Thirty years ago when I was riding around the US on my Vespa I spent a bit of time in Louisiana and I seem to remember checking out a sugar plantation on a tree covered road. Perhaps my memory is confused with the movie Forest Gump because today the River Road looks like this:
And locals ride All Terrain Vehicles on the Mississippi levees, making a horrendous din.
We were there for a more civilized pursuit, seeking knowledge through History.
And Cheyenne needed a pee.
It was a hundred and one sultry degrees yet the crowds were lining up for their chance to check out what is said to be the best plantation tour in Louisiana.
With a recommendation like that from Lonely Planet I reserved the right to be skeptical but tell you what, Amethyst our guide knew her stuff and brought the story to life. It was fascinating stuff for those that like their History.
The plantation house was at the center of 12,000 acres of sugar and being owned by French speakers it was painted bright colors, as opposed to the white homes preferred by Anglo Protestants.
The live oaks are they say a couple of hundred years old so when the house was being built they would have been saplings, if that. Nowadays they look the part we expect when you say "plantation."
The founder of the plantation, Guillaume Duparc got into a bit of trouble when he killed a neighbor in a duel in his native Burgundy and his father sent him off to Louisiana to redeem himself. He fought in the Revolution and President Jefferson gave him a land grant in Louisiana, where he had been Governor under the Spanish. He married Nanette Prudhomme and started the lineage that would end up with Laura after whom the plantation was named. She died in 1965 in Saint Louis.
Duparc was said to be a nasty violent man but he ran a tight ship among hundreds of plantations that lined the Mississippi, the river that served as the connection with the outside world that served the planters. Each black hash mark on the map marks a Creole Plantation in the 19th century.
There are 15 plantations left and among them the Laura Plantation is said to be among the most complete and we got to see the basement and it's wine racks, bottles imported from France by the tens of thousands for the wine-less colonials.
We heard about Laura's Great Grandmother Nanette who was the first of a long line of women who essentially did what the men couldn't do and ran the operation. Much to Amethyst's delight.
We liked being in the basement where it was dark and cool.
The house was deliciously air conditioned.
The Creoles liked to show off their beds, oddly enough and it was their habit to conduct business first on the porch and then everyone would go indoors and hang out in the bedroom that also combined living room functions.
Apparently this didn't go down well with Anglo Saxon Protestants who were squeamish about seeing Creole women's beds. Cultural clashes were the order of the day even as Louisiana struggled with statehood.
In their French speaking world the lived quite nicely thank you, an idyll interrupted by the arrival of an Anglo majority in the state capital, Baton Rouge. When the dreary Anglo Protestants took over French was banished from public offices in 1916 and the schools started teaching in English.
The beds got moved out of the offices and many mansions were painted white to conform to the English speaking way.
The plantation kitchen still exists out back. When Laura decided to marry a Protestant businessman in Saint Louis by the unfortunate name of Gore she lost her rather pleasant French name of Locoul and became Laura Gore.
She sold the plantation and took off on a steamer to her new life Up North and a bunch of philistines bought the plantation and ran it bas a farm until the 1970s, in the Anglo manner I guess.
This house below is the original in-law unit for the widow of the founder of the plantation.
And this was what it was all about, literally miles of sugarcane. Some of the original slave quarters are still on the property, most recently used as employee(!) housing, no electricity and no running water provided...
Two slave families shared these huts and the were a total of 175 slaves at the plantation's peak.
We dutifully stomped around the plantation sweating while our dog slept blissfully in air conditioned comfort back at the car.
There was a lotto reflect on as we drove the thirty miles back to New Orleans that evening.
It occurred to me that in some ways sugar was the equivalent of nasty modern chemicals. Consider how sugar sucks the nutrients out of the soil and requires ghastly manual labor to harvest, even today Florida imports Jamaicans to do the cutting, and the processing was a business involving more hard work as well. Today Louisiana has lax environmental laws such that chemical companies love to so business the among their impoverished who hunger for jobs. Not exactly slaves ad sugar, but perhaps not too dissimilar in the 21st century.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad