Gens de couleur libres, or free people of color, flourished as a separate category of race in antebellum New Orleans. As late as 1840, these French-speaking mixed-race people made up 20 percent of the city's population.
They were largely the freed descendants of enslaved women and their white owners, or refugees from the Haitian slave revolts. Thousands of refugees from the 1791-1804 Saint Domingue slave revolution immigrated to New Orleans, which helped boost the city's French-speaking mixed race population.
Quadroon balls were where Creole women would meet white men who would become their benefactors.A benefactor would provide a house for his concubine. Quadroon refers to a person who is one-fourth black. The offspring of these unions, called a placage, would be educated at the expense of the white benefactor. Male children often would be schooled in France, and the daughters at local convent schools.
Although they did not have all of the rights of their white counterparts, many free people of color prospered in 19th-century New Orleans. As of the 1850s, free people of color owned more than $2 million worth of property, mostly in the Faubourgs Treme and Marigny. Some even owned slaves.
By 1855, nearly 85% of black Creoles were classified as doctors, clerks, teachers and skilled workers. They also thrived in trades like carpentry, masonry and cigar-making.
The Caribbean architectural influences are evident in the Creole cottages throughout New Orleans' historic neighborhoods. Much of the ironwork on the balconies of French Quarter properties and in the old cemeteries is the work of these skilled artisans.
They left a huge imprint on New Orleans' distinct architectural style, cuisine and culture.
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