Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A History of Placage in New Orleans

Free women of color during the pre-Civil Ware era.
The history of pre-Civil War New Orleans is vastly different than the history most of us were taught in grade school.
But then, it isn't the first time history has been white-washed for the educational system.
When researching information for His Vow -- I stumbled across troubling some information but I didn't want to ignore the past in my tale, but turn a bit of a spotlight on it.  We can't move ahead and right wrongs if we ignore what's behind us.
New Orleans has always boasted of a swirling mix of nationalities, and this has been apparent since its time as a French colony.  A mingling of all races was commonplace early on in the city's history, more so than anywhere else in the South, much of it thanks to a system called plaçage.
Plaçage was a system instituted under Spanish and French colonies prior to the Louisiana Purchase due to the lack of European-born females in those colonies.  The males would obtain a common-law wife of color as a “placer” for the European-born female he was expected to marry later. (In other words, a man wasn't expected to keep it in his pants until he could find what polite society would call a "suitable" woman.)  These women were called placeés.  They were either free women of color, or would be freed in order to become a placee, Often, these women would bear the men children and raise their family together.  At times these relationships would continue on after the man married a white female, setting up two separate households.  Sometimes, the men would remain in the plaçage relationship without ever marrying another, content to live his life with his common-law wife and their family.  
The system continued after the Louisiana Purchase and was quite prevalent in New Orleans prior to the Civil War.  Wealthy white Creole males, men of European descent who had been born in New Orleans, would often attend what were called Quadroon Balls, a social soiree where a man could look for available placees.  A female was considered "quadroon" if she was the child of a white father and mulatto mother, or a "quarter" black.  Of course, a mulatto was considered to be any person of equal mixed heritage.  Today the terms mulatto and quadroon are understandably considered by many as offensive and I only bring them up in a historical context.
An upper-class of mixed-race people emerged in New Orleans during this time frame.  While white society did not acknowledge these women as true wives, they were considered as good as wives to the Creole people of color and treated with immense respect within the African America community.  The women were often given their own homes, dressed as finely as any lady of the day, and often had slaves to attend to them.  The men set up house alone or with their white wives in another home nearby, while others still lived with their placage wives and family. 
Ladies outside one of the last Quadroon Balls
These men also spent tremendous amounts sending their children to France to be educated (guilt, perhaps? Hmmm...) as it was illegal to educate a person of color in America at that time, creating a highly educated group of Creole people of color and setting the foundations for the beautiful merging of people and cultures that has become the New Orleans of today.  Sadly, many of the highly educated POC returning from Europe were not allowed to practice their careers (many attorneys, doctors,educators, etc.) anywhere but in the African American community.
In 1857, it became illegal to emancipate a slave and it set a whole class of people into turmoil as to what their statuses would become, as some free people of color were enslaved again as laws in some areas were grandfathered in.  Once the Civil War was over, the South was a whole new world and the plaçage system fell out of favor as few men still had the kind of wealth to support two separate homes and families, and a person of color became the focus of their hatred as the fall of the South was rested on their shoulders by ignorant, bigoted people incapable of looking inward.

His Vow opens in 1861, just as Louisiana joins the Confederacy during the downward slope of race relations in New Orleans.

I’ll return for you. I vow it. 

When Cami DuBois winds up on a Manassas battlefield, she stumbles across Confederate re-enactors too deep in character. One of the men looks at Cami and she feels an instant connection, a familiarity she can't ignore and a lust she doesn't want to. Until he vanishes before her. 

Left in limbo, Christophe Sinclair is bound by his vow. Promising to return to his love after the end of the Civil War, he’s overjoyed to have his Camille back—and to truly have her in his arms again is his singular focus. 

Christophe’s tie to Cami is strong, one that might defy the rules of space and time. 

If the Voodoo Gods allow it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment