1731-1800: “A Home to Call Their Own”

9 May

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Jean Baptiste Lille Sarpy

The modern day Maison de Ville (which in French means townhouse), is a three-story structure of which the first story was built by French immigrant Jean Baptiste Lille Sarpy in 1793, in what was at the time the center of the city. Across the courtyard, with its imposing three-tiered cast iron fountain, are the four former slave quarters, believed to have been constructed about 50 years earlier than the main building, and among the oldest existing buildings in New Orleans. Some references on these structures (which had originally been slave quarters) refer to them as “garconnieres,” or bachelor quarters. Often in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Creoles built small, separate buildings for their grown sons to reside in until they married, and it is quite likely that these buildings were used as such by different owners.

A year 1800 inventory of the property at 727 Rue Toulouse describes “a house of brick and wood which is inhabited by the defunct with his family, terraced roof, at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse Streets, built on a lot 70’ in front and 80’ of depth, to which has been added two lots that goes with the house in Toulouse Street.”

Lille Sarpy and his wife, Marie-Josèphe “Puoponne” Diaz, a Creole of French, Spanish and African ancestry, began construction on Toulouse Street with a one story home for their growing family. Lille Sarpy died in 1798, leaving the home to the son that carried his same name. Jean Baptiste Jr. sold the property shortly thereafter but his family has an interesting connection to modern New Orleans. Around 1935 misfortune struck the Lille Sarpys when Jean Baptiste Jr. passed away and his wife suffered a nervous breakdown. Following those sad events the Sarpy’s daughter, Henriette (better known as Henriette DeLille after the French translation of her family name), inherited the family home, promptly sold it and used the funds gained from the sale of the house to finance the founding of the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order of nuns made up of free women of color in New Orleans and the first of its kind.


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