|Supplement to the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, September 29, 1994
REMEMBERING OUR ACADIAN HERITAGE
by Jim Bradshaw
The Acadians were among the first Europeans to settle in North America - before the settlement at Jamestown, before the Mayflower, before most of the settlements that we read about in the history books.
Their exile from Nova Scotia, wanderings throughout the world, and eventual settlement in Louisiana form the formative cultural memory of the Cajuns of Acadiana and of the adoptive culture of many others who have come here to stay.
City Editor Jim Bradshaw tells the story of that history, dispersion, and settlement in this special edition in The Daily Advertiser.
THE FIRST ACADIANS
Modern historians have pretty well shot down the idea that Frenchmen were the first white men to set foot in America, and that one of them led the way for Columbus. But it could have happened.
According to the discredited story, a French navigator from Dieppe named Cousin was sailing off the coast of Africa in 1488, four years before Columbus' voyage, when he was forced westward by winds and tides until he reached an unknown shore. On board the ship was a mutinous seaman named Pinzon who, after the voyage, was thrown out of the French Navy. Pinzon went to Spain, met Columbus, told him of his discovery, and sailed with him in 1492.
There is not much evidence to make us think the story is true, but who knows? We do know of other instances when ships were blown far to the west and onto strange shores.
There is, however, good evidence that the first Europeans to establish a permanent settlement in North America were Frenchmen. They were our ancestral Acadians. And they, like many of us, were fishermen.
We think that Norman, Breton, and Basque fishermen were fishing Newfoundland's Grand Banks as early as 1497. After John and Sebastian Cabot explored the area in that year, they swore that cod were so plentiful that the vast schools sometimes halted the progress of their ships. There was no need for hook line or bait. It was enough to dip them up with baskets, they said.
The first reliable records of any French ship on the Grand Banks are those of Jean Denys of Honfleur, who fished there in 1504, and of Thomas Aubert of Dieppe, who was there two years later. In 1507 a Norman fisherman returned to Rouen with an extra cargo of seven savages, mostly likely Beathunk Indians. We know of an early Breton fishing voyage by La Jacquette of Dahouet because of a shipboard brawl. The master, Guillaume Dobel, alleged that the ship was carrying too much sail. He called the skipper, a man named Picart, an idiot, and the quartermaster, named Garrouche, a veall, apparently a serious insult.
Garrouche dropped the tiller, roared up to the quarterdeck, and collected himself a punch in the jaw from Dobel--who then drew a knife and chased him overboard. The crew tried to rescue Garrouche, but he drowned. Dobel made the best restitution he could to the widow. He married her.
The early fishermen who visited the Grand Banks made two trips each year. The first was in late January or early February, and braving winter westerlies in the North Atlantic, they returned to France as soon as their holds were full. They sailed again in April or May and went home in September.
At first, these fishermen cleaned the cod aboard ship and stored them between thick layers of salt. But it was not long before they found that cod could be sun-dried on land, and that cured cod tasted better and was easier to store. The fishermen began to go ashore each summer, to build makeshift villages for themselves and drying stands for their fish. By 1519, the French, the Portuguese, and the English had set up depots on Newfoundland, on the Acadian peninsula on Cape Breton Island, and on the St. Lawrence River.
Salt fish became big business, and they were sold wholesale in France by the thousands. In 1616 Michel Le Bail of Breton sold more than 17,000 codfish to local merchants at Rouen. By 1529 the Normans were shipping Newfoundland codfish to England. On just one day in 1542, no fewer than 60 ships departed from Rouen alone for the Grand Bank. In 1578 there were 250 French vessels there, and 200 from other nations.
But, except for the temporary villages, the French made no attempt at settlement. For one thing, they were being kept busy with wars on the continent.
Jacques Cartier, lured by Indian tales of gold and of a Northwest Passage to the riches of Cathay, made voyages to the Canadian wilds in 1534 and 1535 and attempted a short-lived settlement. But a bitter winter and equally bitter Indians ended that. The Sieur de Robeval tried to revive that colony, but met even less success. Then official France got itself involved in another war and forgot about North America for awhile.
But the fishermen kept coming.
By the middle 1500s, the fishermen, still drying their cod ashore, had begun trading with the Indians for a rich harvest of furs. The furs found a ready market back home and official interest in the New World picked up in direct relation to the value of the fur and fish trade.
It was in the spring, April 7, 1604, that Pierre de Gua, Sieur de Monts, set off with Samuel Champlain and a tiny fleet to sail around the southern tip of the Acadian peninsula. He discovered the Annapolis Valley, charted the Bay of Fundy, and, on miniscule Saint Croix island, near the mouth of the river that today divides New Brunswick from Maine, put down a colony of 79 men.
Listen to historian Francis Parkman describe the place:
The rock-fenced islet was covered with cedars, and when the tide was out the shoals were dark with the swash of sea-weed ... (Here), in their leisure moments, the Frenchmen, we are told, amused themselves with detaching the limpets from the stones, as a savory addition to their fare. But there was little leisure at St. Croix. Soldiers, sailors and artisans betook themselves to their task. Before the winter closed in, the northern end of the island was covered with buildings, surrounding a square, where a solitary tree had been left standing. On the right was a spacious home, well built, and surmounted by one of those enormous roofs characteristic of the time. This was the lodging of DeMonts. Behind it, and near the water, was a long, covered gallery, for labor or amusement in foul weather. Champlain and the Sieur d'Orville ... built a house for themselves nearly opposite that of DeMonts; and the remainder of the square was occupied by storehouses, a magazine, workshops, lodgings for gentlemen and artisans, and a barrack for the soldiers, the whole enclosed with a palisade. Adjacent there was an attempt at a garden ... but nothing would grow in the sandy soil. There was a cemetery, too, and a small rustic chapel on a projecting point of rock.
In the summertime, the island was very pretty and cozy. But winter there was something entirely different.
Vegetables would not grow in the sandy soil, even in summer, so the colonists had to plant their garden and sow their wheat on the mainland. Their spring went dry, so fresh water had to be brought from the mainland as well. So also with firewood.
The first snow fell on October 6. By December 3 ice floes began to cut off the Frenchmen from the mainland garden, woodlots and water. A bitter wind blew constantly from the northeast, making it impossible to keep warm. Food froze hard, then rotted. Scurvy began to take its toll.
Thirty-five of the 79 men were dead by the following spring, when DeMonts decided to move his colony across the Bay of Fundy to a place he named Port Royal. It would become one of the first permanent settlements in North America.
All of the buildings on Saint Croix Island were taken down and freighted, plank by plank, across the Bay of Fundy. There, at a place later named Lower Grenville, the same materials were used to build a single habitation in the form of a hollow square.
This time, the habitation was well sited, fronting on the Annapolis Basin, its back protected from winter Northers by a range of 500 foot hills.
The Acadians had settled in to stay, and that was a first.
As another historian, J.A. Doyle, put it:
For the first time there was to be seen in America a colony of Europeans, not a mere band of adventurers or explorers, but a settled community subsisting by their own labor.
These colonists would call the place L'Acadie, a name derived from the work of the ancient Virgil, who gave it to an idyllic--if imaginary--land inhabited by simple, virtuous people. The name had been popularized in the 1400s in a novel by Jacopo Sanazzaro, which opens with a tribute to a grove of "uncommon and extreme beauty" in a place called Arcadia.
There is another theory about the name--that it was derived from the Micmac Indian word quoddy or cadie, which meant "fertile" or "beautiful landscape." But folks who believe Micmacs on the land over an ancient Greek's imagination have no romance in their souls.
Most of the Sainte-Croix community was rebuilt at Port Royal. A new kitchen anchored one corner of the habitation. There were lodgings for sailors and for the few workmen who had survived the winter just past. There were separate apartments for the colony's leaders, a salle d'armes for the soldiers, and two platforms facing the water for mounting ships' cannons.
The habitation fronted on the well-protected Annapolis Basin, its back faced a range of hills 500 to 700 feet high, giving protection from winter northers.
In this quiet valley, fed by nine rivers, the settlers became more confident that this time they would be able to stay.
They also found the friendship of Membertou, the local Indian chief. He allowed himself to be baptized, became a trusted friend to the Frenchmen, and saw to it that they would not starve.
When all of the buildings were in place, the Sieur de Monts sailed in the fall for France, to find more backing and to bring souvenirs to the king (including a live caribou, a live moose calf, and bright bird feathers). He also brought back a shipload of furs--something much more intriguing to the court than salt fish.
As an example of how the Frenchmen made themselves at home in this cozy valley, Samuel Champlain created a little garden near the habitation, complete with a gazebo, where he could go to relax. He made a fresh-water pond for live trout and, on the harbor's edge, he created a "little reservoir" of salt water to keep sea perch and rock cod alive.
"We often went here, " he would write, "to pass time, and it seemed to please the little birds of the neighborhood; for they assembled there in great numbers and made such a pleasant warbling and twittering, of which I have never heard the like."
The winter of 1605-1606 was not as severe as the preceding one. Snow fell first on December 20. Scurvy took its toll. Twelve of the 45 men died--including the first black man known to have come to New France. His name was Mathiueu de Costa or d'Acosta. He had been to Acadie before in a Portuguese ship and had learned the Micmac language. A Rouen merchant had kidnaped him in Portugal or the East Indies and sold or lent him to de Monts as an interpreter.
But things were better despite the hardships. Membertou's men brought meat and the French had enough wheat to make bread. Only the wine gave out.
Champlain makes it clear in his journals that conditions were much easier. They seemed to have plenty of food, and even dined together like veritable gourmets, in the Ordre de Bons Temps(Order of Good Cheer), which Champlain created. In the Order, each man was chief steward for the day and was expected to fill the table with the finest fare he could come up with. As a result, the long refectory table in the Great Hall at Port Royal always had fresh fish and a variety of game, even rich desserts.
On January 14, 1606, all hands had a picnic in the open air. Pretty soon, trout and smelt began running up the brooks. Kitchen gardens were prepared in March for May planting. A water-powered grist mill was built on the little river hat flows into the Annapolis Basin.
But even so, in 1605, the colony had barely begun. European cultivation of the land had not yet started, and even after a much milder winter, the spring of 1606 still brought a steady watch for ships from France. The pioneers still needed more people and new materials if their settlement was to become more than just a tiny trading center.
And, still, too, the colony's leaders were not entirely certain that this was the place that would be their permanent home.
Neither, apparently, was the French court.
On Ascension Day, May 24, 1607, a sail appeared before Port Royal. The ship bore a messenger who brought bad news. De Monts' monopoly had been revoked. River fur traders had complained to the king. De Monts' domain, that ran from what is today Philadelphia to Newfoundland, would be opened up to all comers.
De Monts gave up. His colony had begun to show promise. But now, merchants and shipbuilders from Dieppe and La Rochelle had succeeded in having his rights to Acadie annulled. He left what rights and properties he continued to hold to Jean de Biencourt, Sieur de Poutrincourt, a nobleman from Picardy who was a substantial investor in the colony and had come there with the first expedition.
Poutrincourt moved quickly. He sailed to France in August 1607 to find new financial backers.
It would take two years after which he returned with his two sons, Charles de Biencourt and Jacques de Salazar, as well as Father Jesse Fleche, Louis Hebert, Claude de la Tour de Saint-Etienne and the 17-year-old son of the governor of Dieppe--the governor having helped to finance this new expedition. Poutrincourt also brought 23 colonists.
On July 28, 1610, Poutrincourt sent his son, Biencourt, back to France to find more supplies for the expanding colony--a mission that would become more difficult by the day.
Religious rivalries in France-- as eventually, did all European rivalries--would now spill into North America. The Jesuits had gained the king's ear, and they wanted a piece of the Acadian action.
The king decided to send two Jesuit missionaries, Fathers Ennemond Masse and Pierre Biard, back with Biencourt. Protestant merchants in Dieppe who had financed Poutrincourt vigorously opposed the Jesuits. Instead of providing more credit and more supplies, they pulled out--and called in the loans they had already made.
Poutrincourt was a good Catholic, but he did not want the Jesuits in the colony, either. The order was Spanish in origin and in policy, and he suspected they had more on their minds than saving Micmac souls.
But the Jesuits had the ear of the king and were influential in his court. Poutrincourt would have no choice. The intrigue reached well beyond his resources to command.
Neither de Monts nor Poutrincourt had demanded a particular religious belief from the people they had dealt with. The Edict of Nantes, which King Henry IV had proclaimed in 1598, had established religious tolerance--or at least its appearance in France. This did not mean unity, but only a "separate but equal" doctrine between Protestants and Catholics.
There was still a major division between Protestant and Catholic in France, a division that tangled politics as well as worship. Neither Protestant nor Catholic were completely happy with the way things were. Poutrincourt found himself caught in the middle. He had to deal with the Protestant merchants of the Atlantic seaports, but he also had to deal with the Catholic king.
The assassination of Henry IV in 1610 made things worse. Henry's widow, Maria de Medici, turned to the Jesuits for support. Through her, they would work their political will.
Young Charles de Biencourt, caught in this business-religious-political tug-of-war while his family waited for supplies, turned in desperation to Antoinette de Pons, Marquess of Guercheville, who had influence at the court. She paid off the Huguenots and bought their Acadian rights, which she promptly turned over to the Jesuits Masse and Biard. In addition to their religious influence, the two would now become Poutrincourt's business partners.
On January 26, 1611, Biencourt finally raised anchor in Dieppe aboard the Grace de Dieu, bound for Acadie. His mother, Jeanne de Salazar, was also aboard ship, and would so become one of the first European women to travel to North America. The Poutrincourts, Fathers Masse and Biard, and 36 men spent four months at sea, buffeted by the ice and winds of a winter in the North Atlantic.
But the real storm came when they landed in Acadie. It became immediately clear that there would be a conflict of interest and of authority between the Poutrincourts and the Jesuits.
Poutrincourt decided to return to France, hoping that he might make a new agreement with Madame de Guercheville. She would not be swayed. She stuck by her Jesuit confessors--who were fighting ever more bitterly with Poutrincourt's sons even as he bargained with the Marquess. When she heard this news, she decided to withdraw her support entirely from the Port Royal colony and to start one of her own.
For the entire year of 1612, Port Royal was without assistance of any kind from France. It survived, but barely.
Then on May 12, 1613, Le Fleur de May, a ship equipped by Madame de Guercheville, sailed into the Port Royal harbor. The bad news was that the ship made off with everything that it could carry, "even the church ornaments given by the Queen." The good news was that it also carried away Fathers Baird and Masse.
Port Royal was left to fend for itself. The Jesuits and Le Fleur de May headed for a place then called Mont-Deserts de Pentagoet (today it is Penobscot, Maine), there to found a new colony which was called Saint-Sauver.
It was an idea that the settlers in Port Royal.could live with, even if it meant a struggle. But British neighbors, who by this time had settled in Virginia, had another view of the matter. And that would set off a struggle of a different sort.
If rivalries in court were not enough, the Acadian colony would soon be beset by rivalries closer to home. The Atlantic Seaboard was about to become more crowded. In 1608 the French would establish Quebec. The Pilgrims would land at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Six years later the Dutch would put down in a place now known as Manhattan.
Settlement of what was to become the United States and Canada would continue to pick up speed: John Winthrop founded Boston in 1630; Samuel Champlain set up Trois-Rivieres, Canada, in 1634. South Carolina would be settled in 1663. William Penn established Pennsylvania in 1681.
The Spanish still claimed much of North America, but the Atlantic Seaboard was being preempted by others.
Spanish power had declined rapidly after 1550. Her armies were defeated by the French, and a revolt by the Netherlands--secretly aided by England--had drained Spain of strength. By the late 1500s, English "sea dogs" such as John Hawkins and Francis Drake were seizing Spanish ships wherever they met them.
Queen Elizabeth sent the plunder to the Tower of London, to be "restored to King Philip III." Needless to say, it never got back to Spain, and the Queen herself went down to the Thames to knight Drake on the deck of his ship. He had made the first English voyage around the world (1557 to 1580) and had returned laden to the gunwales with spoils taken from Spanish ships.
The raids, of course, angered Spanish King Philip, and he was made angrier by the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth's Catholic rival for the English throne. He assembled a massive fleet of ships and sent them to overthrow Elizabeth, take her island and restore Catholicism there. But the Spanish Armada was defeated, some say by luck, some say by skill, some say by the chance happenings of a storm. Indeed, the ships that managed to escape British guns were driven ashore and broken up by a terrific storm.
The defeat of the armada successfully defended the British isles, but it did more: It opened the seas to British shipping, and North America to British colonization.
Until then, England hadn't made much of an attempt at colonization. It was busy building a strong state at home--and, besides, there was more profit in letting the Spanish do the work, than plundering the treasure fleet. Still, the queen had given a charter to Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1578, giving him the right to "inhabit and possess all remote and heathen lands not in the actual possession of any Christian princes. Gilbert was lost at sea after an abortive attempt to found a colony on the coast of Newfoundland.
His half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, inherited the charter. In 1585 he sent more than 100 men under Captain Ralph Lane to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. Raleigh named the land Virginia, after the virgin queen, but--reminiscent of the French at Fort Caroline--Lane's adventurers started hunting for gold instead of settling down to work. They quarreled among themselves and with the Indians, and finally sailed home after only a year.
After a second failure Raleigh sponsored a third voyage in 1587, and, against his orders, the settlers landed at the same place. Virginia Dare was born there, the first American-born child of English parents. But that was apparently the end of the good news. What became of this lost colony on Roanoke Island is still a mystery. A relief expedition in 1591 found the island completely deserted.
After James I came to the English thrown, Raleigh was accused of plotting against the king, and was eventually executed. But Raleigh's investors decided to try again at colonizing North America. There were two groups of interested merchants, one in Plymouth and one in London. In 1606 the London group received a charter from the king, giving them the exclusive right to colonize between the 34th and 38th parallels (roughly between today's Charleston, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C.). They intended to found a trading post.
Now, in the spring of 1607, as the French were recalling de Monts, three small ships, the Goodspeed, Discovery, and Sarah Constant, carrying 120 men sailed into Chesapeake Bay and up the James River. The colonists ran into big trouble from the moment they landed and began to build Jamestown.
Though beautiful to look at, the site was low and swampy. It was surrounded by thick woods which were hard to clear for cultivation, and it was threatened by hostile Indians under Chief Powhatan. The settlers could barely feed themselves, and the promoters in London complicated things by demanding a quick return on their investment.
When the men in Jamestown should have been growing food, they were required to hunt for gold and pile up lumber, tar, pitch and iron ore for outgoing vessels. Inbound ships brought new colonists, but not enough supplies. Leadership in the colony was divided among the members of a council, who quarreled constantly.
Finally Captain John Smith took charge. He may have turned things around, but was seriously burned and returned to England for treatment.
Jamestown was saved when its promoters created the Virginia Company, selling stock to anyone willing to hazard money, and giving tools and equipment to planters willing to migrate. The company began to build an agricultural economy as well as a trading post.
With these better beginnings, a new charter was granted in 1609 and the boundaries of Virginia were redefined to include 400 miles along the Atlantic Coast. The English said this included Penobscot, Maine.
The French had been in Penobscot little more than a month when Samuel Argall, "admiral of Virginia," sailed into the place with a fleet from Jamestown (by now a thriving settlement with several thousand colonists). Argall had been in the area before, in 1610, when his ship was driven there by a storm. But this time he was here by design.
He had instructions from the Virginia Company to make certain that no Frenchmen were encroaching on the Company's lands. It was an assignment he took quickly.
When he had been this way before, he'd seen no signs of any Frenchmen. He didn't think he'd find any this time, and looked on the expedition as a fishing trip.
He was surprised, indeed, to sight the new little colony on Mount Desert, but he was true to his orders. He was to prevent French colonization, and he did. He put the torch to the colony, killed anyone who resisted, took a handful of prisoners back to Virginia on a captured French ship, and set Father Masse and 15 others adrift in an open boat (from which they would be rescued by fishermen).
Argall's success encouraged Thomas Dale, governor of Virginia. He decided to rid the entire Atlantic Coast of the French. In October 1613, while Charles de Blencourt was in the interior trading with the Micmac Indians, and while the settlers were fending fields five or six miles up the Annapolis Valley, Argall's fleet struck Port Royal. He burned the settlement and made off with cattle and whatever provisions he found.
Biencourt and his colonists immediately began building temporary shelters, working against time as winter drew near, storing artichokes and other native roots and vegetables. Hunting, never a sport, became a battle of survival as quarters and sides of moose and deer were put aside. Luckily for the settlers, Argall had not found a flour mill farther up the Annapolis. Fortunately, too, the Micmacs shared what they could.
The Argall raids were the first clash in what would become a long struggle between France and England over who would control the Atlantic Seaboard, although nothing much came of it at the time. The two countries were then technically at peace, so they exchanged stern diplomatic notes and clucked across the English Channel at each other. The upshot: The English gave back the French ship they'd taken but refused to make restitution for loss of life and property.
Pourtrincourt would return to France to seek, once again, the supplies he would need to rebuild his colony. He would find a France torn worse than ever by religious strife. It would be the death of him. He never returned to Acadie.
His son, Charles de Biencourt took up the struggle to carry on what his father had started. He and his colonists had no further connections with France except through contact with the Norman, Breton and Basque fishermen who had been plying the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence for centuries.
Biencourt set up a series of observation posts along the coast and used them to signal ships when he had furs to trade in exchange for ammunition and other provisions. In 1616 he was able to ship some 25,000 pelts back to France from trading posts at Port Royal, Cape Sable, Penobscot and the St. John River.
Port Royal thus became temporarily more of a trading post than an agricultural colony. Cut off from investment capital in France, Biencourt and his lieutenant Charles de la Tour, found that their tiny band of about 20 men could eke out a living in Acadie.
Claude de la Tour, Charles' father, went back to France to try to recruit new colonists for the Acadian colony. But in 1619, before de la Tour could return, the Virginians sent Samuel Argall on yet another raid against the French. He burned Saint-Sauveur, then sailed for Saint Croix Island, where he once again burned all of the buildings and destroyed the fort.
At Port Royal he found the fort undefended, since the Acadians were working in the fields a few miles away. The smoke of their burning houses and fort gave the first warning that strangers were nearby. Along with their buildings, they lost all of their provisions.
But, once again they began to rebuild.
Biencourt died in 1624 at the age of 31. Charles de la Tour, then 27, took over Biencourt's estate as Seigneur at Port Royal by claiming that Biencourt had bequeathed it to him--a claim that would later be disputed. But, for now, la Tour moved the colonies' headquarters to Cape Sable on the Atlantic Coast, so that it would be more accessible to the fishing craft that were their primary link to Europe and to trade goods.
From there, he and his band of coureurs de bois (woods runners), as they would come to be called, continued to eke out what existence they could.
Ever since John Cabot and his son had sailed on Columbus' heels to North America, the English had laid vague claims to the land of Acadie and most of the Atlantic Coast. Now, in 1620, James I took advantage of the civil war in France to decree that Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims had just landed, included not only Acadie, but all of Canada.
James I was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and succeeded to the throne in England on the death of Elizabeth in 1603. He had already won for himself a reputation as "the wisest fool in Christendom." When he ascended the British throne he brought with him a train of Scotsmen as eager as he was to escape the poverty of Scotland.
One of them was William Alexander of Menstrie, who was tutor to Prince Henry, the oldest of the King's children. William was a poet, and this endeared him to the king, who thought that he, too, had a way with words.
But Alexander wanted to do more with his life than write poetry. He wanted to lord over lands of his own. And the best chance he had for that was in North America. It was largely at Alexander's urging that King James decided to claim the Canadian lands.
On Sept. 10, 1620, King James granted Acadie and Canada to Alexander. The poet was given the authority to "erect cities, appoint fairs, hold courts, grant lands and coin money." All Alexander had to do was to find the wherewithal to take possession of the lands the king had granted him. The way to do it, he decided, was to divide the spoils with men who already had money.
A new order was created, the Knights Baronet of Nova Scotia--New Scotland. Any man of property who would settle in North America, or who would put 150 sterling pounds into the pot, would get his title and a grant of land six miles by three. He would also have the right to wear "an orange tawny ribbon from which shall hang pendant in an escutcheon argent a saltire azure with the arms of Scotland."
Nothing much came of this immediately, except the settling of small groups here and there around the Bay of Fundy and the creation of much ill feeling between the newcomers and the French at Port Royal. But, after the death of King James, and with the beginning of yet another war with France (Protestant vs. Catholic, what else?), Alexander began to take the enterprise a bit more seriously. He enlisted merchants and financiers in London into the Company of Merchant Adventurers to take control of the Canadian lands.
As a part of the war effort, the merchant company raised 60,000 pounds to equip an expedition against the French in Canada. Three ships set out early in 1628 under the command of David, Lewis and Thomas Kirke, the sons of Gervase Kirke, who was a member of the company.
Sailing into Gaspe Bay, the Kirke brothers surprised French Admiral Roquemont and an armada that had been sent to reinforce Quebec. His four convoy ships and 20 transports were crammed with men, women and children, soldiers, mechanics and priests who had been sent by a newly formed Company of One Hundred Associates to provision and people the new Quebec colony. But Roquemont's heavily laden ships had been forced into the bay by heavy storms. Now, as the Kirke brothers approached, the French could not maneuver in the tight spaces. Most of their guns were lashed below decks. Roquemont had not expected a fight and wasn't ready for one. They were easy pickings.
The Kirkes burned some of the transports and took the rest to Newfoundland and then to England--taking the spoils of Victory, and a host of prominent prisoners with them. More importantly, they had cleared the way for the occupation of Quebec. Without the provisions Roquemont was to deliver, the French there had no choice but to surrender.
When a company of British officers and men came ashore to take possession of the city in August 1629 they found no food there except for one tub filled with potatoes and roots.
The Kirke expedition also cleared the way for William Alexander to begin anew his settlement attempt. In 1628 he sent 100 men and women to settle in Acadie near Port Royal. They built Charlesfort, also known as Scotch Fort, five miles from the French colony.
The Acadians gave one last try.
Charles de la Tour and his coureurs de bois hid themselves in the woods while Charles' father, Claude de la Tour, tried to get to France to ask for help. But Claude was captured by the Kirkes and taken to London--where he decided to try to make the best out of a bad deal.
Claude somehow managed to finagle British baronetcies for himself and his son, and since Charles had already been commissioned Lieutenant-General of Acadie by the French king, they would--Claude reckoned--be okay no matter who ended up in charge. And it worked.
The Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye in 1632 would give the Acadian colony back to France, but later in the century, when the French would once again lose Acadie to the British, Charles de la Tour would be recognized as its legal governor.
When Acadie was returned to France in 1632 under the Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye, Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, had come to power in France. He would prove himself one of the ablest of French statesmen. He would hold strong influence over King Louis XIII, and would, in fact, be the actual ruler of France for more than 18 years.
Richelieu saw the coming struggle for supremacy in North America, and saw that France would have to strengthen its colonies there if it was going to compete with the growing British strength. He immediately organized a trading company for Quebec and one of Acadie, sending his cousin, Isaac de Razilly to North America as lieutenant governor of all New France and Governor of Acadia.
In July 1632 Razilly sailed from France aboard the Esperance a Dieu. With him were two transports carrying 300 people, livestock, seeds, tool, arms--everything needed to establish and maintain a community. He would begin the first true steps toward permanent settlement of the Acadian colony.
After landing at La Have on September 8, Razilly took possession of Port Royal and then took the fort at Penobscot by force. Scottish families still in Port Royal were sent back to England. He annoyed the English in doing so, and he also annoyed Charles de la Tour, who thought that he should have been lieutenant governor, and who also wanted to protect the valuable fur trade he'd established.
Razilly found a compromise with la Tour. Razilly would settle his people at La Have, on Nova Scotia's south shore. La Tour and his men would continue their fur trading from their main outpost at Cape Sable. Razilly also gave la Tour the Seigneurie de Jemseg, a rich hunting and fishing area along the St. John River in New Brunswick.
Razilly brought with him two lieutenants. Charles de Menou de Charnisay, Sieur d'Aulnay, was placed in charge of settling the new emigres on the land and getting them started in farming. Nicolas Denys, meanwhile, was to begin building up the Acadian fisheries, the fur trade and an export lumber trade with France.
These men would have a large hand in putting down the first truly permanent beginnings of the Acadiana colony. But they would do so in the face of conflict, both from within the French ranks, and from their British neighbors.
In 1633 English traders from Massachusetts set up a post at Machias, on the coast of Maine, to trade with the Indians there. La Tour, afraid that the competition would hurt his Jemseg profits, attacked the English. He killed two guards, captured three others, and brought them and a passel of captured furs and provisions to Cape Sable.
The English in Boston called la Tour's attack piracy and decided to do something about it. In 1634, a Boston merchant named Allerton who owned an interest in the Machias post, sailed to Acadie to reclaim the booty and bring back la Tour's prisoners. La Tour answered that Machias was now French territory and that he had acted in the name of France. At the same time, albeit coincidentally, Razilly told New England authorities to limit their trading with the Indians to the mouth of the Kennebec River, near today's Portland, Maine.
It was apparent that the Frenchmen meant to stay this time, and the La Have colony made real progress under Razilly. But Razilly died in 1635, and d'Aulnay, who succeeded him, decided to shift the focus of the settlement from trade to farming. He moved the bulk of his settlers to Port Royal, where there was more tillable land, and more importantly, he began to bring the first families to Acadie. By 1640 he made Port Royal once again the centerpiece of French Acadie.
By 1650, there were more than 300 settlers in Acadie--50 or so families and about 60 single men, and another handful of settlers would continue to arrive along with a few shipwrecked sailors. But the flood of settlers had begun to dwindle, because both the French government and French merchants were beginning to lose interest in Acadie. France wasn't interested in farmers. Fur traders sent home the profits, and Quebec by now had become the center of the fur trade. And, besides, the French government by now had also become deeply involved in its own internal problems.
In 1643, a four-year-old boy had become King Louis XIV of France. Although he would later be a very powerful king, the war with the nobility that would make him so was now draining the royal treasury. There was no money left for Acadie. It would have to make do as best it could.
The 1640s were also tumultuous years within the colony. Two groups began to fight for control of the declining Acadian fur trade. Charles de la Tour continued to claim ownership of much of Acadie, and his claim was recognized by the government in France. But that same government also recognized the rights of the Company of New France, now headed by d'Aulnay. The two interests were inevitably to collide.
The fight began in earnest in 1630, when la Tour expropriated a ship that d'Aulny had sent to Penobscot. The next year, la Tour tried to surprise Port Royal with two warships, but d'Aulnay captured him and his men.
The fighting brought things to a head, and in 1641, the French Court revoked la Tour's commission, called him to Paris (though he would never go), and named d'Aulnay governor.
La Tour defied the royal decree, and, in February 1642, d'Aulnay was ordered to take him by force and bring him to France.
La Tour barricaded himself in his fort at Jemseg and sent agents to seek an alliance with the English in Massachusetts. The Boston merchants turned him down at first. La Tour kept trying, and finally made a deal.
Here is an account attested to by eight Capuchin priests on October 20, 1643:
After harassing d'Aulnay for seven years, the English of Grande Baie (Plymouth), accompanying la Tour, mounted an assault on Port Royal with four ships and two armed frigates on August 6, 1643, wounded seven men, killed three others and took one captive. They killed a quantity of livestock and took a ship loaded with furs, powder and food.
The priests told the French Court that "of the 18,000 livres worth of furs stolen in Port Royal, the Bostonians kept two-thirds, and la Tour one-third." They sought help for d'Aulnay so that he may carry out his generous plan against the enemies of the true religion and in particular against the Sieur de la Tour, a very evil Frenchman who attends Protestant services when he is in Grande Baie."
On March 6, 1644, the French government declared la Tour an outlaw. But he still refused to give in. Instead, he sent his wife, Francoise-Marie Jacquelin, to plead his case before the king's ministers, and to fetch badly needed supplies.
In early 1645, la Tour himself went to Boston to seek aid, leaving his wife in command of the fort at Jemseg. D'Aulnay decided that this would be the time to strike. He arrived at the fort on April 13, 1645, with 200 men.
There was a murderous fight. D'Aulnay lost 13 men in the three-day fight, but captured the fort. Then he forced Madame la Tour, with a rope around her neck, to watch while her men were hanged. She died in prison three weeks later. La Tour, escaping the battle, roved for a time as a privateer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, then took refuge in Quebec.
D'Aulnay would not live long enough to enjoy the spoils of his victory. He was drowned in 1650 when he fell (some say he was pushed) from his canoe.
D'Aulnay's death left the Acadian colony with little direction and virtually no help from France. They turned to the soil, and to New England. The fertile Annapolis Basin gave them crops enough to feed themselves, with some left over for trade with the thousands of settlers now pouring into Massachusetts. For once, the French and the English needed each other.
The influx of Puritans into New England had caused a food shortage there, new colonists were coming in quicker than the crops did. By the 1640s, enterprising Yankee traders had begun to send ships to Acadie to buy cattle and garden crops. The trade, of course, was completely illegal, but hunger was a lot closer to the doorstep than were either the French or the British authorities.
The trade brought a measure of independence to the Frenchmen in Acadie. Farming, along with some fishing and hunting, gave them a good livelihood. They were finding that they could survive in the New World through their own effort, despite the neglect of official France. Andthere was another important realization: They were beginning to think of themselves as a distinct people. They were still allied to France, but they were now something more. They were the settlers of Acadie. They had become Acadians.
I have a mind's-eye vision of Jean Gaudet as a crusty, old Frenchman, sunburnt, with dark, work-hardened hands, capable of doing what had to be done to wrest a simple life from the soil. He was probably an independent old cuss. He was 61 years old in 1636, when he and his brother, Aubin, migrated to L'Acadie, traveling to a colony still far from a certain thing.
Settlement in North America was still a new and risky venture. The British colony at Jamestown was less than 30 years old. The Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth but 16 years before. It would be 40 years before Marquette and Joliette would explore the Mississippi Valley, nearly 50 before LaSalle would plant his cross at the river's mouth and claim Louisiana for France. George Washington would not be born for more than 100 years.
Jean Gaudet had come to clear forest into farmland, build dikes to reclaim tidal marshes, hew timbers for his home and keep a family fed while he was doing it. He would farm his Annapolis Basin lands for more than 30 years, dying at the age of 97. He was one of my first ancestors in North America, and there was a lot of history packed into his lifetime.
Jean Gaudet and his second wife, Nicole Colleson, were among the first families settled in Acadie. Until now, the French who had come to North America, except for the wives of one or two officials, were mostly contract workers who were employed in the fisheries or fur trade, and who returned to France once their stint was done.
Jean Gaudet was one of the first Frenchmen who would come to Acadie to stay. Three children--Francoise, Denis and Marie--came with him. Another, Jean, was probably born in the New World.
Jean Gaudet was a farmer, and he and others who came at the time brought skills and crafts useful in building and running a colony. Germain Doucet, another of my ancestors to arrive about this time, was commandant at Port Royal under d'Aulnay. Another, Antoine Bourg, was royal notary and syndic (justice of the peace). Others, such as Rene Landry, Jean Terriot and Francois Gauterot were probably farmers. Guillaume Blanchard was a fisherman.
By 1650 there were some 50 families in Acadie. They would establish farms and families and live a life described in 1638 by Nicolas Denys, who wrote, "there are plenty of clams, whelks, mussels, and other mollusks and an abundance of lobsters ... some of which have a claw so large it will hold a pint of wine." He mentions swordfish "as large as a cow," and writes of huge flocks of wild pigeons flying over his camp. He says he was kept awake by the noise from flocks of geese and ducks nearby.
Historian Rameau de SaintPere, drawing from accounts by an early priest of the colony, Ignace de Senlis, tells us:
On Sunday, the Acadian farmers emerged from the folds of this charming valley, some in canoes, others on horseback, their wives and daughters riding behind, while long lines of Micmac, brightly painted and with colorful ornaments, mingled with them. Around the church grounds, d'Aulnay had developed extensive green areas, which were called les champs commune, where the arrivals tethered their mounts and left their belongings. After the service, the colonists relaxed on the champs commune, discussing crops, hunting, progress of clearing the land, the work undertaken by the Siegneur, a thousand and one topics about their private lives and gossiping the way it is done in all French countries.
D'Aulnay himself often mingled with them ... recounting adventures of his travels into the interior Indian country. Many old-timers ... added their bit to the conversation, while the more venerable sages of the Micmacs often solemnly joined in the conversation. It was an auspicious occasion to find out how each family was making out. The banker naturally encouraged new marriages and ways to establish new homes on new farms, because one of the dominating desires was to increase the number of homes.
The Acadians were left to themselves, with little guidance or support from France, and they liked it that way. The colony was once again growing in peace and prosperity when European intrigue again interrupted its life.
In 1651, when King Charles and Oliver Cromwell were battling for control of England, Parliament passed a Navigation Act, requiring that goods from Asia, Africa and America be carried to England only on English ships. The act was aimed chiefly at the Dutch, who were supporting the King in his feud with the Parliament. The British and the Dutch went to war over the issue and France (allied with the Dutch) was soon drawn into it.
So it was in 1654 that an English force from Boston headed to Acadie with orders from Cromwell to clear the French from the place. The British commander, Robert Sedgwick, had easy work. He quickly subdued the lightly defended Acadian lands, but instead of clearing the Frenchmen out, left the colony in control of a local council headed by Guillaume Trahan.
Little changed in everyday life during the council's administration. The Acadians farmed their lands. There was no flood of new British settlers to disrupt their lives. In fact, the years of British rule passed very quietly until, in 1667, the Treaty of Breda once again returned the colony to France.
But two important things had happened. The first was that the 16 years of benign English neglect had strengthened the Acadians' sense of independence. They discovered that they could get along quite well, thank you, with little help from the outside. The other thing was that the British began to think that maybe, next time, they ought to keep this place for themselves--and ship those papist Frenchmen someplace else.
In all, we believe that some 10,000 immigrants traveled to Canada--not all of them to Acadie--during the French regime (1604 to 1713) and that between 5,000 and 6,000 of them arrived before the year 1700. More than half of those who came from France before 1700 were from the old provinces of Poitou and Aunio--from towns such as Rochefort, la Rochelle, Ile Oleron, and Chatelleraut.
But progress was interrupted by regular raids from British freebooters who preyed upon Acadie almost at will. There were only about 400 people listed on the census of 1671, the first taken in Acadie, yet three-fourths of the Acadians alive today can trace their roots to these folks.
Rameu de Saint-Pere tells us about the life they lived:
Port Royal consisted (c.1700) of a rough fort formed by earthworks topped by a large wooden palisade. The church and some houses surrounded it. Most of the farmers were spread out around the countryside, and each settler lived on his own land.
The homes were built of squared logs or of heavy beams planted in the soil with the interstices sealed with moss and clay. Chimneys were formed with poles and hardened clay. The roof was covered with rushes, bark, even sod at times. Wood being in abundant supply, the houses were easy to build, and if disaster struck, just as easily abandoned and lost without much regret, an important consideration because the frequent incursions of the English led to a certain indifference and they therefore endeavored to leave nothing of value to the enemy.
When the latter appeared in force, the settlers fled to the woods without worrying about what was left behind. Their small herds of cattle were used to the woods, and belongings were easily moved; a few iron pots, arms, tools and packages of clothing. Those with too many belongings buried some of them and carried the rest. But all knew the trails to safe retreats in the heavily wooded valleys only a gunshot away but impenetrable to everyone save themselves and their friends, the Micmacs of the interior.
In 1701, when England and France went back to war, the backwash once again hit the American colonies. Jacques de Brouillan, then governor of Acadie, tried in vain to negotiate neutrality with the Americans. The English in Massachusetts had other ideas. They struck first at Penobscot, but were driven back. Acadians and some of their Indian allies retaliated, hitting village after village as far south as Portland, Maine. At the same time, troops from New France attacked New England striking at Deerfield, Connecticut, where 200 British were killed or made prisoner during a night raid in February, 1704.
In May 1704 three English warships, four transports and 36 other ships, loaded with 1,300 men, headed for Acadie under the command of Colonel Church, who had successfully raided the Beaubassin area in 1696. He had orders from Governor Dudley of Massachusetts to burn every house in Acadie, smash all of the dikes protecting the recovered lands, and to haul off everything and everyone he could.
Church took Penobscot easily and killed or imprisoned everyone there. He then moved to Passamoquoddy Bay, at the mouth of the Saint-Croix River, and looted and destroyed what was there. He arrived at Port Royal on July 2, 1704, but had to retreat three days later because of the stiff Acadian resistance. He did burn a number of homes and take 30 prisoners.
At Grand Pre, the Acadians fled into the woods, after smashing their dikes, making it impossible for Church to unload his troops. At Beaubassin, English troops went ashore during a heavy fog on July 28. They burned about 20 houses and killed all of the livestock they found, but soon returned to New England.
The English struck again at Port Royal on June 6, 1707. After a ten-day siege the British commander, Colonel Marsh, ordered his men back to their ships, leaving behind about 100 dead and as many wounded. He withdrew to Portland, Maine where Governor Dudley sent him reinforcements. On August 20, 1707, some 2,000 men and about 20 ships stood off Port Royal, this time under the command of Colonel Wainwright.
The Acadians were warned of the approaching fleet by friendly Indians and had dug in for defense. The English withdrew after a 16-day siege and heavy losses--going home to an angry reception. (Some of the people of Boston were so upset they wanted to hang the expedition leaders. )
But the English controlled the seas, and Acadie was cut off from vital food and supplies, and from help from France. It was only a matter of time. The Acadians were finally forced to submit. In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of Spanish Succession in Europe. It ceded Acadie and Newfoundland to England once and for all.
Acadie would now become Nova Scotia. But the Acadians would not become Nova Scotians.
THE OATH REFUSED
Almost from the beginning of their regime (in 1713), the British governors of Acadie faced a dilemma. They needed the Acadians and their expertise, but they also mistrusted their loyalty. The English solution was to try to force the Acadians to take an oath of allegiance to Great Britain. Most Acadians steadfastly refused. The oath would become the nominal bone of contention that would, in the next generation, finally bring their exile. The fact that the Acadians owned some of the richest farmland on the Eastern seaboard, and that the English lusted for it, didn't help matters much, either.
The Acadians had good reason to refuse the oath. They feared it would require them to give up the independence they'd begun to enjoy, and that it might one day force them to fight against France. Also, they didn't want to make promises to a government that they hoped might not be around that long. (Their fathers had lived for awhile under the British, but had seen the colony eventually returned to France.) And, most of all, they knew that, at least for now, they held the upper hand. There were more Acadians than British in the Annapolis Basin, and the British needed the Acadians to feed their tiny garrison.
The Treaty of Utrecht that ceded Acadie to England had given the Acadians certain rights and options. It provided, for example, that "in the pursuance of this treaty (the Acadians) may have liberty to remove themselves within a year to any other place as they shall think fit, with all their moveable effects. But those who are willing to remain here, and to be subjects of the Kingdom of Great Britain are to enjoy the free exercise of their religion according to the usage of the Church of Rome as far as the laws of Great Britain allow the same."
Queen Anne later agreed to relieve the Acadians from any time limit for moving. On June 23, 1713, she wrote to her governor in Acadie:
Whereas our good brother, the Most Christian King (of France) hath at our desire, released from imprisonment ... such of his subjects as were detained on account of their ... Protestant religion; we, being willing to show ... how kind we take his compliance herein, have therefore thought fit ... to ... permit such of them as have any lands or tenements in the places under our Government in Acadia and Newfoundland ... and are willing to continue our subjects, to retain and enjoy their said lands and tenements without molestation, as fully and freely as our other subjects do ... or to sell the same, if they shall rather choose to remove elsewhere.
Thus, the Acadians who decided to stay were guaranteed freedom of religion and equal rights with other British subjects. Those who planned to leave thought they could do so at any time they wanted to. But now the struggle began for their hearts and minds, and warm bodies.
In January 1714 Pastour de Costebellow, the last French governor of Newfoundland, became the first governor of Cape Breton (Ile Royale) which was still French and built the historic fort of Louisbourg. He immediately tried to convince the Acadians that they should migrate there. The English, meanwhile, wanted to keep the Acadians in Nova Scotia, at least for awhile longer.
Lt. Gov. Samuel Vetch wrote to his British superiors on November 243, 1714:
One hundred of the Acadians who were born upon this continent, and are perfectly at home in the woods, can march upon snowshoes and understand the use of birch canoes, are of more value and service than five times their number of raw men newly arrived from Europe.
So their skill in the fishery, as well as the cultivating of the soil must make at once of Cape Breton the most powerful colony the French have in America, and to the greatest danger and damage to all the British colonies as well as the universal trade of Great Britain.
Later he wrote to the Board of Trade in London:
... the removal of (the Acadians) and their cattle to Cape Breton would be a great addition to that new colony, so it would wholly ruin Nova Scotia unless supplied by a British colony, which could not be done in several years, so that the Acadians with their stocks of cattle remaining here is very much for the advantage of the Crown.
Most Acadians didn't want to move, anyway. These had been their lands for generations--and Cape Breton, though French, offered them little. A delegation visited there during the summer of 1713. The report:
On the whole, the island there is no land fit for the maintenance of our families, since there is (sic) no grass lands large enough to feed our cattle which is our principal means of livelihood ... To leave our homes and cleared lands for new uncultivated land which must be cleared without help nor credit would expose our families to perishing by famine.
Some young Acadians moved to New Brunswick, which they regarded as French soil, but most of the established families decided to stay put on the farms and homesteads they had worked long and hard to build.
Efforts to require an oath of allegiance from these families began in earnest after Queen Anne died in 1714, and colonial officials took advantage of King George's accession to require sworn fealty to the new ruler.
The Acadians of Grand Pre and Beaubassin refused to take the oath, period. They argued that France and England were still arguing over boundaries, and whether their lands had been ceded under the treaty. They said they could take no oath until the issue was decided.
That argument could not be made at Port Royal, however, and 36 Acadians signed a provisional oath on January 13, 1716, to "be faithful and maintain a true allegiance to His Majesty King George, as long as I shall be in Acadia or Nova Scotia and that I shall be permitted to withdraw wheresoever I shall think fit with all my moveable goods and effects, when I shall think fit, without any one ... to hinder me."
In November 1717 the provincial administrator, Capt. John Doucett, made another attempt to force an oath from the Acadians. Representatives of Grand Pre, Pisiquid, Cobequid and Beaubassin, knowing the British didn't have the manpower needed, said they'd sign if they got protection from the Indians. They argued that the Indians, afraid they would lose hunting and fishing grounds, were sworn enemies of the English. The Acadians claimed that taking the oath would be the same as making a pact with the Indians' worst enemy, and the Indians would retaliate.
"For the present," the Acadians said, "we can only answer that we shall be ready to carry into effect the demand proposed to us as soon as His Majesty shall have done us the favor of providing some means of sheltering us from the Indians, who are always ready to do all kinds of mischief ... (since) we cannot take the oath demanded without exposing ourselves to have our throats cut in our houses at any time, which they have already threatened to do."
In March 1718, Doucett threatened to cut off Acadian trade and fishing rights if they didn't sign. The Acadians appealed to Gov. Richard Phillipps, who did what any good bureaucrat would do. He ordered a study.
Capt. Paul Mascarne reported that the Acadians still had Phillips over a barrel. If the Acadians were forced from their lands, the English garrison would be isolated and without a regular source of food. On leaving, the Acadians could destroy the dikes protecting their farms, damaging the land for years. The Indians would destroy what the Acadians didn't and would become much more dangerous than before. Finally, the Acadians would become a powerful military force against the English colonies once they settled in French territory.
Phillipps wrote to London:
... the Acadians cannot be let go now at least. Their departure, if they went to ... Cape Breton, would render our neighbors too powerful. We need them to erect fortifications and to provision our forts till the English are powerful enough to go on ...
London wrote back:
As to the Acadians of Nova Scotia ... we are apprehensive they will never become good subjects to His Majesty ... We are of opinion they ought to be removed as soon as the forces which we have proposed to be sent to you shall arrive in your Province. But ... you are not to attempt their removal without His Majesty's positive order ... you will do well in the meantime to continue the same prudent and cautious conduct towards them...
The English wanted the Acadians out, but weren't strong enough to force the issue - not yet.
ANOTHER OATH REFUSED
The War of Austrian Succession, which erupted in 1740, was fought over whether a fat lady named Maria Theresa would inherit the Hapsburg Empire in Europe. It had nothing to do with Acadie, except that the French jumped in on one side of the war and the British jumped in on the other. Whenever that happened, the Acadians seemed sure to get caught in the middle.
It came at a time when things in the Cajun homeland were settling down some, perhaps settling down too much.
During the 1720s there had been two incidents that deepened the animosity between the Acadians and the English, but the next decade brought relative peace and prosperity. Then things began to fall apart.
On March 24,1724, during an English attack against an Abernaki village on the coast of Maine, missionary priest Sebastian Rasle was shot by the English at the door of his church, scalped, and his body mutilated. That did nothing for Acadian spirits. At about the same time, 50 Micmac Indians, friends of the French, surprised the English garrison at Annapolis Royal, killing two soldiers and seriously wounding a dozen more. That irked the English, who claimed the Acadians had incited the Indian raid. The Brits burned many of the Acadians' homes and sent their priests away.
In the fall of 1726 Major Lawrence Armstrong became provincial administrator, and was determined to force the Acadians to take the oath of allegiance. Once again they refused to take it unless it contained a clause that they would not be forced to fight against the French. Armstrong agreed to insert the clause, and did--in the margin of the French translation, only. But he sent the English version, without the clause, to London.
Finally, in 1730 Governor Phillips got what he and the British Crown wanted. He reported that all Acadians "of all parishes" had taken the conditional oath. He had finally promised not only that they would not have to fight against the French and the Indians, but also that they could maintain their Catholic faith. The Acadians, in return, promised not to fight against the English.
The Acadians became known in London and in New England as "French Neutrals," and were themselves convinced that their neutral status had been officially granted to them by Governor Phillips. Besides, they were promised freedom of religion and their lands would not be taken from them.
There would be some exceptions, but the Acadian population as a whole would respect the pledge. They were happy, gave up the idea of abandoning their farms, and began to do what Cajuns do: multiply.
The Acadian population increased so rapidly that the old farms could no longer hold them all. In 1732, Governor Phillips estimated the population at 800 families, double what it had been ten years earlier. A census in 1737 found 7,598 Acadians in Nova Scotia. And that presented a new problem.
In 1740, the year France and England went back to war the acting governor wrote to London:
The increase of the Acadians calls for some fresh instructions how to dispose of them. They have divided and subdivided amongst their children the lands they were in possession of ... They applied for new grants which the Governor Phillips and Armstrong did not think themselves authorized to favor them with, as His Majesty's instruction ... prescribed the grant of unappropriated lands to Protestant subjects only ... if they are debarred from new possessions, they must live here miserably and consequently be troublesome, or else, they will possess themselves of new tracts contrary to orders, or they must be made to withdraw to the neighboring French colony.
The French of Cape Breton will naturally watch all opportunities of disturbing the peace of this Province, especially at this juncture, in case of war with France; and, if occasion of disgust was given to these people here, they would soon distress the garrison if not taking the fort which is in a very ruinous condition.
The Acadians had pledged not to bear arms, either for France or against England, but in Nova Scotia, they still had the numbers and that bothered the English, especially Gov. William Shirley of Massachusetts. In 1746 he wrote that "the enemy will soon find a way to wrest Acadia from us if we do not remove the most dangerous French inhabitants and replace them with English families." A month later he added, "The Province of Nova Scotia will never be out of danger so long as the French inhabitants are tolerated under the present mode of submission." On a visit to England he laid a plan before British authorities to bring 6,000 families to Nova Scotia over a ten-year period: two thousand from the British Isles, two thousand from New England, and two thousand retired soldiers.
His plan was followed up in 1749 when Edward Cornwallis, replacing Phillips as governor, arrived at Halifax with 2,500 settlers, including 1,100 women and children. Cornwallis immediately issued orders for armories to be built at Grand Pre, Bale Verte, Whiteland, and La Heve, all with enough troops to man them. At the same time, he gave the Acadians three months to take an unconditional oath, and he required that they have special authorization to ship grain, livestock, or other products to any foreign colony.
Cornwallis' proclamation upset the Acadians. Three delegates from Grand Pre, Jean and Philipe Melanson and Claude LeBlanc, went to see the governor to say that the new oath was different than the one Governor Phillips had accepted in 1730. Besides, for almost a generation the Acadians had thought the question of allegiance had been settle.
Cornwallis held to his demand.
In September 1749 another delegation, this time people from Annapolis Royal, Grand Pre, Beaubassin, Pisiquid, Cobequid, and Chopoudy, appeared before Cornwallis They brought a petition, with more than 1,000 signatures, declaring that they had signed oaths on the condition that they could not be conscripted for war.
The petition added: "The inhabitants in general, sir, have resolved not to take the oath which your Excellency requires of us. But, if your Excellency will grant us our old oath, which was given by Governor Phillips, with an exemption from taking arms, we will accept it. If your Excellency is not disposed to grant us what we take the liberty of asking, we are resolved every one of us to leave the country."
Cornwallis said Phillips had exceeded his authority, and that the Acadians must swear without condition. Then he went on building strategic military posts that would isolate the Acadians and block communications with the French in Quebec or their troublesome neighbors at Louisbourg.
The English ministers who negotiated the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 had not been very wise. True they had gained Acadie but it was an Acadie with ill-defined and disputed boundaries and one that--whatever its boundaries--was difficult to defend. But worse, the British in giving Cape Breton Island to the French, destroyed the military value of their hold on the Annapolis Basin.
King Louis of France saw that Cape Breton guarded the Saint Lawrence. That's why, beginning in 1720, he'd built and fortified Louisbourg, against the inevitable day when war would flare afresh and France would recover Acadie. Louisbourg became a harbor so well defended and a privateering refuge so secure that it was called the strongest fort in America. It was also called a danger to New England.
Military historian Fairfax Downey described it this way:
Guardian of the approaches to the St. Lawrence River, gateway to the heart of French Canada, Louisbourg also stood sentinel over the immensely valuable cod fisheries of the Banks. Mean (?) hailed it as another Gibraltar and as a worthy successor to Dunkirk ... As Dunkirk had been "a pistol held at England's head," so the guns of Louisbourg menaced the lifelines of the New England colonies.
So, when border warfare erupted gain in North America, the colonists of Massachusetts decided that Louisbourg was too strong and too dangerous to be left in French hands.
Governor William Shirley invited colonists from as far south as Pennsylvania to join an expedition against Acadie, but only New Englanders showed up. William Pepperell of Kittery, Maine, a merchant and lumberman with practically no military experience, was named commander. He brought 90 ships and 4,200 men to Louisbourg on the morning of April 28, 1735. But even these would not be enough without a little luck and the combination of French folly and British trickery.
Bad weather delayed the British, and the delay took away the element of surprise. But even when the French knew that the attack was coming, Jean Frederic Phelippeaux, Comte de Maurepas, France's Minister of Marine, doubted that the fort was seriously threatened. He delayed sending vital naval aid that might have made the difference when battle was joined.
And Downey reports: "High also on the list of fortune's gifts to the enemy was the gross incompetence of Governor (DuPont) du Chambron, in whose hands rested the safety of Louisbourg."
As the attack loomed, his garrison was in mutiny over lack of pay and poor provisions. He was outmanned even if the garrison would fight, and--despite all--he turned down reinforcements from Quebec (which instead were used in an unsuccessful attack on Annapolis. )
Even as the British sailed into sight and prepared to land troops the Governor and his key lieutenants were dancing the night away at a ball at du Chambron's palace.
The Governor counted on the protection of powerful batteries that commanded the entrance to Louisbourg. And the British respected them as well. They knew that to enter Louisbourg basin would have been suicide. Not even the British warships that had joined the colonists would attempt it.
To the east of the town itself was a small strait, barely a half-mile wide, and commanded by the Island Battery, mounted on a rocky island. Directly ahead of the entrance was the Grand Battery. Ships attempting to force the harbor would be raked port and forward. So General Pepperell decided to put his troops ashore at Flat Point, three miles west of the fort.
Du Chambon sent 120 men to block him. Although Du Chambon had 560 regulars and 1,400 militia he did not send a larger force because he could not rely on untrained draftees or soldiers ready to mutiny. So Captain Louis Morpain led his handful of trusted defenders to Flat Point. They dug in, awaiting the English rowing towards them.
But, suddenly, the English veered away, as though they would not risk the surf boiling over Flat Point's rocky coast. Captain Morpain relaxed--until he saw the trick. More English boats had been lowered and were rowing hard for Fresh Water Cove, two miles to the west.
Morpain got there too late. The English were already ashore, and ore boats came bobbing through the surf. General Pepperell soon had a firm beachhead. Louisbourg had been flanked. Now it was only a matter of time until she fell.
News of the fall of the Great Fortress reached Boston at one o'clock on the morning of July 3,
1745. Clanging bells and booming cannon awoke the town and, long before dawn, townsfolk had begun a day-long celebration that would spread across New England with the good news.
The English immediately began transporting the Cape Breton population to Brest, France.
Pierre Lewis Allain was apparently among them. He died at Brest that year, one of the earliest Acadians to be departed. His widow, Marguerite LeBlanc apparently remained in Acadie and eventually turned up as a refugee at St. Pierre de Miquelon with many of her children in 1766 after the wholesale exile of the Acadian people a decade earlier.
The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 ended the War of Austrian Succession, and, much to New England's dismay and disgust, Louisbourg was returned to the French. The treaty commissioners could still not agree on a definitive boundary for Nova Scotia, and, in 1749, the governor of Canada sent troops to protect French claims in Beaubassin, Baie Verte and at the mouth of the St. John River. Indians, allied with the French attacked British outposts regularly. There was bound to be more fighting.
In fact, Louisbourg would be retaken by the British in 1758. But by then, the die would be cast in Acadie. With the fall of Louisbourg the first time, the Acadians, bound to peace by their oath, but reading the handwriting on the wall, had begun to leave their ancestral lands. Thousands went to Prince Edward Island, others to southeastern New Brunswick. Some few may have traveled to Louisiana. They would be the first of many to come.
From the time of the settling of Acadie, and well before, France and Great Britain were either at war, just ending a war, or getting ready to fight each other once again. So there is no surprise that the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle solved next to nothing. It gave the two rivals a breathing spell, and brought a shaky peace to the New World, but, whichever tongue they spoke, the American colonists knew that peace wouldn't last. There was too much at stake.
France claimed all of North America from the Alleghenies to the Rockies, from Florida and Mexico to the North Pole. She held the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi--and controlled these waterways from Montreal to New Orleans.
The English, meanwhile, were penned behind the Alleghenies, and France wanted to keep them there. If they spread west, they would cut New France in two, dividing Louisiana from Canada. To prevent this, the French began to seal off the passes to the west--and the English began to push harder to get through them. The result was constant skirmishing that led eventually to the French and Indian War. And the tensions grew in Acadie as elsewhere.
By now the Acadians had been refusing to take an unconditional oath for nearly 50 years. They wanted assurances that they would have freedom of religion, and that they would not be forced to fight against France or against their cousins in Canada and Cape Breton. The English had accepted the conditional oath, and the Acadian status as French Neutrals was recognized in Britain, in the English colonies in America, and in Nova Scotia and Canada.
But now things began to change. The Acadians who stayed in Nova Scotia believed they could be loyal British subjects while staying neutral. They thought the British would recognize their good faith. They wanted to be left alone, to live in peace on their farms, according to the guarantees they'd received.
But they were nervous. One-third of the Acadian population, about 6,000 people, had left Nova Scotia by 1752, taking refuge in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and other French territories. But they soon found out that that wasn't the best idea. At first, these refugees had been more-or-less supplied with food and clothing from Quebec and Louisbourg, but in October 1753 a missionary would write, "Many are in such a state that they cannot work in winter, having nothing to cover themselves against the cold day or night."
Those who stayed on the old lands fared better, for awhile. In August 1752, Governor Cornwallis returned to England and was replaced by Captain Peregrine Hopson, a much more moderate man. The Acadians saw a glimmer of hope. But Hopson got sick and had to resign after only 15 months in office. He was replaced by Charles Lawrence, a man both hated and feared by the Acadians. It turned out they had good cause.
Not only was Lawrence influenced by politics, he was influenced by greed. Just as the Acadian populations had begun to swell, so had the populations in New England. These English colonies needed a place to grow. And there were no better lands to grow than those in Acadie.
In the beginning of June 1755, British troops were ordered to seize the arms of the Acadians in the Grand Pre area. The soldiers pretended to be on a fishing trip. Instead of sleeping in barns, as they usually did, they went two-by-two into the Acadians' houses. At midnight, each pair, quietly and without resistance, gathered all the arms and ammunition in each house. The weapons were shipped to Fort Edwards. A few days later, Acadians living in other areas of Nova Scotia were ordered to turn in their weapons or be treated as rebels. Their boats were also confiscated.
On June 10 the Acadians sent a protest to Governor Lawrence:
We hope that your Excellency will be pleased to restore to us the same liberty that we enjoyed formerly, in giving us the use of our canoes, either to transport our provisions from one river to another, or for the purpose or fishing, thereby providing for our livelihood.
Moreover, our guns ... (are) absolutely necessary to us, either to defend our cattle which are attacked by wild beasts, or for protection of our children and ourselves ...
Besides, the arms which have been taken away from us are but a feeble guarantee of our fidelity. It is not the gun which an inhabitant possesses that will induce him to revolt, not the privation of the same gun that will make him more faithful; but his conscience alone must induce him to maintain his oath ...
Lawrence found the petition "arrogant and insidious." He hauled in 15 of the men who had signed it and tried to force them to swear allegiance immediately. They said they needed time to think about it and discuss it among themselves. Lawrence gave them the time, in jail.
The governor and his advisors, thought the Acadians' refusal to take an unconditional oath meant that they intended to fight with the French and the Canadians against the English--and they knew that war was about to break out again. Bloody raids by the French and Indians and French piracy out of Louisbourg made them even more nervous. Adding to it all, constant war and bickering had fueled a growing hatred for anyone of French blood and Catholic faith.
But still the Acadians refused to take the unconditional oath. The people of Annapolis Royal met on July 16,1755 and those of Grand Pre, Pisiquid and Cobequid on July 22, to draft an answer to Governor Lawrence:
We, and our fathers, having taken an oath of Fidelity which was approved many times, in the name of the British King ... and under the privileges of which we remained faithful and subject to His British Majesty ... will never commit the inconstancy of taking an oath which changes so much the conditions and privileges in which our Sovereign and our fathers places us in the past...
They said they had no intention at fighting aghast the British and asked Governor Lawrence to free the 15 delegates still being held in jail in Halifax harbor.
Lawrence rejected all. The Acadians were told they would no longer be considered British subjects, "but as subjects of the King of France, and as such they must be hereafter treated."
In July 1755, Col. John Winslow, one of the British officers in Nova Scotia, wrote this in his journal:
We are now hatching the noble and great project of banishing the French Neutrals from this province; they have ever been our secret enemies and have encouraged the Indians to cut our throats. If we can accomplish this expulsion, it will have been one of the greatest deeds the English in America have ever achieved; for, among other considerations, the part of the country which they occupy is one of the best soils in the world, and, in the event, we might place some good farmers on their homesteads.
In fact, Governor Lawrence had been planning the Acadian deportation for some time. He had broached the idea in London at least by 1754. Early in 1755 he had asked Judge Morris, the provincial surveyor, to prepare a report on how to go about it. Governor Shirley of Massachusetts had promised enough ships to carry away the 7,000 Acadians still in Nova Scotia.
(Of an approximate population of 18,000 Acadians, about 6,000 had left Nova Scotia between 1749 and 1752. Many more fled after 1752, and were continuing to flee even on the eve of their exile.)
On July 31, 1755, Lawrence sent instructions to Colonel Moncton commanding officer in the Beausejour region:
The ... Acadians of the District of Annapolis Royal, Mines and Pisiquid have ... refused to take the oath of allegiance ... and it is ... determined that they shall be removed out of the country as soon as possible ...
For this purpose, orders are given for a sufficient number of transports to be sent up (Chignecto Bay) ... for taking them on board, by whom you will receive particular instructions as to the manner of their being disposed of, the place of their destination, and every other thing necessary for that purpose.
In the meantime it will be necessary to keep this measure as secret as possible to prevent their attempting to escape and to carry off their cattle. In order to effect this, you will endeavor to fall upon some strategy to get the men, both young and old--especially the heads of families--into your power, and detain them till the transports should arrive, so as they may be ready to be shipped off; for, when this is done, it is not much to be feared that the women and children will attempt to go away and carry off the cattle.
As their whole stock of cattle and corn forfeited to the crown by their rebellion must be secured and applied toward a reimbursement of the expense the Government will have incurred in transporting them out of the country, care must be taken that nobody make any bargain for purchasing them under any color or pretext whatsoever; if they do the sale will be void, for the inhabitants have now no property in their name, nor will they be allowed to carry away the least thing save their ready money and household furniture ...
On August 9, the Acadians of the Chignecto Isthmus were ordered to meet at Fort Cumberland, to hear "the reading of orders of His Excellency, the Governor."
Suspicious, they refused to go. The meeting was postponed to the next day. Then, some 400 Acadians went to the fort after being assured that the gathering was only about "arrangement of the Governor of Halifax for the conservation of their farms."
Every Acadian who attended was taken prisoner.
Detachments of soldiers then went through the countryside to arrest the rest of the population. But most of the Acadians hid in the woods, and, in fact, nearly two-thirds of the area residents escaped immediate deportation. But those who went to Fort Cumberland and had been taken prisoner were placed on ships to be sent into exile.
"One hundred and forty women threw themselves hopelessly and blindly onto the English ships to rejoin their husbands," wrote the parish priest, Father LeGuerne.
Winslow, in charge of the Grand Pre region, called the Acadians together there on September 5. His proclamation ordered all men and boys over the age of ten to gather in the church to hear "His Majesty's intentions." Those who didn't show up would forfeit their goods, cattle and real estate.
Four hundred and eighteen men gathered at the church. They were apprehensive. The British now held the upper hand, and the Acadians knew it.
When all of the men were in the church, the doors were closed and locked. The men were placed under arrest and told that their lands and goods were no longer theirs. They and their families were to be put aboard ships and sent elsewhere.
"They were greatly struck," Winslow wrote in his journal, "although I believe they did not imagine that they were actually to be removed. Thus ended the memorable 5th of September, a day of great fatigue and trouble."
The transports arrived at Grand Pre on September 10. Winslow wrote:
... the inhabitants, sadly and with great sorrow, abandoned their homes. The women, in great distress, carried their newborn or their youngest children in their arms. Others pulled carts with their household effects and crippled parents. It was a scene of confusion, despair and desolation...
Winslow did make an attempt to keep families together, but he didn't have enough ships. Women were loaded onto ships other than the ones that carried their husbands and children. Entire families, believing that they were separating for only a few days, would be so widely dispersed that they would never meet again.
When all was done, some 7,000 Acadians had been gathered up, sent from their homes aboard 24 crowded ships, and scattered along the Atlantic Seaboard and elsewhere. Some 2,000 Acadians would go to Massachusetts, 700 Acadians to Connecticut, more than 300 to New York, 500 to Pennsylvania, nearly a thousand to Maryland, 400 or more to Georgia, another thousand to the Carolinas.
Their tragedy fell just short of genocide. Lord Jeffrey Amherst, one of the British commanders (who got a college named in his honor) was all for it. In a letter to a Col. Bouqet, he urged: "You will do well to try to spread smallpox by means of blankets and by every other means which might help exterminate that abominable race."
Twelve hundred Acadians reached Virginia in the fall of 1755, but were not allowed off the ships. Nobody had told the Virginians that the Acadians were coming. They had no room for them. Particularly after smallpox did infect the ships. Finally, these Acadians were sent to England in the beginning of 1756, and imprisoned there. Many of them died in prison. Some would one day make it to France, but these would fare little better. They were foreigners there, too. Their families had been in North America for 150 years. Their ways, customs, even speech, were already far different than that of the motherland.
Some historians believe that a number of the Acadians deported to Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia reached Louisiana in 1756. We know, for example, that the Acadians who were sent to South Carolina had no difficulty in getting permission to leave. A number of those sent to other American colonies headed for the Mississippi. Others escaped from the Virginia transports before they were sent on to England.
We know that scores of Acadian exiles from New York and some of the New England colonies headed for the West Indies. But the tropical climate did not agree with them, and they soon considered the move to French Louisiana.
And what would happen to their old lands in Acadie?
In 1758, after the capture of Louisbourg, a proclamation by the Nova Scotia government appeared in the Boston Gazette, offering free land grants in the once-Acadian province. A second proclamation, in 1759, described the wonderful attractions of the land and offered liberal terms to settlers.
In April 1759, a five-man committee was sent from Connecticut to "spy out the land." They met with Governor Lawrence and his council at Halifax and were assured that the lands were all that they had been advertised to be. Even more, ships from Nova Scotia would be put at their service to transport the immigrants, their stock, and their furniture.
To help them decide, the council sent them to visit the lands along the Bay of Fundy. By the time they arrived in the Minas Basin, the orchards were budding, dikes growing green and rich uplands were waiting for the plow. Compared to the rocky soil of New England, the fertile valley was very attractive.
Completely sold on the proposition, the agents agreed to settle one township at Minas and another one at Canard (today Horton and Cornwallis, respectively).
On May 21, 1760, a fleet of 22 ships set sail for the new Promised Land. The New England planters planted their feet on the soil of Acadie on June 4, 1760, five years after the Acadian dispersion.
An old ballad, Puritan Planters tells the tale:
Five years in desolation the Acadia land had lain.
Five golden Harvest Moons had wood the fallow fields in vain.
Five times the winter snows had slept and summer sunsets smile
On lonely clumps of willow and fruit trees growing wild.
There was silence in the forest and along the Minas shore
And not a habitation from Canard to Beausejour,
But many a blackened rafter and many a broken wall
Told the story of Acadia's prosperity and fell.
But the simple Norman peasant folk shall fill the land no more,
For the vessels from Connecticut anchored by the shore.
And many a patient Puritan, his mind with Scripture stored,
Rejoices he has found at last his "garden of the Lord. "
ST. JACQUES DE CABHANNOCER
The arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana can be dated from the settlement of Salvador Mouton, his nephew, Jean Diogene Mouton, and their families. They are believed to be the first to reach here in the mass migration that would eventually bring two-thirds of the survivors of the Acadian exodus to Louisiana.
The Moutons left old Acadie in 1754 during the year of turmoil before the deportation. Salvador's son, Jean, was founder of Lafayette. It is for him that St. John Cathedral is named. Another descendant, Alexandre Mouton, would become the state's first Acadian governor (also the first elected as a Democrat and the first to be selected by popular vote rather than chosen by the legislature). Over the years the Moutons would become both widespread and influential. One family historian counts 6,000 Moutons who still carry the family name, and another 6,000 who are married into other families.
These first Acadian settlers came to Louisiana by foot and by raft, directly from Canada, walking along the Great Lakes to the upper reaches of the Mississippi, then hiking and rafting down to Louisiana. They settled on the west bank of the Mississippi in what is today St. James Parish, near the home of Mathias Frederick, a German who was probably the first white settler of the region.
Other Acadian families followed the Moutons to St. James in the years after the dispersion: Bergeron, Saunier, LeBlanc, Bourgeois, Guilbeau, Poirier, Roy, Guidry, Cormier, Martin. Louis Pierre Arceneaux would not be far behind. We know him better by another name. He would become the Gabriel in Longfellow's epic, Evangeline.
By 1770 the Acadians outnumbered everyone else. The St. James militia roster of that year lists 104 names. All but ten are Acadian.
The settlement they formed became known as St. Jacques de Cabahannocer (St. James of Cabonocey), for a church built there by a man named Jacques Cantrelle. He was not Acadian. He'd come to Louisiana directly from France, but the little church named for him would be remembered as the first church of the Cajuns in Louisiana.
Cantrelle had first settled in the Natchez country north of Baton Rouge. But in 1729 an Indian uprising had all but wiped out the settlement. Cantrelle escaped by hiding in his corn shed. His wife was killed when he left her hiding in the woods while he returned to their cabin to fetch a few possessions. He was one of only 20 survivors of the massacre.
He resettled at Kenner, near New Orleans, married a second bride there, then moved to New Orleans in 1736 -becoming prominent in social and civic affairs. He stayed in the city until 1763, when he and his son-in-law, Nicholas Verret, moved to plantations they had been building in St. James. Cantrelle named his plantation Cabahannocer, from the name given a nearby stream by the Choctaw Indians. It means "clearing where the ducks lands."
At Cabahannocer, Cantrelle developed an indigo plantation and prospered. He became commandant of the past, made friends with the Indians, welcomed the Acadians, and built a dynasty and a church, in which he was eventually buried.
Huge sugar and cotton plantations would one day turn this stretch of Mississippi River bank opened by the Fredericks and Cantrelles and Moutons into a prosperous part of what would be called "the Golden Coast of Louisiana," the richest stretch of real estate in antebellum North America.
At first, however, it would be known as The Acadian Coast, where the Cajuns began new lives in a much humbler fashion.
It was on September 28,1766, that an English ship arrived in New Orleans from Maryland, carrying 224 Acadians, including 150 women and children. They were penniless, starving, and scared. Ulloa immediately gave them what aid he could.
He would write:
Since these people arrived consumed in wretchedness and in the greatest possible need, through the orders of the French General (Aubry) and mine they were helped immediately with fresh bread and biscuits which had been prepared for the first needy ones who might arrive. I ordered that an ox and a calf, which I had sent for up river for my own consumption and that of those who are with me, be given to them. This was done on the same night that they encountered the launch which was transporting them, and the pilot assured me that immediately upon receiving these animals they slaughtered them and ate the meat raw.
Ulloa had given this aid on his own authority. He didn't know what the position of official Spain might be. On September 29, 1766, he sent a letter to his superiors in Spain, asking for instructions:
The arrival of these people, together with those of the same kind who were already in the colony and others who might come, is a very great problem for me and for anyone else who might govern because from the moment they arrive it is necessary to spend money on them in providing the necessities of life and to continue to do so until they have a way to subsist by themselves, which takes at least two years.
In order for them to establish themselves it is necessary to provide them with arms and ammunition, tools and everything else. It is necessary to give widows and orphans everything and to provide them all a surgeon, medicines, and special diets, since shortly after their arrival and in the first two years they become ill a great deal and a high number of them die...
On the one hand, one is moved by charity and the obligations of hospitality, for if one fails to help them they will without doubt perish; and on the other hand one is pressed by the obligation not to use funds for purposes which are not determined by royal decision.
Spain recognized the value of the Acadian settlers. She needed warm bodies to populate the Louisiana colony. The Acadians knew how to build dikes to hold back the Mississippi River and how to reclaim lowlands. They could help feed a growing New Orleans with their produce and fish.
The exiles were also good soldiers, as they had shown "against the British as well as the type of warfare conducted against the Indians." Such citizens were important to Ulloa, "in this colony which must always depend upon the settlers for its defense."
Ulloa sent the Acadians to present-day St. James Parish and up the river to its intersection with Bayou Manchac, where they built a fort and a town called St. Gabriel de Manchac. The town remains today. The Willowglen electrical generating station marks the site of the old fort.
In addition to land, each Acadian family was given six hens, one rooster, one cow and calf, corn, gunpowder, bullets and a musket.
Ulloa's successors would broaden Spanish defenses against the British and others by placing settlements along important Mississippi River distributaries, and using Acadians to populate them. The Acadian emigres would be sent down Bayou Manchac to Galveztown (abandoned in the 1800s) and to French Settlement (still a thriving community). He placed another settlement at Lafourche des Chetimachas--Indian lands at the fork of Bayou Lafourche and the Mississippi River today's Donaldsonville. Another new settlement was established down Bayou Lafourche at Valenzuela now Plattenville.
From these places the Acadians would spread up and down the Mississippi River, along Bayou Manchac to the Amite River, down Bayou Lafourche, southwest from Donaldsonville. The area would become known as The Acadian Coast. It would become one of the ironies of our history that more French-speaking settlers would come to Louisiana during the 40 years of Spanish rule than during the entire period of French control.
If you follow the Mississippi River through Iberville Parish, due south of Baton Rouge, you will come to a tortuous series of bends and twists that send the river curling back and forth upon itself. The town of St. Gabriel sits on the east bank of the river at the center of the second bend. Here you will find the oldest church still standing in Louisiana, Saint Gabriel d'Iberville, built by the Acadians in 1769.
The men who built it were named Babin, Blanchard, Breaux, Chaisson, Cloatre, Hebert, Landry, LeBlanc, Melanson, Richard, Rivet, Trahan. Most of them had come to Louisiana the year before, 1768, after giving up hope of being repatriated to their farms in old Acadie. Another of them was named Pierre Allain. He was my grandfather's grandmother's greatgrandfather. This is his tale.
At the time of the dispersion in 1755, thousands of Acadians were sent to English colonies up and down the Atlantic Seaboard, to Massachusetts, to Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, to North and South Carolina and Georgia. Pierre Allain and most of the others who built the Saint Gabriel Church were among the thousand sent to Maryland.
In November 1755, The Annapolis Gazette reported
Last Sunday, the last of four vessels arrived from Nova Scotia; this brings their number to more than 900 in 15 days. Since these poor people were stripped of their farms and sent here indigent and naked for some political reason, Christian charity, the only sentiment common to humanity, is called upon from all to come to help, each according to his means these human beings so worthy of our compassion.
The call went largely unheeded, because the Acadians had arrived in a Maryland inflamed by fear of the French, who had begun jockeying for supremacy in the Ohio River Valley in 1749. French dominance there threatened Maryland's security. Maryland wanted Frenchmen out of the region, not new ones brought into it.
Animosity toward the French had grown worse during a wave of paranoia that swept Maryland following Gen. Edward Braddock's defeat by outnumbered French forces at the Battle of the Wilderness on July 9, 1755, and by Indian raids on the British frontier that followed that defeat.
The Acadians were exiled just as the paranoia peaked.
Of the 1,600 inhabitants of Grand Pre in old Acadie, 420 were sent to Maryland aboard the ships Elizabeth and Leopard in September 1755. Another 493 Acadians from the village of Pisiquit came there aboard two other ships, the Dolphin and the Ranger, in late November and early December 1755.
Because of overcrowding and winter storms that had delayed the ships at Boston, provisions were depleted.
Jonas Green, editor of the Annapolis paper, lamented:
While they have lain in this Port, the Town has been at considerable charge in supporting them, as they appear very needy, and quite exhausted in Provisions; and it cannot be expected that the charge or Burden of maintaining such a Multitude can be supported by the inhabitants of Annapolis ... it will be necessary soon to disperse them to different parts of the Province.
Dispersed they were. Some of the Acadians immediately fled into the nearby forests, hoping to make their way back to Canada. Most of these were never heard from again. Others were taken into private homes, then helped to build homes of their own in "French Town," a suburb of Baltimore. Still others spread out into Newton, Georgetown, Snowhill, Princess Ann, Portabaco, Lower and Upper Mariborough, Annapolis, Belisle and Oxford. Some hired onto ship and headed for the French West Indies.
When no public aid materialized, the Acadians were forced to rely on the charity of their neighbors. Maryland's Catholic minority did what it could, but the exiles were at the mercy of the less friendly Protestant majority. There was more need than help. Some Acadians were able to do what little work they could find, and gradually improved their lot--though never rising out of poverty. Many debilitated by age, illness or malnutrition, were driven to begging in the streets.
Writing to his son on January 9, 1759, Charles Carroll reported the exiles had been reduced to a "state of ... Misery, Poverty, and Rags."
After the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the Acadians in the various English colonies sent petitions and a census to the French ambassador in London begging the French government to try to send them back to Canada. According to their census of 1763 there were 1,043 Acadians left in Massachusetts 666 in Connecticut 383 in Pennsylvania, 280 in south Carolina, 249 in New York, 185 in Georgia, 802 in Maryland. Still in Acadie were 694 at Halifax, plus 87 on the St. John River.
The British government said it would allow the Acadians to leave for any French possession within 18 months of the treaty ratification but many of them could not scrape up the money to go. A good number of the exiles remained in Maryland. Nearly 20 years after the dispersion, in 1871, a Father Robin wrote of a flourishing Acadian colony in Baltimore:
They still conserve the French language and remain very attached to all that belonged to the country of their ancestors, especially their religion. I could not help but congratulate them on their piety and recall the virtues of their ancestors. I thus reminded them of memories too dear to be mentioned, and as a result they broke into tears ...
But most of the Acadians eventually left Maryland for Louisiana, many of them traveling an overland route to the Tennessee River, and then floating down it to the Mississippi. Pierre Allain and his family went by sea, taking 78 days to sail from Baltimore to New Orleans.
A document signed by Julian Alvarez at New Orleans on July 27 1767, gives a list of the Acadian arrivals. A note at the end reports that "during the 78-day voyage ... from the Port of Baltimore ... Armand Hebert, Head of Family and Marie Landry died. Olivier Babin and Marguerite Hernandez were born."
Less than a month later the new arrivals were on their way to new homes in the wilderness, departing New Orleans on Aug. 8.
On Jan. 14, 1767, Joseph de Onieta, commandant at Saint Gabriel, had reported on conditions there:
The savages of different nations come here very frequently, and are very bothersome and importune; so much so, that every time they come for a talk, and after having given them their present, they bother us for food and cloth. We try to dissuade them and tell them that we do not have all the necessities ... Their reply is that they are hungry, they are naked, there is no harvest, and finally that this is their land, sprinkling in a few bad sounding phrases in French.
These incidents happen when they have already been to the English (which they ordinarily do) and get here full of brandy. And as they are drunk on this liquor, they become agitated and ask for everything they can think of with haughtiness and a tone of arrogance, as if we were their tributaries. But we try to mitigate and calm with polite and wise words, putting them off to another day and time ...
Land was distributed to Pierre Allain and his fellow travelers by Oct. 15, 1767, when Onieta sent a list to New Orleans, containing the names of 49 heads of families and their grants. On Oct. 20 he sent another message:
On the fifteenth at two in the afternoon all of the Acadian Heads of Family were established on their respective lands, with a twelve yard space between each of them for the road ... All of this has been carried out with much difficulty ... for I confess to you that more than four times I emerged from the mash looking like a clown ... covered with mud from head to foot because of big mud puddles we found on shore. But thank God we have finally managed to put them all in place and they are now clearing the land in order to establish themselves.
Between lots 26 and 27 we have marked off one arpent so that they may build a chapel.
More Acadians would come to Louisiana from Maryland, though sometimes by circuitous routes.
A group of 100, mostly Acadians, left Maryland on Jan. 5, 1769, aboard the English schooner La Bretona. The passengers sighted the coast of Louisiana on Feb. 21, but easterly winds drove them more than 40 miles across the northern Gulf to the coast of Texas.
According to one account, "after having been reduced to the greatest distress for want of provisions, their whole stock being exhausted for some time, having subsisted on the rats, cats and even all the shoes and leather on the vessel, they ran into Bernard's Bay and landed at the mouth of Rio de la Norte or Rio Grande, in the kingdom or province of New Mexico, instead of Mississippi. Happening to discover a horse immediately after their coming on shore, they killed him for food."
The schooner and passengers were seized by Spaniards in early April and the travelers were taken to a fort at San Antonio. They were held there until Sept. 11, when they were taken overland to Natchitoches. From there they traveled by canoe down the Red River and the Mississippi, arriving in new Orleans on Nov. 9.
The Acadians who settled on the Mississippi built no mansions, but their rich riverlands provided an abundant harvest, a good, if simple life, and, for some, relative prosperity. Contemporary records make Pierre Allain "a farmer." But his son, "Simon, had acquired enough wealth to be called the more respectable "planter" in the census of his day.
Simon's sister, Marguerite, widow of Pierre Landry, would hold land at the intersection of Bayou Lafourche and the Mississippi River when New Orleans banker William Donaldson started buying and subdividing land there in 1805, Marguerite Allain's was the first lot he would buy, for $12,000 in gold. The place is called Donaldsonville today.
THE ODYSSEY OF PIERRE VINCENT
Pierre Vincent Sr. was just seven years old in the autumn of 1755, so he was not among the 418 men and boys who were gathered at the church at Grand Pre in old Acadie that Sept. 5. The order from the British governors of Nova Scotia instructed that "both old and young men, as well as the lads of ten years of age ... attend the church at Grand Pre, on Friday, the 5th instant, at three o'clock in the afternoon, that we may import to them what we are ordered to communicate to them..." But Pierre and his family were about to begin the forced journey that would bring them from Nova Scotia to Louisiana, a journey that would not be completed until he was well into maturity.
Pierre, his father (Joseph Vincent), his mother (Marguerite Bodard), and his sister (Maria) were placed aboard a ship to be sent to the British colony in Virginia. But the British authorities up East had not told the Virginians that the Acadians were coming. The Virginians refused to allow the exiles into the colony. When smallpox began to run rampant through the ships detained in Williamsburg harbor, the Acadian fate was sealed. The ships, their captive cargo lessened by hundreds killed in the epidemic, finally sailed for England.
Joseph Vincent died there, in a prison in Southampton, before the British and French finally found an accord that would allow repatriation of the Acadians to French soil. Pierre, his mother and his sister were sent to France, but they found things little better there.
In the decade following Le Grand Derangement, more than 3,000 exiled Acadians sought refuge in France, but, after generations of separation from Europe and European ways, the Acadians were foreigners in France, just as they had been in England.
Out of step and out of time with French feudal society, trapped by poverty in the slums of the Atlantic ports, the Acadians faced a bleak future. Unable to compete for jobs and unwilling to renounce their traditional independence for denigrating peasant work in the countryside, the Acadians found themselves on the royal dole. The native Frenchmen, already overburdened by taxes, soon resented the exiles they were forced to support.
France was not the Promised Land. Living conditions for the Acadians were wretched from the outset. Once they had been crowded aboard ships and ferried across the English Channel to Moriaix and St. Malo in May and June of 1763 after eight years in England--the Acadians were housed in barracks where smallpox, once again, claimed hundreds of lives.
The French officials were equally at a loss over what to do with this influx of foreigners as were the Anglos in the Atlantic colonies of North America. It was probably only natural that the Acadians would become pawns in French imperial schemes.
With the end of the Seven Years' War--the English-French feud that had finally brought about the Acadian exile--Etienne Francois, due de Choiseul, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, wanted to revitalize what remained of the French empire. He saw the Acadians as potential colonists to be sent to the French Caribbean and elsewhere. In late 1763 he began a propaganda campaign designed to entice the displaced Acadians to the jungles of Cayenne (French Guiana) on the north coast of South America. Several hundred were lured there by descriptions of a tropical paradise. Almost all of them fell prey to the heat and humidity.
With the collapse of the Cayenne colony, Abbe Louis Joseph LeLoutre, the former vicar general in Acadie, proposed an Acadian colony on Belle Isle en Mer, a windswept, rocky island off the coast of Brittany. Colonization began in early August 1765 with Acadian families from Moriaix and St. Malo.
The Acadians could grow nothing in stone, and many died on Belle Isle en Mer--including Pierre's mother. The colony was plagued with drought, crop failure, livestock epidemics and high taxes. Unable to pay the taxes or to get an extension from provincial officials, the Acadians were forced to abandon their homes once again. The Belle Isle colony collapsed in 1772. The families were moved back to the maritime ports of France. Again, they failed to find acceptance among the native population. They sank deeper into poverty.
The disillusioned Acadians grasped at every opportunity to leave France for any foreign country or colony that might offer a chance to be reunited with their fellows, for their agrarian lifestyle to be rebuilt. In late 1763 and 1764 hundreds sought refuge in the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina. Most of these soon returned, penniless, to France.
Then, just as the idea of moving from France seemed to be dying, there came a new hope. In September 1766, Jean Baptists Semer, who had settled in the Attakapas District of Louisiana (as the region around St. Martinville was known), wrote to his father in France and described the "benefits extended by ... Louisiana's newly installed Spanish administration to him and to all of his comrades."
Word of Louisiana's apparently thriving Acadian community spread rapidly. The Acadians in France asked to be sent to Louisiana. The government said it would cost too much.
The Acadians were trapped in France. Many worked small, poor plots on large estates, hoping to sharecrop their way to land of their own. In the cities they were regarded as parasites, since few had skills useful there.
Then there was a plan to settle 2,000 of them on 15,000 unworked arpents owned by the Marquis de Perusse des Cars. It was pitiful land. There was no fresh water. The crops failed. By mid-1776, fewer than 200 Acadians remained on the sterile land. Most of them moved to Rouen, Caen, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Nantes.
Next, came a plan to place the exiles on Corsica. Then, with the hope that the American Revolution might oust the British from Canada, there was a plan to send the exiles back there. But still, in the back of the Acadian minds there was Louisiana, where kin and neighbor had found homes.
Finally in 1783, Henri de Peyroux de la Coudreniere, a Frenchman who'd made and lost a fortune in Louisiana, provided the catalyst to bring the Acadians back to North America. He would rebuild his fortune through commissions paid by the Spanish, who were seeking Louisiana settlers.
Though Peyroux had married an Acadian, he was viewed as a Frenchman, suspected by the Acadians. To gain credibility among the exiles in France, Peyroux launched his resettlement program through an Acadian intermediary, Oliver Terrio, a Nantes cobbler whom he contacted under the pretext of having Mme. Peyroux's shoes fixed.
The Acadians were still suspicious. A petition was circulated among them at Nantes, Morlaix, Rennes, St. Malo, Caen, and Cherbourg, asking the king for permission to emigrate. It drew only five signatures.
But Peyroux and Terrio propagandized and persevered.
On Sunday, May 10,1785, 30 years after the Acadian exile, and after involved negotiations with the Spanish, the first group, 156 Acadians, left King and France for Louisiana. By the end of the year, seven ships had carried more than 1,500 Acadians, Pierre Vincent among them, to a Louisiana that though Spanish in title, was still French in flavor and name.
Pierre Vincent was aboard the third ship, Le Beaumont, when it sailed up the Mississippi River on Aug. 19, 1785.
He would settle on lands at the intersection of the Vermilion River and Bayou Que de Tortue, near what today is the town of Milton, almost dead center of what today we call Acadiana. He'd finally found home.
During the Atlantic crossing, Pierre met Agnes Broussard, widow of Pierre Potier. They were married on Jan. 12, 1788, but she died soon afterwards. On April 20, 1790, he married again, to Catherine Galman, widow of Benoit Hararave. They would have nine children, one of them being Pierre Vincent Jr.
Pierre Vincent Jr. would marry Sarah Celeste (Sally) Ryan, the daughter of Jacob Ryan, Sr. Ryan had migrated from Georgia to the region around Perry's Bridge in Vermilion Parish, but, in 1817 moved to Calcasieu Parish. One of his sons, Isaac, moved also to Calcasieu, where, we are told, he met up with Jim Bowie. It was perhaps an unfortunate meeting. Isaac Ryan's name can be found among those who followed Bowie to the Alamo and died there with him
Pierre Vincent Jr. and Sally Ryan also moved to Calcasieu. They were among the first 10 settlers in those parts (if you don't count the Indians, which few people do). They were probably among the first five. They would leave their mark.
The main thoroughfare through Lake Charles is named Ryan Street, after Jacob Ryan Jr., who opened a sawmill on the lakefront, claimed the land around it, then sold it by the 100-foot rope length through what is now the city's downtown. (The story goes that, if you wanted to buy land from him, you'd find him rocking on his front porch, with a coil of rope alongside his chair. "I want to buy some land," you'd say. Measure it off," he'd say, and throw you the rope. )
Pierre Vincent Jr. and Sally Ryan settled across the river from Lake Charles and reared 10 children at a homesite still known as Vincent Settlement.
Before all was said and done the Ryans (along with some others) had up and founded a town. The Vincents stayed on the farm and raised cattle and children.
Many Acadians fled into hiding during those fall and winter months of 1755, when the British were rounding up their neighbors to send them into exile. Considerable numbers fleeing in small groups, escaped to what they thought to be French territory in today's New Brunswick.
It wasn't until late in 1758, three years after Le Grand Derangement, that the English finally succeeded in burning the last of the Acadian villages, along the upper Petitcodiac River (in New Brunswick near today's Moncton). Yet they still met with resistance. Many Acadians stayed in the area, hiding in the woods, living off the land, and harassing the English whenever and however they could.
One of their leaders was Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard, a militia captain and resistance leader who built an almost legendary reputation as a sharp-shooter and guerrilla fighter.
He was called Beausoleil because he was one of the first to settle the little village of the name (now Boundary Creek, New Brunswick). Another variation is that his beautiful sunny smile earned him that nickname.
His father, Jean Francois Broussard, had come from La Rochelle, France, in the spring of 1661 aboard the ship L'Oranger. In Port Royal, 10 years later, Jean Francois married Catherine Richard, daughter of Michel Richard and Madeline Blanchard. They had 10 children: Marie (1682), Madeline (1683), Pierre (1684), Catherine (1686), Francois (1690) Elizabeth (1693) Claude (1697) Joseph (1702), Alexandre (1703), and Jean Baptiste (1705).
Jean Francois left Port Royal in 1698 and settled for a time at Chipoudy. He returned to Port Royal a few years later, but his two sons, Joseph and Alexandre, stayed on the Petitcodiac, marrying sisters from Chipody (Agnes and Marguerite Thibodeaux). Joseph Broussard and Agnes Thibodeaux also had 10 children: Jean Gregoire (1726), Joseph (1727), Victor (1728) Raphael (1733), Isabelle (1735), Timothe (1741), Francois (1742), Claude (1748), Francoise (1752) and Armand (1754).
(It is this Armand Broussard's house that has been restored and now stands at Vermillionville, the historic attraction at Lafayette. )
After the dispersion, guerrillas led by Beausoleil Broussard successfully fought the British to a stand-still along the Petitcodiac River until 1758. According to one account, his resistance was so effective that British troops at nearby Fort Cumberland were afraid to leave its wars. Broussard matched his success on land with piratical raids on coastal shipping.
But wits and gumption can carry you only so far. Despite the resistance, the British methodically cleared old Acadie, laying waste as they went, leaving the land bare. The final Acadian enclave at Louisbourg fell in 1759. Quebec fell to the British soon after and all of Canada with it. The refugees lost hope; there was no place to go.
On Nov. 16, 1759, faced with the prospect of starvation and a fast-approaching Canadian winter Joseph, his brother, Alexandre, and Jean Basque and Simon Martin delivered a petition to the British at Fort Cumberland, giving up the fight. Jean and Michel Bourg led another group of starving Acadians to the fort a few days later. All of them were sent to Halifax, where they were held until the end of hostilities in 1763. They were not deported, most likely, because there was no shipping available, and because, by now, there was no place to send them--the other English colonies had their fill of Acadians.
Instead, Broussard and his followers were put to work building and maintaining the dikes the Acadians had built to reclaim tidal lands.
When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, some 1,700 Acadian prisoners remained in Nova Scotia. There were rumors that they might be sent back to France, but these were only rumors. Then there was talk of being sent to Quebec, but the Acadians who had already fled there had found rough going.
Broussard and his cohorts formed their own plan. They would sail to Santo Domingo, then to the mouth of the Mississippi River, then upriver to the Illinois country.
In late November or early December 1764, Joseph Broussard chartered a schooner and set sail with his family and 6,00 other Acadians for Santo Domingo. Tropical heat and epidemic quickly took a heavy toll among them, however, and no more than 200 survivors arrived in Louisiana in February 1765, too weary to go on to Illinois.
The Louisiana governor said he would try to place Broussard and his followers on the right bank of the Mississippi "as close to (New Orleans) as possible." But the site selected flooded frequently, and was covered with dense hardwood forest. The Acadians would have to build levees and clear the land before even thinking about becoming self-sufficient and feeding themselves. It would take too long and be too expensive.
Some of Broussard's band would settle upriver at St. James, but most of them would cross the Atchafalaya Basin to the Attakapas country--by then a developing post to which several Creole families had recently migrated from Fort Toulouse and Mobile (which had been ceded by the French to the English by the Treaty of 1763.)
There were only a few white men in the region then. The Poste des Attakapas (as St. Martinville was first called), had been opened some years before as part of a French plan to form a chain of forts to "protect the northern and eastern district bordered, neighbored and enclosed by Louisiana." In addition to forts in the northern reaches of the province, the French planned military stations at "Opelousas, Attakapas, and along the frontier of Old Mexico."
The Poste des Attakapas, when the Acadianas got there, consisted of a small church, shabby barracks for the handful of soldiers garrisoned there, and a small store where the scattered settlers of the neighborhood traded.
The treeless Attakapas prairies could be settled quickly and their broad grasslands already supported huge herds of wild cattle. The governor needed beef to feed the growing population in New Orleans, and he needed a place to put the Acadians, who had experienced raising cattle. It seemed a natural.
At this time, Jean Antoine Bernard d'Hauterive, a retired military officer, held extensive lands on the east side of Bayou Teche. Broussard and his band would settle on lands nearby, making a living by "sharecropping" cattle for d'Hauterive.
In April 1765 Joseph and Alexandre Broussard were among the Acadian representatives who signed a compact with d'Hauterive, under which he would provide each Acadian family with five cows with calves and one bull for each of six consecutive years. At the end of six years, the Acadians were to return "the same number of cows and calves of the same age and kind, that they received initially, the remaining cattle and their increase surviving at the time (to) be divided equally between (the) Acadians and (d'Hauterive)."
At about the same time, Joseph Broussard was commissioned a captain in the Louisiana militia, because of the "honorable testimonials which the Marquis de Vaudreuil and other Governors General of Canada have accorded him in consideration of his wounds and of the courage he has given proof of in different affairs against the enemies of his majesty." He was also named "Commandant of the Acadians, who have come with him...to settle on the land of the Acutapas (Attakapas)."
The Acadians were led to the Attakapas country by Louis Andry, the royal surveyor and a veteran military engineer, and were granted lands along Bayou Teche and the Vermillion River.
According to his instructions, Andry was to work with Broussard to lay out a village and establish a commons around it, then to distribute lands beyond the commons to the Acadians in parcels sized according to the size of their families.
The government wanted the Acadians to live in the village and cultivate the outlying lands. But the Acadians decided otherwise and settled themselves on widely separated lands. The oldest of the Acadian communities west of the Atchafalaya was probably at Fausse Pointe (Loreauville today), established by June 1765. Later, ascending the Teche to the large westward bend above Parks, they founded La Pointe de Repos. But many La Pointe settlers moved away when an epidemic, most likely yellow fever, began there in early summer. Other refugees settled at Cote Gelee (the area between today's Pilette and Broussard). Others migrated to La Manque near today's Breaux Bridge. From these places they would migrate steadily westward.
Joseph Broussard settled at a place named Camp Beausoleil, near the present town of Broussard, but did not live to see his Acadian followers firmly settled. He died on Sept. 5, 1765, during an epidemic that swept the countryside. His brother, Alexandre, had died 13 days earlier.
Copyright ©1994 by the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser. Reprinted with permission.