If you are visiting New Orleans, whether stopping in before a cruise, or visiting the city; I highly recommend that you tour a plantation. When selecting a plantation I would suggest The Whitney. Why? It shows you the true life on a plantation, not just “high society” side. It will give you the side of history that often makes many uncomfortable, the life of the enslaved. The tour guides are there to tell you what it was like for the hundreds of enslaved people that were brought, lived, worked, raised families and died while living the plantation life on the German Coast of Louisiana. It’s with learning of these uncomfortable truths of our history that we can learn to not repeat them. This tour in particular will last about 1.5-2 hours.
To get to the Whitney you will need to either take a tour from town (New Orleans) or rent a car, we opted to rent a car. The Plantation is about an hour drive from down town New Orleans. Thanks to our smart phones getting there is a breeze. As for the drive the scenery part of the route is a highway suspended above the swamps. Lots of mossy trees and high water. Quite a beautiful sight especially if you do not get to see this sort of landscape day to day. Once you arrive to the plantation you will be pleased to see that there is ample parking. You can purchase your tickets on entry or online in advance. It did not seem busy enough the day we went, a Thursday I might add, to warrant advance purchase. Now if it was the summer or the weekend I would recommend either getting the tickets in advance or calling to see if necessary. Once your tickets are purchased you will be assigned a tour time.
The welcome center has restrooms, gift shop and an accompanying museum. Which is perfect to check out while you are waiting for your tour to start. The museum contains many artifacts such as a letter from a freed woman attempting to emancipate/purchase her children back, a copy of the Civil Code of Louisiana, and a pair of shackles fit for a child.
The first stop on the tour is a beautiful white church, the Antioch Baptist Church. The church is not original to the property, it was brought to the property once the intent was to become a museum. Inside the church are several statutes commissioned by the Works Progress Administration from the 1940’s, depicting the children of the Whitney. Many of the story’s of the Whitney are from children as told in their own words at the time of emancipation.
The Whitney’s primary crop was the sugar cane. Sitting throughout the property are original large steel pots which were used to cook down the cane to create sugar. These steel pots you see are the largest sugar kettles in Louisiana. The Whitney contains several original cabins that were slave quarters. It’s hard to believe that each of these cabins sometimes held up to 10 slaves per home.
Sitting in font of the “Big House” is an authentic slave holding cell, though not original to the property, it is an original from the New Orleans Mississippi River front. One cell alone would house 15 slaves, and they could be held for days until they were purchased. The tour guide was so informative. She explained how the slaves would have clay and oil put on them to hide scars and to give of the appearance they were strong and “new”.
The “Big House” itself is a raised French creole style cottage built in the late 18th century. Most rooms are open for the tour and several children statues are located throughout as well. The tour guide will tell you what it was like for the enslaved children that themselves held jobs, mostly in the house.
Located on the property is a “Wall of Honor”. This wall contains the names, origin and many of the stories from people whom were enslaved here on the plantation. The stories these granite walls contains are heart wrenching. Please take your time here to read as much as you can.
A relic of the property is the oldest kitchen in Louisiana. If you have ever seen the move “D’Jango” with Jaime Fox and Leonardo DiCaprio, a very poignant scene was filed in this very spot.
There are many memorials located throughout the property. The “Field of Angels” is a very somber yet happy spot on the grounds. It’s a space dedicated to the over 200 slave children whom died in St. John Parrish.
The memorial that stuck out the most to me was the one dedicated to the 1811 slave revolt. Over 500 slaves revolted and 63 of the key members of the revolt were decapitated and their heads placed on steaks along the banks of the Mississippi. This was done to set an example so that another revolt would not happen.