While we were staying in
New Orleans I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit some
of the Plantations along "The "Spanish Trail".
This actually covers the St. James Parish which is on both sides
of the Mississippi River (LA 18 on the south side of the river
and LA44 on the north side) When we had visited New Orleans
several years ago (without benefit of RV) we had stopped at a
beautiful old mansion they had opened up as a bed and breakfast
called Nottoway. What an experience. We not only got to stay in
the Mansion but were allowed free reign during the evening hours.
Bob and I took advantage of this freedom by dancing in the
ballroom and out onto the porch veranda. It was lovely. But since
we had been to Nottoway previously we decided to look at some of
the other mansions along this route.
While we were in a local visitors center I spotted a brochure for a Creole Plantation named "Laura". Well, is there any question where I had to go? I really didn't know too much about it at the time but being the vain creature that we women sometimes are, I had to see the plantation that bore my name. As we pulled up to the entrance I was a little disappointed at how small it was in comparison with some of the other mansions we had passed. What I didn't take into consideration was the fact that 1) this was a creole plantation, and 2) and most importantly this had a history that none of the others could claim.
The opening sign about "Brer Rabbit" naturally piqued our curiosity. As we approached Bob went into this strange speech, "Oh, pleze mista bear, cut off mah head, boil me in oil, just don't throw me in dat dere briar patch." Since I'm the one who usually does strange things I asked him about his comment. He said: "I can still see the absolute personification of the American Negro, as presented by Disney in Song of the South. Wow, I loved that story. Old Uncle Remus sat on that stump, or was it a log, darn, I can't remember now, it's been so long since I've seen it. The film may have faded from my memory but not the story, or the clever resourceful Br'er Rabbit as he first punched and punched that old tar baby before his fateful capture by the evil fox and bear, only to talk his way out of danger, and into a sanctuary. Other then Br'er Rabbit, the characters have faded from my memory, but not the story or the punch line of one of America's best known and loved tales."
As we entered the Laura Plantation office we found out that the Br'er Rabbit stories is the primary reason that the plantation was saved from going to waste and ruin like so many of the other plantations in the area had done. When it was discovered that the stories originated here, an effort was made to restore the plantation house and grounds to some of its original glory. We found out that the Br'er Rabbit stories were not originally American, but then again, what really is? America is actually a culture of cultures, and it is with this definition that we traced old Br'er Rabbit, not outfoxing the fox in southern Louisiana where the story was first recorded as "Compair Lapin", but in what is now Senegal in West Africa. We found out that it was told in Africa by Negroes long before they were captured and enslaved in America. The thread of history winds itself thinly along the banks of the Mississippi in Louisiana to a rather unstately Creole plantation on the west bank of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that is now called Laura Plantation. It was here that we learned the truth behind the story of that wily and most courageous of all rabbits, (Bugs Bunny eat your heart out, 'cause we now know where you got your worldly attitude and clever resolve) Anyway Laura Plantation, according to Norman Marmillion, who along with his wife Sand, have owned the old plantation for the last six years, is the site where in the mid 1800s, prior to the War between the States, the story of Br'er Rabbit was first recorded by Alcee Fortier, as told to him by the slaves living in the very same slave quarters that are still standing there today.
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