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Laura's Plantation, official website
Where are you from, the Cayun lady guide asked us after telling us she was American of French descent and still “parlaiii Francaiii Tresss Biensss”. We answered England, Holland, and ... Pays Bas. Where is Pays Bas? She asked. I answered that this is French for Holland.
Laura's plantation is a restored late 18th century plantation from the French colonisation of Louisiana and a well known tourist destination. The major hotels in New Orleans all carry fliers and they have a website, also see a summary of various plantations in the area.
We decided to go there on a saturday afternoon a few days after a hurricane class 1 passed (hurricanes go up to class 5, Katrina was class 3). It is located some 80 km NW of New Orleans on the South bank of the Mississippi, and the road was said to be free of floods.
Standing on the huge dyke (or levy) of the Mississippi you have a good view of the plantation and surrounded fields dominated by sugar cane, already the dominant crop in the 18th century. The Mississippi river is majestic, with its width of some 1000 m, channeled by 20 m high and 100 m wide dykes. Dykes in Holland along the main rivers are of dinky-toy size compared to those along the Mississippi.
The restored plantation has a large colonial house, the main attraction, and is some 10 hectares large.
It is maintained by volunteers, mainly middle-aged Cayun women, of French descent, who still speak the local French Cayun dialect that has some resemblance to Quebequois. To me the women were just the usual, slow moving, big American women (or overweight) but I was soon to find out.
The getting to know remark of “Pays Bas” did not go down well. The guide kept on watching me and making remarks to indicate that I was clearly the smart-ass and could start counting my days if I made another remark.
She took us around the house and showed us the living room and bedrooms. The place really needed some renovation, e.g. a paint job for the wood inside and the furniture seats could use some dry-cleaning. To me, the house was in a dilapidated state and I wandered around with disinterest but the main cause is of course the lack of subsidies for renovations.
The house is built on two meter high poles and the space underneath is open, always ready for the seasonal floods. Only one week ago we visited the village of Jean La Fitte and I was wondering about the houses on poles. Last week a class 1 hurricane passed by and the TV news showed there was a meter of water in the same village. While driving to Laura’s plantation along the highway build on a bridge, we saw several flooded turn-offs.
Farming in the 18th century and the working condition of the slaves was my main interest. We saw big barrels used to extract the sugar from the sugar cane. The slaves lived in small 1-room cabins behind the main house but I did not get an idea as they were not renovated but they looked small. Apart from the colonial house and some tools to make sugar there was not much to see.
The guide explained that many of the Cayun’s came from Canada after the British took over during the French-British war of xxxx. I asked her how many came and there was a big silence, she didn’t know. Trying to save the situation, I said we could look it up in the bookstore. Wrong again.
The tour ended in the bookstore and she asked her colleague in the bookstore. Some 2000 Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and sent back to France in xxxx, those that were not killed in the war and most were killed. Some managed to escaped into the forests of New Brunswick, go to Quebec or made their way South along the Mississippi to Louisiana. Two years later, 1000 were finally allowed to go to New Orleans, joined by another 1000 new comers. At that time, the white population of New Orleans was around 2500, with 2500 black slaves. Now the white population almost doubled overnight. This was called “The Acadian Invasion”, after the Acadian provinces of Canada, the promised land.