Historic structure opening to public for 1st time: New museum tells stories of Kid Ory & 1811 Slave Rebellion

Published 12:05 am Saturday, May 2, 2020

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LAPLACE – Looking at the aging, red-roofed building on Highway 628 in LaPlace, one would never guess it was an epicenter of two prominent moments in American history.

The Woodland Plantation/ Ory Historic House will soon open to the public for the first time since its construction in 1793. Locals who visit the new museum will get an inside look at how the largest slave uprising in U.S. history started on the surrounding grounds.

Those very same grounds later served as the birthplace of pioneer jazz musician Edward “Kid” Ory. The gut-wrenching account of the 1811 rebellion and Kid Ory’s rise to prominence are two very different stories that each offer insight about what it means to be human, according to museum organizer John McCusker.

“It’s a challenge to a storyteller to do that, but when you look at it in terms of humanity, you ask, ‘What are human beings like?’” McCusker said. “We have things that we like to think are good in all of us. We also have this other part, and history gives us a chance to contemplate how we are today, as opposed to the way people have chosen to act in the past. There are always lessons and insights to be gained from that.”

Banjo player and trombonist Edward “Kid” Ory was born on the grounds of the Woodland Plantation. He went on to have a successful music career that defined the sound of early jazz.

McCusker said Kid Ory’s story will be featured at the beginning of the tour to give insight about what it means to want more in life. Kid Ory was a second cousin to the Ory brothers who purchased the plantation in 1898. Kid Ory and his family were already living in the quarters at the time.

It was a dynamic time for St. John the Baptist Parish. Ory was born into a world where locals were still speaking French and political power was rapidly shifting. Like others raised in rural areas, Kid Ory developed his musical talent on a cigar box instrument he fashioned himself.

Kid Ory was part of one of the best known New Orleans bands in the 1910s, when he played alongside artists like Joe “King” Oliver, Mutt Carey and Louis Armstrong. From humble beginnings in LaPlace, his career carried him to Los Angeles and Chicago, and he’s remembered as one of the curators of early jazz.

Locals will soon get to venture inside one of the oldest structures in LaPlace for the first time. The plantation, built in 1793, was abandoned for many years.

The Ory House museum will contain the largest Kid Ory archive in the world, according to McCusker. The centerpiece of the exhibit will be the valve trombone that Kid Ory played in the 1910s. The collection will also include sheet music, lyrics, personal photographs and other mementos of the time.

The older section of the Woodland Plantation/ Ory House will feature the 1811 exhibit in phase two of the museum opening. McCusker said the museum has acquired a four-post bed, tables and other furnishings to recreate what the bedroom would have looked like on Jan. 8, 1811.

That was the day Charles Deslondes led the enslaved people on the plantation to attack plantation owner Manuel Andry and his son, Jean Francois Trepagnier, thus starting the German Coast Uprising.

The enslaved people marched toward New Orleans with pikes, hoes and axes, moving to the beat of the drum. The militia quelled the rebellion within two days, and the organizers of the rebellion were later decapitated so their heads could be displayed along the river as a warning to others.

Timothy P. Sheehan, the current owner of the Woodland Plantation/ Ory House has taken great care to restore the home to its original state by removing extra walls that were added in the 1900s. A couple of the rooms will be left blank to accommodate seasonal, visiting and topical displays.

McCusker is interested in delving further into the post-Reconstruction politics and the St. John Parish sugar economy.

The museum was originally supposed to open in April. More information will be released when a new opening date is set.