AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum
Re: Who were Free People of Color?
In Response To: Who were Free People of Color? ()
I think the term originally entered into American usage through the French "gens de couleur libre" "Free people of Color", which was a category set up to differentiate Creoles (from the Spanish word criollo)those white persons born in the Caribbean and Louisiana from Creoles of color, who were either free by birth - or emancipation. Later - many American states adopted the category in census records, and other documents and registries, specifically in slave states, but also in some that were not.
It does not, in the American context - have anything to do with skin color designations. Free coloreds were counted in the census - slaves were not (except as numbers). In the north, many thousands of slaves won their freedom through military service in the Continental Army. There was an even a smaller percentage of free Africans who arrived here in a variety of ways - some as seamen, others as servants, and an even smaller number as immigrants. Over time, as northern states abolished slavery - either outright or through gradual emancipation, thousands more enjoyed this status.
In the south however - depending on variances of crop and custom free status became more difficult to achieve over time. Some early Southern slaves were able to buy their freedom - similar to indentured servants, but as access to slaves dried up after the British embargoes, so did access to freedom. As time went on - an imbalance occurred - and more and more of the Southern slaves, particularly in the deep South who managed to be emancipated - were trusted house servants and skilled workers, many of whom were related by blood to their owners, or overseers. Hence the perception that free colored - equaled mulatto.
It is a large category - with many variables, and I think it is important to point out that being "free" didn't necessarily mean one was of high status. You were free to be lynched, free to starve, many times driven from county to county , state to state. Only Louisiana as a state - and to a lesser extent cities like Charleston, maintained a three-tiered racial structure using free mulattos as a buffer group.
So - to go back to the point (I love to digress)
Jes my 2 cents,
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