Beginning in 1794 and 1795, the Vincendières, a French planter family from the colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), began acquiring lands that would one day comprise a 748-acre plantation that they called L'Hermitage. Like many French refugees, the Vincendières came to the United States in 1793 to escape civil unrest associated with the French Revolution and with the slave uprisings that began in Saint-Domingue in 1791. Today's Best Farm consists of the southern 274 acres of the original 748-acre L'Hermitage plantation.
The Vincendières brought twelve African-American slaves with them from Saint-Domingue - the maximum legal limit. By 1800, Victoire Vincendière was the legal head of household at L'Hermitage, which was home to 108 people. Ninety of these were African-American slaves, making her the second largest slaveholder in the county at the time. The other 18 members of the household probably consisted of members of Victoire's immediate family, along with a distant cousin named Jean Payen de Boisneuf and other French refugees.
Why the Vincendière family chose to assemble such a large slave population is unknown (see Slavery at L'Hermitage). It is possible that the Vincendière family initially attempted to cultivate tobacco or some other staple crop that required a large labor force, but it is also possible that they were engaged in a secondary enterprise that centered on renting slaves out to other farms, mills, or industrial operations. Regardless of how they utilized slave labor, it is evident that the Vincendières were attempting to replicate the large-scale slave system that was in place in their native Saint-Domingue.
L'Hermitage plantation was assembled in two parts - the northern part in 1795 and the southern portion acquired in 1798. It is not entirely clear which part of the property was initially developed, but it is generally accepted that the southern portion was the center of plantation operations. A number of extant structures on the present-day landscape are attributed to the Vincendière occupation of the property, including the main house, secondary dwelling, and stone barn.