Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Tour of Laura's Plantation

"The Anglo houses were white; the Creole ones, brightly colored."  Thus began our delightful tour of a stately yellow home, now called "Laura's Plantation".  It is one of only eight remaining Creole homes in this part of Louisiana.  When we asked our concierge at the Ambassador Hotel in New Orleans which tour to take along the Great River Road, she did not hesitate.  "Laura's Plantation.  It is my absolute favorite because the plantation was run by Creole women and the tour gives you a good glimpse of Creole culture."

The tour begins in the basement.  While my travel buddy took photographs, I took copious notes.  The stories, based on the Memoir of Laura Locoul Gore, who lived here as a girl, held us in complete astonishment for the next hour.  Four generations of a Creole family lived here and one story after another tumbled out of our guide.  Greed, pride, betrayal, sorrow, love, cruelty, pettiness.  This family had it all.   Dynasty and Downton Abbey pale in comparison.
Thomas Jefferson helped Guillaume Duparc, the original owner, acquire this property in 1804.  Duparc was a French naval veteran of the American Revolution.  He built this beautiful home from brick and cypress trees and planted sugar cane.  When he dies, his wife takes over the business and what makes this story so unique is that for the next 84 years, the plantation is run by the women in the family, not the men.  Unlike the English, the operation of the manors were handed down to the most capable child.  In the case of the Duparcs, it was always the daughter.  Because of this, there were some unhappy men who made life hell for wives, sisters and daughters.  So much so that when it is finally Laura's turn to take over, she decides to sell the whole plantation for $19,500!  She wants nothing to do with Creole life on the Mississippi.  She marries Charles Gore and moves to St. Louis.  She does not talk about her former life until Gone with the Wind comes out and people ask her, "Is this what your life was like?"

  She writes Memories of the Old Plantation Home to set the story straight.

Once we entered the main house, we were not allowed to take photographs.  The bedrooms, offices, dining and salon areas are all filled with typical Creole furniture from that period.  We learn that dancing and music were a big part of life on the plantation.  We hear some heartbreaking stories.  The death of 16-year-old Eliza who sends her mother into isolation for 20 years.  The shock of English plantation holders who had to do business with Elizabeth in her bedroom!  We learn how the slaves were bought, bred and sold.  And finally how Laura's father is forced to marry his cousin at the age of 34 to keep the property within the family.  "My family is my business and my business is my family."  This was the Duparc motto.
The tour continues outside, behind the house where the kitchen was built.  Three hundred people had to be fed on a daily basis:  family and slaves.  There is a kitchen garden, banana groves and a few slave houses.  Of interest to me because Br'er Rabbit is a book my dad read to my two sons whenever he came to visit, is that Laura's Plantation is where these old West-African folktales were recorded.

I'm glad we took our concierge's advice.  We were held spellbound during the entire tour.  It is a world I know little about; yet it is a unique part of American history.  The pockets of different cultures we find throughout the United States is what makes this country so fascinating.  There's so much to learn; so much to explore!

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