On a trip to celebrate two long time family friends’ 83rd and 84th birthdays yesterday, we passed a site that I had never seen before. My mom and dad had lived in Chalmette, LA before I came along and this was our destination yesterday. I’d been to Chalmette more than once over the years but we were always just passing through on the way to our friend’s house on Delacroix Island. We explored a few old areas this time and after a turn at a red light, passed this site where the road split…
Ruins of some kind. We turned around and saw the sign.
What is this? I had no idea but photos were a must. Come to find out, this was the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Even if they had not taught us in school about this battle, I would have known about it through my dad’s all consuming love of anything Johnny Horton. “In 1814, we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Miss-a-sip…” and so on. I knew that the Battle of New Orleans was fought somewhere down around NOLA but had no idea were the present day site was until yesterday.
After we got home, I dug around a little. The following is the Cindy-ized paraphrased, compiled and abridged version of the history of this plantation. Sources are listed at the bottom in case you’d like to read further.
Pierre Denis de la Ronde II was born in New Orleans, April 20 1762. French, obviously. His father was from Quebec, New France (Canada).
This is were things get murky. We know that the double allee of oaks leading from the Mississippi River to the plantation was planted by Pierre in 1783 with slave labor on his 21st birthday but all of the records I’m finding doesn’t list the actual plantation as being built until 1805. The actual builder of the house is also up for question as some list Pierre Sr as the builder, some list Pierre Jr as the the builder. The fact that they have the same name aside from the II at the end of Jr’s name doesn’t help and neither does the fact that all of this happened over 300 years ago.
Anyway, there must have been some small house there before the mansion was built. We also do not know what Pierre named his plantation. It is called Versailles by various people because Pierre and several of the other plantation owners in the area had a grand real estate scheme to create a city to outshine New Orleans. Versailles, in present day Chalmette, which would be connected to a sister city by barge canal and highway on the shores of Lake Borgne and would be named Paris. Paris Road in Chalmette, called “Parish” Rd by the locals, is what is left of the original highway. The cities never got built and the scheme fell through even though a canal had already began to be cut through dozens of miles of swamp. The community is still called Versailles to this day.
Pierre was married on January 31, 1788 to Marie Elizabeth “Eulalie” Guerbois at St Louis Cathedral in NOLA. They had 9 daughters and one son and the daughters were known in the society as “The 9 Muses”, the son as “Apollo”. These must have been some good looking folks.
I have found no drawings, paintings or renderings of any kind of the plantation house before age, fire and neglect destroyed it. I have, however, found a few black and white photos, the one below owned by UNO, of the house before it totally fell apart. This first photo is from that website and views the house from inside the allee of oaks with the MS River at the photographer’s back. http://louisdl.louislibraries.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/FBM&CISOPTR=427&CISOBOX=1&REC=3
The house was described as being 2 stories, having 16 rooms, brick construction with cement layered over the brick. It has galleries and colonnades on all four sides. The house was considered the most “pretentious” of its kind in the area.
Sources site this photo as being taken in the 1890’s. The cement is still very much intact although it looks like there may be trees growing inside the house. The sign on the first floor corner says, “NOTICE: Anyone Caught Destroying or Removing Any Portion of These Ruins Will Be Punished Under Law Protecting Same. Chas W. Towsley, Superintedent”.
The Battle of New Orleans started right at the end of the year in 1814 and shouldn’t have even happened because it was remnant of the War of 1812 and the Treaty of Ghent has already been signed in on Christmas Eve, 1814, therefore officially ending the war. The British and New Orleans did not know about this treaty yet. The British arrived in Chalmette via Lake Borgne and encamped at the De la Ronde Planation. Since it was winter, the De la Ronde family were at their town home at 35 Conde St, New Orleans, now 1021 Chartres St near Ursuline St. Pierre, however, was with Jackson’s troops as he was eventually elevated to the rank of Major General of the Louisiana Militia.
Andrew Jackson and his troops fired upon the British in that home the same night they marched downstream to find them. Jackson then withdrew his forces upstream along the Rodriguez Canal. The only damage done to the house during this battle was a hole in the roof from shelling. The wine cellar was also “destroyed” as the English used the house as a temporary headquarters and hospital. They found the wine to be first rate. Sir Edward Pakenham lead the British forces and was fatally wounded as he rallied his troops near the enemy line. His body was taken from the hospital at De la Ronde plantation and the battle in which he was wounded ended in defeat for the British.
The bricks are obviously handmade by slave labor. They are not uniform in color or shape as all handmade bricks are and they are so soft the years of weather have hollowed and rounded out some of them to the point that they look like river rock.
The fence was supposedly added to the site in 1912 but I’ve found photos taken in the 1920’s that do not feature a fence. Lots of questions about this site.
Even though the date or origin is unknown, the wildlife in the area do not seem to care. Cicadas have used the underside of the entire second rail as a shedding point.Here are three hanging upside down on it.
A swarm of honey bees have also found the gate post to be a perfect place for a hive.
The house passed to a few different owners and was eventually used to house live stock on the first floor. It caught on fire in 1876 and was demolished. A storm in September 1915 knocked down most of the walls and left it much as it is today.
Pierre passed away on December 2nd or 3rd, 1824 and was buried in a tomb owned by his son-in-law in St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 in New Orleans.
Genealogy of Pierre: http://www.thienemann-archive.org/getperson.php?personID=I13365&tree=Thienemann
Black and white photos of the De la Ronde Plantation not previously sourced: http://old-new-orleans.com/NO_Battle_NewOrleans
Other various information and history: