I've been hearing about a museum in the making called Musee Rosette Rochon. It's supposed to be a Creole cottage built by a free woman of color in the 1830s. I can't seem to be able to find more information about it except that it's on Pauger Street near the Quarter. I am interested in the history of New Orleans, its architecture and preservation, so I would like to know more about this project.
Jules P. Cote
We certainly need more people like you who are interested in learning about our history and saving everything we can. We have so much to be proud of.
Located at 1515 Pauger St. in the Faubourg Marigny is the future Musee Rosette Rochon. The Creole cottage was built around 1815 on the street that was then known as Rue Bagatelle. Don Richmond, a retired interior decorator, originally bought the house in 1977, sold it, and bought it again in 1994. He is personally renovating it and plans to create a museum that will focus on the culture of free people of color in New Orleans around the mid-19th century.
From the earliest Colonial days, the gens de couleur libres -- free persons of color -- have played an important role in New Orleans. As early as 1724, their legal status was defined. As their numbers increased, so did the regulations controlling their freedoms and behaviors. The Spanish, as did the French before them, guaranteed freedom for children of free colored women, but there were numerous other restrictions. By the time of the American rule in 1803, they were still guaranteed legal equality, although they were frequent victims of harassment and discrimination. And they were not given the right to vote before the Civil War.
In spite of the difficulties, many free people of color came to New Orleans from Europe, and others came from French and Spanish colonies in the West Indies. More than 4,000 between 1806 and 1810 came from St. Domingue. Just before the Civil War, the census of 1860 showed that the population of New Orleans was approximately 175,000. Among these were 10,689 free people of color.
The people who came called themselves Creole, meaning they were of European ancestry or were born in the French and Spanish colonies. Many of them were well-educated or skilled tradesmen and spoke French.
Marigny was a popular place in which to buy and build. The lots -- about 60 feet by 120 feet -- were small and relatively inexpensive. A homeowner could purchase one for about $300-$400. The free men of color sometimes owned entire city blocks, and it has been estimated that they owned $15 million worth of real estate.
Women were among the early owners of property in Marigny. The owner of the cottage on Pauger Street was Rosette Rochon, a woman of French and Haitian ancestry who was born in Mobile, Ala., in 1767. She was an enterprising free woman of color who, before she died in 1863, made a fortune in New Orleans by speculating in real estate, renting property and operating a grocery store.
In the first 20 years of the 19th century, small Creole cottages were built and then replaced by larger ones in the 1830s as the properties were bought and sold many times. In fact, by 1860, about three-fourths of the sites in Marigny had been owned at least at one time by free people of color.
Many people have expressed interest in Richmond's project. In 1999, there was a popular exhibit at the Xavier University Archives called "Toward a Museum of Free People of Color: The Musee Rosette Rochon Project." Also, The Times-Picayune and Louisiana Weekly published articles and columns about the project in 2001.
Richmond's biggest problem, as you might guess, is money. A Louisiana preservation group has committed funding for promotion but not for restoration. Richmond estimates that it will take more than $1 million to restore the house and turn it into the museum that he envisions.
So if anyone really wants to play a role in saving a piece of important history, Don Richmond can be reached at 947-7673.