As on other sugar plantations, the workforce of enslaved laborers was critical to the success of Oak Alley. The slaves were housed in 20 white-washed cabins located in two rows of 10 behind the Big House. Each cabin was a double cabin of wood with a central fireplace that heated both halves. The slaves were thus housed in 40 units. House slaves, referred to as servants, were likely housed in or near the Big House.
Over the years Jacques Télésphore Roman accrued an inventory of 20 house slaves and 93 field slaves, including children. Slavery spanned three decades at Oak Alley and ended in 1865 with the Civil War. A devastated land and the madness of haphazard methods of reconstruction wreaked havoc on former masters and slaves alike, while a whole culture was swept into the uncertainty of a new way of life.
The Research and Collections Department at Oak Alley is currently conducting an extensive research effort into these lesser-known plantation residents. How did they live? What did they think of their status as property? Were they families in the modern sense of the word? While we will never know the answers to some of these questions, we are gradually gaining a better understanding of the way slavery functioned socially and economically on this sugar plantation. We have learned that infants were always baptized, there was a strong separation between house and field duties, and the most common punishment was imprisonment. These discoveries, and others, will help illuminate the lives of 158 plus individuals who for many years have been a mystery.
Visit our reconstructed slave quarters and view the "Slavery at Oak Alley" exhibit to learn more about this time in Oak Alley's history.
To learn more about the historical and educational significance of the exhibit "Slavery at Oak Alley," watch this short video podcast.