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Robert Ruffin Barrow

The Philanthropist

Robert Ruffin Barrow was one of the largest landowners in the south before the Civil War. He owned sixteen plantations and had large landholdings in Texas. He also invested money in projects in which he saw potential and gave to people out of generosity.

The most well known investment he made was in the early submarine projects of his brother-in-law, Horace Hunley. However, lesser known are the people he donated land and money. 

Robert Ruffin Barrow
Robert Ruffin Barrow

He did this in order to give back to the community of Houma and his workers for helping him achieve his success.

He purchased the land from James “Jim” Bowie during his land speculating days. He bought 50 arpens (42.24 acres) along the west side of Bayou Grand Caillou and twenty-five arpens (21.12 acres) along the east with a depth of 1,700 arpens (1436.20 acres) on November 25, 1828 for the price of $8,500. One arpen was approximately 0.85 acres. The land across the bayou from Volumnia Farm was where the workers lived in their community and travel to the farm for work.

Records show that he donated land ~60 feet x ~117 feet that were valued at $300 each to widows of friends and workers both white and black. The donations took place in the years 1854-1873. His largest donation to a private individual named John B. Pittman was half of the property of Oak Grove Plantation in Lafourche Parish. There are donations to various churches of various Christian faiths. He donated five lots to St. Matthews Episcopal Church on Barrow Street in Houma Louisiana valued at $1000 at that time on June 7th, 1857.

On September 1st, 1857 he donated four lots on the corner of School Street and Goode Street in Houma Louisiana worth $8000 to the Church of Presbyterian Congregation.

In 1856 RR Barrow gave the land and material for the Little Zion Baptist Church, in Houma, Louisiana, which was the first black church in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, and enticed by giving a house to live in a black free man of color Rev. Isaiah Lawson to come and be the pastor of the church and to educate the black children. The church was built by slaves and free men of color using cypress wood cut at RR Barrows saw mill at Residence Plantation. On April 1,1873 RR Barrow officially donated one arpen to the Church. The church has been remodeled several times and after remodeling the name was changed to New Zion Baptist Church. The church and graveyard can be visited today at 263 Grand Caillou Rd. in Houma Louisiana. Across Grand Caillou Road from New Zion Baptist Church is the church cemetery, which has over 700 tombs. Some graves date all the way back to the early 1800s.

On May 6th, 1873 he donated land 530ft by 548 feet for a church and burial ground in Houma, Louisiana, to the African Methodist Church that was valued at $5000.

On June 14, 1847 Robert Ruffin Barrow gave a tract of land at the end of Church Street to Bishop Antoine Blanc of New Orleans for the specific purpose of building a Catholic Church in Houma. At the time, St. Francis de Sales Parish covered the whole civil parish of Terrebonne and a part of St. Mary Parish east of the Atchafalaya.

Rev. Z. Leveque was appointed the first pastor. He found about 200 Catholic families scattered throughout the parish, living mainly along the four principal bayous (Terrebonne, Petite Caillou, Grand Caillou and Black). He faced two major challenges: teaching the families the elementary doctrines of the Catholic Faith and the building of a church structure. He left the following year, before the church structure was complete; it was not complete until 1854. He did, however, leave a written report for his successor.

After the abolishment of slavery Robert Ruffin Barrow gave to his workers the land and houses that the workers had lived on his plantations.

He also donated three arpens on August 3rd, 1858 to the first African American school in Terrebonne parish called Houma Academy. Today, that school is now a museum called Finding Our Roots African American Museum where the owners speak of the generosity of R. R. Barrow to the Houma African American community. The museum owners are friends of the owners of Volumnia Farm to this day.

Even after his death Robert Ruffin Barrow’s philanthropic legacy still lives on; Barrow St. in Houma named in honor of him, the letters wrote thanking him for his kindness, the history books as a generous man and the family members that carry on his legacy.