“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit”
State 28: Louisiana February 2nd
We woke up at a Walmart in New Iberia well rested, and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we visited Avery Island to learn how Tabasco Sauce is made, and we could not wait not to see what adventures lie head today! The first item on the agenda is a 102 mile drive East to Vacherie to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Historic Location for Louisiana; Laura Plantation.
It was 1994 in St. Louis Missouri, and today was the day preservationist and Louisiana native Norm Marmillion's had long been anticipating. Ten years prior, Norm had purchased an old sugarcane plantation deep in the heart of the Louisiana Bayou on the banks of the Mississippi River called Laura Plantation. However, Norm had no interest in growing sugarcane, but was instead allured by stories of the plantation's association with the famous tales of Br’er Rabbit. The Br’er Rabbit stories originated in Africa, and were brought over to the US by enslaved Africans in the 1720’s by oral tradition. According to folklore, Br’er Rabbit is a trickster who succeeds by his wits rather than by brawn provoking authority figures and bending social morality. However, depending on the circumstances he encountered, Br’er Rabbit can be considered both a hero and a villain. The Br’er Rabbit stories were first written down and published in the 19th century by Charles Harris after hearing the tales from black slaves in Georgia. Around the same time as Harris, Folklorist Alcee Frotier heard strikingly similar stories spoken in French Creole from enslaved blacks in Southern Louisiana at the Laura Plantation. The original Br’er Rabbit stories shared by the slaves had been revised to be more child appropriate, and went on to become extremely popular children’s books throughout the 19th century. In 1946, Walt Disney adapted the Br’er Rabbit character for its 1946 animated movie; Song of the South! Lori actually remembers her Grandmother reading this story to her over 40 years ago!
When Norm Marmillion purchased Laura Plantation, his vision was to transform it into a tourist destination, and enlisted the help of investors to begin restoration. However, Norm soon began to discover there was more significance to the Laura Plantation than 19th century children's stories. For one thing, the previous owners, the Waguespack’s, were a German family, and “Laura Plantation” was a quite peculiar name of plantation for a family of such heritage. Prior to Norm’s purchase of the plantation, the Waguespack’s had owned the property for over 90 years. All the Waguespack’s knew of the plantation's prior owner was her name; Laura Locoul Gore, and the agreed upon stipulation in the bill of sale that the plantation must always bear her name. Norm began in earnest looking for living descendants of Laura Locoul Gore, and discovered her son Charles H. Gore Jr. in St. Louis, Missouri!
Norm had flown from Louisiana to St. Louis specifically to meet with Charles. Today was finally the day Norm would hopefully get more information about the Laura Plantation. Charles shared his mother Laura Locoul Gore had passed away, and he did not recall his mother ever mentioning the Laura Plantation. However, Charles allowed Norm to go through his late mother’s possessions in search of additional information. Tucked away at the bottom of an old cardboard box inside of a plastic bag 30 years after Laura’s death, Norm made an amazing discovery! Laura Locoul Gore’s 1936 manuscript! In it Laura described over 100 years of plantation life, the major events of the freed and enslaved inhabitants, and offered a rare and unique glimpse into life on a 19th century Creole sugarcane plantation. In 2000, Norm compiled Laura’s memoirs, and published a book entitled “Memories of the Old Plantation Home: A Creole Family Album. Had it not been the plantation's association with Br'er Rabbit's children’s story, Laura’s typing her memoirs in 1936, and Norm flying to St. Louis and discovering them 30 years after Laura’s death, the history of the 19th century Laura (Duparc) Sugarcane Plantation would have been lost to the ages! That in itself is a gripping story, but it barely begins to scratch the surface!
Formerly known as Duparc Plantation, Laura Plantation is a restored former sugarcane plantation, and is significant for its early 19th-century raised house and surviving outbuildings including two slave cabins. As only one of 15 remaining plantations in Louisiana, the Laura Plantation is listed on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Admission was high at $25.00 per person, but this was a was a rare opportunity to tour a 19th century plantation with intact slave quarters. We had previously visited a smaller plantation which you can read about by clicking here. However, the Laura Plantation was once a full scale sugarcane plantation and home to 466 slaves. Our tour began in the main house where the guide walked us through the family tree of 5 generations of plantation owners. Since the plantation was French Creole instead of American, women were permitted to own property, and throughout most of the plantations history, the Duparc women were the owners and oversaw daily operations! What I found most shocking was that the women were equally ruthless towards the slaves as were the men! Please see the pictures below of the restored Laura (Duparc) Plantation house circa 1804.
After touring the plantation home, we exited and made our way back to the slave quarters to learn about the life of a slave on a 19th century plantation. Most of the wooden shacks were collapsing on themselves after 150 years of baking in the hot and humid Louisiana sun, but the fact the buildings still exist is miraculous! Two of the former slave quarters had been restored to their 19th century appearance. The approximate 20x10 foot building was constructed with old weathered planks of wood, with no doors, no insulation, and were certainly not weatherproof! There was a fireplace in the middle of the room, a wall dividing the space in half, and two families lived in a 10x10 space on either side of the wall. Please see the pictures below.
One of the 10x10 rooms inside of the slave quarters had rows of benches, and we all sat down to hear our guide describe slave life at the Laura Plantation. During the sugarcane harvest, slaves worked every day for 20 hours a day, 9 months straight with no days off until they collapsed from exhaustion, dehydration, or succumb to diseases such a malaria and yellow fever. Next, our guide picked up a copy of the book of Laura’s memoir’s off the fireplace mantle, and shared with us the most atrocious story I have heard on my entire cross country trip! When Laura was a little girl growing up on the plantation, she befriended an older male slave. One day, Laura noticed 3 large letters “LDV” on either side of his cheek, and asked what it was. He said, “Many years ago, I escaped from the plantation. When I was recaptured, I was brought into a barn, tied down, and had initials branded onto both sides of my face, so I would be easier to find In case I attempted run away again”. Laura then asked what the initials meant, to which he replied, “They are the initials of your grandmother Laura” Laura suddenly remembered sounds of screaming she had previously heard over the years at night coming from the barn. When Laura had asked her parents about the noise, her parents replied, “The cattle are being branded”. Laura was shocked by her family’s cruelty, and this memory stayed with her for the rest of her life. Upon her father’s death, Laura inherited the plantation. In 1891, Laura married Charles Gore, and sold the plantation at public auction wanting nothing to do with it. A year later, she moved to her husband's hometown of St. Louis, Missouri where she lived the rest of her life. Laura never spoke of the plantation to anyone including her 3 children! On June 11, 1963, Laura Locoul Gore's died in St. Louis Missouri at 102 years old. She never returned to the plantation bearing her name! Below are pictures of Laura as a baby, dressed as a devil for Mardi Gras, and as and elderly woman.
Please see additional pictures below of our visit to the Laura Plantation.
It is one thing to read about atrocities of slavery from history books, but actually standing in the slave quarters of a 19th century plantation where they worked, lived and died offered a more powerful perspective! Witnessing the atrocities of slavery at the Laura Plantation was the most disturbing experience of my entire cross country trip! What an embarrassing and deplorable time in our countries history!
Although, we as a nation have evolved past such blatant and gross human exploitation, America still struggles with exploitation in subtler forms. The clothing we buy in department stores is made in sweat shops in Asia where unions, minimum wage, and child labor laws don’t exist. Cruise ships where you vacation employ workers from 3rd world countries, who work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for 9-months at a time with a $2.18 per hour base pay! The produce you purchase at your local supermarket was picked by migrant workers in Mexico, who were paid a fraction of minimal wage. Just because human exploitation occurs out of our direct sight or across an ocean, does not make such actions justifiable! As long as we continue to support companies who enslave and exploit, the companies will continue such practices. The greatest power each of us possesses is where we choose to spend our money! It is everyone’s responsibility to know the origins of the products and services we purchase, and to buy American made whenever possible!
After the tour ended, we made our way back to the gift shop, and into a nearby building displaying the history of slavery in the Laura Plantation. They displayed the names of the slaves who lived at the plantation, price of their purchase, marriages, children, work performed, where they died, and other pertinent information. The amount of research which must have gone into compiling such detailed information is mind boggling, and I greatly commend the Laura Plantation for resurrecting the slave’s stories from obscurity. Please see the pictures below!
Two of the most interesting people who once lived on the Laura Plantation were Antoine Caliste Domino and Marie-Donatille Gros, and they had 8 children total. The youngest of the bunch was Antoine Dominique Domino, but the world would come to know him as the Cross Country Couple's “Famous Person” for Louisiana; “Fats Domino”. Named after Fats Waller, Fats Pichon, and for his insatiable appetite, Fats Domino was a pianist, singer-songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll. With smash hits such as “Ain’t That a Shame”, “Blueberry Hill”, “I Want to Walk You Home” and “Walking to New Orleans”, Domino sold over 65 million records, had eleven top 10 hits, 5 gold records, 23 gold singles, was a recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and his 1949 release, "The Fat Man" is widely regarded as the first rock 'n roll record to sell over 1 million albums! When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was founded in 1986, Fats Domino was among the inaugural group of inductees. As one of the biggest stars of rock and roll in the 1950’s, Fats Domino’s concerts brought whites and blacks together, and has been credited by historians as a contributing factor to racial desegregation in the United States.
Before the Beatles and Elvis there was Fats Domino, and the aforementioned would have never came to be if it was not for “The Fat Man”. However, when people think of rock and roll, history hails Elvis Presley as the King, but even Elvis told a different story. Fats Domino was present at one of Presley’s concerts at the Las Vegas Hilton on July 31, 1969. During a press conference after the show, a reporter referred to Presley as the King. Elvis responded by pointing at Fats Domino, and said, "that's the real king of rock and roll." In addition to Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman, and countless others all hail Fats Domino as having had a major influence in their music. However, Fats humility and shyness is often cited as one of the reasons his contribution to rock and roll has been overlooked. Frequently, Fats turned down TV interviews and million dollar offers. He let his principles and beliefs guide his actions, and not notoriety or monetary gain!
Fats Domino never lived on the Laura Plantation, but instead was born and raised in the impoverished 9th ward neighborhood of New Orleans. Even after Domino had achieved worldwide fame and wealth, he remained true to his roots, and resided in his primary residence in New Orleans. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Fats Domino the National Metal of the Arts, and invited him to perform at the White House. Domino declined the invitation, and sent his daughter to accept the award on his behalf. His stated reason was he did not feel in his spirit he should travel. Even when Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, Fats refused to leave the home and city he loved. Although Domino was rescued by the Coast Guard after the storm, he sadly lost his entire home, and all of its contents. Neither act of God nor presidential decree could get Fats to leave New Orleans, because he does not answer to Mother Nature or the Executive Branch of the US Government. Fats was a man of principle, a man of humility, and a man whose actions were guided by the spirit. Not to repeat Clinton’s mistake, on August 29, 2006 President George W. Bush flew down to New Orleans, to present Domino with a replacement of the National Medal of Arts, which was lost in the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina.
Fats Domino’s name is synonymous with the Big Easy. He was born in New Orleans. His music career began in New Orleans. He lived his life in New Orleans. He retired in New Orleans, and on October 24, 2017 at the age of 89 years old, Fats Domino died in New Orleans. After his passing made national news, one of the headlines read “We can all be sure that the Lord called Fats Domino home Tuesday morning; otherwise, he'd still be around New Orleans". One of my greatest hopes is one day I too will find a home I love as much as Fats Domino loved New Orleans.
After departing The Laura Plantation, we drove 48 miles East to a Walmart in Harvey, LA where we spent the night.