Francois Mignon: The Man Who Would Be French Monday, Aug 13 2012 

Posted by Doyle Bailey for The Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN)

Francois Mignon: The Man Who Would Be French (Pictured with Clementine Hunter)

The Natchitoches preservation community frequently finds itself indebted to Kim (Publisher) and Terry (Editor) Isbel of The Old Natchitoches Parish Magazine and Mercantile Advertiser. Their edition No. 180 has an article by Oliver Ford, Fitchburg State College, entitled “Francois Mignon: the Man who would be French”. www.oldparishmag.com

Francois Mignon, gifted writer and long-time resident of Melrose Plantation, had numerous stories that circulated around him. Oliver Ford’s treatment of Mignon’s creating a new identity is gentle and non-judgemental. He quotes Mignon in a statement, that for me is both insightful and revealing:

“Ever so long ago I became convinced that God, for mere convenience, fitted us in patterns,-physically,  along lines of our progenitors, but gave us the recompense of finding souls of similar pattern to our own in any old place, and by no means tied to the blood kin from whence the body came but from whence the soul did not”.

Obviously this remarkable person born as Frank VerNooy Mineah on May 9, 1899, in Cortland, New York, to Walter Fish Mineah and Mary Ella Mineah (nee Howland) preferred to be “French”. His achievements were those of Francois Mignon rather than of Frank VerNooy Minrah, the name he was given at birth.

Oliver Ford writes: “How much of the Mignon persona he created,how much he simply did not deny when others embellished it, and how much simply attached to him by the usual rumors about public personalities probably never will be determined”.

This is a fascinating story, told well and with insight by Oliver Ford. You would do well to get a copy of the Old Natchitoches Parish Magazine (No. 180) and read it. Even better would be a subscription to the magazine.

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Explore the Enchanting Mushroom House at Melrose Plantation Monday, Dec 26 2011 

Posted by Doyle Bailey for The Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN)

Francois Mignon

After visiting Melrose, Francois Mignon moved permanently there in the Fall of 1939.  From his papers we read about a Sunday morning (October 29) at Melrose.

“After coffee and mc (sic, much?) talk, Robina (Robina Denholm) and I decided to explore the gardens, visiting the famous old African musroom (sic, mushroom) house,–once used to encarcerate obstreperous slaves  in the old days when when the mulato (sic) Metoyer family owned Melrose. I was enchanted with Robina’s remark that she thought it good that the folks  there had the feeling of security sufficiently developed to dare bring this African item (the African House) from their distant past and blandly bring such architecture into being again”.

 

African House, MelroseMelrose Plantation, the Big House Managed by APHN

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Several obervations need to be made about Mignon’s comments.
 
First: Mignon seems to be the one who dubbed the African House with the name “The Mushroom House”. It does have an obvious resemblance to a mushroom. 
 
Secondly: Mignon gave no documentation in regard to the African House ever having been used as a jail for slaves. I have found no other source for this claim.
 
Thirdly: His use of the word “mulato” (sic) needs some comment. The Metoyer family would never use the word to describe themselves nor would I. The Metoyers are a proud Creole family with a marvelous heritage in the Cane River area of Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. I regard this term as pejorative (derives from the Spanish word for “mule”) and refuse to use it. It appears here only as an accurate expression of usuage in the period in which Mignon lived and wrote.
 
Robina’s mark is true that the African House is an enchanting example from the “distant past”. The fascination is only enhanced by the fact that you can view the spectacular Clementine Hunter murals on the upper floor of the African House. Explore the enchanting mushroom house at Melrose Plantation.
 

African House Murals by Clementine Hunter

 
 

 
Melrose Plantation, the Big House Managed by APHN

Melrose Plantation welcomes you for a Tour you will always remember.

Group Tours by appointment only.
For more information or to schedule a Group Tour please call: 318-379-0055  

A National Historic Landmark, c.1796, Melrose is rich in Louisiana history. The complex contains nine           buildings including African House, Yucca House, Writer’s Cabin, Bindery and the Big House. Many authors,    historians and artists resided and worked here.

A collection of work by primitive artist Clementine Hunter is is available for viewing.

Located at 3533 State Hwy. 119 Melrose, Louisiana 

From Manhattan To Melrose Plantation Tuesday, Dec 20 2011 

Francois Mignon

Posted by Doyle Bailey for The Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN)

Francois Mignon describes a journey he made by train from New York City to Melrose Plantation in Louisiana.  His paper is dated October 26, 1939.

“If you are going to Louisiana for the first time, a good way not to make it is by bee line from New York via Knoxville, Birmingham, etc..–especially in the month of November. It is like slipping surreptiously into Heaven by way of the back door, and so missing the full effect of the Pearly Portals and whatever Spanish moss may be entangled in Saint Peter’s beard–if any.”

Melrose Plantation, the Big House Managed by APHN

Arriving by train in Shreveport, Louisiana, Mignon was met by Robina, with whom he had exchanged many “pleasant letters” but whom he had never met. Turning off the main highway, Francois and Robina headed up the three mile lane that led to Melrose Plantation. Reaching the big house, they stopped by the side (west) gate. Francois writes:

“From out of nowhere good old Frank, the family houseman in overhalls (sic) came to greet us. We went into the big house and found that Aunt Cammie (Henry) was upstairs with her little grandson. When she heard us, however, she came flying down, and it filled me with extasy to find her just as I left her the year before, looking so good and so wholesome in her neat white waiste, black skirt and her luxurant white hair.”

Then with obvious tender affection, Francois states:

Cammie Henry as a young woman

“Somehow she made it seem as though I were a long lost child who had wandered too afield and was blessing me for having come back. Such is her remarkable spirit which brings so much happiness and cheer to so many.”

Miss Cammie had the gift of hospitality and made so many people, including artists, writers, travelers and guests feel that when they came to Melrose they had come home.

How nice it would be to have someone welcome us at the end of a long journey and make us feel special. Maybe this is at the heart of all we hope for at the end of our pilgrimage.

SOURCE: Francois Mignon Papers # 3889, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Come for your tour of Melrose Plantation and our professional guides will welcome you warmly and show you where Miss Cammie lived and the place that was so dear to Francois Mignon.

For more information regarding year-round tours please call (318) 379-0055 or

visit our website: http://aphnatchitoches.net

Francois Mignon: Yucca In His Own Words (Part Two) Monday, Jul 4 2011 

Posted by Doyle Bailey for

The Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN)

Francois Mignon

On June 22, 2011, I posted :Francois Mignon Describes Yucca, The Original Dwelling on Melrose Plantation.” With this post, you can read the continuation of his description:

"The bed in this room is a four poster, having once belonged to the family 
of Celine Rocque. Two features of it are its wool "tack" - a six inch thick 
mattress of wool, laid over the spring mattress. Another feature I like is the 
50 odd yards of curtaining, designed to keep out drafts.
 
The portraits in this room aren't, particularly interesting. They consist 
of Madame Laveau, negress, in 188o costume, her husband, painted a little 
more indifferently. Madame Laveau was the Voodoo Queen of New orleans in the last half of 
the nineteenth century.
Over the fireplace is a badlly retouched portrait of Grandpere Augustin's wife, 
familiarly ca1led "Coin-Coin" by her contemporaries. It dates from about 1836.
 
The hearth of the fireplace, on which the fire blazes, is an iron sheet, about three-quarters of an 
inch thick. It extends about a foot out into the room, flush with the floor. Not originally incorporated
in the fireplace, it was laid in its present position when the house was done over in the 20th century. 
It is a piece of iron plate, removed from the side of an iron clad boat, which the Yankees operated on the 
Red River, some five miles away, during the Civil War. Somehow the iron clad got stuck in the mud about 
the time the War ended, and it was abandoned,-to rot down. It was from this vessel that this iron plate was 
removed and put to its present usefulness. (Note General Bank's Red River Campaign of 1865).
 
The fender for this fireplace was found beneath the fireplace in the drawing room
of the Markoe housew, when that building was taken down a few years ago, say in the 1930's. How it
even got down under the fireplace,-into the ground-no one could ever explain. Markoe was the 
planter-partner of Robert McAlphin,the Simon Legree of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The McAlphin plantation-Hidden
Hill, I think it was called, was not far from the Markoe plantation,-on the west bank of the Cane River, 
south of Cloutierville some 8 or 10 miles.

Yucca. Melrose

Francois Mignon Describes Yucca, The Original Dwelling on Melrose Plantation Wednesday, Jun 22 2011 

Posted by Doyle Bailey for The Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN)

Tom Whitehead made available to us a description of Melrose Plantation in Francois Mignon’s own words. Tom is our “ferret”, for his ability to search persistently and discover amazing facts, and make them available to all of us. He is a true steward of history and cultural preservation. Here is the first of several posts describing Yucca in Francois Mignon”s own words:

“The original dwelling on Melrose -then styled Yucca, representing an original Cane River structure of the early period was built, probably, around 1790. The walls were, and still are, of earth, mixed with deer hair originally, and in later years, (deer running short) moss was substituted.

The house comprises four rooms. The first is the bath, the second, hidden by banana stalks, is the bed rooom and work room. The third door opens into the living room. The forth gives on another bedroom.

The chimneys are large, with openings on both sides, so that they may serve all four rooms.

From about 1790 to 1833, this was the residence of the Metoyers. In the latter year, the big house, built to the same lines but a story higher, was buiolt for the son of Augustin Metoyer,-Louis. From 1833, this original home was used as a slave hospital,down through 1864, and following the war housed servants of the plantation. In the late 1920’s it was put back in order, and subsequently and occupied by Lyle Saxon, etc.

The furnishings of the bedroom are the most interesting in the house. An eight-foot grandfather’s clock embraces a combination of European and American handiwork. The works and weights, the face and hands were imported from France. The case was made, probably by a slave carpenter on Cane River. The clock strikes the half hour once and the full hour twice,- the latter time-telling indicated by the hour being struck one minute, as a repeat, following the first recording of the hour.

An old Spanish wrought-iron safe is another interesting item. The great nail heads or bolt heads,-there are dozens of them covering the thing, are so contrived that six of them, if properly fiddled with, will open the safe automatically. It makes a sturdy stand for the Reading Machine. A duplicate of this safe is in Jefferson College at Washington Mississippi., having also come down from the Spanish when Natchez was the seat of the provincial government of Spain in Mississippi.

Yucca. Melrose

MELROSE PLANTATION BIG HOUSE 1833

 
Melrose began life as The Louis Metoyer Plantation in 1796 and was named Melrose in 1884 when Joseph Henry bought the plantation. It is one of the first and is one of the best surviving examples of a Creole plantation built by former enslaved persons known as “free people of color.” There are out- buildings from the late 1700’s, one of which houses the 1955 murals painted by the internationally known African-American Folk Artist, Clementine Hunter, who lived and worked at Melrose. For more information regarding year-round tours please call: 318-379-0055.
(Bus tours by reservation only)