The past comes alive during St. Francisville's Audubon Pilgrimage
Get a glimpse into St. Francisville’s storied history during the Pilgrimage’s popular cemetery tour.
If only these walls could talk! How often have we lamented that the lessons of history might be lost without the voices of the past recounting their experiences? In the four decades that the West Feliciana Historical Society has hosted the Audubon Pilgrimage in St. Francisville, this popular spring fling has featured restored antebellum plantations, blooming gardens, and glamorous nighttime entertainments. But initially something was missing, some intimate personalized voice resonating through time.
One of the historic churches featured on the Pilgrimage is Grace Episcopal, the oldest church in St. Francisville, established in 1827. Its first rector was the Reverend William R. Bowman, second husband of widowed Eliza Pirrie, of Oakley Plantation, whom the artist Audubon was hired to tutor in the early 1820s. The present brick church, which replaced an early simple wooden building, is reminiscent of the Gothic country churches of rural England.
With the church’s serene, oak-shaded cemetery full of history, it was no wonder that Pilgrimage planners conceived the idea of raising the dead to tell their stories.
Local actors bring to life a carefully selected cross section of St. Francisville residents beginning in the heady years just prior to the Civil War and continuing through the trying times afterward. An introduction to Grace’s history is given from the brick front steps of the church, and then young guides lead visitors through the cemetery lit by candles and torches.
Along the way, guests meet the spirits of the Turnbulls of Rosedown Plantation; Judge George Mathews, chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1812 until his death in 1836; and General Robert H. Barrow, who declined burial in Arlington National Cemetery and opted to be laid to rest in 2008 in St. Francisville. These are just a few of the voices of the past who rise to tell their stories beside their tombstones.
The Cemetery Tales are a traditional part of the annual Audubon Pilgrimage held each March. Features of the Pilgrimage include home and church tours and demonstrations of daily pioneer life at the Rural Homestead. Tour hostesses are clad in detailed costumes of the 1820s.
For tickets and tour information, contact the West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-635-6330 or online at www.audubonpilgrimage.info.