Famous Creoles
Ward Connerly
antebellum New Orleans


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François Lacroix

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the wealthiest Creole / Free man of Color in New Orleans during the years before the Civil War.






François Lacroix

was probably the wealthiest Person of Color in New Orleans during the years before the Civil War.


David C. Rankin, in a 1979 essay on the free colored leadership in New Orleans, values Lacroix's 1861 property at $242,570, $71 thousand more than the second most prosperous man on his list. Loren Schweninger,

in a 1989 study of African American Louisianians during the post-Civil War era, notes that Lacroix had "acquired an estate of $242,600 (one of the largest for a free Negro in the South)." Sally Reeves, in her 1974 chapter on the "Free People of Color," says that "Possibly the most interesting of the businessmen, probably the wealthiest, certainly the most pervasive, were the brothers François and Julien Adolphe Lacroix."

These relatively brief discussions of François Lacroix and his role in New Orleans business and society only scratch the surface. Much more can--and should--be said about this multifaceted Creole gentleman. We present this exhibit in order to make a case for Lacroix as a worthy subject for historians interested in the history of antebellum New Orleans. Unless otherwise noted, all of the items displayed in the exhibit are from the two cubic feet of documents that comprise Lacroix's succession record.

That record would be the logical starting place for more detailed study of the man, his commercial ventures, his wealth, and his charities. Additional information will be available in the acts of sale, contracts, and other records housed in the New Orleans Notarial Archives. The World of François Lacroix was designed and mounted by Wayne Everard and Irene Wainwright, archivists in the Louisiana Division/City Archives.

Greg Osborn and Tito Brin, also of the Louisiana Division, assisted in the research for the exhibit. Sally Reeves and her staff at the Notarial Archives helped in locating the plan used in the title panel. Ridgway's, Inc. provided reprographic and lamination services for the panel.

The exhibit will remain on view in the Louisiana Division of the Main Library through April, 2002. This online will be available in NUTRIAS indefinitely.






This plan shows what we believe to be the location of the Cordeviolle and Lacroix store at 150 Chartres Street. On the ground plan, the store is shown as the second building from the uptown corner of Chartres and Jefferson (now Wilkinson) Streets. In the elevation drawing, it is the partially-visible structure at the far right. The original plan is housed at the New Orleans Notarial Archives.






François Lacroix was, according to this copy of his 1832 marriage certificate, a native of Cuba, born to parents who almost certainly had moved to that island from St. Domingue during the slave insurrection of the late 18th-early 19th centuries.

François Lacroix was an unwilling taxpayer at best. This Internal Revenue "late notice" from 1868 -- for $1039.50 -- suggests an individual of considerable wealth, which Lacroix most certainly was.

François Lacroix was mentally capable of caring for himself and his interests, even in his old age. Allée Pierre Dumas claimed otherwise in this 1874 petition for interdiction. Dumas later discontinued his suit. Judge A. L. Tissot of the Second District Court dismissed another interdiction proceeding in 1875.

François Lacroix was a slave owner. This 1877 testimony by his sister-in-law names seven men and women as Lacroix's slaves. It was not uncommon for free men of color in New Orleans to belong to the slave holding class.

François Lacroix was a father and a grandfather. This testimony by Mrs. Elizabeth Garcia describes his relationship with the family of his son Victor. It also refers to Victor's death in the New Orleans riot of June 30, 1866 at the Mechanics' Institute on Baronne Street.

Pages 10-13

François Lacroix was a philanthropist. The documents displayed here show that he was an incorporator of both the Société Pour L'education des Orphelins des Indigenes de la 3me District and La Société de la Sainte Famille. The first-named organization worked to bring to fruition the school for orphans provided for by Marie Couvent in her last will and testament.

For many years it operated a school for orphans at the corner of Burgundy and Touro Streets in the Faubourg Marigny. The latter association, founded by Henriette Delille, also cared for needy New Orleanians and educated young women. The Sisters of the Holy Family continue their good works in the twenty-first century.

François Lacroix financed construction of the Hospice of the Holy Family, a facility operated by the Sisters of the Holy Family for the care of the poor, on St. Bernard Avenue. This detail from the Robinson Atlas of 1883 shows the location (at the green dot) of the building.

François Lacroix was ever ready to find new sources of revenue. In 1871 he joined with his son Edgar and another man in applying for a license to sell Louisiana Lottery Company tickets from a stand they operated near the French Market.

François Lacroix was not a man to live by bread alone. He did purchase a good deal of bread from the baker Jean Mandere, but he also enjoyed a variety of wines, liqueurs, and other delicacies from the grocery store founded by his brother Julien and continued in operation by Julien's sons.

François Lacroix was an African American. This testimony from fellow businessman and philanthropist Thomy Lafon suggests that Lacroix might easily have passed for white, but that he did indeed live as a "colored" man -- a free man of color. John R. Clay, another black businessman of the day, also testified to the accuracy of Lafon's characterization.

François Lacroix was only human. As he grew old, he fell victim to the usual infirmities of the elderly. His succession includes a number of bills for medicines and for physician services, including this final statement from Doctor Auguste Capdevielle.

François Lacroix died of congestion of the brain on April 15, 1876. He died at 14 Frenchmen Street in the home of his late brother. This detail from the Robinson Atlas of 1883 shows the location (at the green dot) of the building in the Faubourg Marigny.

François Lacroix was buried soon thereafter in St. Louis Cemetery #2. Judging from the undertaker's bill, shown here, he went out in proper style.



He started out in business as a partner in the firm of Cordeviolle and Lacroix at 141 Chartres Street. Etienne Cordeviolle, also a free man of color (though of Italian ancestry), operated a dry good store for several years before joining together with Lacroix. By 1832 the partners had relocated their business to 150 Chartres.

By 1838 Cordeviolle and Lacroix were in operation at 123 Chartres. They remained at that location throughout the remainder of their partnership. This billhead, used for business at the new location, proudly proclaimed that the firm had "The most elegant and fashionable articles pertaining to the Gentleman's Wardrobe, Imported, And constantly on hand."

This elaborate billhead was produced for Cordeviolle and Lacroix by a printing house in Paris.

This simple billhead was used by Cordeviolle and Lacroix during their years at 150 Chartres. Apparently they took a supply of the forms with them to the new store up the street since this one is dated 1842.

The partnership appears to have ended by 1849 for the city directory of that year lists François Lacroix on his own at the 123 Chartres Street address.

The 1853 directory was the first to list François Lacroix's new business address at 23 St. Charles. The directory identifies him as a merchant tailor, established in 1817, and an "importer of French cloth, fancy casimere, and the best and most extensive assortment of clothing of every description, made in Paris, by the first fashionable tailors, and an elegant variety of gloves, cravats, stocks, etc."

This detail from the Robinson Atlas of 1883 shows the location (at the green dot) of Francois Lacroix's store on St. Charles.

This building at 21 St. Charles stood immediately adjacent to François Lacroix's store. The two structures were probably identical, belonging to a three-store row designed by James Gallier, Sr., and erected in 1844. This print was made by photographer Betsy Swanson from the original drawing in Book 27A at the New Orleans Notarial Archives.

François Lacroix's advertisement in the Crescent City Business Directory for 1858-1859 reaffirms the quality status of his clothing establishment.

This letter to François Lacroix from a Parisian clothier shows that Etienne Cordeviolle was in France by August, 1849. It also suggests that the two former partners continued a business relationship across two continents. Cordeviolle died in Paris on September 19, 1868. His succession record, largely in French and Italian, should be consulted by anyone interested in the story of François Lacroix and Cordeviolle and Lacroix.

Even after his removal to France, Etienne Cordeviolle retained ownership of the building on the corner of St. Charles and Common, just next door to Lacroix's store. This 1866 memorandum indicates that the property was quite lucrative, as one would expect of a building located across the street from the grand St. Charles Hotel. It is not clear from the document, however, if it was Lacroix who sold the property to Etienne Cordeviolle in the first place.

This document provides insight into the difficulties facing Cordeviolle and Lacroix, and other New Orleans merchants, in the wake of the Panic of 1837. Norbert Rillieux, the brilliant Creole engineer, was a customer whose bad fortune after the financial collapse was a source of ongoing concern for the tailoring partnership as it sought to make good the money owed it.

Cordeviolle and Lacroix were also victimized by the ordinary financial problems that plagued businessmen in New Orleans. This promissory note was not paid on time, forcing the partners to institute legal proceedings to collect the amount due them.

E. D. White (a local contractor, not the future Chief Justice) was a customer of François Lacroix's store on St. Charles. Note on the bill that Lacroix made a deduction from White's balance due to take into account paving that the engineer had undertaken for the Society of the Holy Family on St. Bernard Avenue.

This detail from the Robinson Atlas of 1883 shows the location (at the green dot) of the Cordeviolle and Lacroix's store at 123 Chartres Street. The site is now occupied by the Omni Royal Orleans hotel. For the location of the earlier store at 150 Chartres, see the main title panel for this exhibit.

François Lacroix was no longer in the clothing business by 1873. As this bill shows, he had to buy his drawers and shirts from a new store in the Vieux Carre.



He bought and sold property, managed buildings that he owned, and collected rents. The documents displayed in this case provide a glimpse of what was involved in such an occupation. They also give us a better idea of the vast number of properties owned by François Lacroix during his lifetime.

This sketch documents the appearance of one of Lacroix's buildings, this one located at the corner of Dumaine and Marais Streets.

An example of a François Lacroix lease agreement. By its terms, R. Condon agreed to pay Lacroix $300 annually for the brick building on Elysian Fields between Victory (now Decatur) and Moreau (now Chartres) Streets.

This bill identifies ten of Lacroix' former properties. Surveyor J. A. d'Hemecourt's sketches of those buildings were probably used to provide visual documentation at the auction sales whereby they were disposed of.

Fences had to be built, this one for Lacroix's property on Craps (now Burgundy) Street.

Gas had to be paid for. This bill was for Lacroix's residence at 70 Dumaine Street.

Evictions had to be forced -- and injunctions against eviction fought -- in the course of managing Lacroix's real estate holdings.

Renters' complaints had to be heard and dealt with if one was to be a success in the real estate business. In this case Mr. Lanaux's problems on Frenchmen Street appear to have been serious. Lacroix's ultimate response may be hidden somewhere in his succession proceedings.

Old buildings had to be kept attractive looking in order to be profitable. This commercial structure in the 100 block of Decatur Street dates back to 1814. Lacroix was one of a number of owners who had responsibility for maintaining the building over the years. In 1871, B. Simon produced the lithograph displayed here.

Privies had to be cleaned on a regular basis. This bill is for the one at the Hospice of the Holy Family on St. Bernard Avenue.

This page is one of several required to list all of the properties owned by François Lacroix's estate following his death in 1876.

Rents had to be collected, even from one's sister-in-law.

Rental properties had to be advertised. Lacroix had to order five hundred "House to Rent" cards to keep up with his vast holdings.

Buildings had to be built and improved if properties were to be profitable. These specifications suggest that Lacroix was quite resourceful in finding men to get needed jobs done for him.

Sometimes properties had to be sold to pay off debts. This document shows that Lacroix did what he had to in order to keep his head above water with the city and its tax collectors.

Bills for water service had to be paid.



He appears to have worked directly with suppliers, craftsmen, and other players in the business of building and real estate development/management in the Crescent City. The documents displayed in this case identify several of the individuals and firms with whom Lacroix did business. They also identify more of the properties that formed his real estate portfolio.

L. Ackermann worked on locks and provided keys for five Lacroix properties during August, 1873.

Henry Birrcher repaired bells for Lacroix in 1869.

E. Hacker provided a variety of hardware products for a Lacroix's building on Dumaine and Burgundy Streets.

Firmin LeVasseur provided a large quantity of plastering supplies for Lacroix's building on Elysian Fields at Craps (now Burgundy) Street.

This is one of many bills from L'Hote & Co. for lumber supplied to Lacroix. This bill is for an order delivered to the house on Dumaine Street.

The detail from the Robinson Atlas of 1883 shows the location (at the green dot) of Lacroix's house at 70 Dumaine.

Lacroix apparently had an open account with the Loeffler company for plumbing supplies during 1868.

It's not known if the coal that Henry Montagnet supplied to the widow Bernard was one of Lacroix's charities, or part of their lease agreement.

This large supply of lumber went from Mourer's lumber yard to Lacroix's property on Goodchildren (now St. Claude) Street between Marigny and Elysian Fields in 1874.

B. Nautre supplied a new grate for one of Lacroix's properties during 1868.

This bill for lumber from Nevers & Hery in 1875 shows that Lacroix owned property on the "American" side of Canal Street in addition to his more extensive holdings in the Vieux Carre and Faubourg Marigny.

Charles Raymond probably delivered this prie dieu to Lacroix's house on Dumaine Street in 1873.

Lacroix did a considerable amount of business with Louis Fix and his Stonewall Jackson Paint Store over the years. This supply went to another of Lacroix's uptown properties in 1868.

This bill from Theo. Owin documents roof repairs on five of Lacroix's properties during the summer and autumn of 1874.





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