The Big House and the Outbuildings
The Whitney Plantation is a complex of buildings which includes at least twelve historic structures. In 1946, in the middle of one of the many shifts in ownership, the Big House on the plantation was described as “one of the most interesting in the entire South” by Charles E. Peterson, senior landscape architect of the United States Department of the Interior. According to Jay Edwards, a professor of anthropology and a historian of architecture at Louisiana State University, the Big House is one of the finest surviving examples of Spanish Creole architecture and one of the earliest raised Creole cottages in Louisiana. It is one of the best preserved Creole plantation houses standing on the River Road. Sometime prior to 1815 the big house was rebuilt in its present configuration with seven rooms on each level, plus a full length gallery across the front and an open loggia facing the rear. Moreover, it is one of the very few Historic American houses known to have received decorative wall paintings on both its exterior and its interior.
The Big House was the domain of the domestic slaves who performed several duties such as cleaning, serving food and drinks, fanning the masters while they eat, toting water from ponds and outdoors cisterns or even from the river for domestic needs, washing and ironing clothes, taking care of all the needs of the children, etc. The male slaves also performed miscellaneous duties such as gardening, raising poultry, and driving the family around on carriages, etc. The female slaves also served as cooks, spinners, weavers, seamstresses, midwives, etc. Young slaves would always be handy for the needs of each member of the master’s family during daytime and at night they slept on pallets near the beds of their owners or in adjoining rooms. According to the 1819 inventory of the Haydel plantation following the death of his wife Marie Madeleine Bozonier Marmillon, the five surviving children of Jean Jacques Haydel Sr. were previously granted each a young female slave for their personal needs. Augustine, Marinette, Fanchonnette, Henriette, and Angelique were respectively donated to Jean Jacques Haydel Jr., Jean François Marcelin Haydel, Adelaide Haydel, Erasie Haydel, and Marguerite Aymée Haydel.
Whitney Plantation is also significant because of the number of its historic outbuildings which were added to the site over the years, thus providing a unique perspective on the evolution of the Louisiana working plantation. This is something which is impossible to find anywhere else on the river road since very few plantations preserve their early outbuildings. Even Evergreen plantation is a notable exception. At Whitney, eleven outbuildings were recognized as worthy of National Register. These include: an original kitchen building, a saddle storage shed, a privy, a watering trough for mules, an overseer’s house, a mule barn and feed storage building, a late 19th century plantation store, a pigeonnier, and the last surviving example of a true French Creole barn.
A pigeonnier is a roosting house for pigeons. The bottom was used for storage and the pigeons were raised in the upper story where they entered through holes cut near the roof. In the daytime the pigeons flew into the fields to feed themselves with grain, insects, and worms. It was the duty of the young male slaves on the plantations to get the birds requested for dinner. They entered the second story through a small door using a ladder. A second pigeonnier stood on the ground at a symmetrical distance from the Big house. It was destroyed by a hurricane in 1965 and was rebuilt in 2005. The pigeonniers were in use for nearly 150 years since squab was eaten at Whitney well into the 1960s. Pigeons still roost there today.
The kitchen is believed to be the oldest detached kitchen in Louisiana. Pigeonholes were cut in either end of the gabled roof so that this loft could be used as an additional pigeonnier. The kitchen was an annex of the Big House. Marie Joseph, 50 years old and Marie, 43 years old, each identified as “Creole Négresse” in the 1819 inventory of the Haydel plantation, were the two cooks for the Haydel family at that time. As Creoles born in Louisiana, they would have used European recipes along with Creole recipes such as gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish étouffé and smothered okra, which they concocted from European, African and Native American foodways. Cooks were always chosen for their skills but also for being well-trusted persons. After the death of his father, Jean Jacques Haydel Jr. emancipated Marie Joseph along with Claire who served as a seamstress.
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Whitney Plantation In The News
Wall Street Journal:
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New York Times
Building the First Slavery Museum in America
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The Australian: Life
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BBC World Service: Outlook
Audio interview with John Cummings
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