Free people of color were instrumental to the creation of the ironwork and architecture that you see while walking throughout the French Quarter. The 1820 Census lists 1,319 free people of color employed in manufacture, almost equal to the number of white people working in the industry at the time. 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.
Jean-Louis’ father, Louis Dolliole, immigrated to Spanish Louisiana from Provence, France in the 1760s. Upon arrival, he initiated a romantic partnership with Genevieve “Mamie” Larronde, a free woman of color. Larronde, whose birth went undocumented, appears in many other 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 a lack of documentation, it is ambiguous whether Larronde was born free or manumitted later in life. During the Spanish Era (1763-1800), one of the ways an enslaved person could fight for their freedom was through the practice of coartación, or legal self-manumission. Enslaved persons could purchase their own freedom if they were able to raise enough money to match their market value through side-work. Enslaved New Orleanians would take on extra jobs during their scarce free time to save up money. An enslaved person could sue their enslaver if they didn't agree to a reasonable sale price.
Larronde had three daughters when she entered a partnership with Louis Dolliole. Larronde would ultimately bequeath some of her property to these daughters upon her death in 1838. Dolliole and Larronde had four children together, but Jean-Louis came to be the most renowned and prolific of the Dolliole family builders. Jean-Louis both owned and built the vast majority of the family’s properties in the Faubourg Tremé and French Quarter.
In 1794, Larronde bought the family home at 933 Saint Philip Street. The family lived there for over 50 years, during which time the title shifted back and forth between Larronde and Dolliole. 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.
As a young man, Jean-Louis, along with his brothers and cousins, joined the Louisiana militia battalion for free men of color. Jean-Louis served under Spanish, French, and American leadership, and was a private in Fortier’s Battalion during the Battle of New Orleans. Following the Haitian Revolution, a near revolt at Pointe Coupee, the 1811 Slave Rebellion, and an influx of enslaved and free black people to the city, the white-controlled government began to erode the power of the politically and socially active black militia. By 1815, the government disbanded the free black militia. In times of crisis, however, such as the Battle of New Orleans, black militias were reinstated to provide essential protection.
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, but they also legally represented each other, their relations, and their friends. Pierre gave his brother Jean-Louis power of attorney for 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 a person previously enslaved by Priesto.
Jean-Louis died at the age of 82 from chronic cystitis at his house on Bayou Road. At the time of his death, Jean-Louis owned 7 properties and died with an estate valued at $13,959 (the modern equivalent of $434,285). Jean-Louis is buried in his father’s tomb at St. Louis Cemetery #1.