As a physician and man of science, surely Andrew Durnford should have seen that all men were born equally? Evidently not. For, as well as being a doctor, Durnford – a man of color himself – was also a plantation owner. From the 1820s onwards, he grew his sugar business across the state of Louisiana, ultimately becoming the owner of not just large amounts of land but of dozens of slaves too. Furthermore, the history books show that he regarded the system of slavery as just and, indeed, even the ‘American’ way of doing things.
Born in 1800 in New Orleans, Durnford was the son of an Englishman and a free woman of color. Thanks to the Louisiana Purchase, he automatically became a citizen of the United States and earned a fine education, being fluent in both French and English. While Durnford was still a young man, his father died. After that, he became first friends, and then business partners, with one of his father’s old friends, a white New Orleans merchant by the name of John McDonogh. Though he was a trained physician, Durnford turned to McDonogh for credit in order to enter the plantation business. His friend agreed, they struck favourable terms and the young man was able to purchase small piece of land just south of the city.
Over the years, Durnford’s plantation grew, and the man himself climbed steadily through Louisiana society. In the late 1820s, the historian David O. Whitten, has revealed, Durnford paid $7,000 for seven male slaves, five female slaves and two children. What’s more, soon after that he travelled to Virginia to acquire 24 more slaves to work his land. In all, it’s estimated that Durnford owned more than 80 slaves at the peak of his operations, earning a small fortune off their hard work.
According to some accounts of the time, Durnford might have been able to free his slaves. A Creole man who had sent his former slaves to be free in Liberia, Africa, asked Durnford if he would consider doing the same. He demurred, apparently arguing that “self interest is too strongly rooted in the bosom of all that breathes the American atmosphere”. In 1859, Durnford died on his own St. Rosalie Plantation, the land still tended by slaves, including slave children.