Slave Quarters (3/3)
Slavery on Oak Alley Plantation was seen as some of the most arduous enslavement conditions, although not because of the owners, but because of the location and type of plantation. Louisiana summers could get dangerously hot during the days, and would never really cool down during the nights. Heat stroke and dehydration were common, although they were watched for and treated. Winters weren't any better, with the arctic winds blowing straight down the plains of central United States and the humidity coming off the Mississippi river in the plantation's backyard. Freezes were common, and the long life cycle of sugar cane brought the planting and harvesting times into the late, and early, portions of the seasons.
In addition to the unforgiving environment, the harvest itself was labor intensive. Unlike the crops of cotton or tobacco, sugar cane had to be watched constantly. The plant grows very shallow roots and any amount of rain or wind could destroy most of the crop. When it comes time to harvest, there is no simple picking of the fruit; all of the plant needs to be cut down, the long slender leaves must be cut off and down the stalk and the stalk itself must be chopped into manageable pieces.
After the sugar crop has been harvested it still needed to be boiled down into molasses, a process that involves several very large metal vats, ladles the size of pool skimmers and barrels that weigh 1200 pounds on average.
Jacques Roman had the original slave quarters built close to the main house, and therefore close to the other amenities such as the kitchen and the outhouses. In addition to the set of slaves that he had at the time of his marriage to Celina and the building of the plantation, he also purchased his mother's slaves upon her death. Jacques and two other siblings fought over what was to be done with the slaves after their mother's death. Victorin argued that their mother did not want the slave families split up, but Sothsene stated that since she did not put that in her will exactly that they should sell them individually for the greater profit. Jacques, having a new plantation to stock, bought them all at auction and kept the entire lot together.
This family style approach to slavery was carried over from the economic advantages of owning several plantations that bordered each other up and down the Mississippi river. What could be borrowed and traded between the family plantations saved the family money.
Slaves frequently traveled between the family plantations, relaying goods and communication. Several of the slaves were godparents to children from different plantations, and so forth, hinting at the intermingling of the family estates, economies and communities.