The term “creole” denotes a culture which embraces the influences of French, Spanish, African and Native American peoples in Louisiana.
Before the Civil War these free people of color enjoyed considerably higher social status than enslaved Africans. In fact, many of them owned enslaved Africans. After the Civil War, all people of color were categorized together for the first time. This amounted to a significant social demotion for many people whose families were free persons of color prior to the war. They were suddenly denied access to networks and resources (such as education and capital) that had previously been available to them.
There is general agreement that the term “Creole” derives from the Portuguese word crioulo, which means a slave born in the master’s household. Many Creoles, are descendants of French colonials who fled Saint-Domingue (Haiti) for North America’s Gulf Coast when a slave insurrection (1791) challenged French authority.
In Louisiana, the term Creole came to represent children of black or racially mixed parents as well as children of French and Spanish descent with no racial mixing. Persons of French and Spanish descent in New Orleans and St. Louis began referring to themselves as Creoles after the Louisiana Purchase to set themselves apart from the Anglo-Americans who moved into the area.
Today, the term Creole can be defined in a number of ways. Louisiana historian Fred B. Kniffin, in Louisiana: Its Land and People, has asserted that the term Creole “has been loosely extended to include people of mixed blood, a dialect of French, a breed of ponies, a distinctive way of cooking, a type of house, and many other things. It is therefore no precise term and should not be defined as such.”