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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Plantation of the Old Régime

By Charles Étienne Arthur Gayarré (1805–1895)

[From “A Louisiana Sugar Plantation of the Old Régime.”—Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. 1887.]

THIS plantation was sagaciously and tastefully laid out for beauty and productiveness. The gardens occupied a large area, and at once astonished the eye by the magnificence of their shady avenues of orange-trees. Unbroken retreats of myrtle and laurel defied the rays of the sun. Flowers of every description perfumed the air. Extensive orchards produced every fruit of which the climate was susceptible. By judicious culture there had been obtained remarkable success in producing an abundance of juicy grapes, every bunch of which, however, when they began to ripen, was enveloped in a sack of wire to protect them against the depredations of birds. The fields were cultivated with such a careful observance of the variable exigencies of every successive season that there was no such thing known as a short or half crop, or no crop at all. This was reserved for much later days. But under the administration of Étienne de Boré, during a period of about twenty-five years, from the first ebullition of a sugar-kettle in 1795 to the time of his death in 1820, every crop was regularly the same within a few hogsheads. When, however, he ceased to exist, this seat of order and prosperity became a chaos of disorder and ruin, and the estate finally passed away from the family into the hands of strangers.

It was a self-sufficient little domain, exporting a good deal, and importing but meagrely, so that the balance was very much in its favor. It was largely supplied with sheep and their wool, with geese, ducks, turkeys, guinea-fowls, and every variety of poultry without stint. Eggs were gathered by the bushel. Pigeons clouded the sun, and when the small black cherries (called merises in French) were ripe, those feathered epicures ate them voraciously, got royally drunk, and falling from the trees, strewed the ground beneath. A numerous herd of cattle, under the inspection of old Pompey and a black youngster called Souris (in English mouse), on account of his diminutive figure, pastured luxuriously and grew fat. What a quantity of fresh butter, rich cheese, milk, cream, and clabber! Vast barns gorged with corn, rice, and hay; hives bursting with honey; vegetables without measure, and so luscious; a varied and liberal supply of carriages always ready for use, and horses for the saddle or for driving, all glossy and sleek; spirited mules, well fed and well curried—the pride of the field-hands; shrimps and fish from the river; multitudes of crawfish from the deep ditches; raccoons and opossums to gladden the heart of the most surly negro. Bore had made of his estate both a farm and plantation. Every day before dawn cart-loads departed for New Orleans with diversified produce, most of which was handed over, when it reached its destination, to two old women, Agathe and Marie, who were the occupants and guardians of the town house of Bore. They admirably understood the art of selling, and were well known to the whole population, whose confidence they possessed. Going to market with baskets full, they generally brought them back empty. Josephine, a handsome, strong-limbed, and light-footed mulattress, with another female assistant of a darker color, sold the milk and butter with wonderful rapidity, and both were back at the plantation at half past 10 A.M., with the mail, the daily papers, and whatever else they had to bring. It was clock-work in everything on that plantation of the old régime. Hence the farm produced at least six thousand dollars per annum, besides supplying all the wants of those who resided on it, black or white, and the product of the plantation was almost all profit.