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.
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 that many will understand. 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. Thought about how they’d just be coming in from the fields to prepare for their nightly routines.
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.
The Prud’hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.
The Overseer’s House
Close Up: Check Out this Old School Stove
I also noticed the mud and straw still preserved from the original building of the house.
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.
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.
Opened after The Civil War, sharecroppers and tenant farmers continued buying their supplies from family and farming from this store until 1983. The Prud’homme family owned and operated the store. They also operated the Post Office located inside.
Slaves built and repaired plantation structures from this workplace.
Smokehouse turned mule barn. Built by the enslaved, they reused the smokehouse to accommodate the mules when the original mule barn burned down.
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”).
The Big House
Porch and perimeter of The Big House. We could tour everywhere except the house. We were not allowed inside. It was something just to look at the trees whose thick branches bowed low. Shading the big house, cooling it from the LA sun and sheltering it from the River breeze, these trees line the walkway to the entrance of the gate and were built in 1825.
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.
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
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.
There are several Pigeonnier’s on the land. The Prud’hommes harvested young pigeons for a delicacy called “Squab”.
Hubby checking out the Chicken Coop.
Chickens were bred, hatched and fattened in this area. Turkeys were also raised on the land.
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. All of this is truths to which I am already familiar. As a researcher, I am familiar with the slave narratives and various accounts of the time. However, being there and standing in that spot produced a greater understanding of what it may have been like to live in that time.
But, my revelations were not just in relation to the negative or dark history. As I looked around the land, I saw how the slaves 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 and that part of history left untold as to our true capabilities after chattel slavery had ended. Often deemed ignorant and illiterate, the truth is that blacks were only ignorant to the extent of American life. When it came down to working and starting businesses and networking within our own communities, this is where we prospered. It makes sense that after working for years as someone’s property that we would maintain the skills needed to cultivate and build on our own land. Thus, it occurred to me that many blacks were only lost when it came to adapting and assimilating into American culture.
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.