A study of Louisiana French Creole sugar planters’ role in higher education and a detailed history of the only college ever constructed to serve the sugar elite
The education of individual planter classes—cotton, tobacco, sugar—is rarely treated in works of southern history. Of the existing literature, higher education is typically relegated to a footnote, providing only brief glimpses into a complex instructional regime responsive to wealthy planters. R. Eric Platt’s Educating the Sons of Sugar allows for a greater focus on the mindset of French Creole sugar planters and provides a comprehensive record and analysis of a private college supported by planter wealth.
Jefferson College was founded in St. James Parish in 1831, surrounded by slave-holding plantations and their cash crop, sugar cane. Creole planters (regionally known as the “ancienne population”) designed the college to impart a “genteel” liberal arts education through instruction, architecture, and geographic location. Jefferson College played host to social class rivalries (Creole, Anglo-American, and French immigrant), mirrored the revival of Catholicism in a region typified by secular mores, was subject to the “Americanization” of south Louisiana higher education, and reflected the ancienne population’s decline as Louisiana’s ruling population.
Resulting from loss of funds, the college closed in 1848. It opened and closed three more times under varying administrations (French immigrant, private sugar planter, and Catholic/Marist) before its final closure in 1927 due to educational competition, curricular intransigence, and the 1927 Mississippi River flood. In 1931, the campus was purchased by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and reopened as a silent religious retreat. It continues to function to this day as the Manresa House of Retreats. While in existence, Jefferson College was a social thermometer for the white French Creole sugar planter ethos that instilled the “sons of sugar” with a cultural heritage resonant of a region typified by the management of plantations, slavery, and the production of sugar.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
R. Eric Platt is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is the author of Sacrifice and Survival: Identity, Mission, and Jesuit Higher Education in the American South.
PRAISE FOR THIS BOOK
“Owing to the fascinating history of Jefferson College and Platt’s compelling biographical chapters on Louis Dufau and Valcour Aime, Educating the Sons of Sugar is a welcome addition to Louisiana historiography.”
—Caryn Cossé Bell, author of Revolution, Romanticism, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718–1868
“A fascinating and well-written institutional history, which will also serve as a vital contribution to the new wave of Creole studies and the history of multiculturalism in South Louisiana.”
—Rien Fertel, author of Imagining the Creole City: The Rise of Literary Culture in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1966-3 Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-8173-9151-5 Ebook