A Guide to Sites, Museums, and Memory

Whitney Plantation Wallace, Louisiana, United States

The Big House
The Big House, Whitney Plantation. This is also one of the very few historic American houses known to have received decorative wall and ceiling paintings on both its exterior and its interior, which are believed to have been done by Domenico Canova. These paintings were cleaned and restored by Elise Grenier of Grenier Conservation, Florence, Italy.

The Whitney Plantation is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, on the historic River Road in St. John the Baptist Parish, less than an hour west of New Orleans. Today, Whitney Plantation is the only plantation museum in Louisiana exclusively dedicated to understanding the facts of slavery. As a Site of Memory, with the focus on the lives of the slaves and their legacies, visitors can experience the world of an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century indigo and sugar plantation through the eyes of the enslaved people who lived and worked here.

Ambroise Heidel (1702–1770), the founder of this plantation, emigrated from Germany to Louisiana with his mother and siblings in 1721. He became a modest farmer, beginning his farm with a single pig for livestock. In 1752, Ambroise Heidel bought the original tract of land of this plantation and became wealthy in planting indigo. His son, Jean Jacques Haydel Sr., transitioned the plantation from indigo to sugar in the early nineteenth century. The Haydel family continued to operate the plantation until the death in 1860 of Marie Azélie Haydel, the daughter-in-law of Jean Jacques Haydel Sr. Her heirs sold the property in 1867 to Bradish Johnson of New York, who named the property after his grandson, Harry Whitney, a writer and Arctic explorer.

Ownership of the land shifted many times, and over time the property fell into disrepair. In 1990, The Formosa Chemical Corporation bought the property with the intention of building the world’s largest rayon factory. After public outcry, Whitney was sold to the Cummings Family of New Orleans. John Cummings, the founder of the Whitney Plantation Museum, and his collaborator, Senegalese historian Ibrahima Seck, wanted to ensure that the property would give a voice to those whose stories were not being told and were at risk of being lost.

During the 90-minute walking tour, visitors will gain a unique perspective on the lives of the enslaved people on a Louisiana sugar plantation, learning their histories through the oral narratives recorded by the Federal Writers’ Project during the Depression.

The Whitney Plantation Historic District has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1992. The site includes original historic buildings and structures that were rebuilt to their original design. The Whitney plantation gives a voice and respect to the slaves who lived, worked, and died here through memorial artwork and an indoor museum exhibit based on slave narratives.


Listen to “Saint-Louis, Sénégal and New Orleans, USA: Two Mirror Cities” from a Radio France Internationale program about a groundbreaking meeting of scholars held in New Orleans, Louisiana from 22–25 April 2013.


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