Oak Alley is a historic sugar plantation located on the west bank of the Mississippi river. It was owned by the Jacques and Celina Roman and between the years of 1836 and 1861, when the civil war broke out, this plantation was home to 220 slaves.
The slaves were men, women and children of all ages. Many were born into slavery and died slaves so never knew what freedom felt like. Whilst wandering around these twenty five acres of beautiful, peaceful land filled with benches in the shade of giant oak trees, it’s hard to imagine the cruelty that played out here.
A story that really touched me was about a man called Zephyr who was brought to Oak Alley plantation in 1836 with his wife Zaire and sons Antoine and Bacchus. They were the property of Jacques late mother, Louise. Before her death she expressed concern about Zephyr and his family’s wellbeing as well as mentioning that he had been “a faithful slave”. She wanted the family to remain together when she died as it was customary for families to be split up during sales. After her passing and possibly out of respect for his mother, Jacques filed for Zephyr’s freedom in an act called manumission.
As Zephyr’s wife and children remained as slaves, he stayed at Oak Alley working for Jacques as a free man. After ten years he had saved enough money to buy his wife Zaire for $350. At this point he was seventy years old and she was ten years his junior. They decided to remain at Oak Alley. No one knows whether this was because it was too late in life to start again or whether it was because of their boys. Antoine was now Jacques gardener and Bacchus an Ox cart driver.
Many years later, a census recorded a field hand living at Oak Valley. The man gave his name as Zephyr Roman, a widower aged 100.
In stark contrast to Zephyr’s heartbreaking story were the lives of Oak Alley House’s residents. They lived a life of luxury and with more money than they knew what to do with. The interior is decadent and whilst inside you can imagine the ladies strolling around in their low sloping shouldered gowns with leg of mutton sleeves and conical skirts. I will never understand how you could live with yourself whilst enslaving another human being, let alone 220 of them. And apparently, these guys were some of the nice slave owners…