The Questionable End of Armant Plantation

The Armant Brothers were like other antebellum plantation owners along the Mississippi River. They loved a good bet. Endowed with the recent inheritance of their father, Jean Baptiste Armant’s plantation, in 1858, the Armant Brothers had money with which to gamble.  Their profitable 1150-acre sugarcane plantation was located on the Mississippi River between present-day Oak Alley and Laura Plantations in Vacherie, Louisiana.  Before the Civil War, it was the neighboring plantation to Valcour Aime’s plantation — La Petite Versailles.

All of the wealthy planters along the river had a variety of ways in which to compete and gain the monetary upper-hand of their peers.

A popular trick card game called “Boston” was often played in private clubs.  (One of these clubs in New Orleans occasionally had visitors from the city of Boston, Massechusetts attempt entry assuming it was a private club for Bostonians.)  In that club, one of the wealthiest planters on the River, Duncan Kenner, was said to have lost $20,000 ($485,000 today) on one game of Boston and was still not considered a plunger.

Horse racing was another exciting way to win money, or lose one’s money in the antebellum south.  The gaming Mr. Kenner also loved racing his thoroughbreds — so much so that he built a track and stables at his home Ashland Belle Helene near Darrow, LA.

John Burnside, the Sugar King of Houmas House plantation, was also passionate about racing horses.  Once he stabled a champion thoroughbred in his billiard room in order to keep it hidden until a race at Kenner’s track.  Did Burnside win?  Yes, he did.

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Map of Armant Plantation in Houmas House

I learned of the latter story while on tour of Houmas House plantation. On this same tour, I noticed a map of the Armant Plantation hanging on the wall in the billiard room. This map was of particular interest to me since it is the plantation of one of my ancestors, my 5th great-grandfather Jean Baptiste Armant  who inherited it from his father.  I thought it was strange to have a map of a neighboring plantation in the home so I inquired about why it was there.  The tour guide told me that the Armant Brothers, who had inherited that plantation, wagered it in a bet and lost it to John Burnside in a horse race.  A whole plantation lost in a horse race? I had to know more.

If this story is true, I am appalled that my ancestor cousins were so careless as to bet their inheritance on something as fleeting as a horse race.  If false, I wanted to clear the name and reputation of my Armant kin.  So I began my own investigation to determine the details of this story.

It is true that John Burnside began acquiring plantations soon after he bought Houmas House in 1857.  In fact, he purchased 12 more plantations before, during, and after the Civil War — sometimes for pennies on the dollar.  Could he have acquired some of them through bets?  The evidence of the gambling habits of the local planters did give credence to this possibility.

I first inquired of Dr. Kevin Kelly, present owner of Houmas House, to find out how he discovered this story. He said the story was told by a descendant of the Miles family — former owners of Houmas House.  The descendent, Dr. Henry Miles, who was born in Houmas House in 1901, died around 2005 and I was told that he was the lone historian of the Miles family.  Therefore I was not able to verify this story directly.

I decided to go to the St. James Parish courthouse to see if I could find any property records that had to do with the transfer of the plantation from the Armant Brothers to John Burnside.  The old documents I found were fascinating — some written in French,and others in English — with handwriting and signatures written with a flare seldom seen today.

Final page of the document of the purchase of Armant Plantation in January of 1860

Final page of the document of the purchase of Armant Plantation in January of 1860

I did find a document of the property transfer containing the signatures of one Armant brother, the signature of John Burnside, and others, but it was on a document of the purchase of Armant plantation, not a transfer of ownership without payment.

Most of the plantations that Burnside owned were acquired during or after the war, but this one was purchased before the war in January of 1860 — six years after the death of their father. Armant Plantation was ordered by the court in September of 1859 to be auctioned on January 12, 1860 to settle inheritance and succession issues.  The land was divided into 31 sections and sold individually.  John Burnside bought 29 of the sections including Armant’s French-style plantation home on the river. He purchased the homestead for $25,000 ($630,000 today) and the sections of land for $68,102.77 ($1,700,000 today).

Victor Armant, one of the brothers, bought two sections of land for $23,681.10 ($597,000 today) that held some of the plantation buildings, possibly used for sugar manufacturing.  The final section of land was purchased by another individual.Victor Armant Sig168

Stories, even those that can’t be proven true, often have a grain of truth to them.  So I wondered if possibly Victor may have lost his portion later by gambling it away — maybe in hopes of winning back his beloved home.  I went back to the St. James courthouse to see what I could find.  And once again I found another document stating that John Burnside bought Victor’s portion in 1866, a year after the war ended for $3500 ($54,000 today) — a fraction of what Victor paid for it.

I don’t know all of the possible nuggets of truth that have caused this story to survive, but as former U.S. President John Adams once said,”facts are stubborn things.” The facts I have discovered so far show that Armant Plantation was purchased by John Burnside. Could he have won another of his plantations in a horse race?  That could be an interesting investigation. But I am satisfied knowing that my ancestors were not the type of people who would needlessly squander their inheritance.  Jean Baptiste Armant’s family reputation can be held in high regard once again.

Jean Baptiste Armant, Sr. and Rose Carmelite Cantrelle Armant are my 5th great-grandparents.  They are also the grandparents of my 3rd great-grandmother whose story is told in “Of Plantations and Hurricanes.”

© 2013 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

11 thoughts on “The Questionable End of Armant Plantation

  1. I am a 4th Great Granddaughter of Jean Baptiste Armant and Marie Rose Cantrelle and want to thank you for the research you did in finding the truth about how Burnside acquired the Armant Plantation. I am always happy to find more stories on my ancestors and this was very interesting. Thanks Cousin.

  2. Helene Armant was my paternal grandmother’s grandmother. ( Helene’s husband was Gabriel deLeaumont) I know that Helene’s father was Agricole Jules Armant, who died years after the Civil war. I often wondered how/why Corinne David Armant ( Agricole’s wife) were forced to move to a home in the French Quarter along with her siblings. I am so glad I came across this post. Please contact me if you have any further information on this family. Does anybody have pictures of any of them ?

    • Michelle,

      I’m glad you found this blog and that I was able to help you fill in some gaps of your family’s story. The only picture I know of this family is the painting of Jean Baptiste Armant that is linked within this article. Although I did find a published piece of music written by Edmond Armant (found at this link – https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/10780 ) He was a son of Jean Baptiste Armant and lived in New Orleans. He lived a lonely life and ended up committing suicide at his home in the French Quarter.

      • Thank you so much. I was in New Orleans recently and found the Armant tomb in the St. Louis Cemetary #1…gave me chills ! I have seen the portrait of JB Armant and there is one of Leopold Armant ( a nephew ) who fought in the Civil War. In the New Orleans Museum of Art there is a portrait of a woman with the last name of St. Armant…wondering if it is a relation. Painting says she was a local. Helene Aramant deLeaumont is buried with the de Leaumonts in St. Louis 3…which is where the majority of my family is. My grandmother often spoke about her grandmother living on a plantation but never went into great detail. This family has now become a great source of curiosity for me ! Thanks for your response. it is good to talk to you. Michelle

      • Specifically whose tomb did you find in New Orleans? Edmond? Other children of JB Armant? I have been to JB Armant and his wife’s tomb in St.James Parish. His tomb is right by the levee in the back of cemetery.

    • Hello Michelle, my name is Myra Armant, I am doing some research on the Armant family history,I was reading your post and am interested in learning what you know, if you don’t mind sharing. I am from Vacherie, La. we had a family reunoin 2yrs. ago and we are having another next year in July. We spell our name Armant/Armont/Armand. If you are interested in contacting me msjiii47@gmail.com

  3. The tomb appeared to be of the children of Agricole Jules Armant and Corinne David Armant. Corinne is buried in the tomb. Her death was in 1896. However; her husband was buried in the Metairie Cemetery . Their others who are buried in the tomb are Hippolyte Victor Armant, James Robert Armant, John Baptiste Robert Armant, Jules J.B. Armant, Robert E Armant, and Robert Fernand. The tomb is ancient and the names and dates are hard to make out. There were a few other Armant names I didn’t recognize that I am sure are other relatives. There is a website called ” Find A Grave” where you can go and locate names and burial places.

  4. I was extremely excited to see this information. I had spent five years researching my family in Louisiana, the Armand’s (Armant’s) before publishing. It discloses Jean Baptiste’s father, Jean Marie and his father Joseph and their saga from France to Acadia to Louisiana and finally Natchitoches. I have copies available and would love to meet someday. Also available thru Amazon.
    Glenn Paul Armand 5th great grandson of Joseph Marie Armant 1725-1815
    The book is titled, The Armands L’ histoire de L’Armand en Louisiane
    I found the watercolor of the property had been sold in 2005 at Neal Auction for $6000 along with a great portrait of Jean Baptiste.
    Glenn

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