Acadian History In Louisiana

Acadian history in Louisiana is a rich one. Expelled from maritime Canada by the British, the Acadians moved on to develop the unique Cajun culture of Louisiana.

Forcibly expelled by the British from their homes and farms in maritime Canada during the second half of the 18th Century, many Acadians eventually made their way to southern Louisiana, where, over the generations, their descendants have formed the nucleus of Louisiana's Cajun life and culture.

The Acadians were of French descent, dating back to the first hardy fishermen from France in the 16th and 17th Centuries. As the fishermen saw the advantage of year round settlement, some Acadians began farming in the fertile Annapolis Valley by the Bay of Fundy. By the time of the British expulsion, begun with earnest in 1755, Acadians numbered about 18,000. Some historians estimate 50% of these died as a direct consequence of British action.

The British felt compelled to firmly establish their sovereignty in Canada's maritime region in order to advance their colonialist ambitions against French Quebec. To do this, they believed, required that they colonize the area with British subjects.

Not only did the Acadians already occupy the best land and had for generations; they refused to pledge allegiance to Britain; their first language was French; they far outnumbered the British occupation force; and they got along well with the local Indians. Worse for the British, perhaps, the Acadians were economically self-sufficient. They had no need for British commerce. Ironically, the Acadians did not feel any particular allegiance to France either.

In 1755, the expulsions began. Settlements and farms were burned. Men and boys were separated from women and children, and all were loaded into cargo vessels contracted in Boston and dispersed throughout the colonies. Because a strength of Acadian life was in their close extended family system, the British believed fragmenting the families was essential.

Many Acadians under twenty-one years old were indentured to farmers in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. Others were shipped to South Carolina, Georgia, the French West Indies, and a few were shipped to France.

Of those sent to South Carolina, reportedly only one in ten survived. In Georgia, the Acadians were sold into slavery.

Records indicate that the first Acadians, four families, arrived in Louisiana from New York in 1754. Immediately after the expulsion, more began straggling in, mostly from the French West Indies and Maryland. The first significant influx was during the 1760's.

The Acadians/Cajuns picked up their former life styles. They farmed, they fished, they built self-sufficient enclaves, and they retained their language. As well, they chose to settle an area in which no one else had any interest; an area later to become known as the Cajun prairie.

Over time the Acadians in Louisiana became known as Cajuns. Intermarriages had not particularly diluted their culture, though this exposure did lead to some modification in their language. Now there were Spanish, English, and some African influences; and the language gradually became uniquely Cajun, quite different from orthodox French, Quebec French, or that spoken in other French colonies. Cajun culture remained dominant because of the strong emphasis on family ties, the same emphasis that had helped them stay the course throughout the period of the expulsion.

Cajuns are credited with a major role in starting the cattle industry in the south. In 1761, the first Cajun cattle brand was registered in Louisiana's official brand book--a book, incidentally, maintained in French and housed in a Cajun community until well into the 19th Century. Cajun involvement in cattle is not surprising. At the time of the expulsion, Acadians lost an estimated 100,000 head, confiscated by the British.

When Spain entered the Revolutionary War on the side of the colonists, Cajun volunteer forces captured Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola.

During 1785-90, the next major wave of Acadians arrived in Louisiana, some 4000 from France. By 1785, three Catholic parishes had been established for Cajuns.

The rest is, as is said, history. Cajun subsistence rice cultivation grew into one of Louisiana's main industries. In 1867, Cajuns established the first shrimp canning operation. Shrimp continue to be the Cajun's major fishing industry. In 1843, Alexander Mouton was elected the first Cajun governor of Louisiana.

The popular image of the Cajun as deep bayou po' folks who cook great food and play great music is more than skewed. Cajuns today are significant political, economic, and cultural forces in Louisiana life.

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