Saint Malo, Louisiana

Coordinates: 29°52′41″N 89°35′49″W / 29.87806°N 89.59694°W / 29.87806; -89.59694
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Saint Malo
San Maló (Spanish)
The settlement as it appeared in Harper's Weekly, 1883.
The settlement as it appeared in Harper's Weekly, 1883.
Saint Malo is located in Louisiana
Saint Malo
Saint Malo
Saint Malo is located in the United States
Saint Malo
Saint Malo
Coordinates: 29°52′41″N 89°35′49″W / 29.87806°N 89.59694°W / 29.87806; -89.59694
CountryUnited States
ParishSt. Bernard Parish
DestructionSeptember 29, 1915
Named forJuan San Maló
Time zoneUTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−5 (Central)

Saint Malo (Spanish: San Maló [samaˈlo]) was a small fishing village that existed along the shore of Lake Borgne in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana as early as the mid-eighteenth century until it was destroyed by the 1915 New Orleans hurricane.[1] Located along Bayou Saint Malo, about 6 miles (9.7 km) east of the Isleño fishing village of Shell Beach, it was the first permanent settlement of Filipinos and perhaps the first Asian-American settlement in the United States.[2][3][4][5]

The exact date of the establishment of Saint Malo is disputed.[6][4] The settlement may have been formed as early as 1763 or 1765 by Filipino deserters and escaped slaves of the Spanish Manila galleon trade.[7][8][9][10] The members of the community were commonly referred to as Manila men, or Manilamen, and later Tagalas.[2]

Filipino-Americans residing in the region (referred to as "Manilamen" on the account of Manila being the capital of the Philippines) were recruited by local pirate Jean Lafitte to join his "Baratarians", a group of privately-recruited soldiers serving under the American forces under the command of Andrew Jackson, in the defense of New Orleans. They played a decisive role in securing the American victory, firing barrage after barrage of well-aimed artillery fire.[4]


Small communities of criminals, fugitive slaves, and Filipinos commonly found refuge along Lake Borgne in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.[11] The settlement of Saint Malo was established, by some accounts, as early as 1763 by Filipinos who deserted Spanish ships during the Manila galleon trade.[12] It is also possible that the community was established later into the early nineteenth century.[13] The Manilamen settled in the marshlands of Louisiana where no Spanish officials could reach them. Reasons for their desertion varied; however their desire to escape brutalities dealt by the Spanish is generally regarded as the main reason.[14]

Beginning in 1784, Juan San Maló (French: Jean Saint Malo) led a group of fugitive slaves below New Orleans and in St. Bernard Parish which stole livestock, destroyed property, and seeded other chaos.[15][16] In May of that year, the Spanish government began preparing for an expedition to capture San Maló and his maroons after a group of Americans were murdered.[15] San Maló retreated with his group to live in the extensive marshland surrounding Lake Borgne, but Spanish forces led by Francisco Bouligny eventually captured him along with sixty maroons.[4] On June 19, 1784, he was hanged in Jackson Square.[4][17]

The same area that San Maló and his group found refuge became known by his name. It wasn't until March 31, 1883 that the journalist Lafcadio Hearn published an article in Harper's Weekly which documented the community firsthand. The article is the first published article about the Filipinos in the United States.[18][19]

Saint Malo was completely destroyed, along with much of the region, by the New Orleans hurricane of 1915 and consequently the remnants of the community assimilated into New Orleans.[20][21]

Role in the War of 1812[edit]

Filipino-Americans residing in the region, referred to as "Manilamen," were recruited by local pirate Jean Lafitte to join his "Baratarians", a group of privately recruited soldiers serving under the American forces under the command of Andrew Jackson, in the defense of New Orleans. They played a decisive role in securing the American victory, firing barrage after barrage of well-aimed artillery fire.[14][22] Historian Marina Espina states that the defending American force under Jackson consisted of "regular army troops, state militia, western sharpshooters, two regiments and pirates from the Delta Swamps (which included the aforementioned Filipinos)."[23]



Depictions of the houses and scenery of Saint Malo.

The Manilamen lived in small houses supported above the water by stilts in a similar style to the nipa huts of the Philippines.[1][6] Wood needed to construct dwellings had to be acquired elsewhere as it could not be easily found in the swamps. The palmetto and woven-cane construction often did not withstand the harsh climate of marsh and had to be repaired or replaced frequently. Windows were draped with netting to protect from mosquitoes and other biting insects. Dwellings lacked furniture including tables, chairs, and bed frames.[19] Mattresses were stuffed with dried Spanish moss which had been a common practice in the region and had even been used to upholster the Ford Model T.[19][24] The mattresses were laid upon a series of shelves mounted against the walls. According to Hearn, the fishermen slept at night “among barrels of flour and folded sails and smoked fish.”[19]


The diet of the community consisted mainly of seafood, principally raw fish with oil and vinegar.[25] Fish was also smoked and hung for later consumption.[19] Chickens and pigs were raised among the dwellings, and depictions illustrated small gardens along the walkways and porches.[19]


The Manilamen of Saint Malo were entirely devoted a subsistence lifestyle based upon fishing and trapping.[19][25] Rarely did women live in the village. In fact, there were no women in the community during Hearn's visit.[19] If fisherman did have families, they often lived in New Orleans and its environs.[26] The reason for this can be attributed to the isolated and harsh conditions of the settlement. Manilamen often courted and married Isleño, Cajun, and Indigenous women.[25] When it was possible, Manilamen sent profits made from fishing to acquaintances in Manila so that it may be delivered to their families.[27]


Due to the isolation of Saint Malo, the Manilamen paid no taxes and the community lacked law enforcement officials. The village had never been visited by any official from St. Bernard Parish, the state of Louisiana, or the United States government.[19][25] As a result, the community governed itself. In extreme cases, the eldest man of the community would consider disputes and mediate over the situation.[19] In the rare case that a given verdict is not accepted, the individual was imprisoned in a “fish-car,” which was a makeshift prison cell. The offender generally accepted the terms given to him due to the harsh physical conditions, lack of food, and/or rising tide.[19]


The predominant religion of the Manilamen was Roman Catholicism.[19][28] Priests rarely went to visit the settlement due to its isolation.[7][19]

Modern day[edit]

Some descendants of these Filipinos continue to live in Louisiana today as multiracial Americans.[29][30] A number of Isleños and their descendants possess Filipino ancestry, so much so that Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society of St. Bernard lists "Filipino" as a significant community that developed the Isleño identity.[4][31]

In November 2019, a historical marker for the settlement was installed at Los Isleños Museum Complex.[32]

Notable Filipino settlements in Louisiana[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Manila Village". Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. Smithsonian Institution. 2008. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 13 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b Welch, Michael Patrick (27 October 2014). "NOLA Filipino History Stretches for Centuries". New Orleans & Me. New Orleans: WWNO. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  3. ^ Randy Gonzales (2019-09-14). "Unveiling of St. Malo Historical Marker". Filipino La. Retrieved 2020-05-23.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Hinton, Matthew (2019-10-23). "From Manila to the Marigny: How Philippine pioneers left a mark at the 'end of world' in New Orleans". Very Local New Orleans.
  5. ^ "Filipino American History Month Resolution". FANHS National. Retrieved 2020-05-23.
  6. ^ a b Namur, Amy (2019-11-26). "Louisiana Honors First Filipino Settlement". Asia Matters for America.
  7. ^ a b Catholic Church. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (December 2001). Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-57455-449-6.
  8. ^ Pang, Valerie Ooka; Cheng, Li-Rong Lilly (1999). Struggling to be heard: the Unmet Needs of Asian Pacific American Children. NetLibrary, Inc. p. 287. ISBN 0-585-07571-9. OCLC 1053003694.
  9. ^ Holt, Thomas Cleveland; Green, Laurie B.; Wilson, Charles Reagan (2013-10-21). "Pacific Worlds and the South". The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Race. 24: 120. ISBN 978-1469607245.
  10. ^ Westbrook, Laura. "Mabuhay Pilipino! (Long Life!): Filipino Culture in Southeast Louisiana". Folklife in Louisiana. Retrieved 2020-05-23.
  11. ^ Hyland, William de Marigny. "Battle of New Orleans Address by Bernard de Marigny 1842". St. Bernard Parish Government: 5. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ "California Declares Filipino American History Month". San Francisco Business Times. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
    Pang, Valerie Ooka; Li-Rong Lilly Cheng (1998). Struggling to be heard: the unmet needs of Asian Pacific American children. SUNY Press. p. 287. ISBN 978-0-7914-3839-8. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
    Holt, Thomas Cleveland; Green, Laurie B.; Wilson, Charles Reagan (3 June 2013). The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 24: Race. University of North Carolina Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-4696-0724-5.
  13. ^ "Watermarks: 'Manila-men' Sailors/Fishermen, U.S. American Orientalism, and Bayou St. Malo, Louisiana, a lecture on Tagala sailors by Kale Bantigue Fajardo Jan 12". Ateneo de Manila University. 10 January 2011. Archived from the original on 3 September 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  14. ^ a b Cesar D. Candari. "Brief History of Filipino Immigrants: How I Came to America". Asian Journal. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  15. ^ a b Din, Gilbert C. (1980). "'Cimarrones' and the San Malo Band in Spanish Louisiana". Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association. 21 (3): 237–262. ISSN 0024-6816. JSTOR 4232005.
  16. ^ Nestor P. Enriquez. "Other Spirits of Saint Louis". Retrieved 15 February 2011.
    Din, Gilbert C. (1999). Spaniards, Planters, and Slaves: The Spanish Regulation of Slavery in Louisiana, 1763-1803. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 89–115. ISBN 978-0-89096-904-5.
  17. ^ Enriquez, Nestor P. "The Other Spirit of St. Louis". fil-am history.
  18. ^ "Filipino Migration to the United States". Office of Multicultural Student Services. University of Hawaii. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Hearn, Lafcadio (1883). "Saint Malo: A Lacustrine Village in Louisiana". Harper's Weekly. 27: 196–199.
  20. ^ McCulloh, Richard P.; Heinrich, Paul V.; Good, Bill (Summer 2006). Geology and Hurricane - Protection Strategies in the Greater New Orleans Area (PDF) (Report). Louisiana State University. pp. 18–19. Public Information Series No. 11. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  21. ^ Wolf, Amy (2015-06-10). "Devastating hurricanes mark anniversaries". The Advocate. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  22. ^ Williams, Rudi (3 June 2005). "DoD's Personnel Chief Gives Asian-Pacific American History Lesson". American Forces Press Service. U.S. Department of Defense. Archived from the original on June 15, 2007. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  23. ^ Lee, Jonathan H. X.; Nadeau, Kathleen M.; Rodriguez, Evelyn I. (2011). "Manilamen". Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife. ABC-CLIO. pp. 387–389. ISBN 978-0-313-35066-5.
  24. ^ Lienhard, John H. "No. 2506: Spanish Moss". Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  25. ^ a b c d Wachtel, Alan (September 2009). Southeast Asian Americans. Marshall Cavendish. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-7614-4312-4.
  26. ^ "The Journey from Gold Mountain: The Asian American Experience" (PDF). Japanese American Citizens League. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  27. ^ Lee, Erika (2015). The Making of Asian America: A History. Simon and Schuster. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-4767-3941-0.
  28. ^ Lee, Jonathan H. X.; Matsuoka, Fumitaka; Yee, Edmond; Nakasone, Ronald Y. (1 September 2015). Asian American Religious Cultures [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-59884-331-6.
  29. ^ "Immigration". American Federation of Teachers. AFL-CIO. Archived from the original on 17 December 2010. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  30. ^ Buenker, John D.; Lorman Ratner (2005). Multiculturalism in the United States: a comparative guide to acculturation and ethnicity. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-313-32404-8. Retrieved 14 February 2011. Saint Malo.
  31. ^ Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society St. Bernard (2020). "Amended and Restated Articles of Incorporation". §3.
  32. ^ Gonzales, Randy (2019-11-14). "News Coverage of St. Malo Marker Unveiling". Filipino La. Retrieved 2020-05-27.

Further reading[edit]

Espina, Marina Estrella (1988). Filipinos in Louisiana. A. F. Laborde & Sons. ASIN B001LOGPDU. Retrieved 26 May 2020.

Joshi, Khyati Y.; Desai, Jigna, eds. (2013). Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South. University of Illinois Press. p. 222. ISBN 978-0252079382. Retrieved 26 May 2020.