Point Plantation is surrounded by green lawns shaded by ancient oaks.
Fields of sugar cane extend from the road bordering this white-pillared
home, making it easy for visitors to picture the rows of crops, and
miles of prairie that surrounded the newly constructed mansion in 1835.
Hippolyte Chretien built
the two-story manor on land he inherited from his father. Slave
artisans embellished it with arched doors and windows crowned with
elegant fanlights and decorated the interior with finely carved
woodwork, marble mantels, and ornamental molding.
Four years passed before
the majestic home was complete and Hippolyte, and his young wife,
Felicité, moved in. Madame Chretien was a renowned beauty whose dark
eyes and husky laugh had attracted several admirers. Though it was
widely known that she was an unusually independent lady who traveled
unchaperoned to New Orleans, rode her horse astride like a man, and
worked side by side with her father in the management of his
plantation, this did not seem to discourage young men from seeking her
hand in marriage. To strengthen his suit, Hippolyte reversed the
tradition of a matrimonial dowry and gave his bride-to-be a large sum
Felicité's father had
shared his authority with her, but her husband refused to make her his
equal in business matters and stubbornly refused to stop burying his
fortune about the plantation - confiding its whereabouts to just one
Hippolyte did allow his
wife to enjoy after dinner poker games with their guests and she soon
adopted the habit of joining the gentlemen for a smoke, a practice that
added new luster to her sensational reputation.
Smugglers were often among
visitors welcomed into the parlors of Louisiana planters because they
provided a means of avoiding heavy taxes on imported goods purchased in
New Orleans. Hippolyte also befriended these shady merchants, offered
them food and drink, and allowed them to use his land for the
distribution of their contraband. Sadly, the marauders who brought
bolts of silk and casks of wine to Chretien Point may also have brought
the dreaded yellow fever up the bayou and into the plantation's
hospitable drawing room. In October 1838, the Chretien's infant son
died of yellow fever. The following September, Hippolyte followed his
babe into the grave.
Many 19th-century women
would have returned to their father's home at such a juncture in life.
But not the strong-willed Felicité. She forced Hippolyte's confidant to
tell her where her husband's fortune was buried, dug it up, and stashed
it in the nearest bank. She hired overseers to help run the plantation,
but threw out those who didn't follow her instructions to the letter.
Felicité was a hands-on
supervisor. Her days were spent checking the progress of her crops,
caring for her four children, and seeing to the needs of her slaves. In
the evenings she continued to enjoy lively card games at her table.
During the 1830's,
plantations such as Chretien Point were islands of civility in
ungoverned southwest Louisiana. News that Felicité's managerial and
poker-playing skills had made her an extremely wealthy woman spread far
and wide and soon attracted the attention of desperados who roamed the
Late one evening, when her
children were asleep and the house slaves had retired to their quarters
behind the mansion, Felicité heard a noise she couldn't account for.
Looking out of her bedroom window she saw several men creeping along in
shadows cast by the giant oaks. She ran to the stairs to call for help,
but instantly realized that it was too late. One of the bandits was
inside the door and heading for the stairwell.
Felicité shouted to him to
stop but extended a pouch of jewels to tempt him nearer. When he was at
close range, she lifted her other hand, aimed a gun at his head and
pulled the trigger.
After he fell, she stepped
over him, ran down the stairs, and called for her servants. Ordering
two men to conceal the body in a closet beneath the stairs, out of
sight of her children, she armed the others and told them to stand by
When some of the outlaws
mounted their horses and approached the house Felicité called out to
them: "What do you want?" "We're looking for our friend," they replied.
"Nobody could have come here," she told them. "All my men are with me
and we have guns." The horsemen saw the glint of the revolvers pointed
out of the widows and galloped away. Felicité and her men stood guard
all night, but the scoundrels did not return.
In the morning, the daring
mistress of Chretien Point rewarded her men with a swig of whiskey, and
sent word to the sheriff to come and collect the blackguard she had
killed. His death is recorded in the St. Landry Parish register of the
1840's. Maids vigorously scrubbed the stairs where the intruder died,
but could not remove the bloodstains. There they remain to this day.
In 1845, Felicité left
Chretien Point's 10,000 acres in the care of her son and moved to New
Orleans. She lived in an elegant home near the city's luxurious opera
house until her death sometime after the Civil War.
Madame Chretien's portrait
adorns Chretien Point's dining room and some locals believe her spirit
still wanders through the house. They say her presence and that of the
brigand she gunned down is responsible for unexplained happenings
experienced on the estate. You may scoff at these tales of ghostly
mischief, but if you join the thousands of overnight visitors who enjoy
Chretien Point's sumptuous bed and breakfast amenities, don't be
surprised if you are awakened by a husky voiced poker player
whispering, "I'll see your hundred and raise you twenty."