free blacks in their militia units and as part ofthe mu1-
titude watched officials raise the Stars and Stripes over New Orleans' Plaza
de Armas and ceremoniously transfer the former French and Spanish colony
to the United States. They cou1d not foresee the dramatic increase in their
numbers and cu1tural influence that thousands of Saint-Domingue refugees
wou1d bring within a few short years. Nor, ironically, did many libres an-
ticipate the drastic reductions in their rights, privileges, social and material
status, and freedom of assemblage and movement that world events, Anglo
laws and attitudes, and economic and demographic trends wou1d prompt
over the next few decades. With the Americanization of Louisiana and
the commercialization of sugar and cotton production, free blacks encoun-
tered increasing discrimination and legal restrictions that wou1d draw them
together and more clearly define their position in New Orleans society.
They, like the "large
popu1ations of Saint-Domingue and Cuba, suf-
fered persecution and exclusion during periods of rising expectations, sugar
boom, and self-generated economic competition."
The rising group consciousness among the libre popu1ation of New
Orleans, a sense of identity that was beginning to take shape in the latter
years of Spanish rule, came into focus more sharply in the nineteenth cen-
tury. During the antebellum era in particu1ar, free blacks partiCipated in
what one scholar has conVincingly argued was the "formation of a three-
caste society;' with definite distinctions created between whites, libres, and
slaves.2 While these divisions were present in colonial New Orleans, they
were not so well demarcated as they wou1d become in the antebellum
period. For example, increasingly restrictive manumission laws passed in
the first decades of the nineteenth century meant that few slaves entered
the libre popu1ation and thus alienated the two groups even further. In
fact, affluent Creoles of Color resented the loss of their identity as a "third
caste" between whites and slaves when they were lumped together with all
other freedmen follOWing the Civil War. Forced by political necessity or the
Previous Page Next Page