Amid the beauty and serenity on the grounds of their ancestral home, about 500 of Armand Duplantier’s descendants from 16 states gathered at BREC’s Magnolia Mound Plantation on Saturday for a day-long family reunion and celebration of the 260th anniversary of Duplantier’s birth.
Duplantier fathered nine children from two wives, and from them, family members estimate there are about 4,000 descendants worldwide, including in France, his birthplace.
“This is a very rare occurrence that all the family can come together with all the branches at the ancestral house because that’s very unusual,” Virginia Pruet, of Houston, said. “Not everybody is interested in the history, but they really enjoy the connection and they know it’s significant.”
Duplantier, born in 1753, sailed to America to fight alongside the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington against the British in the American Revolution, then settled down in Louisiana, Pruet said.
After Armand Duplantier’s first wife, Augustine Gerard, died in 1799, he married Constance Rochon in 1802. She had inherited Magnolia Mound from her first husband, John Joyce.
Duplantier bought and sold land frequently, and although he was in debt because of bad business decisions when he died in 1827, he was described as a community leader and good husband and father in his obituary, Pruet said.
The Magnolia Mound plantation home, built in 1791, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings and is believed to be the oldest documented building in East Baton Rouge Parish, said John Sykes, executive director of Magnolia Mound.
At the Hart House, which serves as the administrative building for BREC, family members put together detailed genealogy posters of each of the branches stemming from Armand Duplantier. A member of each branch of the family tree serves on the planning committee that organizes the reunion and keeps everyone advised of family matters.
Family members from France were unable to attend this year, but they attended the last reunion 10 years ago and visited two years ago when they donated 94 letters written by Armand and his son, daughter and uncle to relatives in France, Michael Duplantier said.
Researchers at LSU translated the letters from French to English and placed summaries of each letter on the Internet so people may view them, said Tara Laver, curator of manuscripts in the LSU Special Libraries Collection.
“These papers are a window into colonial Louisiana with details of struggles to cultivate and market crops, relationships with his slaves and his family life,” she said.
Being able to know where they came from and being able to learn more about the history of Magnolia Mound persuaded history buff Sidney Nau and her husband Paul Nau from Corpus Christi, Texas, to return for this year’s reunion after attending the last one.
“What better place to learn history?” she said. “It wasn’t so much the people that brought me back, it was the opportunity to learn more about the place.”
Members of the Duplantier clan scattered throughout the grounds, talked to relatives they never met before, read about their family history and enjoyed some shade in the triangle made up of the Hart House, the pavilion and the plantation home.
Children enjoyed sack races and washed clothes like their ancestors did.
But Saturday’s event may never have occurred if not for the perseverance and thoughtfulness of city leaders and preservationists about 50 years ago.
The Hart family, which owned the land in the 1960s, had planned to sell it to a Texas company that was going to raze the remaining plantation structures and erect a seven-story, high-rise apartment building.
Historical preservationists in Baton Rouge recognized the significance of the site and were able to disrupt and ultimately cancel the sale, with help from Mayor Woody Dumas, Winnie Byrd of the Friends of Magnolia Mounds said.
Working with BREC, members of the group were able to restore the grounds and help preserve the historical landmark, though much of the house had been untouched since Armand Duplantier’s death. BREC now owns the buildings while the Friends own the items sitting in the buildings.
“There’s so many layers of history here and when we were doing the restoration, we knew we had to zero in on one point and decided to focus on Armand and the time that he lived in,” the plantation home Byrd said.
Duplantier family members and anyone who happened to visit the plantation Saturday were treated to continuous tours of the main plantation home as well as cooking demonstrations by Rosemary Lane in the open-hearth kitchen, adjacent to the main house.
Lane demonstrated multiple devices, such as a primitive toaster, and was cooking a whole chicken, sausage, ribs and sweet potatoes.
Family members marveled at the condition of the grounds and the state of the plantation in general.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Germaine Robottom said. “I think its nice to be able to take some of the history in.”
She attended with her husband Byron and other family members from Harahan and Destrehan.
“The upkeep is immaculate,” Robottom said.