Image from 1899 book about Spanish-American War

Quadroon, and the associated words octoroon and quintroon are terms that, historically, were applied to define the ancestry of people of mixed-race, generally of African and Caucasian ancestry, but also, within Australia, to those of Aboriginal and Caucasian ancestry. The terms were used in law and government to provide a precise code of discrimination and the determination of rights. The use of such terminology is a characteristic of hypodescent, which is the practice within a society of assigning children of mixed union to the ethnic group which is perceived by the dominant group within the society as being "subordinate". [1] The racial designations refer specifically to the number of full-blooded African ancestors, emphasizing the quantitative least, with quadroon signifying that a person has one-quarter black ancestry, etc.



The word "quadroon" was borrowed from the Spanish cuarterón which has its roots in the Latin quartus, which means "fourth". The word octoroon is based on quadroon, and rooted in the Latin octo, which means "eight".

The term quadroon was used to designate a person of one-quarter African/Aboriginal ancestry, that is one biracial parent (African/Aboriginal and Caucasian) and one Caucasian parent; in other words, one African/Aboriginal grandparent and three Caucasian grandparents.[2]

The term mulatto was used to designate a person who was biracial, with one black parent and one white parent.[2]

The term octoroon referred to a person with one-eighth African ancestry;[3] that is, someone with family heritage of one biracial grandparent, in other words, one African great-grandparent and seven Caucasian great-grandparents. As with the use of "quadroon", this word was applied to a limited extent in Australia for those of one-eighth Aboriginal ancestry, in the putting in place of government assimilation policies.

Terceron was a term synonymous with "octoroon," derived from being three generations of descent from an African ancestor (great-grandparent).[4] The term mustee was also used to refer to a person with one-eighth African ancestry with mustefino refers to a person with one-sixteenth African ancestry.[2] The terms "quintroon" or "hexadecaroon" were also applied.

The term griffe or sambo has been used for someone of three-quarters African heritage, or the child of a biracial parent and a fully black parent. [2]

In literature

The figure of the "tragic octoroon" was a stock character of abolitionist literature: a light-brown-skinned woman raised as if a white woman in her father's household, until his bankruptcy or death has her reduced to a menial position[5] She may even be unaware of her status before being reduced to victimization.[6] The first character of this type was the heroine of Lydia Maria Child's "The Quadroons".[6] This character allowed abolitionists to draw attention to the sexual exploitation in slavery, and unlike the suffering of the field hands, did not allow slaveholders to retort that the sufferings of Northern mill hands were no easier, since the Northern mill owner would not sell his own children into slavery.[7]

Mulattos, as with abducted white people, were often used to arouse sentiments against slavery by showing Northerners slaves who were visually indistinguishable from them.[8]

  • In The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, the major character Cora Munro is a quadroon
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1842 poem "The Quadroon Girl" has a planter, tempted by the slaver's gold, selling his quadroon daughter to a slaver to be his paramour.
  • Walt Whitman's 1855 poem "Song of Myself" refers to a "quadroon girl" who is sold at a slave auction.
  • The Quadroon – a novel by Thomas Mayne Reid, written in 1856.
  • The Octoroon, a play by Dion Boucicault adapted from Reid's The Quadroon, was first performed at New York City’s Winter Garden on December 12, 1859. The play describes the turmoil that is brought upon Zoe, the octoroon, as her dreams are torn away due to the discovery of an African lineage.
  • In The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Pontellier's nurse is described as a quadroon.
  • In The Désirée's Baby by Kate Chopin, the baby was quadroon.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe published in 1852, described Eliza and her son Harry as quadroons. Harry's father was described as a mulatto.
  • In Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, one of Jo's boys at Plumfield is described as a merry little quadroon.
  • In William Faulkner's novel "Absalom, Absalom", Charles Bon has a son by his octoroon mistress.
  • In Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Florentino Ariza's mother Transito is described as a "freed quadroon".
  • Anne Rice's novel The Feast of All Saints features the gens de couleur libres, which is the Creole French term for "free people of color" such as quadroons, octoroons and other mulattos. Her novel The Mayfair Witches also talks of mulatto and quadroon people in late 19th century, early 20th century New Orleans.
  • The book The Turner Diaries makes mention of forced relocation for Quadroons and Octoroons after whites prevail in a race war against "The System", a minority-controlled government.
  • In The Island Beneath the Sea, a novel by Isabel Allende, the main character's daughter, Rosette, is a quadroon. Her mother is a freed mulatta slave and her father is a white French man.
  • In the book Passion and Proud Hearts, a novel by Lydia Lancaster, a personal servant named Rebecca is describes as being an octaroon, the daughter of a wealthy white man and a freed quadroon mistress.
  • In the book Zorro, a novel by Isabel Allende, the fictional hero Diego De La Vega repeatedly admires the quadroons of New Orleans, while a captive of the privateer Jean Lafitte.
  • The titular character of James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a quadroon or octaroon who can pass for white.

In popular culture

  • In FX (TV network)'s animated series Archer (TV series), Agent Sterling Archer mentions referring to Agent Lana Kane as a quadroon. This is after she got upset at him calling her 'black...ish'.
  • In Randy Newman's song "New Orleans Wins The War" his mother points out an octoroon.
  • In the Everybody Hates Chris episode Everybody Hates Cutting School, when a ticket booth operator asked why Greg wasn't in school on a black holiday, he replies he is an octoroon.
  • In a skit on the third season episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Madeline Kahn, when John Belushi is confronted by black men after previously claiming to be a "brother," he states he is an octoroon.
  • In an episode of "Stella" Season 1, Episode 7 "Camping", Michael Ian Black points out to David Wain that he is not white, but "quite obviously" an octoroon.
  • The Firesign Theater's Everything You Know Is Wrong includes a recording of a stage play about how the South won the Civil War, with repartee between a Southern belle and her former slave Uncle Tom, who introduces himself as Uncle Field Marshall Thomas Legree Quadroon.
  • Harry Warren's song "Octoroon" where in Jack Teagarden's version "Octoroon is singin' the blues". Also performed by Artie Shaw.
  • In The World According to Garp by John Irving, Garp's editor's cleaner and greatest predictor of literary success is an octoroon.

See also


  1. ^ Kottak, Conrad Phillip. "Chapter 11: Ethnicity and Race." Mirror for Humanity a Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 238. Print.
  2. ^ a b c d Carter G. Woodson and Charles H. Wesley, The Story of the Negro Retold, (Wildside Press, LLC, 2008), p. 44: The mulatto was the offspring of a white and a black person; the sambo of a mulatto and a black. From the mulatto and a white came the quadroon and from the quadroon and a white the mustee. The child of a mustee and a white person was called the mustefino.
  3. ^ Princeton University WordNet Search: octoroon
  4. ^ Wikisource: from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Octoroon
  5. ^ Ariela J. Gross, What Blood Won't Tell: A History of Race on Trail in America, p 61 ISBN 978-0-674-03130-2
  6. ^ a b Kathy Davis. "Headnote to Lydia Maria Child's 'The Quadroons' and 'Slavery's Pleasant Homes'.]"
  7. ^ Werner Sollors, Interracialism p 285 ISBN 0195128567
  8. ^ Lawrence R. Tenzer, "White Slaves"

External links

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Octoroon". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Quadroon — Quad*roon , n. [F. quarteron, or Sp. cuarteron. See {Quarter} a fourth part, and cf. {Quarteron}.] The offspring of a mulatto and a white person; a person quarter blooded. [Written also {quarteron}, {quarteroon}, and {quateron}.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • quadroon — (n.) 1707, offspring of a white and a mulatto, from Sp. cuarteron (used chiefly of the offspring of a European and a mestizo), from cuarto fourth, from L. quartus (see QUART (Cf. quart)), so called because he or she has one quarter African blood …   Etymology dictionary

  • quadroon — [kwä dro͞on′] n. [Sp cuarterón < cuarto, a fourth < L quartus: see QUART1] a person who has one black grandparent; child of a mulatto and a white …   English World dictionary

  • quadroon — See mulatto. See mulatto, quadroon, octoroon …   Dictionary of problem words and expressions

  • quadroon — noun Etymology: modification of Spanish cuarterón, from cuarto fourth, from Latin quartus more at quart Date: 1707 a person of one quarter black ancestry …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • quadroon — /kwo droohn /, n. a person having one fourth black ancestry; the offspring of a mulatto and a white. [1640 50; alter. of Sp cuarterón, deriv. of cuarto FOURTH < L quartus; see OON] * * * …   Universalium

  • quadroon — Synonyms and related words: Cape Colored, Eurasian, cattalo, citrange, cross, crossbreed, griffe, half blood, half bred, half breed, half caste, high yellow, hinny, hybrid, ladino, liger, mestee, mestiza, mestizo, metis, metisse, mixblood, mixed… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • QUADROON —    the name given to a person quarter blooded, in particular the offspring of a mulatto and a white person …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • quadroon — kwÉ‘ druːn /kwÉ’ d n. person of mixed white and mulatto blood, person with one black grandparent …   English contemporary dictionary

  • quadroon — [kwɒ dru:n] noun a person whose parents are a mulatto and a white person and who is therefore one quarter black by descent. Origin C18: via Fr. from Sp. cuarterón, from cuarto quarter ; later assimilated to words beginning with quadri …   English new terms dictionary

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