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‘Free Negroes’
African American Fate at the Hands of French, Spanish and American Rulers: 1712-1803
Taken from The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld by Herbert Asbury, 1936, NY, Perseus, 462 pages
Late Stage Plantation America is the African American experience properly, with any European Americans held as slaves from that point onward being so held under the fiction that they were all African because they were part African. It has long been thought—indeed stated in one text [citation in Mister Grey’s collection]—that the only portion of Plantation History worthy of study was the final 30 years and that everything that went before should be assumed to be identical, that the previous 250 years of Plantation America History was unique in all of human history, in that conditions did not change one iota over ten generations. What characterized Late Stage Plantation America from 1830-1861 was:
-Economic crisis in slave states
-Economic boom in non-slave states
-Bondage restricted to negroes, people of color, criminals and people of European ancestry held under the one drop rule fiction and even by “Virginia Fair Play” a method of smoking a person in a tobacco shed to make them dark. [1]
-That being sold “down the river” to the Louisiana sugar plantations was the worst fate a slave could face. Indeed, the movie Mandingo, one of the few authentic Americans slavery movies, focused on this very dread place.
As a general condition, 10% of African Americans were free in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, to 90% bound, across English North America.
The proportion of European Americans bound ranged drastically from century to century and plantation to plantation, with that range running from 90% on 17th century Virginia down to 10% or less—and usually much less—in 19th century America.
Below are population numbers from Asbury’s history:
1712: the entire population of Louisiana numbered
-124 soldiers [unfree]
-28 slave girls [unfree, mostly convicts]
-25 children
-150 men of various stations, from governor to convict laborer
All of the above were European or Indian
1712: Crozart begins shipping Europeans and Africans for a total of 7,020 persons, in a total of 43 ships until 1721, of which 2,000 died or escaped.
1718: New Orleans had 53 men other than the governor, with 25 being slave laborers and 25 paid men, all being European.
1718: Shipped to various Louisiana plantations in one flotilla of 3 ships, 300 free settlers, 500 unfree soldiers and convicts, all European
1719: New Orleans had 50 soldiers [unfree], 50 hired men and 25 convicts [unfree], all European.
1721: Louisiana population stands at 5,000, 1,700 African and 3,300 European
1724: Governor Bienville institutes the Code Noir, or Black Code, used in Santo Domingo [Haiti], which was an explicit “white supremacy” doctrine, which had provisions for the emancipation of free negroes. Intermarriage amongst free and slave and the various races was forbidden. Manumitted African slaves were to have all the rights of a freeborn Frenchman with the exception of intermarriage.
1730: Choctaw Indians stole 200 “negro slaves.”
1735: Bienville complains that there are more runaway whites causing mischief than are negroes doing work. The remote area and the active Indian warriors seem to have made it difficult to keep “whites” in bondage on plantations and Africans were now preferred as or tractable slaves.
1743: Louisiana population is 6,000, 2,000 being African. New Orleans population is 2,000, with 300 soldiers and 300 negroes among that number. The author notes, that unlike French transports amongst whom the men outnumbered the women by 10 to 1, the Africans were equally mixed by sex, in other words, a population intended to grow rather than fade. Of these 2,000 negroes [of which 200 would be free] 500 were owned by one man, a Mr. Dubreuil, a myrtleberry wax manufacturer.
1750: A free negro named joseph was caught counterfeiting, convicted, flogged, branded and sold into slavery
1751: the Back Code was replaced by 30 articles by the new governor Vaudreuil with article 11 stipulating that free negroes and negresses who helped runaways would become slaves and that Frenchmen would also be sold into a life of permanent enslavement to “end his life on the King’s galleys.”
1769: Louisiana population was 13,538 with half being unfree—race unspecified. New Orleans had 3,190 persons, of these 1,225 were negro slaves and 60 emancipated Indians, as Spanish law instituted this year forbade Indian enslavement.
1788: The population of New Orleans was 5,338 with the entire population of the territory at 42,346 including 18,000 negro slaves and 1,700 free negroes, that race again seeming to achieve a 10% emancipation rate all the way down to 1861.
1795: Sugar production was introduced, which would make Louisiana a North American hell.
The province would slip back from Spanish to French rule and then fall into the American orbit, largely through acts of good will between Spanish governors and American adventurers and be taken in the 1804 Louisiana Purchase.
-1. William Wells Brown
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