Caty Louette, the Most Powerful Female Slave Trader in Senegal’s Gorée Island in the 1800s
Caty Louette, was one of the most powerful female trader on Goree Island, a tiny, island off the coast of Dakar, in Senegal known for its role in the 15th- to 19th-century Atlantic slave trade and as the location of the House of Slaves. She was a love child between an African woman and a Frenchman Nicolas Louet, an official of the French East India Company.
Children from the kind of relationship that bore Caty Louette were known as mulattos and were treated better than pure Africans. These Mulattos, were not sold into slavery and unlike black Africans they were allowed access to education.
These mulatto women were known as Signares and they enjoyed a higher social status in Gorée island and the city of Saint-Louis in French Senegal during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Many signares were often married by European men (mostly slave traders) because they were considered especially beautiful. Once married, the signares often helped them handle many of their trading affairs and transactions, by doing this, they themselves managed to gain some individual assets, status, and power in the hierarchies of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Signare was the name for the Mulatto French-African women of the island of Gorée
Caty Louette was a Signare and like other Signares, her wealth and power were mostly within the confines of slavery.
Caty who was one of the most successful and prominent profiles in the slave trade of Gorée was the signare-consort of the Frenchman Pierre Aussenac de Carcassone, who coincidentally was also an official of the French East India Company just like her father.
Caty who could read and write, which was at the time not common, was described as the richest and for some time the biggest slave owner in Gorée island.
Caty Louette, signare de Aussenac de Carcassone, was so successful that in 1756, she commissioned her own personal house, the Maison de Caty Louette.
In 1767, she owned over 50 slaves in a community where most Signares sold slaves rather than keeping them for their personal use.
Typically, when signares became too powerful, western leaders sought ways to remove the women from their wealth by accusing the women of crimes against the state or crimes against Christianity. But for some reason they never went after Caty Louette despite her power and influence.
Caty died sometime around 1776 – 1785, her two daughters Angelique and helene aussenac both inherited her properties including her grand European stone house.
Maison de Cathy Louette was later bought by the Order of Malta which set up its headquarters there.
The house was completely renovated in 1991 and fitted out as a dispensary-maternity home by the Order of Malta and Italy, and was renamed The Medical and Social Center of the Sovereign Order of Malta.
The house is currently a maternity clinic and has been under the care of the Daughters of the Holy Heart Mary Roman Catholic religious institute since April 29, 1992, the date of its inauguration.