Quadroon Balls

Quadroon Balls functioned as a form of entertainment but also served a meeting space for its participants to enter into plaçage/sexual relationships. It was at these dances that free young women of color, guided by their mothers, charmed their way into the hearts and pockets of Louisiana’s white males. At the balls, quadroon women “show their accomplishments in dancing and conversation to the white men.” Upon finding a quadroon to his liking, a man would negotiate with the quadroon woman’s mother. If both mother and daughter were satisfied with his financial and social ranking, she would be “placed” as his placée. According to literary traveler George William Featherstonhaugh,

When one of them [a quadroon] attracts the attention of an admirer, and he is desirous of forming a liaison with her, he makes a bargain with the mother, agrees to pay her a sum of money, perhaps 2000 dollars, or some sum in proportion to her merits, as a fund upon which she may retire when the liaison terminates. She is now called “une placée;” those of her caste who are her intimate friends give her fetes, and the lover prepares “un joli appartement meuble.”

 Each quadroon had a “value” which “depended on the attractiveness of the subject, the fairness of her complexion, and her mother’s ability to show her off against the competition.” This “value” was derived through negotiations between the quadroon’s mother and the white suitor. If an agreement was reached, the quadroon would become a concubine or placée for the white man in exchange for financial support for the woman. These exchanges frequently meant that the quadroon woman would receive housing, a sum of money, and promised financial support for any children that would come from these relationships. The “price” for a quadroon varied, but could be as much as $2,000. Often times, the quadroon woman would be set up in an apartment (“un joli appartement meuble”) located on Ramparts Street in New Orleans that was rented by the white gentleman for their use. These plaçage relationships could last for weeks, months, years, and, much less frequently, a life-time. In these exchanges, sexual exploitation by both parties is particularly noticeable; the quadroon exploited the pocketbook and the man exploited her body.

Quadroon women who participated in the balls had been groomed from early childhood by their mothers to take advantage of this unique opportunity to become the exploiters, using their bodies, beauty and assumed exotic sexuality to enter into contracts with wealthy white men. Monique Guillory discusses this exchange that gives women some power when she states, “Through this strategic commodification of the quadroon body, which I have called the commercial, women of color seized an opportunity beyond the confines of slavery to set the price for their own bodies.” These quadroon women chose to use their bodies as leverage to raise their own social status above the “negro” slave and the dark-skinned free people of color. This population of women became agents who exploited themselves and white men in an effort to transcend the racist system of antebellum Louisiana.

Noël Voltz, “Black Female Agency and Sexual Exploitation: Quadroon Balls and Plaçage Relationships” (PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 2008).

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