Those outside of the homeschool community sometimes consider us weird or goofy. Quite honestly, I consider myself pretty cool, but I get it. We are creatures of habit–unconventional habits. When you are constantly together, as one example, your first thought rarely involves dropping your child off somewhere while you do your own thing. Likewise, you don’t think in terms of field trip boundaries, or that point when having Mom and Dad join the class is no longer considered cool. Maybe that’s just my house. So I’m sure we redefined the term ‘helicopter parent’ when we decided to tag along with our son on his college group’s tour. Our motives were pure, however: the youngest was too little to remember our original plantation tour, and how could we say “no” to charbroiled oysters in the Big Easy?
Maybe we anticipated the food a bit too much. Somehow, we didn’t fully comprehend the weather report, stating that it would be unseasonably cold, and rainy with flash flood warnings.
But, we wade on.
Tours of plantation life are a mixed bag for me personally. Generally speaking, there is the constant focus on the opulence of the plantation owner (forgive the fuzzy pictures–I was still learning how to work that camera) and an apologist perspective on slavery, as in, “Well, they were kind to their slaves.” I, too, find myself amazed at the wealth and grandeur of these old southern mansions. But I also recognize that people who looked like me were the ones who generated this wealth–with little to show for their work outside of the physical and emotional scars.
The Whitney Plantation is a unique experience, if only because the every day existence is told through the eyes and words of the children who lived in slavery.
Up for a mini-tour? Here we go!
This plantation, once 1500 acres, is still a sprawling 250-acre microcosm of what was 150+ years ago.
Once an indigo plantation, this plot became most valuable once the son of the original owner converted the crops to sugar. Below is a sugar cane vat, used for boiling, filtering, and producing unrefined sugar. As I mentioned before, this was the primary source of the plantation’s wealth, and a dangerous working condition for the slaves involved in its processing.
And how is this for working from home?
There was everyday life, from work, to worship, to rest.
This particular tour does a good job of depicting what was original to the plantation and what items were common to slavery, but not to this plantation. Take, for example, this jail for would-be escapees. It was actually about the size of a train car, with (supposedly) space for twelve. Traveling with a group that included several basketball players, the crowded conditions became quickly obvious. You can see a view from the front, and then from the rear.
(Did I mention it rained)?
As I mentioned before, these tours often focus on how elaborate the owner’s homes are–the custom drapes and wallpapers, the hand-carved furnishings and the many rooms and amenities made to keep the owners comfortable. The main house of the Whitney plantation was relatively plain; we were told that the daughter-in-law of the original owner (who became the owner once the owner and his son passed) was a business woman to her heart. She cared far more about the land making money than she cared about personal comforts. We didn’t even have electricity walking through the house ( so no pictures as flash photography was not allowed)! The garden view from the parlor, however, is probably splendid at the right time of year. What we saw looked more like a rice field…underwater.
Perhaps the most impactful story was the one that the Whitney plantation does not tell. You hear it in reminiscing over the books you’ve read while you view the memorial of the Middle Passage.
You hear it when you see the Angel’s Field and reflect upon the numbers of babies who did not survive this horrific life.
You hear it when you see the names etched in a memorial wall–rows and rows of first names (the only child with a last name was the child born of the owner’s family and a young slave)–and realize that there were more than 300 children recorded as having lived on the plantation.
The last image I saw came to me almost as a mandate. It symbolizes everything I’ve tried to do in these last 13 years.
You can read more about the Whitney Plantation here. However, if you are able, I would strongly recommend touring this unique perspective on the life of a slave. It is an unforgettable experience.