Acadian/Cajun FlagRacoon

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.

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.

(Other reliable sources tell me that the Mouton ancestors did not arrive in Louisiana until 1764 - a few years earlier they are listed as prisoners at Fort Edward in Nova Scotia.) [This is what Stanley LeBlanc has to say about this: 1755 arrival of the Moutons in Louisiana is a myth. The Moutons arrived in 1765. A daughter of Salvator and a daughter of Louis were baptized in New Orleans in December 1765.

The February 1765 arrivals were sent to Attakapas and Opelousas but many went to St. James later that year. Those who arrived in May 1765 and later were placed in St. James. The names mentioned in the last paragraph didn't "follow" the Moutons. Some arrived at the same time.

There is some indication that some Moutons arrived with the 1764 group and were placed just above the German Coast [the area known as Vacherie] but I haven't found any actual documentation.

Jean, son of Salvador, is known as the "father of Lafayette" His son, Alexandre was the Governor.]

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.

The AAH is grateful to Cliff N. of Louisiana who sent the following correction as to location of the old fort on February 14, 2007:

I live in a subdivision on the Baton Rouge side of Bayou Manchac and pass by the Willow Glen plant to attend the St. Gabriel Church. The map I have of the original Acadian land distribution shows the Fort adjacent to Bayou Manchac (Riviere Iberville) not downriver in the vicinity of the power plant. The power plant is almost 12 miles by the river road from Bayou Manchac. The local historians believe is that the fort site was actually taken over by the river.

The original church has been moved at least three times to prevent it from being taken over by the river. The original cemetery has disappeared into the river.

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. (It should be noted that this church is actually the oldest in the entire Mississippi River Valley not just Louisiana.)

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. This ishis 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.

In 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.


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, duc 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.

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.

This information was obtained from the Special Supplement to the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, September 29, 1994. Used with permission.


Acadiana is the name given to the traditional twenty-two parish Cajun homeland, which in 1971 the Louisiana state legislature officially recognized for its unique Cajun and Acadian heritage (per House Concurrent Resolution No. 496). Despite the frequent association of Cajuns with swamplands, Acadiana actually consists mainly of prairies, marshes, and wooded river (or bayou) lands.

The term Acadiana was coined by accident around 1963, when KATC-TV 3 in Lafayette, owned by the Acadian Television Corporation, received an invoice bearing a typographical error: someone had mistakenly added the letter "a" to the end of Acadian, forming Acadiana. Noting the error, the station’s manager found the new word catchy (particularly as it seemed to combine the words Acadian and Louisiana). KATC began using the new word to describe the region covered by its broadcast signal. The word soon took on a life of its own, and came to describe most of south Louisiana.

As evidence of its popularity, a survey of a recent phone directory covering forty-seven communities in south-central Acadiana shows that over two hundred fifty businesses use the word in their titles. Acadiana often is mistakenly applied only to Lafayette Parish and several neighboring parishes, usually Acadia, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Vermilion parishes, and sometimes also Evangeline and St. Mary; this eight-parish area, however, is actually the "Cajun Heartland, USA" district, which makes up only about a third of the entire Acadiana region.

Sources: Ancelet et al., Cajun Country; Dormon, People Called Cajuns; Dunning, "‘Cajun Heartland, USA’"; "Steno's Error," Acadiana [KATC newsletter].

Acadians are the ancestors of present-day Cajuns. In the seventeenth century they settled in what are today the Maritime Provinces of Canada (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), then called Acadia, or Acadie in French. Although the colony was founded in 1604, the French government neglected it until the 1630s, when the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye affirmed French control.

In July 1632 three hundred French settlers arrived in Acadia to carve out frontier homes near the community of Port Royal. Fifty-five percent of these Acadian "first families" hailed from the Centre-Ouest region of France (Poitou, Aunis, Angoumois, and Saintonge); of these, eighty-five percent came from the La Chausée area of Poitou.

These families included Doucet, Bourgeois, Boudrot (Boudreaux), Terriault (Theriot), Richard, LeBlanc, Thibodeaux, Comeau(x), Cormier, Hébert, Brault (Breaux), Granger, and Girouard.

Most of these and later Acadian settlers derived from Old World peasant stock, shared similar cultural traits, and on the frontier developed a common Acadian identity.

According to historian Carl A. Brasseaux, the Acadian pioneers were characterized by individualism, adaptability, pragmatism, industriousness, egalitarian principles, and an ability to pull together when threatened. They also possessed extended families, and distinctive language and speech patterns. The Acadians were also typically non-materialistic, seeking only economic independence and a decent standard of living through an agrarian way of life. Some ethnic diversity did exist among the Acadians, however: a few were of English, Scottish, Irish, Spanish, Basque, and even American Indian origin. Those of French origin, however, dominated the cultural landscape, and as intermarriage occurred the Acadian population quickly became homogenized. Studies indicate that between 1654 and 1755 the Acadian population grew from 300-350 colonists to about 12,000-15,000 (despite a fifty-percent child mortality rate).

By the mid-eighteenth century thousands occupied not only the Acadian peninsula, but also the Chignecto Isthmus (connecting the peninsula to the Canadian mainland), Ile St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island), Ile Royale (now Cape Breton Island), and the coastal region of present-day New Brunswick. In 1710 Acadia passed from France to England as a prize of war, and for the next forty-five years the Acadians lived in relative peace under British administrators.

In 1755, the British expelled the Acadians by force in what came to be known as Le Grand Dérangement ("the Great Deportation"). Contrary to popular belief, the British deported only about 6,050 Acadians by ship, the remainder seeking refuge in nearby territories. Regardless, some sources claim that about half the pre-expulsion Acadian population died during the expulsion. After years of wandering, about 2,600 to 3,000 Acadians (roughly 15 to 25 percent of the pre-expulsion population) sailed to Louisiana between 1765 and 1785 to begin their lives anew. On this subtropical frontier, the Acadian exiles and their descendants intermarried with other ethnic groups (mainly French, Spanish, German, and Anglo-American settlers), and in the process evolved into a new ethnic group: the Cajuns.

Other Acadian exiles found refuge in present-day Canada and abroad; those in Canada still describe themselves as Acadians. The word is used less commonly in Louisiana because of the popularity of Cajun, which generally is not considered synonymous with Acadian. In addition, it is believed that some 20,000 persons of Acadian ancestry reside in the New England states (1980 estimate), particularly Maine, which directly borders Canada’s Maritime Provinces. It is estimated that today there are between 700,000 and 1,500,000 Acadians worldwide (including Cajuns).

Sources: Ancelet et al., Cajun Country; Brasseaux, Acadian to Cajun; Brasseaux, "Scattered to the Wind"; Domengeaux, "Native-Born Acadians"; Dormon, People Called Cajuns.

© Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
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