Art & Identity in New Orleans

HNRS 109 Spring '18

Quadroon Balls and Plaçage

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There is a common myth told about 19th-century New Orleans. It goes something like this: Imagine you’re in an elegant dance hall in New Orleans in the early 1800s. Looking around, you see a large group of white men and free women of color, who were at the time called quadroons, meaning they supposedly had ¼ African ancestry. The mothers play matchmakers, and introduce their daughters to these white men, who then ask their hand in a dance.

— Tripod MythBusters on WWNO 89.9 New Orleans Public Radio

This radio story offers some conclusions from the research of Tulane University Professor Emily Clark, which she presents in more detail in her book The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World. Clark is also the author of  Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834, in which Clark “explores the transformations required of the Ursulines as their distinctive female piety collided with slave society, Spanish colonial rule, and Protestant hostility.”

English: Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants in a Landscape, oil on canvas painting by Agostino Brunias, ca. 1764-1796

English: Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants in a Landscape, oil on canvas painting by Agostino Brunias, ca. 1764-1796

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