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Welham Plantation

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: St James Parish, Louisianamap
Surnames/tags: louisiana_families louisiana welham
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Contents

A History of the Welham Plantation

The Owners

The origin of Welham is quite complicated[1]. The main character in this history is William Peter Welham for whom the plantation is named. He was born in New York, the son of Robert Welham and Catherine Marrener, in 1798. While William was quite young, his father, Robert, died willing him some stock in the Manhattan Bank of New York. Not long after his father's death, William's mother remarried, this time to James Godberry on December 10, 1801. James had been previously married to Sarah Westin. From his first marriage, James Godberry had a daughter, Sarah Ann Godberry. For three years, this newly formed family lived in New York until 1804 when James Godberry took his family to the newly created Louisiana Territory, arriving in St. James Parish on September 28, 1804. Once in Louisiana, James and Catherine had a son, James William Godberry. The family continued to grow with the marriage of Sarah Ann Godberry to David Snead of St. John Parish.

On February 25, 1824, a marriage contract was filed between William Welham and Reine Seraphine Theriot. At the time of this marriage Welham did not own any property in St. James but did own a house and land in St. John Parish.

Reine was from a distinguished St. James Acadian family. Her grandparents, Joseph and Magdeline Theriot, had arrived in Louisiana in 1777, having been driven from Canada by the British. Reine's father, Pierre Theriot, alias Perret, had distinguished himself by serving as 6th regent of the Parish and on the first grand jury impaneled in St. James. Pierre fought in the militia against the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814.

In 1828, James Godberry Sr. died, leaving an estate valued at $10,645, which included a frontage of 5 arpents de face (320 yards) and extending the usual 40 arpents inland (2560 yards or 1.45 miles) with one residence, a magazine, a cotton and grain mill and various out-buildings valued at $7,500. An old photograph exists which is reportedly the house cited in the succession. It was a one-story French house with a hip roof and gallery.

The year following Godberry's death on April 27, 1829, a company was formed by his widow, Catherine Godberry, James Godberry Jr. and William Welham known as "Mrs. Welham, Son and Godberry." This company incorporated the land from the estate of the late James Godberry Sr. and was managed equally by all three. Welham, not an heir of Godberry, bought into the company by using interest from the stock his father had willed him. At the time of the formation of this company it is apparent that the chief cash crop was cotton. Eventually, however, sugar replaced cotton and Welham became one of the larger sugar plantations in the state. Gradually the partnership expanded its land holdings. In both 1833 and 1836 additional acreage was purchased. By 1836 a new partnership was arranged in which Welham received one half controlling interest and James Godberry Jr., his half-brother, and Catherine Godberry, his mother, each one quarter. The new company was called the William Welham & Godberry Co. In the succeeding three years the company went into heavy debt, borrowing a total of $71,500 by means of several mortgages. It is probable that, sometime during this three- year period, the Welham Plantation house and its sugar mill were built.

The House and Outbuildings

From its architectural details, the house appears to have been built during the 1830s, but no actual date can be affixed to the house. Secondary sources cite various dates, 1835 and 1837 in particular.

The year of construction is not of critical importance. The fact that Welham was the only Louisiana Plantation house of its style to have survived along the Mississippi River is what made it so valuable.

The house, like Reine and William, was a marriage between the French and the American, illustrating remarkably well the American, or what might loosely be referred to as Federal, influence on the traditional French building techniques. This house was the rural counterpart to such buildings as the Hermann-Grima House[1] of 1832 in New Orleans.

The floor plan of Welham was quite simple. A gallery traversed the river facade of the building, and a central ball bisected the house. To each side of the central hall were two rooms, each having at least two windows and a single chimney.

The central ball, as well as the ground floor living rooms were planning concepts Introduced by the Americans. Like most Americans houses the stair was in the central hall. However, at Welham there was an additional stair in the rear Ioggia, between two "cabinets", as was typical of most French plans. The second floor plan was similar to that of the first floor.

The architect of this fine house has gone undocumented but it would be safe to speculate that David Snead, Welham's brother-in-law, was the architect, since he was an architect-mason.

The layout of the plantation was typlcal. Along the River Road, immediately to front of the main house was a vast and elaborate garden. An old photograph shows a portion of the garden with the main house directly behind.

The Welham Plantation

To the rear of the house were two buildings, the stables and the kitchen with a well in between. A little further from the river, at the beginning of the slave cabin road was the overseer's house.

At the other end of this road, a considerable distance from the overseer's house was the brick sugar mill. On the axis between these two buildings were the slave cabins arranged in 4 staggered rows, two on each side of the road. To the rear of these cabins were the privies and a ditch.

This then was the plantation, built as surmised sometime in the 1830s.

Antebellum History

By 1839. the Company was again acquiring land: however the first acquisition after this period oi large debt was only a small purchase. In 1844, 1846 and 1848 large land purchases were made in St, James Parish.

Acting outside of the Company, Welham acquired a good deal of property in New Orleans, including two lots in Faubourg LaCouse on Hayards Street, one lot in Faubourg Treme, two lots in Faubourg St. Mary, one on Gravier Street and the other on Carondelet Street.

The 1850 census[2] of Welham states that the plantation was valued at $40,000 and that there were nine white individuals living at the Welham house. They included William and Reine Welham, Catherine Godberry and six of the Welham children. In the overseer's house lived Antoine Hoffman, a 51 year old German.

Of the slaves only the total number in 1850 was recorded. There are 63, ranging from a blind 75 year old woman to a 1 year old baby[3]. However, the full names of five slaves are obtainable. They are as follows: Alerahan Fox, Alphus Hatchey, Arnestead Vaugher, Daver Naholus and William Riogety.

Catherine Godberry, Welham's mother and Pierre Theriot, Reine's father both died in 1853. With Theriot's death William inherited the Theriot plantation and as a result of Catherine's death the Welham and Godberry Company became a two-party company with Welham now owned 5/8 controlling interest. However, in 1857, there was an apparent dissolution of this co-ownership in St. James Parish, although the company continued to operate in St. John Parish.

The 1858 Persac map shows two plantations in St. John Parish called "Welham and Godberry."

St John the Baptist Parish holdings 1858

The same map in St James Parish shows the site of Welham house as being Welham and the old Theriot Plantation listed as "Welham Theriot."

1858 St James Parish holdings

The 1860 Census[4] has just Amelia, Aurelia and Emma at the Welham Plantation together with Reine and William. The estate is valued at $150,000 and Reine and William's personal assets at $300,000.

At the approach of the war in 1860, Welham was 62 years old and was still managing the plantation. He owned 800 acres of improved land and 1800 acres of unimproved land. The crop production for that year was 14,000 bushels of lndian corn, 50 bushels of sweet potatoes, 317 hogheads of sugar and 36,000 gallons of molasses. In order to work the plantation. Welham had a force of 120 slaves.

On December 5, 1860 William Welham died suddenly in his plantation house. He was buried in the family tomb in St. Michael's Catholic Cemetery in Convent.

Welham would've been captured by Union forces in April 1862 almost immediately after the fall of New Orleans.

Post-War History

At the end of the war, Reine Welham was faced with repeated labor crises but managed to maintain operation of the plantation. She purchased the plantation separating her St. James Plantations and renamed the united estate Homestead.

The labor situation began to cause financial problems for Reine. Her inherited half interest in the St. John Parish plantations had to be disposed of by selling it to her half brother-in-law, James Godberry.

In 1872, she sold two of her New Orleans lots. In 1879 she borrowed against a third lot. By 1881, Reine was 76 years old and could no longer maintain Homestead.

She surrendered power of attorney to her son-in-law, Dr. Daniel Brickell and entered into a contract with Richard Milliken. The contract called for Milliken to loan Reine money, to insure and to manage Homestead and to sell the crops at 0.5% commission.

This arrangement continued through the next two years during which time she borrowed a total of $20,400 from Milliken.

In 1882 the New Orleans and Mississippi Railroad Co. bought and received the right of way through the plantation. The revenue from this right of way was sufficient to supplement the income from the crops for a few years.

But by 1885 it was necessary for Reine to borrow again on her New Orleans real estate and from her eldest daughter Mrs. A.H. Kirchoff.

By now much of the sugar equipment was old and in need of repair. The boilers for the sugar mill were failing and in need of replacement. In 1886 she bought one boiler from Babcock and Wilcox of New York and two more in the following year.

In 1888 Reine entered into another mortgage contract with James H. Laws and Co. of Cincinnati. This arrangement was continued through 1893.

In 1890 a crevass in the levee flooded the entire plantation and more money had to be borrowed from her children. Lumber was purchased from the Wilbert Bros. Lumber and Shingle Co. of Plaquemine, La. to make the necessary repairs.

By now everything was mortgaged and yet more money was needed to meet financial obligations. A series of legal suits ensued. The property on Gravier St. in New Orleans was seized and sold at Sheriff's auction. In 1893 additional suits were filed and Homestead itself was seized and sold at Sheriff's auction. At the time of the sale there were 2,127 acres of land partially planted. Pring & Co bid of $56,100. Two months subsequent to the sale Reine died in New Orleans at her daughter's residence.

Homestead remained in the Pring hands for several years until the Oneida Co. bought the plantation for $1.5 million. In 1904, 3 individuals bought the Oneida Plantation, half interest to Leon Keller, one quarter interest to Jean Poche and one quarter to A. J. Waguspack. In 1910, J. Waguspack sold his interest in the plantation to the other two owners. Leon Keller, who eventually lived in the house, had longed to own Welham and named his first son Leon Desire Welham Keller. In 1929, Leon Keller died leaving Keller Plantation to his heirs. It was the Keller family who donated the out buildings of the plantation to L.S.U. and it was they who sold Welham to the Marathon Oil Co. for $5.25 million.

Destruction

Subsequent to this purchase numerous appeals were made by preservationists and local governmental authorities as to the possibility of the donation of Welham as a house museum. In 1976 a resolution by the St. James Parish Police Jury requested that the home be donated to the River Road Historical Society.

Marathon's response to the increasing concern for the house was the sudden bull-dozing of the house at 5am on May 3, 1979, destroying a tangible link with an important part of Louisiana's unique past[5].

The oil company lives on while the house is gone forever. There really is no justice.

Sources

  1. Cangelosi, Robert. "An Epitaph for Welham." Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. Accessed September 08, 2018. https://cloud.3dissue.com/193333/193749/226507/June1979/index.html Preservation Press of New Orleans, newsletter, Volume 6, Number 4, Pages 1-2. June, 1979. Article combines history of Welham Plantation with biographical information on William Peter Welham, Catherine (Marrener) Welham/Godberry, and other owners.
  2. "United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCJD-6N7 : 12 April 2016), Wm P Welham in household of C Godbary, St. James parish, St. James, Louisiana, United States; citing family 547, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  3. Louisiana: Slave Schedules, Sabine, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and St. Landry Parishes (NARA Series M432, Roll 246) https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DZPW-FXK?i=87&cc=1420440
  4. "United States Census, 1860", database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFPW-4YS : 12 December 2017), Wm P Welham, 1860.
  5. https://jnewhart.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/welham-plantation/




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