Unlike other plantations doting the Mississippi River, Laura: A Creole Plantation tells the story of a business handed down through four generations through a collection of fourteen stories based on 5000 pages of archives discovered in the Archives Nationales in Paris and the memoirs of former plantation owner, Laura Locoul Gore’s memoirs to her children. Her book, Memories of the Old Plantation Home, gives detailed account of her ancestors and their sometime sordid past. During an era where women were often thought of as second class citizens, the Creoles had a unique tradition of passing the plantation to the smartest child in the family, which, in this case, all happened to be women.
The story begins with a man, Guillaume DuParc, who arrived in Louisiana after killing a family friend in a duel. He married Nanette Prud’Homme and they built a home for their family on Laura Plantation. In the following years the women shrewdly built the business through strategic business deals until the arrival of Laura. Prepared to be the future President of the plantation, Laura asked for time to think over her decision and at thirteen, told her parents, “No, thank you,” much to the disappointment of her father, in favor of being a “modern, liberated American.”
We began our tour at the maison principale (main house), where we meet the main characters in Laura’s history. The story combines all the elements of a soap opera, greed, heroism, love, barbaric cruelty and murder. In each room we meet a different family member, from the feisty Elisabeth to the tragic Eliza, none of the relatives escaped from the weight of the family business. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, with a dramatic flair that brought the past to life.
We continued our tour through the plantation gardens; the formal Jardin Français (French Garden), the kitchen garden and BananaLand, a garden brimming with several varieties of bananas, many of whom I had never heard of before. The tour winds past twelve building listed on the historic register and ends in one of the 1840 slave cabins on the grounds. I was amazed to find that people were living in these tiny houses as late as 1977, when they were told by the owners they must move to a different location. The cabinets have been restored to their original 1840’s state and furnished as they would have been for the slaves who lived in them. It’s a sobering look at the history of our country. For those of us who grew up hearing stories about Brer Rabbit, Laura plantation has a fascinating bit of history with their tales of the Compair Lapin. These are the original French tales that were later adapted by Joel Chandler Harris.
Laura Plantation is located in Vacherie, Louisiana, a thirty minute drive from New Orleans. They are open from 10 AM to 5 PM daily and offer tours in both English and French. Each tour lasts around 70 minutes and photography is permitted on the grounds and in the house. I suggest picking up a copy of Laura’s Memoirs to learn more about the fascinating history of this family.