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Grant number: FB-50394-04

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FB-50394-04

Julie P. Winch
University of Massachusetts, Boston (Boston, MA 02125-3300)

The Heirs of Jacques Clamorgan, 1780-1930: An American Family's Encounter with Race

Drawing on a growing body of work on changing definitions of race in American society, this project traces one family from the arrival of Frenchman Jacques Clamorgan in St. Louis, in what was then Spanish territory, in 1780, to the federal census of 1930, when his descendants were to be found scattered across the country and variously defined (or self-defined) as black, white, Spanish, or "other." Unlike many male settlers in early St. Louis, who married white women but kept black or Indian concubines, Jacques Clamorgan lived exclusively with enslaved black women. He eventually freed his biracial children and tried to pass on to them his claims to land in what is now the American Midwest. The lives his children and their descendants carved out for themselves are at the core of this study, as is the epic battle they fought over Jacques Clamorgan's land claims. At the heart of that battle were questions of race. Were the Clamorgans black or white? Did they have rights, given that they were free and light-skinned, or did their African descent mean they had no legal standing? The changing nature of racial classification is the theme that runs through this family's story. Over the decades, as they fought to reclaim their inheritance, various Clamorgans "passed," some permanently and others when the need arose. The self-conscious redefinition of its members as white by one branch of the family resulted in the early 20th century in a scandal that rocked St. Louis society and was reported in newspapers across the country. Part social history, part family history, part courtroom drama, the story of the Clamorgans is an exploration of the fluid nature of race and American identity.

Project fields:
U.S. History

Program:
Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Division:
Research Programs

Total amounts:
$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2004 – 8/31/2005