Saturday, February 13, 2010

Butler Greenwood - Audubon Pilgrimage


By Anne Butler

Samuel Flower was one of the earliest English settlers in the St. Francisville area, a Quaker physician who emigrated from Pennsylvania in the 1770’s when the area was British territory; later, when Spain gained control, he treated Governor Manuel Gayoso. When Dr. Flower died in 1813, his eight heirs would divide thousands of arpents of land in the Felicianas, Rapides Parish, along Bayou Manchac, and in the Mississippi Territory. The family residence bordering Bayou Sara, appraised in the estate division at $12,300, was left to Dr. Flower’s 20-year-old married daughter Harriett. Now known as Butler Greenwood Plantation, the property is still owned and occupied by direct descendants of the original family and will be one of the featured tour homes on the Audubon Pilgrimage March 19, 20 and 21, 2010, as the West Feliciana Historical Society opens the doors to antebellum mansions and glorious gardens in celebration of artist John James Audubon’s stay in the parish in 1821.

azaelas gardensThis 39th annual pilgrimage, the major fundraiser supporting society preservation projects, also marks the bicentennial celebration of the West Florida Republic, whereby the Anglo-American settlers wrested the area from Spanish control to belatedly join the United States in the winter of 1810. Harriett Flower’s husband, Judge George Mathews, was a superior court judge in the Mississippi Territory and then the Territory of Orleans, appointed by President Jefferson, and would become the chief justice of the Louisiana State Supreme Court once Louisiana became a state in 1812. His father, General George Mathews, was a Revolutionary War hero who survived being bayoneted nine times to become a US Congressman and governor of Georgia, and during the international political wrangling over just where the eastern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase might be, he was sent by President Madison to Mobile and St. Augustine to keep an eye on the situation and maybe even foment a rebellion there in hopes of annexing to the United States all of East Florida as well as West.

From Butler GreenwoodHarriett and George Mathews lived at Butler Greenwood and raised indigo, cotton, sugarcane and corn, shipping the crops from their own dock on Bayou Sara and extending their landholdings to include a productive sugar plantation in Lafourche Parish that, according to Lewis Gray’s figures, placed them among the top 9% of sugar planters in the state in the 1850’s. After the death of Judge Mathews in 1836, his widow continued to run the plantations with help from her son Charles.

In the census of 1860, both Harriett and her son list their occupations as “planter,” their household including Charles’ wife Penelope Stewart, their children, an Austrian music teacher and an Irish gardener, with 96 slaves living in 18 dwellings and their personal estate valued at $260,000. In that year the 1400 acres of Butler Greenwood Plantation produced 130 bales of cotton, 2000 bushels of corn, 175 hogsheads of sugar and more than 10,000 gallons of molasses. Their other plantations covered nearly 10,000 acres worked by some 400 slaves and were equally productive in 1860, although after the Civil War the labor force had fallen to a field gang of only 27 freedmen working for monthly wages on the home place.

AntiqueNow the home of the seventh and eighth generation of the family, Butler Greenwood is a simple, raised cottage-style plantation home filled with family treasures—oil portraits, Brussels carpet, gilded pier mirrors, Mallard poster beds, fine china and silverware, a French Pleyel grand piano, and the area’s finest original Victorian formal parlor, its twelve matching pieces still in the original upholstery. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979, the house is surrounded by extensive groves of live oaks and formal gardens filled with ancient camellias and sasanquas, sweet olive and magnolia fuscata grown to immense size. The original detached brick kitchen dates from the 1790’s, the finely trimmed garden gazebo from the 1850’s.

Other features of the 2010 Audubon Pilgrimage include historic townhouses (the recently beautifully reclaimed Cabildo and the Barrow House), Laurel Hill Plantation which has also been recently restored, glorious Afton Villa Gardens, Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches as well as the Rural Homestead with its lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life. Tour hostesses are clad in the exquisitely detailed costumes of the 1820’s, nationally recognized for their authenticity.

audubon pilgrimageThe National Register-listed historic district around Royal Street is filled during the day with costumed children playing nostalgic games and dancing the Maypole; in the evening as candles flicker and fireflies flit among the ancient moss-draped live oaks, there is no place more inviting for a leisurely, lingering stroll. Friday evening features old-time Hymn Signing at the United Methodist Church, Graveyard Tours raising the dead to tell their stories at Grace Episcopal Church cemetery, and a wine and cheese reception at the West Feliciana Historical Society museum/pilgrimage headquarters. Saturday evening features dinner al fresco and dancing to live music. For tickets and tour information, contact the West Feliciana Historical Society, P.O. Box 338, St. Francisville, LA 70775; telephone 225-635-6330; online, email

maypole under the oaksWith six plantations—Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, Butler Greenwood, The Cottage, The Myrtles and Greenwood--open for daily tours, and Afton Villa Gardens open seasonally, the St. Francisville area (located on US Highway 61 between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS) is a year-round tourist destination, but visitors find it especially enjoyable in the early spring when the glorious 19th-century gardens are filled with both camellias and azaleas. There are unique little shops in restored historic structures, and reasonably priced meals are available in a nice array of restaurants in St. Francisville. Some of the state's most unique Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight accommodations ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and country plantations; modern motel facilities can accommodate busloads. The scenic unspoiled Tunica Hills region surrounding St. Francisville offers excellent biking, hiking, birding, horseback riding and other recreational activities. For online coverage of tourist facilities, attractions and events in the St. Francisville area, see or, or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-4224.