Monday, March 19, 2012

A Creole Plantation

I don't know if it was the colors of Laura Plantation (Vacherie, LA) or its identity as a Creole Plantation or its cabins where the tales of Compair Lapin, a slave known as "Br'er Rabbit," were recorded that was the basis for our decision to visit Laura, but it was a wise decision.

Whatever the
reason(s), we eagerly awaited the start of the tour. As we paced around the Gift Shop/Ticket Office, we were caught up with the colors. It wasn't until the plantation was being restored that it became apparent that these colors had been hidden under two coats of white paint (whitewash).

The act of whitewashing the home and other buildings was an example of just one of the ways that the Creole traditions were forced to give way to Anglo customs.

"(Creole is the non-Anglo culture and lifestyle that flourished in Louisiana before it became the USA in 1803. It was an adapted, self-contained way of life that was created out of the blending of three very different ethnic influences: The West European, the West African, and with significant input from the Native American.
Creole was a class system, based on family ties, position, wealth, and connection. It was more elitist than it was democratic" [].)

It was 1805 when Laura was completed.
"The work was executed by highly-skilled slaves, probably of Senegalese descent, in pre-fabricated methods, typical of early Louisiana vernacular structures. This 'maison principale' was raised high above ground, resting on blue-gray glazed brick columns and walls, supported underground by an 8-foot deep pyramidal brick foundation. The cypress superstructure was inlaid with locally fired brick (briquette-entre-pĂ´teau), plastered inside and stuccoed outside, with a brightly painted (red, ochre, green and pearl) exterior.

(Note: the canoe in the photo [above] and the pottery and wine bottles [right] are found in the ground floor [or basement].)

"This U-shaped structure totaled approx. 24,000 sq. ft. and had a 2,500 sq. ft. detached kitchen to its rear. (Note: the space in front of the two buildings is the space occupied by the kitchen. Two wings extended from the rear of the home on either side of the brick sidewalk shown in the photo (below). These formed the arms of the U.)

"In 1808, the l'habitation consisted of 10 sizable buildings, including quarters for 17 slaves, a barn, warehouses and a small, rudimentary sugar mill" (

The age of the plantation is reflected in the outbuildings (below), and part of me hopes that they remain just as they are.

"At its largest size, the plantation was approxi-mately 12,000 acres, which included properties amassed over time.

"From the first generations of colonial rule, Creole life in Louisiana exhibited a unique, characteristic thread: the understanding that the family operated as a business and that the business was family.

"Laura (the plantation's namesake) was the 4th President of Laura Plantation. She was born in the house in 1861, inherited it, and ran the plantation as a sugar business until she sold it in 1891. She died in 1963 in St. Louis.

The room here was the "prep room," i.e., food was brought from the outside kitchen and then prepared in this room for serving to the family and guests. The walls were left unrestored to show the original construction.

This photo shows the dining room.

An infant's bed is shown here.

The tour concluded in one of the slave cabins where sugarcane workers lived until 1977, and where the ancient west-African folktales of Compair Lapin, better known as the legendary rascal, Br'er Rabbit, were recorded.

Slave cabins were required to be 16' x 16' for a family of five. The one shown here was built after the Civil War, since it has a fireplace for the preparation of meals by the family living here.

Our guide, Bryan Dupree, presented the information in a conversational manner which made it informative, educational, and a sincere introduction to the family members. The tour is based upon 5,000 pages of documents related to this plantation discovered in the Archives Nationales in Paris, with the major stories coming from Laura's book, Memories of the Old Plantation Home.

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