" (1935 photo by Ben Shahn)
After the Civil War, mixed-race Creoles of Color resisted American attempts to impose their binary racial culture, which split the population into white and black (the latter including everyone other than whites). While the American Civil War promised rights and opportunities for the enslaved, it caused anxiety for the free persons of color. They knew the United States did not legally recognize a three-tiered society, and were the prospects of emancipation for thousands of slaves in Louisiana. It posed a considerable threat to the identity and position of the free people of color.
Following the Union victory in the Civil War, the Louisiana three-tiered society was gradually overrun by more European Americans, who classified everyone by the South's binary division of "black" and "white". Following Reconstruction, when white Democrats regained power in the state legislature, they passed Jim Crow laws and a constitution that effectively disfranchised most blacks and people of color, through discriminatory application of voter registration and electoral laws. The US Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 supported the binary society and the policy of "separate but equal" facilities (which were seldom achieved in fact) in the segregated South.
Whites increasingly claimed that the term Creole was to apply to whites only, and supported their views in "numerous articles, statements, speeches, and book inserts".
According to Virginia Dominguez,
"Charles Gayarré ... and Alcée Fortier ... led the unspoken though desperate defense of the Creole. As bright as these men clearly were, they still became engulfed in the reclassification process intent on salvaging white Creole status. Their speeches consequently read more like sympathetic eulogies than historical analysis."
P.G.T. Beauregard, Creole Confederate General
She suggests that, because of their struggle for redefinition, the white Creoles of European descent were particularly hostile to the exploration by the writer George Washington Cable of multiracial Creole society in his stories and novels. She thinks that in The Grandissimes, he exposed the Creoles' preoccupation with covering up blood connections with the free people of color and slaves. She writes,
"There was a veritable explosion of defenses of Creole ancestry. The more novelist George Washington Cable engaged his characters in family feuds over inheritance, embroiled them in sexual unions with blacks and mulattoes, and made them seem particularly defensive about their presumably pure Caucasian ancestry, the more vociferously the white Creoles responded, insisting on purity of white ancestry as a requirement for identification as Creole."
New Orleans was a city divided geographically between Latin (French Creole) and Anglo-American populations until well into the late 19th century (Hirsch & Logsdon). Those of Latin European descent lived east of Canal Street, in what became known as the French Quarter; the new American migrants settled west ("Uptown") of it. The Esplanade became the center of the Irish Channel, Irish Catholic immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century.
People of the French Colonies of Louisiana were not citizens until 1924 - They became citizens of the United States by the Indian citizenship act of 1924.
Crawfish Etouffee, a Creole dish
Louisiana Creole cuisine is recognized as a unique style of cooking originating in New Orleans. It makes use of what is called the Holy trinity (in this case, chopped celery, bell peppers, and onions) (as does Cajun cuisine). It has developed primarily from French, Spanish, African, Native American, and Caribbean historic influences, as well as later Irish, Italian, German, and American influences.
Gumbo is a traditional Creole dish from the French Quarter or Vieux Carré, the original European quarter of the city. It is a stew based on either seafood (usually shrimp, crabs, with oysters optional) and sausage, or chicken and sausage. Both contain the "Holy Trinity" and are served over rice. Gumbo is often seasoned with filé, which is dried, ground sassafras leaves. It was created by French colonists trying to make bouillabaisse with New World ingredients. Starting with aromatic seasonings, the French used onions and celery as in a traditional mirepoix, but lacked carrots. Africans contributed okra; the Native Americans contributed filé; the Spanish contributed peppers and tomatoes; and new spices were adopted from Caribbean uses. The French would later favor a roux for thickening. The Italians added garlic. After arriving in numbers, German immigrants dominated city bakeries, including those making traditional French bread. They introduced having buttered French bread as a side to eating gumbo, as well as a side of German-style potato salad.
"Gumbo" (Gombô, in Louisiana Creole, Gombo, in Louisiana French); in French, gombo is the name for okra, derived from the West African name for okra. Okra is traditionally grown in regions of Africa, and parts of the Middle East and Spain. Gombo became the informal name of the stew, due to the popularity of okra for thickening the mixture. "Gumbo" became the localized evolution of the word gombo after the English language became dominant in Louisiana. Gombo is a shortened version of the words kilogombó or kigambó, also guingambó or quinbombó, in West Africa.
Jambalaya is the second of the famous Louisiana Creole dishes. It also arose in the original European sector of New Orleans. It combined ham with sausage, rice and tomato. Today, jambalaya is commonly made as a seafood (usually shrimp) or chicken jambalaya, or a combination of shrimp and chicken; most varieties contain smoked sausage more commonly used instead of ham in modern versions. But, a version of jambalaya uses ham with shrimp, and may be one of the original jambalayas. Jambalaya is prepared in two ways: red and brown. Red jambalaya is the original version of the dish, native to New Orleans. It is found in the New Orleans metro area as well, and in parts of Iberia Parish, parts of St. Martin Parish. Red jambalaya is known as Creole jambalaya, which comes from the Spanish heritage of New Orleans. Red jambalaya gets its color from a tomato base and commonly uses shrimp stock. In Cajun areas, people prepare a brown jambalaya in a Cajun style that omits the tomato. The brown color comes from the rendering of tasso (a type of salt-cured, smoked pork shoulder).
Jambalaya's origins derive from the Spanish influence of paella in New Orleans. An extended evolution of the dish Paella in Louisiana, from the time of the Spanish ownership of Louisiana. The dish was introduced into Cajun culture through the white French Creoles whose fortunes collapsed after the Civil War, in which many moved to Cajun country to start new lives. Some sought refuge within the Cajun population from the Americans, some remained in the New Orleans area. The name for jambalaya comes from a combination of French and Spanish origins. The name comes from jambon, the French word for ham, the French language and Spanish language article à la, and the ending of the word paella which came to be "ya" from the Spanish pronunciation of the letters ll+a.
Zydeco (a transliteration in English of 'zaricô' (snapbeans) from the song, "Les haricots sont pas salés"), was born in Creole communities on the prairies of southwest Louisiana in the 1920's. It is often considered the Creole music of Louisiana. Zydeco purportedly hails from Là-là, a genre of music now defunct, and old south Louisiana jurés. As Louisiana French and Creole French was the lingua franca of the prairies of southwest Louisiana, zydeco was initially sung only in Louisiana French or Creole French. Later, Louisiana Creoles, such as the 20th-century Chénier brothers, Andrus Espree (Beau Jocque), Rosie Lédet and others, added a new linguistic element to zydeco music. Today, most of zydeco's latest generation sings in English or Cajun French, with a few in Louisiana Creole French.
Zydeco is related to Swamp Pop, Blues, Jazz, and Cajun music. An instrument unique to zydeco is a form of washboard called the frottoir or scrub board. This is a vest made of corrugated aluminum, and played by the musician's working bottle openers or caps up and down the length of the vest.
The Creole music of enslaved African people from the nineteenth century is represented in Slave Songs of the United States, first published in 1867. The final seven songs in that work are printed with melody along with text in Creole French. These and many other songs were sung by slaves on plantations, especially in St. Charles Parish, and when they gathered on Sundays at Congo Square in New Orleans.
19th century Newspaper clipping from Thibodaux, LA.
Louisiana French (LF) is the regional variety of the French language spoken throughout contemporary Louisiana in the south-eastern USA by individuals who today identify ethno-racially as Creole, French Creole, Spanish Creole, Mississippi Creole, Alabama Creole, Texas Creole, California Creole, African-American, Black, Chitimacha, Houma, Biloxi, Tunica, Choctaw, White, Cajun, Acadian, French, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Syrian, Lebanese, Irish and others. Individuals and groups of individuals through innovation, adaptation and contact, continually enrich the French language spoken in Louisiana, seasoning it with linguistic features that can sometimes only be found in Louisiana.
Tulane University's Department of French and Italian's website declares in bold text: FRENCH IS NOT A FOREIGN LANGUAGE IN LOUISIANA. Figures from U.S. decennial censuses report that roughly 250,000 Louisianans claimed to use or speak French in their homes.
Louisiana Creole French (Kréyol La Lwizyàn) is a French Creole language spoken by the Louisiana Creole people of the state of Louisiana. The language consists of elements of French, Spanish, African, and Native American roots.
Among the eighteen governors of Louisiana between 1803–1865, six were French Creoles and were monolingual speakers of French: Jacques-Philippe Villèré, Pierre Augustin Charles Bourguignon Derbigny, Armand Julien Beauvais, Jacques Dupré de Terrebonne, André Bienvenue Roman, and Alexandre Mouton.
According to the historian Paul Lachance, "the addition of white immigrants to the white creole population enabled French-speakers to remain a majority of the white population [in New Orleans] until almost 1830. If a substantial proportion of free persons of color and slaves had not also spoken French, however, the Gallic community would have become a minority of the total population as early as 1820." In the 1850's, white Francophones remained an intact and vibrant community; they maintained instruction in French in two of the city's four school districts. In 1862, the Union general Ben Butler abolished French instruction in New Orleans schools, and statewide measures in 1864 and 1868 further cemented the policy. By the end of the 19th century, French usage in the city had faded significantly. However, as late as 1902 "one-fourth of the population of the city spoke French in ordinary daily intercourse, while another two-fourths was able to understand the language perfectly," and as late as 1945, one still encountered elderly Creole women who spoke no English. The last major French language newspaper in New Orleans, L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans, ceased publication on December 27, 1923, after ninety-six years; according to some sources Le Courrier de la Nouvelle Orleans continued until 1955.
New Orleans Mardi Gras in the early 1890's.
Today, it is generally in more rural areas that people continue to speak Louisiana French or Louisiana Creole.
New Orleans Mardi Gras
Revelers on St. Charles Avenue, 2007
Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in English) in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a Carnival celebration well-known throughout the world.
The New Orleans Carnival season, with roots in preparing for the start of the Christian season of Lent, starts after Twelfth Night, on Epiphany (January 6). It is a season of parades, balls (some of them masquerade balls), and king cake parties. It has traditionally been part of the winter social season; at one time "coming out" parties for young women at débutante balls were timed for this season.
Celebrations are concentrated for about two weeks before and through Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French), the day before Ash Wednesday. Usually there is one major parade each day (weather permitting); many days have several large parades. The largest and most elaborate parades take place the last five days of the season. In the final week of Carnival, many events large and small occur throughout New Orleans and surrounding communities.
The parades in New Orleans are organized by Carnival krewes. Krewe float riders toss throws to the crowds; the most common throws are strings of plastic colorful beads, doubloons (aluminum or wooden dollar-sized coins usually impressed with a krewe logo), decorated plastic throw cups, and small inexpensive toys. Major krewes follow the same parade schedule and route each year.
While many tourists center their Mardi Gras season activities on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, none of the major Mardi Gras parades has entered the Quarter since 1972 because of its narrow streets and overhead obstructions. Instead, major parades originate in the Uptown and Mid-City districts and follow a route along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, on the upriver side of the French Quarter.
To New Orleanians, "Mardi Gras" specifically refers to the Tuesday before lent, the highlight of the season. The term can also be used less specifically the whole Carnival season, sometimes as "the Mardi Gras season". The term "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras Day" always refers only to that specific day.
Cane River Creoles
While the sophisticated Creole society of New Orleans has historically received much attention, the Cane River area developed its own strong Creole culture. The Cane River Creole community in the northern part of the state, along the Red River and Cane River, is made up of multi-racial descendants of French, Spanish, Africans, Native Americans, similar mixed Creole migrants from New Orleans, and various other ethnic groups who inhabited this region in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The community is centered around Isle Brevelle in lower Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. There are many Creole communities within Natchitoches Parish, including Natchitoches, Cloutierville, Derry, Gorum, and Natchez. Many of their historic plantations still exist. Some have been designated as National Historic Landmarks, and are noted within the Cane River National Heritage Area, as well as the Cane River Creole Historic Park. Some plantations are sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.
Isle Brevelle, the area of land between Cane River and Bayou Brevelle, encompasses approximately 18,000 acres (73 km2) of land, 16,000 acres of which are still owned by descendants of the original Creole families. The Cane River as well as Avoyelles and St.Landry Creole family surnames include but are not limited to: Métoyer, LaCour, Lambre', Arnaud, PrudHomme, Balthazar, Chevalier, Dunn, Hebert, Fradieu,Llorens, Barre', Buard, Bayonne, Bossier, Brossette, Coutée, Cassine, Monette, Sylvie, Sylvan, Moran, Rachal, Conant, Chargòis, Esprít, Demby, Guillory, LéBon, Lefìls, Papillion, Arceneaux, DeBòis, Landry, Gravés, Deculus, St. Romain, Beaudion, Darville, LaCaze, DeCuir, Pantallion, Mathés, Mullone, Severin, Byone, St. Ville, Delphin, Sarpy, Laurent, De Soto, Christophe, Mathis, Honoré, De Sadier, Anty, Dubreil, Roque, Cloutier, Rachal, Le Vasseur, Vachon, Versher, Vercher, Mezière, Bellow, Gallien, Conde, Porche and Dupré. (Most of the surnames are of French and sometimes Spanish origin).
Pointe Coupee Creoles
Another historic area to Louisiana is Pointe Coupee, an area west of Baton Rouge. This area is known for the False River; the parish seat is New Roads, and other villages such as Morganza are located off the river. This parish is known to be uniquely Creole; today a large portion of the nearly 22,000 residents can trace Creole ancestry. The area was valuable for its many plantations during the French, Spanish, and American colonial periods. The population here had become bilingual or even trilingual with French, Louisiana Creole, and English because of its plantation business before most of Louisiana. The Louisiana Creole language is widely associated with this parish; the local French, Creole, and Spanish plantation owners and their African slaves formed it as communication language, which became the primary language for many Pointe Coupee residents well into the 20th century. The local white and black populations spoke the language, because of its importance to the region; even Italian immigrants in the 20th century often adopted the language.
Common Creole family names of the region include the following: Battley, Parker, Guerin, Bridgewater, Decuir, Gremillion, Roberson, Christophe, Joseph, Part, Major, Valéry, Robert, Ramirez, Castillo, Olivier, Fontenot, Francois, Aguillard, Duperon, Gaspard, St. Armand, Domingue, Patin, Chenevert, Savoir, Gaines, Fabre and dozens more.
Avoyelles Parish has a history rich in Creole ancestry. Marksville has a significant populace of French Creoles who have Native American ancestry. The languages that are spoken are Louisiana French and English. This parish was established in 1750. The Creole community in Avoyelles parish is alive and well and has a unique blend of family, food and Creole culture. Creole family names of this region are: Sylvan, Auzenne, Normand, Gaspard, Fontenot, Chargois, Fuselier, Carriere, Barbin, DeBellevue, Goudeau, Bordelon, Gauthier, Lemoine, Gremillion, Broussard, Boutte, Esprit, Rabalais, Beaudoin, DeCuir, Dufour, Deshotels, Muellon, Lemelle, Saucier and Biagas.
St. Landry Creoles
St. Landry Parish has a significant population of Creoles, specially in Opelousas and its surrounding areas. The traditions and Creole heritage are prevalent in Opelousas, Port Barre, Melville, Palmetto, Lawtell, Swords, Mallet, Frilot Cove, Plaisance, Pitreville, and many other villages, towns and communities. The Roman Catholic Church and French/Creole language are dominant features of this rich culture. Zydeco musicians host festivals all through the year. Some Creole family names are: Guillory, Esprit, Jolivette, Jolivet, Rosignon (Rousillion), Sonnier, Hollier, Frilot, Roberts, Papillion, Simien, Lemon(d), Rideau, Barnabe, Bossier, Pain, Cezar, Thierry, Rene, Darbonne, Gobert, Coutee, Fontenot, Chargois, Villere, LaChappelle, Delafosse, Dupre, Birotte, LeBon, Arceneaux, Breaux, Chevalier, Durousseau, Chachere, Aubespin, Auzenne, Chenier, Chretien, Ledet, Fuselier, Carrier(e), LaStrapes, Piert, LaFleur, LeMelle, Deculus, Chavis, Victorian, Thomas, LaTour, St Mary, Ceasar (Ceaser), Frank, Soileau and Goodley.