I have been to many plantations all over the world. I have visited many plantations in the United States. Visiting the two plantations just outside New Orleans was an experience.
The two plantations I visited were Evergreen Plantation and Laura. Both these plantations are open to visitors and the tour groups are kept small so that one can really participate in the tour. Both these plantation are on the great Mississippi River.
Evergreen plantation has over twenty-five slave houses neatly built in a row. Neatly planted are the famous Evergreen Oaks with their hanging Spanish Moss. Most of the slave houses or quarters are being rehabilitated today. We were given the opportunity to enter one and take photographs.
The present owners of Evergreen have done their research well. Adjacent to the slave quarters they have a display board. On this board are the names of all the slaves that lived on Evergreen Plantation and their value. A Blacksmith for example was worth $1500 in those days. One can review the names of all the children born of slave parents but once they reached puberty they were taken away from their parents and lived elsewhere on the plantation. Each slave was assigned a task and they worked Monday through Saturday. Sunday they rested.
I walked alone and felt the presence of the slaves. It is for this reason that I state that I have visited many a plantation but these plantations were different. There are some photographs accompanying this article and these photographs give you some idea of the plantation where the slaves lived.
One must remember that before the Black slaves were brought to the plantation the were the Native Americans. After all, the land belonged to the Native Americans. At first the slave owners tried to force the Native Americans to slave for them. The Native Americans refused. In fact on many plantations the Native Americans preferred to die rather than live in servitude.
Very little is mentioned by the tour guides about the Native Americans. How ever when I asked a few pertinent questions the truth was stated.
A few hundred yards away from where the slaves toiled and lived stood a majestic house. This was the house of the Slave Master. A Creole Slave Master. Creoles were White slave masters. A Creole is one who once lived in Europe and married a white, mostly first generation who was born in Louisiana. Most everyone had a different definition or concept of what it means to be Creole. Today, there are no Creoles most are dead and gone.
The Creoles were famous for their extended family. Their houses were large and they stuck together through good times and bad times. Creoles had French, Spanish, German, Italian, and English blood. Louisiana for a long time was a country independently ruled at various times by the English, Spanish, and French. It has a rich history. Slaves played an important role in the economy of Louisiana.
At one time granulated sugar was much more expensive then gold. It was called white gold. The slaves helped in planting the sugar cane and in the production of sugar. At one time Louisiana boasted as having the most millionaires. They all made their money from the sugar and exporting it to all parts of the world. Cotton too was planted and exported. How ever for a long time sugar ruled the world trade prices. Today, most of us do not even know this simple fact. Only the very rich could afford to use granulated sugar!
Accompanying this article one can view the Master's Mansion. It was big and always facing the Mississippi. The weather is very hot and humid. Since there was no air conditioning most everyone slept in the patio. So, one can witness huge patios built around the house. The huge mansions also had two stairways leading to the house. The men took one and the women the other. It was considered immodest for the men to peek at the women's undergarments as the women walked up the stairs.
Certain slaves were given special treatment. The Blacksmith, the Cook, the guardsmen, those that maintained the huge gardens and walk ways. Those slaves that worked in the Master's Mansion. This divide and rule policy served the Master well. The slaves were not permitted to read or write. Once a slave always a slave.
It was difficult to escape the plantations. Most of the plantations are surrounded by swamps or marsh land. Once a slave always a slave. The conditions on the plantation were horrific. The weather was hot and humid. It is today. The mosquitoes and insects added to the discomfort.
The Laura plantation was yet another Creole plantation. It has been restored and the tour guide at Laura was one of the best tour guides I have heard. His explanation about the history of the times and the Creoles was excellent.
Here again, the mansion built on the Laura plantation was built by builders from Haiti. The plantation owner stated to the builder that he desired a house built for 30 people. Once given this order the master builder designed the house and these builders were slaves. Most everyone thinks that the mansions were built by Europeans that came from the colonies. Each and everyone one of the huge mansions were built by slaves. Most of them from the Caribbean.
In fact some of the designs of the mansions built in Louisiana can be found in West Africa. This history has not been told. The slaves were master craftsmen. They built the best mansions. Even today it is difficult to attain and match their skill. In rehabilitating and fixing some of the historic walls, today's masons, architects, and engineers marvel at the skill of the slaves.
The walls built by the slaves have survived for hundreds of years. This fact is all the more amazing because many of the mansions withstood huge floods and hurricanes. Many a times, modern houses fall prey to the elements but the historic mansions withstand the forces of nature. The slaves were not only mastercrafts men but knew more then most modern architects and engineers of today!
As we enter the year 2000 we must not forget the contribution of the slaves. It is one thing to read about the slaves and hear from historians. It is quiet another experience to visit the sites they lived and tune in to history of the times. I would encourage most of you to visit a plantation with an open mind.
This history of the slaves, the millions made on the backs of slaves in the sugar and cotton plantations, the contribution of the slaves in construction especially the huge mansions, and so on has not been told and written in history books.
The Mississippi is a huge river and a lot has been written about it. The Mississippi played an important role in the Slave Trade and brought on the shores a lot of wealth most of it on the backs of slaves. This is a fact. It is important that we are fully aware of the past so that we can appreciate the present. Look forward to the future and contribute our talents for the benefit of the majority.