What are some of your most recent research projects for your writing? Week before last I was researching murder weapons and whether you could indeed kill someone with an air rifle. This week I’m researching the Gens de Couleur Libres, the free people of color in antebellum New Orleans. Call me crazy, but I actually love to research. It’s one of the things about writing that makes me say, “Isn’t this awesome? How cool is it that I get to do this?”
Plus, it lends itself to comedic relief. My husband walked in on me week before last and read the search I’d typed into Google (ahem…”air rifle murder weapon”). He just shook his head and walked back out.
But on a more serious note, I’ve become fascinated by the Gens de Couleur Libres. Did you know that at one time the Gens de Couleur Libres had a higher literacy rate than the white inhabitants of New Orleans? And that they owned over 2.5 million in property in the city (we’re talking pre-civil war here…so that was a LOT of money). Balls, opera boxes, wealthy creole sons being educated in Paris–it was an artistic renaissance of sorts. There was actually a three-caste system in New Orleans, with free people of color essentially making up the middle class. It’s just amazing to me that this pocket existed in the antebellum South, which was such a hostile and brutal environment for persons of color otherwise. Don’t get me wrong –it wasn’t perfect, and racism was still a part of every day life (the treatment of Creole women as objects by white men–the quadroon balls and placage system), but it is still fascinating that New Orleans developed into a society like this, which allowed for such a vibrant, cultured and wealthy class of non-white Americans, while the rest of the United States remained in such violent opposition.
I thought I’d leave you with a few pictures this week of some paintings and prints of the Gens de Couleur Libres in pre-war New Orleans:
Edmond Dede, the famous violinist:
Julien Hudson, a famous artist and teacher (below is the first known self portrait of one of the Gens de Couleur Libres):
Alfred Mercier, lawyer and novelist:
A watercolor of three Creole women walking (note the beautiful dresses – all the latest fashions came from France):
Henriette Delille, daughter of an old and wealthy free family who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family:
Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes, civic leader and scholar:
Unknown Creole woman:
Hope you enjoyed this brief historical tour! What are some of your favorite research projects? Any tips or methods you have that you’d like to share?