Known as America’s first slavery museum, the Whitney Plantation dates back to 1752, when German immigrant Ambroise Heidel acquired the land, earning great wealth in the cultivation of indigo. Heidel’s youngest son, Jean Jacques Haydel, Sr., transitioned the plantation into a sugar production operation in the early 19th century. At its height, its enslaved workforce produced up to 407,000 pounds of sugar during a single grinding season. Following the Civil War, the Haydel family sold the plantation in 1867 to Brandish Johnson of New York, who then renamed the property after his grandson, Harry Whitney.
Between 1880 and 1946, the plantation was owned Pierre Edouard St. Martin, Théophile Perret and later generations of their families. In 1946 it was acquired by Alfred Mason Barnes of New Orleans who sold it to the Formosa Chemicals and Fiber Corporation in 1990. In 1999, troubled by the way plantations have been romanticized by modern generations, New Orleans-based attorney John Cummings purchased the 1,700-acre property with the intentions of restoring it as a museum dedicated to telling the story of slavery. Cummings’ goal was to show slavery from the perspective of the enslaved on a site where 350 enslaved blacks worked and lived. After an $8 million restoration and with the help of Senegalese scholar Ibrahima Seck, Cummings opened the museum’s doors for the first time in December 2014. Since then it has quickly become a popular destination for Southern Louisiana visitors.
Antioch Baptist Church The walking tour at Whitney Plantation, which operates rain or shine, begins at the Antioch Baptist Church. This church was originally located on the east bank of the Mississippi River and constructed by freedmen associated with the Anti-Yoke Society in 1870. It was renamed Antioch Baptist Church in 1890 and was the only African-American church in the vicinity on the east bank of the Mississippi River. The historic structure was donated to Whitney when the congregation constructed a new chapel in 1999.
The Children of Whitney Designed and sculpted by Woodrow Nash, each terracotta figure represents one of the more than 30 formerly enslaved men and women who were interviewed by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s about their experience in Louisina as children. Known as the Children of Whitney, the statues counter the presumption that the enslaved left no stories worth remembering or honoring.
The Wall of Honor The Wall of Honor is a memorial dedicated to the lives of the men, women and children who were enslaved at Whitney Plantation. It includes narratives provided by many former slaves to the Works’ Progress Administration in 1936.
The Field of Angels *Between 1823 and 1863, 39 children died at this plantation. Documentation from the Sacramental Records of the Archdiocese of New Orleans reveals that the enslaved children were subject to high mortality rates. The Field of Angels is a memorial at Whitney Plantation that is dedicated to 2,200 known Louisiana slave children who died before their third birth date. *
The Slave Quarters Whitney Plantation was originally home to 22 slave cabins. Most were razed during the 1970s. Currently, two of the cabins at Whitney today are original to the Haydel property. The remaining were acquired from the Myrtle Grove Plantation in Terrebonne Parish.