This lecture is part of the National Council for Preservation Education meeting held July 15-16, 2014 in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
An Unlikely Paper Trail: Identifying the Sites and Inhabitants of the Tenant Quarters Community at Magnolia Plantation by Dustin Fuqua, Cane River Creole National Historical Park
Although mainstream tourism seldom interprets plantation life beyond the “Big House,” the collective memory of the enslaved workforce, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers is perpetually recanted at Cane River Creole National Historical Park. At the park’s Magnolia Plantation unit, an architectural collection of eight antebellum slave/tenant cabins, constructed of brick, stand as monuments to the perseverance of the Laborer Class. Yet these cabins and the extant architectural resources of the National Historic Landmark are but vestiges of the substantial community that once inhabited Magnolia Plantation.
Cognizant of its former scale, one may consider the Magnolia Plantation vicinity today a ghost town. In addition to the brick cabins at the plantation’s heart, rows of wooden cabins stretched like appendages north and south along Cane River. Research indicates that over 30 tenant houses were inhabited at Magnolia Plantation in the 20th century. Yet factors involving mechanization of agribusiness, the Civil Rights Movement, and urban sprawl have but erased these sites from existence. Today, little more than trees, seasonal flowers, and dark stains in the cultivated earth serve to delineate the archaeological location of such sites.
In an effort to determine the location of the Tenant Quarters sites and identify the families that resided therein, Dustin Fuqua utilized the park’s Archives collection and conducted ethnographic research. In doing so, much was learned with regard to geographic location of sites and the services made available to the Laborer Class. An unlikely paper trail involving historic store accounts, agribusiness invoices, and utilities’ receipts reveal the location and identity of the underrepresented demographic at “The End of the Plantation Era.” In this presentation, Dustin will discuss the cultural landscape of Magnolia Plantation while interpreting research that led to identifying the locations and inhabitants of the vanishing Tenant Quarters Community.