The other week, I came across a notice of a ‘new’ plantation that had recently (December 2014) opened.
How could I have missed this? I’ve been to almost all of them between Natchez, Mississippi and downriver New Orleans.
Hell, I could give tours (And I have, but that’s another story).
What intrigued me was that this would be the first tourist plantation that was telling a plantation story from the viewpoint of the slaves.
But, didn’t they all to some degree, I thought?
You usually get the standard hoop skirt and mint julep spiel: Masa was a kind owner and valued his slaves as much as his imported Minton china (which he had to order and wait three years to arrive for lordy’s sake), but we all know that’s bullshit, and still oohhh and awe over the excess of sterling on the sideboard while dreamingly trying to picture our descent down the grand stairs in our green velvet
The fact is we know the Truth: but…
Where are the kitchens and field barns and blacksmith shops?
The Overseer’s house?
The small orchards that may have been allowed?
The foundation piles for slave quarters?
The whipping posts?
Who were the people that lived in bondage and suffered and dreamed and toiled and cried and died often all within a few miles of where they were born?
Did anyone record their names?
So much physical property is gone, wiped away by neglect or storms or petrol-chemical conglomerates.
Does anyone remember?
Does anyone believe they can sell a ticket by NOT emphasizing the perceived grandeur of the Southern past?
Well, it turns out, someone does, and that person is John Cummings, the owner of
Mr. Cummings used his personal fortune to purchase this property and aside from the Antioch Baptist Church building (which was brought from neighboring St. James Parish) all of the questions I pose above are a reality.
Due to a series of fortunate circumstances the property still has many of the original buildings.
Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances (The Great Depression) many of the child slaves released into emancipation in 1867, were tracked down in 1940, and their recollections were recorded, both orally and in written form, through the Federal Writer’s Project (FWP).
It is this combination of physical presence of place AND being able to know the personal stories of the people that struggled on this actual site, that makes this experience so powerful.
Yes, there’s a Big House (And it’s beautiful with all of the hand-painted faux finishes which are o-r-i-g-i-n-a-l. How in the name of everything that’s Holy did someone not paint over all of this? How lucky for the world- or at least me. Inspiring.)
Yes, there’s a gift shop and fully functioning lavatories (Because let’s all get real), but there are also many of the four-room shacks that up to 30 people lived in and the buildings they worked in including the iron shop that a slave named Robin mastered his trade in for… 40 years.
There’s also a period ‘holding cell’ for anyone that may have needed to be corrected- or sold.
However, the most startling moment, for me, was sitting next to the life sized sculptures of some of the known slave children on this plantation- with names and their stories.
My little guy was called Hunton Love. He was born nearby. He was probably around 21 years old when the war was over. Interviewed in 1940, he said that he didn’t know exactly how old he was- but “somewhere over 100” seemed right. This is an excerpt of what he had to say…
… When ole Marse went to war, he left me overseer of the plantation. Some of the slaves wouldn’t mind and I had to whip ’em. Besides I had to show ’em who was boss, or the plantation would be wrecked.”
Here is the ENTIRE transcript.