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Whitney Plantation Tour & Why It’s A Louisiana Must-Do

Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 10:53 am

If you are planning a visit to New Orleans city then you should add one of the Louisiana plantation tours to your itinerary.

There are a number of plantations to choose from, some of which you can combine with other attractions, however if you are looking to experience more about Louisiana plantation life than just live oaks and elegant homes, then look no further than a Whitney Plantation tour.

The Whitney Plantation official website quotes from National Geographic when it refers to itself as “The plantation every American should visit”. I would include any visitor, whether or not an American, to Louisiana in that statement. Here’s why a Whitney Plantation tour should be on your itinerary.

What Happened at Whitney Plantation – A Bit of History

Whitney Plantation was originally known as Habitation Heidel after German immigrant Ambroise Heidel who founded it in 1752. The family later changed their name to Haydel.

Indigo was initially produced on the plantation but in the early 19th century there was a transition to sugarcane. Sugar production is very labour intensive so the numbers of enslaved people increased dramatically. The majority of enslaved people working on the plantation were involved in the production of sugar, however there were also herdsmen looking after animals and domestic workers cleaning the house and taking care of children.

The Haydel family owned the plantation until 1867 when it was sold and renamed Whitney. It ceased operation in 1975 and in 1999, a 200 acre portion of the Whitney Plantation property was purchased by John Cummings.

Cummings set about creating Louisiana’s first plantation museum dedicated to the history of slavery. He sought help from various people including Senegalese scholar Dr Ibrahim Seck. Whitney Plantation opened to the public in 2014.

In 2019 Cummings donated the plantation and converted it to a nonprofit museum.

Image of a sculpture showing chains held in a hand as seen on a Whitney Plantation tour.

Why You Should Visit Whitney Planation

In New Orleans you will have the opportunity to choose which, of several, Louisiana slave plantations to visit. Whitney Plantation stands out for being a museum dedicated to educating the public about the history of slavery and its legacies. The focus is on the enslaved people who lived and worked at Whitney Plantation and not those who owned them. It’s this that make a Whitney Plantation tour a Louisiana must-do.

At Whitney Plantation you will literally come face to face with those who experienced life on the plantation and confront the realities of their lives. You will learn about rebellion and death but also about resilience and life.

A Whitney Plantation tour is not, of course, a fun day out. Home truths are often difficult but they are truths all the same. A Whitney Plantation tour offer visitors the chance to learn about this dark chapter in America’s history from the perspective of those who were most affected by, but benefitted the least from, it. That’s why you should visit Whitney Plantation.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade & Slavery in Louisiana

The visitors centre at Whitney Planation has two permanent exhibitions, both of which are free to the public. Therefore, if you are unable to take a Whitney Plantation tour, do stop at the visitors centre to see these exhibits.

The first is The History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade exhibit. It provides a very interesting overview of the slave trade, its origins, routes, participants etc.

The second is the Slavery in Louisiana exhibit. This focusses on the period 1719-1865 and covers all aspects of slavery in the State.

Both exhibits are a great introduction to a Whitney Planation tour.

The visitors centre also contains a gift shop selling a variety of things, including some very interesting books.

Whitney Plantation Tour – What to Expect

On arrival for a Whitney Plantation tour, visitors receive a lanyard featuring the name and image of a child once enslaved at Whitney Plantation. On the lanyard is a quote taken from their contribution to the Federal Writers Project, a jobs program which was part of the New Deal after the Great Depression that saw unemployed writers documenting the lives of formerly enslaved people across several states.

Once you leave the visitors centre, the first building you come to at Whitney Plantation is not the Big House. It’s the Antioch Baptist Church. Built in 1870 by freedmen, the church was donated to Whitney Plantation in 1999.

Inside the church (and around the plantation) are sculptures of children. These are known as The Children of Whitney and represent those former slaves who were children at the time of emancipation and who contributed to the Federal Writers Project. It’s their images that appear on the lanyards.

As you move around Whitney Plantation you will see, amongst other things, the following:

The Big House

The house dates from 1790 and is built in a French Creole raised style. True to Whitney Plantations’ mission, the Big House felt to me very much in the corner and not the primary focus of attention.

Image of the Big House seen on a Whitney Plantation tour

Overseer’s House

This house dates from 1820-1860 and was occupied by Ursin Webre, overseer between 1850-1867. Ursin himself enslaved 7 people who worked as domestics for his family.

Jail

Dating from 1870-1890, this jail was manufactured after the Civil War and used elsewhere in Louisiana. It is similar in design to slave jails. Although it was not used at Whitney Plantation, I found its position, for display purposes, looking toward the Big House very poignant.

Slave Quarters

The slave quarters once stood half a mile from these cabins on Whitney Plantation. A road through the centre of them led to the sugar mill. Enslaved families lived here until, as a sign nearby says, they were “separated by death, escape or the slave trader.”

Sugar Kettles

These were used inside the sugar mill to boil cane juice and make granulated sugar. As you can imagine, enslaved people were at risk from suffering severe burns in this process (and many did).

Everything about Whitney Plantation is poignant, however there are some things that stood out to me:

The Wall of Honor

This is a memorial dedicated to the over 350 people who were enslaved on Whitney Plantation between 1752 and 1865. Their names come from inventories, sales documents and manumission records.

The Field of Angels

This is a memorial dedicated to the 2,200 enslaved children who died in St. John the Baptist Parish between the 1823 and 1863. Movingly, some of the deceased are not recorded on the memorial by name but by the words “a little slave”.

Many of the children died from disease, but some died in tragic circumstances such as malnutrition, hit by lightning, drowning or burning. During the period depicted in the memorial (1823 to 1863), 39 children died at Whitney Plantation, almost one per year. Only six had reached five years of age.

The bronze statute at the centre shows a black angel carrying a baby to heaven.

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Walls

This memorial is dedicated to the 107,000 people enslaved in the State of Louisiana. Here you can read their names and some of the stories they had to tell.

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall carried out research over many years to collect the names of these enslaved people, their countries of origin, occupations and owners. It’s a large, very moving memorial.

Ringing the Bell

The bells that once controlled the enslaved people on Whitney Plantation can today be rung by visitors in remembrance of all those who lived, worked and, in some cases, died there.

Image of the bell that can be seen and rung on a Whitney Plantation tour.

1811 German Coast Uprising Memorial

The largest slave insurgency in the Southern USA took place in January 1811 in several Louisiana parishes, including in St. John the Baptist Parish where Whitney Plantation is located. It involved an estimated 500 enslaved people who marched from sugar plantations, intending to enter New Orleans and free all those enslaved there.

Ninety-five enslaved men and two white men were killed. Following execution, the heads of some of the enslaved were placed on spikes to intimidate other enslaved people.

The memorial at Whitney Plantation commemorates the uprising.

Image of the memorial at Whitney Plantation commemorating the 1811 German Coast uprising as seen on a Whitney Plantation tour.

Planning Your Visit to Whitney Plantation

To help you plan your visit to Whitney Plantation I have set out below some key information.

Where is Whitney Plantation & How to Get There?

Whitney Plantation is located at 5099 Louisiana Hwy 18, Edgard, LA 70049, about a one hour drive from New Orleans.

If you do not have access to a vehicle, I would suggest booking an organised tour. The Plantation website advises that ride sharing services don’t operate nearby so if you take an Uber or Lyft you will not be able to return.

I booked this tour operated by Gray Line New Orleans. It included transportation to/from New Orleans, entry to Whitney Plantation and a self guided tour. Interestingly, the transportation element included drop offs and pickups from Oak Alley Plantation and also went past Laura Plantation so there was a chance to catch a glimpse of these too!

You may also be able to combine a Whitney Plantation tour with a boat or airboat swamp tour – I find Get Your Guide a good place to start my research and read tour reviews. Click here to read my Louisiana Swamp Tour blog post.

When is Whitney Plantation Open?

Whitney Plantation hours are 9.30am – 4.30pm, with last entry at 3pm. It is closed on Tuesdays and on certain public holidays.

What Tours Are Available & How Much Do Tickets Cost?

Two types of tour are offered to visitors:

  • Guided group tours take place at specified times on a first come first served basis and cost $32 (concessions available)
  • Self guided audio tours are available between 9.30am and 3pm and cost $25 (concessions available).

Tickets can be booked online on the official site – check also for up to date visitor information. Note however that if you opt for an organised tour, you do not need to separately book a tour.

How Long Does a Whitey Plantation Tour Take?

You should allow 2-3 hours at the Plantation. Add to that travelling time and you are looking at a 4-5 hour time period. The organsied tour I joined had a duration of 5 hours.

Image of a sculpture depicting a man with hands unchained as seen on a Whitney Plantation tour

Tips for Taking a Whitney Plantation Tour

Here are my tips for getting the most out of your Whitney Plantation tour:

  • wear cool, loose fitting clothing as its hot and humid in the summer months
  • wear comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking and some of the paths are uneven
  • carry plenty of water
  • wear sunscreen
  • bring bug spray
  • wear a hat
  • bring wet weather gear eg a coat or umbrella, just in case
  • be prepared for an emotional visit and open to learning those home truths

Final Thoughts

One of the first things I added to my New Orleans itinerary was a Whitney Plantation tour. I was not disappointed. The opportunity to explore a plantation from the perspective of those enslaved there was undeniably the deciding factor and the reality matched my expectations.

Whitney Plantation uses the words and experiences of enslaved people themselves to educate the public and as a result, visitors have, in my opinion, a more authentic experience.

In view of all this, if you are looking to tour a plantation in Louisiana then look no further than a Whitney Plantation tour.

Be sure to read my post 12 Best Things To Do In New Orleans, Louisiana when planning your visit!

Image of one of the Children of Whitney sculptures in the Antioch Baptist church as seen on a Whitney Plantation tour

Disclaimer – Information was correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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