Enslaved blacks who were native-born also began to be referred to as Creole, to distinguish them from new arrivals from Africa. Over time, the black Créoles and Africans created a French and West African hybrid language called Créole French or Louisiana Creole French. It was used in some circumstances by slaves, planters and free people of color alike. It is still spoken today in central Louisiana. Créole French is not spoken in New Orleans any more, but certain words and phrases are still used. Creole people and culture are distinct from the Cajun people and culture, who are related to French-speaking immigrants resettled by the British from Acadia in Canada to Louisiana in the 18th century.
As in the French or Spanish Caribbean and Latin American colonies, the Louisiana territory developed a mixed-race class, of whom there were numerous free people of color (gens de couleur libres). In the early days they were descended mostly from European men and enslaved or free black or mixed-race women. French men took African women as mistresses or common-law wives, and sometimes married them. Later, wealthy young white Creole men often took mixed-race women as mistresses or consorts before, or in addition to, their legal marriages, in a system known as plaçage. The young women's mothers often negotiated a form of dowry or property settlement to protect them. The men would often transfer social capital to their mistresses and children, including freedom for those who were enslaved, and education, the latter especially for sons.
As a group, the mixed-race Créoles rapidly began to acquire education, skills (many in New Orleans worked as craftsmen and artisans), businesses and property. They were overwhelmingly Catholic, spoke Colonial French (although some also spoke Louisiana Creole French), and kept up many French social customs, modified by other parts of their ancestry and Louisiana culture. The free people of color married among themselves to maintain their class and social culture. The French-speaking mixed-race population came to be called "Créoles of color". "New Orleans persons of color were far wealthier, more secure, and more established than blacks elsewhere in Louisiana."
Under the French and Spanish rulers, Louisiana developed a three-tiered society, similar to that of Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, St.Lucia, Mexico, and other Latin colonies. This three-tiered society included a wealthy and educated group of mixed-race Créoles. Their identity as free people of color, or Gens de couleur libres or personnes de couleur libre was one they had worked diligently towards and guarded carefully. By law they enjoyed most of the same rights and privileges as whites. They could and often did challenge the law in court and won cases against whites (Hirsch; Brasseaux; Mills; Kein etc.). They were property owners and created schools for their children. There were some free blacks in Louisiana, but most free people of color were of mixed race, descended initially from male planters and wealthier merchants and their African or mixed-race mistresses. They acquired education, property and power within the colony, and later, state.
After the Civil War, mixed-race Creoles of Color resisted American attempts to impose a binary culture splitting the population into black and white. While the American Civil War promised rights and opportunities for the enslaved, it caused anxiety for the free persons of color. They well knew the United States did not legally recognize a three-tiered society, and were threatened by the war and prospects of emancipation for thousands of slaves. It posed a considerable threat to the identity and position of the free people of color. Following the Union victory in the Civil War, the Louisiana three-tiered society was gradually overrun by more European-Americans, who tried to classify everyone by the rest of the South's binary division of "black" and "white".
However, prominent Creole scholars such as Charles Gayarre and Alcee Fortier, began to assert that the word creole referred exclusively to people of European descent:
Creole became further suppressed after Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which legally dismantled the free colored class. The term Creole was subsequently claimed by whites to apply exclusively to a class of people who were pure, white, and unblemished by a dash of the tar brush. Some of the same white writers who had collected the Creole folk material spearheaded the publication of numerous articles, statements, speeches, book inserts, and the like to claim the new definition of Creole as exclusively Caucasian. According to Virginia Dominguez, "Charles Gayarre ... and Alcee Fortier ... led the unspoken though desperate defense of the Creole. As bright as these men clearly were, they still became engulfed in the reclassification process intent on salvaging white Creole status. Their speeches consequently read more like sympathetic eulogies than historical analysis." George Washington Cable was one writer who instigated much of the wrath of these newly defined Creoles. With his penchant for the Creole language, his careful research, his attention to the slave songs, and his novels, especially The Grandissimes, he exposed their preoccupation with covering up their bloodlines and in particular their blood connection with the free people of color and slaves. "There was a veritable explosion of defenses of Creole ancestry. The more novelist George Washington Cable engaged his characters in family feuds over inheritance, embroiled them in sexual unions with blacks and mulattoes, and made them seem particularly defensive about their presumably pure Caucasian ancestry, the more vociferously the white Creoles responded, insisting on purity of white ancestry as a requirement for identification as Creole."