Marie Thérèse Metoyer
Marie Thérèse dite Coincoin (August 1742 – 1816) was notable as a free médecine, planter, and businesswoman in Natchitoches Parish. She was freed from slavery by her master Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer, with whom she had a long liaison and ten children. She and her descendants established a fabled community of Créoles of color along the Cane River, including what is believed to be the first church founded by free people of color for their own use, St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church, Natchez, Louisiana. It is included as a site on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.
Early life and family
Coincoin was born at the Louisiana French outpost of Natchitoches, the fourth of eleven children of François and Marie Françoise. The parents were both Africans enslaved by the post's founder and commandant, Chevalier Louis Juchereau de St. Denis; they were married in the parish church just three weeks after François' baptism in December 1735. This suggests that their marriage, like their religious "conversion," was dictated by their master. As children, Coincoin and her sister Marie Louise ditte Mariotte were trained in pharmacology and nursing. These skills helped provide livelihoods when the women gained their freedom as adults. Their other nine siblings would remain enslaved at various colonial posts from Natchitoches to Pensacola.
Slavery and freedom
Coincoin became the young mother of five children (born of a union with an American Indian slave, according to tradition). About 1765 her mistress leased Coincoin to a young French merchant, Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer, who made Coincoin his concubine. After Métoyer freed her in 1778, their liaison continued until 1788. That year he married another Marie Thérèse, a white French Créole widow. Métoyer assisted Coincoin in acquiring a grant of 68 acres (275,000 m2) of alluvial river bottom land and gradually manumitted the surviving eight of the ten children she had borne to him.
As a free woman, Coincoin earned her livelihood as a médecine, a planter of tobacco, and a trapper. She sold meat at the post. She also shipped barrels of oil and bargeloads of tobacco to market at New Orleans.
About 1794 she applied for a Spanish grant and was awarded the standard 800 arpents (about 666 acres) of land. She located her grant in the piney hills, west of Cane River, for use as a vacherie (cattle range) and hired a Spaniard to operate it for her. Like many other freed slaves in colonial Louisiana, Coincoin bought slaves to labor for her as her own health began to fail. By the time she divided her property among her children in Spring 1816, in anticipation of death, her three slaves had increased to 16 through bearing children.
Coincoin has long been a popular figure in Louisiana lore. She is frequently said to have owned large estates, including Cane River's fabled Melrose Plantation. In the late twentieth century, historians documented that this land was granted to and the structures built by one of her sons, Louis Métoyer. Coincoin lived a life of frugality and service to others, investing all her income into the purchase of freedom for her children born into slavery before her liaison with Métoyer, and their descendants.
The example she set, and the religious and moral values she instilled in her offspring, were the guiding forces of an exceptional community built by her children and grandchildren on Cane River. Her eldest son Augustin Metoyer donated the land for a church at Isle Brevelle, Natchez. In 1829 he commissioned his brother Louis to build the structure, St. Augustine Parish Church. It is believed to be America's first church built by free people of color for their own use.
Coincoin's grave is no longer marked. Although the small bousillage cabin shown as hers on a contemporary land survey no longer stands, the site has been defined by archeological study.
Tradition holds that Coincoin's African-born parents retained their culture, and some evidence supports that. No known document identifies the African birthplace of either parent. Coincoin and four of her siblings carried African names as dits. One Africanist historian proposed in the 1970s that the African Coincoin (spelled variously by French and Spanish scribes) was the name used by second-born daughters among those who speak the Glidzi dialect among the Ewe of coastal Togo.
The historians Mills and Mills found evidence that Coincoin was the second-born daughter in her birth family. Other possible origins of the name Coincoin, together with the names of her siblings discovered by Elizabeth Shown Mills, are being studied by the Africanist Kevin MacDonald at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
In popular culture
- German, Norman. No Other World (novel based on Coincoin), Thibodaux, LA: Blue Heron Press, 1992; reprint, 2000, 2011.
- Historical Pathways offers a cache of published studies and papers relating to Cane River, Natchitoches, and its Créoles of color.
- Isle of Canes, an historical saga that captures the reality of the lives of Coincoin and the Metoyers across four generations.
- American jazz saxophonist Matana Roberts is releasing a twelve part album series entitled Coin Coin. Metoyer is featured as the protagonist in the series, which explores African-American culture and life during the last 300 years.
- MacDonald, Kevin C.; David W. Morgan; Fiona J.L. Handley; Aubra L. Lee; and Emma Morley. "The Archaeology of Local Myths and Heritage Tourism." In A Future for Archaeology: The Past in the Present. New York: Routledge Cavendish, 2006. Chapter 13.
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "Documenting a Slave’s Birth, Parentage, and Origins(Marie Thérèse Coincoin, 1742–1816): A Test of 'Oral History'.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 96 (December 2008): 246-66. Archived online at Historic Pathways .
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "Marie Therese Coincoin: 1742-1816." KnowLa Encyclopedia of Louisiana : posted March 2011.
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "Marie Thérèse Coincoin (1742–1816): Slave, Slave Owner, and Paradox." Chapter 1 in Janet Allured and Judy Gentry, ed. Louisiana Women: Their Lives and Times (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2009).
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "Which Marie Louise Is 'Mariotte'? Sorting Slaves with Common Names." National Genealogical Society Quarterly 94 (September 2006): 183–204. Archived online at .
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "A Reader's Guide to the Study of Cane River Creoles." .(An annotated bibliography of major sources treating Marie Thérèse and her Metoyer offspring.)
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown and Gary B. "Slaves and Masters: The Louisiana Metoyers." National Genealogical Society Quarterly 70 (September 1982): 163-89. Archived online at Historic Pathways . (A four-generation genealogy of the offspring of François and Marie Françoise, focusing on the Metoyer line.)
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown and Gary B. “Missionaries Compromised: Early Evangelization of Slaves and Free People of Color in North Louisiana.” in Cross, Crozier, and Crucible. Glenn R. Conrad. ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana Historical Association and Archdiocese of New Orleans, 1993, pp. 30–47. Archived online at Historic Pathways .
- Mills, Gary B. The Forgotten People: Cane River's Creoles of Color. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976. ISBN 978-0-8071-0287-9. (This work is an expansion of the historic-site documentation project conducted by Mills and Mills in 1972, which earned Melrose its National Historical Landmark designation in 1974.)
- Mills, Gary B. “Coincoin: An Eighteenth-Century ‘Liberated’ Woman”, in Journal of Southern History 42 (May 1976): 203–22. Reprinted in Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in United States History. Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1990. ISBN 978-0-926019-14-0.
- Mills, Gary B. "Marie Thérèse dite Coincoin," in Dictionary of Louisiana Biography. Glenn R. Conrad, ed. 3 vols. New Orleans: Louisiana Historical Association, 1988. Vol. 1:189-90.
- Ringle, Ken "Up through Slavery," The Washington Post, 12 May 2002, Life section; archived online .
- "The Louisiana Metoyers: Melrose's Story of Land and Slaves," in American Visions, (June, 2000). Written by the American Visions staff from Mills and Mills, "Slaves and Masters," cited above.
- The identification of Marie Thérèse Coincoin as Marie Thérèse Metoyer is a misnomer. At no point in her life did she use this name. All documents that she created identify her by the surname Coincoin (or a variant spelling of that name). Only one document during her lifetime assigned her the name Metoyer and that document was created by a Washington, D.C. land office official who had no personal knowledge of her. In 1806, her son Pierre Metoyer traveled to the U.S. land office at Opelousas, Louisiana, to file a claim on her behalf, calling her "his mother, Marie Thérèse, free negresse" (no surname). When the paperwork was submitted to Washington, a case label was created for the file, whereon the son's surname was assigned to her. See Claim B2146, Marie Thérèse, free Negresse, 1806 document filed under OPEL: May 1794 (the date of the Spanish patent), Opelousas Notarial Records, Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge; and Serial Patent 437,269, Marie Thérèse Metoyer, RG 49, National Archives; Mills, "Marie Thérèse Coincoin (1742–1816): Slave, Slave Owner, and Paradox," discusses these records in greater detail.
- In this context, ditte can be translated as "called". In this society, it meant a nickname used in place of a surname.
- Mills, "Which Marie Louise Is Mariotte?", provides a four-generation genealogy of the slave and freeborn offspring of Coincoin's sister Mariotte and additional information on Coincoin's parents.
- freed —see Manumission
- unlicensed doctor
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "Marie Thérèse Coincoin (1742–1816): Slave, Slave Owner, and Paradox," Chapter 1 in Janet Allred and Judy Gentry, ed., Louisiana Women: Their Lives and Times (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2009).
- Louis Metoyer Private Land Claim Certificate B1953 (sections 17 and 94, Township 7 North, Range 6 West), Record Group 49, General Land Office, National Archives; Louis Mettoyer claim for 883.60 acres (3.57580 km2), OPEL: May 1796, File B1953, Louis Metoyer, Opelousas Notarial Records, Louisiana State Land Office, Baton Rouge; Boissier et al. v. Metayer, 5 Mart. (O.S.), 678 (1818).
- Note: Independent black churches were founded by free blacks in Philadelphia before this date, but the congregations used existing structures. Some writers assert the church was built in 1803 by Augustin Metoyer, son of Coincoin. But, the historical evidence dates the construction of the building and its dedication as a chapel in July 1829. In 1856 the diocese designated St. Augustine Chapel as a parish church with a resident priest in its own right. See Mills, Forgotten People, 145–50, for an analysis of that evidence. For the first recorded service at the chapel, see Elizabeth Shown Mills, Natchitoches Church Marriages, 1818-1850: Translated Abstracts from the Registers of St. François des Natchitoches, Louisiana, vol. 4, Cane River Creole Series (Tuscaloosa, AL: 1985), p. 38, entry 152.
- A mixture of Spanish moss and mud used as infill material in Cajun dwellings.
- Mills and Mills, "Slaves and Masters," identifies four of these dits; Mills, "Marie Thérèse Coincoin (1742–1816): Slave, Slave Owner, and Paradox," documents the fifth of these African names.
- Jan Vansina of the University of Michigan, as reported in Mills, Forgotten People, 3.
- MacDonald to E. S. Mills, 19 February 2008.