The Cazelars: Wealth Preservation in a Racially Mixed Family
Stop 3 of 6 on the Free People of Color and the Business of Survival in Antebellum New Orleans tour
Jean Pierre Cazelar, a white man of French descent, was the wealthy patriarch of a prominent multi-racial family in 19th-century New Orleans. Though Cazelar intended his children to inherit his entire estate, including real estate, possessions, and enslaved people, the Louisiana Civil Code of 1808 prevented descendants of color from inheriting more than one-third of any single estate. Despite these legal restrictions, the Cazelar family maintained its wealth through the 19th century by defying societal expectations and subverting the law. Though no longer standing, one of the Cazelar family's homes stood at the site of present-day 813 St. Ann Street.
Born in 1764 in New Orleans, Cazelar formed a life partnership with Charlotte Wiltz, a free woman of color, who was also born and raised in New Orleans. Together, they had five children: four daughters and one son. Cazelar owned a large plantation in Algiers, about three miles downriver of the French Quarter on the opposite bank. The plantation included a large house, several smaller buildings, a bridge, and a mill. Cazelar also owned dozens of enslaved people.
Remarkably, Cazelar is recorded as the father of all his children in their baptismal records, ensuring his paternity was part of the official record. Cazelar never married, had children with no other women, and lived alongside his children on the plantation. Historian Lawrence N. Powell identifies the public nature of interracial relationships like Cazelar and Wiltz's as what "set New Orleans apart from the Chesapeake and the rest of the American South" citing that their freedom derived from "the fact that men did not lose status for transgressing racial boundaries set by slavery."
The Cazelars owned several properties in the French Quarter. Cazelar sold the lot at present-day 813 St. Ann Street to three of his daughters: Marie Felicite, Marie Louise “Tonton”, and Isabel Pouponne. About a hundred steps away, just around the corner, were two houses owned by his partner Wiltz and daughters Adelaide and Marie Felicite. By 1823, each member of the family owned a home in the Quarter within close proximity to one another.
Jean Pierre Cazelar wrote three wills during his lifetime. In 1797 Cazelar wrote his first will. This document only included his daughters as heirs because his son, Jean Pierre, Jr., was not yet born. His estate included his plantation, two dozen enslaved people, and a number of properties in town. In 1829, Cazelar wrote his second will. Unaware of the 1808 Civil Code that prevented him from leaving his entire estate to his children, Cazelar took care to name his daughter Adelaide specifically. He left her all of his silver, furniture, and books out of gratitude for taking care of him in his later years. Cazelar must have learned this will would not be executed under the law, though, as he drafted a third and final will in 1836.
In the end, Jean Pierre Cazelar was was able to skirt the 1808 Civil Code by leaving all of his wealth to a man named Emile Sainet. Sainet was the white partner of his daughter, Marie Louise. Sainet and the Cazelars then organized auctions and sales of Jean Pierre Cazelar’s former estate, and the property was “bought” by Jean Pierre Cazelar’s children. We know this scheme worked and the Cazelars maintained their wealth through subsequent generations. The 1866 New Orleans Directory lists Jean Pierre, Jr. as “planter, Tunisburg, Algiers,” indicating he lived on the Cazelar Plantation. Also, his reported wealth in 1860-61 was $41,000 equal to about one million dollars today. The Cazelar Plantation remained in the family until at least 1878, when it was listed as part of Jean Pierre, Jr.’s succession in an advertisement in the Times-Picayune.
Because of Jean Pierre Cazelar’s determination to take care of his children even in death, no matter the means, the Cazelars remained a wealthy New Orleans family even after the Civil War.