Ain’t I a Slave Quarters?

Building a set of high end homes with a sugar plantation as their centerpiece is tacky. (Featured Image: Slave quarters, Whitney Plantation)

On October 6, 2015, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA) announced grand plans by Onsite Design (owned by Hogstrom) and real estate attorney Landry to purchase and restore Goodwood Plantation. Sounds pretty cool, right? On the surface it is and nothing seems out of the ordinary…til you get this part…

“…plans to spend $1 million to preserve and restore the home at 7307 Goodwood, making one of East Baton Rouge Parish’s last surviving plantation homes the centerpiece of the development. The houses being built around it will be a minimum of 3,000 square feet, and start in the $750,000 to $800,000 range.”(1)

Hold up. The “centerpiece of the development?” Not. just. a. renovation.

As in “the big house” is going to be like a fountain or a golf course in the middle of a housing track?

As in someone is going to pay nearly $1 million to be able to look outside their window and see the big house as they watch my beloved Saints on television or their kids play on the Nintendo Wii?

As in your nearly $1 million house could be buried on top of the gravesites of the formerly enslaved or where their quarters were?

Yes ma’am or sir, I believe I would be correct.

This is the equivalent of building a multi-million dollar housing development with the ovens at Auschwitz as the centerpiece and just as tasteless as proposing a slavery themed amusement park or creating a video game where you arrange the enslaved like Tetris shapes in the hull of a slave ship.

I’m sure Michael Hogstrom and Charles A. Landry have good intentions. They have to, right? But I heard once that the path to h.e. double hockey sticks is paved in good intentions. There is nothing that a sort of flashy website and good photography can have me ignore. Especially when the sort of flashy website and good photography negate to mention the following:

Slave, Slaves

Negro, Negroes, Negress

Wench, Buck

Enslaved, formerly enslaved, chattle slavery

Mulatto, mulatress, griff

Girl, boy

Human lives, sold for money, bought as commodities

Somebody’s ancestors

The story of Goodwood Plantation is the story of Baton Rouge. – Adelia at Old Goodwood website (2)

Is that right? Let’s have a look at that story.

© 2015, ns2 photography | http://www.ns2photography.com
© 2015, ns2 photography | http://www.ns2photography.com

Good, for Everyone EXCEPT the Slaves

Goodwood Plantation had between 56 and 79 enslaved people during it’s antebellum tenure. (3) (4) Not 56-79 indentured servants. Not 56-79 maids and butlers who got to go their own home every night or had a nice cushy room to sleep in. 56-79 men, women, and children who toiled on a sugar plantation from sun up to sun down and couldn’t leave at their own volition. Erase the word servants from your vocabulary when you talk about the formerly enslaved especially in this instance. Take a hint from the recent uproar about McGraw Hill’s textbooks. I digress.

According to the news article, Dr. Samuel G. Laycock (born about 1816) (5) built Goodwood for his wife Adelia Byrd Laycock (born about 1829 in Louisiana) in 1850.(5) (For photos of Goodwood, click here) The 1850 US Census notes Laycock owned real estate valued at $40,000 (5) which is equivalent to $1,121,584 in 2014. (6) By 1860, Laycock had real estate valued at $30,000 and personal estate (including slaves) valued at $75,000 (7) which is the equivalent of nearly $2 million as of 2014. (8)

But enough about Laycock, his financial exploits, and his “amazing” antebellum home. How was HE as a person? Let’s hear it straight from the mouth of one of the children of his former slaves, Elizabeth Hines. Luckily, she was interviewed as part of the WPA Slave narratives.

“I don’t know the name of my mother’s old master. Yes I do, my mother’s old master was named Laycock. He had a great big farm. He was building a gas house so that he could have a light all night and work niggers day and night, but peace came before he could get it finished and use it. God took a hand in that thing. I have seen the gas house myself. I used to tote water home from there in a bucket. It was cool as ice-water. The gas house was as big ’round as that market there (about a half block).”

“Laycock’s farm was out in the country about four miles from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Some of the slaves lived in log houses and some in big old boxed houses. Most of them had two rooms. They had nothing but four post beds and chairs like this I am settin’ down in (a little cane chair). I reckon it is cane—looks like it is. [as in sugar cane] They had homemade chairs before the War, boxes, and benches. The boards were often bought. But nothing else.

“They et greens and pickled pork. My father got tired of that and he would raise hogs. Pickled pork and corn bread!

“My father never told me what his master was to him, whether he was good or mean. He got free early because he was in the army. He didn’t run away. The soldiers came and got him and carried him off and trained him. I just know what my father told me because I wasn’t born. He served his full time and then he was discharged. He got an honorable discharge. He had a wound in the leg where he was shot.” – Elizabeth Hines, daughter of a former slave of Dr. Samuel G. Laycock (9)

Working on a sugar plantation was hard enough, but Laycock was building a house to make it so his enslaved would be working 24 hours a day, forget sun up to sun down. I guess they should be “happy they got the opportunity.” Tell that to members of the Diaspora from Haiti living in the Dominican Republic working on sugar plantations. (See the video below) It’s unfortunate that we likely can’t say anything to them since many of them were recently deported from the country in a seriously questionable fashion.

#TheSlaveCabinsAtGoodwood

The latest episode of South Park (“The City Part of Town”) hits a homerun in hilarious fashion with it’s discussion of the recent tide of gentrification taking place across the country in cities like Oakland, CA, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, DC. It asks: What the hell is going on in Urban Planning departments and with real estate developers nationwide? Is nobody even batting an eye with what their doing or are they too concerned about “the dollar?” I’m asking the same question about Adelia at Old Goodwood.

We can’t assume that descendants of the formerly enslaved don’t care about this development. Along the same lines, we can’t assume that they have knowledge of their ancestry being connected to the plantation. There could hundreds if not thousands of descendants of the former slaves of Goodwood who live in and around Baton Rouge and they have no clue about their tie to it. My goal following this post is to see if I can identify some of them.

No one would build a multi-million dollar housing development on:

…the grounds of a Japanese internment camp. 

…the site of a Civil War battle (God forbid we dishonor the Confederate ancestors that way)

…the sites of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

…the Edmund Pettus bridge.

…The Lorraine Motel.

As a nation, we deem these painful pieces of history worthy of commemoration and set aside the spaces they occupy as relics of American history so current and future generations can learn about them. That’s not what’s happening at Adelia at Gatewood.

The developers of appear poised to hoist themselves into the upper echelon of 1 percentism but it’s 2015 and the backdrop of a sugar plantation never changed.

By no means am I advocating that the land and home be left to sit. Preserve it. On the other hand, someone else I just met did something quite magnificent with a former plantation only 44 miles away. Mr. Hogstrom and Barrister Landry, I implore you to consider the same. If you don’t want to do what Mr. Cummings did, at least honor the 56-79 people who we know were enslaved there instead of acting like Casper the Friendly Ghost was who created Dr. Laycock and his family’s wealth. Something needs to be done.

Sound off below. What are your thoughts on this?

Sources:

(1) Boone, Timothy. “Goodwood Plantation to Be Restored, with High-end Subdivision Built around It.” The Advocate. 06 Oct. 2015. Web. 07 Oct. 2015. <http://theadvocate.com/news/13638792-123/goodwood-plantation-to-be-restored>.

(2) “The House.” Adelia at Goodwood Plantation. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2015. <http://www.adeliabr.com/the-house>.

(3) “United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1850 ,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MVZ8-H38 : accessed 8 October 2015), S G Laycock, Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States; citing line number 76, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 443,485.

(4) “United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1860,” database with images, Ancestry.Com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 October 2015), Samuel G Laycock, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Township : Not Stated Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1860. M653, 1,438 rolls.

(5) “United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCJ3-KLK : accessed 8 October 2015), S G Lazcock, East Baton Rouge parish, part of, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States; citing family 903, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

(6) Inflation calculator, http://www.westegg.com/inflation, accessed 8 October 2015.

(7) “United States Census, 1860,” database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFPF-NG2 : accessed 8 October 2015), S G Laycock, The City Of Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States; from “1860 U.S. Federal Census – Population,” database, Fold3.com(http://www.fold3.com : n.d.); citing p. 118, household ID 887, NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 803,408.

(8) Inflation calculator, http://www.westegg.com/inflation, accessed 8 October 2015.

(9) Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938, Arkansas Narratives, Volume II, Part 3, pages 273-275. Elizabeth Hines, age 70, interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor, accessed 8 October 2015 via http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mesn&fileName=023/mesn023.db&recNum=273&itemLink=S?ammem/mesnbib:@field(AUTHOR+@od1(Hines,+Elizabeth))

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Nicka Smith is a professional photographer, speaker, and documentarian with more than 19 years of experience as a genealogist. She has extensive experience in African ancestored genealogy, reverse genealogy, and family reunion planning and execution. She is also an expert in genealogical research in the Northeastern Louisiana area, sharing genealogy with youth, documenting the ancestral journey, and employing the use of new technology in genealogy and family history research.

5 Comments

  1. George Geder
    October 14, 2015

    The first order of business should be to determine if there are gravesites on the property. Let’s take care of that. If so, let’s see if we can identify the names of those interred. Let’s slow their role to, at least, deal with that.

    The second order would be to make the ‘centerpiece’ an historical landmark – dedicate it to the SLAVES who made it happen.

    And so on…

    Reply
  2. DB
    March 29, 2017

    The problem is that it is private property. So, if you don’t like what is being done with the property why didn’t you just buy it outright and do what you want with it? Don’t you realize that all the roads you drive on and possibly live on were once farmland? This is really a stretch. Why don’t you watch “Fire at Sea” on Netflix and tell me how bad you got it.

    The Secret of Change Is to Focus All of Your Energy, Not on Fighting the Old, But on Building the New
    -Socrates

    Reply
    1. Nicka Smith
      April 4, 2017

      We have to agree to disagree on this. I’m aware that farmland exists, the country wouldn’t exist without it. On the other hand, making a working plantation, with a slaveholder who was horrible to his formerly enslaved, the centerpiece of a development and then choosing not to acknowledge those who were on the other end of his mistreatment is wrong. No one would question this if the Holocaust was associated with it. But you’re telling me, as a person of color, that I shouldn’t take issue and that I “need to be grateful.” I suggest you expand your circle of friends and associates and expose yourself to different points of view so you learn how not to dismiss people and their thoughts so you can stay comfortable.

    2. Nicka Smith
      April 4, 2017

      We have to agree to disagree on this. I’m aware that farmland exists, the country wouldn’t exist without it. On the other hand, making a working plantation, with a slaveholder who was horrible to his formerly enslaved, the centerpiece of a development and then choosing not to acknowledge those who were on the other end of his mistreatment is wrong. No one would question this if the Holocaust was associated with it. But you’re telling me, as a person of color, that I shouldn’t take issue and that I “need to be grateful.” I suggest you expand your circle of friends and associates and expose yourself to different points of view so you learn how not to dismiss people and their thoughts so you can stay comfortable.

  3. DB
    April 8, 2017

    I never said “you need to be grateful” and my point of view is very broad, maybe just different from yours. Have you watched the docufilm I suggested? I was humbled to the core in an hour. What if my ancestors were slaves too only 1000 years ago instead of 200? Is there a cutoff date? I don’t know how the holocaust got in here but that was 10,000,000 murders btw, it doesn’t compare, sorry. I’m just saying that this is a private business venture that is well within the law. It is not a public or governmental project using tax dollars or public funds. You are getting the statues torn down, you are getting the names that make you feel uncomfortable eradicated, when you start moving against what people choose to lawfully do, privately , you are infringing on your own rights as a citizen of this country; rights that the slaves you speak of did not have. Like I said this one is a stretch, seems like an attention grab to me. The centerpiece is the house, not the former master, it’s a pretty house and that’s about all there is to it, people are drawn to that era of architecture because it aesthetically pleasing. I think you are smart enough to find something much more productive to put your efforts toward. I say all of this with the utmost respect, human to human, I want everyone to live in harmony but this is hyper-sensitive and not something that will ever get any traction. You have a voice, much more articulate and heard than mine. Try to make a positive impact on whomever you meet on a day to day basis instead of the overplayed race card which stimulates division, unless that is what you are hoping for. Dig deep and find a cause that will really make a tangible difference, we all need each other.

    Reply

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