During my first trip to Louisiana in high school I had to opportunity to tour Oak Alley Plantation. On this trip, not only did I go on a tour to Oak Alley Plantation again, with Evergreen Plantation and an added swamp tour, but I also had the chance to drive North from Baton Rouge to The Myrtles Plantation. While I appreciated each tour, they did provide different experiences and things to see.
A reminder, (or new information), plantation doesn’t just refer to the house or mansion, but to the entire grounds. A plantation is classified as so because it had working operations providing a crop. The plantations around New Orleans did not cultivate cotton, as we often think of plantations, but sugar cane.
**Around the same week that I visited Louisiana, the Whitney Plantation reopened. I hadn’t heard of it until I was already in Louisiana and had booked my tour. Originally opening in 2014, the tour specifically focuses on slavery from the eyes of the slaves, and I’ve heard absolutely wonderful things about it. This tour will definitely be on my must do the next time I visit the state.**
Oak Alley is the plantation that often comes to mind of Louisiana plantations. The path in front of the house is lined with 24 grand oak trees, creating a beautiful view both looking at the house from the road, or looking out from the porch of the house. Not only are the grounds and inside of the mansion preserved nicely, but they have set up an informative exhibit at the recreated slave houses. Not only is there a guide available to give mini tours of the slave houses, but if you don’t catch them at the correct time, they have enough information available to read yourself. The slave houses include information on how they spent their limited free time by cultivating their own personal gardens, their cooking and cleaning methods, living conditions, and a good look at the similarities and differences, and pros and cons, between field slaves and house slaves.
Evergreen Plantation is known as the filming location for the movie 12 Years a Slave. I visited the plantation without seeing the movie, so I went in without any expectations. Evergreen is also known as having the original 22 slave quarters. Also on the property are recently constructed slave quarters, which if I remember they used in 12 Years a Slave, otherwise a different film production. To this day, the plantation still produces sugar cane. The original house was built in the French Creole styles before being remodeled to the Greek Revival style. This plantation also has an oak alley, although it appears much more rustic with a dirt path. The tour included a look into the kitchens that were used to cook meals for the main house, which as a food person I found fascinating.
One down side to this plantation is that the bus driver for our tour warned us that recently people had complained about how indifferent their tour was about slavery and what happened on the plantation with some of the tour guides. Due to the warning, this was something I paid extra attention to. While it was discussed, it was very brushed off, with her often saying that while they can’t speak for the other plantations, their records did not hold stories of horrible slavery experiences. We had to leave the tour slightly early, which had been combined with people who had driven to the property on their own, and it was while we were finishing the tour at the slave houses, so I can’t speak for every part of the tour as we missed part of this. This plantation is privately owned, meaning you can’t walk alone on any part of the plantation, but I also wonder if this influences what the tour guides are allowed to share. I think this is a horribly missed opportunity, especially considering it’s one of the only plantations that has its original slave quarters. My experience was already 9 months ago so I can’t say if this is still the case, and the driver did mention it seemed to be a problem specific to some of the guides, and not others, but it is a huge factor to consider before visiting. As mentioned at the top of the post, the Whitney Plantation does a fantastic job addressing the cruel reality of slavery.
While we walked from the main house area to the slave quarters, which was under the oak trees, they had us swing our arms and bend as if we were cutting the sugar cane while walking along to get a feeling for the difficult work the slaves were forced to do. Obviously this wasn’t as difficult for a multitude of considerations including we weren’t in the sun, weren’t actually carrying any materials, and we aren’t overworked or malnourished. The tour guide explained how they walked this path during the day while singing out Hallelujah to help them get through the day. While for me this was a quite powerful moment to envision the reality of slavery, I got the feeling most of the others on the tour weren’t taking it seriously which made the experience very uncomfortable.
The Myrtles Plantation is located North of Baton Rouge in St. Francisville. St. Francisville is an adorable town with a street lined with boutiques. Myrtles is known for being one of the most haunted places in the country. It is a bed and breakfast, so you can spend the night here, which my friend has done. She said they hardly slept and kept the lights on the entire night. Both day and night tours are available, as well as private tours, and an option to be picked up in Baton Rouge.
The tour includes stories of both the owners and the slaves who lived and died there, although with a little digging, it’s questionable about how true some of these stories may be. Even those who have either found proof of doubt the stories that are being told still believe the grounds and house to be haunted. Either way, it is interesting to hear the history, and the house and grounds are stunning to see. I’m fine with the stories being sensationalized to fit the reputation of such a haunted place, but I do hope these stories don’t lie or cover up the truth in regards to slavery.
Visualization is incredibly powerful. It’s one thing to learn about an event in history, it’s completely different to visit the location where it happened and to put those facts into the place. For example, after visiting Auschwitz, reading stories from the camp are even more difficult to read, which I had thought wasn’t possible at one point. It is because you no longer rely on description to visualize the setting. I know that what draws the visitors to this plantation is a huge part due to its reputation and the possibility of seeing paranormal activity, but the truths of slavery are so horrific that I don’t think they need or should be twisted just for part of a story.