Stories of the Enslaved Within Today’s Audubon Park

Stop 4 of 6 on the No Sugar-Coating: The Plantation History of Audubon Park tour

Basile, Achilles, Congo and many other enslaved people labored on Étienne de Boré’s plantation within today’s Audubon Park. Alongside planting and harvesting sugar cane, enslaved labor on the Boré Plantation included fishing, masonry, woodworking, blacksmithing, and bringing cypress logs from the swamps to cut and use for building. [3] Though these enslaved people cultivated the land that Audubon Park now resides, it is Boré who continues to receive the credit.

Between 1847 and 1875, Charles-Étienne Arthur Gayarré, the grandson of Étienne de Boré, published five books about antebellum Louisiana. Gayarré, with his connections as the Louisiana Secretary of State and reputation as a historian, produced a lengthy, romanticized publication about Étienne de Boré’s sugar development and industry, named “A Louisiana Sugar Plantation of the Old Regime.” [1] Within this text Gayarre dubbed Boré the master of sugar in New Orleans. And the "savior of Louisiana,” stating that Boré’s sugar industry was a "bourgeois epic.” [2] With Gayarré’s political and social influence, his historical writings shaped the public memory of Boré and slavery in Louisiana.

Unwittingly, Gayarré’s work also highlights the work of enslaved people that labored and lived on the Boré Plantation. Although Gayarré drives romanticism into the stories of those enslaved by Boré, this may be the only time the names of the enslaved are mentioned within the historical record.

Among the stories of enslaved people told in “A Louisiana Sugar Plantation of the Old Regime,” is mention of Basile, a “commander” over those enslaved on the Boré Plantation. Gayarré describes Basile as an enslaved man invested with “limited power” and “armed with an enormous whip, at least twenty feet in length.” [3] Gayarré states, however, that Basile did not command with the whip but with words and songs to the enslaved working the sugarcane fields.

Basile was likely a slave driver for the Boré Plantation. Slave drivers were usually enslaved men who worked as an assistant to the white overseers and enslavers. [4] Typically, slave drivers had some power in directing the work happening within the fields. Though experiences differed among enslaved people, some slave drivers used their power as a “go between” to protect the enslaved from punishment from the overseers. [4]

Like Basile, Achilles also worked on the Boré Plantation. Gayarré states that Boré named this enslaved man Achilles for his fiery attitude, implying that this was not his birth name. [4] His story presents a reminder that enslaved people lived within and outside of slavery, creating their own identies, families, and homes while simultaneously subjugated to the violence of slavery.

The last named enslaved person within “A Louisiana Sugar Plantation of the Old Regime” is Congo. Gayarré tells a story of Congo that represented him as a Sambo character, stating that the overseer tasked Congo to pass a note to Boré, who in turn gave it to a portrait of Boré rather than Boré himself. The Sambo character myth, created by Stanley Elkins in his book Slavery: A problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959) describes enslaved people as “docile, infantile, lazy, and irresponsible.” [6] Like Elkins, Gayarré portrays Congo as unintelligent and reliant on enslavers and overseers for direction. [5]

Other historians, such as Deborah Gray White, combat this stereotype by countering the Sambo character with an actor of resistance. Enslaved people would fake illnesses, “misplace” or destroy tools, work slowly, or act unintelligent to create daily acts of resistance. [6]

Though remembered within a white supremist text, each of these enslaved men labored, lived, resisted and cultivated what is now Audubon Park.