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On December 4, 1867, the ninth day of the convention to write a new post-Civil War constitution for the state of Louisiana, delegate Edouard Tinchant rose to propose that the convention should provide “for the legal protection in this State of all women” in their civil rights, “without distinction of race or color, or without reference to their previous condition.” Tinchant’s proposal plunged the convention into additional debates ranging from voting rights and equal protection to recognition of conjugal relationships not formalized by marriage.

This article explores the genesis of Tinchant’s conceptions of citizenship and women’s rights through three generations of his ancestors starting with a woman called Rosalie of the Poulard Nation. This family’s story is a part of a history of vernacular concepts of rights and dignity in the Atlantic world, concepts rooted in the awareness of individual and family vulnerability. The family’s multiple encounters with administrative and legal writings—including manumission papers, baptismal records, wills, and marriage contracts—suggest some of the dynamics of engagement with law they sought to assert and document freedom and to secure its full benefits. Their story also suggests the importance of citizenship to those who had known statelessness in its starkest form, that of enslavement and deportation.