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Frogmore offers insight into cotton plantation, slavery

Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Willie Minor sings “Roll Jordan Roll” while guiding a group of tourist on the American Queen to the cotton field at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins. Minor and Bethani Goodman sang a variety of songs that slaves on plantations would sing while working in the fields.
Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Willie Minor sings “Roll Jordan Roll” while guiding a group of tourist on the American Queen to the cotton field at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins. Minor and Bethani Goodman sang a variety of songs that slaves on plantations would sing while working in the fields.

FERRIDAY — As a group of more than 60 tourists sat inside St. James Baptist Church on Frogmore Cotton Plantation Tuesday, Willie E. Minor’s voice took the visitors back to the 1850s.

Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Bethani Goodman sings “Amazing Grace” inside St. James Baptist Church at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins.
Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Bethani Goodman sings “Amazing Grace” inside St. James Baptist Church at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins.

Minor is just part of a tour hosted at Frogmore intended to educate visitors on the workings of a cotton plantation and also give them insight into the history of Louisiana and slavery, Frogmore owner Lynette Tanner said.

“Some places want to avoid that topic all together, but that’s part of our history,” Lynette said. “We try to hit it gracefully on the head here, because if we can’t acknowledge it, we can’t move forward.”

Touring the plantation allows visitors to see how many Natchez planters — who lived across the river and farming in Louisiana — became millionaires from “King Cotton.”

Tours are hosted throughout the year at Frogmore, but the plantation becomes one of many options Spring Pilgrimage visitors can enjoy in the Miss-Lou after touring the 24 historic houses.

Lynette and her husband, Buddy, own and operate a modern cotton plantation and computerized Tanner Gin, but also present the historic plantation for groups and individual visitors.

The plantation is complete with authentically furnished slave quarters, rare Smithsonian quality steam cotton gin, plantation church, overseer’s home, antique farm equipment, general store and even a three-hole privy.

Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Bethani Goodman prepares to sing “Rock of Ages” inside St. James Baptist Church at the start of the tour at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins. Goodman and Willie Minor sang a variety of songs that slaves on plantations would sing before the Civil War.
Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Bethani Goodman prepares to sing “Rock of Ages” inside St. James Baptist Church at the start of the tour at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins. Goodman and Willie Minor sang a variety of songs that slaves on plantations would sing before the Civil War.

The plantation, as well as the extensive research completed about the site, allows guests to get a realistic history of the progression of the South’s cotton industry, Lynette said.

“And singing was a vital part of that history,” Lynette told the tourists in the church. “As they worked, they sang and if we close our eyes and listen carefully, we may still hear those voices today.”

Those words are Minor’s queue to walk down the aisle of the church slowly while building up to the main verse of “Old Man River.”

Minor, who has been singing as part of the tour for a decade, sings a few other songs to the guests by himself before being joined by Bethani Goodman, another vocalists on the tour.

The duo takes the visitors through a range of songs that were sung all across the South, including “Wade in the Water,” a song associated with the Underground Railroad.

“This was sung by the slaves who were wanting to escape across a river or stream, but got there and maybe the river was too wide or the current was too swift,” Minor told the visitors.

Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Dennis Miya of Seattle, WA listens to Bethani Goodman sing “Amazing Grace” inside St. James Baptist Church at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins.
Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Dennis Miya of Seattle, WA listens to Bethani Goodman sing “Amazing Grace” inside St. James Baptist Church at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins.

The song was used to send a message to those waiting to take the slaves to the Underground Railroad that they would not be coming across the river.

Goodman joined in with Minor and helped lead the guests to recite the song’s last line, “God’s gonna trouble the water.”

Goodman said being able to share a part of the area’s history with others from across the country and world is something she looks forward to every time she puts on a hoop skirt.

“I feel privileged to be a part of the tour and be able to impart the knowledge and history of this area to them,” she said. “It’s a great feeling.”

Minor said telling the history through song can often be more valuable and enriching to those on the tour.

“I think people get a lot more out of the tour when the history is mixed in with the songs,” Minor said. “It’s a great experience and everyone seems to enjoy it.”

Frogmore is located on U.S. 84 just west of Ferriday and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.