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Cajuns and Creoles of French ancestry are dominant in much of the southern part of the state. Louisiana Cajuns are the descendants of French-speaking Acadians from colonial French Acadia, which are now the present-day Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
The Creole people of Louisiana are split into two racial divisions. Créole was the term first given to French settlers born in Louisiana when it was a colony of France. In Spanish the term for natives was
criollo. Given the immigration and settlement patterns, white Creoles are predominantly
of French and Spanish ancestry. As the slave population grew in Louisiana, there were
also enslaved blacks who could be called Creoles, in the sense of having been born in
The special meaning of Louisiana Creole, however, is associated with free people of
color (gens de couleur libres), which was generally a third class of mixed-race people
who were concentrated in southern Louisiana and New Orleans. This group was
formed under French and Spanish rule, made up at first of descendants from
relationships between colonial men and enslaved women, mostly African. As time
went on, colonial men chose companions who were often women of color, or
mixed-race. Often the men would free their companions and children if still enslaved.
The arrangements were formalized in New Orleans as plaçage, often associated with
property settlements for the young women and education for their children, or at least
for sons. Creoles who were free people of color during French and Spanish rule
formed a distinct class - many were educated and became wealthy property owners
or artisans, and they were politically active. Often these mixed-race Creoles married
only among themselves. They were a distinct group between white French and
Spanish descendants, and the mass of enslaved Africans.
After the Haitian Revolution, the class of free people of color in New Orleans and
Louisiana was increased by French-speaking refugees and immigrants from Haiti.
At the same time, French-speaking whites entered the city, some bringing slaves
with them, who in Haiti were mostly African natives.
Today Creoles of color are generally those who are a mix of African, French,
Spanish and Native American heritage, who grew up in the French or
Creole-speaking environment and culture. The separate status of Creoles of color
was diminished after the US made the Louisiana Purchase, and even more so
after the American Civil War. White attempts to regain supremacy made them
divide society simply into black and white. Those Creoles who had been free for
generations before the Civil War lost some of their standing.