Cane River Creole National Park – Oakland Plantation

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I took a week off to unplug and to spend time with my family. In addition to camping, we visited the Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

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Reading and watching movies about slavery is one thing, but touring a former slave plantation is a completely different experience. I didn’t get very emotional but what I did feel cannot be put into words. I will say for now that appreciation is my best way of describing it. As the sun lowered and we prepared to leave, I thought about what my ancestors would be doing at that time of the day. I thought about how they’d just be coming in from the fields to prepare for their nightly routines.

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Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton.

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The Prud’hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.

The Overseer’s House

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Overseers were the middlemen of the antebellum South’s plantation hierarchy. Sometimes they were white men working for the slave master and other times they were enslaved men hired to rule over his breathern. In any event, the masters expected them to maintain a workforce of slaves to produce crop. The slaves were the overseer’s responsibility. He was to keep them working by any means necessary. In return, he got to live just a few scraps better than the enslaved, such as occupy his own cabin.

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Close Up: Check Out this Old School Stove!

I also noticed the mud and straw still preserved from the original building of the house.

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Slave Quarters turned Home of Sharecroppers

After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land up until the 1970s. They worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. A tenant farmer is a person who farms rented land, like a sharecropper. The only difference is that Tenant farmers sometimes owned something (a small home, farm tools, a horse or mule) whereas sharecroppers were practically slaves and owned very little to nothing at all.

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Wash House

Martha Ann, an enslaved Laundress, worked in the wash house in the 1850s. In the 1940s, her descendant, Martha Helaire earned $4 an hour working here as a Laundress.

(All we have to do is walk a few steps to the washer and dryer. Can you say gratitude?)

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Bemuda Store

Opened after The Civil War, sharecroppers and tenant farmers continued buying their supplies from family and farming from this store until 1983.

(1983?!)

The Prud’homme family owned and operated the store. They also operated the Post Office located inside.

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Carpenter Shop

Slaves built and repaired plantation structures from this workplace.

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Mule Barn

Smokehouse turned mule barn. Built by the enslaved, they reused the smokehouse to accommodate the mules when the original mule barn burned down.

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Cane Syrup Pot

Used to make cane syrup.

On some plantations, these style pots were also used to punish the enslaved and to boil them alive (as depicted in the movie Mandingo. CLICK HERE to see the clip.)

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The Big House

Porch and perimeter of The Big House, or the Masters House. We could tour everywhere except the house. We were not allowed inside and was not given a reason as to why.

It was something just to look at the trees whose thick branches bowed low. Shading the big house, cooling it from the Louisiana sun and sheltering it from the River breeze, these trees line the walkway to the entrance of the gate and were planted in 1825.

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Strangers Room

I don’t know what the strangers room is (Guest Room?) but it’s a room in the big house. I tried to take pics of the inside from the window. Looks like the original furniture is still preserved.

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Carriage House

The carriage house dates to 1820. In its earlier years, the east bay was used as a horse stall. The overseer had the horse saddled each day and tied to the chain so that it was available for riding and checking the fields.

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Square Corn Crib and Cistern

Built around 1821 of hand hewn cypress logs, the corn crib was used to store grain for the plantation. Rain water was channeled from the crib roof into the cistern, which was 16 ft deep and held 4804 Gallons of water used for watering stock.

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Pigeoneer

There are several Pigeonnier’s on the land. The Prud’hommes harvested young pigeons for a delicacy called “Squab.”

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Chicken Coop

Hubby checking out the Chicken Coop.

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Fattening Pen

Chickens were bred, hatched and fattened in this area. Turkeys were also raised on the land.

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Randoms

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What I carried home with me was an even deeper appreciation for those little things we take for granted every day. I was headed back to the campsite to sleep in a tent, but I knew that eventually I’d be going home to a hot shower and a warm bed. As we packed up to leave the plantation, I considered what it would be like to be forced to stay. What it’s like not to have a home to go back to and nothing more to look forward to tomorrow than the same back breaking work.

I looked at the children as they played and thought about how any of them could be taken away from their parents and sold at any moment. All of this is truths to which I am already familiar. But being there and standing in that spot produced a greater understanding of what it may have been like to live in that time.

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My revelations were not just in relation to the dark history. As I looked around the land, I saw how the enslaved built almost everything on it. It reminded me of how skillful and resourceful we are as a people. From our own shelters, to clothing, food, and shoes, I thought how empowering it would be to get back to building our own.

Often deemed ignorant and illiterate, the truth is that Israelites, so-called Blacks, were not as ignorant as we are taught. It occurred to me that many blacks were only lost when it came to adapting and assimilating into American culture. Otherwise, we were expert farmers, inventors, midwives, carpenters, and chefs. Thus, I left not just in appreciation for the physical things in my life, but for everything my people have endured and the knowledge they’ve passed down to me from generation to generation.


Being that I drafted this post when we got home so it can be ready for you today, I’m going to crawl into this bed and get ready to catch up. A week off for me is like a month so let me get this sleep in now so I can get back to work. In the meantime, I’ll be scrolling your blogs to see what I missed. The grind continues.

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7 thoughts on “Cane River Creole National Park – Oakland Plantation

  1. This is super!! I volunteered here last summer and you did a super job explaining the life here. You may enjoy researching a Blacksmith named Solomon Williams. He produced some functional Art used on the plantation that now resides in the Smithsonian. His lamp over the front door of the house is an example. The other extremely interesting fact can be found by researching the Code Noir. The Catholic Church levied fines against slave owners whose unwed slaves became pregnant. Husbands were not sold away from their families and children were not sold away from their mothers. Many huge land/slave owners were of African decent and were respected members of the community. A Frenchman named Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer and a slave woman, Marie Therese “Coin-Coin” had 10 Children but were unmarried. Metoyer married a white woman, had 10 or 12 more kids with her. He purchased and freed Coin-Coin and her children and divided his property equally to all his kids. The great part of the story is that Coin-Coin’s family ended up with 18,000 acres of land with thousands of Slaves. As an old white guy from Montana, I could tell visitors that being a slave was either bad or horrendous. In the Cane River area, is was just bad. Beatings were prohibited by the Catholic Church with anything but a strap or a cane. Bad but not nearly as horrendous as a Mississippi nail protruding from a board. Please, Please contact Mrs. Loletta J. Wynder, Director of the Creole Heritage Center at Northwestern State University, Kyser Hall, Room 116, NSU Box 5675, Natchitoches LA, 71497. You will be surprised and proud of what Creoles of Color endured when the US Census made them check one of two boxes marked “black” or “white”. Creoles were any combination of French, Spanish, Native American, and African but after the Louisiana purchase they were either “Black” or “White”. Everyone had a little of each race in their blood so noone wanted any race to be mistreated. This is the most interesting place I have ever visited. Go back soon and take another look.

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