Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Schmidt, James D.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Unmarried couples--Legal status; laws; etc.--Louisiana--History--19th century


This project provides a needed corrective to the growing body of literature on nineteenth-century families by focusing on a heretofore understudied element of southern society: households in which the male and female partners were not legally married. Sharing bonds of affection, kinship, and loyalty, these families functioned much as did unions with complete legal sanction. In this work the term “natural family” is used because it is more consistent with the language of the laws of Louisiana where this study is set. Those laws incorporated the term “natural” (meaning illegitimate) in legally defining such relationships. Louisiana’s laws provided a degree of community and legal recognition for such families unknown elsewhere in the United States. This unusual legal context generated numerous disputes, lodged primarily in inheritance law, that provide the core sources for this investigation. Through the examination of such disputes, the research illuminates the emotional bonds forged within these families due to their inheritance rights that were derived from the legal concept of forced heirship that forbid the disinheritance of close relatives. Louisiana law considered natural family members to be forced heirs, thus insuring their ability to inherit, even though, by law, not at the same level as fully sanctioned families. As a consequence, natural families entered a legal netherworld in which their unions were recognized by the law that concurrently placed limitations on their inheritance rights. Because of these legal restrictions, some families attempted to subvert those laws through various means, including what were legally termed disguised donations, simulated sales, and persons interposed. Through these actions, natural husbands demonstrated their deep sense of family ties and affection. The resulting legal cases help us better understand the dynamics of these nineteenth-century southern families, as well as their place in their contemporary communities.


Includes bibliographical references (pages 303-325)


vii, 325 pages




Northern Illinois University

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