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Building Antebellum New Orleans

Building Antebellum New Orleans
Free People of Color and Their Influence

A significant and deeply researched examination of the free nineteenth-century Black developers who transformed the cultural and architectural legacy of New Orleans.

Series: Lateral Exchanges

August 2021
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336 pages | 6 x 9 | 94 b&w photos and 22 color photos |

The Creole architecture of New Orleans is one of the city’s most-recognized features, but studies of it largely have been 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 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 recreates 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.


2022 PROSE Award Winner in Architecture and Urban Planning

2022 Summerlee Book Prize in Nonfiction, The Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast

  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction
  • 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
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Tara Dudley is a lecturer in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin.


“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 Geography

Building 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 Dolliole and Soulié, 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 Louisiana

“Tara 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 Texans