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Richard J. Bell

philanthropist and founding benefactor of the oldest continuously operating black Catholic school in the United States, was born Justine Fervin in Guinea, West Africa. In early childhood she was brought to San Domingue and enslaved. Little is known about her youth or at what stage in her life she began calling herself Marie. What is known is that she received no formal education and was brought to New Orleans as a slave before securing her freedom. By the 1820s she was living as a free woman in the Faubourg Marigny district of the city, the wife of a carpenter, a free black man named Gabriel Bernard Couvent.

A devout Catholic, Couvent and her husband regularly attended Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. There she established a relationship with Constantine Manehault, a priest who was to become her lifelong friend and religious director.

With no children to support the Couvents lived ...

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Fiona J. L. Handley

slave, wealthy landowner, and community leader, was born Nicholas Augustin Metoyer in Natchitoches, in the Spanish colony of Louisiana. His mother was Marie-Thérèse Coincoin, a slave and later a free woman and successful agriculturalist, and his father was Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, a wealthy French merchant and planter with whom his mother had a nineteen-year liaison. Marie-Thérèse was enslaved when Augustin and his twin sister Marie Susanne were born, and he was subsequently bought by his father on 31 May 1776 from Madame de St Denis along with three of his siblings for 1 300 livres He grew up as the oldest male child in a wealthy household where in an unusual situation an enslaved woman and a white man cohabited almost completely openly Although Pierre Metoyer never explicitly acknowledged his children with Marie Thérèse as his own most of them took ...