Slavery in the United States
Approximately 645,000 black Africans were shipped to the United States from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Chained together and crammed side-by-side into the reeking holds of slave ships, tens of thousands died during the trans-Atlantic voyage known as the Middle Passage. Congress banned the importation of slaves into the United States in 1808. While this ended the horrors of the Middle Passage, it did nothing to stop the spread of slavery. By 1860, some four million people in the U.S. were enslaved.
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared that all slaves within the Confederate States “are, and henceforward shall be free.” It did not, however, free the slaves in the border states of the Union. It was only with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the constitution in December of 1865 that slavery was banned in all of the United States.
Slavery in Louisiana
Slavery first came to Louisiana in 1706, when 20 Native Americans of the Chitimacha people were captured by the French in one of the frequent battles between the early colonists and the native peoples. The first enslaved Africans in Louisiana were six people captured by the French army during the War of Spanish Succession in 1710. By 1721, some 2,000 Africans had been imported into the Louisiana colony, primarily for work in the fields of indigo, sugar cane and tobacco.
By 1850, slaves made up almost half of Louisiana’s population. Nine out of ten enslaved people in Louisiana worked on rural farms and plantations. By 1860 there were 332,000 enslaved workers in Louisiana. Both men and women labored in the fields and houses. The men specialized in skilled work such as carpentry or blacksmithing, and the women cared for the children. The majority of the enslaved worked from sunrise to sunset and beyond. While very few owners ever allowed enslaved people to learn to read and write, legislation passed in Louisiana in 1830 made it a crime to do so. Out of necessity, the enslaved were thus forced to carry on the African tradition of conveying information orally.
Among the most prosperous planters and farmers in Louisiana were the Cane River Creoles of Color, some of whom were slaveowners themselves. In 1860 there were 472 free, black Louisianans whose average real estate holdings were worth over $10,000. There were also 9,434 enslaved people in Natchitoches Parish in 1860. It is worth noting the vast majority of rural whites and free blacks in antebellum Louisiana lived on small or modest farms and owned no slaves, or at most a very few, and they often worked side-by-side with them in the fields.
Slavery at Magnolia Plantation
Ambrose LeComte, owner of Magnolia, at one time owned 235 enslaved people. Some of these are individuals are listed in a ledger which was compiled from 1845-1860. It contains names, ages, location of residence, estimations of value, and in some cases comments about particular enslaved people. Some of those enslaved workers were housed in brick cabins. These cabins were built around 1845 and have a center wall that divided each cabin in half, creating a room for two separate families. Each family had access to the central fireplace.
Life After Slavery
After the Civil War many of the former slaves continued to work at Magnolia as tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and day laborers. Their lives continued to revolve around the cabins. Most of the cabins had vegetable and flower gardens, along with fenced in yards that enclosed chickens and other fowl. In the surrounding yards children would play and adults would socialize. Over time changes were made to each of the buildings. Some of the key additions included; a connecting doorway in the dividing wall, tin roofs, wood floors, and electricity. The cabins continued to be lived in as late as the 1970s.