the legend, the Cane River colony owes its beginnings to a
woman known as Marie Thereze, or Coincoin. Of African origins.
She was from her childhood a slave in household of the commandant
of theNatchitoches post, Sieur Louis Juchereau de St. Denis.
The legendary Coincoin was outstanding even as a slave; her
natural intelligence, her loyalty, and her devotion to duty
soon made her a favored servant in the St. Denis household.
Ultimately, these qualifications were to earn for her the
one thing she most desired: freedom.
event which gave her the chance to break the bonds of slavery
and take the first step toward becoming the founder of this
unique society was the illness of her mistress.
Mme. de St.
Denis was in bad health, and the local physician could find
no cure. Others were brought in from New Orleans, Mexico,
and even France; their efforts were to no avail. The family
was counseled to accept the will of God. But one member of
the household refused to despair.
Marie Thereze, who had gained
from her African parents a knowledge of herbal medicines,
begged for an opportunity to save the dying mistress who she
loved deeply. In desperation the family yielded to her entreaties,
and to the bafflement of the educated physicians she accomplished
her purpose. In appreciation the St. Denis family rewarded
her with the ultimate gift aslave can receive.
of the St. Denis family, according to the legend, did not
end with Marie Thereze’s manumission. Through their
influence, she applied for and received a grant of land which
contained some of the most fertile soil in the colony.
two slaves given to her by the family and many more whom she
was to purchase later, this African woman carved from the
wilderness a magnificent plantation.
of this emerging agricultural empire was Yucca Plantation,
still extant and more commonly known as Melrose. It was here,
allegedly, that Marie Thereze erected her home and auxiliary
plantation buildings, and here again she seems to have exhibited
her individuality, constructing her buildings, supposedly,
in African style, adapted to Louisiana conditions and native
Not just any Frenchman did she choose to share
her life, but a man reputed to be the scion of a noble family,
Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. As her children entered adolescence
and made their First Communion, according to religious customs
of that time, Marie Thereze carved for each of them a wooden
rosary. At least one such rosary was treasured by her descendants
until well into the twentieth century.
death Marie Thereze divided her extensive holdings among the
children she had borne to Metoyer.
For almost a half century
following her death, the Metoyers of Cane River enjoyed a
wealth and prestige that few whites of their era could match.
Gracious and impressive manor homes were erected on every
plantation, furnished not only with the finest pieces that
local artisans could make but also with imported European
articles of quality and taste.
Private tutors provided the
children with studies in classics, philosophy, law, and music.
The young men of many families were sent abroad for the “finishing
touches” which only a continentaluniversity could provide.
Cane River’s Creoles of Color
By: Gary B. Mills
Louisiana State University Press
Baton Rouge and London
In spite of
the racial limbo into which their origins placed them, the
men of the family were accepted and accorded equality in many
ways by the white planters. It was not uncommon to find prominent
white men at dinner in Metoyer homes, and the hospitality
White planters brought their families to worship
in the church erected by the colony, the only one in its area
for many decades. In a time and place which there were no
banking institutions, the Metoyers freely lent and borrowed,
advised, and stood in solido with their white friends and
They were known as “French citizens” long after Louisiana was sold to the United States, and they
held themselves aloof from the waves of “red-necked
Americans” who settled in the poor pine woods that surrounded
the rich Cane River plantations.
was founded by Metoyers, but each successive generation saw
the introduction of two or three new family names. Gens de
couleur libre from Haiti and New Orleans settled on the Isle, and those whose background passed inspection intermarried
with the community.
Wealthy white planters of the parish arranged
marriages for their own “children of color” with
the offspring of their Metoyer friends. This new blood, carefully
chosen, did much to protect the colony from the genetic hazards
of too frequent intermarriage.
For more than
a half century this self-contained colony flourished on Cane
River. The people founded not only their own schools and church
but also their own businesses and places of entertainment.
The family’s patriarch, Grandpere Augustin, who was
the eldest Metoyer son of Marie Thereze, served for decades
as judge and jury; his word was law and went unquestioned.
It was his dream to make of the Isle a place for his people,
not merely a home but a refuge against the new breed of greedy
Americans. By the end of their era of affluence, the family
had almost totally achieved the goal laid out for them by
gens de couleur libre, like other southern planters, supported
the doomed cause of the Confederacy; and they, like most planters,
suffered the depredations of war and the financial ruin of
Unlike their white neighbors, however, they
found that after Reconstruction their ruin was complete, since
the reactionary political climate of the Redeemer period throttled
their economic opportunities. The “liberation of all
men” shackled the people of Isle Brevelle with anonymity;
the equality proclaimed by the Union lost for them their special
. The colony turned inward even more, finding now
that they must not only protect themselves against status-conscious
whites but also against ambitious black freedmen.
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