Placage in Colonial New Orleans
Arranged interracial "common law" marriages were an acceptable practice in Colonial New Orleans where white French & Creole men arranged common-law marriages with women of African descent who had "white" blood and light skin. However, they were not entirely acceptable, and not even legal. The women were not legally recognized as wives, but were recognized as "common law" wives among free people of color, known as the Gen de colour. This usually did not occur between white men and women who were mulattoe or blacks. It was generally between a white man and a woman who was one quarter or less of African descent. She was either 3/4 European (white) or more. These women didn't even look African for the most part.
Placage, as it is called, meaning placement in French, or to "fix up", "put with", become popular due to the lack of availability of women of European heritage in Colonial New Orleans. It wasn't an easy place to live, farm, and was scantily populated, but by men at the time. The abundance of slaves in difficult living conditions in Louisiana resulted in more single black women than white women residing in these areas. We all know where there is a subserviant woman and a sexually arroused man, relationships, romance, and sex is going to happen. Whether it was consensual and out of love or lust, many slaves gave birth to children of mixed race. Many girls of mixed race, often of African & European descent were desired by white men, because they appeared white. Their mothers often raised them as a hope of carrying the family financially by entering into Placage. Women relied on marriage as a means of support for themselves, their offspring & their mothers as they aged.
Creole men in Colonial New Orleans generally did not marry until they were older. If they were 30 or more, this was not uncommon. Men also married immediately after the death of a wife as was common in those days when women died in childbirth & of other ailments that were not able to be yet treated at the time. White women were not going to sleep with these men if they were virtuous. Prostitutes had diseases and were not virgins. Men wanted a woman who was a virgin who they could deflower and keep exclusively for themselves. When whites men slept with black women & women who were mulatto, children that resulted were neither free whites like their fathers or as black as their mothers. They were considered as Gens de Couleur Libre (Free People of Color) & considered themselves to be as so. This was a nice way for white men to procure a virtuous virginal girl & not have to legally marry them. The Gens De Couleur were educated & held well-paying jobs as opposed to their mothers who lived as slaves or very poor people. These people were artists, owned shops, and owned their own land.
Even though it was common for people to have interracial relationships in New Orleans, (obviously, its natural when a man and a women have chemistry & are attracted to one another), most Creole women of color did not participate in this practice. Many girl's mothers would marry their daughters off into these "common-law arrangements" to the white man offering the most means financially in which the family of mixed blood could prosper. They became kept women with children. Placage was accepted, but deep down not loved by the mixed community in New Orelans. It was a dirty secret that brought shame, in white society, at least among the wives who were married later after the "Placage" arrangement was made.
Large "debutante" balls were held to put the quadroon & octaroon girls on display to white men. Candidates were displayed to upstanding, wealthy Creole white men so they might choose a "common-law" bride among the young & beautiful women of color. A girl's mother or guardian, usually a woman, negotiated with an admirer a legal agreement involving property, money, and monetary means given to the girl's mother and family for taking this girl as his "common law wife". These girls were sold by their mothers for their white appearance, pretty much, but it was not seen that way. The only issue they had in Colonial New Orleans was their ancestry. Having African blood was frowned upon in these times, of course. After all, slavery was still a huge stigma on the African American people in America. Mulatto (half African & half European) mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and guardians of mixed race hoped to attain financial stability and better social standing among other people of African American descent in their communities by these Placage arrangements.
The girl in the Placage arrangement would not live in the same quarters or lay with her husband until the house was procured & the legal arrangement was finalized. Again, these were young virgins. These men would support their "common-law" wives for a lifetime even if they legally married a white woman. They were honorably responsible for their Placage families until they died. Some men could care less about marrying a white woman & may have done so for appearances, but many were content with their mixed wife. These men would generally honor their Placage agreement and support their "common-law" wives for a lifetime even if they legally married a white woman. They were honorably responsible for their Placage families until they died. Some men could care less about marrying a white woman & may have done so for appearances, but many were content with their mixed wife.
When the white "husbands" of Placage reached a certain age, they were supposed to marry a white woman. Many were content to keep their arrangements with their mixed wife. These men had two families. Often they did not know about one another. Usually the mixed "wife" was privy, but the white wife was left in the dark. She would get the legal marriage, but she was still one of two wives. The children that resulted form Placage did not get to take the white father's last name. The father did not even appear on their birth certificate due to the illegality of having children that were of mixed race.
Upon the death of her "husband", the mixed girl & her family could get much of the man's property via legal arrangements the girl's mother had made before her daughter entered into the agreement. Some white "husbands" of were honorable & fulfilled their promises in making their mixed-race children primary heirs over other white relatives. Sometimes they only had this family & were fine with it, but not always.
If the "husband" abandoned his "common law" family or upon the event of his untimely death without legal provision, which often happened, the "wife" found other ways to keep herself financially stable & prosper to the best of her ability. She could work certain jobs as she was not looked down on as negatively as a "black" woman. She was mixed, it was different. She could enter into another "mixed" marriage, or if she had daughters, she could have her girls do so. It was also possible for her to legally marry a Creole man of color & have children and live a normal life. Family was very important in these times. In these situations, you may turn to other members of your family for solace and financial help.
People get to thinking and think these women become prostitutes. They didn't! They would never have dreamed of it! Some tried to say this system was an arrangement as this, but be assured this was not. Men of color hated this practice, but some of them were the offspring of these arrangements with white fathers. There was not much they could say. They & the girls who did this knew there were not many choices for them. The women did not a choice, sadly! They chose this life as a way of survival & a way to live as fine upstanding women ladies rather than poor people working menial jobs as a seamstress or hairdresser.