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Friday, June 12, 2020

Destrehan Plantation: Part One

Not Sponsored: Have you ever been to a plantation? I've read about them. I've discussed them with people. I've even passed them driving. However, I've never actually visited a plantation. There are a number of plantations in Louisiana. Visiting them has always been on my wish list to do. I visited one last week. Its called Destrehan Plantation. To give you some background (source), Destrehan Plantation is an antebellum mansion (French Colonial Style Mansion), that was constructed in 1787 and completed in 1790. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley. It has been featured in popular movies such as Interview With The Vampire (1994) and 12 Years A Slave (2013). Portions of Beyonce's Lemonade (2016) were filmed here. I was given a private tour and learned so much. There's nothing like seeing things in person. I encourage you to do that with everything in your life. It gives you an entirely new perspective. I've divided my blog posts into five palatable parts.

Destrehan Plantation

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Destrehan Plantation is situated alongside the Mississippi River (right across from the levee, behind the tree in the picture below). I was blown away by the enormity of the moss-draped oak trees that surrounded the plantation. They are hundreds of years old. They stand so majestically! You're humbled by their beauty, presence and strength. The enormity of the plantation house and land it sits on will also take your breath away. Its architectural design both inside and out is both fascinating and amazing. There's both beauty and horror regarding the history of Destrehan Plantation.

Emma was my tour guide. She was perfectly dressed in the attire for that time and currently ... we all donned mask due to the covid-19 pandemic and practiced social distancing. She was a plethora of knowledge and gave such a beautiful & informative presentation. The plantation had such interesting stories. There's a lot to reveal.

Destrehan Plantation was a major producer of indigo (cultivating and harvesting), but there was widespread crop failure in 1794 and 1795. It then became a major producer of sugar-cane. It was very successful with sugar came.

l mentioned the majestic oak trees on the property, but there are a number of other plants and trees on the property. The following charts were on the property and I found them to be very interesting. They outline the different types of trees that are grown in Louisiana: Black Willow, Sandbar Willow, Crape Myrtle, Live Oak, Water Oak, Pecan, Hackberry, Bald Cypress and Black Cherry.

This is the gentleman (architect) who built Destrehan Plantation. His name is Charles Paquet (mulatto and he was also a free man of color). Robert Antoine Robin DeLogny (owner of Destrehan Plantation) contracted (copies of the contracts along with the architectural design for the plantation were on the wall in the picture below) with Charles Paquet to build Destrehan Plantation and several outbuildings to support his indigo business. Charles Paquet was given six slaves to help build the plantation. Construction began in 1787 and was completed in 1790. Upon completion, DeLogny gave Paquet a cow and a calf, 100 bushels of corn and rice, $100 in cash and a male slave (sources here and here). The original contract between DeLogny and Charles Paquet still exist today and is on file at the St. Charles Parish Courthouse. DeLogny died two years after Destrehan Plantation was built.

Bousillage. I had never heard that word before. Bousillage in south Louisiana is a mixture of clay earth and retted Spanish moss. It was a technique used in French Louisiana by colonists from the 18th to 19th centuries. There was no stone in south Louisiana, and bricks were not being made during early colonial times. So this technique was used. Can you imagine building an entire plantation that way? The time. The work. When you think about the building process for back then, its absolutely amazing.

Below are some models of the plantation, by architectural students at both Delgado and Tulane University. They're so beautiful. They really detail the plantations outer intricacies. Despite the plantation's vastness on the outside, the inside is compartmentalized into much smaller parts, which I will discuss later. Its really something to see in person.

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