|Regions with significant populations|
|Louisiana, East Texas, Los Angeles County, California, coastal Mississippi, Chicago, Illinois, coastal Alabama, Detroit, Michigan|
Predominantly Roman Catholic
|Related ethnic groups|
Louisiana Creole refers to people of various racial backgrounds who are descended from the colonial French, Spanish, and German settlers, Africans, and Native Americans from the time before the Louisiana territory became a possession of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase (1803).
Historically, the term Creole was documented by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. In "The Inca", writing in the early 1600s, he said: "The name was invented by the Negroes... They use it to mean a Negro born in the Indies, and they devised it to distinguish those who come from this side and were born in Guinea from those born in the New World....
Another version states that the term Creole (Spanish -- Criollo) was introduced in 1590. It derived from the Latin word “crear”, which meant, “create.” In 1590, Father J. de Acosta decided that the mixed breeds born in the New World were neither Spanish, African, Indian, but various mixtures of all three, thus a created race. So he identified them as "Criollos". The Spanish copied them by introducing this word to describe those born in the New World, and in this way both Spaniards and Guinea Negroes are called criollo if they were born in the New World."
In Louisiana, Créole was first used to refer to white colonists of French descent who had been born there and were thus native to the territory, as opposed to new immigrants from the US, the West Indies, or from parts of Europe other than the colonial powers, France and Spain. In its early connotations, the word Créole was applied exclusively to white people of European descent. Later, the term was also applied to enslaved African-Americans who were born in Louisiana. French Creole was then the new term reserved exclusively for white people of French descent, who usually spoke French as their primary language and practiced Catholicism.
In present Louisiana, Créole generally means a person or people of mixed colonial French, African American, and Native American ancestry. Some may not have every ethnic heritage and some have additional ancestries.
During Louisiana's first French government, the French calqued a term which the Spanish and Portuguese used in their colonies to refer to native-born products and people of the colony. The Spanish term was criollo and the Portuguese, crioulo. The colonial term derived from the Latin creare, meaning to rear or create.
Originally, inhabitants of New World Spanish colonies were distinguished by whether or not they had migrated to the colony (either voluntarily or involuntarily), or if they had been born and brought up or reared in the colony. The Spanish term for the latter group was criado, which later evolved into criollo. Most modern Creoles, both white, black, have familial ties to Louisiana. Since the mid-19th century, other ethnicities have contributed to this culture including, but not limited to, the Irish, Italian, and German.
A definition of Créole from the earliest history in New Orleans (circa 1718) is "a child born in the colony as opposed to France or Spain. (see Criollo)" The definition became more codified after the United States took control of the city and Louisiana in 1803. The Creoles at that time included the Spanish ruling class, who ruled from the mid-1700s until the early 1800s. French language and social customs were paramount even under Spanish rule. White or French Creoles (both of French and Spanish descent) were Roman Catholics. Whites of French/Spanish mixture identified themselves as French Créoles. 
Créole chiefly remained an expression of parochial and colonial government use through both the French and Spanish régimes, a period in which Europeans of French and Spanish ancestry, born in the New World as opposed to Europe, were referred to as Créole (Logsdon). Simultaneously, the people of the colony forged a new local identity; however, it is clear that everyone referred to themselves as French Créole. Parisian French was the language of early New Orleans. Later it evolved to contain local phrases and slang terms. The white French Créoles spoke what became known as Colonial French, as it began to differ from French as used in France.
Enslaved blacks who were native-born also began to be referred to as Creole, to distinguish them from new African arrivals. Over time, the black Créoles and Africans created a French and West African hybrid language called Créole French or Louisiana Creole French. It was used in some circumstances by slaves, planters and free people of color alike. It is still spoken today in central Louisiana. Créole French is not spoken in New Orleans any more. Only words and phrases remain.
As in the French or Spanish Caribbean and Latin American colonies, the Louisiana territory also developed a mixed-race class, of whom there were numerous free people of color (gens de couleur libres). In the early days they were descended from European men and enslaved or free black or mixed-race women. In the early colonial years, there were few European women in the colony. French men took African women as mistresses or common law wives, and sometimes married them. Even when more women of European descent were in the colony, wealthy white Creole men often took mixed-race mistresses before, or in addition to, their legal marriages, in a system known as plaçage. The young women's mothers often negotiated a form of dowry or property settlement to protect them. The men would often transfer social capital to their mistresses and children, including freedom for those who were enslaved in the early years, and education, the latter especially for sons.
As a group, the mixed-race Créoles rapidly began to acquire education, skills (many in New Orleans worked as craftsmen and artisans), businesses and property. They were overwhelmingly Catholic, spoke Colonial French (although some also spoke Louisiana Creole French), and kept up many French social customs, modified by other parts of their ancestry and Louisiana culture. With enough numbers, the free people of color also married among themselves to maintain their class and social culture. The French-speaking mixed-race or mulatto population came to be called Black Créoles and Créoles of color. "New Orleans persons of color were far wealthier, more secure, and more established than blacks elsewhere in Louisiana."
The transfer of the French colony to the United States in 1803 under the Louisiana Purchase and the arrival of Americans from New England and the South ignited an outright cultural war. Some Americans were reportedly shocked by aspects of the cultural and linguistic climate of the newly acquired territory: the predominance of French and Catholicism, the free class of mixed-race people, the strong African traditions of enslaved peoples. They pressured the United States' first Louisiana governor, W.C.C. Claiborne to change it.
When Claiborne swiftly moved to make English the official language, French Créoles in New Orleans were outraged and allegedly paraded the streets and rejected the Americans' effort to transform them overnight. In addition, upper class French Créoles thought many of the arriving Americans were uncouth, especially the rough Kentucky traders who regularly visited the city, having maneuvered flatboats down the Mississippi River filled with goods for market. Creoles of both white ancestry and free people of color resisted American attempts to impose a binary culture splitting the population into black and white, as they were used to one in which there was a fluid upper class of mixed-race people.
Realizing that he needed local support to make any progress in Louisiana, Claiborne restored French as an official language. In all forms of government, public forums and in the Catholic Church, French continued to be used. Most importantly, Colonial French and Créole French remained the language of the majority of the population of the state. New Orleans was a city divided between Latin (Spanish, and French Creole,) and American populations until well into the late 19th century (Hirsch & Logsdon). Those of European descent lived east of Canal Street; the new American migrants settled west of it.
Among the eighteen governors of Louisiana between 1803-1865, six were French Créole and were monolingual speakers of French: Jacques-Philippe Villèré, Pierre Augustin Charles Bourguignon Derbigny, Armand Julien Beauvais, Jacques Dupré de Terrebonne, André Bienvenue Roman, and Alexandre Mouton.
When Americans began to arrive in number in Louisiana in the early decades of the 19th century, locals identified themselves as French Créoles to distinguish themselves from the nouveaux-arrivés Americans.
Under the French and Spanish, Louisiana was a three-tiered society, similar to that of Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, St.Lucia, Mexico, and other Latin colonies. This three-tiered society allowed for the emergence of a wealthy and educated group of mixed-race Créoles. Their identity as free people of color, or Gens de couleur libres or personnes de couleur libre was one they had worked diligently towards and guarded with an iron fist. By law they enjoyed most of the same rights and privileges as whites. They could and often did challenge the law in court of law and won cases against whites (Hirsch; Brasseaux; Mills; Kein etc.). There were some free blacks, but in Louisiana most free people of color were of mixed race, descended initially from the children of planters and wealthier merchants. They acquired education, property and power within the colony, and later, state.
In efforts to maintain their social and political identity, the former gens de couleur libres began to use the term 'Créole' much in the same way that the white elite had beginning in 1803. The gens de couleur libres were native speakers of both Colonial French and Louisiana Créole. If the outbreak of the American Civil War promised rights and opportunities for the enslaved, it caused anxiety for the free persons of color. As they knew the United States did not legally recognize a three-tiered society, they were threatened by the American Civil War. The potential of the end of slavery posed a considerable threat to the identity and position of the free people of color. Following the Union victory in the Civil War, the Louisiana three-tiered society was gradually overrun by larger numbers of Americans who believed in the binary division of people by race.
By the 1880s, the increasing number of English-speaking Americans in New Orleans and Louisiana had caused the decline in French as an official language. Today, it is mostly in more rural areas that people continue to speak French or Louisiana Creole. Both white and mixed-race Louisiana Creole peoples continue to be French-influenced, and most practice Catholicism or were raised as Catholics.
While the sophisticated Créole society of New Orleans has historically received much attention, the Cane River area had its own strong Créole culture. The Cane River Créole community in the northern part of the state, along the Red River and Cane River, is made up of multiracial descendants of French, Spanish, Africans, Native Americans, similar mixed Créole migrants from New Orleans, and various other ethnic groups who inhabited this region in the 18th century. It is centered around Isle Brevelle in lower Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. There are many Créole communities within Natchitoches Parish, including Natchitoches, Cloutierville, Derry,Gorum, and Natchez. Many of their plantations also still exist.
Isle Brevelle, the area of land between Cane River and Bayou Brevelle, encompasses approximately 18,000 acres (73 km2) of land, 16,000 of which are still owned by descendants of the original Créole families. The Cane River Créole family surnames include but are not limited to: the Métoyer, LaCour, Fradieu, Jones, Llorens, Bayonne, Coutée, Cassine, Monette, Balthazar, Sylvie, Sylvan, Moran, Rachal, Conant, Chargòis, Esprít, Guillory, LéBon, Lefìls, Papillion, Arceneaux, DeBòis, Landry, Deculus, St.Romain, Beaudion, Darville, LaCaze, DeCuir, Pantallion, Mathés, Mullone, Severin, Byone, St. Ville, Delphin, Sarpy, Laurent, De Soto, Christophe, Mathis, Honoré, Chevalier, De Sadier, Anty, Dubreil, Roque, Cloutier, Le Vasseur, Mezière, Bellow, Gallien, Conde, Marinovich, Porche and Dupré. (Most of the surnames are of French or Spanish origin).
Louisiana Creole cuisine is recognized as a unique style of cooking originating in New Orleans, which makes use of the same Holy trinity (in this case chopped celery, bell peppers, and onions) as Cajun cuisine, but has a great variety of European, French, Caribbean, African, and American influences.
Gumbo is a traditional Creole dish. It is a stew based on either seafood (shrimp, crabs, sausages, and oysters) or on chicken and sausages. Both contain the "Holy Trinity" of Louisiana cuisine: bell peppers, celery and onion, and are served over rice. Gumbo is often seasoned with filé. It was created in New Orleans by the French attempting to make bouillabaisse in the New World. The Spanish contributed onions, peppers, and tomatoes; the Africans contributed okra, where the dish gets its name due to the popularity of the vegetable in the stew; the Native Americans contributed filé, or ground sassafras leaves; the French gave the roux to the stew and spices from the Caribbean. Later the Italians infused it with garlic. After arriving in number, the Germans dominated the french bread industry in New Orleans. They introduced the practice of eating gumbo with buttered french bread.
"Gumbo" (Gombô, in Louisiana Creole, Gombo, in Louisiana French) was the word used in West and Central Africa for the okra plant. Okra is from regions of Africa, and parts of the Middle East and Spain. Gombo was the informal name of the stew, due to the popularity of okra for thickening the mixture before a roux was used. Thus, the stew was named gumbo, a French version of what the colonists heard when Africans called okra "Gombo". It is a shortened version of the words kilogombó or kigambó, and guingambó or quinbombó, in West Africa..
Jambalaya is the second of famous Louisiana Creole dishes. It arose in the original European sector of New Orleans (the French Quarter, or Vieux Carré, in colonial days). It combines ham with sausage, rice and tomato. Today, jambalaya is prepared two ways: red and brown. Red jambalaya is native to New Orleans and its immediate environment, in parts of Iberia Parish, as well as in parts of St. Martin Parish. The red jambalaya has a tomato base but owes its color also to the use of shrimp stock. In Cajun areas, people prepare a "brown jambalaya", which is roux based with tasso, a type of smoked pork. Jambalaya can also combine chicken, sausage, and fresh shrimp tails; or chicken and tasso.
Creole music of enslaved African people from the nineteenth century is represented in Slave Songs of the United States, first published in 1867. The final seven songs in that work are printed with melody along with text in Creole French. These and many other songs were sung at plantations, especially in St. Charles Parish, and at Congo Square in New Orleans.
Jazz, born in New Orleans sometime around the turn of the twentieth century, is the first local Black Creole music to be popularized nationally.
Zydeco (a transliteration in English of 'zaricô' (snapbeans) from the song, "Les haricots sont pas salés"), born in Cajun and black Creole communities on the prairies of southwest Louisiana in the 1920s, is often considered the black Creole music of Louisiana. Zydeco purportedly hails from "Là-là", a genre of music now defunct, and old south Louisiana jurés. As Cajun French was the lingua franca of the prairies of southwest Louisiana, zydeco was initially sung only in Creole or French. Later, Creoles, such as the Chénier brothers, Andrus Espree (Beau Jocque) Rosie Lédet and others, added a new linguistic element to zydeco music. Today, most of zydeco's new generation sings in English or Cajun French, with a few in Louisiana Creole French.
Zydeco is related to Swamp Pop, Blues, Jazz, and Cajun music. An instrument unique to zydeco is a form of washboard called the frottoir or scrub board, a vest made of corrugated aluminum, and played by working bottle openers or caps up and down the length of the vest.