A Creole Plantation that expresses the unique culture that made Louisiana different from the American mainstream.
Along the majestic Mississippi River, about fifty miles from New Orleans stands Laura Plantation. The large two story building shines bright in the hot Louisiana sun with its ochre facade, red doors, and blue and mauve trim porch. The many bright colours reflect the mixed culture that was established in Louisiana’s colonial period
(1699-1803). Surrounding the Laura Plantation “big house” are beautiful French style gardens with many tropical plants including palm trees, irises (the real fleur-de-lis) and Egyptian papyrus planted in large sugar kettles, iron pots which were used to process cane on one of Louisiana’s largest plantations. Also surrounding the plantation are barns, stables, overseers houses, and slave cabins, which stand as a reminder of the human bondage that was needed to keep the plantation functioning.
The term Creole comes from a Portuguese word meaning “of the colony.” The term had been used for over a hundred years in the Caribbean and South America before it was used in Louisiana. The families that had established themselves in Louisiana’s colonial days used the term to distinguish themselves from the Anglo-Saxon Americans who began moving into Louisiana in the late 1700s. When the United States bought Louisiana in 1803, the Creole culture was firmly established as a blending of three major ethnic backgrounds: Native American Indian, West African, most of which came to Louisiana in the 1720s as slaves, and Europeans, mostly French, German, and Spanish. The Creole experience in Louisiana is a close cousin to Creole cultures world-wide. The nearest examples are found in the Caribbean: Cuba, Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The Indian Ocean holds: Ré, Mauritius, Seychelles and Goa. In South America, the Guianas and Brazil are recognised as Creole countries. All these places have similar ethnic mixtures, strong links in cuisine, architecture, music, folklore, life-styles, religion, family values and colonial economies. Louisiana is just one small member of this Creole family that stretches across the globe, but is the only part found in the United States.
Such families may have done business with Anglos, but would not marry them. Catholics by birth, the Louisiana Creoles rejected the moderation of Anglo Puritans and Protestants. The divide between Creoles and Anglos was so great that even slaves were divided between English speaking Protestants and French Catholics. This cultural divide between the two cultures would remain until the early 20th century when during World War I, Louisiana, and its Creole people, was absorbed into Anglo America.
The Creole Family Business
Two French-speaking families ran Laura Plantation for over 180 years. The first were of French, Swiss, and Native American origin; the second were of German descent. Both families considered themselves to be Creole and both spoke French. When the plantation was abandoned in 1984, French was still “la langue de la maison.” Laura Plantation’s first family typified the Creole nature of Louisiana. The first owner was a French naval veteran of the American Revolution who married into the oldest family of French Louisiana settlers. For generations the Creole family maintained a lifestyle different from the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The sugarcane plantation was the core of the family’s business. For any family member who did not want to be in the business, he or she was told, “Il faut quitter la maison!” Unlike Anglo farms, who were typically run by the first born son, the Creole plantations were run by the smartest child in the family. Four generations of women ran this large sugarcane plantation. The last of this family was Laura Locoul Gore who wrote down her memoir about the plantation in 1936. This memoir was published in 1994 as Memories of the old Plantation.
Today Laura Plantation stands, not as just one of the old plantations of the Mississippi River, but as one of the last remnants of the old Creole culture that existed throughout Louisiana. It shows the freedom and strength of women to own and run businesses along with the tragedy of human bondage, which was needed to run such a business. But mostly, it shows a world that was so different than the Anglo American world around it. Through research and restoration of the twelve buildings that remain at Laura Plantation, more discoveries about this amazing culture of south Louisiana are hoped to be found.