Friday, March 28, 2008

Oak Alley Plantation, a sugar cane plantation established along the banks of the Mississippi about 35 miles outside New Orleans in 1835, welcomed us with a double-row of 28 oak trees some 300 years old. It was 79 degrees and sunny, but the breezes up from the river were cooling, and the grounds meticulously maintained. This old Greek Revival style mansion was furnished with period pieces, including intricately painted cypress wood fireplace mantles, made to look as if they were marble.

If you were an honored guest, you would be greeted with a fresh pineapple each morning. If you outstayed your welcome, your morning would begin with two pineapples, a subtle hint to take one home on your journey.

The entire house was built with slave labor. The owners kept some 20 house slaves and 93 field slaves, their names, ages, and values commemorated in a bronze plaque. As we read the names, it was hard not to draw conclusions about each person listed: Desiree, Creole (meaning born in the West Indies) female field hand aged 16, value $200; Louisa, female field hand aged 15, value $25; Mary, mulatto (meaning born of Caucasian and Negro parents) female aged 35 with her five children, seamstress, value $1,500. Four slaves were over the age of 60: Mary, aged 69, cook for the Negroes, value $50; Mercury, age 62, African Negro field hand, value $100; Louis, age 62, American Negro, one-armed field hand, value $50; and Leandre, age 63, Creole Negro field boss and driver, value $500.

This undated photo above, most likely late 19th or early 20th Century shows the former slave quarters, now burned down. You might recall the threats Southern slave owners made to sell their slaves down river to the cotton and sugar cane plantations. This is that land, and a way of life that ended with the coming of the Americans, the Civil War, and the civil rights movements of the 1960s.

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