Creole of color wearing a tignon, a required head-covering
during the slave era that evolved into fashionable
(Historic New Orleans Collection)
after the founding of New
Orleans in 1718, the French colonists introduced a slave law
(the 1724 Code Noir) which forced newly arrived Africans into
a lifetime of servitude. The first Africans & people of
color according to ship documents arrived in Louisiana in 1709.
to the Code Noir, a mother's slave condition passed to
her newborn infant. Other provisions forbade slaves from owning
property, holding office, or marrying or cohabiting with whites.
Slaves could not obtain their freedom without the permission
of the colony's governing body nor could not testify for or
In New Orleans, however because of the scarcity of European women and the city's early dependency
on black soldiers and skilled laborers prevented the Code Noir's
strict enforcement. Extramarital relationships between French
and African settlers evolved into an accepted social practice.
The custom of freeing the children of such unions and a policy
of liberating enslaved soldiers and workers for outstanding
service and the arrival of free people of color from Haiti,
Cuba & other Caribbean colonies led to the rise of a free
Through inheritance, military service, and
a near monopoly of certain skilled trades, free blacks acquired
wealth and status. A three-tiered racial order developed with
whites at the top, free blacks in the middle, and slaves at
In British North America, a different racial order developed. In law and in custom, English colonists
cut off Africans and African Americans from white society. English
restrictions on manumission confined blacks, as far as possible,
to a slave condition.
In the English colonies, a sharply defined
color line produced a two tiered racial order with whites on
top and blacks, both slave and free, at the bottom.
Spain acquired Louisiana in 1763, the Spanish slave code
introduced the practice of coartación, the right of slaves
to purchase their freedom. The policy of self-purchase originated
in the Spanish perception of slavery as an unnatural human condition.
In this view, enslaved persons had a right to aspire to freedom
and to own property. Coartación became a crucial means
of emancipation. Near the time of the Louisiana Purchase of
1803, New Orleans free blacks constituted nearly 20% of the
urban population while enslaved Africans and African Americans
represented nearly 38% of the city's residents.
1786, the increasing assertiveness of black New Orleanians
and the growing numbers of free blacks alarmed Spanish officials.
The then Spanish Governor attempted to restrict black mobility
by suppressing free black assemblies and banning concubinage.
He prohibited slaves from renting apartments, buying liquor,
or dancing in public squares on days of religious obligation.
Miró criticized black women for their "idleness,"
"incontinence," and "libertinism" and demanded
that they renounce their "mode of living." He threatened
to punish Afro-Creole women wearing feathers, jewels, or silks
and he prohibited all headdresses.
It was then that new decree
required Creoles, people of color & black women to wear
their hair bound in a tignon (kerchief) as a badge of their
lowly status in colonial society.
These women fought the new restriction by wearing elaborately designed and brilliantly colored tignons.
The practice continued into the 19th century. Afro-Creole women
at Grima House undoubtedly wore such headdresses.