Rice Calas: A Woman of Color's Route to Freedom

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by patyc
Last updated 6 years ago

Social Studies
African-American History

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Rice Calas: A Woman of Color's Route to Freedom

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A Place Where Cultures and Laws CoexistNew Orleans' history followed a different trajectory than most American cities. Colonized by France and Spain before becoming American, the colonial cultures and laws influenced New Orleans society. Under Spanish rule, enslaved people found it easier to acquire their freedom. Slaves were considered a person as well as property. The "Siete Partidas," or Seven Part Code allowed slaves to purchase their freedom with or without the consent of their owner by repaying his/her purchase price, if neccessary in installments.

Rice Calas:A Woman of Color's Route to Freedom

Why ?

Las Siete Partidas, Manumission and other Human Rights-Slaves could be manumitted for certain kinds of abuse-The enslaved had the right to purchase his or her freedom without consent of the owner-The Spanish custom of "Coartacion" allowed slaves to purchase their freedom in installments-If a slave was treated inhumanely, he or she had the right to take a complaint to the courts-The enslaved had the right to be taught religion-The enslaved had the right to the day off on Sundays and Holy Days-The enslaved had a right to own property-The enslaved had the right to marry without the consent of his or her owner


During the Spanish colonial period (1762-1800)Large numbers of enslaved people purchased their freedom through manumission or "coartacion." Enslaved men could earn money on their day off by contracting themselves out. Many were skilled carpenters, masons, plasterers, ironworkers, blacksmiths and coopers. Others hunted and sold the game in the French market. Women were limited in how they could earn money. Some women sold their garden goods in the market, but a more lucrative business was selling ready to eat foods and drink like coffee and calas (rice fritters). Saavy women of color, both enslaved and free, would set up outside the St. Louis Church to sell their wares. Knowing that the parishioners would be hungry after exiting mass (they could not eat before taking holy communion), they had an enthusiastic clientele. One woman, Rose Nicaud found a niche for her delicious coffee which was described as tasting “like the benediction that follows after a prayer.”

Routes to Freedom

New Orleans, 1812Imagine yourself strolling down the aisles of the French Market of New Orleans, Louisiana on a warm fall morning in 1812. Your senses are overwhelmed by the fragrant smells of roasted coffee beans, sassafras, figs and a faint smell of fresh fish. You are bombarded with a cacaphony of French, Spanish, Choctaw and English languages. The vendors and shoppers are of every hue, from lily white to ebony black and every shade in between. Later that morning as you head to the square you hear shouts in the distance. You see a dark skinned woman with a colorful turban calling out "Belle calas, tout chaud!" You are overcome with wonder and surprise. This is not what you thought a southern city market would look like!




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