Museum quality steam powered cotton gin. Plantation tour a Rand McNally as a "Must See Site" in the South/Southeast and by AAA Southern Traveler Magazine as one of the top three favorite attractions in the tri-states of Ark/La/Miss. Featured in PBS documentaries.
Plantation heiress and manager Laura Lacoul Gore's (1861-1963) autobiography Memories of the Old Plantation Home: A Creole Family Album (Nov. 2000) tells the family's history and her experience living at the plantation
Mrs. Francis Weeks (Magill) Prewitt and her children Ida Magill and Agustin Magill were among the over 200 people, many of whom were of plantation society, who perished in the 1856 Last Island Hurricane. The children are buried on the grounds.
Upland or green seeded cotton was not a commercially important crop until the invention of the cotton gin in 1793. With an inexpensive cotton gin a man could remove seed from as much cotton in one day as a woman could de-seed in two months working at a rate of about one pound per day. The newly mechanized cotton industry in England during the Industrial Revolution absorbed the tremendous supply of cheap cotton that became a major crop in the Southern U.S.
At the time of the cotton gin’s invention, the sub tropical soils in the Eastern U.S. were becoming depleted, and the fertilizer deposits of guano deposits of South America and the Pacific Islands along with the nitrate deposits in the Chilean deserts were not yet being exploited, meaning that there were fertilizer shortages, leading to a decline in agriculture in the Southeast and a westward expansion to new land.
Transportation at the time was extremely limited. There were almost no improved roads in the U.S. or in the Louisiana Territory and the first railroads were not built until the 1830s. The only practical means for shipping agricultural products more than a few miles without exceeding their value was by water. This made much of the land in the U.S. unsuitable for growing crops other than for local consumption.
Under ownership of Spain, New Orleans held the strategically important sight between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. The Carondelet Canal, which was completed in 1794, connected the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans with Bayou St. John, giving shipping access to Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. gained rights to use the port in New Orleans in 1795. See: New Orleans#History
New Orleans was transferred by Spain to France in 1800, but remained under Spanish control. The Louisiana Territory purchased from France under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 was sparely populated. After the Louisiana Purchase under the Thomas Jefferson administration, a high priority was to build roads to New Orleans, which were the Natchez Trace and the Federal Road through Georgia, initially intended for mail delivery.
The Napoleonic Wars and the Embargo Act of 1807 restricted European trade, which did not recover until the end of the War of 1812 in 1815. The Year without a summer of 1816 resulted in famine in Europe and a wave of immigration to the U.S., with New Orleans being the destination of many refugees. The return of good harvests in Europe along with the newly cleared and planted land in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley and the improvements in transportation resulted in a collapse in agricultural prices that caused the 1818-9 depression. Agricultural prices remained depressed for many years, but their eventual recovery resulted in a new wave of land clearing, triggering another depression in the late 1830s. Cotton prices were particularly depressed.
Until the development of the steamboat, river navigation was either with barges or flatboats floated downstream or pushed upstream with poles or by hand using overhanging tree limbs. On the Mississippi River most traffic was down river on log rafts or on wooden boats that were dismantled and sold as lumber in the vicinity of New Orleans. Steam powered navigation between Pittsburg and New Orleans began in 1811-12. Inland steam navigation which rapidly expanded in the following decades, and railroads appeared before the Civil War, though they mainly linked waterways until the Civil War, after which railroads overtook most of the traffic.
It was during the period of expanding steam transportation that plantation agriculture dominated the Southern economy, with two-thirds of the millionaires in the U.S. living between Natchez and New Orleans. The surviving plantation homes range from relatively modest dwellings to opulent mansions, some containing original furnishings and many with period furniture.
Due to poor transportation and lack of industrialization, plantations tended to be somewhat self-sufficient, growing most of their own food, harvesting their own timber and firewood, repairing farm implements an building their own buildings. Many slaves were skilled blacksmiths, masons and carpenters who often were contracted out. Cloth, shoes and clothing were imported from Europe and from the Northeast U.S.
The self-sufficiency of plantations and cheap slave labor hindered economic development of the South. Contemporary descriptions cite the lack of towns, commerce and economic development.
Besides the necessity of river transportation, the soils near the rivers and old river channels contained the best soil closest to the rivers where the sandy and silty soil settled, leaving higher elevation natural levees. The clay soil settled further away from the rivers and being less stable, slumped to muddy back swamps. The plantations in the vicinity of St. Francisville, Louisiana are on the high eastern bank of the Mississippi River are on a loess soil, which was not as fertile as the river alluvium, but was still well suited to plantation agriculture.
Slave quarters at Magnolia Plantation, Natchitoches Parish, LA IMG 3473
Examples of slave housing can be found on many of the plantations. A contemporary account from memoirs of a resident of The White Castle describes slave housing as being more comfortable than many white people had in Europe (although it is not known if all slave housing was up to the standards the writer was familiar with or of surviving examples). Surviving slave housing appears to be better than Engels description some of the mill workers' housing in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Engels described much housing consisting of a single room occupied by eight to ten unrelated individuals of both sexes with no toilet facilities and often no furniture. The occupants slept on piles of sawdust or straw.
Examples of slave housing at Laura and San Francisco Plantations are wooden buildings with two or three separate rooms, including the kitchen, and furnished with one or more bed frames and a few other pieces of furniture. These were intended to house a single family.