Forming a Community: New Orleans Creole Immigrants in
Tampico, Mexico 1871

By Mary Gehman

Few people know that New Orleans, Louisiana and Tampico, Mexico were both home
to a community of free people of color in the mid-to-late 1800s. The two groups
were related, the Tampico folks having left their families in New Orleans in
the 1850s as the Civil War loomed in the U.S. to seek business opportunities in
a nearby country that welcomed them, had been free of slavery for more than
twenty years, and reportedly did not discriminate against people of African
descent. My research and database of such names show that some of them or their
fathers had done business with Mexico as early as the 1820s and had
well-established ties there.

Who were these Creole pioneers? What were their lives like in a foreign country
whose Spanish language, cuisine and culture were totally different from their own
French-based heritage? Did they ever return to New Orleans or did some
stay, leaving descendants there today? This article strives to answer those
questions.


Postcard of modern port city of Tampico, Mexico ca. 1999. From collection of M. Gehman


A few years ago, as part of my research for a book in progress on the Louisiana
Creole Connections to Mexico 1830-1890, I came across a ledger in the Archivo
Historico de Tampico
 labeled “1871 Padron General de los Habitantes
de Tampico
”, roughly translated to mean Heads of Household in Tampico 1871
--  in other words a census.

What was unique about this hand-written ledger from other lists of similar
censuses of Tampico in the 1860s that I had seen is that not only did the name,
age, marital status, occupation and country of origin appear for each entry but
also the spouse and children were listed with their names, ages and country of
birth, and most important, the address where the family resided in Tampico.
With this list it could be determined in what proximity the Louisiana Creoles
lived to each other. Would it be in diverse communities similar to their native
New Orleans in the French Quarter and the faubourgs (suburbs) of Tremé and
Marigny, or did they find refuge in residing exclusively with their relatives
and fellow Creoles?

By mapping out the streets and house numbers the answer to that crucial
question could be extrapolated. First, there was the challenge of figuring out
where those streets, now renamed for heroes of the Mexican Revolution, were in
the half-century before that revolution and ensuing oil boom in north-eastern
Mexico that propelled the port city of Tampico into the modern age and gave it
its current eerie similarity to the Creole areas of New Orleans, a sister port
city of sorts.  Only two of those original streets have kept their names
till today: Flores and Altamira, and both are in the commercial center near the
docks – I had to assume that would have been the commercial center of 19th
century Tampico as well, as colleagues who live there confirmed for me.

Another problem was that, as in New Orleans in the late 1890s, not only the
street names changed but so did numeration of buildings on those streets. Calle
Comercio 
(Commerce Street) 59, for example, suddenly had the address
changed to Salvador Diaz Miron 527.
(1*)

Tampico in 1871 was a small city with a population of 5,847, with a wooden dock
but no bulkhead, houses of wood and plaster set on cobblestone streets, and few
places for travelers to overnight or to get a good meal. It had no railroad or
lighthouse.  Its economy in the 1870s   depended largely on
exporting silver from nearby mines and agriculture products of local farmers
and fishers.
(2*)  Housing for the most part was in large complexes of
one-or-two floor buildings surrounding a functional courtyard with a well, grilling
areas over open fires, and outhouse facilities. Besides cooking, washing
clothes and raising chickens and an occasional cow or pig there, tenants also
stabled their horses so necessary to daily life in those days. There were a
number of apartments in these complexes. Some families had their own, while
others shared with single relatives or an unrelated couple.
(3*) Servants, if
they lived in with the family, were not usually enumerated in this census. From
everything I have been able to determine, it was not a luxurious lifestyle but
also not one of poverty. The families mentioned below who had their own houses
separate from these courtyard complexes were obviously of better means than
most.


The author with Maria Luisa Herrera Casasus [,whose family sold land for the Eureka Colony 1857,] in Tampico 2017.
Photo courtesy of M. Gehman

The designation of race does not appear in any records or documents in Mexico.
In many cases the census lists country of origin simply as  
”Americano”, making it hard to know just who hailed from Louisiana and the
racial makeup of those who did. However, being very familiar with the surnames
of free people of color in New Orleans at that time, I have presented here a number
of families I know to be from that community in Louisiana, and where I was not
sure, have been careful to state that. Many of these surnames also appear in
baptismal, death and other records of this time period in Tampico. Readers
should not be surprised to encounter family names of people to whom they may be
related.

A final note before presenting the census list: it was not surprising to see
some surnames of families that had come to the Tampico area in 1858 and 1859 to
join the Eureka Colony, a re-settlement of one hundred families from New
Orleans, headed first by Louis Nelson Foucher who bought the land a few
 miles south of Tampico on the same Panuco River on the border with the
state of Veracruz, and later Augustin Metoyer who was in charge when the whole
colony burned to the ground only three years later in 1861.
(4*)There are no
records of who the families were or why their hard-earned homes were destroyed,
but it is logical to find some of them moving into the city after that tragedy,
while others likely returned to New Orleans or went to other Gulf Coast areas
of Mexico where Louisiana Creoles from Opelousas, Pointe Coupee and
Natchitoches had put down roots.


Postcard of Calle Comercio (Commerce Street) now named Salvador Diaz Miron in
Tampico ca. 1920. DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University


Here then is the 1871 census of Louisiana Creole heads of household with surnames
emphasized and presented in the order in which they appear on that census:

At 669 Estado (State) St. is Teofilo Baniers (Bagnerise), male,
married, age 63, mason with wife Mrs. Baniers age 52.  Next door at 668
Estado St. on the corner with Gloria St. live Bernard Mischel (Michel) age
56, married, carpenter with wife and children all listed as “American”:
Adelaida B. de Mischel age 52 with Eliza 24, Maria 22, Francisca 19, Caliste 16
–male and employed as a tailor—Ursula 14, Eulalie11, Filmore 10, and Dionisio 8.

Nearby at 436 Flores St. corner of Union St. resides Mateo Belfort,
age 56, married, carpenter, with his wife Virginia age 40 and their children
Amado 22, Louis 20, Carolina 17, José 15, and Jacinta 10. Louis is a cigar
maker and José a carpenter with his father. All are listed as Mexican except
Mateo who is American.

Around the corner at 18 Union Street is a group of American women sharing
living quarters, headed by Isabel Martel, age 50 and widowed. The
only man is Joaquin Sam age 23, single and a carpenter. 
Adelaida Persi (Percy) 40 has a daughter Angelina Persi 5 with
her, while Maria Cupo (Cupidon?) 50 and widowed is possibly
the mother of younger widow Felicia Reid 29 with two children: Fernanda 6 and
Vicente 4, both surnamed Reid. Percy, Sam and Cupidon are Creole surnames, and
Isabel and Felicia may have had Creole maiden names. It would be natural for
widows who are related or come from the same community in the U.S. to live
together in a foreign country.

Nearby at 77 Comercio St. lives Polin (Pauline) U. de Alonzo (Alonso),
American female, 36, widowed. She is head of a large household of Mexicans,
probably a courtyard complex. Three Alonso children appear to be hers: Eduardo
13, Concepcion 11, and Emilio 9. Julia Soto, 22 and single has two
children living there: Ernesto 3 and Carlos 1. Soto is a New Orleans name, so
the Alonsos and Sotos might be related, although Julia appears to be born in
Mexico.

Antonio Collins age 48, businessman and wife Artemisa age 38
reside with their children at the next corner of Comercio and Morena streets:
Aristides 20, Zeferino 19, Valcour 14, Elena 13, Angela 10, Eulalie 7 and Atla
2. Aristides is a carpenter and Zeferino and Valcour are barbers. The Collins
family came from Pensacola, Florida to Tampico in 1861. All are listed as
Americans except Eulalie and Atla are Mexicans, having been born in Tampico. In
a different record Aristides appears to be Antonio’s nephew and a cousin to the
other Collins children here.

Even more complicated as a household at 462 Espartal St. at the next corner of
Comercio St. is that of Dorotea Montero age 57 and widowed who
owns the property. She is American as are two others in the house: Felix Ruiz 39
and a carpenter and Maria Montero 50 and widowed, likely Dorotea’s sister.
There are five people surnamed Novoa and Mexican:  Josefa 29, Camila 25,
Alejandro 22, Ignacio 21, and Pascuala 15, all of whom might be children of
Dorotea or Maria, as well as Rosa Ruiz 38, probably wife of Felix above and
presumably their child Rosa Ruiz 7. Two other Mexican children surnamed Aspero
who round out this disparate family group are Barbaro 6 and Francisco 2.

Three blocks away at 181 Espartal St. corner of Estado St. lives Eugenia Robert age
46, female and single as the only American in a diverse household headed by the
Mexican Antonio Mendizabal 22, the landlord of various properties, including
this one. Several Roberts –pronounced Row-bear -- in Tampico came from New
Orleans (see Emilio Robert below). Among the Mexicans in the household are the
Creole surnames Alejandre (Alexandre) and Santaman
(St. Amant)
. From names and ages of the other inhabitants, it is likely
that this location was a courtyard complex.


Map of Tampico in 1980. From Tampico , mi Ciudad by Carlos Gonzales Salas 1981

Emilio Robert, his wife Modesta and children Guillermo 12, Juan
Emilio 11, and Maria G. 2 live at 140 Estado St. a few blocks away in another
courtyard complex. Emilio age 51, is from New Orleans and a physician. The
house is owned by a Danish citizen Carlos Berg who also lives there with his
family. Others who live in the household, all Mexicans, include surnames
Vega, Batista (Baptiste), Gomez, Luna, Masias, de Busto and
Ramirez.

Farther down Estado St. at 179 is another mixed household, all Mexicans
but with Fulgencia Trevine (Trevigne) 30 and single, a Creole
surname, and Joaquin Aspero, a carpenter and his wife, very likely
related to the young Aspero children living in the Montero household above. And
in the house down Estado St. at 131 Damas St. at the corner are the Tios of New
Orleans headed by Luis Marcos Tio age 40, cigar maker, and
wife Margarita Tio, 35, with their children Marcos 14, Josefina 12, Luis Marcos
9, Genoveva 8, and Lorenzo 5. The father Luis Marcos would die in Tampico, but
his sons Luis Marcos and Lorenzo would go on to become famous jazz musicians in
New Orleans in the early 1900s. This must be a courtyard complex because six
other adults and three children reside there. Antonia Tio, 30 and single, is
probably a sister to Luis Marcos, and Emilia Plaquier, 30 and married, is a
French business woman. The others are Mexicans, one Carolina Tesiert
(Tessier)
 bearing a Creole surname. Elena Tessier, possibly Carolina’s
sister, age 30 and married to Juan Pendas from Spain lives nearby with Juan and
their daughter Amelia Pendas at 421 Id Street corner of Cuartel St.

On the same block as the Tios at 124 Damas St. in the large household of
Mexican Florestino Castro, probably a courtyard complex, lives an 11 year old
boy Pedro Polito (Polite) who is Mexican along with a number
of others all Mexicans. Polite – pronounced Poe-leet, a Creole surname in
Louisiana, shows up frequently in Tampico at this time, and since the boy’s
father is not given, it isn’t clear what nationality the father is. In a
separate large household close by at 128 Espartal St. is another apparent
courtyard complex run by Jorge Gil, American, 60, single and a carpenter.
Everyone else in the household is Mexican except one Spaniard. Two Gil girls,
Margarita 12 and Cecelia 9 could be related to Jorge Gil, though that is not
noted.

Eleuteria Villar(d), a 30 year old single Mexican woman lives in a
household at 62 Damas St. with two men and another woman, all single and
similar in age. Villard is a Louisiana Creole surname and appears in Tampico
records, but there is no indication here that Eleuteria has French or Louisiana
heritage, though that can be assumed.

Nearby is a  courtyard complex of José Setle (Settle) an
American watch maker, 47. Seemingly unrelated Mexicans make up the rest of the
household, along with a “servant” of José’s, 14 year-old Serapio Arroyo. At 171
Estado St. is Henriqueta Labourdette, an American widow age 60 and living
alone. Next door is Ulises Labourdette, Mexican businessman, 36 and married to
Adelaida D. de Labourdette, 30 and their sons Pedro 5 and Alejandro 3. Ulises,
born in Mexico, is very likely the son of Henriqueta Labourdette.

On the other side of Henriqueta is a courtyard complex of Mexicans that
includes two Americans, Maurice Bravermant 40 and unemployed,
and the intriguing Julia Gayarré age 36 and married but
whether to Mr. Bravermant is not stated. Charles-Etienne Gayarré (1805-1895),
French Creole in New Orleans and foremeost 19th century Louisiana historian,
fathered a son who bore his name with a free woman of color Delphine le Maitre
(ca. 1806-1882) in 1825. That son appears as a porter in N.O. city directories
of the 1870s, and is said to have been the historian’s only child, but he may
have had another natural child Julia in 1835, who might have migrated to Mexico
in her 30s or 40s. This can only be guessed at.

Mauricio Bravermant was likely the same M. Braverman, a German dentist born
1835 appearing on the passenger list of the ship Mexico City arriving in 1877
in New Orleans from Tampico. Why he is listed as unemployed in the 1871 census
could be the fault of the person reporting  the information.

Not far off at 118 Comercio St. is a courtyard complex of Mexicans that include
one Spaniard and the American Otelo Cupidon, 36, single and a cigar
maker. The surname Cupidon appears among Creoles of color in New Orleans, which
is very likely Otelo’s native city.

A block from the Cupidons at 86 Comercio St. lives Carlos Goban, an American
silversmith age 34 and single. In the household are a woman Buena Ramirez 22
and 3 Goban children, all Mexican: Femistocles 3; Hersilia 2 and Alcibiades 1,
very likely Carlos’ children. The surname Goban does not appear among people of
color in Louisiana, although Carlos shows up elsewhere as godparent on more
than one Creole child’s baptism papers . Three doors down at 89 Comercio St. is
Alcir B. de Capo age 30, American wife of the absent Spaniard
Antonio Capo with their 5 Capo children. The household is headed by French
businessman Emilio Grillet age 23 and his wife. Because Alcir’s maiden name is
not given, we don’t know if she was Creole or not.

Antonia Dastugue, business woman, age 25, no marital status, lives
at 119 Aurora St. with a group of Mexicans and the French doctor Auguste
Douillet and his Mexican wife and children. Despite her Louisiana surname,
Dastugue was apparently born in Mexico, possibly related to Francisco Dastugue
of New Orleans who migrated to Tampico in 1857.

Also on Aurora St. a block away lives Juan J. Thiebault, an
American businessman, 40 and single. The only other person in the household is
Thiebault’s servant Feliciano Raso, Mexican and age 28. Thiebault or Thiebaut
(pronounced Tee-bow) is a Louisiana surname from Ascension Parish but not
usually associated with people of color.

Felix Sacristé, a New Orleans native who appears in a number of
records in Tampico, lives at 112 Muelle St. in close proximity to Emilio Robert
– see him above. Sacristé is 52, married and a barber by trade. Living with him
is his Mexican son Arturo Sacristé, 15. Arturo’s mother Andrea Blanco is not
with them. Felix went back to New Orleans in the early 1920s – it is not known
if Blanco went there earlier.

Two doors down from Sacristes are the Chabats at 114 Muelle St. Head of
household Teodoro Chabat is a French businessman, age 49,
whose name figures prominently in Tampico during this time. He is married to
Adelaide Felicie de la Torre of a large and well to do family
with several generations in Mexico from the Spanish ship captain Ramon de la Torre.
Both Chabats and de la Torres made business trips to New Orleans, and at least
one, Severiano de la Torre was born there. Three young Chabat children live in
the household: Julio 14, Teodoro 10 and Manuel 1. There are other Mexicans
living with them and two French citizens.

Adelaide Felicie de la Torre’s namesake Adelaide de la Torre age 60 heads up
her own household at 47 Cuartel St. corner of Union, near the Belfort family.
She is 60, married though her husband is not named, and owns the house there.
Living with her are two other women, one an American, Josefina Ricot,
single and age 45. Their Mexican servant José Cruz, 50, also lives there.

A well-known native of New Orleans, Eugene Pavageau, a tailor age
58 and widowed, lives at 338 Almonte St. in this same neighborhood. The
Pavageaus were in Tampico as early as 1848 and possibly were part of the Eureka
Colony. Eugenio’s wife, also from New Orleans, Caroline Parent,
died in 1865. Five of their 7 grown children, all born in Mexico, are
enumerated as living with him in 1871: Josefa 33 and widowed; Florencia 28 and
married – the child Cenovia Salazar age 11 listed with them might be her
daughter; Juan 22, Jorge 18 and Martina 16. Several Pavageau sons carried on
the tailor tradition in a clothing manufacturing business founded by Eugenio.
Descendants of this family can still be found in Tampico today. They are
related to Pavageaus in Louisiana, among whom at least one member was a
distinguished jazz musician in the 1910s and 1920s.

Another Pavageau, Policarpo age 25, also a tailor and probably the son of
Eugenio, lives at 34 Empresa St. with his wife Josefa C. de Pavageau, 17, and
their daughter Petronila age 1. They are all Mexicans, having been born there.
And three blocks down Empresa at 428 is another son of Louisiana, Ricardo Romain,
age 48, a tailor, with his wife Juana Perez 53 who is Mexican.  No
children are listed. In the same courtyard complex is Ines Populus 10,
the only other person with a Creole surname.

Two doors down at 36 Empresa Street is Mexican Salvador V. Castello, 35, with
his American wife Gertrudis L. de Castello, 30, and their
Mexican-born children surnamed Castello: Carmen 8, Matilde 7, Salvador 5,
Alberto 3 and Gertrudis 1. Miguel Castello age 20 is probably Salvador’s
brother. Also living with them is Dolores Viladesan 42, possibly a sister of
husband or wife Castello. Without knowing what the L. for Gertrudis’ maiden
name is, we can’t determine if she is from Louisiana or not. Castello or
Castellon is a Creole surname still found in New Orleans today.

Nearby the Pavageau household at 378 Id Street corner of Almonte is
Francisco Dastugue, New Orleans native, age 59 and a painter by
trade. His Louisiana wife Josefina Lacur (Lacour), age 50, appears
with him and their Mexican-born daughters: Josefina 20,  Adela 18,
Guadalupe17, Olinda 10 and Teresa 8. From his associations with Creoles in
Tampico it appears that he and his family were people of color.

At 156 Miradores St. lives the well-recognized founder of the Eureka Colony,
Agustin D. Metoyer, American Creole, age 43 and a carpenter. He is
married but his wife may have gone back to New Orleans for she is not mentioned
in the household that consists of five apprentices, young Mexican men learning
the carpentry trade from Metoyer.

Miradores St. in the next few blocks has two households headed by Creole
sounding women. At 419 is a large courtyard complex that includes
Florencia Populus, age 19 and single, who is Mexican but bears a
Louisiana surname; and at 261 is an American widow Adelaida
Santa Cruz, age 69
and widowed. She heads up a  complex with apparently unrelated Mexicans of
various ages. The surname Santa Cruz is known as Creole in Louisiana.

At 275 Jazminiz Street within this community is the family of Josefa Dufour,
52 and widowed and her three children by her late husband Pedro Cuesta:
Olinda 24 and single, Atilia 15, and Alonso 9. There are five others, all
Mexicans, living in the same compound. The Cuesta couple were Creoles – Josefa
from New Orleans and Pedro from Pensacola. They had been in Tampico since 1848
and Pedro died and was buried there in 1865. Several older children, Alfonso,
Lorenzo, Francisco and Maria Refugio were on their own in 1871.

Their neighbors at 278 Jazminiz are the couple German Arnaud 40
and Bonifacia C. de Arnaud 36, with their daughter Margarita Arnaud 16.
Although designated as Mexicans, Arnaud is both a French and Creole surname.
Down the block at 250 Jazminiz are American businessman Antonio Sanchez with
wife Ana Francisca P. de Sanchez and two children: Manuel 9 and Maria Estefano
5. Two Perez sisters live with them: Ana Gertrudis 42 and Maria de Jesus 37,
likely also sisters of Mrs. Sanchez. All but Antonio are listed as Mexicans.

The American businessman Santiago B. Hart, 50, and wife Apolonia S.
de Hart, 40, live at 199 Altamira Street with their daughter Juanita Hart 8.
The surname Hart appears among free people of color in New Orleans – whether
Santiago was from there is not known. Across the street at 200 Altamira is an
American widow, Luisa S. de Frueba 43, living with three other
women, all Mexicans.

Mixed in with these Americans are people of other nationalities. Ricardo Jordan businessman
from Spain, for example, lives at 29 Muelle Street with his Mexican wife
Dolores L. de Jordan and their two young children. French barber Bernardo Dubois and
his French wife Isabel Dubois live at 110 Comercio Street with their three
Mexican children, while the British couple David L. Jolly and
Inez V. de Jolly live at 59 Aduana Street with another British woman, Margarita
Vetch, who is probably the sister of Inez.

There are also people identified on the list as Mexicans but with surnames that
indicate they could have parents from Louisiana. For example at 437 Union
Street, next door to the family of Mateo Belfort, a carpenter from New Orleans
is Manuel Llorente, 21 year old Mexican businessman with his 
servant Maximo Media 27 and single, and Felipe Vicencio, a 55 year old mariner.
Llorente is similar to the Louisiana surname Llorens and Vicencio to that
of Vincent that one wonders if these two men were not of
Creole parentage.

This 1871 snap shot in time of a foreign city serving as a refuge for so many
Americans, predominantly Louisiana Creoles, looks remarkably similar to the New
Orleans French Quarter, Treme and Marigny  neighborhoods of that same time
period. Despite their differences of culture and language, the Creoles appear
to have integrated well with the dominant community, found their place  in
it, and contributed to it.

Footnotes:
1 Salas, Carlos Gonazalez. Tampico es lo Azul, Instituto de Investigaciones Historicas, Universidad Autonoma de Tamaulipas, Ciudad Victoria 1990, p. 174.
2 Ibid. pp. 121-144.
3 In-person Interview with José Castañeda, Tampico historian and musicologist, in Tampico November 21, 2019.
4 In-person interview with Maria Luisa Herrera Casasus, Tampico historian and author whose Herrera ancestors sold Foucher the land  for the  Eureka Colony and bought it back from the community after the fire, Tampico July 13, 2017.

This article was published in the 2021 edition of LA Creole, a
journal for the organization of the same name with offices at Xavier University
in New Orleans.