Below are 4 of 18 plans for the building at 1515 Pauger (present-day address), originally built and owned by Rosette Rochon, free woman of color.
According to the description that accompanies the survey, Rosette purchased a lot at the corner of Greatmen (Dauphine) and Bagatelle (Pauger) from Bernard Marigny on May 10, 1806. She’s credited as one of Faubourg Marigny’s first property-owners. A mortgage on the lot from 1841 mentions three houses, but this survey is of one. The 1515 Pauger house is actually two structures–a main house and a smaller, unattached “service building” at the back of the lot. It was built in the 1820s or early 1830s, and its owners included wealthy free man of color Thomy Lafon, and members of the Claiborne, Soniat, and Duffosat families.
These are not the original 19th century plans. These plans were researched, designed and submitted to the Historic American Buildings Survey in the fall of 1998 by a class directed by Eugene D. Cizek, Ph.D. (Tulane University). The plans were drawn by Randy M. Plaisance and won honorable mention in the 1999 Charles E. Peterson Award competition. Charles E. Peterson proposed the original Historic American Building Survey during the Great Depression as a way to put out of work architects back to work. In 1934, it became a permanent program.
According to the description, Rosette was born in Mobile in 1760, the daughter of Pierre Rochon and his slave, Marianne. Marianne was described as a mulatto. Rosette gained or was given her freedom and ended up traveling to Saint-Domingue in the company of her then consort, a Mr. Harvey. She left Saint-Domingue in 1797, leaving behind at least one son who became an official in the newly independent Haitian government. Back in New Orleans, she, a new consort by the name of Joseph Forstall, and her children (by both men) engaged in a number of businesses common to free women of color (renting property, buying and selling mortgages, buying and selling slaves, cattle business, grocery stores) and traveled for business (and possibly family/pleasure?) to Haiti on a regular basis. She died in 1863 at the age of 103.
In the 1970s, Don Richmond purchased it to restore and rent out, sold it then repurchased it in the late 90s. At the time of the survey, Richmond was the owner and was in the process of renovating the house to reopen “as a museum dedicated to the study of free people of color and African-Americans and their contributions to the history of New Orleans.” (HABS description, sheet 1)
The house suffered damage during Hurricane Katrina and Richmond worked to restore and recover the building as a museum and historic site.
Richmond died on November 12, 2014. He dedicated (donated?) the house and the project to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFab). In a blog post “From the Director’s Desk” dated July 2014, Liz Williams describes the transfer of ownership. Her biography of Rosette’s life fleshes out a few more details including full name and number of children:
“SoFAB intends to follow close on Don Richmond’s heels to continue to restore this house. Furnished in the style of the 1800s, this house will honor the memory of Rosette Rochon, an important figure of the Louisiana culinary culture. Marie Louise Rose “Rosette” Rochon and her 5 siblings were born slaves – to a French colonial planter and shipbuilder and a slave mother. All were freed through Pierre Rochon’s will. Their mother, Marianne, and the children subsequently moved to New Orleans.”
In this description, “M. Harvey” disappears, as does the trip to Saint-Domingue, and related entrepreneurial and kinship connections between the colony/country and the city. I don’t say this as critique, only as observation.
It is an observation that makes me itchy to do more research on HER. A brief walk through my download of the Afro-Louisiana Genealogy database shows at least four different Rochon’s liberating slaves they owned starting in 1805, including Juana Rochon who freed at least three (a fourth is listed with the same age and similar name and may be the same slave). Another search in another database suggests, give or take a plus/minus error for repeating names, at least ten different Rochons of color owned property across the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) and that doesn’t including neighboring faubourgs.
“…Don was most proud of his development of Musee’ Rosette Rochon, a historic Creole home in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, which he bought in 1977 and named in honor of its builder, 19th century entrepreneur and free woman of color Rosette Rochon. Don’s legacy will live on as SoFAB, in its capacity as donee, continues his work in restoring Musee’ Rosette Rochon to be a residence for visiting scholars and chefs.
I’ve been thinking about Rosette and the Rochon-Harvey-Forstall children across time and place–enslaved, refugee, free, freed, slaveowning and property-owning–and what it means to attend to them (and I have to credit Marisa Fuentes for bringing this word back into my life–attend, attending, attention to the dead). As a young architect measuring walls, as a building owner, as a resident of a city, as a member of a diaspora, as a culinary institution, as a media creator and curator of a website, as a historian. I have Figueroa’s elaboration of Lugones “faithful witnessing” fresh in mind, along with a number Caribbean routes through this history and that memory–la pensée archipélique, coloniality and coloniality of power, coloniality of diaspora, decoloniality. Decolonial love.
But “faithful witnessing” is freshest and decolonial archives even more so. How to write a history that does not lose all of her routes across New Orleans’ Atlantic world? It seems like something here must attend to power of visibility and being visible (surveilled)? And maybe faithful witnessing isn’t to make what is obscured reveal itself, but unscrambles the mirror so that what is rendered opaque, ugly, animalistic, subhuman, inhuman, or grotesque by colonial logic, is instead viewed as from the bottom of the ocean–a shining thing; changeable, buoyant, viscous and full of life?