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Elizabeth Rapp

Elizabeth Rapp (c. 1814—27 Aug. 1854), free woman of color, property-owner and slave-owner in New Orleans, was the daughter of Rachel Montgomery (also Rachel Rapp) a property-owner and slave-owner.

Elizabeth Rapp’s story informs movements of populations and the development of economic opportunities in New Orleans. She was the “natural daughter” of Rachel Montgomery (c. 1769—11 Feb. 1849), who was a native of Baltimore, Maryland. It is unclear whether Rachel was a freed slave or whether she was born free. Existing records describe her as a “free colored woman” or a “free Negro woman.” Rachel appears in the 1820 United States Census as head of household, indicating that she had made her way to New Orleans, perhaps to find better economic opportunities, and may have been part of the Anglo migration to New Orleans in the first half of the nineteenth century.

According to that census, Rachel’s residence housed eight individuals, including two white persons and six free persons of color, including herself. The other persons residing in the household may have been boarders, as rental activity was common in New Orleans, especially among free women of color. Rental activity could be a lucrative business and free women of color rented houses to any segment of the population. The influx of immigrants during the American period, which resulted from the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, stimulated this activity. Rachel made several property transactions, including transactions involving enslaved persons, before she died in New Orleans in 1849. By the time of her death, she owned property and lived in the Second Municipality of the city i.e. the American Sector or Faubourg St. Mary. Although free persons of color traditionally lived in non-American wards, Rachel eventually chose to establish her residence in the American Sector of the city. She was herself of English-speaking heritage which certainly explained her choice of residence. 

Historical records indicate that Rachel Montgomery was possibly involved romantically with a Mr. John Rapp, an Anglo shoemaker, eventually taking on his last name. Elizabeth Rapp was born c. 1814, location unknown, and bore John’s last name as well, as did her sister, Ellen. Elizabeth was described as a “free mulatress,” in other words a free woman of color. Like her mother, Elizabeth acquired several pieces of property throughout the city as well as enslaved persons. The entire economy of the South was based on the idea that the bodies of the enslaved had a monetary value, which could rise and fall. Free women of color, like Elizabeth, were primarily driven by economic motives and had full command and knowledge of the value of the enslaved people they invested in. Like white men and women, slave-owning and slave trading were critical to wealth creation and free people of color fully supported the maintenance of the peculiar institution. 

Elizabeth did not marry, nor did she have children. Evidence suggests, however, that she lived with Dominique Pestalozza, an Italian immigrant, in Faubourg Marigny. Although it is unclear when the two met and what the nature of their relationship was, Elizabeth purchased a house and three enslaved persons from Pestalozza in 1839. Several elements point towards the existence of a possible romantic association. In 1849 Pestalozza registered the death of Rachel, Elizabeth’s mother, by declaration with the local registrar. In 1851 they occupied the same residence and, in 1854, Elizabeth petitioned the Court to be appointed curatrix of Pestalozza’s estate. Their relationship not only reflected the presence of individuals with different ethnicities or heritages in the city, but also the continuous interchange between individual members of a community, that did not function (yet) under rigid racial lines. From the colonial period until the eve of the Civil War, various waves of immigrants settled in New Orleans, contributing to the demographic diversity of the city. Group interaction crossed racial, ethnic, national, linguistic, gender, and class lines on the street level and beyond neighborhoods, and these various ethnic groups had a profound impact on the city and its society and economy. 

Elizabeth died on 27 Aug. 1854. Her succession records revealed extensive property holdings, including real estate and enslaved property. Her property was auctioned off in 1855, rather than willed or donated, which allows us to know about her holdings in great detail and inform about the size and value of that property. Over the years, Elizabeth had purchased property from her mother, as well as from white men and women, and chose not to confine her investments to one single neighborhood or parish. She owned property in Faubourgs Marigny, St. Mary, and Washington (i.e. the lower portion of Marigny and Bywater, from present-day Franklin Ave. to the Industrial Canal), and St. Bernard Parish. Following on her mother’s footsteps, she certainly rented out her property, for she could derive a sizable income from such activity. From this we infer that Elizabeth had extensive knowledge of the geography and economy of the city, and was particularly gifted when it came to making and profiting from her acquisitions. The total value of Elizabeth’s estate reached 15,000 dollars, well over the average value of inventoried property for free women of color at the time. In addition to deriving income from rental properties and slave owning, she had a sizeable garden at her residence, providing basic farming and gardening resources. 

Elizabeth Rapp’s life and endeavors serve as a window to the creation of social and economic connections in the city. In order to take advantage of the opportunities that the marketplace offered, she created and relied on distinct sets of relationships on both professional and personal levels. Finally, slave-owning was critical to wealth-building and Elizabeth’s participation in the slave trade and slavery in the city showed that she and other free women of color were a fundamental component of its economy.

Online Resources

Ulentin, Anne. “Shades of Grey: Slaveholding Free Women of Color in Antebellum New Orleans.” PhD dissertation, Louisiana State University, 2012. https://repository.lsu.edu/gradschool_dissertations/3072/.


Gould, Virginia Meacham. “Free Women of Color and Property Holding in New Orleans.” Manuscript presented at the XXIX Conference of the Association of Caribbean Historians (April, 1997): 7-12.


Hirsh, Arnold R., and Joseph Logsdon, eds. Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.


Sumpter, Amy R. “Segregation of the Free People of Color and the Construction of Race in Antebellum New Orleans,” Southeastern Geographer 48, No. 1 (May, 2008): 19-37.


Anne Ulentin

Color reproduction of a watercolor painting, “Creole Woman with Maid,” by Edouard Marquis (1867). Courtesy of Louisiana State Museum https://64parishes.org/entry-image/creole-woman-of-color-with-maid-2

Key Events

c. 1814

birth of Elizabeth Rapp. Her mother, Rachel Montgomery (also Rapp), was from Maryland.


Elizabeth purchases enslaved people and real estate across the city of New Orleans.


Elizabeth lives with Dominique Pestalozza, an Italian immigrant. 1842 New Orleans City Directory; 1850 United States Federal Census; 1851 New Orleans City Directory.


death of Rachel

c. 1854

death of Pestalozza. Elizabeth petitions the Court to be appointed curatrix of his estate.

27 Aug. 1854

death of Elizabeth. Inventory of the Estate of Elizabeth Rapp, September 14, 1854, Roll R-670, Inventories of Estates, Court of Probates, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, New Orleans Public Library.


Elizabeth’s succession records reveal extensive property holdings, including real estate and enslaved property. Succession of Elizabeth Rapp (1855), Docket No. 8123, Second District Court, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, New Orleans Public Library.