Southern Originals: Marie Thérèse Metoyer

Marie Therese Coincoin, Artist Interpretation from

Marie Therese Coincoin is truly a Southern Original.  Her life story is surprisingly little known, and yet so amazing as to be incredulous.   In the words of her biographer (1) Coincoin was “born a slave … and became an independent black woman in a world dominated by white men. She adapted successfully to all the situations that life presented to her; from being the concubine and housekeeper of a rich white man, she became a profitable farmer and businesswoman in her own right.”
“She was born a slave and became an independent black woman in a world dominated by white men.

This was a woman  born at the lowest rung of her society, who endured deprivation, injustice and hardship, not the least of which was her absolute lack of freedom.  Unfortunately, she left no written record, but nothing in the historical records suggest that she faced formidable challenges with anything but courage and grace.

Marie Therese Coincoin was born a slave  in Nachitoches, La in August, 1742.  She lost her parents to the plague when she was 16 and was taken into the household of her godmother, Marie de Soto.  During this period, she had five children with a fellow slave.   When she was 24 she was “loaned” to Pierre Metoyer, recently arrived wealthy French merchant .  Over the next 20 years she lived in the house with Metoyer and born him 10 children.  In 1777, a Spanish Priest denounced her as a “public concubine” and ordered her out of Metoyer’s home.  This prompted Madame deSoto, who still owned Marie Therese to finally sell her to Metoyer,  who bought her freedom as well as that of their 10 children who were slaves of the deSoto family.   Marie Therese, Metoyer and their children lived together in apparent financial and family stability for the next decade, although she was unable to free her three oldest children.  However Metoyer  eventually  succumbed to public pressure to marry a “suitable” French woman.

Cane River, Nachitoches, La
Cane River, Nachitoches, La
Melrose Plantation, (Photo: Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)

We know nothing of her reaction to the ending of their relationship, however, we can only imagine the pain of this betrayal.  However,  in parting, Metoyer gave her a yearly annuity and a plot of land  on the banks of Cane River, which allowed her finally to be independent.  She built a house, farmed tobacco, raised cattle and trapped bears, and slowly accumulated more land.  Because of this size of her businesses, she eventually  took on slaves  to work her land.  Again, we can only imagine her sentiments at becoming a slaveowner after having gained her own freedom at such a price.  By some accounts, she did this in a desperate attempt to free her remaining enslaved children and grandchildren. Sadly, she was never able to free all of her children.

Melrose Wash House Wikipedia Commons

Over time Marie Therese’s family became the leading family of Isle Brevelle, a thriving community of “gens de couleur libre”, free people of color;  business people, plantation and slave owners.      Cane River’s famous Melrose Plantation  was built by her son Louis over the period
1810-1832.    Melrose was completed by Louis’  son Jean Baptiste after Louis’ death. When Jean Baptiste died in 1838, the Melrose estate was valued at over $100,000. The Metoyer family owned Melrose Plantation from 1796 until 1847.

(1) African American National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2008