Standing close to him, she suddenly saw a burn mark on his wrinkled forehead. She looked at it and asked him what it was.
“That, my child, is what happens to slaves that try to run away.”
It looked almost picture perfect. The colorful plantation house popped out of the lush green gardens with their exotic banana trees. The soft noise of the Mississippi river flowing in the background.
But something was missing from the picture. The 175 slaves that lived here merely 150 years ago and had to work like animals in this unbearable heat and humidity I was constantly trying to hide from seemed to have dissapeared. Luckily she wrote down their whole story…
That day I was happy to have sweat dripping off my forehead.
At least it covered up my tears…
Laura was born at the plantation in 1861. She was the great-granddaughter of the first plantation owners and was destined to take over the place at one moment but always refused. Her family even changed the name of the plantation – who was originally called Duparc plantation – into Laura plantation to convince her, but she persevered.
The things she’d seen growing up here marked her too much and she knew this was not the kind of life she wanted to live.
She did run the plantation for a while after her father’s dead but spent most of her time traveling and sold it as soon as possible.
Our tour guide Jay introduces us to new family members in every room of the house and tells us their uncensored stories. The whole tour is based on Laura’s memoires, and slowly we get a glimpse into what it was like for her to grow up at the plantation. We follow her as she slowly loses her childhood innocence and discovers the reality and cruelty behind life at the plantation.
The tour ends in one of the 6 original slave cabins. We sit down and listen to the stories. About Laura’s father being sent to the military in order to harden him up because he was too kind to the slaves. About negroes being insulted, severely beaten or sold away from their children. About unpunished murdering… because ‘it was only a negro’…
The woman sitting next to me bursts into tears. I try to fight mine but can’t hold them in very long. I walk out with tears in my eyes. It was the best guided tour I’ve ever taken.
Laura plantation is located at 35 miles from Nottoway plantation, about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Tours are organized from 10 am to 4 pm and cost 20 USD. They’re the only way to visit the plantation.
Also worth a visit: Nottoway plantation
If you want to see a typical Southern plantation in all its splendour, Laura plantation is not the place to be. The plantation was a Creole plantation and therefor very different from the others in the area. No gold coated door knobs or fancy china over here, but a practical layout and decoration. Functionality was much more important than grandeur or status. This is anything but true at Nottoway plantation, which is the largest antebellum plantation in the South.
The plantation house is magnificent. When we walked up to it and saw it appear from behind the trees, our jaws dropped all by themselves. The atmosphere is peaceful and from the front porch you see the Mississippi. The house has actually been transformed into a hotel, so part of the rooms are for guests but it’s a big house with a total of over 60 rooms so there’s still plenty of rooms to visit. Our tour guide was hilarious. The guy was sooooo over the top in his gestures and his way of talking it made most of the participants (myself included) laugh, but you could only admire his genuine passion for this magnificent place.
This plantation was all about grandeur and prestige. John Hampden Randolph commissioned its construction in 1859 in order to show everybody how wealthy he was. He was already a well-established cotton planter but thought a sugar plantation would be more profitable, and so he came to Louisiana to build one. He was one of the biggest slaveholders in the whole South.
The guided tour was very detailed but focussed mainly on the plantation house and owners. We actually visited Nottoway plantation first, and I left happy to have seen all this beauty but still hungry for stories about slavery. Luckily the best was yet to come at Laura plantation…
The plantation is located at about 25 miles from Baton Rouge. Guided house tours are organized every half hour here and cost around 22 USD.
We visited Laura and Nottoway plantation when we drove along River Road, which kind of follows the Mississippi, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, Louisiana. We could have taken the highway instead but preferred taking the ‘scenic’ route. I knew it wasn’t going to be your typical scenic route, with beautiful views and a pick-nick along the river. No romantic road with live oaks on each side and Spanish moss falling down from its branches over here, but a rather industrial looking area that seems like it hasn’t been taken very good care of. But I’m glad we took the time to pass through instead of just rushing from one plantation to the other over the highway.
The hardest thing on River Road is making a choice. There’s lots of plantations that are all very different and it’s almost impossible to visit more than two in one day if you want to really enjoy them. I’m happy with the choice we made. It was without doubt one of the highlights of our whole road trip.
How about you? Have you ever visited a plantation? Has a place you visited ever made you cry? Or am I just a cry baby? I look forward to reading about it in the comments!