'Happy Slaves' Sign Taken Down At Historic Louisiana Plantation

ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA — A sign at the state of Louisiana-owned Rosedown Plantation that proclaimed to visitors that the slaves once held there were “well taken-care of and happy” has been removed. It’s unclear how long the sign had hung in the plantation’s kitchen as part of an exhibit called “Slave Life at Rosedown.”

The sign claimed the slaves — who numbered around 850 at one of the antebellum South’s richest plantations — lived in “prettily built cabins” and had “a natural musical instinct” that was showcased at Christmastime.

“It was wonderful how well they succeeded in their melodies,” the sign read.

The 374-acre showcase plantation site is one of Louisiana’s most-visited historical sites, attracting about 28,250 visitors and raising more than $232,500 in revenues last fiscal year, The Advocate reported.

“It embodies the lifestyle of the antebellum South’s wealthiest planters in a way very few other surviving properties can,” the National Park Service says on its website of the National Register of Historic Places-listed plantation.

The website doesn’t mention the sign, which Brandon Burris, a top executive at Louisiana State Parks, told The Advocate was a mistake.

The sign didn’t represent what state historians or park administrators believe about slavery, he said, but was an attempt by curators to represent what Sarah Bowman, a descendant of the family that built the plantation, wrote in her book, “Rosedown.”

Southern University Professor Albert Samuels isn’t buying that.

“They always come up with ‘Oh, it’s a mistake,’ but no one’s responsible,” Samuels told The Advocate. “I wish I could say I was shocked. But there is still a basic unwillingness to come to terms with the fact that slavery was an awful institution.”

The now-removed sign glossed over the violence slaves endured and the backbreaking work they did to make plantation owners like Daniel and Martha Barrow Turnbull more wealthy. The Turnbulls established the plantation in 1830 and parts of it remained in their descendants’ hands until the 1950s.

Slaves were roused from sleep at 4 a.m. to begin work on the sprawling, 3,455-acre plantation, whether in its cotton fields and lavish gardens or in the herdsmanship of horses, cattle and other farm animals.

The sign was wildly inaccurate, according to historical tomes, including Joe Grey Taylor’s “Negro Slavery in Louisiana,” which notes that while masters provided their slaves with food, clothing, shelter and medical needs, slaves were held in bondage and physically abused, female slaves were raped by their owners and their children were sold off as property.

For the complete story, go to The Advocate.