|Posted by Curtis on January 21, 2010 at 1:47 PM|
The collection of photos of Plantation life came out of my preparations for a Family Reunion. My mother’s family name was Haydel and the family had its second reunion in June of 2009.
I started doing research on my mother’s father’s family year ago. I did not spend much time looking at the places where there were born and raised. For the first time, I took a trip to visit the plantations where they lived. The two plantations were about forth miles north of New Orleans. They were the Evergreen and Whitney Plantations located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The Whitney, where my Great Grand Father was born, has been in ruins for the last forty years. The only original building still standing is the big house. It is an the first stages of being restored but much has to be done. But the Evergreen Plantation, just south of the Whitney, has been restored and could be visited if special arrangements were made. I went to check it out in the fall of 2008 and found it to be beautiful, un-photographed and staffed with a wonderful historian who just happened to be kin to me through my great great grand father. He was Antoine Haydel a German who just happened to be her great great great grand father. Well, we hit it off and she gave me access to the plantation. I have been back five times now.
The pictures in this collection are, for the most part, taken on that property. The land was first settled in 1760 by a German farmer named Ambroise Heidel now spelled Haydel. He grew foodstuff to be sold in the markets of the somewhat new city of New Orleans.
By 1780 the farm was converted to an indigo plantation and more then 100 slaves were bought to do the hard and dirty labor of growing indigo. Its sole use was to dye cotton for clothing in this country and western Europe. It turns out that the land south of Baton Rouge was too wet to grown cotton. Indigo was a lucrative cash crop that would ensure prosperity to the plantation. In 1790, Christopher Heidel the son of Ambroise and his wife built a two story villa facing the river road in what was known at the time as a Creole style. The villa and slave quarters on the property were all built by skilled slave artisans who had learned how to build houses before they left Africa. By 1799 when Christopher and his wife died, the plantation had been converted from growing indigo to sugar cane.
Magdelaine Heidel Becnel and her husband Pierre Becnel inherited the property and moved their eight children into the Big House in 1801. By this time the property was known as the Evergreen Plantation.
My great grandmother Celeste Becnel was a child of the second Pierre Becnel and a slave woman. She married Victor Haydel the son of Antoine Haydel and Anna, a slave girl from the Whitney Plantation next door.
In 1803 Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States. By the 1820’s Americans from the northern states had moved into the state in large numbers and the Creole architecture had grown out of style. The new style the Americans liked was called Greek Revival. The Big House you see in the photos was the dream of Pierre Clidamant Becnel. The façade is Greek Revival but the inside is still the Creole cottage he grew up in.
Among the nearly forty buildings still standing from the late 1700’s are twenty-two slave cabins known as the Quarters. It is believed that the only improvement to the cabins in the last 200 years was the replacement of the original thatch roofs with tin sometime after 1860. At first the quarter houses were the only place the slave laborers could live, but after emancipation, they continued to be used as living quarters for the plantation laborers until 1940.
This plantation and its beauty have motivated me to seek out and take pictures of other plantations in Louisiana and other southern states. At this point I have visited and photographed nine plantations in Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.