Lives and Times of the Quadroons
The most beautiful woman I ever saw was the
colored wife of a Negro diplomat from Haiti, a pale girl with
skin like gardenias. I met her at a reception at the President's
Palace in Port-au-Prince. Her eyes were the color of Haitian
bluebells, which is the shade of delphinium which is a cross
between clear blue and purple. Her mouth was a pomegranate cut
in halves, and the wings of her blue-black hair were the wings
of a Congo thrush. her maiden names was Dumas, and she was
descended from the great Dumas, père and fils.
The first Dumas was the son of a French marquis and a colored
woman from Santo Domingo. Some of Dumas's descendants are white
and some are black.
It is very complicated, this color business. . . .
The French colonial government at the end of the eighteen
century registered in Santo Domingo some sixty combinations of
white with Negro blood and gave a name to each. A Quateron, for
example, was thirty-two to fifty-seven parts black and
seventy-one to ninety-six parts white--the result of twenty
possible combinations, among which was the mating of white and
Marabout. A Marabout was approximately eighty-eight parts black
to forty-four parts white. In Louisiana, the term Quadroon was
erroneously used to cover a multitude of combinations.
The life of a Creole Quadroon was romantic and appalling and,
in some ways, peculiarly pleasant. But of course everybody did
not see it that way. There were women among the Quadroons
congenitally fitted for the existence they led who made the most
of it, and undoubtedly enjoyed it. . . .
A Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenbach . . . was most favorably
impressed by the Quadroons. He visited New Orleans in 1825 and
attended a Quadroon Ball where he danced with the girls, and met
their mothers. The duke, who was a brother-in-law of William IV
(the uncle of Queen Victoria) said the Quadroons were "the
most beautiful women in the world." if Victoria heard that,
she probably washed her hands of the duke. . . .
The Quadroons lived in small houses on or near Rampart Street
and were supported by well-known Creole gentlemen. They lived in
eminent respectability and brought up their children piously,
and often sent them abroad to be educated. Although their homes
were traditionally unimpressive, they had slaves, excellent
cooks, maids to dress their hair,a nd boys to "make
messages." Making messages meant running errands, fetching
fruits and wines from the French Market, matching silks and
threads on Royal Street, and flying on swift black feet to the
pâtisserie for petit fours when Missieu was coming for tea.
Some of the Quadroons who were cherished by the richest, most
honorable and most important men in town were said to have
quantities of jewels, and money in the bank.
But if a Quadroon walked down Rampart Street in a bright silk
dress, or with plumes in her hat, or went to market with a
diamond ring on her finger, any white woman could have her
whipped like a slave. For a trifling charge, whippings were
administered in the calabozo. Naturally when the white woman's
husband heard about it there was hell to pay, and this may have
been one reason why the law was seldom evoked. Another reason
was that the Quadroons were irreproachably circumspect. In the
daytime they wore simple cotton gowns. At night they wore
décolleète silks and satins, and sex hovered about them like a
tropical mist. If their demeanor did not reassure the white
women, there was very little that could be done about it.
First official recognition of the Quadroons was made by the
Spanish Governor who passed an ordinance in 1788 that is a most
extraordinary document. The directory of that year shows fifteen
hundred "unmarried women of color, all free, living in
little houses near the ramparts." Governor Miro's ordinance
made it an offense for these femmes de couleur to walk
abroad in silk, jewels, or plumes. The only head covering they
might wear was a madras kerchief known as a tignon, twisted
about the head and knotted on top. West Indies women wear such
French planters in Santo Domingo had long ago taken the
handsomest slaves for their mistresses. the planters were
usually aristocrats. The slaves came from what is now French
Senegal, and they were a handsome people with silky black hair
and straight fine features. Gold Coast Negroes were black and
ferocious. Those from French Dahomey were the color of tobacco
and a gentle lot.
By a process of selective breeding, the French (and to a
lesser degree the Spanish) had produced in Santo Domigo an
exotically lovely type of woman with straight lithe figures,
small hands and feet and exquisitely chiseled features. they
were known as "Les Sirènes." During the slave
uprising in Santo Domingo, the planters fled to Louisiana
bringing their mistresses and children with them. It was the
daughters of these women and their daughters' daughters who came
to be called Quadroons. This was a misnomer, since a Quadroon is
a person having one fourth Negro and three fourths white blood.
Many of the Quadroons had only one sixty-fourth Negro blood.
The Sirènes practiced voodoo and taught it tot heir
daughters, in order to hold, or sometimes to get rid of, their
lovers. They were a wild and magnificent lot.
Marie Laveau, the celebrated Voodoo Queen, was the daughter
of a Sirène. Marie died in 1881 when she was ninety-eight, and
is buried in St. Louis Cemetery Number One . . . A man who
knew Marie's daughter told me that the daughter claimed descent
from the noblest family in France, and that she looked it.
"She carried herself like a queen. She had snow-white
hair, as fine," he said, "as a baby's and a long regal
nose. I always believed," he said, "that she had noble
blood in her."
Marie was a girl of fifteen when the Duc
d'Orleans visited New Orleans with his brothers. She was famous
then as a beautiful young sorceress, and the de Marignys took
the princes around to see her. her mother was dead and Marie was
on her own, brewing love potions and peddling gris-gris. She
made amulets to keep the princes safe from harm, and told the
duke that he would be king of France. And of course he was, but
nobody believed her.
There were laws in the colony prohibiting
marriage between white men and colored women, and the only way
white fathers of colored children could protect their children
from becoming slaves was to set the mothers free. Sons were
sometimes sent to France where there was no prejudice against
their origin. Sometimes they were placed on land in the back of
the state where they usually prospered, became planters and
often made fortunes. many of those who went to France became
distinguished musicians, poets or dramatists. More than a
hundred years ago there was published writings of seventeen
poets of New Orleans.. One of these poets Michel Seligny,
founded a school for rich colored children on St. Philip Street.
Life was pleasant enough when the children
were small and living at home with their beautiful mothers. But
as they grew older the colored boys had a bad time of it. When
white men visited their sisters, it was accepted etiquette for
the brothers to efface themselves. If they "knew their
place," as white folks put it, they were never present when
their betters trod the primrose path.
Many colored men married the former
mistresses of white men. They often had their children educated
in France, and many of them became wealthy and had slaves of
their own. White men sometimes sent their discarded mistresses
into the country, comfortably endowed with means to pursue the
pleasant Creole custom of enjoying life. The women took their
children with them, married colored men and had more children.
And so it happened that half-brothers and sisters sometimes
varied in color from almost white to very dark.
There is a true story about a white man from
the north who went to Pointe Coupée where he met a Quadroon, ex
of Rampart Street. He fell in love with her and wanted to marry
her. But as marriages between white and colored persons were
forbidden, the white man opened a vein in his arm with a
penknife, pricked the girl's finger and squeezed a drop of blood
into his vein. then he swore that he had Negro blood in him, and
the marriage took place. On the record they both signed as
Negroes. this is the plot that Edna Ferber used in Show Boat,
and is probably where she got the idea.
The Orleans Theatre was about the only place
where white women could keep an eye on their husbands. Since it
was impossible for Creole gentlemen to attend their Quadroon
sweethearts at the play, colored men were permitted to escort
their mothers and sisters. Performances began at six in the
evening and lasted until two or three o'clock the next morning.
the second tier, reserved exclusively for colored people,
billowed with the taffeta crinolines of the Quadroons and
gleamed with their jewels. And after the white wives grew tired
and fade-looking, the Quadroons went on sparkling. . . .
The quadroons with their lovely countenances
resembled, according to Mr. Buckingham, the highest order of
Hindu women. They had dark liquid eyes, lips of coral, and teeth
of pearl. Their long raven locks were soft and glossy. They had
sylphlike figures, beautifully formed limbs, and exquisite
gaits. They practiced subtle and amusing coquettes, and they had
the most adorable manners. . . .
Most of the young Creoles had mistresses. If
they did not, it was a reflection upon their virility.
Abstinence was no virtue, and a handsome mistress was as much a
mark of social distinction as the possession of fine horses and
carriages. This being so, the Quadroons inevitably got most of
the nicest young men first, and sometimes kept them longest. . .
The Quadroons were not in any sense
prostitutes. They were courtesans, impossible to any other time
or place than eighteenth century New Orleans. many of them were
as tenderly and carefully brought up as any white girl, and
until they secured a "protector" they were just as
virtuous. They attended the color annex of the Mount Carmel
Convent School. If they did not learn much more than to sing a
pretty song and sew a fine seam, nether did the white girls who
were taught by the Ursulines. Creole women never read much. They
were accomplished in music, which they all loved, and in
embroidery, which most of them disliked. the nuns also taught
them painting and drawing.
But it was the home work that counted. When
it came to love the colored girls' mothers had forgotten more
than the white girls' mothers ever knew. most of the Quadroons
were beautiful. their dispositions were naturally sweet and
submissive. They accepted life as they found it, and did not try
to change it.
L'amour (or what passed for it) was what they
were born for, and their mothers before them. it was what they
lived for and their mothers schemed for. When they achieved it
they were happy. And if, when they lost it, they were sad, and
their sadness was heart-shattering, that too was what they were
born for. . . .
It wasn't that the gentlemen were so
extraordinarily virile. but because they were everlasting
Their virility, as a matter of fact, gave
them considerable concern. To sustain it, they ate dozens of raw
oysters, which were considered (and still are considered in new
Orleans) a great aphrodisiac. They also took a stimulant made
from Spanish flies, dried and powdered and make into a potion.
They drank a great deal of champagne and much absinthe. But
there was nothing, they said, like oysters, and this curious
contention has some basis in fact --curious, I mean, because it
sounded so silly until along came a scientist and said it was
The gentlemen's romantic proclivities were
their everlasting concern, and there was no place for romance
like a Quentin Ball. The balls originated at the end of the
seventeenth century while Louisiana belonged to Spain. They
lasted for nearly a hundred years, degenerating after the War
between the States into shabby, ill-mannered affairs with no
resemblance to their ancient elegance and decorum.
The first ball, a sort of coming-out party
sponsored by Quadroon mothers to introduce their daughters to
white men, was called Bal de Cordon Bleu, and it was by this
name that the balls were always known among the Creoles. After
the Americans came to town they were more generally called
Quadroon Balls. . . .
Adjoining the orleans Theatre was a ballroom,
Salle d'Orleans, which is now the mother house of the Colored
Sisters of the Holy Family. This was the building that the
enterprising mamas hired for their daughters'
"debuts." . . .
October was the beginning of the Creoles'
social season and there were Quadroon balls, as there were white
balls, nearly every night until Ash Wednesday. The hostesses
were always free women of color who had been the mistresses of
white men, and the girls they brought out were always the
illegitimate daughters of white men.
purpose of the balls was to display the youth and beauty of the
girls in order to find rich protectors for them. Guests without
exception were white men. No white woman would have dreamed of
attending. No man of questionable color would have dared set
foot inside the door. It was a frank and elegant sex mart where
Creole bluebloods chose their mistresses with taste and decorum.
. . .
There was an admission charge of
two dollars, which was more than the sum charged at any other
public dance. From all accounts, the balls were gay and lavish
and well worth the price.
girls were all shades of brown, and some were white. there were
lascivious beauties with dusky skins and sooty lashes, who
rubbed pomade on their chestnut hair to keep it flat, and there
were girls whose blue-black hair was straight as an Indian's.
Many of them were almost as beautiful as 'Tite Poulette. 'Tite
Poulette, according to George W. Cable, was the fairest young
women in New Orleans. Her mother was Zalli who lived in Madame
John's house. . . .
Quadroon mothers objected
to unwise connections for their daughters as strenuously as
white mothers oppose an unwise marriage. It has been said that
the Quadroons bartered their girls into concubinage, and sold
them like slaves. They did, I think, the best they could for
them. there were, to be sure, financial arrangements, but there
was nothing shocking or unusual about that. Among the whites
there were mariages de convenance, and dowries were
always the accepted thing. White girls often had less choice in
picking a husband than Quadroons did in choosing a lover. Often,
of course, there were love affairs. mariages de la main
gauche, the colored people called them, or left-handed
When a definite arrangement was
reached, a girl was spoken of as placée. Her status was
a sort of honorable bethrothal, and her immediate future was
secure. It was customary for the man to buy a small house on or
near Rue de Rampart, and present it to buy a small house on or
near Rue de Rampart, and present it to the girl. Until the house
was completed, he never visited her alone. It was understood
that he should support her during such time as they might be
together, and make an additional settlement when they
If children were born of the
affair, there was no question about their support. A Creole
gentleman always provided for his sons and daughters. This was
the accepted thing, and there were seldom scandals. Arrangements
were oftenest made when the man was a youth, and the girl was
about sixteen. Although the affairs usually terminated with
marriage, there were many aristocratic Creoles who maintained
two households to the day they died.
never deserted a "protector" or betrayed him.
Sometimes, when their lovers left them, the Quadroons committed
suicide. Many remained "widows" and often removed to
the country. The majority probably made other connections.
Sometimes they married colored men. But it is doubtful if any
colored man ever knew a beautiful, high-class Quadroon until a
white man was through with her.
remained in New Orleans after they were deserted often became
hairdressers or dressmakers. Among them were the best yellow
fever nurses in the city. Some turned their little houses into
lodgings for white bachelors, and the bachelors reported that
there was always an altar in Madame's bedroom before which she
knelt and begged the good God to send kind protectors for her
beautiful daughters. Little sins of the body never interfered
with the piety of the Creoles, white or colored.
Source: Eleanor Early.
Holiday. New York: Rhinehart and Company, 1947. / See also:
* * * *
Buddy Bolden was a lover of music
The Great Buddy Bolden—Buddy
Part of a recording of an interview of Jelly Roll Morton
by Alan Lomax in 1938. Jazz history archive material.
Jelly sings and plays Buddy Bolden Blues, and tells of
his experiences watching Buddy in New Orleans, and talks
about the great Buddy Bolden. "Buddy was the blowinest
man since Gabriel!".
Buddy Bolden Story with Wynton Marsalis
Jelly Roll Morton—Buddy Bolden's Blues
Jelly Roll Morton playing and singing his composition of
"Buddy Bolden's Blues"
Lyrics by Jelly Roll
I thought I heard Buddy
You nasty, you dirty—take
You terrible, you awful—take
I thought I heard him say
I thought I heard Buddy
Open up that window and let that bad air out
Open up that window, and let the foul air
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say
I thought I heard Judge Fogarty say
Thirty days in the market—take
Get him a good broom to sweep with—take
I thought I heard him say
I thought I heard Frankie Dusen shout
Gal, give me that money—I’m
gonna beat it out
I mean give me that money, like I explain
you, or I’m gonna beat it out
I thought I heard
Frankie Dusen say
* * * * *
Let That Bad Air Out: Buddy Bolden's Last
Novel in Linocut by Stefan Rerg
In a series of
brilliantly rendered linocut relief prints,
Berg tells the story of Buddy Bolden, a New
Orleans jazz musician living from 1877 to
1931. Each crisp image masterfully succeeds
in evoking a feeling of the fluidity of the
music, the boisterousness of the community,
and the darkness of the events surrounding
the musician's demise. An introduction by
Donald M. Marquis, author of In Search of
Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz, and an
afterword by renowned artist, George A.
Walker, round out this collection.
Fans of the graphic
novel genre and enthusiasts of linocut
relief printmaking will surely be pleased
with Let That Bad Air Out: Buddy Bolden's
Last Parade. Highly recommended.
Stefan Berg revives the wordless
graphic novel in his portrait of he `first man of jazz'. Very little is
known of Buddy Bolden. His music was never recorded and there is only
one existing photograph, yet he is considered to be the first bandleader
to play the improvised music that has since become known as jazz.
* * * * *
In Search Of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz
Donald M. Marquis
beginnings of jazz and the story of Charles
"Buddy" Bolden (1877–1931) are inextricably
intertwined. Just after the turn of the
century, New Orleanians could often hear
Bolden’s powerful horn from the city’s parks
and through dance hall windows. He had no
formal training, but what he lacked in
technical finesse he made up for in style.
It was this—his unique style, both musical
and personal—that made him the first "king"
of New Orleans jazz and the inspiration for
such later jazz greats as King Oliver, Kid
Ory, and Louis Armstrong.
years the legend of Buddy Bolden was
overshadowed by myths about his music, his
reckless lifestyle, and his mental
instability. In Search of Buddy Bolden
overlays the myths with the substance of
reality. Interviews with those who knew
Bolden and an extensive array of primary
sources enliven and inform Donald M.
Marquis’s absorbing portrait of the brief
but brilliant career of the first man of
For this paperback
edition, Marquis has added a new preface and appendix.
He relates events and discoveries that have occurred
since the book’s original publication in 1978, including
a jazz funeral and a monument erected in honor of Bolden
in 1996, the locating of Bolden’s granddaughter, the
proper identification of Bolden’s clarinet players, and
the unfortunate confirmation of the destruction of the
last known Bolden recording.
Donald M. Marquis,
jazz curator emeritus of the Louisiana State Museum,
lives in New Orleans. He is also the author of Finding
Buddy Bolden and A Nifty Place to Grow Up.
* * * * *
Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly
New Orleans Creole and "Inventor of Jazz"
appeared in 1950, this biography of
Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton became an
instant classic of jazz literature. Now back
in print and updated with a new afterword by
Lawrence Gushee, Mister Jelly Roll
will enchant a new generation of readers
with the fascinating story of one of the
world's most influential composers of jazz.
Jelly Roll's voice spins out his life in
something close to song, each sentence rich
with the sound and atmosphere of the period
in which Morton, and jazz, exploded on the
American and international scene. This
edition includes scores of Jelly Roll's own
arrangements, a discography and an updated
bibliography, a chronology of his
compositions, a new genealogical tree of
Jelly Roll's forebears, and Alan Lomax's
preface from the hard-to-find 1993 edition
of this classic work.
afterword provides new factual information and reasserts
the importance of this work of African American
biography to the study of jazz and American culture.
* * * * *
Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans
By Louis Armstrong
"In all my whole career
the Brick House was one of the toughest joints I ever played
in. It was the honky-tonk where levee workers would
congregate every Saturday night and trade with the gals
who'd stroll up and down the floor and the bar. Those guys
would drink and fight one another like circle saws. Bottles
would come flying over the bandstand like crazy, and there
was lots of just plain common shooting and cutting. But
somehow all that jive didn't faze me at all, I was so happy
to have some place to blow my horn." So says Louis Armstrong
about just one of the places he grew up in, a tough kid who
also happened to be a musical genius. This story of his
early life, concluding with his departure to Chicago to play
with his boyhood idol King Oliver, is a fascinating
Contrary to popular belief, it turns out that life in
New Orleans was an amazingly eventful and a basically
happy experience for Louis Armstrong-and he ought to
know-for in no other city in the world at the time could
a boy discover and learn about the music that he loved,
for this was New Orleans, and he was Louis Armstrong.
* * *
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
Treat It Gentle: An Autobiography
By Sidney Bechet
One of the most eloquent
autobiographies ever written by an American artist.—Martin
A legend on both the
clarinet and the soprano saxophone, one of the most
brilliant exponents of New Orleans jazz, Sidney Bechet
(1897–1959) played with such fellow jazz legends as Louis
Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Jelly Roll
Morton. Here is his vivid story written in his own words.
Expressive, frank, and hilarious, this classic in jazz
literature re-creates a man, a music, and an era.
Bechet led a
colorful life from New Orleans in the early days of jazz to
France where he finally earned the recognition he deserved..
. .John Chilton’s biography,
Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, makes a good
companion piece, filling in the gaps and providing musical
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update 31 May 2012