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Behind the antebellum glamour

When I started my day touring the Nottoway Plantation, I thought that this was the life. The 1859 white plantation is the largest remaining antebellum mansion in the South. I felt blown away by the size of it all with 14-foot-high ceilings that seemed to indicate the house was built for giants.

An elaborate bell system to call servants into every room, beautiful imported original furniture and a ballroom bathed in white seemed to complete the elegant style of the place.

However, like most things, when you scratch the surface things aren’t as perfect as they seem. The family finally moved into the house right before the Civil War, so no one got to enjoy it for very long. After the war, the owner John Randolph had to travel to Texas in an attempt to support the expensive mansion.

Not only that, but the incredibly large work force that it took to upkeep the plantation stayed hidden behind the mansion’s back door. I got to see what one of these villages of workers would have looked like at the LSU Rural Life Museum.

Here, historic buildings dating before the war show the impoverished lifestyle that the slaves and servants would have lived in on one of the South’s plantations. Though the Southern plantations will always be remarkable, the grim realities of the plantation’s work force reveal that things aren’t always what they seem.

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