Free people of color were instrumental in the creation of the ironworks and architecture that you see while walking throughout the French Quarter. The census of 1820 lists 1319 free people of color employed in manufacture, almost equal to the number of free white people working in the industry. Jean-Louis Dolliole, a free man of color, was well-known for his rendition of the “creole cottage,” employing traditionally Spanish architectural design mixed with his unique spin on French colonial building techniques using local materials. His two most famous creations on Pauger and Saint Philip Streets serve as contemporary reminders of his lasting influence. Ultimately, however, his legacy demonstrates the significant role that many free people of color played in the social fabric of antebellum New Orleans, despite the increasing restrictions on their freedom.
In 1853, Jean-Louis owned 7 properties and died with and estate of $13,959 (modern equivalent is $434,285). Although much of the Dolliole family’s history is buried in long-neglected bills of sale and estate inventories, the Dollioles made a name for themselves as civic leaders and savvy businesspeople integral to the development of their New Orleans community. The Dollioles owned at least 36 properties in New Orleans and built over a dozen.
Jean-Louis’ father, Louis Dolliole immigrated to Spanish Louisiana from Provence, France in the 1760s. Upon arrival, he initiated a romantic partnership with free woman of color, Genevieve Larronde. Genevieve “Mamie” Larronde, whose birth went undocumented, appears in many more records as an independent matriarch, citizen, and businesswoman. Per her death record, Larronde lived to be 91 years old, marking her birth year around 1745. Due to lack of documentation, it is ambiguous whether Genevieve was born free or manumitted. During the Spanish era (1763-1800), the practice of coartación, or self-manumission was legal. Enslaved persons could purchase their own freedom, if they were able to raise enough money through side-work. Often on Sunday, their day off, enslaved New Orleanians would take on extra jobs for free people who would pay them a small sum. If their owners didn't agree to a reasonable price, they could sue them. Even owner-initiated manumission during Spanish rule required less paperwork and hoop-jumping. Thus, more people born into slavery in Louisiana during the second half of the 18th century were likely to become free through legal means.
Genevieve Larronde entered her partnership with Jean-Louis’ father with three daughters, to whom she bequeathed some of her property upon her death in 1838. Louis and Genevieve also had four children, but Jean-Louis came to be the most renowned and prolific of the Dolliole builders. Jean-Louis both owned and built the vast majority of the family’s properties in the Faubourg Tremé and French Quarter neighborhoods.
As a young man, Jean-Louis and his brothers and cousins, joined the Louisiana militia battalion for free men of color. Because he came of age under Spanish dominion and remained loyal to the Louisiana armed forces, Jean-Louis served under Spanish, French, and American leadership, serving valiantly as a private in Fortier’s Battalion in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. By 1815, the free black militia, instrumental to the territory’s defense and safety during the 18th century, had been disbanded by the government. Mounting fears of insurrection after the Haitian Revolution, a near revolt at Pointe Coupee, the interrupted slave revolt in 1811 on the German Coast, and the influx of enslaved and free black people had seized the whites in power enough to take away the weapons of the politically and socially active black militia. In times of crisis, however, such as during the Battle of New Orleans, they were reinstated.
His mother, Genevieve, bought the family home at 933 Saint Philip Street in 1794. The family lived there for over 50 years, during which time the title shifted back and forth between Genevieve and Louis. The Dollioles built more houses on acquired land next to their Saint Philip home to accommodate their children as they got older and married. Ultimately, Jean-Louis bought or inherited all the family’s St. Philip properties. He married twice and had a total of seven children.
Unlike some families of color at the time, the Dollioles were able to circumvent the 1808 and 1825 Civil Codes barring illegitimate children and life partners from inheriting over one-third of an estate. Through intervivos donations and strategic property sales, the Dollioles kept both moveable and immoveable property within the family generation after generation. Not only did the Dolliole men financially support each other and their kin, they also legally represented each other, their relations, and their friends. Pierre gave his brother Jean-Louis power of attorney of his estate in anticipation of his passing, and Jean-Louis spoke on behalf of his siblings after the death of their mother. Ursain Guesnon was a fellow builder and friend of the Dollioles who appointed Jean-Louis executor of his estate upon his death in 1843. In a Louisiana Supreme Court case in 1846, Jean-Louis stood as executor for the deceased Joseph Priesto during a suit for the freedom of Priesto’s slave. Jean-Louis died at the age of 82 from chronic cystitis at his house on Bayou Road and is buried in his father’s tomb at St. Louis Cemetery #1.