Inquisitional Exiles in Louisiana

The Pariah Syndrome
VII.  Treatment Elsewhere in Europe:
Spain, Portugal and France


In 1568, Pope Pius V attempted to drive all Gypsies from the domain of the Roman Catholic Church; similar expulsion orders were already in effect in individual countries, resulting in an ongoing shuffling back and forth of Gypsy populations between them. With the maritime expansion, and the establishment of a colonial plantation economy, however, a way was finally found to clear Gypsies out of western Europe more efficiently.The Spanish were the first Europeans to convey Gypsies to the Americas, although a reference dated February 11th, 1581, indicates that the earliest made their way there on their own. Referring to Charcas Province in Peru (corresponding to part of present-day Bolivia), it tells of Gypsies who had “passed secretly to some parts of our Indies [and …] who go about with their native dress and language…among the Indians, whom they dupe easily, on account of their simplicity” (“pasado a algunas partes de las Nuestras Yndias xitanos … que andan en su traxe y lengua … entre los yndios, a los quales por su simplicad engañan con facilidad”). (Colección, 1872:138-139). Ironically, this early document asked that those Gypsies be rounded up and returned to Spain, although that country had begun ordering their expulsion as early as 1499. Before that, it had briefly considered attempting their assimilation into the Spanish population, possibly because a labor force was needed to replace the expelled Moors and Jews (Alfaro, 1982).

Evidence that Gypsies could be made the property, for perpetuity, of Spanish citizens in the sixteenth century is found in a document published in Valladolid in 1538:

Gypsies are not to move about these kingdoms, and those that may be there, are to leave them, or take trades, or live with their overlords under penalty of a hundred lashes for the first time, and for the second time that their ears be cut off, and that they be chained for sixty days, and that for the third time that they remain captive forever to them who take them. Decree of their Highnesses given in the year 1499, and Law No.104 in the Decrees; confirmed and ordered to be observed in the court which was celebrated in Toledo in the year 1525, Law No.58, in spite of any clause which may have been given to the contrary (de Celso, 1538).

Moraes (1886), Coelho (1892) and more recently Couto (1973) and Locatelli (1981) have all documented the shipment of Gypsies out of Portugal. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Ciganos were being sent to work in the Portuguese colonies in South America, Africa and India. One can only imagine how the latter individuals must have reacted upon finding themselves in the land of their ancestors. Boxer mentions briefly the victimization of

entire communities of Gypsies, against whom King John V seems to have conceived an obsessive hatred, for no reason that I can discover. These unfortunates of all ages, and both sexes were shipped off in successive levies to Brazil and Angola, without any specific charge being brought against them, in a (largely futile) attempt to banish the Romany race from Portugal altogether (1969:314).

It was in this particular respect that the trans-Atlantic shipment of the Africans differed from that of Gypsies: the former were transported for economic reasons; the latter, for reasons of hate.A decree which came into effect in August, 1685, redirected the shipments from the African settlements at Cabinda, Quicombo and Mossamedes to Maranhão, a vast colony to the north of Brazil. In 1718, the Brazilian city of Bahia became the central offloading point for Gypsies from Portugal. The governor was ordered at that time to make it illegal for Gypsies to speak Romani or to teach it to their children, in order that it should quickly become extinct:

Foram degrados os ciganos do reino para a praça da cidade da Bahia, ordinando-se ao governador que ponha cobro a cuidado na prohibição do uso da sua lingua e giria, não permitindo que se ensine a seus filhos, a fim de obter-se a sua extincção (Moraes, 1886:24).

Expulsion orders in France go back to 1427, but were applied only sporadically at that early date. By 1560, Gypsies were being ordered to leave that country at once, or be committed to the galleys, a practice which was also in effect in Spain at that time. In 1682, Louis XIV ordered bailiffs throughout France to

arrest, and cause to be arrested, all those who are called Bohemians or Egyptians … to secure the men to the convicts’ chain to be led to our galleys and to serve there in perpetuity, [and as for the women, they were to be] flogged and banished out of the kingdom; all this without any other form of trial (de Fréminville, 1775:305).

Gypsies were probably reaching North America within two or three decades after this order was effected; Jones, writing of these transportees from France, says that

There is a colony of ‘Gypsies’ on Biloxi Bay in Louisiana [now in Mississippi] who were brought over and colonized by the French at a very early period of the first settlement of the state [i.e., ca.1700]. They are French ‘Gypsies’ and speak the French language, they call themselves ‘Egyptians’ or ‘Gypsies’ (1834:189).

Olmsted provides a further interesting account of Gypsies in French North America, in the form of a conversation with a local planter while he was visiting Louisiana:

I afterwards spent the night at the house of a white planter, who told me that, when he was a boy, he had lived at Alexandria. It was then under the Spanish rule, and ‘the people they was all sorts. They was French and Spanish, and Egyptian and Indian, and Mulattoes and Niggers’. ‘Egyptians?’. ‘Yes, there was some of the real old Egyptians there then’. ‘Where did they come from?. ‘From some of the Northern islands’. ‘What language did they speak?. ‘Well, they had a language of their own, which some of ’em used among themselves, Egyptian, I suppose it was, but they could talk in French and Spanish too’. ‘What color were they?. ‘They was black, but not very black. Oh! they was citizens, as good as any. They passed for white folks’. ‘Did they keep close by themselves, or did they intermarry with white folks?. ‘They married mulattoes mostly, I believe. There was heaps of Mulattoes in Alexandria then-free niggers-their fathers was French and Spanish men, and their mothers right black niggers. Good many of them had Egyptian blood in ’em too …’ The Egyptians were probably Spanish Gypsies; though I have never heard of any of them being in America in any other way (1861:638).

The population Olmsted refers to were probably from France rather than Spain as he suggests, and related to the earlier transportees mentioned by Jones. Spanish shipments to Louisiana, their solución americana, part of a proclamation issued in 1749, is discussed by Alfaro (1982:318,329).Roma had already been transported out of Spain with Columbus on his third voyage in 1498 (Wilford, 1984:C1,3; Lyon, 1986:604), and were similarly expelled during the time of the Inquisition (Ortega, 1985). A mixed Afro-Romani community lives near Atchefalaya in St. Martin Parish, some seventy-five miles south-east of Alexandria, though it shuns social intercourse with the surrounding black, white and American Indian populations, as well as with the Vlax and Romanichal Gypsies who live in the state.

A further account from the same region from about 1780 of another mixed Romani population, though here with the local Indians, is found in Milfort (1802:39):

On leaving Mobile, I went to Paskagola. The inhabitants of this village are very lazy; but, since they have little ambition, they are happy, and lead a completely tranquil life. They are for the most part Gypsy men who married Indian women; there are a few French Creole men among them. They are all carpenters and build schooners with which they engage in coasting trade in Mobile Bay, at New Orleans, and at Pantsakole.

Cuban anthropologist Dr. Beatrice Morales-Cozier of Georgia State University in Atlanta is working with another mixed African-Romani community which lives in the interior of her own country.On July 30th, 1749, King Ferdinand VI ordered the wholesale redada or arrest of all Roma throughout Spain, in order to “extinguish once and for all” this population which had “infected (his domains) for so many years.”  Many where imprisoned; others were sent by sea to La Coruña on English and Swedish vessels “with the loss of many people” (Alfaro, 1993:103).

On November 22nd, 1802, the Prefect of the department of Basses Pyrenees, M. de Castellane, issued an order calling for measures to be taken “to purge the country of Gypsies”; subsequently, … on the night of December 6th, the date set by the Prefect, all of the Gypsies throughout the Basque Country were rounded up, as though in a net, and were taken via various depots to ships which put them off on the coast of Africa. “This vigorous measure which, on being put into effect, brought all the approval which humanity and justice could muster,” said a writer of the time, and “was a veritable kindness to the Department” (Michel, 1857:136).

In an unsigned article which appeared in the first issue of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (1888:54), it was suggested that the Lowbey people of the Senegambia may be the descendants of these transportees; they are said never to marry out of their community, are reputed to have come from somewhere far away, and to be cursed to keep on the move for stealing. They make a living from carving wooden utensils for sale, and in an earlier article in the Archaeological Review (Hartland, 1888:15), they are referred to as “the Gypsies of the Gambia.” Michel’s report does not give the destination of the French ships, but it seems unlikely that they would have traveled as far south along the African coast as the Gambia before disembarking their human cargo. There is a town on the Senegambian coast, however, called Ziguinchor (pronounced “ziganshor”) whose name, it has been suggested, may derive from Tzigane. Lespinasse (1863:42) had earlier suggested that those vessels may not in fact have left European waters, but might instead have been waylaid off the French coast by a British naval blockade and returned to shore.

[Illustration with caption]
French court order dated 1612 ordering all Gypsies out of France

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