Acadian Communities in Louisiana
Natchitoches Cabanocé/St.-Jacques St.-Gabriel d'Iberville/Manchac Nueva Gálvez/San Bernardo New Orleans Attakapas San Luìs de Natchez Bayou des Écores/Feliciana Pointe Coupée Opelousas Baton Rouge/Manchac Ascension/Assumption/Lafourche/Terrebonne
Natchitoches was not the first European "settlement" in present-day Louisiana. That was Fort de Mississippi, also called Fort de la Boulaye and Fort Iberville, on the east bank of the Mississippi near today's Phoenix in Plaquemines Parish; Iberville built the fort in early 1700 and garrisoned it with sturdy Canadians, and Bienville abandoned the site in 1707. However, Natchitoches is the oldest continuously-occupied European community in the State of Louisiana.
In the year that Iberville built Fort de Mississippi, brother Bienville had explored the Red River as far up as a huge log jam that blocked further navigation. As it turned out, the French established a community on the Red River four years before Bienville founded New Orleans in 1718, but it was not Bienville who founded the Red River post. Louis Juchereau de St.-Denis, a young Canadian associate of Iberville and Bienville, had commanded at Fort de Mississippi during its brief existence. After Bienville abandoned the fort, St.-Denis shifted the French observation post on the lower Mississippi to the site of present-day New Orleans and then became the commandant of the post at Old Biloxi on Mississippi Sound, across the bay from the present city. But St.-Denis did not remain at Biloxi for long. Governor Le Mothe de Cadillac, representing Louisiana's proprietor, Antoine Crozat, was determined to establish a French post in the Louisiana interior to trade with the Indians, especially the friendly Caddos, and with the Spanish in Mexico and Texas.
In 1714, on orders from Governor Cadillac, St.-Denis led an expedition of Canadians up the Red River and sited what became the Poste des Natchitoches on an island in a branch of the river just below the log jam. From Natchitoches, St.-Denis moved on to Presidio del Norte, now Eagle Pass, Texas, to fulfill the governor's charge. The Spanish promptly arrested him, took him to Mexico City, and imprisoned him there. The Spanish viceroy relented, however, and sent the young Frenchman to eastern Texas to help re-establish Spanish missions among the Caddo Indians. This fit nicely with French commercial plans, and St.-Denis saw his opportunity. He slipped back to French Louisiana, purchased a consignment of goods, and engaged in smuggling to the new missions in eastern Texas. As a result, the clever Canadian spent more time in Spanish prisons. Meanwhile, in 1716, during his struggles with the Natchez on the Mississippi River, acting governor Bienville ordered the construction of a fort, called St.-Jean-Baptiste, on the site of the Poste des Natchitoches.
Spanish mercantilist policy had long prohibited trade with foreigners, so they did not welcome a new French fort among Indians they hoped to dominate. In early 1717, the Spanish countered by establishing a mission post, called Los Adaes, also named after local Caddo Indians, near present-day Robiline, some 20 miles southwest of Natchitoches. Fort St.-Jean-Baptiste at Natchitoches, then, served not only as a trading post from which to win the favor of local Indians but also as a strategic point from which to observe the Spanish in eastern Texas.
In 1719, at the beginning of another war with Spain, the commander at Natchitoches, Philippe Blondel, on orders from Commandant Bienville, sacked the Los Adaes mission, and the Spanish retreated all the way back to Mexico. A tenuous peace between France and Spain returned in 1721, after which the Spanish not only re-established the mission at Los Adaes but also erected a fortified, well-manned presidio there, which they called Presidio de Nuestra Senora del Pilar de Los Adaes. Also, ironically, as they had done before the French sacked their mission, Spanish priests from Los Adaes resumed their ministrations at Natchitoches until the isolated French post finally had a priest of its own. This was not until 1728, when the Capuchin superior in New Orleans sent Father Maximin as a missionary to Natchitoches. Language barriers notwithstanding, the Franciscans at Los Adaes continued to serve the French at Natchitoches after Father Maximin became missionary at Natchez in 1729. A temporary church structure appeared at the original site of the Poste des Natchitoches in c1730, and another one rebuilt on the post's new site later in decade. The parish church at Natchitoches was dedicated to St.-François. In 1734, a French Jesuit missionary, Father Pierre Vitry, became the parish's new pastor. He was replaced in 1738 by Father Jean-François de Civray, a Capuchin. After the Spanish abandoned Los Adaes in the late 1760s, not long after they took over the Louisiana colony, St.-François of Natchitoches remained the only church in northwestern Louisiana for the rest of the Spanish period.
Despite his smuggling ventures and his part in capturing Pensacola from the Spanish when Spain and France went to war again, Louis Juchereau de St.-Denis had established ties with Spanish Texas by marrying Manuela Sánchez y Navarro, the step-granddaughter of a Spanish commandant on the lower Rio Grande, in 1715. This made him a valuable asset in French dealings with Spain. After the Spanish rebuilt Los Adaes, Bienville, reportedly "against his will," appointed St.-Denis as commandant of Fort St.-Jean-Baptiste. Ignoring Spanish mercantilist policy and the presence of a substantial Spanish force so close to Natchitoches, including an observation post on the west bank of the river across from the fort there, St.-Denis restored commercial ties with the missions in eastern Texas and fostered a lasting peace in the region between the French and the Spanish. The Spanish reduced their garrison at Los Adaes in 1730. Dissatisfied with the location of the original post, in 1735 St.-Denis relocated Fort St.-Jean-Baptiste to the western bank of the river, on the site of the Spanish observation post. St.-Denis, who became a Chevalier of the Military Order of St.-Louis, served as commander at Natchitoches for nearly a quarter century, until his death in June 1744, at age 70.
When the Spanish took over the Louisiana colony in the late 1760s, they were very aware of the strategic and commercial importance of the post at Natchitoches. They, in fact, abandoned the mission and presidio at nearby Los Adaes and all other missions in eastern Texas in June 1773. At the same time, the Spanish governor urged the rebuilding of the church at Natchitoches, symbolizing the permanence of the place.
In their general plan to defend the new colony against an imminent British threat, the Spanish authorities in New Orleans found no reason to send newly-arrived Acadians to a long-established French Creole community on Red River. There was one exception. After their harrying adventure in Spanish Texas, a wayward group of Acadian exiles from Maryland appeared at Natchitoches in October 1769. The Spanish governor wanted them to remain there, but the Acadians demurred. Typically, they moved on to communities where their kinsmen had settled, far away from the Red River post.
When Acadians migrated outward from their original South Louisiana settlements during the late colonial and antebellum periods, they moved deeper into the Bayou Lafourche/Bayou Terrebonne valley or farther out onto the southwestern prairies. Few, if any, moved northward into the Red River valley. As a result, Natchitoches Parish is not included in the 22-parish region known as Acadiana.
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 34-37, 59-62, 117, 126-29, 146-51, 181-82; Burton & Smith, Colonial Natchitoches, passim; Crouse, Lemoyne d'Iberville, 208-09; Winston Deville, "Juchereau, de Saint-Denis, Louis," in DCB, 3:317-18; "Juchereau de St.-Denis, Louis," in DLB, 1:449; Galán, "Los Adaes," 192-93; Higginbotham, Old Mobile, 17n; Kinnaird, "The Revolutionary Period, 1765-81," xiii, 35; Taylor, J. G., Louisiana, 8; "Timothy Flint's Louisiana ," in Conrad, ed., The Cajuns, 119; Appendix.
René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle and his downriver expedition may not have been the first Europeans to come upon the site of today's New Orleans--that would have been Spaniards who had thoroughly explored the region since the 1540s--but La Salle and his men were the first Europeans to describe the site of the present city. La Salle noted in his journal that in early April 1682, he and his men "went ashore on the borders of a marsh formed by the inundation of the river" to see for themselves the site of a Indian village that "the whole of this marsh, covered with canes, must be crossed to reach...." All that the Frenchmen found was a destroyed village of the Tangipahoa people. The Frenchmen trudged back through the thick canes down to their boats and resumed their journey to the great river's mouth only 30 leagues away.
Seventeen years later, during their first exploration of the lower Mississippi in March 1699, the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre d'Iberville and his teenage brother Jean-Baptiste de Bienville, passed a site on the left, or east bank, of the river, at the head of a prominent bend. Iberville's Indian guide demonstrated that a short portage existed between the natural levee of the river there, where an Indian village had stood among the high canes, and the head of a short bayou which flowed northward into a huge inlet of the Gulf that Iberville later named Lake Pontchartrain. Iberville visited the site a year later, on his second exploration of the lower Mississippi. This time he approached the portage from the north via Lake Pontchartrain. He ascended the bayou from where it flowed into the lake to its narrow upper reaches, crossed a natural ridge near the bayou's head, and then trudged southward through a back swamp to the natural levee above the sweeping river crescent which he had passed the year before. Further exploration of the area revealed that the natural levee at the portage site was "the widest swath of relatively dry land within one hundred miles of the Mississippi's mouth ...." Most importantly, the portage greatly shortened communication between the lower Mississippi and the Gulf coast settlements at Biloxi and Mobile.
Despite its promising geography, however, the portage site on the beautiful crescent did not become the first French "settlement" on the lower Mississippi. Erected by Iberville in February 1700, Fort de Mississippi, also called Fort de la Boulaye, stood a few dozen miles downriver from the portage site, on the same side of the river, near present-day Phoenix, Plaquemines Parish. Consisting mainly of a log blockhouse with cannon of various caliber and a 12-foot-wide moat among the thick canebrakes, the fort served the essential purpose of maintaining a French presence on the lower river, which the British also claimed and had threatened to settle. After Bienville abandoned Fort de Mississippi in 1707, the only French military presence on the lower river was an unfortified observation post at the portage site. Louis Juchereau de St.-Denis, who had commanded at Fort de Mississippi, and a few of his sturdy Canadians, who had garrisoned the fort, manned the new observation post on the lovely river crescent. According to one historian, "It was Saint-Denis who first reported to Bienville ... on the richness of these lands [at the portage site] and who was largely responsible for its subsequent development."
In the spring of 1708, in hopes of creating a breadbasket for the colony, still headquartered at Mobile in present-day Alabama, Bienville sent five Canadians to the little bayou at the portage site, which the French called Bayou St.-Jean, and granted them 4-arpent-by-36-arpent holdings along the stream. These Canadians included Antoine Rivard de La Vigne, François Dugue, Jean-Baptiste Poitié, and Nicolas Delon. None of them brought along wives or children. They planted two wheat crops, but both failed because of the intense heat and humidity. The Canadians abandoned the site in 1710. Once again, except for the observation post, only Indians occupied the narrow piece of land between the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain. But Bienville did not give up on the idea of establishing a French settlement there.
The next post founded on the lower Mississippi was even more distant from the portage site than had been Iberville's Fort de Mississippi, and, interestingly, it was Bienville who sited the new garrison. Indian relations and the need to improve communications with French Canada via the upper Mississippi dictated the founding of Fort Rosalie at the site of present-day Natchez, Mississippi, in 1716. Nearby stood the grand village of the powerful Natchez. The soil around Fort Rosalie was fine and well-drained, and the post stood on a bluff above the river's flood plain, so the Natchez settlement thrived.
Even after Bienville became commandant general of Louisiana in 1718, the founding of New Orleans was a close thing. In April of that year, financier John Law's Company of the West, which had taken control of the colony the year before, ordered a new post constructed along the lower Mississippi "on the Manchac brook," today's Bayou Manchac, a location that company officials believed would provide the most direct route for trade between Canada and the French holdings on the Gulf of Mexico. The engineer who had been assigned to the job died en route to the Mississippi, but his replacement chose what he considered to be a better site for the colony's new headquarters--New Biloxi, across the bay from the site of Fort Maurepas (Old Biloxi), which Iberville had built in 1699 but which had been abandoned. The new post, Fort Louis it would be called, was supposed to have risen in 1721, but by year's end virtually nothing had been accomplished there. In 1722, company officials in France gave up on New Biloxi as the colony's headquarters, and Bienville, still the commandant of Louisiana, chose another location for the capital.
Back in 1718, soon after he became commandant general, Bienville had ordered a settlement built near the head waters of Bayou St.-Jean, on "one of the most beautiful crescents of the river," he assured the Company. Named for Philippe II, duc d'Orléans, nephew of King Louis XIV, regent of the boy king Louis XV, and patron of John Law, La Nouvelle-Orléans began as a ramshackle collection of huts at the portage site. In 1721, at the same time that a new colonial capital was supposed to have risen along Mississippi Sound, Bienville sent engineers to New Orleans to lay out a formal street plan fronting the river. In 1722, Bienville chose the rebuilt "city" as the new capital of French Louisiana. Despite a devastating hurricane in September of that year, ever-present disease, and frequent desertion, New Orleans could boast a population of a thousand souls a decade after its founding. By the spring of 1727, it also had a parish church of its own, St.-Louis.
There was a problem with the location of New Orleans, however, that required the creation of another post on the lower river. As a recent historian has observed: "The lower Mississippi presented serious problems for tall sailing vessels. Besides the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the riverbed, a sandbar in the main pass of the river often had a sounding of only 10-12 feet, while most large ships laden with cargo drew 15-20 feet. To address these problems, the French built La Balize ('the beacon'), a fort at the mouth of the river's birdfoot delta. There incoming ships could hire resident pilots or transfer their cargo to barges and smaller craft (called lighters) that would complete the journey to New Orleans." The fortifications at "the beacon" arose on "the small mud island" in 1724. New Orleans lay a hundred miles above La Balize, so relatively few large ships risked the passage up to the city.
Despite these problems, by the time Louisiana reverted to a royal colony and Bienville became governor for a fourth time in 1733, his little city on the beautiful crescent had become the head, heart, and soul of French Louisiana.
When the Acadian exiles reached Louisiana in the 1760s, it was to Balize and New Orleans that they came to recuperate from their long, trying Grand Dérangement. And it was from New Orleans that French and Spanish officials sent them to posts on the river above the city, into the prairie region west of the Atchafalaya Basin, or to the upper stretches of Bayou Lafourche. Owing to their proclivity to reunite with members of their extended families, few Acadians remained at New Orleans, away from other Acadians. The one exception were two dozen Acadian families who reached the colony from France in the autumn of 1785 aboard L'Amitié and La Caroline, two of the Seven Ships. They chose to settle at Nueva Gálvez, also called San Bernardo, in present-day St. Bernard Parish, on the river below the city. Only in the twentieth century, when superhighways, industries, and a material economy opened up the modern world to them, did Acadians/Cajuns leave their traditional homes and "return" to New Orleans. Nevertheless, Orleans Parish is not a part of the 22-parish region known as Acadiana.
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 55-59; Campanella, Bienville's Dilemma, passim; Samuel Wilson, Jr., "Colonial Fortifications and Military Architecture in the Mississippi Valley," pp. 383-87, & John Hebron Moore, "The Cypress Lumber Industry of the Lower Mississippi Valley During the Colonial Period," p. 588, source of quote, in Conrad, ed., The French Experience in LA; Cowan & McGuire, LA Governors, 14-15; Crouse, Lemoyne d'Iberville, chaps. 8, 9; Dawdy, Devil's Empire, 23, quotes from pp. 63, 110-11; Higginbotham, Old Mobile, 293, 345-46, 373, 387, 423, quote from p. 345; Jobb, The Cajuns, 228; Sternberg, Bayou Manchac, 35-36; Taylor, J. G., Louisiana, 9; Usner, Lower Miss. Valley before 1783, 194.
Pointe Coupée, which is French for "cut-off point," called this by the brothers Iberville and Bienville in their March 1699 exploration of the lower Mississippi, is one of the oldest French communities in Louisiana. Its first settlers arrived in the early 1720s. By 1722, a Capuchin priest included Pointe Coupée in his religious rounds up and down the Mississippi. The first Catholic parish at Pointe Coupée, St.-François of Assisi, dates from 1728, but a church was not built there until 1738. Some of the first families at Pointe Coupée were Decoux, Decuir, and Pourciau, who had come to the colony in 1720 from the Hainaut region of Belgium and France aboard the ship La Loire, "the Mayflower of Louisiana." Two families, Allain and Lejeune, settled at Pointe Coupée decades before their Acadian namesakes reached the colony.
After Natchez, farther upriver, was abandoned because of the massacre there in 1729, Pointe Coupée became the colony's leading tobacco-producing area. "By 1745, the population of Pointe Coupée consisted of 260 whites, 426 blacks, 23 Indians, and 15 mulattoes. Slaves belonged to 75 percent of the district's sixty-one households, which included a garrison and a church. ... Half of all slaves at Pointe Coupée inhabited only eight farms, with twenty or more slaves, but the average number of slaves per farm was nine." After 1750, Pointe Coupée also became a major herding area for the lively cattle trade between Spanish Texas and the Mississippi Valley.
When the Acadians came to Louisiana in the mid-1760s, the French and later the Spanish authorities in New Orleans forbade them to settle at Pointe Coupée, which was already well established. They sent the Acadians, instead, to newer communities lower down on the Mississippi at Cabanocé, now St. James, St.-Gabriel, Ascension, Manchac, and Baton Rouge, and above Pointe Coupée at San Luìs de Natchez and Bayou des Écores. The latter community, also called Feliciana, lay directly across the river from Pointe Coupée. Bayou des Écores had no church, so the priest from Pointe Coupée would cross the river and administer the sacraments to the Acadian families along the bayou, hence the presence of Acadian names in the church records of St.-François Parish at Pointe Coupée. The same held true for the Acadian community at Baton Rouge, which lay on both sides of the river below Pointe Coupée. Baton Rouge did not have a church of its own until 1793, so the Pointe Coupée priest also administered the sacraments there.
Pointe Coupée priests also contributed to the spiritual well-being of the prairie settlements. Many Attakapas and Opelousas baptisms and marriages were recorded at Pointe Coupée during the 1770s and 1780s. The church parish at Attakapas, created in 1765, did not have a priest of its own from 1766 to 1782, and church authorities did not create a parish at Opelousas until 1776. Pointe Coupée lay near a northern route across the Atchafalaya Basin and was thus the closest church on the river to the prairie settlements.
During the antebellum period, a few Acadian families moved from the Baton Rouge/Iberville area into Pointe Coupee Parish, but their numbers remained small. Despite its history as a French Creole and not an Acadian community, Pointe Coupee is included in the 22-parish region known as Acadiana. So is Avoyelles Parish, northwest of Pointe Coupee, where many French Creoles, but even fewer Acadians, settled.
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 119, 132-33; BRDR, 1b:xi-xii; Crouse, Lemoyne d'Iberville, 184-85; Taylor, J. G., Louisiana, 3; Usner, Lower Miss. Valley before 1783, 158, 179, quote from p. 158; map.
Pointe Coupee and Avoyelles parishes
The area that is now St. James Parish was the abode of various Indian tribes during the early 1700s, some of them hostile to the French. The first attempt by the French to settle the area, in the early 1720s during the John Law period, was a failure. During the 1740s, a trading venture existed among the Houma, who resided in the area at the time. In the 1750s, Mathias Frederick moved upriver from the German Coast into the St. James area. There were other scattered inhabitants along the river there when Jacques Cantrelle and his sons-in-law, Nicolas Verret and Louis Judice, secured land grants from the French authorities still running the colony in the early 1760s.
Cantrelle was in his 60s by then and had a long history in the colony. The son of Claude Cantrelle and Marguerite Eurguin or Turpin of St.-Léger, Picardy, France, Jacques and his wife, Théressé Marquant, had come to Louisiana aboard Le Profond out of La Rochelle in 1720, having agreed to live on one of the concessions the French had granted to the Scottish entrepreneur, John Law. In 1723, Jacques, his wife, and their son Jean were counted at Sotehouy (Arkansas), a John Law concession far above New Orleans. In January 1726, Jacques and his family had returned to New Orleans, where they lived on Orleans Street. In the late 1720s, they moved to another John Law concession, Fort Rosalie, Natchez, at the site of the city that still bears the name. In November 1729, the Natchez Indians turned on the settlement and massacred all but 20 Frenchmen. Cantrelle was one of the lucky survivors; his wife Thérèssé, who was the local mid-wife, was not so lucky. Jacques hurried back to New Orleans, secured a loan, and resettled at Cannes Brûlé, now Kenner, just upriver from New Orleans. Meanwhile, in April 1730, he remarried to Marie-Marguerite Larmusiau (also spelled Larmurian), whose husband had fallen at Natchez. Cantrelle also maintained a residence in New Orleans. The story goes that in July 1763, with old age catching up to him, the violence in the city compelled him to find a quiet place farther upriver in the forest primeval. He and his sons-in-law had secured large land grants on the Upper German Coast along the west bank of the river. Cantrelle named his plantation Cabahannocer, Choctaw for "mallard's roost" and the name of a small bayou nearby. The name has various appellations, including Cabanocé (favored here for its brevity), Cabannocé (favored by Brasseaux), Cabahannocer (favored by Bourgeois and White), Cabahan-noces (from the St.-Jacques census of 1777), Cabanocey (favored by Bourgeois and De Ville), Cabonnous, Kaba-anoce, and Kabahannosse.
In February 1764, soon after Cantrelle and his sons-in-law settled on their German Coast land grants, the first Acadian families to reach Louisiana, the Cormier-Landry-Poirier-Richard party of 21 men, women, and children from Georgia, stepped off a ship from Mobile, Alabama, and French authorities in New Orleans scrambled to accommodate them. The family heads of this party were Jean-Baptiste Cormier, père, from Chignecto, who was 54 when he reached Louisiana, Olivier Landry, age 36, Jean-Baptiste, called Jean, Poirier of Menoudie, Chignecto, age 26, and Jean-Baptiste, called Jean, Richard, of Nappan, Chignecto, age 44. Each of their nuclear families was related by blood or marriage, so they were essentially a single, extended family, which would be typical of Acadian migration to Louisiana in the years to come. The arrival of this party at New Orleans is marked by records of the St.-Louis church noting the baptism of three of their children--Jean-Antoine Landry, Joseph Poirier, and Joseph Richard--on 26 February 1764, and another baptism, that of Jean-Baptiste Poirier, fils, on 1 March 1764. It is interesting to note that the New Orleans priest who penned the baptismal records did not include the children's ethnicity. A few weeks later, on 6 April 1764, Jean-Jacques-Blaise d'Abbadie, France's chief administrator in Louisiana, wrote to his superior, the duc de Choiseul-Stainville, French Secretary of the Navy: "My Lord, I have the honor to inform you of the arrival of four Acadian families, including twenty persons, who came here from New York[sic] last February." D'Abbadie goes on to write: "The English who held them as prisoners till the signing of the peace [which occurred in February 1763] permitted them to leave, provided they would defray their own traveling expenses. Their passage from New York[sic] to Mobile cost 550 livres per family, consuming all of the hard-earned savings accumulated during their captivity." The administrator implored the secretary to include a reimbursement of the Acadians' expenses in the colonial budget and informed him that he had "ordered ... a ration of corn and rice be given to them until they can be settled."
In truth, the Acadians had come from Georgia, to where the British had deported them from Chignecto in 1755, not from New York. They had left Savannah in December 1764 for Mobile, which they may have assumed was still in French hands, and then they sailed on to New Orleans. D'Abbadie sent them upriver to Cantrelle's concession. There, they put down roots in "the area of the vacant lands between [Nicolas] Verret's plantation and [Jacques] Jacquelin's cow ranch," at the present site of Lagan, St. James Parish, on the west bank of the river. Here they created a Nouvelle-Acadie of their own.
Thus, Cabanocé was the first Acadian community in Louisiana, predating the Acadian settlement on Bayou Teche by a year. A flood of more Acadians came to Cabanocé from Halifax via Cap-Français, St.-Domingue, in 1765 and from Maryland in 1766, so many of them, in fact, that Louisianans began to call the area the Acadian Coast. The settlement that grew up there lay at first only on the right, or west, bank of the Mississippi, but eventually it straddled the deep, wide river above and below Cantrelle's concession.
With the arrival of so many new settlers in 1765 and 1766, the French authorities in New Orleans, still in control of the colony, created two sub-districts at Cabanocé. A captain and co-commandant would command each sub-district. In 1765, acting governor Charles-Philippe Aubry appointed Jacques Cantrelle's sons-in-law as commandants. Nicolas Verret commanded the lower sub-district, and Louis Judice the upper one. When Spanish Governor Antonio de Ulloa finally came to the colony in March 1766, he approved the arrangement at Cabanocé. Verret and Judice remained in command and soon were being compensated by the Spanish government. In 1767, another wave of Acadians arrived from Maryland, many of them kinsmen of the Acadian Coast settlers. But, to the consternation of the Acadians, Ulloa did not send them to Cabanocé. He sent them, instead, farther upriver to the new settlement of St.-Gabriel, south of Bayou Manchac, which soon came to be called the Second Acadian Coast.
The sudden increase in population on the Acadian Coast created a burden for the nearest parish priest. Capuchin Father Barnabé of St.-Charles des Allemands on the Lower German Coast, a good ways downriver from Cabanocé, ministered not only to his German Coast congregation but also to the families on the Acadian Coast. In November 1767, Father Barnabé spent six days at Commandant Judice's house and performed a number of Acadian weddings there. The commandant complained to the governor that his house was not large enough to accommodate the hundreds of worshipers who flocked there to attend Holy Mass. Judice informed Ulloa that the harried priest had proposed the construction of a shed, 49 feet by 20 feet, to serve as a temporary chapel for the Acadian Coast congregation. Judice assured the governor that his brother-in-law and co-commandant, Nicolas Verret, would cooperate in the venture. In July 1768, Judice informed the governor that the church shed had been built and that Father Barnabé had blessed and consecrated it in honor of St.-Jacques and St.-Philippe. However, church authorities did not formally establish a separate Catholic parish at Cabanocé until 1770, five years after they had created one for the Acadians on Bayou Teche. The new church, on the river's west bank, upriver from the original settlement, was called St.-Jacques, in honor of the patron saint of one of the settlement's most prominent residents, who, despite his advanced age, was still very much alive. Jacques Cantrelle in fact had donated the site for the permanent church, where he was buried in October 1777.
Meanwhile, in the fall of 1768, German Coast settlers and French Creoles from New Orleans, as well as recently-arrived Acadians, rose up against the unpopular Ulloa and sent him fleeing to Havana. The following year, Spanish authorities sent a large force from Cuba to suppress the revolt. Ulloa's successor, Governor-General Alejandro O'Reilly, crushed the revolt and re-evaluated the colony's sad state of defense. O'Reilly created militia companies for Louisiana's various districts. All able-bodied males between the ages of 16 and 50 were required to serve, and future Spanish land grants would be based on militia service. Nicolas Verret commanded the company at Cabanocé/St.-Jacques. Louis Judice commanded the company at Lafourche des Chitimachas, or Ascension, just upriver from St.-Jacques. O'Reilly's order was not popular with the Acadians, many of whom remembered similar treatment at the hands of British governors back in Nova Scotia.
The combination of having to support a new church parish with more taxes and labor and to serve in the Spanish militia in order to secure more land angered many Acadian Coast settlers. In 1772, St.-Jacques Acadians, through Commandant Verret, petitioned Governor Luis de Unzaga, O'Reilly's successor, for permission to move to Ascension to be closer to kinsmen or to leave the colony entirely. "While the bureaucracy digested this information, the families negotiated with a captain for passage from Louisiana," such was the determination of these St.-Jacques Acadians to have their way. Unzaga viewed the request as a disruption of the colony's defensive arrangements at a time when tensions were high between Spain and Britain. The governor "threatened the Acadians with having to return money invested in them by the Spanish Crown." The Acadians countered with complaints about hostile local Indians and the worthlessness of their lands on the Acadian Coast. Unzaga did not budge, so some of the St.-Jacques Acadians packed up their families and moved upriver to St.-Gabriel, above Ascension, where they did not have permission to go. They then petitioned the commandant at St.-Gabriel, Frenchman Louis Dustisne, for permission to join relatives in the Opelousas District! Unzaga, like many another powerful official who thought he could control these people, was learning a lesson in Acadian stubbornness. Instead of sending troops to escort the wayward Acadians back to St.-Jacques, he gave them permission to remain at St.-Gabriel, which is probably what they wanted all along. Judging by the number of Acadians counted in January 1777 by the new St.-Jacques commandant, Michel Cantrelle, only a handful of Acadian families left the district in 1772.
In September 1779, during the American Revolution, Spanish Governor Bernardo de Gálvez included the Acadian Coast militia in his expedition against the British forts at Manchac and Baton Rouge. According to all accounts, the Acadians fought splendidly, tasting sweet revenge against their former oppressors.
Six years later, in 1785, hundreds of Acadian exiles reached New Orleans from France. The Spanish allowed only a few of these families to settle at St.-Jacques, an indication of how thoroughly the old Acadian Coast had been settled in the previous two decades. Most of the 1785 arrivals chose to settle on upper Bayou Lafourche, upriver from St.-Jacques.
Eventually, the name Cabanocé slipped away into obscurity, and the settlement around Jacque Cantrelle's old concession became known as St.-Jacques and then St. James. (In this study, I use the name Cabanocé before 1770, St.-Jacques from 1770 to the early 1800s, and then anglicize the settlements name to St. James because of the American influence.) When the Americans created the Territory of Orleans and divided it into 12 counties in 1805, St. James became a part of the County of Acadia, a named derived from the Acadian Coast. When the territory was reorganized into civil parishes in 1807, the territorial legislature carved St. James Parish out of the lower half of Acadia County.
According to local historian Lillian Bourgeois, St. James was at one time or another known as Poste de Cabahannocer, La Côte des Acadiens, Le Comte d'Acadie, Poste de Cabahannocer Paroisse St.-Jacques aux Acadiens, Paroisse St.-Jacques Côte de Cabahannocer aux Acadiens, and Acadia. It was also called the Cantrelle Post and even Cantrelle Parish. One also finds in early-1800 church records the name St. Michel instead of St. James; this refers to the church of St. Michel or St. Michael at Convent, on the east side of the river, named after the patron saint of Jacques Cantrelle's son Michel, the second post commandant under the Spanish. St. Michael opened its doors as a mission in 1808, became an independent parish in 1822, and served the civil parish's "left bank" community. Not until 1856 was another church parish established in St. James Parish, Our Lady of Peace at Vacherie, down from St. James on the right bank of the river near the boundary with St. John the Baptist Parish (the old Upper German Coast).
Sources: Bourgeois, Cabanocey, passim; Brasseaux, French, Cajun, Creole, Houma, 122-23; Brasseaux, ed., Quest for the Promised Land, 16; BRDR, 2:ii, 173; De Ville, Acadian Coast, 1779, 8, Introduction by Kathleen M. Stagg; De Ville, St. James Census, 1777, Introduction by Eileen L. Behrman; Frederick, "In Defense of Crown & Colony," 397, 412-13, quotes from p. 413; DLB, 810; NOAR, 2:xx, 167, 229, 238; Oubre, Vacherie, passim, the most detailed & thoroughly documented of the histories of St. James; Robichaux, German Coast Families, 128-29; Appendix for a list of individuals & family connections in the CORMIER-LANDRY-POIRIER-RICHARD party; map.
St. James Parish
This community originally was named Poste des Attakapas, after the wandering Indian tribe that occupied the vast marsh and prairie region from the Gulf of Mexico to the Red River valley and from east Texas to the Atchafalaya Basin. The dictionary and therefore the standard spelling of the Indian name is Atakapas, but it is more commonly spelled Attakapas. Other spellings are Atacapas and Attacapas. The name is pronounced ah-TACK-ah-paw. The word comes from the Mobilian trade jargon used by the many Indian tribes of the region and means "man-eater," for the Atakapas may have been one of those rare tribes of North American Indians who ate human flesh. According to local historian Harry Lewis Griffin: "At one time they were very powerful and made themselves feared by all the surrounding tribes of Indians. Tradition has it that neighboring tribes formed a league for the purpose of resisting their aggressions. There followed then a war of extermination. After a few preliminary fights, according to Indian tradition, the forces of the two enemies met in a great battle on a hill about three miles west of the present town of St. Martinville. There the hated Attakapas were completely overwhelmed and nearly annihilated. The remnants of the once powerful tribe, now reduced to a harmless condition, were either incorporated into the victorious tribes or allowed to remain unmolested in the land of their former greatness." In 1703 or 1704, not long after the French created their Louisiana colony, the Atakapas killed some Frenchmen. The Natchez and the Houma, allies of the French, attacked the offending tribe, who troubled the French no more.
From the time of Bienville's fourth governorship, which began in 1733, the French in New Orleans attempted to administer the vast prairie region west of the Atchafalaya Basin. "In exchange for European merchandise, [the Atakapas] offered peltries, bear oil, and even horses. The [French] crown encouraged Bienville to investigate the prospects for trade with them; rumors that the Atakapas were cannibals had caused only momentary hesitation. By 1738 French traders were dealing regularly" with the prairie Indians.
The vast prairies west of the Atchafalaya Basin offered more than sporadic trade with roving Indians. In the 1750s, the French established the Poste des Attakapas at present-day St. Martinville as a strategic point from which to control the open prairies on which cattle could be raised to feed the rest of the colony. Thus, the first "settlers" in the area were livestock concessionaires, most of whom did not live on their concessions. They sent drovers, most of them slaves and Afro-Creole hirelings, to watch their herds and to drive the cattle to market. An exception was André Masse, a Frenchman who, in July 1756, after he had established himself in the district, petitioned the Spanish viceroy of Mexico to allow him to emigrate to what is now southeastern Texas; the viceroy refused the request, and Masse remained on his vacherie along the Teche. For most of the 1750s and early 1760s, then, the region was inhabited only by drovers, a lone, reluctant, settler, and the Atakapas, whose villages stood on the Teche near present-day Loreauville, on the lower Vermilion above and below present-day Abbeville, and farther west on the Mermentau River.
In November 1760, Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire, future commandant of the Attakapas District during the Spanish period, began purchasing from the Atakapas chiefs huge tracts of land that stretched for leagues between the Teche and the Vermilion. He, too, managed large herds of semi-wild cattle for the New Orleans market. Édouard Massé, perhaps a kinsman of André, and his partner Jean-Antoine-Bernard Dauterive, "a retired French military officer and a large Attakapas landholder," also became major cattle producers in the district. Typically, Dauterive lived on the river at Bayou Goula in present-day Iberville Parish on one of his other vacheries, though his major holdings were out on the Attakapas prairie. Jean-Baptiste Grevemberg also owned a large vacherie in the district.
It was to the area of these large vacheries near the Poste des Attakapas that the first major group of Acadians to reach Louisiana came in the spring of 1765. Led by Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil and his older brother Alexandre, over 200 individuals established La Nouvelle-Acadie on the banks of Bayou Teche. These Acadians were expected to sustain and improve the cattle industry in the area, which, as later censuses reveal, they did beyond all expectations. Their first settlements were not at the post but on both banks of the Teche downstream from the post, at what came to be called Fausse Pointe: le premier camp d'en bas, or the first place lower down; le dernier camp d'en bas, or the last place lower down; and Camp Beausoleil. [see below for details] Following Joseph dit Beausoleil's death, the French caretaker government in New Orleans appointed Édouard Massé as the new commandant at Attakapas.
Despite the deadly setback in the summer of 1765, by the following spring, radiating out from Fausse Pointe, at least two other Acadian communities had sprung up in the area--along Bayou Tortue (not to be confused with Bayou Queue de Tortue) west of present-day St. Martinville, and farther out on the prairie at La Manque. In subsequent years, communities also appeared at Côte Gelée near present-day Broussard; at Grand Prairie on upper Bayou Vermilion near today's downtown Lafayette; at Carencro south of the bayou of that name, along the northern edge of the Attakapas District; at Beaubassin on the upper Vermilion east of Carencro; at Grand Pointe, also called La Pointe and Anse de la Pointe, on the upper Teche near Cecilia and Breaux Bridge; along the middle and lower Vermilion River from Lafayette down to Abbeville; along Bayou Petite Anse near Avery Island; on lakes Tasse (now Spanish Lake) and Peigneur south of Côte Gelée; and farther down the Teche at Chicot Noir near Jeanerette. [map]
Other early settlers in the district were the so-called Allibamonts from Mobile and the Alabama River valley who left their homes after France ceded the territory east of the Isle of Orleans to Britain in 1763. They emigrated to New Orleans soon after the cession, and many of them chose to settle on the western prairies. By the spring of 1766, Antoine Bonin dit Dauphine of Grenoble, France, who had settled at Mobile, was living at Fausse Pointe on the Teche below the post, perhaps on a concession owned by André Masse, not far from the Broussard Acadians. (The Bonin's fellow Allibamonts, in even greater numbers, also were among the early settlers of the Opelousas District north of Attakapas.)
The arrival of the Acadians and Allibamonts dramatically increased the district's population. According to tradition, Church authorities "founded" a parish centered at the post in 1765 that was variously called L'Église des Attakapas, St.-Joseph, St.-Bernard, and finally St.-Martin de Tours--known today as the Mother Church of the Acadians in Louisiana. The first priest assigned to this "parish," French Capuchin missionary Jean-François de Civray, had followed the Broussard party from New Orleans to lower Bayou Teche and ministered to his flock as best he could. According to one historian, in mid-September Father Jean-François fled to the river with dozens of his parishioners to escape the epidemic that was devastating the Teche community; however, the last entry in his register signed by him was dated 11 January 1766. Another source says that Father Jean-François built "the first little church at the post" during the short time he was there. No matter, the good father did not return to the Teche, and Church authorities in New Orleans did not replace him for over a decade. In 1773, local leaders chose a syndic, again, to oversee construction of a church at Poste des Attakapas, perhaps another, larger church to replace the first one, but there was no resident priest there at the time. It was not unusual, then, for Attakapas baptisms, marriages, and burials to be recorded by priests from other parishes during the 1770s. Pointe-Coupée, whose parish, St.-François, dated back to 1728, lay near a northern route across the Atchafalaya Basin and was the closest church to Attakapas during much of that period; as a result, the Pointe-Coupée priest served as a missionary to Attakapas from the late 1760s. The Opelousas church, even closer to Attakapas, was founded in 1776, and the Opelousas priest served Attakapas residents during the late 1770s. In 1779, even the curé of Ascension parish, out on the river, administered the sacraments to Attakapas settlers. By 1781, however, Attakapas once again had a priest of its own as well as its small wooden church. The parish council of St. Martin de Tours owned the land around the church, which included much of present-day downtown St. Martinville. In the late 1790s, after the parish was firmly established, a unique lease-purchase arrangement was made between the church council and the local merchants that existed for nearly a century.
The most distinguished priest to serve the parish in its early days was Father Michel-Bernard Barrière, a fugitive from the French Revolution, who officiated at St.-Martin de Tours from 1795 to 1804. A historian of the Church in Louisiana notes: "He [Father Barrière] took up his residence about a mile from the village but he walked to the church every morning for Mass and he remained at the church all day on Sunday." The St.-Martin parish registers attest to Father Barrière's diligence in documenting the lives of his Attakapas parishioners. The historian goes on to call him "'The Apostle of the Teche Country', for to him is really due the laying of the foundation of the Faith in most of the present Catholic parishes in a wide area around St. Martinville, now independent church parishes, but then all children of the mother-parish of St. Martin of the Attakapas."
In the fall of 1768, when French Creoles from New Orleans and German and Acadian settlers from the river districts turned on Spain's first governor of Louisiana, the unpopular Antonio de Ulloa, Attakapas Acadians do not seem to have participated in the revolt. Nonetheless, in 1769, Ulloa's successor, General Alejandro O'Reilly, who crushed the revolt, re-evaluated the colony's sad state of defense and ordered militia units to be raised in each of the colony's districts, including those that had not joined the revolt against Ulloa. All able-bodied males between the ages of 16 and 50 were required to serve in the militia, and future Spanish land grants would be based on militia service. O'Reilly appointed Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire as the new commandant of the Attakapas District (Fusilier also commanded at Opelousas). O'Reilly's militia order was not popular with the Acadians, many of whom remembered similar treatment at the hands of British governors back in Nova Scotia. Nevertheless, in the autumn of 1779, during the American Revolution, the Attakapas and Opelousas militia company served under Louisiana Governor-General Bernardo de Gálvez in his attack against the British forts on the Mississippi River. By all accounts, the Acadians, many of whom were old enough to remember what the British had done to them in Acadia, fought gallantly.
Earlier that same year, in 1779, as part of his effort to bring more settlers to Louisiana, Governor Gálvez established a Màlagan settlement at Nuéva Iberia on lower Bayou Teche, a few miles below Fausse Pointe--one of five Spanish settlements, including four for Isleños families from the Canary Islands, that Gálvez established in the colony that year. During the late colonial period, Isleños migrated to lower Bayou Teche, adding their bloodlines to the ethnic gumbo simmering in the district. When hundreds more Acadians reached Louisiana from France in 1785, a few of these families chose to settle at Attakapas near their kin already there.
Two years after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the old Attakapas District became Attakapas County in the Territory of Orleans. When the Americans created the first civil parishes for Louisiana in 1807, the old Attakapas District became St. Martin Parish. In 1817, the site of the old Attakapas Post became the incorporated "city" of St. Martinville, which, decades later, French Creoles insisted had been La Petite Paris in its early days. During the decades that followed Jefferson's Purchase, the Attakapas country became the civil parishes of St. Martin, St. Mary (1811), Lafayette (1823), Vermilion (1844), and, after the War Between the States, Iberia (1868).
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 171, 239, quotes from p. 239; Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 74-77, 91-97, 206-07, quotation from p.75; Brasseaux, French, Cajun, Creole, Houma, 102, which debunks La Petite Paris as a French-Creole fiction; Dr. Brasseaux's essay at <acadianmemorial.org/english/ensembleencoreset.html>; <cityofsaintmartinville.com/english/history/history.htm>; De Ville, Opelousas History, 4-5; De Ville, Southwest LA Families, 1777, passim, which reveals the amazing number of cattle owned by many Acadians a dozen years after their arrival; Frederick, "In Defense of Crown & Colony," 397; Griffin, Attakapas Country, quotes from pp. 5, 21; Hebert, D., Southwest LA Records, 1-A:Introductory Notes, 119, 137; Kniffen et al., Indian Tribes of LA, 75, 109, 114-15, 123-25, 257; Usner, Lower Miss. Valley before 1783, 100-01, 179-81, 182-83, quote from p. 100; Voorhies, J., Some Late Eighteenth-Century Louisianians, 124-25; Patricia D. Woods, "The French and the Natchez Indians in Louisiana: 1700-1731," p. 292, n18, in Conrad, ed., The French Experience in LA. map
For evolution & use of the Mobilian trade jargon, see Usner, Lower Miss. Valley before 1783, 258-59.
For early Alibamon settlement on the prairies, see Brasseaux, ed., Quest for the Promised Land, 48, a 13 May 1765 letter from Commandant Aubry to his superior, the Duc de Choisseul-Stainville, in which the French interim governor says: "The settlements, established in these areas [Attakapas & Opelousas] by the Acadians and the many other people coming from Alabamons and Illinois, (which had been) ceded to the English, will become very substantial in a few years." This seems to imply that the Alibamons & refugees from Illinois went to the prairies even before the Acadians, who did not get there until May 1765. This certainly may be true of the Alibamons & Illinoisians who went to Opelousas, perhaps via Pointe Coupée & Avoyelles. The 25 Apr 1766 census of Attakapas lists only 2 Alibamons in the district: Masse, probably André, who had held land in the district for years & probably was not from Alabama, & Antonio Bonin of Mobile. See Voorhies, J., Some Late Eighteenth-Century Louisianians, 125.
See below for specific references to Fr. Jean-François de Civray's service at Attakapas.
The BROUSSARD dit Beausoleil Party and La Nouvelle-Acadie
The story of Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil, the Acadian resistance, and the eventual settlement of his extended family in South Louisiana is one of the most dramatic episodes in Acadian/Cajun history:
In the summer of 1755, at the beginning of Le Grand Dérangement, British forces rounded up the Broussards and hundreds of other Acadians from the Chignecto area and held them in Forts Cumberland and Lawrence. Before the deportation ships arrived to take them away, some of the Acadians managed to escape from Fort Lawrence. Joseph dit Beausoleil was one of them; it would not be surprisingly if he led the escape. He rejoined his family, and they headed into the wilderness north of their home on the upper Petitcoudiac, not only hiding from the British patrols sent out to capture them but also engaging in what today is called guerrilla warfare, including privateering in the Bay of Fundy to harass British shipping. There was a terrible price to pay for their resistance, however. Obtaining food, clothing, and shelter for their families, especially during the winter, continually burdened the resistance fighters and limited their effectiveness against a well-fed, well-supplied, and comfortably-sheltered foe. (Joseph's wife Agnès Thibodeau was among the many Acadians, including many children, who died of sickness and starvation at the refugee camp at Miramichi in the winter of 1756-57.) By November1759, after four years of unimaginable hardship and the recent fall of Louisbourg on nearby Île Royale, Broussard and his compatriots responded to a British offer of amnesty and agreed to surrender to the British at Fort Cumberland, formerly French Fort Beauséjour. Joseph dit Beausoleil's older brother Alexandre, who had been shipped in irons to South Carolina four years before but had managed to escape and make his way back to Acadia to reunite with his brother, was held as hostage at Fort Cumberland until Joseph and other resistance leaders surrendered the following spring. However, the British reneged on their amnesty offer, and Joseph and his fellow Acadians continued their struggle against the strengthening foe. Joseph dit Beausoleil held out for another year, until he was captured with other Acadians at Restigouche, the last French stronghold in that part of North America, which surrendered to the British in late October 1760. The British held him as a prisoner of war at Georges Island, Halifax, for a time, and then transferred him to Fort Edward at Windsor, formerly Pigiguit. There, he managed to communicate with French forces in the region, so the British sent him back to Georges Island.
In the prison camps of Nova Scotia--at Fort Cumberland, Fort Edward, and Halifax--the Broussards were joined by hundreds of other Acadians whom the British had rounded up at Restigouche, Miramichi, Île St.-Pierre, Île Miquelon, and other places of refuge in the Maritimes region. Ironically, many of the Acadians being held at Fort Cumberland and Fort Edward were enticed to return to their former lands and rebuild and maintain the dykes that had transformed their Acadia into an agricultural paradise. The New England "planters" who began to occupy the Acadian lands along the Fundy shore in 1760 had no idea how to maintain the dykes and the aboiteaux that made them work. The Acadians worked diligently for their New England "masters" and were paid in Canadian money for their efforts. Despite their plunge from proud landowners to mere laborers on their former lands, the Acadians hoped to return their farms and villages after the long struggle with Britain finally ended.
This was not to be. The war with Britain ended with the Treaty of Paris of February 1763. Article 14 of the treaty gave all persons dispersed by the war 18 months to return to their respective territories. In the case of the Acadians, however, this meant that they could return only to French soil. The Acadian settlements in Nova Scotia had not been part of French territory for half a century, and Chignecto, Chepoudy, and Petitcoudiac now were part of Nova Scotia as well, so British authorities refused to allow any of the Acadian prisoners in the region to return to their farmsteads as proprietors. If Acadians chose to remain in Nova Scotia, they could live only in the interior of the peninsula in small family groups, away from their lands along the Bay of Fundy, or they could continue to work for low wages as laborers on their former lands. If they stayed, they must also take the hated oath of allegiance to the new British king, George III, without reservation.
Most of the Acadians held in Nova Scotia in the last years of the war were still there in the autumn of 1764. Nova Scotia's new governor, Montague Wilmot, "tender'd to them" the oath of allegiance as well as "offers of a settlement in this Country." The Acadians rebuffed the oath as was well as the offer. British leaders in Halifax, led by former lieutenant governor and current colonial chief justice Jonathan Belcher, Jr., a protégé of the now deceased Charles Lawrence, still felt threatened by the Acadian presence in Nova Scotia. Belcher encouraged Governor Wilmot to remove the Acadians from the province despite entreaties from the New England "planters" to keep them around as cheap but highly skilled labor. When Wilmot demurred, Belcher and others hatched a scheme to send the Acadians from Halifax to Baskenridge, New Jersey, to work as indentured servants on an English nobleman's land; Belcher's father just happened to be the governor of New Jersey, and the nobleman was one of his father's political allies. Governor Wilmot also received a proposal to send 30 Acadian families to New York colony to work as indentured servants.
Too proud to work for wages, unwilling to work as indentured servants in colonies where they could lose their religion and culture, unable to return to their farms in the upper Fundy basin, and unwilling to take the hated oath, the Broussard party had to find a suitable place to put down new roots. The St. Lawrence valley was out of the question. They were hearing stories of how the French Canadians treated with contempt Acadian refugees who had settled there. Besides, Canada was as much a British possession now as Nova Scotia and settling there would require them to take the oath. Nor would the British authorities in Nova Scotia allow the troublesome Broussards and their partisan compatriots to settle as close as Québec to their former lands along the Bay of Fundy. The Illinois country was a viable option, but the British would not allow them to take the shortest route there via Canada, and France had just ceded the eastern part of Illinois to Britain. However, France still controlled the western bank of the upper Mississippi, across from Cahokia and Kaskaskia. The French, or so most of the world believed, also retained control of the Isle of Orleans and the western bank of the lower Mississippi in what was left of French Louisiana. France also controlled St.-Domingue, today's Haiti, where hundreds of Acadian exiles from the British colonies had gone recently, at the King's expense, to start a new life in the French West Indies. However, letters from Acadians in St.-Domingue detailed the horrors of the climate and maltreatment there at the hands of French officials. There was always the mother country itself, where the British had deported hundreds of Acadians during the war and to where the Acadians held in England had been recently repatriated. Even with permission from the French crown to go there, however, a cross-Atlantic voyage would be difficult and expensive, but so would a voyage to the Indies. There was much for the Broussards and their relatives to consider, and time was running out.
After much deliberation, Joseph Broussard and his compatriots chose to go to St.-Domingue. No higher authority planned their move from Halifax to the Caribbean Basin. Pooling the money they had saved from their months of labor on land they once had owned, the Broussard party--slightly over 200 men, women, and children--left Halifax in late November 1764 aboard a chartered English schooner. They reached Cap-Français, St.-Domingue, in January and could see even in that winter month that the island's climate was unsuitable for them. They had hoped to reunite with relatives there, but many of the St.-Domingue Acadians were either dead or dying from tropical diseases, starvation, and overwork. Just as disturbing, there was little chance of acquiring productive farm land for themselves in the island's plantation-slave economy. They could see no future for their children in St.-Domingue, despite its being a French colony.
So the Broussard party welcomed aboard a hand full of St.-Domingue Acadians related to members of the party, sailed west through the Florida Strait into the Gulf of Mexico, and then on to the lower Mississippi, gateway to the Illinois country. Their arrival at La Balize, near the mouth of the river, was a complete surprise to the French caretaker government still in control of the colony. As official French correspondence as well as baptismal and marriage records at St.-Louis church attest, the Broussard party reached New Orleans in late February 1765. They were not the first Acadians to reach the colony--20 individuals in four families had come to Louisiana from Georgia via Mobile exactly a year before--but the Broussards and their kin were the first large party of Acadians to seek refuge in Louisiana. Surprised French officials counted 193 of them as they disembarked from their chartered vessel. Although Louisiana at the time was officially a Spanish province, having been ceded by France to its erstwhile ally in the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau in late 1762, French officials were still in charge at New Orleans.
The Acadians' reputation for hard work and loyalty to France having preceded them, acting director general Charles-Philippe Aubry was determined to keep this large group of exiles in the New Orleans area. Despite a royal decree of 29 June 1764 that liquidated colonial bills and currencies, Aubry authorized the Acadians to exchange their Canadian "card money, orders for payment, (and) certificates," for French currency. Local merchant Antoine-Gilbert de St. Maxênt served as exchange agent for a wealthy merchant in Bordeaux, Mr. Lamalatie, who would attempt to complete the long and perhaps futile transaction for the weary exiles. St. Maxênt's initial report to the French authorities, prepared at the end of April 1765, contains the names of 32 heads of family in the Broussard party, including two widows, who hoped to make the exchange, valued at 33,395 livres, 18 sols. (Interestingly, Joseph dit Beausoleil's name is not on the April 1765 list; perhaps, as Jean-Baptiste Semer's letter of April 1766 hints, Joseph had spent his Canadian card money at Halifax paying for the passage of others.) A year after the Acadians turned over their card money to St. Maxênt, they still had not received reimbursement from France, and they never would. In fact, failure of first the French and then the Spanish to redeem their worthless Canadian currency was a factor in hundreds of Acadians joining the revolt against Spanish governor Ulloa in October 1768.
Aubry decided to settle the Broussard party on the west bank of the Mississippi across from the city, the site of present-day Algiers. Unfortunately, the place was low and subject to flooding, thus requiring the building of high, expensive levees. The site was also "blanketed by dense, hardwood forests," unsuitable for the weary Acadian exiles, most of whom were Chignecto cattlemen who had lived in the wide, treeless marshland along the upper Fundy shore. Before Aubry could concoct another settlement scheme, Joseph Broussard and his fellow Acadians again seized control of their collective destiny.
Residing in the colony for nearly 20 years now was a kinsman of the Broussard brothers. Joseph De Goutin de Ville, whose mother was Jeanne Thibodeau, an aunt of the Broussard brothers' wives, had come to Louisiana as a middle-aged army officer in the mid-1740s, married a French Creole girl, and raised a large family at New Orleans. In June 1764, De Goutin had received a land grant on upper Bayou Teche in the still-undeveloped Attakapas District, west of the Atchafalaya Basin. Certainly Joseph de Ville welcomed his kinsmen with open arms when they reached New Orleans, and one can be just as certain that he told them about the wonders of the Attakapas country. Not far from Joseph de Ville's land grant was an even larger one held by another retired French army officer, Jean-Antoine-Bernard Dauterive, a major cattle producer in the colony. In early April, while still recuperating from their voyage, delivering up their money, and weighing their options, Joseph dit Beausoleil and seven other leaders of his extended family (brother Alexandre, son Victor, nephew Jean-Baptiste Broussard, cousin-in-law Olivier Thibodeau, and associates Joseph Guilbeau dit L'Officier, Jean Dugas, and Pierre Arseneau) signed a contract with the former French officer. The "Acadians agreed to tend Dauterive's livestock for six years; in consideration for their labor, they would receive not only half of the herd's increase but also the land grant Dauterive and his partner, Édouard Massé, had acquired in 1760."
Aubry agreed to the arrangement. The French had opened up the Attakapas region in the 1750s, establishing a post on Bayou Teche at present-day St. Martinville. They hoped the cattle raised on the wide, open prairies would provide much-needed food for the growing population of New Orleans. But, aside from its aboriginal inhabitants and itinerant cattlemen, most of them African slaves, the huge area was virtually uninhabited in 1765. The Broussard Acadians would substantially increase the district's population. In early April, Aubry named Joseph dit Beausoleil Capitiane Commandant des Acadiens aux Attakapas and directed retired French engineer officer Louis-Antoine Andry to lead the commandant and his party to Bayou Teche "via Bayou Plaquemine and the network of waterways lacing the Atchafalaya Basin." Andry was also tasked with surveying Bayou Teche from the new Acadian settlements down to the Gulf of Mexico to establish a quicker line of communication between the Attakapas District and New Orleans. Also accompanying the Broussard party was Father Jean-François de Civray, a French Capuchin missionary who had served Louisiana since1737. Evidently the vicar-general at New Orleans, Capuchin Father Dagobert de Longuory, thought that an experienced priest like Father Jean-François, who had served at Natchitoches, Mobile, New Orleans, and other posts, was the ideal choice to minister to the new settlers.
And so by May 1765 the Acadian refugees from Nova Scotia had established a Nouvelle-Acadie, as Father Jean-François called it, along the banks of Bayou Teche. But it came at a terrible price. The rigors of exile, adjustment to a new climate, the hard work required to prepare their new homesteads, and an epidemic, perhaps of malaria, which struck them in early summer, combined to wear down the tough old fighters who had endured so much during their Grand Dérangement. Joseph dit Beausoleil and his older brother Alexandre died that autumn, two of the nearly three dozen Teche Acadians to die that year. In mid-September, during the height of the epidemic and only a few months after they had reached their Nouvelle-Acadie, dozens of Acadians from one of the Teche settlements retreated to Cabanocé on the river to escape the malady. But most of the Teche Acadians survived the "fevers" and remained on the Teche, where they fulfilled the dream of the heroic old fighters by starting a new life for themselves.
The most complete account of the Broussard party's travails along the Teche during the first year of settlement is in a letter sent by one of the young Acadians, Jean-Baptiste Semer, to his father Germain in France. The letter, dated 20 April 1766, was dictated by Jean-Baptiste to a nun at New Orleans and was sent to Le Havre. It reads, in part:
"My very dear father,
"I arrived here in the month of February 1765 with 202 Acadian persons, including Joseph Bro[u]ssard, called [Beausoleil] and all of his family, ... all coming from Halifax and having passed by [Haiti]. Beausoleil led [the group] and paid the passage for those who didn't have the means [which may explain why he was not on Maxent's list of card money holders]. After us, there arrived yet another 105 in another ship and then eighty, forty, [and] some twenty or thirty, in three or four others. I believe there are about 500-600 of us Acadians, counting women and children. We the first ones have been sent seven or eight men to look over the land and locations in order to find a suitable site, and we were told that at Attakapas there were magnificent grasslands with the finest soil in the world. ...
"We went to Attakapas with guns, powder, and shot, but as it was already the month of May, the heat being so intense, we started to work in too harsh conditions. There were six plows that worked; we had to break in the oxen [and] travel fifteen leagues to get horses. Finally, we had the finest harvest, and everybody contracted fevers at the same time and, nobody being in a state to help anyone else, thirty-three or thirty-four died, including the children. ... [We are] hoping for a very fine harvest this year, with God's help, having cleared a great deal [of land]. We have only to sow, and we already have oxen, cows, sheep, horses and the finest hunting in the world, deer, such fat turkey, bears and ducks and all kinds of game. ...
"The land here brings forth a good yield of everything anyone wants to sow. Wheat from France, corn and rice, sweet potatoes, giraumont [a kind of zucchini], pistachios, all kinds of vegetables, flax, cotton. We lack only people to cultivate it. We produce indigo, sugar, [and] oranges, and peaches here grow like apples in France. They have granted us six arpents [similar to acres] to married people and four and five [arpents] to young men, so we have the advantage, my dear father, of being sure of our land [ownership], and of saying I have a place of my own. ... A person who wants to devote himself to property and make an effort will be comfortably off in a few years. It is an immense country; you can come here boldly with my dear mother and all the other Acadian families. They will always be better off than in France. ..."
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 128, 132, 133, 142, 145 (facsimile of Fr. Jean-François's signature), 148-49, 153, 158, 159, 171; Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 30-34, 74-77, 102, quotes from p. 75; Dr. Brasseaux's essay in <acadianmemorial.org/english/ensembleencoreset.html>; Brasseaux, ed., Quest for the Promised Land, 26-27; Brasseaux, Scattered to the Wind, 55; Burton & Smith, Colonial Natchitoches, 14; <thecajuns.com/acadians.htm>, "Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana", citing Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 101; <thecajuns.com/cardmoney.htm>; <cityofsaintmartinville.com/english/history/history.htm>; C. J. d'Entremont, "Brossard (Broussard), dit Beausoleil, Joseph," DCB, 3:87-88 & online; Faragher, A Great & Noble Scheme, chaps. 14 & 15; Jehn, Acadian Exiles in the Colonies, 269-70, quotes from Gov. Wilmot's letter of 18 Dec 1764 on p. 269; Marshall, Acadian Resistance, passim; Perrin, W. A., Acadian Redemption, chaps. 4-6; Appendix for a list of individuals & families as well as burials at Attakapas in 1765; Usner, Lower Miss. Valley before 1783, 180. An excellent perspective on Canadian "card money," including its use by Acadians who went to LA from Halifax, is in <http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~guedrylabinefamily/josephguedrycardmoney.html>; according to this source, 3 parties from Halifax redeemed their card money in April, June, & November of 1765, but only the Broussard party's list of April 1765 survived. map
As to the Broussards ending up in South LA, Dr. Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 34, suggests that, after letters from fellow Acadians in St.-Domingue eliminated that place for resettlement, the Halifax Acadians decided to go to the Illinois country via the lower Mississippi, which, despite being roundabout, was the only practical way to get there, the British now controlling Canada. When the Broussards got to New Orleans, they learned from French officials that the Treaty of Paris had given the British control of the Illinois country as well, at least its eastern bank, & so they chose lower LA as the location of their Nouvelle-Acadie.
Faragher, p. 431, makes the interesting speculation that the Halifax Acadians could have been alerted to the fine qualities of the LA colony by the father of one of Joseph dit Beausoleil's young partisans, Jean-Baptiste Cormier, fils of Chignecto. Cormier's parents & sisters & 3 kindred families had been exiled to GA in 1755 & had reached LA in Feb 1764 via Mobile. After settling in the colony, the elder Cormier may have communicated with his son in Halifax via the amazing grapevine of Acadian seamen who worked on ships that sailed the Atlantic, the Caribbean, & the Gulf. For the elder Cormier party's arrival in LA, see Appendix.
Stephen White suggests that the Broussards also could have been sold on LA by a cousin, Joseph De Goutin de Ville, whose father, Mathieu De Goutin, had been a high official in Acadia & whose mother, Jeanne Thibodeau, was a kinswoman of the wives of the Broussard brothers. Joseph De Goutin de Ville, known as "The First Acadian in LA," born at Port-Royal in Mar 1705, came to New Orleans as a French officer in c1746 from Île Royale, where his family had taken refuge after the fall of Acadia to Britain in the early 1710s. Joseph married a young LA woman, Marie-Jeanne Caron, in 1747 & settled in New Orleans. It is entirely possible, according to Stephen White, that De Goutin communicated with the Broussards in Halifax via the Acadian grapevine. De Goutin also was kin to Olivier Landry, one of the Acadians who reached LA from GA in Feb 1764, so De Goutin may also have communicated with Landry in GA. Moreover, De Goutin received a land grant on upper Bayou Teche in Jun 1764, & may have coaxed the Broussards to go there. See <acadian-cajun.com/degoutin.htm>; NOAR, 1:81; Appendix.
The version of the Jean-Baptiste Semer letter used here is from Bernard, Cajuns & Their Acadian Ancestors, 30, a well-edited translation of the full letter found in Mouhot, ed., "Letter by Jean-Baptiste Semer." On p. 31 of Cajuns & Their Acadian Ancestors, Dr. Bernard asserts: "The British deported him [Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil], his family, and his followers to the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue (Haiti). There they heard that Spanish administrators wanted non-English settlers for Louisiana, where they would serve as buffers against infiltration by English settlers from the eastern seaboard. Eager to settle in a land that welcomed them, Broussard's group sailed to Louisiana, where the Spanish gave them provisions, tools, and farmlands in a south Louisiana region called Attakapas." This is a novel interpretation in two ways. First, it implies that Broussard & his party were thrown out of Nova Scotia by British Governor Wilmot. One wonders if British officials had the authority to banish Acadians to a foreign colony. As the Semer letter says, Beausoleil Broussard "paid the passage for those who didn't have the means." British stinginess notwithstanding, one would think that in the case of a deportation, the passengers would not be expected to pay their own passage. Their paying for passage implies that they hired their own vessel to take them from Halifax to St.-Domingue, further implying that their leaving was voluntary. One account (Marshall, Acadian Resistance, 196) states: "The Government of Nova Scotia [that is, Wilmot] agreed to provide sufficient rations for the voyage." Even if Wilmot had followed thru on this agreement, providing the Acadians rations is not the same as paying for their passage. Second, Louisiana was officially Spanish in 1764-65, during the time that the Broussard party made its voyage from Halifax to New Orleans via St.-Domingue; however, Spanish Governor Antonio de Ulloa did not arrive in the colony until Mar 1766, a year after the Broussards reached New Orleans and settled on the Teche, & the Spanish did not take formal control of LA until Aug 1769. The official in charge of the colony when the Broussards arrived, interim governor Charles-Philippe Aubry, was French, not Spanish, and he answered to French superiors, not Spanish. A close reading of the correspondence between Aubry & his superiors reveals that the interim governor was somewhat surprised to find so many Acadians at his doorstep. See Brasseaux, ed., Quest for the Promised Land, passim, especially pp. 25-27, 31; Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 33-34. Ironically, a careful reading of the Semer letter, which can be found on the page opposite Dr. Bernard's assertion, supports the notion that the Halifax Acadians left Nova Scotia on their own hook & that they simply "passed by [St.-Domingue]."
For the Acadians and the Revolt of 1768, mentioning the roll of Canadian currency, see John Preston Moore, "'The Good Wine of Bordeaux': Antonio de Ulloa," pp. 63, 64, in Din, ed., The Spanish Presence in LA.
Interestingly, acting governor Aubry, in a letter to his superior, the duc de Choiseul-Stainville, Minister of Marine, dated 14 May 1765, writes: "This uninterrupted influx of new [Acadian] families will soon turn Louisiana into a New Acadia." Father Jean-François de Civray also used the term Nouvelle-Acadie in his baptismal & funeral registers while ministering to the Attakapas Acadians in 1765-66. See Hébert, D., Southwest LA Records, 1-A:, citing the brochure that accompanies the Dafford Mural at the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, which says the priest was the first to use the term, 5, 15, 44, 53, 112, 116, 119, 134, 140, 150, 191, 216, 260, 273-74, 276-77, 346, 351, 381, 417, 424, 443, 465, 476, 500, 633, 752-53. Fr. Jean-François first used the term in his baptismal record on 11 May 1765, so, yes, he beat Gov. Aubry by 3 days. See Hébert, D., 1-A:752.
Speaking of Fr. Jean-François de Civray (sometimes spelled Civrey), Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 102, says that "... in mid-September, 1765, ... eighty-two Acadians from the Attakapas post, ... like their pastor, Father Jean-François, ... fled the Teche region's raging malarial or yellow fever epidemic." Italics mine. Brasseaux cites no primary source for this assertion, only Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 190, which says that, after building "the first little church at the post," Fr. Jean-François "did not remain long. He probably returned to France as shortly after this he disappears from the Louisiana records." There is, however, a primary source mentioning the priest's departure. On 20 Apr 1766, Jean-Baptiste Semer wrote to his father in France: "We lack good missionaries like we had in Acadia for here there are only a very few Capuchin fathers. There was a gouty one here who had gone with us, but he was forced to return." Brasseaux, p. 102 n17, notes that Fr. Jean-François's "register ends abruptly in January, 1766." This is true. See Hébert, D., 1-A:529, 537, 615, for entries dated 8 Jan & 11 Jan 1766, which were baptisms of slaves belong to Mr. Lede, perhaps Jean-François Ledée & Gabriel Fuselier de La Claire, & of Marie, daughter of Acadian Charles Pellerin. Moreover, one finds other entries in the Attakapas registers signed by the missionary after he supposedly fled the Teche--on Sep 18 (Alexandre dit Beausoleil's burial), 19, Oct 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 19, 20 (Joseph dit Beausoleil's burial), 22, 27, 28, 29, Nov 2, 14, & 24. See Hébert, D., 1-A:18, 53, 58, 116, 119, 137, 216, 260, 274, 276, 351 423-24, 499-500, 746, 776. If Fr. Jean-François "fled" the Teche, as Brasseaux says, it would not have been until late Nov, after the epidemic had ended or at least subsided. The gap in the registers' entries between Nov 24 & Jan 8 could mean that the good father, having left the Teche in late Nov, spent the last part of autumn & the first part of winter in New Orleans, perhaps on personal business, & returned to the Teche in early Jan, only to leave again. If Fr. Jean-François did return to the Teche in early Jan 1766, he did not stay long. According to Baudier, p. 172, he returned to France in 1766 but was back at New Orleans in 1767. No matter, as the district's church records show, he did not return to Attakapas after 1766.
Could the Teche epidemic have been smallpox, not malaria or yellow fever? Aubry says in the same 14 May 1865 letter cited above: "To make matters worse, the Acadians have smallpox, and will inflict a new calamity upon the colony. However, under present circumstances, we are duty bound to assist them." Was Aubry talking about the Attakapas-bound Acadians, or about a party of them that had just arrived? Was their having smallpox another reason why Aubry encouraged the Broussards to go to faraway Attakapas? As census & local church records reveal, no other group of 1765 arrivals--not the Acadians at Opelousas, nor the ones at Cabanocé--suffered as many deaths as the Attakapas Acadians that year.
In early 1779, Governor Bernardo de Gálvez ordered Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Bouligny to lead 600 Spanish-speaking settlers recently arrived from Málaga and the Canary Islands via the West Indies to lower Bayou Teche, where they established Nuéva Iberia, now the city of New Iberia. Spanish authorities chose as the site for the new settlement a prominent bend in the river just below the Acadian settlement of Fausse Point. The bend lay 10 miles south of Poste des Attakapas, now St. Martinville, the only "town" in the area. Gálvez appointed Frenchman Nicolas Forstall as commandant of the new post.
Nuéva Iberia arose the same year in which Gálvez created four more Isleños, or Canary Islander, settlements in other parts of the colony--at Galveztown in present-day northern Ascension Parish, Valenzuéla on upper Bayou Lafourche in today's Assumption Parish, Barataria in today's southern Jefferson Parish, and Nuéva Gálvez, or San Bernardo, in today's St. Bernard Parish. Of these five Hispanic communities, only San Bernardo and New Iberia survived the test of time.
(Bouligny's service in Louisiana did not end with his efforts on the Teche. In 1799, twenty years after the founding of Nuéva Iberia, Francisco Bouligny served as acting governor of Spanish Louisiana after Manuel Gayoso de Lemos y Amorin, who had served as governor since 1797, died in office. Bouligny died the following year, in 1800; he was 64 years old.)
The Spanish families who founded Nuéva Iberia bore the surnames de Aguilar, Artacho, Balderos, Fernández, Garcia, Garrido (later Gary), Lagos, López, Mígues, Ortiz, de Porras, de Prados, de Puentes, Romero, de Segura, Vidal, and Villatoro (later Viator). They soon realized that there was not enough room for all of them in the small Spanish concession along the banks of the bayou, so some families moved westward into the surrounding prairies or to the shores of nearby Lake Tasse, now Spanish Lake. The Spaniards soon assimilated with the French settlers in the area, especially with the Acadians farther up the Teche, whose numbers dictated that Acadian folkways would remain dominant in the region. The location of the Spanish settlement on a prominent bend in the Teche, coupled with the growing cattle, sugar, and cotton industries on the prairies, created the potential for a thriving commercial center at Nuéva Iberia. After the Louisiana Purchase, Anglo Americans came to the community and added not only their wealth but also their bloodlines to the polyglot culture evolving around the settlement. One of the more prominent Anglo-American families who moved to New Iberia was that of David Weeks and his wife, Mary Clara Conrad; Weeks and his father owned nearby Grand Côte, now Weeks Island, which they transformed into a large indigo, cotton, and sugar plantation.
Francophones called the Spanish settlement on the Teche Nouvelle-Ibérie. Anglophones called it New Town. In 1814, the United States government opened a post office at Nuéva Iberia and called it New Iberia, but locals persisted in calling it various names, including Nova Iberia. By 1819, what is now downtown New Iberia boasted half a dozen houses, a general merchandise store, warehouses, and of course a busy saloon. St. Martin Parish authorities encouraged the creation of a town on the site of the old Spanish settlement. Entrepreneurs subdivided local landholdings into town lots first in 1829 and again in 1831. (Shadows-on-the-Teche, planter David Weeks's magnificent townhouse, was built between 1831-34 on land Weeks had purchased in 1825 near the village.) In 1837, Frédéric Henri Duperier donated land for a church at New Iberia. The next year, Catholic authorities created St. Peter Parish. In 1839, the state legislature gave the town its charter, calling it, officially, Iberia, but locals were not happy with the name. In 1847, the legislature responded by changing the town's official name to New Iberia. Entrepreneurs carved more rural land holdings into subdivided town lots in the 1850s.
Meanwhile, in 1819, the Attakapas Steamboat Company opened a faster, more efficient passenger and commercial link between New Orleans and Bayou Teche, and the little settlement of New Iberia became one of its stops. For the next 60 years, until 1879, when the railroad finally came through, steamboats provided the major means of transportation between the town and the metropolis on the Mississippi. This more efficient means of transportation had its downside as well; yellow fever ravaged the Teche valley in 1839. In the 1850s, construction began on a railroad line that would connect New Iberia and the lower Teche with New Orleans. The coming of the War Between the States in 1861, however, ended railroad construction in the area before the line reached New Iberia.
Despite the delay in railroad construction, the war brought opportunity. Due to its commercial prominence and its proximity to essential salt mines in the nearby prairie, the Confederates established a depot at New Iberia early in the war. After the Confederate government authorized conscription in early 1862, Camp Pratt, on the shores of nearby Spanish Lake, became a training center for hundreds of new soldiers in gray. And then the war caught up to the bustling community. With New Iberia as one of its principal targets, a Federal army pushed up the Bayou Teche valley in the spring of 1863. When the Confederates re-established control of the town, they, too, added to the misery of the people as they scoured the area for supplies and men. The Federals appeared again in the fall of 1863, and this time they stayed. (One of the homes they occupied was Shadows-on-the-Teche, where owner Mary Conrad Weeks Moore died in late December 1863 when the Yankees were still using her house.) Even before the war ended, emancipation came to the lower Teche valley, with its resulting economic and social turmoil. ...
After the war, in 1868, the state legislature created Iberia Parish from the lower half of St. Martin Parish. New Iberia became the parish seat. ...
Sources: Bergerie, They Tasted Bayou Water, a history of Iberia Parish published in the early 1960s, whose appendices contain contracts signed by Málagan settlers on the eve of their departure for Spanish America & communications between Bouligny & Governor Gálvez; Brasseaux & Fontenot, Steamboats on Louisiana's Bayous, chap. 3; Din, Canary Islanders of LA, chap. 4; Glenn R. Conrad, "The History of New Iberia," <cityofnewiberia.com/historyarticle.html>; <shadowsontheteche.org>.
In the beginning, there was the river, or the bayou, Vermilion. Locals insist that the Vermilion is a river below Pin Hook Bridge, and a bayou above it. According to Lafayette historian Harry Lewis Griffin: "The early English traders who smuggled their wares up the Vermilion, contrary to French and Spanish law, found their progress blocked at that point [Pin Hook Bridge] due to the failure of deep water. Consequently they tied up their boats there and waited for the Indians, scattered trappers, and ranchers to come to purchase their merchandise. Little Manchac was the name given by the traders to this place. In the course of time, however, the name Little Manchac gradually gave way to the more familiar name of Pin Hook."
The traditional founder of the city of Lafayette, which calls itself the Hub City and insists that it is the Heart of Acadiana, is Jean dit Chapeau Mouton of Chignecto, Acadia, who came to Louisiana as an 11-year-old with his father Salvator, his mother Anne Bastarache, older brother Marin, and infant sister Marie-Geneviève in 1765. The family settled at Cabanocé/St.-Jacques, now St. James Parish, on the river above New Orleans, with other Acadian exiles from the prison camps of Nova Scotia. Jean's mother died soon after they reached the colony, and his father promptly remarried. A few years later, in April 1773, Salvator died at the hospital in New Orleans; he was only 40 years old. Jean and Marin, age 19 and 20 at the time of their father's death, did not remain long on the Mississippi River. In January 1777, Marin married French Creole Marie-Josèphe Lambert at St.-Jacques and crossed the Atchafalaya Basin to the Attakapas District, where he was counted with his wife in May of that year. Jean did not appear in an Attakapas census until April 1781, but he probably had followed his older brother to the upper Teche valley in the late 1770s. The April 1781 census reveals that Marin and his wife owned 20 animals on 5 arpents of land in the Attakapas District. Jean, still a bachelor, owned 100 animals on 10 arpents of land, so his short time in the district had been well spent.
The Mouton brothers probably had earned their distinctive dits by then. Teche valley neighbors called Marin dit Capuchon and Jean dit Chapeau for the distinctive head gear the brothers favored. An older first cousin, Jean dit Neveu, or Jean the Nephew, also had come to Louisiana in 1765 and had moved from the river to the Teche Valley in the 1770s, so Jean dit Chapeau's nickname also may have been his neighbors' way of distinguishing one Jean Mouton from another. In June 1783, at age 29, Jean dit Chapeau married Marie-Marthe, called Marthe, daughter of Attakapas Post surgeon Antoine Borda, a native of France, and Chignecto native Marguerite Martin dit Barnabé. Jean dit Chapeau and Marthe had a dozen children in the Attakapas District, which in 1807 became St. Martin Parish.
In c1800, Jean dit Chapeau built a small house a few hundred yards from the upper Vermilion River at a place the Acadians called Grand Prairie. This was only one of his houses. Originally, Grand Prairie was part of the ecclesiastical and civil parishes of St. Martin, centered at St. Martinville on the Teche. In 1819, Grand Prairie became part of the new ecclesiastical parish of St. Charles Borromeo of Grand Coteau, a few miles to the northeast in St. Landry Parish. In two years, however, the population around Grand Prairie had increased enough to warrant the building of its own church. The new parish and its church, called L'Église St. Jean du Vermilion and later St. John the Evangelist, was named in honor of the patron saint of Jean dit Chapeau, who donated the land for the church and cemetery, only a few hundred yards from his house at Grand Prairie. The original church was built of cypress lumber fashioned by Jean dit Chapeau and his slaves.
Two years later, in January 1823, the state legislature created a new civil parish from the western portion of St. Martin Parish. Named after the French marquis of Revolutionary War fame on the eve of his triumphant visit to the United States, Lafayette Parish originally included what is today Vermilion Parish, which was not created by the state legislature until 1844. In early 1824, Jean dit Chapeau, spurning a site at Pin Hook already chosen by a local commission, offered land for a parish courthouse only a stones throw away from his cottage and the St. John church at Grand Prairie. With the state legislature's approval, he hired an engineer to lay out a village to be named after himself--Moutonville. Jean dit Chapeau hoped, of course, that his village would become the site of the new parish courthouse. The original streets laid out by John Dinsmore, Jr. ran precisely north and south and east and west--a fact that would surprise most residents of today's sprawling city. Meanwhile, the state legislature approved a special election to be held in July 1824 to allow local voters to choose between the two proffered courthouse sites, Pin Hook Bridge or Moutonville. Jean dit Chapeau and his adherents won the election, and, after the inevitable court challenge, the Lafayette Parish courthouse was erected in the middle of Chapeau's village. The original structure, which stood from the 1820s to the eve of the War of 1861, was a single-story brick affair with slate roof and brick floor. Mouton donated a dozen lots in the village to the parish government and sold the others for $150.00 each. In March 1836, the state legislature incorporated the town as Vermilionville, named after the bayou on which it lay. The town's new charter created a five-man city council elected by free white male citizens 21 years or older who held at least $300.00 worth of property within the town limits. Councilmen held their offices for only a year. The charter also authorized the appointment of a town clerk, constable, and treasurer. The five councilmen chose a president of the council, but there was no mayor.
Jean dit Chapeau died in November 1834, at age 80. He was buried in the cemetery behind St. John church. One of his younger sons, Alexandre, the future governor, inherited the old house in Vermilionville and expanded it over the decades (it is today a museum devoted to a history of the city of Lafayette and the Mouton family). In 1847, Alexandre laid out more lots on property he owned at the edge of the village. In the late 1850s, he built his magnificent plantation house, Île Copal, overlooking Bayou Vermilion southeast of the village. The mansion was connected to Vermilionville by an oak-lined thoroughfare called Emma K. Lane after the governor's second wife.
Vermilionville stood on a stream that was exceedingly difficult for steamboats to navigate, so the village did not become an important commercial center ... just yet. Steamboats did attempt to navigate the Vermilion up to Pin Hook in the decades before the War Between the States, but with limited success. Unlike at New Iberia and other towns on the Teche, no regular steamboat traffic appeared on the Vermilion. Beginning in the 1840s, the Lafayette Parish police jury authorized appropriations to pay for removal of stumps and driftwood in the lower Vermilion, but not until the 1940s was the stream thoroughly dredged from Vermilion Bay to above Pin Hook Bridge. In the antebellum period, then, except on court days or religious holidays, Vermilionville remained just another sleepy village surrounded by agricultural prosperity.
And then the war came. In 1861 and 1862, Louisiana authorities raised several companies of infantry and cavalry among the healthy young sons of Vermilionville and Lafayette Parish. Federal incursions up the Teche and Vermilion valleys came through Vermilionville three separate times during the war. The village was on the road that ran from New Iberia to Opelousas, which for a time was the capital of Confederate Louisiana. During the first Federal offensive that came through the area, on 17 April 1863, the rear guard of Confederate General Richard Taylor's retreating force fought a spirited skirmish with leading elements of Federal General Nathaniel Banks's army at Pin Hook south of the village. The so-called "Battle of Vermilion Bridge" was a prolonged slugfest between opposing artillery and infantry. When General Taylor's supply train was well away from the river, he and his rear guard retreated with it up to Opelousas, and the Federals crossed into Vermilionville. But the village was too insubstantial a place for Federal troops to occupy. The Yankees did not hesitate to emancipate the area's slaves, however, with its resulting economic and social turmoil. The Federals returned twice more, in the autumn of 1863 and again in the spring of 1864, but, again, they did not hold the village. Meanwhile, Confederate forces added to the misery of the local inhabitants by scouring the countryside for fresh supplies as well as more men to conscript into Confederate service. At war's end, not all of the local boys in gray returned to Vermilionville. Some of them lay in unmarked graves across the Southern Confederacy, especially in a city cemetery outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
In 1869, the state legislature approved a new charter for Vermilionville that authorized a mayor-council form of government as well as boundary expansion at the expense of the parish. The new town council would consist of seven members. The voters also would elect the town's mayor. The first mayor of Vermilionville was Alphonse Neveu. Later mayors were William Brandt, Auguste Monnier, John O. Mouton, G. C. Salles, John Clegg, and W. B. Bailey. This form of town government prevailed until 1914, when local voters chose a commission-style government with an ex-officio mayor and no city council. Three elected, full-time city commissioners--of public safety, who served as ex-officio mayor, of finance, and of public property--ran the city, along with an elected police chief.
The years after the War of 1861 were a dismal time for the town and the surrounding parish. As Harry Lewis Griffin describes it: "Prior to the ... War Vermilionville was a much more prosperous town than in the eighteen seventies. Surrounded with cattle ranches, sugar and cotton plantations it was the center of much wealth. There was much buying and selling of land[,] and slaves were in ready demand. After the war came hard times. With their slaves gone and their plantations ravaged, the planters knew not where to turn. Land became a drug on the market with no labor to cultivate it. Because of the heavy taxes and penalties levied by the carpetbag government many were forced to dispose of their lands. Consequently many of the younger sons turned to other occupations. The village progress was slowed up by these conditions."
The railroad from New Orleans via Morgan City and New Iberia finally reached Vermilionville in 1880. Only then did the town become anything more than a political and ecclesiastical center for the surrounding civil parish. Population figures for the following decades tell the story best. In 1870, Vermilionville was home to 777 people, 454 of them white, 323 of them "colored." In 1880, the town's population numbered 815. But by 1890 it had grown to 2,100.
In 1884, the state legislature authorized a new name for the town, and Vermilionville became Lafayette. The name change would have come years earlier, but there already had been a Lafayette, Louisiana--in Orleans Parish, just outside of New Orleans. In the early 1880s, New Orleans subsumed the suburban town, and the original Lafayette ceased to exist. Only then would the legislature allow Vermilionville to abandon its clumsy name.
The new Lafayette saw its first water works and electric light plant emerge in 1897. Its first concrete sidewalks appeared in 1903. And its first paved street bore automobile traffic in 1919. ...
The town had its own schools as early as the 1840s, but the opening of a secular institution of higher learning in Lafayette soon after the turn of the century marked a milestone in the town's history. In 1901, Louisiana Institute, later Southwestern Louisiana Institute, the University of Southwestern Louisiana, and now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, opened on a 25-acre campus at what was then the northern edge of town. The following year, a "public" high school opened its doors to the town's younger students. Vermilionville Academy, a private school, had existed from the early 1840s to 1872 for the area's more affluent children; trustees for the academy had included Acadians Joseph and François Breaux, Charles Mouton, and Lucien Guilbeau. Mount Carmel Academy, run by the priests of St. John the Evangelist Church, opened in 1846 originally as a girls' school and survives to this day. The first "public" school opened in the village in 1847 but did not last. Modern, sustained, tax-supported primary and secondary education in Lafayette, like in the rest of South Louisiana, did not exist until the twentieth century.
In January 1918, authorities in Rome created a new diocese from that part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans lying west of the Atchafalaya River. They could have located the seat of the new diocese at the old church in St. Martinville, but they chose, instead, a more centralized church in a thriving young city, and Lafayette became even more important as an ecclesiastical center. When Reverend Jules Benjamin Jeanmard, a native of nearby Breaux Bridge, took his seat in December 1918 as the first Bishop of Lafayette, St. John the Evangelist Church became the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Reverend Jeanmard served as Bishop of Lafayette until his retirement in 1956 (one of Bishop Jeanmard's paternal great-grandmothers was an Acadian Granger, and one of his paternal aunts was a Richard). ...
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 537; Brasseaux & Fontenot, Steamboats on Louisiana's Bayous, chap. 3; Griffin, Attakapas Country, passim, quotes from pp. 27, 57; Hébert, D., Southwest LA Records, CD; Hébert, T., Acadian-Cajun Atlas, 169-71; Raphael, Battle in the Bayou Country, 145-47; <dol-louisiana.org>.
A prominent Acadian community of the Attakapas region has its own interesting story:
Firmin Breau of Rivière-aux-Canards in the Minas Basin, son of Alexis Breau and Marguerite Barillot, came to Louisiana in February 1765 with the Broussard dit Beausoleil party. He was only 16. After moving to the Mississippi, where he married a distant cousin, and then moving back to the Attakapas District, Firmin became a major land owner in the area known originally as La Pointe de Répos and later as La Grand Pointe on Bayou Teche above the Attakapas Post. He purchased his property in 1771 from Jean-François Ledée, "a wealthy New Orleans merchant who had acquired the land as a French land grant." Firmin increased his holdings so that by 1786 "he was one of the largest property owners in Teche country." In 1799, he built a footbridge at Grand Pointe across Bayou Teche "to help ease the passage for his family and neighbors. This first bridge was a suspension footbridge, likely made of rope and small planks. It was stabilized by being tied to small pilings located at each end of the bridge, as well as to a pair of huge live oak tress on both sides of the bayou. When traveling directions were given, folks would say 'go to Breaux's bridge.'" Firmin died in 1808, and the land around the footbridge was inherited by one of his youngest son, Agricole. In 1817, "Agricole built the first vehicular bridge, allowing for the passage of wagons and increased commerce in the area."
The distinction of founding the city of Breaux Bridge, however, goes to Agricole's wife, Scholastique Mélanie Picou, whom Firmin Breaux most likely never knew. In 1829, recently widowed, Scholastique submitted plans for a village at Grand Pointe in the area around her dead husband's vehicular bridge. Scholastique's father was a French Creole, but she had Acadian blood on her mother's side. Her father, Nicolas, fils was born at New Orleans in February 1754 to Nicolas Picou, père and Marguerite Lavigne. The Picous were an old New Orleans family. Nicolas, fils's paternal grandfather, Urbain, was a native of Brest, France, who had married Marie-Josèphe Larmusiau at New Orleans in July 1733. Nicolas, fils moved upriver to the Acadian community of St.-Jacques probably in the 1780s. Scholastique Mélanie's mother, Scholastique, daughter of Joseph Bourgeois and Marie Girouard of Chignecto in Acadia, was born at St.-Jacques in c1770, five years after her parents had come to Louisiana with the Broussards. Nicolas Picou, fils married Scholastique Bourgeois at St.-Jacques in the late 1780s. Scholastique-Mélanie was born at St.-Jacques in July 1796. Nicolas, fils died at St.-Jacques in February 1800 when Scholastique-Mélanie was only three years old. Her mother remarried to fellow Acadian Charles dit Migouin Melançon at St.-Jacques in 1803. Scholastique, her brothers Jean Baptiste dit Fletcher and Nicolas III and sister Mélanie Félicité, called Émeline, followed their mother and stepfather to La Pointe, also called Grand Pointe, on upper Bayou Teche when Scholastique was still a girl. In June 1813, at age 16, Scholastique married Agricole, son of Firmin Breaux (who had been dead for five years), at La Pointe. Agricole and Scholastique had eight children.
(Scholastique's siblings also married and settled at La Pointe. Brother Fletcher married Ludivine, daughter of Acadian Pierre Guidry, in June 1815. Younger sister Émeline married Charles, son of Acadian Athanase dit Cobit Hébert of Fausse Pointe, down the Teche, in December 1817. Younger brother Nicolas III married Ludivine, daughter of French Creole Marcel Patin of La Pointe, in June 1820; Nicolas died the following year from a self-inflicted gunshot wound; he was only 26 years old.)
In May 1828, Agricole Breaux died suddenly at age 41, leaving Scholastique with seven children, including an infant. The financial difficulties that followed her husband's death seem to have compelled the determined young widow to lay out a village on the site of her husband's property along Bayou Teche. The village was called Pont-Breaux and eventually Breaux Bridge. In 1847, church authorities created St. Bernard parish, and a church rose up barely a stone's throw from Agricole Breaux's old bridge.
Meanwhile, in 1836, at age 40, Scholastique remarried to Jean François, son of Jean Pierre Domengeaux and Marie Marguerite Victoire Lefebre of Haiti. Jean François's first wife, Claire Marie Roy, had recently died. Scholastique had more children with Jean François, who died in March 1846 at age 50, leaving Scholastique a widow once again. She died around 1851, in her mid-50s, surrounded by children and grandchildren. Founding new communities must have been in her blood--Scholastique's maternal Acadian ancestor, Jacques dit Jacob Bourgeois, had pioneered the Acadian settlement at Chignecto in the early 1670s.
Sources: BRDR, 2:138, 589-91; <breauxbridgelive.com>, source of quotes, which says that she & Agricole had 5 children & that she & her second husband had 2; Hebert, D., Southwest LA Records, 2-A:135-36, 140, 141, 142, 750; 2-B:133, 135, 138-39, 140, 747-48; 2-C:104, 110, 3:203, 517, 4:147; 5:447; NOAR, 1:207-08, 2:228; <dol-louisiana.org>.
St. Martin, St. Mary, Lafayette, Vermilion, and Iberia parishes
This community, originally called Poste des Opelousas, was named after a band of Atakapan-speaking Indians whose village lay a few miles east of the present city of Opelousas. The word Opelousas in the Atakapan language means "black hair" or "black head." These Indians were not a direct part of the Atakapas tribal group but were related linguistically.
In the early 1730s, French adventurers explored the prairie region west of the Atchafalaya Basin to study the possibility of establishing a strategic point in the area to counter the Spanish presence to the west. In December 1738, two French entrepreneurs, Jean-Joseph Le Kintrek dit Dupont, former jailer at New Orleans, and Joseph Blanpain, established a partnership that created an Indian trading venture in the area, which lasted until 1744. Le Kintrek is considered to be "the first European settler in the Opelousas post." The Indian trade proved to be profitable, and other traders followed, including André Massé and Jacques Courtableau. In 1756, Capuchin missionaries from Pointe Coupée on the river, and even a missionary from Natchitoches, began holding services at Jacques Courtableau's plantation near present-day Opelousas, so there likely were other settlers in the area.
Not until 1763 did the French establish a Poste des Opelousas. (Professor Carl Brasseaux says that the original post was "located along Bayou Teche below present-day Port Barre," east of the present city of Opelousas, but local historian Winston De Ville says the post was at today's Washington, on Bayou Courtableau, pronounced car-TOB-luh by the locals, north of the present city. Roger Baudier's study of the Catholic Church in Louisiana insists that the original post "was located where the present Church of St. Landry and the Academy of the Immaculate Conception stand," on the eastern edge of the present city, but this is where the second post stood.) The caretaker French government at New Orleans appointed former infantry lieutenant Louis-Gérard Pellerin as the first commandant of the post and the district. By the spring of 1766, when the commandant conducted his first census, French Creoles, French Canadians, refugees from Illinois (long a part of French Louisiana), and even a family from Italy, had crossed the upper Atchafalaya Basin from Pointe Coupée and settled on "the Coast of the Old Opelousas." These families included Barre, Bello, Bertrand, Carrière, Chrétien, Demarest, Duplechin, Durand, Guillory, Lacasse, Langlois, Moreau, and Patin.
Other early settlers in the district were so-called Allibamonts from Mobile and the Alabama River valley who left their homes after France ceded the territory east of the Isle of Orleans to Britain in 1763. They emigrated to New Orleans soon after the cession, and some of them moved on to Pointe Coupée, from where they crossed the upper Basin to the western prairies. By the spring of 1766, many of them had settled "at New Opelousas on the Right Bank." Allibamont families who went to Opelousas included Brignac, Carrière, Doucet, Fontenot, Henry, Labeau, and LaFleur.
Ten Acadian families who had come to the colony from Halifax via St.-Domingue in early 1765 did not follow the Broussard dit Beausoleil party to lower Bayou Teche. They remained, instead, on the rolling prairie far up the Teche, which they found to be perfect for the kind of cattle raising they had known back in Acadia. These first Acadian families at Opelousas were Comeau, Cormier, Guénard, Hébert, Léger, Pitre, Richard, Savoie, Saulnier, and Thibodeau. According to historian Dr. Carl Brasseaux, they settled on the Prairie des Coteaux, "along the Teche Ridge in an arc contiguous to the eastern and southeastern corporate limits of modern-day Opelousas." As these families grew or moved about and as more of their compatriots trickled into the area, other Acadian communities sprang up south of the present city at Prairie Belleveu, along Bayou Bourbeaux, and at Grand Coteau. Acadian families also moved deeper into the western prairies to Bayou Plaquemine Brûlé, to Prairie Faquetaique near present-day Eunice, to Prairie Mamou between bayous Des Cannes and Nezpique, and all the way down to the Mermentau River.
When the Spanish came to the colony in March 1766, they maintained the post at Opelousas. Official Spanish policy discouraged anymore settlement of Acadians on the prairies, which helps explain why relatively few of them settled in the Opelousas District compared to French Creoles and even Anglo Americans who found their way to the area. More Acadian families went to Opelousas anyway, many of them drifting up from the Attakapas region. They included Boudrot, Bourg, Boutin, Brassaud, Broussard, Chiasson, Doucet, Forest, Granger, Guédry, Jeansonne, and Landry. Four families--Bellard, Benoit, Lejeune, and Trahan--came to the colony from Maryland in October 1769 aboard the ill-fated English ship Britannia and chose to join their compatriots at Opelousas. Other Acadians abandoned the crowded river districts and slipped through the Basin to start a new life on the Opelousas prairies.
In September 1767, prominent Opelousas settlers, representing the residents of the district, petitioned the court in New Orleans to remove Louis Pellerin as commandant. They accused him of "forcing the Indians to trade only with him, telling them that as 'chief' of the post, only he had that right. It was alleged that at the most inopportune times--the planting and harvest seasons, for instance--he would demand public improvements and exact these labors from the inhabitants." Pellerin also had built a tavern within five arpents of what passed for a church at Opelousas and thereby alienated the local priests. The inhabitants' wish was granted, Pellerin was sacked, and the government of the post was "vested in a magistrate to be chosen annually by the inhabitants from among themselves."
In the fall of 1768, when French Creoles from New Orleans and German and Acadian settlers from the river districts turned on Spain's first governor of Louisiana, the unpopular Antonio de Ulloa, Opelousas Acadians probably did not participate in the revolt. Nonetheless, Ulloa's successor, General Alejandro O'Reilly, who crushed the revolt, re-evaluated the colony's sad state of defense and ordered militia units to be raised in each of the colony's districts, including those that had not joined the revolt against Ulloa. All able-bodied males between the ages of 16 and 50 were required to serve in the militia, and Spanish land grants would be based on militia service. Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire of Attakapas commanded the company for Attakapas and Opelousas. O'Reilly's order was not popular with the Acadians, many of whom remembered similar treatment at the hands of British governors back in Old Acadia. O'Reilly formally appointed Fuselier as commandant of the Opelousas District in February 1770. Four years later, Fuselier was replaced by another resident of the Attakapas District, Alexandre Declouet, a chevalier of the Order of St.-Louis.
In 1773, a hurricane damaged many Acadian homesteads on the Opelousas prairie. Dissatisfied with life in the district and with forced militia service, some of the Opelousas Acadians asked Governor Luis de Unzaga for permission to migrate to St.-Domingue, today's Haiti. Unzaga refused to let them go, so they sought permission at least to move south into the Attakapas District, where many of them had relatives. Again, Unzaga refused to let them leave, but some of them sold their lands and moved to Attakapas anyway. Unzaga, like many another powerful official who thought he could control these people, was learning a lesson in Acadian stubbornness. The governor relented. When hundreds more Acadians reached Louisiana from France in 1785, a few of these families moved to the Opelousas District, mainly to join their kin already there.
Before 1776, priests from St.-François parish at Pointe-Coupée on the river, founded in 1728, had served as missionaries to the remote prairie region, the reason why so many Opelousas sacramental records appear in that parish's registers. By the mid-1770s, however, despite the Acadian migration to the Attakapas, there were enough residents in the Opelousas District to warrant a church parish of their own. It was called for a time Immaculate Conception but came to be called St. Landry, after St. Léandre or Landry, the seventh-century bishop of Paris. The first Opelousas church, a simple wooden structure, stood at the post.
In the autumn of 1779, during the American Revolution, the Attakapas and Opelousas militia company, still commanded by Alexandre Chevalier Declouet, served under Louisiana Governor Bernardo de Gálvez in his attack against the British at Baton Rouge. By all accounts, the Acadians, many of whom were old enough to remember what the British had done to them in Acadia, fought gallantly.
Declouet, now advanced in age, retired as commandant of the district in March 1787. He was succeeded by Nicolas Forstall, native of Martinique and scion of a noble family, who had commanded the Màlaguenian post at Nuéva Iberia earlier in the decade. Forstall was succeeded in the spring of 1795 by Martin Duralde, who remained as commandant at Opelousas until the Spanish surrendered the colony to France in December 1803. Honoré de la Chaise served as commandant of the post during the few months the French were again in power. American army Captain John Bowyer sent the young Frenchman packing in October 1804.
Meanwhile, in 1798, Spanish authorities moved the Opelousas Post from the bayou to the site of the present city. A new church was built not far from the new post. Three years earlier, in June 1795, the St.-Landry parishioners had beseeched their pastor, Father Pedro de Zamora, to ask the ecclesiastical authorities in New Orleans to relocate their church. In May 1796, resident Jean Tesson of Saintogne, France, donated an arpent of land for a new church at what was then called Tesson's Point. Even more generously, local planter Michel Prudhomme, a native of Strasbourg, gave 3 x 10 arpents of land for the new church, a priest's house, and a jail on property he owned at the site.
Probably because of Spanish settlement restrictions, the Acadian presence in the Opelousas District remained demographically insignificant. In the census of 1796, Acadian families at Opelousas numbered 49, only 17 percent of the total number of families in the district. Most of the Acadians lived at Bellevue and Grand Coteau, with a hand full of others residing in the North Plaquemine, Grand Prairie, Grand Louis, and Faquetaique sub districts west of the present city. However, half of the district's 12 sub districts contained not a single Acadian family that year. Despite their small numbers, however, Acadians were among the largest stockmen of the big prairie district. In 1788, for instance, nearly a quarter century after the first Acadians came to Opelousas, Joseph Cormier of Bellevue owned 697 head of cattle and 60 horses. Cormier's neighbor, Charles Comeaux, held 643 head. Charles's cousin, Michel Comeaux of Plaquemine Brûlé, ran 500 head. Sylvain Sonnier of Bellevue owned 300 head of cattle. His neighbor, the widow of L'Ange Bourg, owned 166 head. Pierre Richard of the same area owned 140 head of cattle. His younger brother Victor owned 150 head. Michel Cormier of Prairie des Femmes, Joseph's younger brother, owned 130 head of cattle. François Pitre of the Plaisance area also owned 130 head of cattle. Joseph Bourg, the dead L'Ange's brother, owned 120 head.
After the Louisiana Purchase, the old Opelousas District became the civil parishes of St. Landry, sometimes called Imperial St. Landry (1807), Calcasieu, also called Imperial Calcasieu (1840), and, after the War Between the States, Cameron (1870), Acadia (1887), Evangeline (1910), Allen (1912), Beauregard (1912), and Jefferson Davis (1912). The last three prairie parishes, in fact, were among the final ones created by the State of Louisiana.
An interesting note can be found in five Opelousas marriage records dated December 27, 1814, and January 1, 2, and 5, 1815. The Reverend Michel Bernard Barrière had served as pastor of St. Martin of Tours church at St. Martinville in the 1790s, retired for a time, and was transferred to St. Landry church at Opelousas in the early 1800s. Father Barrière recorded the marriages on pages 261, 262, and 263 of volume 1-A of the parish's marriage register, with the notation: "The above five marriages ... were celebrated during Advent due to the war and the immediate departure of the militia leaving from here [Opelousas] on the 4th January 1815." The Battle of New Orleans was fought at Chalmette Plantation four days later. ...
For a few months during the War of 1861, Opelousas served as the capital of Confederate Louisiana. ...
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 159, 171-72, 227, quote from p. 172; ; Craig A. Bauer, "Le Kintrek, Jean-Joseph dit Dupont," in DLB, p. 501, source of quote; Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 93-95, 97-100, 205-06, quotes from p. 94; De Ville, Opelousas Post Census, 1771, 9, 10, 15; De Ville, Opelousas History, passim, quotes from pp. 21, 22; Frederick, "In Defense of Crown & Colony," 397, 413-14; Hebert, D., Southwest LA Records, 1-A: Introductory Notes, 653, 2-A:63, 85-86, 203, 248, 311, 352, 394, 469-70, 619, 879; Kniffen et al., Indian Tribes of La., 46, 75; Pittman, European Settlements, 36; Voorhies, J., Some Late Eighteenth-Century Louisianians, 126-28 (note that the Bertrand listed on p. 126 & the 2 Doucets on p. 127 were not Acadians but French Creoles), 345-65; Appendix for a list of Acadian individuals & families at Opelousas, 1765; map.
For early Alibamon settlement on the prairies, see Brasseaux, ed., Quest for the Promised Land, 48, a 13 May 1765 letter from Gov. Aubry to his superior, the Duc de Choisseul-Stainville, in which the French interim governor says: "The settlements, established in these areas [Attakapas & Opelousas] by the Acadians and the many other people coming from Alabamons and Illinois, (which had been) ceded to the English, will become very substantial in a few years." This seems to imply that the Alibamon & Illinois Creoles went to the prairies even before the Acadians, who did not get there until about May 1765. In a footnote to Aubry's 13 May 1765 letter, Dr. Brasseaux notes: "These French refugees from the Alabama posts in 1764 constituted the most significant of these groups [at Opelousas]. Scores of these immigrants made their way to the Opelousas post. Their descendants now  constitute a majority of the white population in Evangeline Parish."
The Apr 1766 census of the Opelousas District in Voorhies, J., cited above, is headed: "Cortablau's Company/Allibamont and the Coast of the Old Opelousas" on p. 126, & "New Opelousas on the Right Bank" on p. 127, which is where the Alibamon families are listed. Page 128 of the census is headed "Acadians," so Commandant Pellerin divided his census by family origin as well as location within the district.
And there is this disturbing speculation: My ancestor, Michel Cormier, & his older brother Joseph, were among the Acadians who came to LA in early 1765 & settled at Opelousas, not Attakapas. I have often wondered why the Cormier brothers, who through their Thibodeau mother were kin to the Broussards, who suffered with the Broussards in Acadia, & who may very well have traveled on the same ships to New Orleans with the Broussards, did not follow them to the lower Teche. Was it because Joseph Cormier was married to a Saunier, & the Sauniers chose Opelousas? Was it because of the tempting prairie land near the head of Bayou Teche? Or could there have been a more sinister reason for these 10 families, including the Cormier brothers, to linger at Prairie des Coteaux in the Opelousas District? The Broussards reached the Dauterive concession on lower Bayou Teche in late April or early May 1765. By July, an epidemic began to ravage the settlement, killing three dozen Acadians, including Alexandre & Joseph dit Beausoleil, by late autumn. Dr. Brasseaux speculates in Founding of New Acadia, 102, that the disease was malaria or yellow fever. But could it have been something just as deadly & even more contagious? Governor Aubry writes in a letter to his superior, the Duc de Choisseul-Stainville, dated 14 May 1865, after the Broussards had left New Orleans: "To make matters worse, the Acadians have smallpox, and will inflict a new calamity upon the colony. However, under present circumstances, we are duty bound to assist them." Was Aubry writing about the Acadians who had just left for the Teche? Was their having smallpox another reason why Aubry encouraged them to settle so far from the city? Is this why 10 families, many related to the Broussards & other members of the party, remained at Prairie des Coteaux & did not go on to the lower Teche? see map.
St. Landry, Calcasieu, and Cameron parishes
Acadia, Evangeline, and Jefferson Davis parishes
Visited by Iberville and Bienville in their March 1699 exploration of the lower Mississippi, the stretch of river that would come to be known as St.-Gabriel d'Iberville was described as "the beautiful countryside" by the area's namesake. On his return trip downstream, Iberville and a hand full of companions in two canoes hoped to find a shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico via Bayou Manchac, which the French called first Ascantia and then Rivière Iberville. They found a passage via the bayou, the Amite River, and lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, but the short cut existed only in space, not in time. The shallowness of Bayou Manchac, and especially the obstructions that blocked its channel, made the voyage impractical for anything heavier than an Indian canoe.
The first settlement in the area, the concession of Paris Duvernay granted by John Law's Company of the Indies in the 1720s, stood at an abandoned Indian village along the west side of the river and served for a time as a staging site for cattle shipments from Natchitoches, far up the Red River, down to New Orleans. At the confluence of Bayou Plaquemine and the Mississippi, at present-day Plaquemine, also on the west side of the river, a non-descript settlement arose to serve travelers to and from the western reaches of the colony. But the French mostly neglected the place, concentrating their settlement efforts upriver at Pointe Coupée and downriver along the German Coast in what is now St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes. The Indians who lived in the area, the Bayougoula, were mostly friendly, so the French had no incentive to drive them from their river-side village. These Indians were so friendly, in fact, that the first "church" on the lower Mississippi was a thatch-roofed mission hut the Indians built for Jesuit Father Paul Du Ru at their village in 1700.
When the French ceded Louisiana to Spain in late 1762 and the Seven Years War ended a few months later, the Bayou Goula/Plaquemine/Bayou Manchac area was virtually unsettled. This is how the Spanish found it when they took over the colony in early 1766. But the politics of imperial rivalry would not let such a state of affairs continue.
In February 1763, the Treaty of Paris gave West Florida to Britain, which now controlled that part of the present state of Louisiana from the Pearl River west to the Mississippi River north of lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain. Bayou Manchac thus became an international boundary between the British and Spanish realms. Wasting no time, the British tried to clear Bayou Manchac of obstructions so that Iberville's shortcut via the Amite River and the lakes could become practicable. This would bypass New Orleans and transform British-controlled Baton Rouge into a new trading center in the region. Even more threatening to Spanish interests, in 1765 the British had built Fort Bute just north of Bayou Manchac, overlooking a bend in the Mississippi. Instigated perhaps by French officials still at New Orleans, Alabama Indians who had a village nearby attacked the British fort in August 1765 and drove away the small British garrison. The governor of West Florida, British naval captain George Johnstone, refused to abandon the position. He ordered his officers to rebuild Fort Bute. When Spanish Governor Antonio de Ulloa finally arrived at New Orleans in March 1766, the British were hard at work rebuilding their fort north of Bayou Manchac.
This motivated the Spanish to build their own fort south of the bayou. In April 1767, a small force under Lieutenant Juan Orieta commenced the construction of Fort San Gabriel de Manchac, also called Fort of the Infante Gabriel. It was a modest four-gun stockade, but it served the purpose of checking the British and discouraging them from crossing the bayou. A small fort with a few guns and a tiny garrison was not enough for such an important position, however. British activity north of Bayou Manchac also motivated the Spanish to settle the area near Fort San Gabriel. Militia companies raised amongst the settlers could augment the Spanish soldiers in the fort to buttress the northwestern flank of the Isle of Orleans, the area encompassed by Bayou Manchac, the Amite River, and lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, with New Orleans at its center.
In the summer of 1767, Governor Ulloa directed a group of 200 Acadians from Maryland to settle in the vicinity of Fort San Gabriel. Here was his militia force. The Maryland Acadians had hoped to settle among relatives at Cabanocé, but Ulloa insisted that they go to Fort San Gabriel instead and threatened to deport them if they did not. After the Acadians had moved to a large bend in the river along the east bank and just downriver from the fort, they could see that communication with Cabanocé, only two dozen miles downstream, was easy by boat. Contact even with the Acadian communities of Opelousas and Attakapas, west of the Atchafalaya Basin, though by no means easy, was possible via nearby Bayou Plaquemine and other streams that crisscrossed the basin. Few places in Spanish Louisiana were as strategically important as the Bayou Manchac area, and the Acadians soon realized that their new home was a good place to be.
The new settlement was called St.-Gabriel d'Iberville or St.-Gabriel de Manchac because it lay in the Spanish District of Iberville, sometimes called the District of Manchac. Like the other Acadian Coast communities downriver, St.-Gabriel eventually straddled both sides of the Mississippi, but its most important function lay on the east bank of the river, where it served as a strategic post from which to watch the growing British presence in the direction of Baton Rouge.
In 1769, six German Catholic families who had recently come to the colony from Maryland settled at Fort San Gabriel. This led to the settlement of other German families in the area, some of whom were given sizeable land grants. In that same year, more Acadians came to St.-Gabriel. These were families who had come from Maryland in early 1768 with the Breau brothers of Pigiguit and who Governor Ulloa had sent far upriver to Fort San Luìs de Natchez, where they had not wanted to go. These disgruntled Acadians had supported, and perhaps even participated, in the revolt against Ulloa in October 1768. Ulloa's successor, General Alejandro O'Reilly, suppressed the revolt and allowed the Acadians at Natchez to abandon that distant post. Some of the Breau party moved to St.-Gabriel, whose settlers also may have sympathized with Ulloa's removal.
In the wake of the 1768 revolt, General O'Reilly re-evaluated the colony's sad state of defense and created militia units for Louisiana's various districts. All able-bodied males between the ages of 16 and 50 were required to serve in the militia, and future Spanish land grants would be based on militia service. The Acadians at St.-Gabriel served in the company commanded by Louis Judice, commandant at Lafourche des Chitimachas, or Ascension, just downriver from St.-Gabriel. O'Reilly's order was not popular with the Acadians, many of whom remembered similar treatment at the hands of British governors back in Old Acadia. Another of O'Reilly's military reforms that year was the abandonment of the fort at San Gabriel; he, in fact, gave the fort's buildings to the recently-arrived Germans. In 1775, however, Governor Luis de Unzaga, O'Reilly's successor, ordered the fort rebuilt. The Spanish built other, smaller forts along the bayou, assigning an officer and 10 Acadians to man each one.
One result of the influx of new settlers into the district was the creation of a separate Catholic parish at St.-Gabriel during Unzaga's governorship. In 1770, Father Dagobert de Longoury, Capuchin Superior at New Orleans, directed Capuchin Father Stanislaus, then serving the parish at Natchitoches, to go to St.-Gabriel and open a new parish there. The commandant at Natchitoches refused to let Father Stanislaus go, however, so the founding of the new parish had to wait a few years. Church authorities finally created the parish in 1773. They named it, appropriately, after the archangel Gabriel. The church of St.-Gabriel that the Acadians financed and built between 1774 and 1776 stands to this day; it is, in fact, the oldest surviving wooden church structure in the Mississippi Valley.
By March 1777, when the Spanish conducted an important census at St.-Gabriel, "the district ... included the area on the east bank, from Bayou Manchac to the present-day Ascension Parish line, and east to the Amite River. On the west bank, it ranged from Bayou Plaquemine down-river to the Ascension line and west to the Atchafalaya." Most of the settlers counted at St.-Gabriel that year lived along the "right bank ascending," or east side of the river, where many of them had settled a decade before. Judging by the surnames found in the census, the community was still predominantly Acadian.
The British were still at Baton Rouge in 1777, so it was not unusual for settlers along the Acadian Coast to trade with British merchants from the north side of Bayou Manchac instead of with Spanish merchants far downriver in New Orleans. Their ancestors had done the same thing with New Englanders when the French had controlled Acadia, so why not do what they please in their new home on the lower Mississippi. General O'Reilly, in possession of formidable power, had attempted to suppress this illicit trade and failed. Governor Unzaga, a pragmatist, looked the other way. Soon after the 1777 census, however, Bernardo de Gálvez replaced Unzaga as governor. Gálvez promptly expelled all British traders in the Spanish realm and resolved to keep them out, but, again, the illicit trade persisted and even flourished. No imperial policy ever prevented a determined Acadian from doing what he thought was best for himself and his family.
In January 1779, Gálvez sent to the St.-Gabriel area the first contingent of Isleños, or Canary Islanders, to reach Louisiana. He settled them at Gálveztown, also called Villa de Gálvez, just south of the confluence of Bayou Manchac and the Amite River, across from present-day Port Vincent. Anglo-Americans fleeing British forces in the area had started the remote settlement only a short time before Gálvez came to survey the place in late November 1778, and they named their little town after the Spanish governor to win his favor. After he moved the Isleños to the Amite, Gálvez ordered them to build a fort at Gálveztown to intercept British traders who might penetrate the Isle of Orleans via that quarter and also to counter the build up of British defenses in the area. The town eventually numbered "some 400 people." Not long after its founding, Governor Gálvez sent a Spanish missionary, Father Francisco Lopez, to the fortified outpost. The priest boarded with the post's commandant and said Mass in a chapel, dedicated to San Bernardo, that was attached to one end of the garrison's barracks. After Father Lopez died in an epidemic that struck the settlement later in 1779, the priest from St.-Gabriel d'Iberville, 15 miles away, administered the sacraments to the settlers and soldiers at Galveztown for most of the rest of its short history.
Hundreds of miles away, the American Revolution raged along the Atlantic seaboard. In 1778, France came into the war as an ally of the Americans against its old enemy, Britain. In 1779, Spain also declared war against Britain, and the faraway conflict came to Louisiana. British commanders in the area looked to their defenses along the lower Mississippi and made plans to strike New Orleans from three directions. But the Spanish struck first. In late August, in the wake of a hurricane that had devastated the region, Sublieutenant Francisco Collel, commandant at Gálveztown, with his hand full of Spanish regulars and his militia of Isleños and Anglo-Americans, seized seven British vessels and 125 prisoners on the Amite River and captured Fort Graham, the British post on the Amite. Meanwhile, despite the terrible damage from the recent hurricane, Governor Gálvez moved his Spanish regulars, Indians, and New Orleans militia from the city to Bayou Manchac, picking up German and Acadian Coast militia on the way. Gálvez launched his offensive against the British from Fort San Gabriel in the first week of September. His Spanish troops slipped a few miles upriver to prevent British reinforcement of Fort Bute while the militia crossed the bayou and struck the fort by surprise. An authority on the action at Fort Bute wrote that "the militia, particularly the Acadians, behaved splendidly." Led by the governor's father-in-law, Frenchman Antoine-Gilbert de Saint-Maxent of New Orleans, the militia lost not a single man in the assault. Later that month, Gálvez, with his small body of Spanish regulars and his trusty militia, captured Fort New Richmond at Baton Rouge, and Fort Panmure at Natchez fell without a fight. By early October, the lower Mississippi valley was entirely clear of British troops and vessels.
Amazingly, Gálvez's force suffered only two casualties in its onslaught against the British on the lower Mississippi--both of them Acadians. Jean-Baptiste dit Petit-Jean Hébert, in his late 30s, was in the Second Company of the St.-Gabriel militia, and Maturin Landry, in his mid-40s, served in the Lafourche (Ascension) company. Both men survived their wounds. In contrast, the British lost 36 dead, 10 wounded, and 485 captured at the three British forts. Another authority on the campaign writes: "In his account to the court of the campaigns on the lower Mississippi in 1779, Gálvez demonstrated great pleasure in the zeal displayed by the Louisiana militia in all of their engagements. He singled out the Acadian companies, in whom burned the memory of English cruelty in the Seven Years' War, which forced them to abandon their homes in Canada." When Gálvez, now a field marshal, attacked the British at Mobile in February 1780, he took his Acadian militia with him. Again, the Louisiana Acadians tasted sweet revenge against their former oppressors.
The second Treaty of Paris of September 1783 removed the troublesome British from the scene, but they were soon replaced by an even more aggressive people who claimed the Baton Rouge area for themselves. Anglo-Americans soon appeared in the area in ever growing numbers. No matter, St.-Gabriel Acadians moved north of Bayou Manchac into the once-forbidden zone around old Fort Bute and towards Baton Rouge, as well as west of the river into present-day West Baton Rouge Parish, all the way up to Pointe Coupée.
Meanwhile, the Isleños at Gálveztown were miserable in their isolated enclave along the Amite River. Vulnerable to flooding and Indian attack and ravaged by disease, the Isleños tried to abandon the place, but Spanish authorities, aware of its strategic value, would not let them. So they remained at the outpost until the Spanish no longer controlled that part of Louisiana. Beginning in 1804, the Isleños at Gálveztown who had not moved to St. Gabriel crossed the Amite and settled on the Spanish side of the river. The community's church register ends with a marriage in February 1807. By 1810, after 30 years of failure, Gálveztown was no more.
The rest of the St.-Gabriel/Manchac area thrived, however. In the summer and fall of 1785, hundreds of Acadian exiles reached New Orleans from France aboard seven French transports. Most of them chose to settle on upper Bayou Lafourche. Some went to Baton Rouge and to Bayou des Écores, north of Baton Rouge, but others, mostly from the first ship, Le Bon Papa, and the third ship, Le Beaumont, chose to go to the St.-Gabriel/Manchac area. They settled on what the Spanish called the "Manchac Coast," which lay between the church at St.-Gabriel and Bayou Manchac at the northeast edge of the St.-Gabriel District, and around old Fort Bute north of the bayou, which was its own district, called Manchac, from 1785 to 1794 (in the latter year, the Spanish abandoned Fort Bute and transferred the small district around the old fort to Baton Rouge).
After the Louisiana Purchase, the Americans, now in control of the area west of the river and south of Bayou Manchac, organized the Territory of Orleans, and the old St.-Gabriel/Manchac district south of the bayou became part of Iberville County in 1805. Two years later, when the Americans created Louisiana's first civil parishes, St. Gabriel became the extreme eastern part of Iberville Parish, and the area south of Gálveztown became the major part of Ascension Parish lying east of the Mississippi.
A church parish for the larger but more thinly populated west side of Iberville Parish did not appear until 1850 with the creation of St. John the Evangelist Parish at Plaquemine. Before that, western Iberville Parish was served by priests from St. Gabriel across the river.
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 180, 182, 195-96, 207, 221, 237; Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 80-81; BRDR, 1a:1-7, Commentary by David Broussard; Crouse, Lemoyne d'Iberville, 184, 189-90; De Ville, St. Gabriel Census, 1777, Introduction by John J. Pastorek, [ii-viii], quotes from pp. [ii, v, v-vi], the p. [v] quote citing J. W. Caughey's Bernardo De Galvez in Louisiana: 1776-1783; Din, Canary Islanders of LA, chap. 3; Eric Beerman, "Victory on the Mississippi, 1779," transl. & ed. by Gilbert C. Din, in Din, ed., The Spanish Presence in LA, pp. 192-202; Frederick, "In Defense of Crown & Colony," 397-98; Kinnaird, "The Revolutionary Period, 1765-81," xvii, xxii-xxiv, xxvii-xxviii, 17, 146-47; Pittman, European Settlements, 26, 30-31; Sternberg, Bayou Manchac, 42-43, 55-67; Usner, Lower Miss. Valley Before 1783, 122, 156; Winzerling, Acadian Odyssey, 133; map.
Iberville and Ascension parishes
San Luìs de Natchez
From the very beginning of their presence on the Gulf Coast, the shakers and movers of French Louisiana saw the Natchez (pronounced NOT-chee) as an important pawn in their rivalry with Britain and Spain. The tribe occupied a prominent position on the lower Mississippi athwart the primary route of communication with New France. The village of the Natchez was, as Iberville and Bienville discovered in their explorations of the lower Mississippi, just above the head of sea-going navigation up the great river. In 1713, after the colony became a concession of French financier Antoine Crozat, Louisiana's new governor, Antoine de Laumet dit La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, sent Marc-Antoine and Louis-Auguste La Loire and a dozen companions to the Natchez village to establish a trading post there.
In 1716, two years before he established New Orleans, Bienville, the king's lieutenant in Louisiana, built a fort at the site of the Natchez trading post. Fort Rosalie was named after the daughter of the powerful French naval minister, Count Jérôme Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain. Nearby stood the Grand Village of the Natchez, whom Bienville was determined to overawe. During one of the frequent power struggles within the tribe, with the added incentive of British bribes, the Natchez killed five French traders, and Bienville refused to let the matter go. Using tough diplomacy and creditable threats, he executed several Natchez hostages in retaliation for the death of the Frenchmen. The immediate Natchez response to Bienville's show of force was to help him construct a fort near their Grand Village.
Fort Rosalie became more than a far-flung French garrison protecting passage along the Mississippi. The soil around the fort was fine and well-drained, and the post stood on a bluff above the Mississippi flood plain. During the late 1710s, the Company of the Indies, which controlled the John Law concession that had replaced Crozat's failed efforts along the French Gulf Coast, allowed settlers from the lower river to move to Fort Rosalie and establish tobacco plantations on Natchez land. Recently-arrived African slaves worked the soil and harvested the precious weed under the supervision of tobacco experts brought to the colony from the south of France and the West Indies. The largest plantations at Natchez were Ste.-Catherine, on the creek of that name, and Terre Blanche, near the Natchez village of Pomme Blanche. For a dozen years, Fort Rosalie and its satellite plantations were among the colony's most remote settlements, and, like equally-remote Natchitoches on the Red River, Natchez had the potential to be one of the most productive French concessions.
In 1722 and again in 1723, while Bienville served as colonial commandant, "war" broke out between aggrieved Natchez and belligerent local Frenchmen, but Bienville and the tribe's war chief managed to prevent a full-blown conflict. By mid-decade, however, many Natchez, drawn to the white man's goods, were deeply indebted to local French traders. At the same time, the French brought Old World diseases that decimated the Indian population. The tribe's chief, the Great Sun, died in 1728, and his successor, the Young Sun, hated the French.
In the summer of 1729, the unpopular and tyrannical commandant at Fort Rosalie, Captain Detchéparre, a favorite of the colony's new commandant, Étienne Boucher de Périer, went looking for land near the fort on which to build his own plantation. He chose the site of the Grand Village of the Natchez and ordered the Indians to move. The Natchez, who numbered at least 1,200 in their several villages, demurred. The captain would not back down, and so the Natchez asked him for a few month's time to bring in their harvest. The Natchez had occupied the site of the Grand Village for generations, and it had been occupied by other tribes for countless generations before them. Giving up the site would require the dismantling of the house of their chief, the Young Sun, and, most troubling of all, moving the sacred temple of the Suns, which held the tribe's eternal flame, from the mound on which it stood for as long as they had lived there.
The proud Natchez had had enough of French intrusion on their tribal grounds. On November 28, with British encouragement and the help of local African slaves, a large band of warriors turned on the unsuspecting French and killed or captured most of the settlers at Fort Rosalie. Captain Detchéparre was the first of 144 men, 35 women, and 56 children to die in the attack. Owing to the distance of the settlement from New Orleans, French retaliation under Commandant Périer was slow and hesitant. When it came, the Natchez slipped across the river to the western bank and headed north to the Black River. For two years, the French and their Indian allies, including the Choctaw, Tunica, and Caddo, attacked the Natchez refugees and their Chickasaw benefactors wherever they could find them, and recaptured or killed the Africans who had aided the Indians. The French showed no mercy. After capturing some Natchez chiefs and their families near Natchitoches, Périer sent them to New Orleans and then on to Cap-Français, St.-Domingue, where they were sold into slavery. Meanwhile, at New Orleans, French authorities suppressed a black slave conspiracy just before it broke out into open rebellion.
thanks in part to the efforts of Louis Juchereau de St.-Denis and his Natchitoches militia,the Natchez had been reduced to impotence. The tribe's remnants sought refuge with the Chickasaw and eventually with the Creek and Cherokee. But the massacre of 1729 and the cost of retaliation had taken its toll on the French as well. Fears of more Indian and African uprisings compelled King Louis XV to revoke the charter of Law's Company of the Indies. Louisiana was once again a royal colony. Périer, now a royal governor, was recalled to France in 1732, not long after he ordered Fort Rosalie rebuilt. The next year, for the fourth (and final) time, Bienville became head of the Louisiana colony, this time not as a commandant but as a royal governor. He completed the reconstruction of Fort Rosalie. Despite the dispersal of the Natchez tribe, the evident quality of the soil and terrain, and the new five-sided earthen redoubt that replaced the old wooden fort, the French did not establish new tobacco plantations in the Natchez area.
In 1763, three decades after the return of peace to Natchez and at the end of the French and Indian War, France ceded the area around Fort Rosalie to Britain. Now in possession of the east bank of the Mississippi from Bayou Manchac up to Illinois, the British occupied Natchez in force and renamed the French redoubt Fort Panmure. They did not re-settle the area, however, until the 1770s. Meanwhile, France abandoned Louisiana entirely, ceding the Isle of Orleans and its territory west of the Mississippi to its former ally, Spain. After the Spanish came to New Orleans in March 1766, they were determined to protect their new colony against British encroachment from Baton Rouge and Natchez. In the spring of 1767, Governor Antonio de Ulloa ordered the construction not only of Fort San Gabriel south of Bayou Manchac but also a new fort across from British-held Natchez. Fort San Luìs de Natchez stood on the west bank of the river near present-day Vidalia, about a league away from British Fort Panmure on the east bank of the river.
After the Spanish built Fort San Luìs, Governor Ulloa was determined to send Acadians there to serve as militia. He had allowed the Acadians who had arrived from Maryland in September 1766 to go to Cabanocé although it was already thickly settled by refugees from Halifax who had come to the colony the year before. The Acadians who arrived from Maryland in July 1767 he settled below Fort San Gabriel, on the river above Cabanocé. As a result, the stretch of river from Cabanocé up to St.-Gabriel became known as the Acadian Coast. Then along came the party of 150 Acadians led by brothers Alexis and Honoré Breau of Pigiguit who reached New Orleans from Port Tobacco, Maryland, in early February 1768. Ulloa ordered them to Fort San Luìs de Natchez, but the Breau brothers refused to go there. They insisted on going to the Acadian Coast, where their older brother Jean-Baptiste and other kinsmen had settled. Ulloa refused to compromise on the matter, declared the Breau brothers trouble makers, and threatened to deport them and their families if they did not obey his order. With the assistance of other Acadians, Alexis and Honoré went into hiding, while Spanish officers with armed soldiers escorted the members of their party upriver to Fort San Luìs. The disgruntled Acadians and their escort left New Orleans on February 20 and did not reach the upriver post until March 20. Resentful of the hard hand of Spanish control, far removed from their relatives to the south, and threatened by the hated British and their Indian allies, the Acadians at Fort San Luìs could not be happy with the place. They openly sympathized with the French Creole-led revolt that ousted Ulloa the following October.
In August 1769, General Alejandro O'Reilly came to New Orleans from Havana with an overwhelming force, assumed formal control of the colony for Spain, and executed some of the leaders of the revolt. O'Reilly the soldier was a more astute administrator than Ulloa the intellectual; the Irishman saw more clearly the Acadians' role in the future of the colony. Intent on consolidating Spanish defenses against the British and keeping the Acadians happy, O'Reilly ordered the abandonment of Fort San Luìs and allowed the Breau brothers and their kinsmen to move to the Acadian Coast, where they had wanted to settle all along. None of the Breau party remained at Natchez. As a result, Concordia Parish was settled in subsequent decades not by francophone Acadian immigrants from Maryland who had been forced to live there, but by a few Spaniards, including Don José Vidal, who, in the late 1790s, created a plantation and a post called Concordia at the site of old Fort San Luìs, and by Anglo Americans who poured into the area after Jefferson's Purchase.
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 241; Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 81ff; <thecajuns.com>, "Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana"; Chartrand, The Forts of New France: Great Lakes, Plains, & Gulf Coast, 48-50, reproduction of new fort plans on p. 49; Kinnaird, "The Revolutionary Period, 1765-81," xvii, 43, 145-46; Pittman, European Settlements, 6, 37-39; Sayre, "Natchez Ethnohistory Revisited"; Usner, Lower Miss. Valley before 1783, 65-76, 158, 236; Daniel H. Usner, "From African Captivity to American Slavery," pp. 186, 195-96, & Patricia D. Woods, "The French and the Natchez Indians in Louisiana: 1700-1731," pp. 278-95, in Conrad, ed., The French Experience in LA.
The site of Baton Rouge, which is French for "red stick," got its name from Iberville and Bienville on their March 1699 exploration of the lower Mississippi. As they moved upstream through the territory of the Bayougoula Indians, the French explorers saw atop a bluff on the east bank a painted pole that the Bayougoula's hated enemies, the Houmas, had erected to serve as a boundary between their hunting grounds. The Indians called the pole "Istrouma," but the Frenchmen evidently were more fascinated with its color than its Indian name. Iberville and Bienville also could see what French explorers LaSalle and Tonty, coming from the other direction, had seen nearly two decades before, that the site of Baton Rouge marks the first--or last--bluff above the lower Mississippi delta. South of the red pole, all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, the only "high" ground along the river was a natural levee formed by hundreds of years of annual spring flooding.
The first Acadians who came to Louisiana in the 1760s did not settle around present-day Baton Rouge for the simple reason that the Treaty of Paris of February 1763 had granted the area to Britain. The French and later the Spanish authorities who controlled Louisiana forbid Acadians to settle anywhere outside of their territory, so the area north of Bayou Manchac up to Baton Rouge was off limits to Acadians. The British in fact built a stockade just north of the bayou, Fort Bute, the guns of which discouraged any Frenchman or Spaniard from venturing into the area. The British also built a fort at the southern edge of the Istrouma Bluff, Fort New Richmond, and laid out the town of New Richmond where the Houma Indians' old red pole had stood many decades before. The British even tried to clear Bayou Manchac of obstructions so that a shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico via the Amite River and lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain could bypass New Orleans and transform New Richmond into a major regional trading center.
When Spain entered the American Revolution on the side of France in 1779, Louisiana Governor Bernardo de Gálvez was determined to seize Baton Rouge. He and his militia, including Acadians, crossed Bayou Manchac in early September and captured Fort Bute without a fight. They then moved on to Baton Rouge, which offered stiff resistance, but to no avail. The surrender of Fort New Richmond in late September doomed British Fort Panmure upriver at Natchez. British power was broken on the lower Mississippi, and the name New Richmond faded into history.
In 1783, as a result of a second Treaty of Paris, this one ending the American war for independence, Baton Rouge now lay in Spanish territory, but by then the hundreds of Acadians who had come to Louisiana had settled elsewhere. In late 1785 and early 1786, however, the Spanish sent dozens of Acadian families recently arrived from France to the new river districts which they had created at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Feliciana. These districts lay on the east side of the river from Bayou Manchac up to the north bank of Bayou des Écores, which the Spanish called Rio Feliciana, today's Thompson Creek; Baton Rouge thus was the middle district. Most of the Acadians who chose to settle in the Baton Rouge District moved to its southern edge, in the vicinity of old Fort Bute, where the Spanish counted 145 of them in the summer of 1788. A smaller number may have settled farther north along the river within the boundaries of the present city. Others settled on the west bank of the river as far down as present-day Plaquemine. The Spanish abandoned Fort Bute in 1794, and the short-lived district at Manchac was absorbed by the District of Baton Rouge.
In the years that followed, more Acadians from St.-Gabriel to the south or Feliciana to the north moved along the east bank of the river to the Baton Rouge/Manchac area, or they crossed to the west bank and settled along the river as far up as Pointe Coupée. Some Acadians living west of the Mississippi moved to the east side of the river, but the size of the Acadian population there never came close to the numbers of Acadians who lived along the west bank.
Although a small church was built at the site of the present city in the late 1780s, Baton Rouge did not get a church parish of its own--St. Joseph--until 1792. Before then, priests from nearby Pointe Coupée or St.-Gabriel administered the sacraments to the settlers at Baton Rouge and Manchac.
The first church parish on the west side of the river, in West Baton Rouge Parish, was St. John the Baptist at Brusly, founded in 1841. Before that, Catholics who lived west of the river were served by priests from Baton Rouge or Pointe Coupee.
After the Louisiana Purchase, the Baton Rouge area west of the river became part of Iberville County in the Territory of Orleans. Baton Rouge itself, on the east side of the river, still lay in territory controlled by Spain. In 1807, when the Americans created Louisiana's first civil parishes, the area west of the river became Baton Rouge Parish. After Anglo rebels seized Spanish West Florida, including Baton Rouge, in the Bonnie Blue Flag revolt of 1810, the Americans created East Baton Rouge Parish from part of the old Spanish realm. In 1812, when Louisiana became the twelfth state of the American Union, the new state legislature renamed Baton Rouge Parish, West Baton Rouge Parish. The state legislature incorporated the town of Baton Rouge in 1817 and made it the "permanent" capital of Louisiana in 1849. Today, West Baton Rouge Parish is part of the 22-parish region known as Acadiana, but East Baton Rouge Parish, where fewer Acadians settled, is not considered a part of Acadiana.
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 207, 221; Conrad, ed., Readings in LA History, 18; Crouse, Lemoyne d'Iberville, 184; Kinnaird, "The Revolutionary Period, 1765-81," xxviii; Pittman, European Settlements, 26, 30-31; Taylor, J. G., Louisiana, 3; Voorhies, J., Some Late Eighteenth-Century Louisianians, 524-27; map.
West Baton Rouge Parish
Nueva Gálvez/San Bernardo
Bayou Terre-aux-Boeufs in present-day St. Bernard Parish is what is known as a refluent stream. This means that in the old days, when the Mississippi River was "allowed" to flood, the bayou, whose name means "land of oxen" in French, would divert water from the lower river into Black Bay on the Gulf. In the 1720s, not long after the founding of New Orleans, French landowners raised indigo and sugarcane south of the city. Half a century later, however, the Creole plantations had extended no farther downriver than the head of Bayou Terre-aux-Beoufs and nearby English Turn. The bayou also served as the southeastern boundary of the Isle of Orleans. (One of the French Creole landholders was Toutant Beauregard, ancestor of the famous Confederate general.)
The demographic history of the area changed dramatically in early 1779, when Governor Bernardo de Gálvez sent 42 families of Canary Islanders, called Isleños, recently recruited for service in Spanish Louisiana, to settle the "high" ground along Bayou Terre-aux-Boeufs. (The bayou may have taken its name from the wild steer the Iberville party had killed there in March 1699, or from the reputation of the Isleños as expert cattlemen.) The Isleños called their settlement at first La Conception and then later Nueva Gálvez in honor of the governor, but both names eventually gave way to San Bernardo, or St.-Bernard, the governor's patron saint. Of the four Isleños settlements that Gálvez established in South Louisiana in 1779, San Bernardo was the most successful, and the most enduring one, despite frequent flooding and the ravages of hurricanes. The governor ordered the building of a church at Nueva Gálvez soon after its establishment, but, until 1787, the settlers were ministered to by priests from St.-Louis church in New Orleans. In 1783, when more Isleños reached Louisiana, Spanish authorities sent most of them to San Bernardo, doubling the size of the settlement. Eventually, four distinct communities grew up along the bayou. Serving as commandant at San Bernardo from its inception was the French Creole aristocrat who had donated land for the settlement, Pierre de Marigny de Mandeville.
Until early 1786, the population of San Bernardo was almost exclusively Isleños. Early that year, however, several dozen Acadians chose to settle there, and San Bernardo, too, became an Acadian community. These Acadian exiles had come to Louisiana only a few weeks before aboard two of the Seven Ships from France that the Spanish government had chartered to bring more settlers to their Louisiana colony. Nearly 1,600 Acadians made the voyage aboard the Seven Ships, and most of them chose to settle near another Isleños settlement, Valenzuéla, on upper Bayou Lafourche. The hand full of Acadians who elected to settle at San Bernardo came from the ships L'Amitié, which reached New Orleans in November, and La Caroline, which arrived in December 1785.
San Bernardo became an exceptional Acadian community. Unlike the other Acadian settlements along the river above New Orleans, in the valley of the Lafourche, or west of the Atchafalaya Basin, where the Acadians outnumbered all other ethnic groups and Acadian folkways determined the direction of the area's cultural evolution, in San Bernardo the Spanish-speaking Isleños always outnumbered the French-speaking Acadians. San Bernardo Acadians inevitably intermarried with their Hispanic neighbors and were slowly absorbed into the Isleños culture. So much so that when the Louisiana state legislature officially recognized the Acadiana region in 1971, St. Bernard Parish was not included in the 22-parish area. Still, the Isleños of St. Bernard Parish today are often called "Spanish Cajuns."
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 197; Din, Canary Islanders of LA, chap. 4; <losislenos.org/history.htm>; map.
Bayou des Écores/Feliciana
This settlement lay along a bayou north of Baton Rouge at the boundary of today's West Feliciana and East Baton Rouge parishes. The French called the stream Bayou des Écores, the Spanish Rio Feliciana, and the English Thompson Creek, its present name. When the British controlled the area in the 1760s and 1770s, they established a military post near the creek's confluence with the Mississippi that fell to Spanish forces in the summer of 1779. After the American Revolution, both Spain and the United States claimed the area.
Governor Miró was determined to start a settlement there, American claims be damned. In 1785, he created the District of Feliciana on the east side of the river above Baton Rouge, with its seat at present-day Port Hudson. To populate the new district, Miró coaxed 56 Acadian families to go to Feliciana. The Acadians had just arrived from France aboard La Ville d'Archangel, the sixth of the Seven Ships, which had reached New Orleans in early December. They reached Bayou des Écores in February 1786 and built a church on a triangular-shaped plot of land measuring 62 arpents and facing the bayou, five miles above its confluence with the Mississippi. They also built a presbytery and laid out a cemetery. The New Orleans bishop assigned a Spanish Capuchin for the new parish, but a shortage of priests in the colony led to the priest's transfer. The new Acadian settlement lay directly across the Mississippi from Pointe Coupée, so priests from that parish crossed the river and administered the sacraments to the Acadians along the bayou for most of the years they lived there.
The Acadian settlement at Bayou des Écores was doomed from the start. It was a good distance from the older, larger Acadian communities on the river above New Orleans. As a result, some of the La Ville d'Archangel Acadians drifted south towards the Acadian Coast soon after they reached the settlement. Spanish officials counted a number of them, in fact, at Baton Rouge and at Fort Bute on Bayou Manchac, south of Baton Rouge, as early as July 1788.
Two especially destructive hurricanes hit lower Louisiana in August 1793 and again in August 1794. The resulting floods devastated the bayou community. These disasters, combined with the earlier loss of Acadian families and the lack of a priest to minister to their spiritual needs, compelled the Acadians who had remained at Bayou des Écores to abandon the settlement. More of them joined their kinsmen at Baton Rouge and Manchac, and many of them relocated to upper Bayou Lafourche.
Another motivation to leave were the political tensions over who actually "owned" the Feliciana region. After the American Revolution ended in 1783, Anglo Americans began moving into the Baton Rouge area and spurned Spanish efforts to control them. After December 1803, the Americans claimed that the swath of Mississippi delta north of Bayou Manchac was part of what they had purchased from Napoléon, but the Spanish insisted that the territory north of Bayou Manchac, including Baton Rouge and Feliciana, still belonged to their West Florida colony with its capital at Pensacola. If Acadians still remained along Bayou des Écores after 1803, this political brouhaha would have been enough to send them packing; Acadians hated nothing more than the kind of political instability that had plagued them back in Acadia. By 1804, the church the Acadians had built at Bayou des Écores "had fallen into ruin and was demolished."
As a result of the Acadians abandoning the area, the cultural future of the Feliciana country was determined not by francophone Acadian refugees whom Spain had sent there in 1786, but by Anglo Americans who rose up against Spanish rule beneath their Bonnie Blue Flag in 1810.
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 206-07, 229, 238, 254, quote from p. 254; Brasseaux, Acadian to Cajun, 180; Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 110; Brasseaux, Scattered to the Wind, 69; Dr. Brasseaux's essay at <www.acadianmemorial.org/english/ensembleencoreset.html>; BRDR, 1b:xiv; <www.thecajuns.com/lahurricanes.htm>; map.
According to Baudier, pp. 207, 229, 238, an Irish priest, Father Michael O'Reilly, was assigned to the Feliciana Parish in the 1790s, but "By 1804, this church, built in 1785, was 'in ruins and demolished'." Fr. O'Reilly may have served at the new parish at Bayou Sara, not at Bayou des Éc6res. It is significant that no parish registers for Bayou des Écores exist. It may be that the dearth of priests for the parish led to no registers being created. Records of Bayou des Écores baptisms, marriage, and burials can be found in the Pointe Coupee registers, and some in the Baton Rouge church registers after 1793.
Bayou Lafourche is not a tributary of the Mississippi River but rather an effluence or distributary, meaning that centuries ago the bayou was the lower main channel of the great river. Indians settled the site of present-day Donaldsonville, at the confluence of Bayou Lafourche and the Mississippi, probably since prehistoric times. During an exploration of the lower Mississippi in early 1700, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville, the future governor of French Louisiana, named the site Lafourche; French for "the fork". At that time, the Chitimacha (also spelled Chitamacha and Chetimacha) lived along the banks of upper Bayou Lafourche but occasionally camped as far up as "the fork." In late 1706, a war party of Chitimacha murdered a French missionary, Father Jean-François Buisson de St.-Cosme, and several of his French companions, on the Mississippi near "the fork." With his Indian allies, including the Houma, Commandant Bienville launched a campaign against the Chitimacha that lasted a decade. In 1716, a peace treaty led to the removal of what was left of the Chitimacha to the swamps around Grand Lake in the lower Atchafalaya Basin, away from French settlements along the river. During the long conflict, the French sold many of the captured Chitimacha into slavery. Meanwhile, the Houma, whose loyalty to the French had never wavered, built a village at "the fork" and also occupied former Chitimacha land along Bayou Lafourche. Later in the colonial period, a small European settlement arose at "the fork" which the French called Lafourche des Chitimachas. The Spanish established a post there in the late 1760s.
In 1764 and again in 1765 and 1766, Acadian refugees settled at nearby Cabanocé/St.-Jacques, or the First Acadian Coast, downriver from Lafourche des Chitimachas. Some of the Cabanocé Acadians on the right, or west, bank of the river settled above and below the village post at "the fork." In 1767, Spanish authorities established a new settlement upriver from "the fork" on the left, or east, bank of the Mississippi that Acadians called St.-Gabriel d'Iberville and the Spanish called Manchac. Expansion of the St.-Gabriel settlement to the north was blocked by British holdings north of Bayou Manchac, so St.-Gabriel Acadians crossed the river and settled along the west bank north of "the fork." This came to be called the Second Acadian Coast.
In the fall of 1768, Acadians on the river, along with German Coast settlers and French Creoles from New Orleans, participated in an uprising against Spain's first governor of Louisiana, the unpopular Antonio de Ulloa. Spanish authorities sent a large force from Cuba to suppress the revolt. Ulloa's successor, General Alejandro O'Reilly, who crushed the revolt, re-evaluated the colony's sad state of defense and created militia units for Louisiana's various districts in 1769. All able-bodied males between the ages of 16 and 50 were required to serve in the militia, and future Spanish land grants were to be based on militia service. O'Reilly's order was not popular with the Acadians, many of whom remembered similar treatment at the hands of British governors back in Old Acadia. O'Reilly appointed Louis Judice, former co-commandant at Cabanocé/St.-Jacques, to command the militia company for the new district at Lafourche des Chitimachas, above St.-Jacques.
In August 1770, Commandant Judice conducted a census of the Acadian settlers in his district and counted 84 families. By 1772, the area around Lafourche des Chitimachas had become populated enough for the Spanish to create a new church parish, which they called La Parroquia de la Ascension de Nuestro Senor Jesu Christo de La Fourche de Los Tchitimacha. As a result, the Acadians called the area around the church Ascension. Judice served as commandant of the Lafourche des Chitimachas or Ascension District well into the 1790s. In April 1777, nearly seven years after his first census, Judice counted the same 84 Acadian families at Ascension and presented his Spanish superiors with these figures: 61 men, 67 women, 128 boys, 92 girls, 586 arpents, 137 slaves, 1,178 horned cattle, 158 horses, 80 sheep, 882 swine, 130 arms, 1 free savage, 12 goats, and 3 kids.
In early 1779, Spanish Governor Bernardo de Gálvez established a new post a few miles southwest of Ascension, on upper Bayou Lafourche, near present-day Belle Rose. He called the new settlement Villa de Valenzuéla after the family of his aunt, the wife of José de Gálvez, Spanish minister of the Indies. The first settlers at Valenzuéla were Isleños from the Canary Islands who were just arriving in the colony. The first commandant at Valenzuéla was Lieutenant Gilbert-Antoine de St. Maxent, Governor Gálvez's father-in-law (and the merchant who had been tasked by French officials to redeem Canadian card money for the newly-arrived Acadians back in 1765). St. Maxent quarreled constantly with the commandant at nearby Ascension, Louis Judice, who claimed that Valenzuéla was part of his district. The Spanish gave an Acadian, Anselme Blanchard of St.-Gabriel, the contract to clear the land and build the houses for the first settlers at Valenzuéla. Blanchard, a captain in the Acadian Coast militia, succeeded St. Maxent as commandant at Valenzuéla in August 1781. He served in that post until 1784, when Isleños complaints led to his removal. Nicolas Verret, fils, whose father had served as co-commandant at Cabanocé/St.-Jacques with Nicolas, fils's uncle-by-marriage, Louis Judice, succeeded Blanchard as commandant at Valenzuéla. Nicolas, fils was only 33 years old when he assumed his duties as commandant.
In 1784, the year of Verret's appointment, Governor Estevan Miró ordered the redrawing of the the boundaries between the Ascension and Valenzuéla districts. As a result of the new survey, the district of Ascension or Lafourche des Chitimachas ran not only along the river above and below "the fork" but also along both banks of Bayou Lafourche for the first 40 arpents from the confluence with the Mississippi where the Ascension church stood. (An arpent, in this case, was equal to 192 feet or 64 yards in the English measure, so 40 arpents of length would have been about 7,680 feet, or just short of a mile and a half, though the curvature of the bayou made it difficult to set the exact boundary between the two districts.) The Valenzuéla District ran the rest of the way down the bayou, the lower part of which was uninhabited only by Indians.
In late 1785 and early 1786, over 250 of the Acadian families who had just arrived from France chose to settle "at Bayou de la Fourche." Their tiny farms soon lined the banks of the upper bayou. Some of the Acadians lived among the Isleños at Valenzuéla, but most of them settled below the Canary Islanders as far down as present-day Thibodaux.
The sudden arrival of over 850 Acadians dwarfed the original Isleños community. A census of the Valenzuéla District in mid-1784, before the Acadians arrived, had counted only 174 persons in 46 families, 150 of them Isleños in 40 families. By January 1788, when a "general census of the inhabitants established in Lafourche" was taken, Commandant Verret reported that the population of the Valenzuéla District had grown to 1,075 settlers, most of them Acadians from France. In January 1789, Verret counted 1,033 persons in Valenzuéla. Two years later, in January 1791, he counted 1,191. As more Acadians from the crowded river districts moved to Bayou Lafourche to find fresh land and to join their cousins already there, families from the nearby German Coasts moved south into the valley and allowed their children to marry Isleños and Acadians. Spaniards from Màlaga, Canadians, Irishmen, Italians, and even Anglo Americans joined the Isleños, Acadians, French Creoles, and Germans in populating the Distritto de La Fourche, as the Valenzuéla District also was called.
In April 1793, thanks to the dramatic increase in population, Church authorities established a second parish in the area. The Spanish called it La Parroquia de la Assumption de Nuestra Senora de La Fourche de los Chetimachas de Valenzuéla, or the Church of the Assumption. It was built at present-day Plattenville. By the late 1790s, settlers were cultivating the fertile natural levee along Bayou Lafourche for dozens of miles below the church. In April 1797, Nicolas Verret, still commandant on the bayou, counted 1,797 habitants in his district, the great majority of them Acadians. In January 1798, residents in Valenzuéla numbered 1,693. None of the river districts or even the Attakapas region could boast such a large Acadian population.
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the arrival of more Anglo Americans that followed the purchase inevitably led to name changes in the area. Ascension became the town of Donaldson in 1806 and Donaldsonville in 1823. Thanks to the machinations of its founder, William Donaldson, the town served briefly as the state capital from 1829 to 1831 before the legislature moved the seat of government to Baton Rouge. The name Valenzuéla disappeared. Ascension survived as the name of one of the 19 original civil parishes created by the legislature of the Territory of Orleans in 1807.
The same legislation also established Assumption Parish just down bayou from Ascension. The seat for Assumption Parish was eventually placed at Napoleonville, formerly called Canal. In 1839, Church authorities created a new ecclesiastical parish, St. Élisabeth, at Paincourtville, a few miles up bayou from Plattenville, on land donated by Miss Élisabeth Dugas along the west bank of the Lafourche. In the mid-1850s, St. Philomena Parish arose down bayou at Brulee Labadie, now Labadieville, near the civil parish line; the first mass in the area had been held in the home of Widow Zacharie Boudreaux in the spring of 1842, soon after Brulee Labadie had become a mission of the Thibodaux church, but St. Philomena did not officially become a parish until 1855.
Interior Parish, farther down Bayou Lafourche, also was one of the original civil parishes of 1807. In 1812, with the creation of the State of Louisiana, the legislature renamed Interior Parish, Lafourche Interior Parish. In 1817, Church authorities founded St. Joseph Parish at the site of a trading post in Lafourche Interior Parish, Thibodauxville, named after local planter and politician Henry Schuyler Thibodaux, who served briefly as governor of the State of Louisiana in late 1824. The legislature incorporated Thibodauxville as a town in 1830, and it became simply Thibodaux in 1838 (the town did not formally adopt its current name, the spelling favored by its namesake as well as its residents, until 1918). In 1853, the state legislature dropped "Interior" from the parish's name, and it became simply Lafourche Parish.
In 1822, the state legislature carved a new civil parish, Terrebonne, which means "good earth," from the lower end of Lafourche Interior Parish. The original seat of Terrebonne Parish was at the confluence of Bayous Cane and Terrebonne but was moved to the village of Houma on Bayou Terrebonne in 1834. Houma, named after the Indians who had moved from the Mississippi to Bayou Cane during the late colonial period, was founded in 1810 (some sources say 1834) but was not incorporated until 1848. Church authorities created St. Francis de Sales Parish at Houma in 1847. Today, St. Francis de Sales serves as cathedral and St. Joseph as co-cathedral for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, which Church authorities formed from part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1977. Reverend Warren L. Boudreaux, a native of Berwick, near Morgan City, and an Acadian descendant, served as the first bishop of the new diocese.
Sources: Baudier, The Catholic Church in LA, 18-19, 192-93, 220-21; Brasseaux, French, Cajun, Creole, Houma, 120-21; Davis, W. C., The Pirates Lafitte, 104; De Ville, Acadian Coast, 1779, Introduction by Kathleen M. Stagg, 8; Din, Canary Islanders of LA, chap. 5; DLB, 810; Frederick, "In Defense of Crown & Colony," 397; Hébert, D, South LA Records, Foreword by Albert J. Robichaux, Jr., vi-vii, 139-40; Kniffen et al., Indian Tribes of LA, 20; Robichaux, Bayou Lafourche, 1770-98, Introduction by Henri J. Molaison, 8, 19, 48, 110, 150, 181; Robichaux, LA Census & Militia Lists, 1770-89, 146; Winzerling, Acadian Odyssey, 136, 146, 151; map.
Ascension, Assumption, Lafourche, and Terrebonne parishes
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