Chretien Point History

For those interested in Chretien Point Plantation, here are several articles on the history of the plantation.

Chretien Point Plantation is surrounded by green lawns shaded by ancient oaks. Fields of sugar cane extend from the road bordering this white-pillared home, making it easy for visitors to picture the rows of crops, and miles of prairie that surrounded the newly constructed mansion in 1835.

Hippolyte Chretien built the two-story manor on land he inherited from his father. Slave artisans embellished it with arched doors and windows crowned with elegant fanlights and decorated the interior with finely carved woodwork, marble mantels, and ornamental molding.

Four years passed before the majestic home was complete and Hippolyte, and his young wife, Felicité, moved in. Madame Chretien was a renowned beauty whose dark eyes and husky laugh had attracted several admirers. Though it was widely known that she was an unusually independent lady who traveled unchaperoned to New Orleans, rode her horse astride like a man, and worked side by side with her father in the management of his plantation, this did not seem to discourage young men from seeking her hand in marriage. To strengthen his suit, Hippolyte reversed the tradition of a matrimonial dowry and gave his bride-to-be a large sum of money.

Felicité's father had shared his authority with her, but her husband refused to make her his equal in business matters and stubbornly refused to stop burying his fortune about the plantation - confiding its whereabouts to just one faithful slave.

Hippolyte did allow his wife to enjoy after dinner poker games with their guests and she soon adopted the habit of joining the gentlemen for a smoke, a practice that added new luster to her sensational reputation.

Smugglers were often among visitors welcomed into the parlors of Louisiana planters because they provided a means of avoiding heavy taxes on imported goods purchased in New Orleans. Hippolyte also befriended these shady merchants, offered them food and drink, and allowed them to use his land for the distribution of their contraband. Sadly, the marauders who brought bolts of silk and casks of wine to Chretien Point may also have brought the dreaded yellow fever up the bayou and into the plantation's hospitable drawing room. In October 1838, the Chretien's infant son died of yellow fever. The following September, Hippolyte followed his babe into the grave.

Many 19th-century women would have returned to their father's home at such a juncture in life. But not the strong-willed Felicité. She forced Hippolyte's confidant to tell her where her husband's fortune was buried, dug it up, and stashed it in the nearest bank. She hired overseers to help run the plantation, but threw out those who didn't follow her instructions to the letter.

Felicité was a hands-on supervisor. Her days were spent checking the progress of her crops, caring for her four children, and seeing to the needs of her slaves. In the evenings she continued to enjoy lively card games at her table.

During the 1830's, plantations such as Chretien Point were islands of civility in ungoverned southwest Louisiana. News that Felicité's managerial and poker-playing skills had made her an extremely wealthy woman spread far and wide and soon attracted the attention of desperados who roamed the lawless prairie.

Late one evening, when her children were asleep and the house slaves had retired to their quarters behind the mansion, Felicité heard a noise she couldn't account for. Looking out of her bedroom window she saw several men creeping along in shadows cast by the giant oaks. She ran to the stairs to call for help, but instantly realized that it was too late. One of the bandits was inside the door and heading for the stairwell.

Felicité shouted to him to stop but extended a pouch of jewels to tempt him nearer. When he was at close range, she lifted her other hand, aimed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger.

After he fell, she stepped over him, ran down the stairs, and called for her servants. Ordering two men to conceal the body in a closet beneath the stairs, out of sight of her children, she armed the others and told them to stand by the windows.

When some of the outlaws mounted their horses and approached the house Felicité called out to them: "What do you want?" "We're looking for our friend," they replied. "Nobody could have come here," she told them. "All my men are with me and we have guns." The horsemen saw the glint of the revolvers pointed out of the widows and galloped away. Felicité and her men stood guard all night, but the scoundrels did not return.

In the morning, the daring mistress of Chretien Point rewarded her men with a swig of whiskey, and sent word to the sheriff to come and collect the blackguard she had killed. His death is recorded in the St. Landry Parish register of the 1840's. Maids vigorously scrubbed the stairs where the intruder died, but could not remove the bloodstains.There they remain to this day.

In 1845, Felicité left Chretien Point's 10,000 acres in the care of her son and moved to New Orleans. She lived in an elegant home near the city's luxurious opera house until her death sometime after the Civil War.

Madame Chretien's portrait adorns Chretien Point's dining room and some locals believe her spirit still wanders through the house. They say her presence and that of the brigand she gunned down is responsible for unexplained happenings experienced on the estate. You may scoff at these tales of ghostly mischief, but if you join the thousands of overnight visitors who enjoy Chretien Point's sumptuous bed and breakfast amenities, don't be surprised if you are awakened by a husky voiced poker player whispering, "I'll see your hundred and raise you twenty." - by Mary Fonseca
Source: http://chretienpoint.com/Lafayette/the-mistress-of-chretien-point.html

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In 1776 a Spanish land grant awarded Pierre Declouet a rise of ground about eight miles from what is now the city of Opelousas. Hippolyte Chretien, one of three brothers from France, purchased the property in about 1800 to raise cotton, the popular crop of the area.

Stories mention the friendship that Hippolyte had a with the brothers Jean and Pierre Lafitte, who used Chretien Point to conceal and move some of their smuggled cargo – and slaves. These tales are credible because Chretien accumulated hundreds of slaves to work his ever increasing cotton-producing acreage in a seemingly short time.

In 1812 during the Battle of New Orleans, Hippolyte Chretien and some of his neighboring planters joined the pirates Lafitte and General Andrew Jackson in this fight, which defeated the British. One of the gentlemen that fought with Chretien was a man known only as Senor Neda. Neda’s daughter Felicite married Hippolyte Chretien II and became one of Louisiana’s first “liberated” , women. Behaving very unconventionally for her time, Felicite was active in the management of plantation business, smoked cigarettes, and even was adept at card gambling. Felicite increased the plantation holdings by whatever methods she could. She acquired much property because of her proficiency at cards as well as her dealings with New Orleans bankers and businessmen, almost unheard-of activities for a woman at that time. Her courage and self-sufficiency were more than helpful because her husband and one of her two sons died from yellow fever shortly after the house was completed. She unearthed his money, which was buried on the grounds, after convincing Hippolyte’s faithful servant, Pajo, to reveal its hidden location.

This remarkable lady also possessed physical courage: It seems she herself thwarted a robbery attempt by shooting a thief in the head and frightening off his accomplices by confronting them with the possibility of a similar fate.

During the Civil War, a battle fought on the plantation grounds was led by Federal general Nathaniel Banks and Confederate general Alfred Mouton. Hippolyte Chretien III, though sick and feeble, saved the house by giving a secret Masonic sign that was honored by General Banks, a fellow Mason. Though the house was spared, the rest of the plantation buildings were destroyed by Yankee forces.

Hippolyte III inherited the plantation and lived at Chretien Point with his wife, Celestine Cantrell, and their son Jules. Jules was a multitalented young man, and unfortunately the family was more interested in the creation and appreciation of the arts and not in the practical science of management. After several crop failures the family attempted rice production, which also failed. The property was eventually lost to the mortgage holders. Jules became a traveling salesman of kitchen utensils.

The house was restored to its original magnificence in the late 1970s. The six-brick Tuscan pillars at front are based on square foundations that anchor the wide, wooden, balustrades gallery; the pillars rise two stories to the eaves of the hipped roof. Round-headed French doors and windows are features in each room. Chretien Point’s great room is graced with unique mantles of verde-antique Italian marble with Ionic capitals and shelves of black onyx. Ceiling medallions are elaborately a carved. Exterior walls are eighteen inches thick and the house measures sixty-three feet wide by forty-seven feet deep.

Sadly, the original furnishings were destroyed by fire after they were moved to a small hotel, which was operated by one of the Chretien heirs. The present owners, the Cornay family, have again beautifully furnished the house and graciously opened it to plantation tours.
Source: http://nolalocal.com/magnificent-chretien-point/

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Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, September 30, 1997

"Chrétien Point remembers plantation days, Civil War" by Jim Bradshaw

A shaded oak alley once led to Chrétien Point, the manorial plantation home that today still stands overlooking a horseshoe bend in Bayou Bourbeux near Sunset. There weren't many homes like it in antebellum St. Landry Parish. Most of the planters and ranchers lived in humbler housing. That's perhaps why Chrétien Point was so impressive.

The mansion was built in the early 1830s by Hypolite Chrétien II and his wife Félicité Néda Chrétien and was once the center of a 1,200-acre plantation. The original Spanish land grant for what would become Chrétien Point Plantation was given to Pierre de Clouet in 1776. Hypolite Chr6tien bought the place around 1800 and built a cotton plantation.

He apparently did well enough to enjoy a hand or two of cards with the pirate brothers Jean and Pierre Lafitte, whom we are told were regular visitors to Chrétien Point.

In time, Chrétien's son, Hypolite II, married Félicité Néda, the daughter of a neighboring Spanish landowner, and they began to build the mansion in 1831. It took four years to build, and, shortly after its completion, Hypolite II was dead of yellow fever.

His widow, always a strong-willed woman, would carry on the work of the huge plantation. She was not your typical Southern Belle. Like her father-in-law, she loved to play cards and, with luck and skill, extended her land holdings at the gambling table. She smoked cigars. One night, during the pre-Civil War era of cattle rustling and vigilante committees in Acadiana, she shot a would-be robber who thought he'd try her nerve.

According to that tale, the fiery mistress of Chrétien Point, living alone with a reputed horde of gold and precious stones, was fair game for bandits traveling the Old Spanish Trail. Or so they thought, until the night a robber forced his way through a back door, only to be challenged in the dark by a voice from the top of the stairs.

He continued up the stairs and lunged at Félicité. She put a bullet into his head. His body was stuffed into a small closet under the stairs, says the tale, until Félicité's servants could fetch the sheriff in the morning.

Félicité moved to New Orleans shortly before the Civil War, leaving the mansion and plantation to the care of her partially paralyzed, 40-year-old son, Hypolite III, and his wife, Céléstiné, nee Cantrelle.

Hypolite III and Céléstiné would be the ones to face down the Yankees when the war came to St. Landry Parish. That was in 1863, during the Red River Campaign, when Federal troops marched through Louisiana, burning plantation houses, cotton gins, and sugar mills as he went.

Céléstiné had heard of one home that had been spared when the mistress of the house prepared a feast and emptied her wine cellar to the Union officers and men. She had heard a German countess had used the same tactic to save her castle during Napoleon's invasion of Germany.

Céléstiné figured she had nothing to lose by doing the same thing. So, when a slave returning from Opelousas told her that the Union soldiers were on the way, she turned not to the gun, but to the kitchen. She ordered her servants to slaughter every chicken on the place, along with a number of hogs, several sheep, and cow, and to barbecue them all. Then she ordered them to bring the finest wines from her cellar and to prepare a feast for the Federal officers.

As one version of the story is told, Hypolite III, ill and crippled, aided the cause by rising from his sick bed as Gen. Godfrey Weitzel and his Federal troops approached, to struggle to an upstairs balcony and make the Masonic sign. As the tale goes, the Union commander was a Mason, too, and was thus influenced to spare the house.

Even though the Federal leader had promised not to disturb the Chrétien household, his soldiers left with everything they could carry, including much of the furniture.

The plantation's sugar house was set on fire, as were the slave cabins. The 500 slaves who worked on the place were scattered and warned not to return.



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