TOURISM | America’s First Freedom March
The River Parishes Tourist Commission launches free, self-led tour
Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.
For many people, the events of 2020 brought a realization of how incomplete a picture of American history they’ve been taught. From housing segregation to criminal justice issues, there is more to our country’s story than is taught in schools. Travel is one of the most effective ways to learn about the past and the River Parishes Tourist Commission has created an important new way to interact with local history with the 1811 Slave Revolt Trail.
A quick history lesson: On Jan. 8, 1811, a group of enslaved people began one of the largest slave revolts in U.S. history on a plantation in LaPlace, Louisiana, which was then owned by Manuel Andry, and is now known as the 1811/Kid Ory Historic House. More than 500 enslaved people marched for three days downriver toward New Orleans, killing two men and burning some plantation structures en route. They made their way to Kenner, Louisiana, where they encountered a militia and were pushed back to present-day Norco (New Sarpy). A brutal battle and the trials that followed at Destrehan Plantation led to the execution of 100 of the revolutionaries. In a warning to other enslaved people, the heads of 40 of the dead were put on spikes in front of plantations stretching 60 miles along the Mississippi River in the River Parishes.
The full extent and near success of the rebellion was suppressed in news coverage of the time and for many years the history of these freedom fighters was unknown. The River Parishes Tourist Commission is honoring the 210th anniversary of the revolt by opening the 1811 Slave Revolt Trail, an immersive tour marked with kiosks along River Road from the 1811/Kid Ory Historic House to Destrehan Plantation.
“We hope to give the full, round breadth of what happened in this region, from the beautiful columns to the horrific tragedies in the field and everything in between,” said Buddy Boe, executive director of the River Parishes Tourist Commission.
The trailhead at the 1811/Kid Ory Historic House — located at 1128 LA 628 in Laplace, — houses a collection that celebrates jazz trombonist Kid Ory, who was born in the quarters in 1886, as well as honors the participants of the revolt. The trail ends at Destrehan Plantation — located at 13034 River Road in Destrehan — where most of the trials took place and where the original manuscripts of the trials are preserved.
At both trailheads and along 10 miles of River Road, eight kiosks provide visitors with the story of the revolt. Visitors can scan QR codes with their phones to hear an audio tour at each location for free.
The website supporting the trail offers historic details, and hosts the audio recordings of actors playing the roles of actual revolters. At the beginning of the trail people will hear the name and background of a revolter, and at the end of the trail they find out if the revolter escaped, if they were executed, or if they were forced back to their plantation.
Destrehan Plantation will also have audio recordings of actors performing the manuscripts of the trial, giving voice to the revolters’ testimony, as well as those running the trial.
“It was like a Salem witch trial — they were already [presumed] guilty,” said Boe. “The trial was just a process, and nobody cared what the actual verdict would be; it was just a matter of how they would be punished. We want that tone, which is in the manuscript, to come out and let the listener experience that perspective. We hope the contrast is stark because it needs to be.”
The trail has its own logo and is being branded as “America’s First Freedom March,” with the trademark application filed. Visitors can extend their experience of the trail by visiting Whitney Plantation to see the 1811 Slave Revolt memorial, which has digital copies of the trial manuscripts and images of the defendents with their heads on stakes, designed to underscore the gravity of that moment in time.
To give more context to the uplifting aspects of River Parish culture, people are also encouraged to visit Historic Riverlands Christian Center, which tells the story of African Americans after emancipation. A short film of the reenactment of the 1811 Slave Revolt is currently in production.
“This project not only highlights a unique moment in our history as the River Parishes, but one in America’s history,” said Boe. “It helps us tell the conflict which always exists in the telling of our history, which is that we’re the site of our region’s wealthiest period. We had more millionaires in the River Parishes than the rest of America, and yet it was America’s darkest chapter, and it was because of that darkest chapter that we had the wealth.”
For more information on the trail, visit the1811slaverevolt.com. To learn more about the River Parishes, visit lariverparishes.com.