Oak Alley Plantation
Located on the Mississippi River between the historic Louisiana cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge,
Oak Alley Plantation has been called the "Grande Dame of the Great River Road".
Nowhere else in the
south will you find such a spectacular setting!
The quarter-mile canopy of giant live oak trees, believed to be
nearly 300 years old, forms an impressive avenue leading to the classic Greek-revival style antebellum home.
In the beginning, there were the trees!
Sometime in the early 1700's, probably a few years before the 1718 founding of
New Orleans as the colonial seat of government, a settler claimed land from an
original royal grant for his dwelling and defined its entrance with an alley of
live oaks in two rows leading to the river. Although we do not know how successful
he was in his efforts to adapt in the New World, it is clear that his live oaks had
no problem. Native to the area, they thrived and by 1722, when the early Capuchin
Fathers arrived at St. Jacques de Cabahanoce to establish the settlement of St. James Parish,
the young trees had already attained a stature which hinted at the magnificence that was to be theirs.
Into the bustle of development appeared Jacques Joseph Roman, the first known member of the Roman
family in Louisiana. A native of Grenoble, France, it is thought that he came to Louisiana to administer
the affairs of his noble cousin, Joseph Paris du Vernay, who had been granted a large concession of land
up-river from New Orleans. Jacques Joseph's presence in the Colony is mentioned in 1728 when difficulties
between him and the concession managers were brought before the Colony's governing council.
In 1741 Jacques Joseph Roman married Marie D'Aigle, whose family had moved from Canada,
and spent much of the first years of their marriage buying and selling plantations.
Of their five children only one son, Jacques Etienne, and his two sisters survived
to inherit a sizeable estate.
At the age of 29 Jacques Etienne married Marie Louise Patin, who enthusiastically
presented him with a large family. The youngest, Jacques Telesphore, and the 19th
century arrived together and found a colony whose fortune was flourishing, due in
great part to successes in the field of sugar planting. Sugar quickly became the
major crop along the Mississippi as far north as Baton Rouge.
Louisiana, meanwhile, had become a ping pong ball on the political table of Spain
and France. In a few short weeks it bounced from the Spanish flag, where it had
been since the transfer from French hands by secret treaty in 1763, to the French
Tri-Color, to the Stars and Stripes where it remained, achieving statehood in 1812.
However, in the brief 3 weeks of the post-revolution French regime (November 30 - December 20, 1803),
the Napoleonic Code was introduced, establishing a precedent that would remain and create a legal
system in Louisiana distinct from the rest of the Nation.
The word Creole is a derivative of the Spanish Criollo, meaning native born, and was
used to denote children of European parentage born in the New World. French Creoles,
such as the Romans, viewed their new countrymen with disdain, claiming they had no
refinement at all, and withdrew into New Orleans' Vieux Carre (or Old Square) where
the French language and old ways prevailed. However, as more and more Americans
poured into the area a compromise became inevitable and the cultures began to
slowly merge, producing an almost imperceptible, but quite irreversible, trend toward social change.
As the Roman children grew up and married, the family achieved more prominence as
leaders of society, and their activities alternated between their plantations in
St. James Parish, large cattle lands in St. Landry Parish, and elegant dwellings
in New Orleans. Among the latter, was the house now known as Madame John's Legacy
on Rue Dumaine, which was purchased by Jacques Etienne's widow for her and
her bachelor sons shortly after her husband's death. From here, Jacques Telesphore
Roman began his courtship of Celina Pilie, whose very prominent family lived around
the corner on Rue Royal. They were married in June, 1834.
Records show that on May 19, 1836, an act of sale before Judge Louis M.
Taney transferred ownership of Oak Alley Plantation from Valcour Aime,
who had purchased it in 1820, to his brother-in-law, J.T. Roman.
This transaction was conditioned so that Valcour Aime would acquire
the nearby Roman family estate in exchange for Oak Alley plus cancellation of a bank debt.