A wealthy man, Louis Hazeur De Lorme (ca. 1760-1828) was a highly respected man in his community. He shared a large indigo plantation with his brothers-in-law, Francois and Louis Xavier three and half miles away from the city, where their families lived together. In the memoirs of Pierre Clément Laussat, a high-ranking French official who acted as a colonial prefect to Louisiana in 1802, the Hazeur plantation is described with envy: Laussat praises the Hazeurs as “real French knights.” He also reported with disgust that while none of the men were married, and they were surrounded by children “whose color betrayed their origin”. He blamed these mixed race children on a “colonial weakness,” referring to the prevalence of interracial relationships on the French colonial islands of the Caribbean.
The free people of color, who lived in a liminal space often without the full liberties of freedom, but with considerably more independence than enslaved persons, sometimes became slave owners themselves. The Hazeur family, which began with an interracial relationship between a white man and a formerly enslaved woman, demonstrates the tension between social boundaries, slavery, and love in antebellum New Orleans. The Hazeurs exemplified the conflicting role that free people of color were forced to play in a racially divided society.
Felicité Hazeur (ca. 1772-1835) spent the first twenty years of her life in bondage, enslaved on the Hazeur plantation, where she was likely born. After Francois Dreux, her legal owner, died, his widow, Marie Dreux Hazeur de Lorme, inherited their enslaved persons and took over management of the plantation. Shortly after Marie took over control of the plantation, Marie’s brother-in-law, Louis, and Felicité conceived a child while Felicité was still a slave in Marie’s possession. It’s impossible to know the intentions, motives, or personal details of their relationship. The truth could lie anywhere between a story of two people falling in love despite societal mores and a man raping a woman he thought of as legal property. The answers to these questions are lost to history. Nevertheless, we must remember that the power imbalance between Louis and Felicité was undeniable, and Felicité would have felt compelled in some way to acquiesce to her master’s will for fear of negative, or even fatal, consequences.
Felicité remained in Marie’s possession until a daughter, Helena Hazeur (1792-1853), was born. After that, Marie sold Felicité and Helena to Louis. On the deed of the slave sale, Marie noted that she gifted Felicité and Helena “out of the love for her brother.” Louis freed both women immediately after. Helena was immediately baptized and Louis proudly signed his name as the father, perhaps suggesting affection for his children, or even pride in his paternal role. The sacramental records show that Felicité was originally listed as Felicité Dreux, under her deceased master’s name, which was crossed out and corrected to Felicité Hazeur. It’s possible that the name change reflected Felicité’s status as property in Louis’ household or as his wife, if they had secretly married in the church. As the years went on, they had four more children. All were baptized and recognized as Louis’s natural children, as seen in the records as well as Felicité’s will.
Despite Louis’ relationship with Felicité and their mixed race children, Louis was, above all, a businessman. Surviving evidence suggests that the only enslaved persons that he ever set free during his long involvement in the slave trade were Felicité and their daughter. An estimated 90 enslaved people worked the Hazeur indigo plantation, which was of such notable size that it was mentioned in his neighbor’s will. He bought and sold slaves frequently, as both a source of income and a way to keep his plantation fully staffed.
After being emancipated, Felicité herself became a slave owner. She’s on record in 1834 as selling slaves to both her daughter Antoinette and her son in law, Basil Crocker. We can guess that Felicité may have treated the enslaved people she owned differently, or kept them in her family in order to keep them safe from unknown purchasers, but the fact remains: she did not emancipate them. Helena Hazeur, her first child, was also a slave owner. A white woman gifted her an enslaved woman when she turned 24 in 1816, a common practice for young ladies of prominent status who were assumed to need the help in keeping up their home and appearances. The Hazeurs of color likely rationalized the economic side of slavery, just like Louis. Dehumanization and distancing helped him to continue trading slaves and working them in unforgiving fields, an ideology he in part passed onto his family of color.