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HISTORY

  • Cierra Chenier

Algiers is very much New Orleans; was often the soil where enslaved ancestors first stepped foot


Duverjé House


Here in New Orleans, we’re bound to our neighborhoods. Before Hurricane Katrina, you didn’t have much reason to leave your community -- everything you needed, all of your people were right there. If you were from the 9th Ward, you stayed in the 9. If you were from Uptown, you stayed Uptown. If you were from “cross the river,” you stayed cross the river. To those from the eastbank of New Orleans, the Westbank is jokingly referred to as that foreign part of the city, wayyyy over there, that “isn’t really New Orleans.” However -- a neighborhood across from the French Quarter, resting on the curve of the river shaped Black New Orleans history forever. It was the soil that many ancestors first touched when brought captive to this city. Algiers.

“They didn’t really care about Algiers. This was a part that was basically known for slaves. This was where you quarantine, this is where you broke them in order to be sold.” - Malik Rahim, living legend & lifelong Algiers resident

The story of Algiers ironically dates as far back as the arrival of slavery in Louisiana. Just one year after the founding of New Orleans in 1718, present-day Algiers Point was designated as a plantation and “slave pen” -- consisting of jail-like compounds where enslaved people were held following their kidnapping from West Africa. There they performed forced, free labor until it was time to be ferried across the river to The Quarter, where they were to build this city or be sold off at auction. It’s said that the very name comes from the view of the site from The Quarter -- the hundreds of Black figures seen from across the river reminded the Europeans of Algeria in Africa. Hence, the name Algiers. By 1731, 99% of Algiers’ population was enslaved, making it “the largest concentration of people of African ancestry in the entire region.”


Initially, enslaved people had to live in caves or cabins in the woods before the land was cleared. Algiers’ long history as a plantation then began with Company Plantation, where “the Company did not provide them [enslaved] with enough food and fed them with the food stuffs it could not sell to the settlers or soldiers because they were damaged.” 


The plantation was surrounded by swampland where enslaved Africans held drumming circles, spiritual ceremonies, and even took control of their own freedom as maroons (Africans who escaped enslavement). This area was inhabited by buku maroon colonies, where these brave ancestors learned how to survive the bayou, evade authorities, and stand firm in their resistance. Lifelong Algiers resident and living legend, Malik Rahim, explains that maroons lived by a code -- today's popular, Mardi Gras Indian expression of “Won’t Bow Down” to slavery. “If you were a ‘petty maroon,’ you wouldn’t be gone long. If you were a ‘grand maroon,’ you weren’t coming back” says Rahim. The swamps of the Westbank were also once settled by the man, maroon, and martyr -- Jean Saint Malo.


Malik Rahim at his Algiers home


The plantation soon required additional management for its high population of enslaved Africans. Racist, “historian,” and architect, Le Page du Pratz, was hired as manager of Company Plantation and created new policies based on his dehumanizing views of Black people. In his journal of his time there, Le Page states: “Prudence demands that your Negroes be lodged at a sufficient distance so as not to be inconvenient, however, near enough to perceive what happens among them. [...] not to let your children approach them, which besides the bad air, could never teach them anything good, neither for morals, nor for education, nor for language” and “those who smell the worst are those who are the least Black.” Those drumming circles and voodoo ceremonies were put to a stop under the management of Le Page. Since there’s power when we come together, he felt the need to stop “the assemblies of the Negroes” in fear of “damage to the Colony” by revolt. He claims to have prevented a revolt after overhearing a group of enslaved people (7 men, 1 woman) conspiring to seize New Orleans from the French, years before the historic 1811 Slave Revolt (largest revolt in U.S. history). Le Page had them convicted and then executed.  


Near the plantation was a powder magazine located at the site of current Powder Street in Algiers Point. This building was designed to store explosive gunpowder, but also served as the Europeans’ last resort given the enslaved people that outnumbered them would one day revolt. “That was their last defense” Rahim explains. “If there was a slave rebellion, they’d blow it up.”


Algiers Courthouse, former site of Duverjé Plantation main house


Eventually, the Company went bankrupt and the plantation became known as King’s Plantation. By 1804, it became Duverjé Plantation. Where Algiers residents now go to exercise their political power at the Algiers Courthouse, was once the site of the plantation’s “main house.” What are now beautifully constructed homes where Algiers Point’s 81.94% majority-white residents live in this peaceful haven along the river, were once brick slave cabins. Enslaved people were piled into these 24 x 13 foot cabins that once bordered the back of the main house. What is now a playground where kids can play at Delcazal Park, was once the initial burial ground for the “favored slaves” of the Duverjé Plantation.

Delcazal Park, built on site of chapel & the cemetery for "favored slaves"


Algiers eventually became an official part of Orleans Parish. Following the end of slavery in 1865, many of the now freed Black people moved off the plantation and into the outskirts of today’s Algiers and Westbank communities. Algiers’ high Black population was further established with these communities, but just like most New Orleans neighborhoods, was noticeably segregated. A set of railroad tracks physically segregated Algiers Point from the rest of Algiers, dividing the now high white popula