The Helaire family gathered at Oakland Plantation July 21 for a reunion. Family members came from across Louisiana and the US. They also celebrated their matriarch Elvira Helaire Davis’s 103rd birthday.
Ancestry: Hilario was a young African who was captured and brought to the Americas by Longlois, a plantation owner near Cloutierville. Hilario met Jeanne, the property of John Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme at Bermuda Plantation. By 1809 Hilario and Jeanne had a son named Hilaire, who was the first of many generations of Helaires to be born on Bermuda Plantation. The Helaire roots through Jeanne probably go back to the very founding of the plantation itself. Hilaire married Felis and they went on to have seven children. The family remained enslaved at Oakland until the end of the Civil War. Bermuda Plantation was renamed Oakland Plantation after the Civil War. The last Helaires left the plantation in the early 60s.
Terrance Helaire has come to the reunions, held every two years, since 1984. He loves seeing the growth in the family, from the children to the grandchildren. He also loves keeping in touch with everyone.
“Before Facebook and Instagram, these reunions are what’s kept us close,” he said.
Henry and Berneda Smith have traveled from Indiana ever since the Helaire family reunion was held at St. Matthews. Henry’s great grandfather was Felix Heliare. In the 50s Henry, who was born in Bermuda, said his family would come to Oakland Plantation all the time. He even got vaccinated there. Now he brings his grandchildren to visit the plantation during the reunions.
“I want to keep the tradition and family ancestry going when I’m gone so the generations after me will have a story to tell,” he said.
Yokota Strong said the younger generations are just starting to learn about their heritage. The reunion allows them to connect and come together to embrace and learn more about their family’s history.
He’s thankful that the National Park Service, which operates Oakland Plantation, has maintained what they could of the Helaire family’s heritage.
“The National Park Service understands the importance of preserving everyone’s history,” said Chief of Interpretation Barbara Justice. “It’s always an honor meeting descendants of these families and it’s an honor to share their stories with the American people. We also hope they’ll share their stories with us during these reunions so the National Park Service can learn even more about their history.”