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.
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 River Valley and improvements in transportation, resulted in a collapse in agricultural prices that caused the 1818-19 depression. Agricultural commodity prices remained depressed for many years, but their eventual recovery resulted in a new wave of land clearing, which in turn triggered another depression in the late 1830s. Cotton prices were particularly depressed.
Until the development of the steamboat, transportation of goods on major rivers was generally accomplished either with barges or flatboats, floated downstream or pushed upstream with poles or by hand using overhanging tree limbs. On the Mississippi River, most shipping was down river on log rafts or wooden boats that were dismantled and sold as lumber in the vicinity of New Orleans. Steam-powered river navigation began in 1811-12, between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and New Orleans. Inland steam navigation rapidly expanded in the following decades. Railroads appeared before the Civil War, though at first were used to link waterways. After the Civil War, railroads took over most of the hauling of goods.
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 in Louisiana, mostly between Natchez, Mississippi, 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 slow industrialization, plantations tended to be somewhat self-sufficient, growing most of their own food, harvesting their own timber and firewood, repairing farm implements, and constructing their own buildings. Many slaves were skilled blacksmiths, masons, and carpenters who were often 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, where the sandy and silty soil settled, increasing the height of the natural levees. The clay soil settled farther away from the rivers and being less stable, it slumped to muddy back-swamps. The plantations in the vicinity of St. Francisville, Louisiana are on a high bluff on the east side of the Mississippi River with loess soil, which was not as fertile as the river alluvium, but was relatively 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 of 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.