Marie Thereze Coin-coin's Franco-African Plantation
in Antebellum Louisiana
THE STORY OF MARIE THEREZE COIN-COIN
Marie Thereze Coin-coin was born in 1742, the second daughter of first generation African slaves. Both she and her parents were owned by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the first commandant of the oldest French outpost in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four she gave birth to four full-blooded African children. At the age of twenty-five she was lent to Frenchman Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer and she bore him six Franco-African children, all slaves. He then purchased her and secretly granted her freedom. She remained with him for four more years during which time she had four more children, this time all free. In 1786, at the age of forty four she was formally granted manumission and given a small stipend as well as sixty eight acres of land bordering the Cane River in a fertile but discarded area of central Louisiana known as Isle Brevelle. Within six years she had enough income to begin the purchase of all her children and grandchildren, the last one granted manumission a year before her death in 1816. She accomplished this through the use of slaves and at the time of her death owned twelve thousand acres of land and thirty nine slaves all part of what is now known as Melrose Plantation. Her family and heirs continued to thrive as free people of color in the region for many years until the land was lost due to the insolvency of white planters to whom they had made loans.
Author's Note: The olive jars come from the plantation. The hair is from a nineteenth century African horse whip. The shoes are from the Louisiana State collection, representing the period of Coin-coin. The scene is the interior of the Roque House and former convent of the Metoyer church.
The body is located between material culture and subjectivity in important ways. In bearing fourteen children, the majority half-white and enslaved, her body became a site of capital accumulation. Womanhood in slave culture was often defined by motherhood, enabling a powerful connection to place, family, and community. Church records indicate that each Franco-African family began with an illicit union between a French man and an African women often confusing race and gender relationships in eighteenth century Louisiana. Regional folklore tells of a love story between a French planter, Claude Metoyer, and his slave/mistress Marie Thereze. Manumission documents suggest that he was partial to his black children and provided for their safety and well-being.
Remembrance is not a copy of experience, but a web of connections. Our digital re-telling of this story is not a mirroring of the past, but a recombinant vision. When transposing memories into narrative, a specificity emerges that was not present in our earlier visual/oral culture. With digital, photographic manipulation, 'factual' information becomes more malleable, allowing us to rediscover relationships between specific places and memories difficult to capture with words. Current imaging technologies allow us to give identity, experience, and agency to the lived culture/memory of these women's landscapes.