ABOUT THIS BOOK
A study of Louisiana French Creole sugar planters’ role in higher education and a detailed history of the only college ever constructed to serve the sugar elite
The education of individual planter classes—cotton, tobacco, sugar—is rarely treated in works of southern history. Of the existing literature, higher education is typically relegated to a footnote, providing only brief glimpses into a complex instructional regime responsive to wealthy planters. R. Eric Platt’s Educating the Sons of Sugar allows for a greater focus on the mindset of French Creole sugar planters and provides a comprehensive record and analysis of a private college supported by planter wealth.
Jefferson College was founded in St. James Parish in 1831, surrounded by slave-holding plantations and their cash crop, sugar cane. Creole planters (regionally known as the “ancienne population”) designed the college to impart a “genteel” liberal arts education through instruction, architecture, and geographic location. Jefferson College played host to social class rivalries (Creole, Anglo-American, and French immigrant), mirrored the revival of Catholicism in a region typified by secular mores, was subject to the “Americanization” of south Louisiana higher education, and reflected the ancienne population’s decline as Louisiana’s ruling population.
Resulting from loss of funds, the college closed in 1848. It opened and closed three more times under varying administrations (French immigrant, private sugar planter, and Catholic/Marist) before its final closure in 1927 due to educational competition, curricular intransigence, and the 1927 Mississippi River flood. In 1931, the campus was purchased by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and reopened as a silent religious retreat. It continues to function to this day as the Manresa House of Retreats. While in existence, Jefferson College was a social thermometer for the white French Creole sugar planter ethos that instilled the “sons of sugar” with a cultural heritage resonant of a region typified by the management of plantations, slavery, and the production of sugar.