Natchitoches (Nack-ih-tish) isn’t a name that rolls off the tongue for most English speakers. Another one? Jean Emmanuel Prud’homme (proo-dom) Plantation. Settled into a snug curve of the Cane River just to the south of Natchitoches proper, the plantation—alternatively known as Bermuda and now Oakland Plantation—has long served as a testament to nineteenth-century plantation culture—if also to the region’s predilection for tongue-tying designations.
The land on which Oakland Plantation sits was granted to Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme himself over 200 years ago, in 1789, by the Spanish government. Prud’homme, along with his wife Marie Catherine Lambre Prud’homme, settled the land and established what would become one of the foremost cotton plantations in the South. From that original parcel of land, the plantation grew exponentially, swallowing up hundreds of acres. According to the Prud’homme family lore, their plantation was one of the first in the nation to grow cotton on such a large (and successful) scale. Cotton thrived in the cultivated acres and murky summers of Oakland Plantation for well over a century. J. Alphonse Prudhomme (a direct descendent of the plantation’s original namesake) even won the gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis for growing the finest cotton in the South.
We love a good historical plantation, but Oakland is special for a variety of reasons. First, its history: unlike many plantations whose cotton and tobacco fields lay dormant in the cultural vacuum of the post–Civil-War South, Oakland continued to operate much as it had done before the War. Where other plantations fell victim to the economic drought and bitterness of the Reconstruction, Oakland continued to operate successfully for decades (even taking home that yellow ribbon at the World’s Fair nearly fifty years later). For almost 100 years following nationwide abolition and the conclusion of the War, free blacks and Creoles continued to live and work at Oakland—a policy some former slave owners were loath to adopt, leading in part to their downfall.
This unique scene was one that was actually fostered by the Prud’hommes, who continued to own and manage the plantation. In the years following the War, the family even opened a general store on the property that catered to the population of newly freed blacks (the building also housed a rural post office for decades). The plantation’s adaptation to the shifting tides and populations of the post-war South allowed it to flourish throughout the nineteenth century, and the cultural acceptance of freed blacks into the plantation’s shifted system still marks the local culture in Natchitoches today.
Oakland Plantation is also unique because of the plethora of preserved outbuildings that dot the rolling property. The plantation house itself is a restored glory, filled with 1860’s era furniture, but restored plantation homes aren’t as much of a novelty in our Southern states. Finding a property still rife with preserved outbuildings, on the other hand, is a treasure indeed. The twenty-seven outbuildings scattered across the plantation range from a hen house to a cattle corral to a carpenter’s shop, and even a doctor’s cottage. These intact buildings are indicative of plantation life, a life that was far more comparable to a small, self-sustaining town than a farm. The local culture of Natchitoches is also present in these buildings, specifically the two pigeonniers still present on the property: raising pigeons was a popular regional pastime, the flighty birds bred for their meat and eggs.
The descendants of Jean Emmanuel retained the full property until 1997, when they passed the majority of the acreage to the National Park Service. Now part of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Oakland Plantation is a true historical destination that’s been preserved for future generations. Even though the house and surrounding lands are no longer in the family and the name is a little easier to remember, you still might run into a Prudhomme. The family kept a few acres for themselves and still farm the land, just as their family has done for over two centuries.
SEE ALL OAKLAND PLANTATION PHOTOS HERE