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Honorine Giovelina

Honorine Giovelina (13 Feb. 1801—27 Jan. 1832), free woman of color, property-owner and slave-owner, was born in New Orleans, the daughter of Constance Forneret, free woman of color who had been born enslaved, and Louis Giovelina, both property-owners and slave-owners.

Honorine came from a multi-generational property-holding and slave-holding family. She was the daughter of Constance Forneret (1774—1811). Constance was the daughter of Louis Forneret (c. 1735—c. 1803), a government interpreter of Native American languages, and María (c. 1756— ?), his enslaved property. In the late 1780s, they moved to New Orleans, where María purchased freedom for herself and her eight children, including Constance. By 1791, Louis acknowledged his and María’s children, who became heirs of his estate. By then, the family owned eleven enslaved persons. In Spanish Louisiana, when designated as heirs, free women of color could acquire property through wills, up to one fifth of the property of the testator. Furthermore, white fathers who assumed full responsibility for their offspring made them eligible for inheritances. Illegitimate children could receive up to one fifth of their fathers’ property when the fathers had legitimate descendants. If fathers had no legitimate descendants, illegitimate children could inherit the whole of their fathers’ property, as was the case for Louis and María’s children. 

Louis Forneret’s heirs inherited a large estate. Aside from her father’s inheritance, Constance worked diligently to purchase and accumulate property. At Louis Forneret’s death, Constance was already a well-established property-owner and slave-owner, having acquired and sold significant pieces of property in New Orleans from the 1790s through the early 1800s. Spain acquired Louisiana from France in 1762, returning it to France in 1800. The French took possession of the colony in 1802 until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Spanish law established and protected property rights of all women, regardless of their race, status, and class. They could exercise control over their property, and employ any of the common methods of affecting transfers employed by whites. Therefore, the laws governing the distribution of property in Spanish Louisiana had particular consequences for free women of color like Constance. This time period allowed for the establishment of a privileged caste of free persons of color, and they continued to prosper during the first three decades of American rule. 

When Honorine was born in 1801, she continued to enjoy the privileges accorded to her caste. Although her certificate of baptism does not indicate the name of her father, she bore the name Giovelina and indicated in subsequent transactions that she was Louis Giovelina’s natural daughter. Louis Giovelina, a native of Corsica, France, arrived in Louisiana in the early 1780s and was chief physician of Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Louis owned significant property in the city and was a trusted, if not close, friend and business partner of the Forneret family for decades. The nature of Louis Giovelina and Constance’s relationship is unclear. At the time of Honorine’s birth, Louis and Constance had certainly known each other for years, through her father’s private and business affairs. Louis also bought a lot adjacent to Constance’s property in 1800, and they were involved in several business ventures after that point, which reveal some degree of economic and social interaction. 

At Constance’s death in 1811, Honorine inherited her mother’s property. Constance had accumulated enough property during her life to bequeath her daughter a sizable estate. Her property was estimated at about 14,000 dollars and consisted of several lots and buildings, including rental properties, and two enslaved females. The average value of inventoried property by race and gender in 1810 was as follows: Free women of color, 2,600 dollars; free men of color, 3,000 dollars; white women, 6,000 dollars; and white men, 15,200 dollars (Gould). Thus, Constance’s wealth placed her well within the small group of elite property-owning class of free women of color and rivaled that of the average white male.

At age 10, Honorine received about 9,000 dollars in property after her mother’s inheritance was finalized. Constance had designated her youngest brother, Joseph Forneret, as Honorine’s guardian. As such, Joseph recorded business and personal expenses, including monthly school fees and dance lessons, which attested to Honorine’s social and cultural standing. From this, we infer that Honorine grew up comfortably, having access to education and the art of social graces.Her mother’s inheritance in the form of rental properties provided her with a regular income, while two enslaved females assisted her—one listed as her maid, the other rented out.

When Honorine married François Diez, a free man of color, on 6 May 1818, she owned significant property, which was protected by the law. Together, they had five children, including three who survived to adulthood, Charles Alcée, Marie Antoinette and Marie Euphémie. Honorine kept on renting her property and bought new property, as her mother had done before her. Louisiana law differed from that of other states in its attitude towards the economic rights of married women, both white and of color. Louisiana followed the civil law system inherited from Franco-Spanish civil law traditions, unlike other states which followed the English common law system. In Louisiana, single women who already owned property retained ownership of their separate property even after they married. Separate property could be dotal (property which a wife brings to the husband to assist him in bearing the expenses of the marriage) or paraphernal (property that is not part of the dowry and belongs to the wife only). Husbands managed their wives’ dotal property de jure and they could also manage their wives’ paraphernal property with their consent. Husbands could not alienate their wives’ separate property as it was individually owned. 

Shortly into the marriage, Honorine mortgaged and sold some of her paraphernal property, which suggested that she and her husband may have been in financial trouble. In 1826, they mortgaged property for a large sum, for which they were solidarilyliable (solidarity in debt allowed the creditor to proceed against any one of the solidary debtors or all of them simultaneously). In 1827, Honorine’s misfortune was revealed when she petitioned the court of Orleans to obtain a judgment of separation of property against François. She claimed that her husband had mismanaged her property and demanded restitution of her paraphernal property. In Louisiana, a wife could demand separation of property and demand restitution of her property during the marriage, if she could demonstrate that her livelihood was in jeopardy due to her husband’s mismanagement. In 1830, she filed another petition against her husband to recover the proceeds from the sale of her property. It appears Honorine and her mother’s achievements had been compromised by François’ mismanagement of her property.

Honorine died on 27 Jan. 1832. In her will, she revealed she had found herself in a difficult situation, stating that throughout their marriage her husband had lived a “scandalous” lifestyle and that he had sold most of her property. The record also showed that François had left Louisiana for Mexico three years earlier and had not been taking care of his children since then. While her personal and legal troubles revealed that Honorine struggled to retain her property, she did pass down significant possessions to her children, having taken advantage of the rights and opportunities accorded to her caste.

Online Resources

Honorine Giovelina’s baptismal record.Archdiocese of New Orleans, Online Records, Digitized Sacramental Records in the Archives, St. Louis Cathedral: Baptisms, 1801–1802 (persons of color). https://files.ecatholic.com/16596/documents/2020/4/1801-1802%20SFPC%201-1.pdf?t=1587485634000


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.


Hanger, Kimberly S. Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769-1803. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1997. 


Sundberg, Sara Brooks. “Women and the Law of Property under Civil Law in Early Louisiana, 1782-1835.” PhD dissertation, Louisiana State University, 2001.


Yiannopoulos, A. N. “The Civil Codes of Louisiana.” Civil Law Commentaries, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (Winter 2008): 1-23.


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

13 Feb. 1801

Birth of Honorine, daughter of Constance Forneret. Baptism of Honorina, mulata libre, March 20, 1802, Sacramental Records of the St. Louis Cathedral, Archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, B16, 68.


Death of Honorine’s mother, Constance. Honorine inherits her mother’s property. Will, Inventory, and Succession of Constance Forneret (1811), Court of Probates, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, New Orleans Public Library.

6 May 1818

Honorine marries François Diez. In Earl C. Woods and Charles E. Nolan, eds., Sacramental Records of the Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Vol. 13, 1818-1819 (New Orleans: Archdiocese of New Orleans, 1987-), 130.


Honorine sells most of the lots and houses inherited from her mother. Carlile Pollock, 15:71, August 13, 1824. Carlile Pollock, 15:77, August 26, 1824. Carlile Pollock, 15:144, May 2, 1825. Carlile Pollock, 15:149, May 9, 1825, New Orleans Notarial Archives.

2 February 1826

François and Hororine contract a 2000-dollar mortgage, for which they are solidarily liable. Félix de Armas, 5:53, New Orleans Notarial Archives.


Honorine petitions the court of Orleans to obtain a judgment of separation of property against François. Honorine Geovellina Diez v. François Diez, Docket No. 4814 (1827), Parish Court, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, New Orleans Public Library.

c. 1829

François leaves for Mexico.


Honorine files another petition against her husband to recover her property. Honorine Giovellina v. François Diez, Docket No. 5671 (1830), Parish Court, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, New Orleans Public Library.

27 Jan. 1832

Death of Honorine.