One of Laurie’s ‘must do’ items when we went on our trip to Louisiana and New Orleans was to visit a plantation… Seeing as I truly do believe in the phrase, “Happy Wife, Happy Life”, I planned our trip accordingly. As a matter of fact, I doubled down on plantation tours just to be sure that I’d score some extra points.
So we headed up the river road along the Mississippi River to our first destination.
This is “Laura”, a Creole plantation. Guillaume Duparc's sugar farming complex was originally called “l'habitation Duparc”. Years later, it was renamed the Laura Plantation, after Laura Locoul…a 4th generation descendant.
In 1804, Duparc, a French naval veteran of the American Revolution, acquired the property as a grant from Thomas Jefferson for Duparc’s service to the USA during the Revolutionary War. Construction of Duparc's manor house began in 1804 and it was completed 11 months later. It was constructed by highly-skilled slaves, probably of Senegalese descent…using pre-fabricated methods.
This is one of the many beautiful old Oak trees on the property near the main house. In the distance, beyond the fence, you can see the levee protecting the property and surrounding farmland from the busy Mississippi River. Back in the early days, the levee was much lower and you could see the river and its traffic from the veranda of the home. It sits only about 600 feet from the river…
As it was built on the Mississippi River floodplain, the home was raised high above ground, resting on blue-gray glazed brick columns and walls and supported underground with an 8-foot deep pyramidal brick foundation. The cypress superstructure was inlaid with locally fired brick, then plastered inside and stuccoed outside, with a brightly painted (red, ochre, green and pearl) exterior. The original U-shaped structure totaled about 24,000 square feet and there was a large detached kitchen to its rear.
The raised area under the house was utilized for storage of food, wine and other supplies required to operate such a large home.
Duparc built his manor house squarely in the middle of the large Colapissa Indian village that had been on-site for over a century. At Duparc's death in 1808, the plantation consisted of 10 sizable buildings, including quarters for 17 slaves, a barn, warehouses and a small sugar mill. There was a wooden pier on the river which allowed for docking boats of all sizes. A road followed the levée and a fence separated the plantation from travelers. Inside the fence were planted 2 large orchards of pecan trees that parted to create an allée, where one could see the manor house from the river. Even more importantly, the trees would funnel the river's breezes directly into the house.
This was our guide for our tour of the plantation. She was very knowledgeable about both the house and the Duparc/Locoul family. The tour takes a little more than an hour.
Guillaume Duparc lived at the plantation for only 4 years, dying in 1808, just 3 years after the house was built. The Duparc daughter, Elisabeth, married into the Locoul family, and generations later, Laura Locoul Gore inherited the plantation after moving to New Orleans. She was the fourth mistress of the plantation. She was born in the house in 1861 and she inherited it and ran it as a sugar business until 1891. Laura wrote a book entitled “Memories of the Old Plantation Home” and it provides part of the information that the tour is based on…
It was fairly dark in parts of the home and the conflict between outdoor light and the dark interior made photography a challenge…at least for me.
This little office setting reminded me of Laura’s grandmother, Elizabeth Duparc (Locoul). She apparently wasn’t the nicest person…mean to the core!
Most infamously, in 1830, as owner of the plantation she went to New Orleans and bought 30 teenage girls to have them impregnated. Ten years later, she had what she called her "crop of children". She built 65 cabins for their families, 4 of which still stand today.
Factoid: The parents and family of U.S. singer-songwriter Fats Domino ("Blueberry Hill") once lived on the plantation.
Many if not most of the furnishings and decorative items found throughout the house are Duparc/Locoul heirlooms.
Mosquito netting helped assure a good night’s sleep in the delta country of the Mississippi River. It also helped prevent the spread of malaria and other insect borne diseases… It had to be miserable living here in the summer heat with all of the biting critters.
Much of the tour is about the family… Laura didn’t like living at the plantation…preferring all of the action in the Creole French Quarter in New Orleans. The family considered their French Quarter townhouses in New Orleans as home whereas the plantation was where they went to work and the source of income for every family member.
Laura's family would come to the plantation in the spring to get the sugar crop underway and they worked here until around Christmas…and the end of grinding. They frequently traveled back and forth from farm to city for 9 months. However, during January, February and March, the family remained in New Orleans for the “Season”.
Note the crib in this room… It was built so it could be covered with mosquito netting too.
The table is set and dinner will be served shortly… Creole life was all about family!
Everyone in the family was a member of the business, each with his or her own specific and accountable role. With each succeeding generation, Creoles, who already owned most of the valuable real estate in Louisiana, created businesses that encompassed far-flung networks of cousins in related occupations and in politics.
In an aggressive attempt to break the strangle-hold that Creoles held on Louisiana real estate, natural resources as well as the sugar and cotton-based economy, the Americans enforced the already existing laws of forced inheritance upon all citizens. The Anglo intent was to destroy the Creole estates, carving them into ever smaller pieces and making them more available to American buyers. The Creoles solved that challenge by forming family partnerships and corporation-like family enterprises.
To learn more about Creole culture and its way of life, you can go to http://22.214.171.124/general.asp?cID=32.
We all liked that colorful door with the fireplace and decorations on the mantle.
Note: The Brer Rabbit and Br'er Fox tales are variations on traditional stories that originated in Senegal and were brought to America around the 1720s by enslaved Africans. Alcée Fortier, a neighbor of the family and student of folklore, came there in the 1870s to listen to the freedmen. He collected the stories which freedmen told their children in Louisiana Créole French language. These stories were about Compair Lapin and Compair Bouki, (the clever rabbit and stupid fool), in which the rabbit plays a trickster role. Twenty-five years later in 1894, Fortier published stories which he had collected and translated in the edition ‘Louisiana Folk Tales’.
This attractive little sideboard is also in the dining room. Family portraits and photos are found almost everywhere in the house. There also is a plethora of written information about the Duparc-Locoul family if one takes the time to search for it…
This is part of the ‘cellar’ or area underneath the main living quarters. It shows part of the area where the slaves would have labored to maintain this estate.
This is a view of the rear of the plantation house. The plain boards show where the original wings of the house were located.
In 1891, Laura Locoul sold the plantation to the family of Florian Waguespack. They were French-speaking Creoles of Alsatian descent. The Waguespacks continued to farm sugarcane until 1981 when the property was purchased by a consortium of investors who planned to destroy the historic buildings and build a bridge across the Mississippi River at this site.
However, a still-active earthquake fault below the historic site ruined their venture and the land went into receivership until it was sold at auction in 1992 to the St. James Sugar Cooperative. In 1993, the old homestead was acquired by the Laura Plantation Company, a private enterprise, for the purpose of restoring the site and opening it to the public as a Creole cultural attraction.
This is a photo of Laura prior to a devastating electrical fire in 2004. (I borrowed this photo from Wikipedia) The kitchen wing at the left of the photo was destroyed and much of the house was severely damaged. The kitchen wing was not rebuilt… It took 3 years to rebuild and refurbish the main portion of the home and tours resumed in 2007.
This is a view from the back of the plantation house showing some of the slave cabins and an active fire. The smoke and fire are from the burning of the sugar cane fields. Burning eliminates the dry leaves, speeding up the harvest and simplifying the milling process.
At its largest size, Laura Plantation totaled approximately 12,000 acres, which included properties amassed over time. In addition to the original grant, Duparc also acquired adjacent parcels from Acadians who had settled the land 20 years prior. His new farm was located on prime real estate, on unusually high and cleared ground. There are still many acres of sugar cane planted along the river in this area…
This little patch of sugar cane near the outbuildings is I’m sure maintained for the benefit of the tourists. Sugarcane is one of the several species of tall perennial true grasses native to the warm temperate to tropical regions of South Asia, and used for sugar production. They have stout jointed fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar, and they measure from 6 to 19 feet tall. Other than sugar, molasses, rum and ethanol are commonly made from sugar cane. Sugarcane is the world's largest crop by production quantity…
This is one of the slave cabins that still stand on the property. Some of these cabins were lived in until 1977.
In the mid-1800s there was a road behind the main house that was lined on both sides with slave cabins. That road was 3.5 miles long! Each slave cabin held two families and each had a chicken house and/or pigpen and vegetable garden just outside the cabin.
In the decades before the Civil War, the slave quarters consisted of 69 cabins, communal kitchens, a slave infirmary, and several water wells stationed along the road. By the 1850s, the Duparc Plantation was the workplace for 100 mules and 195 humans…175 of them slaves.
This large old home is called "Maison de Reprise". It’s the remains of the ‘retirement home’ built 500 feet away from the "big house". It was built for the first female President of the Duparc Plantation, Laura's Great-Grandmother Nannette Prud'homme Duparc. From what our guide told us, Grandmother Duparc never really retired, staying involved in plantation operations for all of her life…
To learn more about the tours and the Laura Plantation, just go to http://www.lauraplantation.com/.
That’s about it for this tour… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.
Thanks for stopping by to see what we’ve been up to!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave