ARTICLE: Neidenbach on Madame Marie Couvent, a Free Woman of Color in New Orleans

Board of Directors, Couvent School, 1917 Top row (standing): George Doyle, Louis Charbonnet, Walter L. Cohen, Alphonse Hopkins, Antoine Surle Lower Row (seated): Radamis Lalonier, Paul Despues, Louis J. Joubert, Barthelemy A. Rousseve, Paul Dominguez via CreoleGen.com
Board of Directors, Couvent School, 1917
Top row (standing): George Doyle, Louis Charbonnet, Walter L. Cohen, Alphonse Hopkins, Antoine Surle
Lower Row (seated): Radamis Lalonier, Paul Despues, Louis J. Joubert, Barthelemy A. Rousseve, Paul Dominguez via CreoleGen.com (click image for more)

Elizabeth C. Neidenbach, “‘Mes dernières volontés’: Testaments to the Life of Marie Couvent, a Former Slave in New Orleans.” Transatlantica. Revue d’études américaines. American Studies Journal, no. 2 (October 10, 2012). http://transatlantica.revues.org/6186.

“In her last will and testament, recorded on November 12, 1832, Marie Justine Cirnaire, Veuve Couvent left specific instructions about how her estate should be divided. After three decades in New Orleans this free woman of color had accumulated a sizeable amount of property, including slaves and land. With her will Couvent claimed a lasting legacy as a patron of African American education when she declared that a school be established on her property. That this French-speaking former slave could not sign her own name makes such an act remarkable. In fact, Couvent made two wills in New Orleans, the first dated twenty years earlier on October 26, 1812. Through a close reading of Couvent’s wills, this article will explore the life of a woman who was born in Africa, enslaved in Saint-Domingue, and died a free and wealthy slave owner in New Orleans.

As catalogs of material accumulation, acts of autobiography, and maps of social networks, these legal documents suggest the ways Couvent and other former slaves created identities as free people through property ownership and personal relationships. The differences between Couvent’s two wills are significant, revealing traces of her experiences from a slave in Saint-Domingue to a free woman in Louisiana. These discrepancies also reflect broader transformations in New Orleans. Placing the wills in their historical context not only allows me to fill the gaps in her life story, but reveals a complicated picture of how free people of color sustained their community as the center of slavery shifted into the Deep South. Together, Marie Couvent’s wills provide a rare glimpse into a life, in and out of slavery, that otherwise would have remained obscure…”

Read the rest: Transatlantica

Advertisements

Join the Discussion

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s