Louisiana was a place known to have an abundance of creoles of color, free or enslaved. This ethnic grouping of people, became a historic symbolism. Based on my own research, I believe that Louisiana, being where there was such a large group of creoles of color, was one of the first places in the United States that depicts true interracial love.
My infamous 6th great-grandfather is Donato Bello. He was one of the modestly wealthy and ambitious men who migrated and settled in New Orleans due to the ordinance of 1770 by Governor Alejandro O’Reilly. His ordinance provided renewed impetus for settlement along western Louisiana. Donato Bello moved to the Opelousas post with his dual families. This duality was common in Louisiana and established the notion of Creoles of Color.
Donato Bello was born in Corand , Naples, Italy and was an infantry officer. He married my 6th great-grandmother, Suzanne Moreau, in New Orleans on 15 January 1765. Suzanne was from Alabama and the daughter of Joseph Valientin Moreau and Marie Jean Lafleur. Together, Donato and Suzanne had roughly 6 children. Simultaneously, Donato Bello maintained a relationship with Marie Jeanne Talliaferro, a New Orleans-born mulatto and free. Based on records, Marie bore Donato at least 3 children. In a previous blog post I wrote about one of the children born to Donato Bello and Marie Jeanne Talliaferro, Martin Donato-Bello who later dropped “Bello” and was known as Martin Donato. Martin would go on to be one of the wealthiest men in southeast Louisiana, especially a free man of color.
In a new book by Michael Nolden Henderson, he tells his family history of his 4th great-grandmother, Agnes. Agnes happened to be born during the French period of Louisiana’s history, which occurred between 1699 to 1783. She was estimated to be born around 1758 in St. Charles Parish, which is about 30 miles north of New Orleans. Over time, she fell into a relationship with a Frenchman who was born in Marseille, France and then immigrated to Spanish Louisiana bewteen 1765 and 1770. Together, they formed a biracial relationship in New Orleans, and surprisingly, he assisted her Agnes with gaining her freedom for she had been born into slavery. By 16 December 1779, Agnes was manumitted after having gone through a year long court battle with her former owner. Due to the lack of an agreement, the Spanish colonial Governor Bernardo Galvez had to sign her manumission document, which he eventually did. Spain was one of few countries who permitted enslaved individuals to self-purchase themselves.
The history presented by Michael Henderson is a common one of creole families within Louisiana. Ironically, my own ancestor had his own platonic relationship with Governor Bernardo Galvez. In a previous post, I explained the involvement of the Spanish during the American Revolution. Donato Bello is my connection to joining the Daughters of the American revolution. He assisted the colonies’ side. In 1779, the Spanish drew off the British army to the south, then crushed them. Galvez and his menn first tackled the British in Louisiana and Alabama, and finally with a combined naval and land assault at the Battle of Pensacola in 1781. A detailed description was written as follows: “Through the sweltering heat of Louisiana in the autumn of 1779 marched one of the most diverse military forces ever assembled in North America to challenge the British Army’s stranglehold in the southern theater of the American Revolutionary War. Led by a young rising star of the Spanish military, Col. Bernardo de Galvez, the force included recruits from Mexico, free blacks, experienced Spanish soldiers in the Louisiana Regiment, volunteers from the American colonies and from Louisiana’s German and Acadian communities, and American Indians.”
While, Donato Bello survived the American Revolution, he still had to survive the financial responsibility of having two families. Fortunately, poll tax records and sale documents, indicate that Donato Bello was financially successful. He owned several slaves and ensured that his families were well taken care of. While he was alive, he was witness to his many of his children’s marriages. When he passed away, he made sure his wives, for all intents and purposes, and children were financially and independently taken care of.
It is slightly confusing to me though that this white man would go and fall in love and have children with a woman of color, but also continue to own slaves. It is just as confusing to me that these people of color, even within my own family, would own slaves. If the Spanish government can, in part, see them as individuals, why were they ever slaves. Animals cannot purchase themselves from their farmers. Yet, enslaved individuals had the legal right to purchase themselves. Creoles within Louisiana came about because of the interracial connection between European settlers and African Americans. In another family history I read, a woman left her family to engage in a courtship with a black man. Her husband filed divorce and full custody of their children. Apparently, this was not that uncommon.
I’m trying to find solace in the double standards that existed during slavery, but mainly within my own family history. Donato Bello was a contributor to the growing population of creoles of color, but also a large slaveholder. Did he ever question his own actions or was there some sort of difference? For my creole uncles and aunts, was there ever a questioning? Did they not compare their own skin colors to the skin of those they owned?
I am filled with many perplexing questions. I just don’t understand. I know that I may never understand. Stories like this intrigue me. When I have these types of on going relationships occurring in my own direct line, I question who I am because I descend from those people. At what point does economic love become genuine and purified love? Was there ever really love or was it all about self gain? These unsolvable mysteries lead me to more discoveries as I journey to try and find truths and answers.
The story of my family and other creoles of color are detailed in Carl A. Brasseaux’ book Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country.