African American History

Row of brick slave/tenant cabins at Magnolia
Magnolia's slave tenant cabins.

Charles Ward

Oakland and Magnolia Plantations share a similar history of slavery in French Colonial Louisiana. Enslaved people and later sharecroppers worked the land and struggled as a people. During the French and Spanish period, slavery was defined by the Code Noir. All enslaved people dealt with the loss of autonomy and limited movement. However, It appears that the Prud'homme family at Oakland was fairly lenient in this regard, allowing the enslaved people to visit friends and relatives along Cane River, providing or allowing dances, marriage ceremonies, baptisms, funerals, and occasional church services. At the height of Oakland Plantation (1835-1861) its enslaved people numbered 96-162 individuals.

A plantation acted as a small village with everyone having a defined role. Inventories of enslaved people of Oakland do not reveal the names of all who worked in the fields, shops, cotton gin, stables, and house, but some were identified. For example, Charles was a coach driver for the family. Solomon Wilson, Bob, and Lens were carpenters. Solomon Williams was a blacksmith; artisans who worked in the shops came in close contact with the field workers and often lived in the quarters and had high status both in the Big House and quarters.

Other information about the enslaved can be drawn from the journal of the overseer at Oakland-Seneca Pace. In August of 1860 he noted that ninety slaves picked cotton; he also included some of the amounts picked by certain individuals.

Ambrose LeComte (or LeCompte), owner of Magnolia Plantation, enslaved 235 people prior to the Civil War. An account ledger of LeComte lists the names, ages, and estimation of value of the enslaved people of Magnolia. Some of the enslaved were housed in brick cabins. These cabins were built around 1845 and were double-pen, galleried cabins of saddle bag construction. A center wall divided each cabin in half, creating a room for two separate families. Each family had access to the central fireplace.

After the Civil War the South's economy lay in ruins; plantations, railroads, levee systems and a fragile economic structure could not support the flush times of the antebellum period. With the loss of slavery, people were tied to the land through contracts. Initially contracts were set up for ex-slaves through the Freedman's Bureau to help them gain financial independence through sharecropping. This system allowed African Americans to work a small plot of land on the plantation with the plantation owner supplying the necessary tools, housing and land. At the end of the year both parties would split the profits. At Oakland, sharecropping began as early as 1868. This system continued throughout the South until the introduction of mechanization.

* Excerpts taken from "Oakland Plantation, It's People" by Anne Patton Malone.
(Prud'homme Journal- 1836-37) Southern Historical Collection. UNC.

Last updated: June 23, 2023

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