A South Louisiana Sugar Plantation Story

West Baton Rouge Museum

Allendale Plantation from Slavery to Civil Rights

Early West Baton Rouge Plantations
In 1820, West Baton Rouge had 14 cotton mills, 1 sugar mill and 2 saw mills. The farms in the parish were mostly small enterprises with fewer than 20 slaves.
The History of Allendale Plantation
Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, Allendale Plantation is across the river from present day Baton Rouge and about five miles from where the Battle of Baton Rouge took place in 1862. Allendale Plantation was one of the largest sugar plantations in West Baton Rouge Parish in the antebellum period.

The plantation’s history goes back to 1822 when Colonel John Tilman Nolan purchased land and slaves from members of the Thériot family. In subsequent years, Colonel Nolan purchased more slaves and adjacent tracts to expand his land holdings. This land was known as Westover Plantation.

In 1852, Colonel Nolan sold Westover to his nephew William Nolan, and his new acquaintance, lawyer and planter, Henry Watkins Allen of Grand Gulf, Mississippi. The sale in 1852 included 125 slaves.

In 1855, Allen and Nolan dissolved their partnership and divided their plantation, creating Westover Plantation and Allendale Plantation. Their plantations were ranked among the top sugar producing plantations in West Baton Rouge.

Who was Henry Watkins Allen?
Henry Watkins Allen, a Mississippi lawyer, began his career as a planter in Grand Gulf, Mississippi and married Salome Ann Crane in 1844. Salome’s father, James Crane, was a large slave holding planter who gave the young couple a plantation. Henry W. Allen acquired likely 60 or more slaves at that time. Salome died of tuberculosis in 1851. 

Allendale served as Henry W. Allen’s permanent residence but he spent little time there. Allen hired overseers to run the agricultural operations. Allen took advantage of the fact that his plantation would be superintended to do a great deal of traveling.

Who Were the Slaves at Allendale Plantation?
The slave population included largely first and second generation Africans and African Americans. Many could remember their African origins, their Islamic religious traditions, West African language customs, family-naming customs, farming techniques, and cooking and craft skills.

Some of the slaves at Allendale were brought to the New Orleans slave market on the brig Orleans, which has a long history of transporting slaves from Richmond, Virginia to New Orleans, Louisiana from 1817 to 1856 and 1860 to 1861.

The brig took about 7 to 10 days to make the journey down the James River passing into Chesapeake Bay stopping at Norfolk, Virginia and then to the Atlantic Ocean into the Gulf of Mexico up the mouth of the Mississippi River to port in New Orleans. Hundreds of similar brigs brought slaves from the Chesapeake region to the Deep South in the antebellum period.

Slave Life at Allendale Plantation
Plantations in Louisiana typically included a built community called “the Quarter.” The Quarter was often located behind the planter’s home, which was called “the Big House.” On Allendale plantation, the slave dwellings were made of local cypress and had one or two rooms. It was common for one family of three to five people to live in one room as a single household. 
Slave Labor at Allendale Plantation
Skilled laborers and house servants were considered more important members of the enslaved population than field laborers. They enjoyed more privileges, received better clothing, and were closer physically to the master planter and his household.
Maria Jackson, The Field Laborer
Maria Jackson was born in 1827. She lived at Allendale from 1852 to 1861 with two relatives, Harriet Jackson and Stephen Jackson. As a field laborer, she would work in the field cultivating and harvesting sugar cane by hand with a cane knife.
Harriet Jackson, The Cook
Harriet Jackson was a Cook at Allendale from as early as 1852 to 1861. Harriet was born in 1812 and lived at Allendale with two relatives, Stephen Jackson and Maria Jackson. In south Louisiana, cooks typically prepared the meals for the master living in the Big House. Enslaved households were responsible for procuring and preparing their own meals inside their cabins in the Slave Quarter. 
Stephen Jackson, The Driver
Stephen Jackson was the Driver at Allendale from as early as 1852 to 1857. Stephen was born in 1817 and lived at Allendale with Harriet and Maria Jackson. The driver was responsible for managing field workers and laborers, and reported to the overseer. Stephen gave work to other slaves cultivating sugar and cotton, mending levees and fences. Likely, he was given the orders to punish other slaves. 
Valery Trahan, The Valet
Valery Trahan was born in 1829 and was purchased by Henry Watkins Allen a short time before the Civil War. Valery worked in the big house doing a variety of jobs such as shining his shoes, carrying Allen’s bags, delivering messages and papers, and polishing the silver.
The Overseer
Overseers were hired by the plantation owner for a year or two at a time. They were usually free white men some of whom were married with families. These overseers ran the agricultural operations and reported to the planter. The overseer usually lived in a house on the plantation and could control the enslaved workers with force. 
From Cane Fields to Battle Fields
Allendale served as headquarters for the Union Army from August 1862 at the time of the Battle of Baton Rouge and through the time of the Battle of Port Hudson in April 1863. During that time Union troops destroyed and burned most of the buildings on the plantation. The majority of the enslaved population left Allendale.

In December 1860, Henry W. Allen joined his fellow West Baton Rouge Parish Confederate comrades in joining the 4th Louisiana Infantry Regiment, also known as the Delta Rifles.

When Allen went to war, he brought some of his slaves with him, including Valery Trahan, his personal servant. Valery was at the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Baton Rouge.

In 1862, at the Battle of Baton Rouge, Allen seriously injured his leg. He would never walk without prosthetics again.

During Allen’s term as Governor, he emancipated Valery and employed him as his valet. Valery was also paid wages as an employee of the State of Louisiana.

After the War, Allen fled from Shreveport and left Louisiana so that he could avoid being tried for treason.

Valery traveled with Allen all the way to Brownsville (indicated on the map as Ft. Brown) at the Mexican-American border.

Allen continued traveling south, eventually settling in Mexico City. He would die a short time later on April 22nd, 1866 after a serious illness.

After leaving Brownsville, Valery returned home to Allendale to be with his wife, Lavinia Trahan. They would have 2 sons after the war: Valery Jr. and Allen.

The Trahan Family Legacy
The decedents of Valery Trahan continue in West Baton Rouge Parish, some still within a few miles of Allendale Plantation. Ronald Trahan lives in an area colloquially referred to as Stick Alley which is within a few miles of Allendale Plantation. He is an accomplished artist …. And continues to appreciate his family’s Louisiana legacy.
Credits: Story

Julia Rose, Director
Tommy McMorris, Director of Visitor Services

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