Marie Therese Metoyer
Marie Therese Metoyer was born into slavery but died a rich woman. And a rich woman with slaves of her own to boot. In fact, at the turn of the 18th century, Marie Therese was one of the richest ladies in Louisiana. As a free lady, she was an astute entrepreneur as well as a social climber. Moreover, she was Christian-minded and worked to improve the society she lived in – even if she did make use of slave labor. So, how did this lady, born to slaves, earn first her freedom and then her fortune? The answer is simple: thanks to a simple twist of fate.
Marie Therese was actually born Coincoin (with no given surname) in the Louisiana French outpost of Natchitoches. While she was born into slavery, she did have some education as a child, being trained in nursing and then pharmacy – skills that she would be able to put to good use later in life. The records show that she had children young. Five children, to be precise, though who their father was is not known. What is known is that in 1765, Coincoin’s mistress decided to lend her to a man called Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. It was a decision that would change the lives of both the slave and the young French merchant.
Metoyer fell in love with his new slave. In order to stay together, he purchased her, as well as her children. She took a French name and when they had six children of their own, he purchased their freedom too. But, after many happy years together, Claude Thomas fell for another woman, divorced Marie-Therese and returned to France. He left behind all his possessions, however. Marie-Therese was a wealthy woman. By 1830, it’s estimated that she owned more than 1,000 acres, with an estimated 287 slaves working the land.
As with many plantation owners, Marie-Therese was tough with her slaves. She was obviously a shrewd businesswoman since she got steadily richer, suggesting she had little time for sentimentality. At the same time, however, she was a committed Catholic. She used her money to maintain her local parish church, and she even volunteered the labor of her own slaves for the task. Marie-Therese died in 1816, dividing her property – including her slaves – up between her surviving children.