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They often achieved education and some measure of wealth; they spoke French and practiced Catholicism, although they also developed a syncretic Christianity.

At one time the center of their residential community in New Orleans was the French Quarter.

Some historians suggest that free people of color made New Orleans the cradle of the civil rights movement in the United States, due to the earliest efforts of Louisiana Creoles to integrate the military en masse. Free men of color had been members of the militia for decades during both Spanish and French rule of the colony of Louisiana. administration in New Orleans under Governor Claiborne was faced with a dilemma previously unknown in the United States, the integration of the military by incorporating entire units of established "colored" militia.

They volunteered their services and pledged their loyalty to Claiborne and to their newly adopted country. See, e.g., the 20 February 1804 letter to Claiborne from Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, which states that "it would be prudent not to increase the Corps, but to diminish, if it could be done without giving offense." A decade later during the War of 1812, the militia of free men of color volunteered to defend their city and country at the Battle of New Orleans, when the British began landing troops on American soil outside the city in December 1814.

The free people of color developed formal arrangements for placées, which the young women's mothers negotiated.

Under the system of plaçage, often the mothers negotiated a kind of dowry or property transfer to their daughters, including freedom for them and their children, and education for the children.

Freed African slaves were included in the term affranchis, but historically they were considered as distinct from the free people of color.

The term was especially used in the French colonies, including La Louisiane and settlements on Caribbean islands, such as Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Guadeloupe, and Martinique.Masters might free their slaves for a variety of reasons, but the most common was family relationship between master and slave.