NATCHES, MISSISSIPPI-- Every Friday we team up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you something unique from our city's past. Today, we bring you a tenacious woman who rose to the top and who just happened to be Jewish, Clara de la Motte.
Behind every pretty picture there's a story. One portrait inside the Historic New Orleans Collection is a depiction of one of the most notable woman in the South.
Melinda Blevins, the Visitor Services Interpretive Assistant for the Historic New Orleans Collection says, "Clara de la Motte is fascinating. She is jewish. The number one rule under code noir are no jews allowed. When the Spanish come in 1769, they evict and exile all the jews that are living here."
Facing antisemitism doesn't stop Clara. She moves to Pensacola with the other Jewish peoples and returns within ten years.
She eventually marries a plantation owner named Benjamin Monsanto and moves to Natches, MS.
"By 1794, he comes to visit New Orleans and brings Clara with him and while he's here he dies. At that point she becomes a plantation owner. Under Spanish rule, women could own property, they couldn't under English or American rule," says Blevins.
Clara would become a very wealthy woman. Her wealth and position made her a prime subject for Jose Salizar, a prominent artist who painted every notable person of the age in New Orleans.
Clara's portrait is a depiction of her wealth. Blevins says "bigger lace, more flowers and the jewelry were over the top. To dye a blue dress shows your wealth. Benjamin Monsanto had traded 13 slaves for 3000 pounds of indigo."
Everything about the painting shows her status in being upper echelon with the exception of one frizzy detail
Melinda Blevins says there was simply no helping the hair, saying "Everybody comments on the hair. Why is it so teased up? It's New Orleans and it's the humidity that makes your hair do that!"
Make sure you tune in every week to see what we find from the Historic New Orleans Collection.