Houmas House Plantation in NOLA – and its Union, WV Connection

This is the famous Houmas House Plantation near New Orleans, Louisiana:

Well, it has a deep connection to little ‘ole Union, WV. In Union, Monroe County, West Virginia, are two spectacular antebellum mansions, Elmwood, and Walnut Grove. Did you know that the owners of Walnut Grove also owned the Houmas House Plantation in New Orleans?

This is the grave of Oliver Bierne in Greenhill Cemetery in Union, WV.

This is the grave of William Porcher Miles, his son-in-law, right next to it:

Did you know that William Porcher Miles,originally from South Carolina, designed the Confederate Flag (as we know it – the “Battle Flag”)?

Anyways, on tax day, 1858, the Houmas Plantation was sold to John Burnside (not the same John Byrnside/Burnside as who owned Willowbrook), who was the business partner of Oliver Bierne, who’s grave is pictured above. Oliver’s father was Andrew Bierne, of Union, Virginia (now WV), who established the Walnut Grove Plantation.

Walnut Grove, in Union, WV:

[This] John Burnside was born in Ireland in 1810, from a poor family. He found a job working for Oliver’s father, Andrew Bierne. Being around the same age, he and Oliver became close friends, and eventually went into business together. In 1837, they traveled to New Orleans to open a dry goods store named Bierne and Burnside. But when his father died in 1845, Oliver returned to Union, Virginia to manage his father’s estate and the family plantation. Meanwhile, in NOLA, “Bierne and Burnside” prospered and became the largest dry goods store in New Orleans. Burnside became fabulously wealthy. In 1858, he sold the dry goods business for $2,000,000 and decided to enter the sugar business. His first act was to buy the Houmas Plantation in 1858 for $1,000,000. That’s $31,000,000.00 today, adjusted for inflation! At the age of 71, feeling ill, Burnside traveled to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, to recover. Instead, he died there on July 5, 1881. He left his large estate to his friend, Oliver Bierne.

Oliver himself was 70 years old at that time. Nevertheless, he moved from Union’s Walnut Grove Plantation into Houmas Plantation, and managed an empire of land, both in Louisiana and West Virginia. He enlisted the help of his son-in-law, William Porcher Miles to oversee management of all the plantations. Oliver died in NOLA in 1888 at the age of 77. Clearly they transported his body back home for burial. His estate was worth $5,000,000.00, which would be worth $134,000,000.00.

The Houmas Plantation was bequeathed to his grandchildren, the children of William Porche Miles. It remained in the Miles family until 1940. Nancy Bierne Miles White grew up in the house, vacationing at Walnut Grove in the summers. She owned Walnut Grove until her death. Her children still own Walnut Grove Plantation today.

Here are some items I found metal detecting around the old Walnut Grove Plantation fields. Some of this could have belonged to Oliver, or his father.

Source: https://houmashouse.com/history/

3 thoughts on “Houmas House Plantation in NOLA – and its Union, WV Connection

  1. I have been trying to trace this John Burnside, the Sugar King, as a possible relative of the Burnsides/Byrnsides of Monroe and Greenbrier at that time. He died a batchelor. My guess is he came to Monroe County as a youth to work with the Beirnes, possibly because he already had family in the area, also from Northern Ireland. I spoke to the historian at Houmas House. They had been unable to trace his ancestry. Apparently he would never tell. Would love to find a way to see if he is one of ours.

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