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Success by trial

The Coincoin-Prudhomme house along the Cane River in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana was documented by the Historic Buildings Survey in the 1990s.

Sometime in the 1990s, the federal program called Historic Buildings Survey (HABS) documented the Coincoin- Prudhomme home along the Cane River in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. The home was extensively studied not only because it is such a fine example of early 19th century French colonial architecture, but also because it sits on land once owned by Marie Therese Coincoin, the matriarch of the Cane River Creoles.

Marie Therese dite Coincoin was born ca. 1742 to enslaved African (Angolan or Congolese) parents in French Louisiana inside the household Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the founder of Natchitoches. Although baptized with a Christian name as was the French custom in the Code Noir, she kept her African name, Coincoin. When she was a teenager, Marie St. Denis de Soto, who now owned Coincoin, leased her to Claude Metoyer, a merchant and bachelor. As enslaved people could not choose their sexual partners, Marie Therese dite Coincoin gave birth to ten children in quick succession. The parish priest threatened to sell her as a punishment to Metoyer for the sins of fornication (!!!!) and lashed Coincoin. Metoyer paid St. Denis de Soto to free Coincoin in the aftermath of this outrage.

The children born of French men and African women were not considered legitimate under colonial law. To secure his estate, Metoyer married a French woman, but Coincoin had Spanish law on her side (after 1763, Louisiana was under Spanish control). She secured a plot of his land, an allowance, and access to her still-enslaved children, whom she was eventually able to purchase with monies she made as a midwife, healer, trapper, hunter, and planter. This plot of land is where the surveyed house now stands.

Coincoin secured more land through a Spanish land grant and became a successful plantation owner. Her children, who took the surname Metoyer, married other "gens de couleur libre" (free people of color) around the Red River. This extensive kinship network cemented the Franco-Afro Creole communities along the river at Isle Brevelle (Cane River) and Campti. Her sons built Melrose Plantation and also founded St. Augustine Church, home to the first African-American parish in Louisiana.

The Coincoin-Prudhomme home (Coincoin after Marie Therese; Prudhomme after latter owners) was built in the 1820s using materials from Coincoin's original house, which was most likely built on that very spot in the 1780s. The federal survey described the house as exhibiting "Norman French techniques" that were common in buildings from the early eighteenth century, but with many materials from the 1820s and a few from the 1780s. Its foundation is raised and rests on bricks; today, the bricks might be modern, but when it was built, they were made by enslaved people out of clay harvested from the Red River.

In 2014, the house was opened for tours, but I'm unsure if it's still open. The house and the history of the land it occupies offer a glimpse into African American heritage along the Red River: an amazing amount of deep and intricate history.


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