The Louisiana Metoyers

The Louisiana Metoyers

American Visions
June, 2000

Elizabeth Shown Mills

Gary B. Mills (1944-2002)

The Metoyer family of Louisiana provides an intriguing ample of the degree to which class, race and economic lines were blurred in early America. The Metoyers were both slaves and masters; in that regard, they were not unique. They were singular in the degree of their success. In the pre-Civil War South, they were, as a family unit, the wealthiest of all free families of color in the nation. After the war, they endured generations of poverty but preserved a rich store of oral history, much of which has been documented at Melrose Plantation in Melrose, La. The Metoyer family has been nationally conspicuous since 1975–the year that Melrose, the last of at least a dozen pillared, two-story “mansion houses” that they built on their plantations, was declared a National Historic Landmark.

On January 8, 1736, Francoise (a slave belonging to Chevalier Louis Juchereau de St. Denis) and Marie Francoise were married in Natchitoches, La. The only clues indicating the origins of this African couple are the names of four of their children: Dgimby, Choera, Yandon and Coincoin. These names can be attributed to the Ewe linguistic group of the Gold Coast-Dahomey region of Africa. Although Catholic custom required all baptized Christians to bear a saint’s name, popular custom among the French permitted a variety of nicknames, or dits, as the French called them. The custom extended to the slave population as well, and a number of slaves are identified in official records by the African name that French masters permitted them to retain.

The pronunciation of Coincoin is close to that of Ko-kwe, a name given to all second-born daughters by those who speak the Glidzi dialect of the Ewe language. Marie Therese dite Coincoin, the second daughter born to Francois and Marie Francoise, was baptized at the Natchitoches Post on August 24, 1742. Colonial Louisiana’s Code Noir (Black Laws), which did not permit the separation by sale of a husband and wife or of a child under 14 from its mother, kept the family of Francois and Marie Francoise together as a stable unit until April 18, 1758, when the couple died together in an epidemic that also killed their mistress…

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