Building Antebellum New Orleans
Free People of Color and Their Influence
302 Pages, 94 b&w photos and 22 color photos
Sales Date: August 10, 2021
2022 PROSE Award in Architecture and Urban Planning
2022 Summerlee Book Prize in Nonfiction, Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast
2022 Best Book Prize, Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians
2022 On the Brinck Book Award, University of New Mexico School of Architecture + Planning
A significant and deeply researched examination of the free nineteenth-century Black developers who transformed the cultural and architectural legacy of New Orleans.
The Creole architecture of New Orleans is one of the city’s most-recognized features, but studies of it largely have focused on architectural typology. In Building Antebellum New Orleans, Tara A. Dudley examines the architectural activities and influence of gens de couleur libres—free people of color—in a city where the mixed-race descendants of whites and other free Blacks could own property.
Between 1820 and 1850 New Orleans became an urban metropolis and industrialized shipping center with a growing population. Amidst dramatic economic and cultural change in the mid-antebellum period, the gens de couleur libres thrived as property owners, developers, building artisans, and patrons. Dudley writes an intimate microhistory of two prominent families of Black developers, the Dollioles and Souliés, to explore how gens de couleur libres used ownership, engagement, and entrepreneurship to construct individual and group identity and stability. With deep archival research, Dudley re-creates in fine detail the material culture, business and social history, and politics of the built environment for free people of color and adds new, revelatory information to the canon on New Orleans architecture.
Here, finally, is a book-length scholarly work wholly devoted to the role of free people of color in the building of New Orleans. Unlike countless other sources which passingly allude to this community’s architectural contributions, Tara Dudley’s research gives them names, lives, skill sets, accomplishments, and social and cultural context, focusing on members of the Dolliole and Soulié families. This important book will be of interest to scholars and general readers interested in architecture, urbanism, vernacular building, New Orleans and Louisiana history, Creole culture, and African American topics.
— Richard Campanella, Tulane University, author of The West Bank of Greater New Orleans: A Historical GeographyBuilding Antebellum New Orleans is a masterfully written book and the first to conceptualize the contributions of free people of color in the architectural and infrastructural history of New Orleans. Yet this book is so much more. It uncovers the complicated and fascinating histories of two prominent Creole families, the Dollioles and Souliés, placing them at the height of racial politics in the city as they skillfully navigate the gray areas of race, business, and building. This is undoubtedly an important book that will enhance the historical scholarship on pre-Civil War New Orleans.
— Sharlene Sinegal-DeCuir, Xavier University of LouisianaTara Dudley breaks new ground in this engaging study, demonstrating how economics and politics informed the built environment of New Orleans in the antebellum era. Her innovative research reveals the complex personal and financial relations between two families of color, the Dolliole and Soulié families, which allowed them to thrive as entrepreneurs in antebellum New Orleans. As New Orleans Americanized and modernized, these builders found themselves marginalized, yet Dudley shows that their financial clout allowed them to play an entrepreneurial role well into the antebellum era.
— Kenneth Hafertepe, Baylor University, author of The Material Culture of German TexansBuilding Antebellum New Orleans is a meticulous account of the architectural contributions of free people of color to the city, and of the cultural landscape they worked within and acted on.
— ANTIGRAVITY MagazineRendering life in serene prose from an arrangement of discrete data points is part of Tara A. Dudley’s art in Building Antebellum New Orleans. It is a consummate work of social, genealogical, and architectural history...This is a book of impeccable calculation and comprehensive accounting...Dudley’s investment in the 'significance of African Americans’ place' in the American landscape documents the untold and telling efforts of both free and unfree people of African descent to bear the long-contested dispossession built into the fabric of the colonial American experiment.
— ARRIS: The Journal of the Southeast Chapter of Architectural HistoriansTo refer to this book as an architectural history of New Orleans after statehood would describe only a fraction of its scholarly importance. Beyond the material culture that is manifest in the built environment and the building types that gens de couleur libres builders preferred, the reader gets many glimpses of the unique social and economic position of this mixed-race class and the racial politics they negotiated...Building Antebellum New Orleans reveals the rich and complicated social landscape created by free people of color in New Orleans and the privileges that came with belonging to old Francophone families.
— Journal of Southern HistoryDudley demonstrates the control gens de couleur libres (free people of color) exerted on the city's architecture and urban design, and she convincingly asserts the importance the built environment had for their families and community, thereby expanding our understanding of gens de couleur libres material strategies and New Orleans's built environment...Dudley recovers a sizeable group of builders obscured by scholars' focus on the city's European and Anglo-American professional architects, and she offers a nuanced analysis of her subjects' complex racial identities, acknowledging some family members' role as enslavers. Her study resonates with questions emerging across architectural history and material culture studies about the importance of enslaved and free Black craftspeople's expertise and labor in building trades across the South.
— Journal of American History
- List of Tables
- List of Figures
- Part I. Ownership: Possessing the Built Environment
- Chapter 1. The Gens de Couleur Libres’ Acquisition of Property
- Chapter 2. The Ramifications of Use and Location
- Part II. Engagement: Forming and Transforming the Built Environment
- Chapter 3. The Architecture of the Dolliole and Soulié Families
- Chapter 4. “Uncommon Industry”: Gens de Couleur Libres Builders in Antebellum New Orleans
- Chapter 5. “Raised to the Trade”: Building Practices of Gens de Couleur Libres Builders in Antebellum New Orleans
- Chapter 6. The Status Quo: French, Creole, and Anglo Builders and Architects in Antebellum New Orleans
- Part III. Entrepreneurship: Controlling the Built Environment
- Chapter 7. Money, Power, and Status in the Building Trades
- Conclusion. The Gens de Couleur Libres’ Development of Self and Group Identity through Ownership, Formation, Transformation, and Control of the Built Environment