The Haydel Plantation under Marie Azélie Haydel (1840-1860)
The auction of the property of Jean Jacques Haydel Jr. and Marcellin started in February 1840. Marie Azélie was there buying land, tools, and animals. Despite competition from other bidders, the habitation and dependencies were sold to her for 41,100 piastres. We will probably never know the number and the names of all the slaves owned by Marcellin Haydel since they were not part of the auction. Azélie inherited them according to Marcellin’s will. Marie Azélie Haydel was born on 17 October 1790. She was the oldest among the thirteen children of Alphonse Haydel and Marie Troxlair. Alphonse died on 29 January 1814, leaving behind Marie Azélie, her mother, and twelve brothers and sisters, most of them minors. This probably gave her a strong sense of responsibility, which later allowed her to become a successful entrepreneur. On her father’s side, Marie Azélie Haydel was the granddaughter of Mathias Haydel and the great granddaughter of Ambroise Haydel. Marcellin Haydel, whom she married on 12 June 1810, was a first cousin of her father. They grew up together on adjoining plantations. Their marriage lasted nearly three decades without being rewarded by any offspring. The couple adopted Alphonse Becnel, the son of Joséphine Haydel (Azélie’s sister) and Florestan Becnel. Joséphine died in 1844, followed by her husband ten years later. This was probably the year Marthe Becnel joined her brother Alphonse as a member of Azélie’s household.
Marie Azélie Haydel was the commissioner of the paintings, which are still adorning the interior and the exterior of the main house on Whitney Plantation. These were not just mere decorations since she used them to pay homage to her deceased husband by having his initials monogrammed in cartouches and disposed at the four corners of the paintings drawn on the ceiling of the upstairs living room. This was very likely done in the 1840s when increased tariff protection generated higher profit and the subsequent rise in the number of sugar plantations. Dominici Canova, the alleged artist, was the author of many decorative paintings in New Orleans and its countryside, including an altarpiece and a fresco for the St. Louis Cathedral and the decorative paintings of San Francisco Plantation. The Marmillions, the owners of this plantation, were closely related to the Haydels.
In 1860, shortly before her death, Azélie was listed among the largest slaveholders in the State. Her estate was estimated to nearly 187,000 piastres (dollars). The landed property was composed of several farms operated by a work force of one hundred and one slaves. The high quality and complex decorative paintings, both interior and exterior applications, place the main house on the plantation in a category by itself in Louisiana and the South, since no other application of exterior decorative painting is known to survive or even have existed in Louisiana. The elaborate ornamentation conveyed to all visitors at Whitney the high level of economic success and cultural sophistication the Haydels had attained. However, it should never be forgotten that the process of perpetual economic growth, which led to luxury, was made possible by the hard work of hundreds of African slaves and their descendants.
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