The pact started off as a campaign by the Natchez Indians in the 1720s to fight off the invasion of their lands by the French who sought to develop tobacco plantations. The Indians engaged the enslaved Africans on the plantation to assist them to wage war against the invaders and in return, they will help them to attain their freedom.
They courted the support of many of the enslaved Africans and with 176 Indian warriors launched an attack on the French. They failed in their revolt because one of the sailors of the West Indies Company overheard their plot and exposed them to the slaveholders. The French crushed the revolt and beheaded the enslaved Africans, placing their remains on pikes to serve as a caution to anyone who will help the Indians, according to African American Registry.
For two years, the French maintained control of the enclave with no attempts by the slaves to stage a revolt. They relaxed the laws on the plantation to allow the enslaved Africans to gather and make merry, as captured in the archives of 1732. It was during the period people of African descent in New Orleans as well as free borns were allowed some time off during weekends to earn income from their skills.
They had built some considerable trust in the eyes of the French with some enslaved Africans joining French forces to defend their fort in the event of an attack from the Indians. In 1736, their unit joined Governor Beinville to fight the English and their Indian allies in the Chickasaw War. This established the trust earned by the enslaved Africans, leading to them being given a space in 1744 by the Spanish authorities known as ‘place de negroes’ which later became known as Congo Square.
The square became their place of freedom as they transacted business, produced goods and engaged each other. They also made merry by singing and dancing at the square as enslaved Africans from all walks of the plantation thronged there.
Despite these freedoms and recognition, the enslaved Africans never forgot about their pact with the Indians. They hatched new plans and the square became their meeting point to plot their strategy. They secretly relied on the Indians within this period to find their way around the swamps when they escaped. They built a relationship with them, leading to the setting up of the Underground Railroad to the maroon camps.
In appreciation of this, the enslaved Africans began dressing as Indians and started celebrating the Mardi Gras in its unique way. Those who built networks with the Indians referred to themselves as Black Indians and when the moment was rife, escaped through the swamps.
The celebration of Mardi Gras took on a full-scale dimension in 1771 with people of African descent dressing with the Indians to celebrate the customary parade. The involvement of the enslaved Africans in the parade alarmed the authorities who observed the mass escape of the slaves through the wearing of feathers and masks and their presence at balls.
The Spanish authority in Cabildo, for instance, barred people of African descent from wearing these costumes, leaving the Africans with no alternative but to wear their masks and feathers only to the Congo Square. A group of free men decided that the black community needed a social net so they proceeded to form the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association for insurance and social aid to Blacks in 1783.
They organized carnivals and walking clubs for blacks up until a plot of slave revolt from the free men was uncovered. In 1795, 23 plotters were hanged by the Spanish administration. But, later in the 19th century, the parade was given a boost in New Orleans as both Indians and Africans recognized the event as their pact to work together against racial segregation in a system where they were seen as outcasts.
This content was originally published here.