The Whitney Plantation

Louisiana Slave Force

According to the 1819 inventory of the community of Jean Jacques Haydel Sr. and the Late Marie Magdelaine Bozonnier Marmillon, sixty-one enslaved men and women lived on the plantation, the majority composed of Creoles born in Louisiana and nineteen (19) born in Africa. This group of Africans was 100 percent male and counted eleven individuals aged between twenty and thirty five (58 percent) and eight others who were fifty up to sixty-six years old. Two individuals originated from the Caribbean Islands, precisely Jamaica and St. Domingue (Haiti), and three came from the East coast of the United States. Besides the Congos (Bantu) of Central Africa, the vast majority of the enslaved Africans listed on the plantation in 1819 belonged to the Mande group of West Africa (Mandingo and Bambara). In New Orleans, “Congo” became synonymous of “Africa” like “Guinen” (Guinea) in Saint-Domingue (Haiti). The Mande people brought very deep influences to the culture of Louisiana including masking, which contributed to the resilient tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans.

Gender-Mortality Health Issues

The 1819 inventory also indicates that twenty-one enslaved women (34 percent) and their nine Children lived on the Haydel plantation. Marguerite, a sixty-six year old Creole woman, was the oldest on the plantation. She was listed with her husband Sam, of the Soso (Susu) nation, sixty years old and blind. Isidore, a twenty-year-old man of the Congo nation was affected by teigne (tinea, a fungal infection of the skin). One individual was affected with hernia, and another one had recovered from it. This sickness related to hard work was quite frequent among the labor force of the area. More than hard work, the loss of freedom and homesickness certainly affected most of them, especially those born in Africa like Bernard, a fifty-year old man of the Kiamba (Tchamba) nation, who suffered from moments de démence (fits of madness). There are no indications of death rates in slave inventories but further documentation shows earliness of motherhood among the enslaved women and high mortality among their children. Thirty-nine children died on this plantation from 1823 to 1863, only six reaching the age of five. The level of this death toll can be better understood when one thinks of a house where a child dies every year. Some of the children, either on this site or elsewhere, died in tragic circumstances such as drowning, epidemics, being burned or hit by lightning. Attentive scrutiny would allow the visitors to the Whitney plantation to identify these children among the 2,200 names displayed in the Field of Angels.

Skills and Pricing

The price of each enslaved person was determined by many factors such as age, gender, health, personal behavior, and skills. The grown individuals, aged between sixteen and thirty-five years and belonging to the same gender, were generally more expensive than younger and older people. But within the same age range, women were generally less priced. Illness or being a maroon lessened notably the value of a slave. Alexandre, of the Bambara nation, was a carpenter, a barrel maker (cooper), and a good domestic. He was only thirty years old but was estimated at fifty piastres because he was sickly. Manuel, a twenty-three year old Creole, was described as voleur et maronneur (a thief and a maroon) and priced 400 piastres. Most of the workforce on the plantation was composed of field hands, some of them also referred to as bons domestiques (good servants) or habiles à la garde des troupeaux (good herdsmen). The two sugar makers (sucriers) both belonged to the Bambara nation of West Africa: Alexis, fifty years old, estimated 250 piastres; and Barnabe, thirty years old, estimated 1,000 piastres. The latter was also a scieur de long (sawyer), and a good house Negro. François, a fifty-year-old “griffon” (Afro-Indian), was estimated 900 piastres despite his age. Besides being a good domestic and a carpenter, he was more importantly a tonnelier (cooper), a trade much needed in a refinery for the production of the sugar containers called boucauts (hogsheads). Skills made the difference between two individuals of the same age and gender, and without any defaults.