2016 Sunset Report

OLG & DCRT Strategic Plan
2020-21 through 2024-25


Did you know?

Colonial Catholicism Events Surrounding the Purchase A Wall of Separation The Battle of New Orleans
W.C.C. Claiborne and The State Seal The Arrival of Religious Diversity Religion, Race, and Slavery Antonio Sedella & Religious Diversity

The institution of slavery complicated the notion of freedom of religion for enslaved men, women, and children who were considered property. Yet some sympathetic clerics, including Père Antoine, ministered to them despite their stigmatized social status. In 1838 Harriet Martineau described the racial and ethnic diversity of the congregation in St. Louis Cathedral, noting that it ranged from the “fair Scotchwoman or German to the jet-black pure African.”

Free people of color who were Protestant attempted to worship alongside their free white brethren. When the leaders of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church South attempted to segregate the seating in their church in the mid-1840s, some of the congregation’s free people of color withdrew and established St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church. Throughout the next decade, civic authorities harassed the congregation and its leadership. On the eve of the Civil War the city closed the church and seized its property.

In rural areas enslaved people often worshiped and conducted their sacred services in private. This has led some scholars to call slave religion the “Invisible Church.” Other enslaved people continued to practice African religious rites more or less openly, sometimes disguising their beliefs by merging their native African Gods with Catholic Saints in a religious practice called Voudon.

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The Bamboula
Illustration from the article “The Dance in Place Congo” by George Washington Cable.” Century Magazine, Feb. 1886
In the early antebellum period slaves in New Orleans, who were generally given Sundays off, gathered in Congo Square to dance and to practice religious rites that had their roots in Africa. This fictional image was first printed in 1886 to illustrate a magazine article written by New Orleanian George Washington Cable.

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Henriette Delille, Foundress, Sisters of the Holy Family (1813-1862)
c. 1850s
This is the only known image of Henriette Delille, a free woman of color in antebellum New Orleans who founded an order of nuns that came to be known as the Sisters of the Holy Family.

In Delille’s obituary she was called “a servant of slaves” because she and her contemporaries cared for elderly abandoned slave women and worked to minister to the city’s slave population.

Courtesy Sisters of the Holy Family