Name: Donato Bello 1 2
Birth: 1732 in CORAND, NAPLES, ITALY
Death: 20 DEC 1787 in OPELOUSAS, ST. LANDRY PARISH, LOUISIANA 3
Reference Number: 12416
Name: Donato Bello
Source Publication Code: 1974.10
Primary Immigrant: Bello, Donato
Annotation: Date and place of census or date and place of settlement. Place of
origin, ethnicity, religion, occupation, military rank, and other family data may
also be provided. Other historical information is also provided.
Source Bibliography: FELDMAN, LAWRENCE H. Anglo-Americans in Spanish
Archives, Lists of Anglo-American Settlers in the Spanish Colonies of America,
A Finding Aid. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1991. 349p.
Spanish HQ for Police and Admin. was Ft. Mobile in the Alabama indian
Territory. D.Bello`s Spanish troops were stationed in Nacadotches,TX.,
Opelousas, New Iberia, New orleans, and Mobile.
The Bello / Moreau familys owned large plantations in Alabama, Chatainer,
LA. New Orleans, & Mississippi river low lands.
The Donato House (c. 1825) is a single story, medium to large,
French Creole plantation house with Federal details. The once totally rural
landscape surrounding it has been encroached upon by the northward
expansion of Opelousas. However, the immediate setting is rural and remote
because the house is set back about a quarter of a mile from the highway
(Louisiana 182). Mature live oaks are disposed informally about the property.
Despite a c. 1900 side wing and a few other changes, the house’s original
French Creole character is quite strong.
The Donato House consists of a single range of four rooms with a
front gallery and rear cabinet-loggia range – all set under a pronounced hip roof
with a slight French kick at the eave. There were never side galleries. The
heavy brick-between-post structure is raised approximately three feet above
grade on brick piers. (The use of brick as an in-fill material in rural Creole
structures is not as common as bousillage.) The floor plan is anchored by an
almost square salle with a single narrow and deep room to the west and two
narrow deep rooms to the east. Exposed beaded beams run from front to rear
n the ancillary narrow and deep rooms and from side to side in the sale. The
door to the salle is in the center of the façade, with other openings spaced more
or less regularly on either side.
Thus despite the house’s irregular Creole floor plan, its façade
achieves a semblance of symmetry and regularity, which may be seen as
evidence of the American Federal taste. This may also be seen in the front
gallery columns, which are spaced more closely in the middle to emphasize
the center and register the entrance. Federal stylistic features include the
compressed elliptical arches between the gallery columns and the delicately
molded column capitals. As with other Creole houses, the front gallery is
plastered and fitted with a chair rail as though it were an interior room. The
chair rail also forms the window sill for the gallery’s window openings. The
windows are surmounted with transoms, which is unusual in nineteenth century
Louisiana residences. Another prominent feature (one generally associated
with the Acadian subtype of French Creole architecture) is the pronounced
exterior staircase, set against the façade, that ascends to the unfinished attic.
The easternmost room extends forward so that its front wall is flush with the
outside of the staircase. The gallery retains its exposed beam ceiling and
approximately half of its original balustrade.
The plastered interior features some of its original four-panel doors. Most
window and door surrounds feature a delicate molding typical of the 1820s.
Some surrounds are of plain boards. There never was an interior chair rail; thus,
in this respect, the gallery was more richly adorned than the interiors. There was
always only one chimney in the house – set between the salle and the narrow
westernmost room. In the salle, the chimney features a delicate aedicule style
box mantel with pilasters surmounted by entablature blocks and twin vertical
panels on each side. There is no over-mantel, but the plastered chimney breast
is marked by a broad cornice at the ceiling formed of built-up planks.
The original mantel that would have been on the other side of the firebox, in the
westernmost room, is gone due to a c. 1900 remodeling and enlargement. At that
time, the westernmost room was extended to the side to create a “Victorian” parlor.
This side addition culminates in a two-story Queen Anne polygonal bay set under
a faceted roof that connected with the old Creole hip roof. (The upper story of this
addition is a dummy crawl space that connects with the old unfinished attic.) As
part of the remodeling a new Colonial Revival mantel/over-mantel set was
installed featuring free-standing columns and a mirror.
The baseboards in the salle match those in the new “Victorian” parlor. (The
easternmost rooms have simpler baseboards typical of an early nineteenth
century house.) The evidence is inconclusive on the date of the front gallery
enclosure on the western side (communicating with the “Victorian” parlor). While
its baseboard matches that found in the c. 1900 parlor, its double window
opening points quite strongly to the 1910s and 1920s. The staff of the Division
of Historic Preservation has never seen a double window opening in a
Louisiana house of c. 1900. Instead, such a fenestration pattern is a signature
of the bungalow era of the 1910s and 1920s.
The once open loggia at the center of the rear elevation was enclosed at
some time. There is not enough architectural evidence to be certain of the date.
The loggia also has the same baseboards as the “Victorian” parlor, but this
alone is not a conclusive clue. Probably sometime after the loggia enclosure,
the western cabinet was converted to a bathroom. This change involved
installing new small windows which, in turn, necessitated replacing the
clapboards. These new clapboards are somewhat narrower than the original.
The eastern cabinet has been converted for a kitchen. Finally, most of the
present window sashes date form the early twentieth century.
Despite these admittedly noteworthy alterations, the house still easily
retains the bulk of its original French Creole character, including most of its
characteristic hall-less Creole floor plan, its hip roof-over-gallery massing,
its brick-between-post construction, its French wraparound mantel, most of its
distinctive shallow arch colonnade, its exposed beam ceilings (interior and
front gallery) and its attic staircase. In short, the Donato House is still easily
recognizable as a substantial rural Creole residence built near the end of the
first third of the nineteenth century.
The present owner plans to remove the front gallery enclosure as part of an
overall rehabilitation project using the Register’s 20 percent tax credit.
SIGNIFICANT DATES: c. 1835
c. 1835 - 1860
CRITERION: A & C
The Donato House is of local architectural significance under Criterion C
as an important and Rare surviving French Creole house within St. Landry
Parish. It is locally significant under Criterion A in the area of ethnic heritage
because it embodies the economic attainment of an important ethnic group in
antebellum St. Landry – the gens de couleur libres, or free people of color.
Specifically it was home to the Donato family, the most prosperous free
people of color family in the parish. The period of significance under ethnic
heritage begins c. 1825, when the house was built, presumably for patriarch
Martin Donato (see below). Martin’s son Auguste Donato inherited the
property upon his father’s death January 1, 1848. He remained prosperous
through the 1860 census, but had lost almost everything by 1870. Because
the house represents the economic attainment of the Donatos (as free
people of color), the period of significance for ethnic heritage ends in 1860.
The region where the Donato House is located is one of Louisiana’s
earliest settled areas. The parish of St. Landry was one of the state’s original
parishes, having been established in 1807. And, like the rest of southern
Louisiana, St. Landry was settled by the French. French Creoles houses
would have been the norm from the colonial period through roughly the 1830s
and 1840s. In the later years of this period, the tradition was being influenced
and in some cases supplanted by the American Greek Revival.
Given the foregoing, it is clear that St. Landry Parish would have been a
showcase of French Creole architecture, with examples numbering in the
hundreds. And while St. Landry today is known for a handful of French Creole
landmarks, the actual number of buildings remaining to represent this native
tradition is rather small, when one considers the number that once existed.
As is typical in the state, the vast majority of St. Landry’s historic buildings
date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A partial survey
combined with Louisiana SHPO staff knowledge reveals that there are
probably less than 20 to 25 French Creole houses remaining in St. Landry.
(This number does not include seriously altered examples or late nineteenth
century cottages that have an overall Creole shape and maybe a detail or
two.) These buildings collectively represent the parish’s most important
architectural patrimony. The Donato house makes an important contribution
to this identity with its abundance of French Creole features, including the
signature hip roof, hall-less floor plan, brick-between-posts infill, exposed
beam ceilings (interior and gallery), and elegant French wraparound mantel.
The mantelpiece, along with the chair rail on the façade and the elliptical
arches between the columns, make it a particularly refined French Creole
house within St. Landry.
Antebellum Louisiana is well known among historians for its extraordinary
population of free blacks. Because they typically were of mixed race, free
blacks in Louisiana are generally referred to as free people of color, or in the
French of the day, gens de couleur libres. People of mixed race are also
called Creoles of Color, which is sometimes shortened to simply Creole.
However, the word Creole without a modifier can mean many things.) These
terms remain in use today.
Louisiana was distinguished by its large number of free people of color,
the economic prosperity of a significant percent, and the broad legal rights
they enjoyed. Typically the product of a French man and a woman of color,
they spoke French, had French surnames, and were Roman Catholic. On
the whole, they identified more with the white elite than enslaved people.
While a significant majority of Louisiana’s free people of color lived in New
Orleans, certain rural parishes had important concentrations as well. The four
with the highest and most notable were St. Landry, Natchitoches, Pointe
Coupee, and St. Martin.
Louisiana’s large population of free people of color can be traced to the
Liberal emancipation policies in the French and Spanish colonial periods.
Extramarital relations between whites and blacks. The just referenced
policies of the French and Spanish colonial periods enabled white owners to
free their enslaved mistresses and the children they had together.
Natural increase (from both legal unions of free people of color and
extramarital relations between white males and free women of color).
A great influx of mixed race free blacks to New Orleans after the slave
revolution in Santo Domingo in the 1790s.
Although free people of color were in no way considered equal to whites,
they enjoyed many of the same legal rights. Most notably, they could own
property, make wills, make contracts, sue whites, and testify in court (even
New Orleans’ free people or color were among the nation’s most well off.
While most were middle class, some were quite wealthy. A few had homes
and/or business interests in Paris as well as New Orleans. Many made their
money buying and selling real estate or worked in the skilled professions
(building trades, dressmakers, shoemakers, etc.)
The vast majority of rural free people of color were small farmers of modest
means or landless farm laborers. However, some became wealthy planters.
In fact, Louisiana easily had the largest number of black planters in the South.
The best known are the Metoyers of Cane River, who were at one time the
wealthiest black family group in the United States. The descendants of an
enslaved woman named Marie Thereze Coincoin and the Frenchman Pierre
Claude Metoyer, they created a dynasty with Melrose Plantation as its seat.
Family members collectively owned 287 slaves in 1830s.
Chief among St. Landry’s “first families” of free people of color were the
Donatos and Lemelles (the Metoyers, so-to-speak, of St. Landry). Other
prominent names include Simien, Meullion and Guillory. As was typical,
prominent free people of color lived in a fairly closed society. They generally
had many children and tended to marry each other (a Donato marrying a
Lemelle for example). A common practice (and one not confined to St. Landry)
was marriage between first cousins.
The patriarch of the Donato clan was Martin Donato. At least one local
historian considers Donato to be the patriarch (using the term more loosely)
of the entire gens de couleur libres population in the Opelousas area. The
known facts warrant such a claim. Born c. 1770 in what is now St. Landry
Parish, he was the son of Donato Bello, an Italian or Spanish militia officer
(sources differ), and Marie Jeanne Talliaferro, a New Orleans-born free mulatto.
In 1803, Donato (a quadroon) married Marianne Duchesne, a mulatto with
whom he had co-habited for some time. At the time of their marriage contract
the couple already had six children. Together they owned property totaling
$20,390, making them among the wealthiest people in the area. Originally
known as Martin Donato Bello, Martin Donato dropped Bello from his name
sometime in the early nineteenth century. (The name is also spelled Donnato
on occasion. Some of his children are Donate in legal records.)
In the early 1800s Donato landholdings grew considerably, and as his land
under cultivation increased, so did the number of enslaved people he owned.
In 1803, he and his wife owned approximately 2,142 acres and three slaves.
By 1818, Donato owned, 5096 acres worked by forth-nine slaves. At the time
of his death on January 1, 1848, he owned ninety slaves (per his probate
inventory), making him one of the very largest black slaveholders in the
United States. This does not include the twelve slaves he freed in his will.
(One source, with statistics for the year 1830, identifies Donato as the
largest black slaveholder in Louisiana and the third largest in the country.)
His voluminous probate (over 100 pages) valued his estate at $96,620.54.
It is abundantly clear from Donato’s succession that he served as a
private banker for numerous individuals, both people of color and white. The
greater portion of his estate was in cash and collectable notes, the latter
detailed name by name. The appraisers found bank notes, gold and silver in
his bedroom totaling $3,705.70.
Martin Donato fathered two sets of children, at least seven by the woman
who became his wife in 1803, and at least an equal number by an enslaved
mulatto woman he owned named Julie. She and their children are freed in his
September 1847 will, and financial arrangements are made for them. Julie
was 32 and the children ranged in age from 1 to 14. Donato’s wife had died
in1 832. At the time of his death January 1, 1848, Julie was living with him.
(In his will Donato makes reference to the furniture in Julie’s room belonging
The United States Land Office confirmed, in 1811, Martin Donato’s claims
to land north of Opelousas – Section 50, where the candidate is locat4ed, and
three adjacent parcels. But at the time of his 1803 marriage contract, Donato is
known to have resided on property he owned near present-day Leonville (also
in St. Landry). By the time of his death January 1, 1848, he is living in the
candidate. Despite exhaustive research in primary sources, it is impossible
to know when Martin moved from one land holding to another. For the purposes
of this nomination, it is presumed that he had the candidate built circa 1825 and
lived there continually until his death.
In his September 1848 will Martin Donato bequeathed the plantation where
he resided to son Auguste Donato. Auguste (sometimes known as Augustin)
also was a prosperous planter, although not as wealthy as his father.
Nonetheless, he is the most prosperous free person of color in St. Landry in
the 1860 census, with real and personal holdings of $68,600 (including 60
enslaved people). But by 1870, he is worth only $6,000. Auguste died
presumably in 1874; his probate is dated December 10 of that year. The estate
was in debt, and a public auction was held in 1875. Authorities divided
Auguste’s 1137 acres into 45 parcels. None of the land was purchased by
family members (and Donatos were thick on the ground in St. Landry). The
widow Mrs. Edmond Dupre purchased the piece of land where the house is
located as well as various adjacent parcels.
The rise and fall of the Donato fortunes is a microcosm of Louisiana’s
prosperous free people of color. With the Civil War and Reconstruction, they
lost their money and their distinctive status.
Brasseaux, Carl A., Fontenot, Keith P., and Oubre, Claude F. Creoles of Color
in the Bayou Country. University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
Donato, Martin. Probate. Filed July 22, 1848. Number 1339, St. Landry
Donato, Auguste. Probate. Filed December 10, 1874. Number 3766.
St. Landry Parish.
Oubre, Claude and Leonard, Roscoe. “Free and Proud: St. Landry’s Gens
de Couleur.” In Louisiana Tapestry: The Ethnic Weave of St. Landry Parish.
Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1983.
Sterkx, H. E. The Free Negro in Antebellum Louisiana. Fairleigh Dickinson
University Press, 197
Father: Victor Bello
Mother: Marie de LaMaro
Marie Jeanne Taillefer b: 1743
- Martin Donato b: 1756
- Celeste Susanne Donato Bello b: ABT 1764
- Catherine Victorie Donato Bello b: 1770
Suzanne Moreau b: 9 SEP 1746 in FRENCH MOBILE, FORT TOULOUSE, ALABAMA
15 JAN 1765 4 5
Bello, Donato of Corand, Naples; Archdiocese of Naples (Victor & Marie De La Maro) m. 15 Jan. 1765 Suzanne Moreau of Alabama (NO Ch.: v.B, 1764-1774).
- Valerie (Valeri) Bello Donato
- Catherine Jossette Donato Bello b: 1768
- Judith Bello b: 29 JAN 1777
- Don Louis Bello b: 28 SEP 1786
- Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s Record
about Donato Bello.
- MILITARY: DAR PATRIOT INDEX
BELLO, DONATO Ancestor #: A008866 Service: LOUISIANA Rank: PATRIOTIC SERVICE Birth: (CIRCA) 1733 CONRAND NAPLES ITALY Death: 20 Dec 1787 OPELOUSAS LOUISIANA Service Source: CHURCHILL, SPANISH RECS, P. 246 Service Description: 1) GALVEZ, OPELOUSAS MILITIA, MAJOR
1) OPELOUSAS PARISH - LOUISIANA
Spouse Number Name
1) SUSANNE MOREAU.
- Bello, Donato d. 20 Dec. 1787, bur. 13 Dec. 1787. Fr. Joseph de Arazena (Opel. Ch.: v.1, p.4).
- Louisiana Marriages to 1850 Record.
- Bello, Donato of Corand, Naples; Archdiocese of Naples (Victor & Marie De La Maro) m. 15 Jan. 1765 Suzanne Moreau of Alabama (NO Ch.: v.B, 1764-1774).