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Writing in the Journal of Geography, Vol. XXXIII, March 1934, Minnie Kelley said "Acadian South Louisiana, commonly known as the Attakapas District, lies south of the thirteenth parallel of Latitude. The Atchafalaya and the Mermentau Rivers mark the eastern and western boundaries respectively. The southern limit of the region is the Gulf of Mexico while the northern limit is the Avoyelles District."
The area, located in the Gulf Coastal Plains Physiographic Province, is composed of flat rolling hills, beginning in the north central -westward from the hills were the cypress swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin; westward, the coastal prairie; and to the south, the salt marshes bordering the gulf.
Kelley described the land as embracing “Such half-solid, half-fluid area (which had) no agriculture value, but support a forest growth so dense with cypress, tupelo, gum, water oaks, ferns, palmettos and a network of vines, that the appearance is similar to that of the jungles.” At that time, the swamp was inhabited by hunters, trappers and fisherman who lived in houseboats, palmetto tents and frame houses, mostly along the bayous.”
Other early travelers who left extant records saw the land as a paradise as far as location and nature were concerned.
In 1817, "an immigrant from Maryland" wrote an article on the territory of the time in Nite's Weekly Register, Sept. 18, 1817 and reprinted it in the Opelousas Courier on June 21, 1884, saying that the Teche and Vermilion "flow entirely from north to south, emptying into the sea, and being connected by Bayou Fuselier."
Both of the streams were navigable for large boats and vessels which drew less than eight feet. The length was 100 miles from the mouth of both, but particularly so for the Teche. The latter, being mostly sluggish, could become very rapid at times, and was generally very deep. Other streams in the territory included the Carron Crow, Tortue, Salle, Cypremort, Pettitance, and two "large and beautiful lakes in Attakapas, from which the finest fish are caught."
The writer believed the climate to be much better than that which existed in Maryland. He said in Attakapas, there was only the "common bilious fever" and none of the violent and dangerous fevers which existed in the lower parts of Louisiana where there was much swampland. In the Attakapas, the country was wide open, with extensive prairies allowing a continual current of air to sweep over them, with sea breezes continually blowing during the "sticky" and warm months.
"The pure air of the ocean passes over the entire surface, without meeting any swamps or woods or putrefaction in its course," he wrote blithely. He found that during the last three years, which he apparently spent in the territory, it had been seldom higher than 86 degrees in the summer and only "as high as 98 degrees five times." He calculated the average mean heat of the Attakapas and Opelousas to have been about "68 degrees in the months of July, August and September. The nights during the summer were very pleasant, always fanned by sea breezes, and generally cool enough to cover with a sheet, and often "with a counterpane."
Warren Perring found the Attakapas region especially beneficial to those trouble with lung, nasal and throat diseases. “The summers are not so hot and sultry as they are in the Northwestern States but are much longer. The delightful Gulf breezes make it pleasant, even in the middle of the summer, except during the middle of the day -from 10 o'clock A.M. to 4 o'clock P.M. -- and even then it is pleasant in the shade. The winters are delightful."
There was greater rainfall in winter than in summer, and it was sometimes "chilly, damp and disagreeable," said one writer, "for from one to three days at a time, it soon changes when the wind changes to the south, and it is so warm and pleasant that for weeks at a time we do not light fires in our sitting rooms or parlors, and men work in the open air in their short sleeves."
Persons in the early history of the territory were prolific writers, practically giving history and geography lessons to those to whom they wrote, but sometimes one must wonder if they were extolling the find things, or if they were writing about the same place we know today to be anything but -"cool" in July and August!
In 1886 (See Attakapas Gazette, Vol. 6, No. 4, page 122) another writer noted that in 1830, "The Teche was much more thickly settled than now; for it took many small places to make one large sugar plantation, and many of these small farmers moved further up the country or back into the prairies."
He was referring, of course, to the land grants which had been given to the Acadian refugees, who later sold their lands to wealthier men when the raising, cultivating and processing of sugar became practical. Those who bought the lands near the streams made them into the large plantations of which we read about and see exemplified in the large homes we see restored along the countryside.
He explained that much of the splendid forest scenery had been destroyed, and "where once stood the giant live oak, with spread unknown to any other tree, the bright, glistening magnolia, overtopping the deep and green orange grove, is now a field and nothing more."
From all accounts which can be read on the earliest topography of the Attakapas, out of which St. Martin Parish was carved, one can realize that it was a beautiful land, with clean, clear water, untouched by pollution, and fruitful to those who desired to plant on its soil.
That scenery no longer exists; except for venerable old oaks and cypresses, there are no more clean, cool, clear lakes, and St. Martin may, indeed, have become a "Paradise Lost." In 2000, the Atchafalaya Basin was drained to rid it of a devastating incursion of hydrilla which was choking the oxygen out of the water.
Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya River are the two main waterways associated with St. Martin Parish. While Bayou Fuselier cuts through Arnaudville and lies partly in St. Martin Parish and partly in St. Landry, it is of no real consequence in modern times. It is some 123 miles of water flowing from its origin at Bayou Courtableau to the Atchafalaya, which it joins near Morgan City.
Teche is believed to be an Indian word meaning "winding snake," and it does meander along, very much like the Mississippi River, which sometimes twists back on itself almost enough to rejoin itself in a complete circle. Seen from the air, it is almost impossible to believe that these streams continue their running courses. Its winding course can also be seen in a cement representation in the Parc des Ponts de Pont Breaux in Breaux Bridge.
Old-timers say that the Teche once carried as much as its older sister stream, the Mississippi. Its course can still be traced northward through Bayou Courtableau, Bayou Wauska (Waxia), across Avoyelles Parish to Larto Lake in Catahoula Parish, and north of there to what is today the Tensas River.
Most of the Teche water today goes through Bayou Boeuf and Bayou Cocodrie into Courtableau, entering the West Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee borrow pit east of Port Barre. Some then rejoins the Teche at Charenton and then empties into the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Charenton and Navigation Canal.
In Washington, La., there is still evidence of the steamboat "turnaround" where boats traveling Bayou Teche had to stop their northward passage and return downstream again.
To some "the rivers and bayou of the state were fishing places, and transportation routes, as with the Indians and the Acadians. The fur trappers, as well as the traders and voyageurs used them to move themselves and their loads of wares.” On the other hand, the Spaniards found the streams nothing but bothersome nuisances. To the British and Americans, they were international waterways, and "were barriers to overcome in the development, of timberland and farmland and other natural resources."
The Atchafalaya River, too, is said to have been much wider than it is now, according to Fred Kemp of Henderson. Now, he said, it is narrow, but if the Mississippi River were to be allowed to take its course, it might overwhelm the Atchafalaya, which runs only 145 miles from Old River to the Gulf whereas the Mississippi travels 322 miles. If the mighty Mississippi were allowed to take its own course, it could prove disastrous in more ways than one, Economically, for Baton Rouge and New Orleans, it would be catastrophic, and for those in the Atchafalaya Basin, it would mean the possibility of flooding of 1,300 square miles of farmland and forests.
The Corps of Engineers, throughout its history, has taken steps to prevent this from happening, but it has not always been a peaceful endeavor. (See essays on early settlements and settlers elsewhere on this page.)
The flood of 1927 also convinced the federal government that measures should be taken to prevent any further flooding of the Basin. In 1928, a Flood Control Act was passed and funds were made available to build a system of locks and channels to control the Mississippi's flow into Old River, limiting the drainage from the Atchafalaya to about 25 percent in normal times.
These descriptions of where The vast mass called the Atacapas Territory was located geographically, of course does not nearly embody the essence of the areas history and formative years. To learn its present mixture of land resources and ethnic mixture one must travel back to the beginning for the two are inexorably tied.
The Chetimachas Indian tribe was settled on a triangular tract of land which encompassed the middle and lower Atchafalaya Basin, bounded by three sacred cypress trees at Vermilion Bay, Lake Dauterive and Lower Fourche. One source said a small aboriginal group lived there into the 20th Century. The settlement was along Bayou Sauvage, north of today's Interstate 10.
Very few who have studied this area of Louisiana are not familiar with the story of the Chetimachas and Opelousas Indians, who allegedly were subjected to the cannibalistic warmongers, the Attakapas.
Supposedly the three tribes went to war on one of the few high chateaux, but in a low area about six miles of present-day St. Martinville. The Chetimachas and Opelousas virtually wiped out the Attakapas. Only half a dozen or so are said to have escaped and taken refuge with another tribe in Calcasieu.
None less than Cabeza de Vaca wrote that the Attakapas, for a while, lived on Bad Luck Island during the winter, existing on roots and fish, returning turning the remainder of the year to the mainland for other food. If there was no food, they endured hunger with no complaints
One account places cannibalism at the feet of the Spaniards who refused to endure hunger and resorted to eating other humans, thereby outraging the Indians, who would later be presented as a danger for travelers to South Louisiana.
de Vaca claimed that the two tribes did not bury their dead physicians, however, as they did their other tribesmen. Instead, the burned the home of the deceased “until the bones became powder.” Funeral services were conducted a year later when the relatives of the dead physicians would drink the ashes suspended in water, perhaps giving the impression of cannibalism.
de Vaca traveled along the coast “forty or fifty leagues from the island, and he claimed as support for this lifestyle, testimony from the Attakapas.
He reported that two inland tribes, the Hans and the Cahogues or Capoques, were found in an area called Bad Luck Island by the Spaniards, and that they also reached into the lowlands of the Attakapas Country. Bad Luck Island is believed to Velasco Island south of Galveston. John R. Swanton wrote that an Indian tribe in the Southwestern United States was called, also by the Spanish, the Hans Atacapas or Akokisas. He reported them in Plaquemine, as well as in 15 to 19 smaller settlements in the Basin. He, however, said that the Cahoques, the easternmost tribe of the Karankawa, was related to the Attakapas but spoke a different language. He located these in the western Attakapas
The Chetimachas people are the only Indians who today prosper in the area.
According to another source (Brassier)
, the French and Indian allies preyed on the Chetimachas and the tribe’s population was considerably reduced and some of the survivors dispersed throughout the swamps and lakes of the Atchafalaya Basin. The department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, granted reservation rights and 283 acres of land in Charenton to the Chetimachas
de Vaca described the people he saw as being large and well-formed. They had only a bow and arrow as a weapon, but that they were greatly skilled in its use. Their lifestyle was primitive, and they were food gatherers, not growers.
Some historians believe that for the most part cannibalism was a product of the imagination of early travels and that the Indians came by their reputations as cannibals by virtue of their name which, in Choctaw, means Man-eater.
Fred B. Kniffen, in “The Indians of Louisiana” explained that a “tribe” is a community of people headed by a single chief, the members of one tribe sometimes joined together to fight another village which spoke the same language. He said that there were six divisions in Louisiana: the Caddo, Tunica, Natchez, Atakapas, Chetimachas and Muskogwe. The names indicated the language spoken by the tribe’s inhabitants. Sometimes, they intermingled the languages spoken by one than one tribe.
He numbered the tribes to “a great many” and that until the early 1700s, they were able to live as they wished.
Coming of the White man
Indians in the Attakapas Territory first appeared in French records in 1699 when Iberville formed an alliance with four tribes, including the Chetimachas, according to Swanton. In 1700 they interrupted the building of a church near the Bayougoulas village, Swanton wrote, and when he came calling on April 1, 1700, he was carried on the back of a man and was taken around the square where the Bayougoula chief was waiting for him. The missionary complained that the festivities of the two chiefs disrupted the building of his church.
According to Paul du Ru, a missionary priest to Louisiana, the Chitimacha chief came the next day to visit the priest who encouraged him to move his village to a site near the Bayougoulas. Father du Ru, believing that Iberville would not be angered at such a bargain, promised the chief hatchets, knives and other things in consideration of the move. The chief promised to move and du Ru found himself greatly impressed with the head tribesman. Three days later, the priest visited the chief who gave him some baked Indian corn to eat and share “a little block of salt that some of the Indians had dug from the ground.”
About 1700, the white man began to come into the Attakapas Territory, to build forts and towns.
Iberville and Bienville and their counterparts traded guns, knives, needles, axes, glass beads and copper kettles for food, pelts and baskets. The tradeoff was not equal. What the newcomers acquired from the natives did not affect their previous lifestyle; with the Indians it was different. The more they obtained from the explorers, the less their own lives were as they had been earlier.
The explorers found that the natives went without clothes for the most part, although de Vaca said that the women “did cover their persons partially with Spanish moss, and ‘damsels’ wore deer skins.”>
If the Indians he wrote of were the Attakapas, the men, if not the women, practiced decoration of their faces and bodies by mutilation. But he also said that the Attakapas were affectionate toward their children; death was mourned for a year punctuated with wailing for the dead, morning, noon and night. Excluded from this grief, however, were the elderly because they no longer enjoyed life and took away from the young.
In 1703, Penicault contended that two Frenchmen among three who had been sent by Bienville to the Sabine River to determine the Indians who were there, said they had found seven nations, but at the last, one of their comrades had been killed and eaten. He said that the name of the nation was M-A-eapas.
Ten years later, Dumont reported that two white men had been captured by the same nation, that one had been killed and eaten and the other had escaped.
The specter of cannibalism raised its head after the survivors of de la Salle’s settlement at Matagorda Bay said they were the only ones to escape the massacre of the French settlers. He mentioned particularly that the Cenis, among whom They'd lived, were all cannibals, but that they limited this practice to their own Indian enemies, not the French. The escapees were Robert, Lucien, Jean Baptiste and Madeleine Talon and Eustache Breman. Jean Baptiste related that he had refused to eat for three days because all the Cenis would give him to eat was human flesh.
Bienville claimed that the Indians who had “killed four French backwoodsmen 12 years past, “were treacherous and believes the French were weak.” He wrote to Pontchartrain on Feb. 20, 1707 that this situation could not be allowed to continue.
The white man took punitive action and the Indians felt they could not trust the French so they returned to the swamps and bayous, eschewing any further contacts with the white men. However, in 1718, a peace ceremony occurred and gifts were exchanged.”
Simars de Belle-Isle wrote that he had lived from 1720 to 1721 among the Attakapas and had expected to find cannibals. Based on his observations, including some of their acts, and because he was “an officer and a gentleman,” Bienville felt perfectly safe in writing to the King that “...in fact, they eat the prisoners they take.” Despite this, Bienville commended the Indians for their fishing more so than their hunting.
He also wrote to the monarch that the Chitimachas who were left, had come around, but the Opelousas, he commented, were not so compliant.”
Settling in villages apparently did not deter either from violence against the other. In 1731, the plantation belong to a Madame de Mezieres was burned and two Frenchmen were murdered in the same vicinity. the Chitimachas were blamed for both incidents, however the King requested that Bienville thoroughly investigated the charges before taking action. Bienville later reported that the true culprits were Natchez Indians.
Bienville did not think much of the Opelousas or the Attakpas, who, he said, were “lazy...they hardly have anything with which to cover themselves. It is true that they have some horses, but the difficulty of bringing them would cancel the profit that might be derived from that trade.” (Trade with the Indians.”)
Will Coleman, (The Acadians) while traveling through the territory later, noted small cabins at little distances from each around the area know as Indian Bend. On these varying distances he predicated his belief that those were not the usual plantation quarters. The small houses were built of cypresses, their roofs shingled with the large shingles of “old Creole days.” He wrote that Indian Bend, named for the little cluster of cabins which were situated there, was located about 25 miles from where the Teche flows into the Atchafalaya River.
Coleman said that the residents of Indian Bend were of the Chitimacha tribe, the last remnant of the “once powerful tribe of the Attakapas, the terror of all other red men hereabouts, for it was told of them that they devoured the flesh of their fallen foe. “
He had difficulty speaking with them, found them apathetic, and different “from our Choctaws.” The men were darker than “those who come to the city to sell their wares; their cheekbones (are) very high and their eyes keen and quick of movement. Pursy, sensual mouths indicate a deterioration of the race, but even with this drawback, their expression is one of self-assurance if not boldness. They are fully up to the average height of the white man, and their broad shoulders show that they come from big-framed people.” He thought the women were neater and “more comely” than the men and he saw quick intelligence in their faces; that the men as well as the women wore western clothes, the men in cottonade pants and calico shirts, with the women in calico skirts and bright-colored waits or blouses. They spoke the Creole patois, he said, but among themselves they spoke their native tongue which sounded “like the twittering of birds. He did not believe that they followed or celebrated any ceremonies or festivals.
Impressed with their basket weaving, both in workmanship and colors, Coleman said the products were highly prized and were made of cane, although the stripes were so small and delicate they appeared to have been woven of the finest material. “With their fingernails,” he wrote, “they strip off the hard cuticle from the ordinary wild cane, and the different dyes are applied before the weaving begins. These dyes are imperishable, and notwithstanding many temptations held out, they still refuse to divulge the secret of their manufacture. Such is their ingenuity of design that no two of these baskets are alike. Squares, triangles, curious heirographics and geometric patterns in white, red, chocolate, yellow and black, make each piece of work unique, and all so wrought that there is unity in the composition evincing a remarkable high order of taste. The larger baskets are double, the outside being covered with designs, while the interior is plain, and such is their fineness they would hold water.”
He found that unlike most tribes, the Chitimachas recognized the equality of the females, and that the 25 or 30 Indians who were left were then ruled by a queen since the chief had died.
In 1731, St. Denis, the commander at the Natchitoches Post, reinforced his troops with some Assinair and Attakapas to fight the Natchez, and in 1735, there were some Attakaps in New Orleans modeling for A. de Batz, an artist who sketched them in costume.
And later, Louis and Barthelemy Grevemberg, inhabitants of the area, ran cattle over the land, apparently not worried enough about the Attakapas and their alleged cannibalism to prevent them from doing so. Accounts of their operation can be found in American State Papers and the Louisiana Register of State Land Claims.
In his book A Narrative History, the late Grover Rees of Breaux Bridge, or La Pointe, as the town was first known, stated that by the time of the 1766 census of the Attakapas District was taken, the Attakapas Indians had apparently completely disappeared from the district since they were not mentioned.
"However, it is possible they had lost their identity as a tribe and had been moved to the four Indian villages mentioned in the census and called 'Bexmellon,' 'La Encina,' 'Kalkikin,' and 'Chekinas,' containing a total population of 160 and located in the southern part of the district," he conjectured.”
In 1784, reports were that the tribe consisted of about 360 people who hunted buffalo with bows and arrows, following the game in the spring to the west, and in the autumn into this area. Their young people were said to be skilled in hunting, but there were many buffalo and, many were domesticated. The members of the tribe were described as peaceful and friendly to everybody. They occasionally worked for white settlers. In 1885, reports alleged that a man and two women of the Attakapas lived near Lake Charles, another woman lived to the south and five more were in West Texas.
The Chitamacha people are the only Indians who today prosper in the area.
Glenn Conrad, noted historian and writer, wrote in the Attakapas Gazette, Vol. VI, No. 4, page 128: "There seems to have been little or no change in the status of the Attakapas Indians since 1830. They had then pretty much lost their identity as a tribe, though they still had a nominal chief and owned their little reservation at the Indian Bend where about the same number of wigwams or huts stood then as now. No pure-bloods remain And the half breeds show no improvement in the stock; indeed, they seem to inherit all the lazy vices of the one with none of the 'get up and go along' virtues of the other race, especially among the men. As the world is now moving on the Teche, it will not be long before some Chicago capitalist will come down and take the male remnants of the tribe in as partners -- as their entailed property cannot be sold -- and establish a first class sugar plantation on the old reservation."
There are very few Indians living today in Louisiana, much less in St. Martin Parish, but this parish may not have heard the last of them. Litigation has been ongoing in the courts by the Chitimacha descendants who are demanding the return of their lands, which cover most of St. Martin, or recompense for their loss.
Formation of parishes
It wasn’t until Louisiana became a part of the Union by acquiring the territory from France on April 3, 1803, that acts were passed which created five civil parishes from the Attakapas Territory.
Col. Felix Voorhies of St. Martinville wrote about the Attakapas District: “The vast region known as the ‘Attakapas District,’ under the Spanish and French occupancy of Louisiana, comprised the territory now forming the parishes of St. Martin, St. Landry, Iberia, Lafayette, Acadia, Vermilion and St. Mary. It was bounded on the north by the Avoyelles District, on the east by the' Atchafalaya River and Grand Lake, on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, and on the west by the Mermentau River and the chain of lakes through which it flows. Its name was, derived from that of the Attakapas Indians, a powerful tribe which, at one time, possessed the whole of this region."
Six months after France ceded the state, an Enabling Act was passed by Congress, providing for governmental authority which would maintain and protect the inhabitants of Louisiana ". . . in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and religion."
It is quite probable that the last word in the "free enjoyment" clause was noted by many Louisianians, for a vast number of them were here because of their religion.
On Mar. 26, 1804, Congress approved a new act which became effective Oct. 1, 1804, dividing the Louisiana Purchase into two new parts. The upper portion was to be the District of Louisiana, while the lower became the Territory of New Orleans.
The Territory of Orleans was that which was in “all that portion of country ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies south of the Mississippi River at the thirty-third degree of north latitude (the present Arkansas-Louisiana line) and extending west to the western boundary of said cession....”
At that time, there was already extensive settlement in the Attakapas country, particularly along the Teche and the Vermilion. Jefferson described the population as being "chiefly the descendants of the French and Canadians ... "
The original county of Attakapas was later divided into 12 counties, including the "County of Attacapas." On March 31, 1807, a supplementary act established courts of Interior Jurisdiction with the ninth section providing for the division of the Orleans Territory into 19 parishes, including the "Parish of Atacapas, which shall be called the Parish of St. Martin."
In 1803, a census of the Attakapas was taken, showing 2,279 whites, 210 free people of color, 1,266 slaves, for a total of 3,746. Settlers had been granted 300,000 acres of land. There were 58,871 horned cattle and 7,315 horses.
The original county of Attakapas was later divided into 12 counties, or parishes, including the “County of Attacapas.”
On March 31, 1807, a supplementary act established courts of Interior Jurisdiction with the ninth section providing for the division of the Orleans Territory into 19 parishes, including the “Parish of Atacapas, which shall be called the Parish of St. Martin.
An act by the state legislature on April 17, 1811, separated the county of Attakapas into two parishes to be called St. Martin and St. Mary.
The act described St. Martin Parish as being ". . . all that part of the county north, or above a line running east from the upper line of the plantation of Francois Boutte, on the Bayou Teche, to the great lake, and west from the said Francois Boutte to the south of Petite Anse on the Bay; -..."
On Jan. 17, 1823, the parish of St. Martin was again divided, this time to create the parish of Lafayette. On March 25, 1844, Vermilion parish was created from the County of Attakapas. Iberia was to be created from parts of St. Martin and St. Mary parishes, but the Civil War delayed its creation.
Finally, on Oct. 30, 1868, an act was passed for the creation of the parish, part of it from a portion of the northern part of St. Mary and from a portion of the southern part of St. Martin. In 1870, Cameron parish was created and its "easternmost boundary was the southwestern part of Vermilion parish.
The above information contains articles I wrote for the Centennial Issue of the St. Martinville (LA) Teche News and I thank them for permission to use it on this site. This material is copyrighted and may not be used except as a sorce for research. Sources for the articles are noted in the body of this essay.
add to Atakapas Territory
Exploration had been made into what is now Louisiana as early as the 1600s, however the Attakapas Territory is generally believed to have been established around 1756. Some accounts place it at 1755, however there was no church in St. Martin Parish at that time.
C. C. Robin, a French writer, philosopher, botanist and traveler, lived in the Attakapas district in 1804-05, and wrote at that time that ". . . one of the first who settled there, about 50 years ago, was named Masse, who belonged to a rich family of Grenoble. He brought to the Attakapas some twenty Negroes ... He lived about twenty years in that wilderness . . ."
He also mentions Sorel and Berard, who became prosperous owners of great herds of cattle.
The Attakapas Territory is mentioned in 1757 when Baron de Kerlerec was administrator, when Voorhies wrote of a few ". . . Canadians, seeming it to be the direst of calamities to submit to the English yoke, abandoned their homes in Canada to join their countrymen in Louisiana."
It is generally said that it was not until the French set up a trading post at the Attakapas and Opelousas that the white man's influence began to be felt on the land. St. Denis, who served as commandant at Natchitoches from 1715 to 1744, maintained a licensed merchant at each of the places long before they became military posts.
Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire became the first commandant of the Attakapas Post and in 1760 bought land from the Indian Chief Rinemo.
The earliest authenticated document in the St. Martin Parish courthouse is an agreement for the sale of a slave in 1760.
Sieur Etienne de Vaugine bought a large estate on the East bank of Bayou Teche as early as 1764. He was a French captain.
During the period that this area was slowly developing into some semblance of a society, some 18,000 French inhabitants of Nova Scotia were being deported by the British government to various English colonies. Some eventually made their way to Louisiana.
Jean ‘d'Abadie, the French governor of New Orleans, settled some of these families in the Attakapas and Opelousas territories in 1763. Antoine Bernard Dauterive, a captain of infantry was charged on April 4, 1765, to provide each Acadian family with one bull and five cows with calves. This was to be done for six successive years, at the end of which the same number were to be returned to him with one half of the increase or one half of the money obtained.
This is believed to have occurred late in April or early in May, 1765.
The archives of St. Martin de Tours Church in St. Martinville show that a baby girl of Olivier Thibaudaut and Magdelaine Broussard was baptized May 10, 1765. Father Jean Francois, the Capuchin Franciscan Missionary who baptized her, noted that she died May 16. On Nov. 25 of the same year, the same priest officiated at the burial of the settlement's leader, "Beausoleil" Broussard.
The first records of the St. Martinville church show 82 baptisms and 12 marriages between 1765 and 1773.
When the Acadians, arrived in 1765, Father Francois was appointed pastor and built a small frame church on land donated by Capt. Dauterive. And the town developed around it.
The Acadians who began arriving between that year settled mostly around St. Martinville and Opelousas. They were devout Catholics and many of them were among those who had been disembarked in Maryland. In New Orleans they were received with sympathy and Governor Kerlerec, according to Roger Baudier, ". . . furnished them with food and shelter and granted them lands along the river, also agricultural implements and provisions."
The arrival of these Acadians was so important to the Spanish, who were then in rule, that Charles Philippe Aubry, acting governor of Louisiana, wrote to the Duke of Choiseul-Stainville, of the arrival of several Acadian families from Santo Domingo, where they had been unable to cope with the climate and conditions on the island.
From the troubles with flooding experienced by settlers on the German Coast of Louisiana, it had been found that settling along the Mississippi was an expensive undertaking. The alternate area chosen was the Attakapas District, where grazing land was excellent and would, in the future, provide for meat and other goods for New Orleans.
Settlers were given a three month supply of provisions, ammunition, tools and medicines. Later, they would be allocated another three-month supply, indicating that the administrators expected the settlers to be self-sufficient within six months.
Louis Andry, a royal engineer, was sent with the families to help them settle. He was ordered to the Attakapas to assist the settlers in choosing the best land and the best location for a village. It was to be a "salubrious" place away from stagnant water and marshes, hopefully along a navigable waterway which would not flood easily.
Andry was to scout and keep track of the environs, and was to take into consideration what the settlers wished, but his decision was to always overrule in disagreements. The Acadians, in turn, were told they would have to defer to his judgment.
Whatever the temperament of the settlers was, Louis Pellerin, a French officer who had been appointed commandant of the Attakapas and Opelousas Districts in 1763, oppressed them to such a degree, according to Pittman, that the people were obliged in 1767 to complain to Antonio de Ulloa, the Spanish governor who had taken over the territory.
Pellerin was charged with sacrilege and he was accused of having taken forcible possession of the sacred vessels of the church (Baudier, p. 1771) under pretense of holding them in safekeeping. He used them instead, on his own table, it was alleged. The religious authorities threatened him with excommunication, and he was court-martialed. The church imposed penances on him and the civil authorities removed his rights to hold military or civil posts. Whether the disruption of the community had anything to do with it or not, some of the Acadians moved northward and settled in Opelousas, which is said to have ~ been the site of an Indian village. Grants to land in that area date back to 1765 when the military post was established and where Sieur Jacques Courtableau had already established himself.
In 1773, Louis Andry, apparently following up on his establishment of the Acadians in the Attakapas Territory, noted in a report that " . . . the inhabitants of Attakapas and Opelousas, who had agreed to build the stockade planned for the entrance of Bayou Plaquemine, have left. For this reason, the above-mentioned project will not be completed until the beginning of November 1774."
Andry said he did not know why the people had departed.
They must have landed in the above-mentioned inlet, for they have at least felled and squared the lumber set aside for the stockade. I have seen it piled up on the ground in such a disorganized way that I have been unable to tell if there is enough usable lumber, as determined by the figures sent by Your Excellency to Mr. Fuselier, commander of the above mentioned districts (Attakapas and Opelousas), but one can tell the job was done by the Acadians and slaves, because of the rough square shape of the pieces. Moreover, the greater part of it is eaten up and rotten. Nevertheless, they will serve as they are, and they would already be in place had not the workmen left in such a hurry. As I had warned Your Excellency before I left, they had brought with them no other tools but their axes and arms, and had neither saw nor chisel, nor winch, no drill, nor rope -- all of which are needed for this job and cannot be found on this coast -- and even if the inhabitants of Iberia and Lafourche had them, they would not lend them (to the Attakapas and Opelousas settlers) free of, charge. They would try to rent them at a great expense and the interested parties would not hear of it."
Andry continued, telling the king that Mr. Dauterive who was planning to install a sawmill ". . . had his eyes on the logs . . . “I answered that, since those logs belonged to the inhabitants of Attakapas and Opelousas, I doubted Your Excellency would agree to such a proposal - - ."
On assignment for Harper's Magazine in 1886, Charles D. Warner wrote in his "Studies in the South and West, with Comments on Canada, (New York, 1889) that "The Acadians in 1755 made a good exchange, little as they thought so at the time, of bleak Nova Scotia for these sunny, genial and fertile lands. They came into a land and a climate suite for their idiosyncrasies, and which have enabled them to preserve their primitive traits. In a comparative isolation from the disturbing currents of modern life, they have preserved the habits and customs of the eighteenth century . . . "
Warner did not elaborate on what "idiosyncrasies" the Acadians had, nor what their “primitive traits" were. Later, in "zigzagging through the countryside" he was given a glimpse of their industriousness when he encountered a "thirfty" Acadian who was charging 25 cents to people crossing his land.
At another point in his travels in the area, he found, in meeting an Acadian woman that "Nothing could exceed the kindly manner of these people. Andonia showed us how they card, weave, and spin the cotton out of which their blankets and the Jean for their clothing are made. They used the old-fashioned hand-card spin on a little wheel with a foot treadle, have the most primitive warping bars, and weave most laboriously on a rude loom. But the cloth they make will wear forever, and the colors they use are all fast. It is a great pleasure, we might almost say 'shock' to encounter such honest work in these times. The Acadians grow a yellow or nankeen fort of cotton which without requiring any dye is woven into a handsome yellow stuff.”
The French Revolution brought many fleeing Royalists to Louisiana, adding to the French population which was already here.
The French Revolution brought many fleeing Royalists to Louisiana, adding to the French population which was already here. Throughout the state there have been other groups which have settled, and in St. Martin Parish, this has been exemplified by the diverse groups of people who settled in and around the Atchafalaya Basin.
According to some sources, a number of aristocratic refugees came to Louisiana, many of them settling in St. Martinville, causing it to become known as (Little) Petit Paris. The stories alleging the descent of the aristocracy are based on family traditions and diaries which Sidonie de la Houssaye, a New Orleans novelist, sold to George W. Cable. Cable, in turn, included the story in his Strange True Stories of Louisiana the short story, "The Adventures of Francoise and Suzanne," describes the Declouets, delaHoussayes, DeBlancs, Du Clozels and de St. Juliens, and their activities including balls and amateur performances of the Barber of Seville in elaborate court costumes.
Following a report by Francois Bouligny, a Spanish official, to the king in which he suggested the settlement of a large colony in the Attakapas area, some 500 French colonists moved into the area in 1778. They were followed by some 300 Spanish emigrants from the Canary Islands who settled near Spanish Lake.
Some of the early Acadian names in the area included Arceneaux, Babin, Bernare, Breaux, Broussard, Decuir, Dugas, Duhon, Guedry, Guilbeaux, Hebert, Landry, LeBlanc, Martin, Melancon, Mouton, Robichaux, Theriot, Thibodeaux and Trahan.
Some of the settlers from France included Dauterive, DeBlanc, Declouet, delaCroix, de la Houssaye, Devezins, Gonsoulin, Olivier, Pellerin.
Segura, Lopez, Miguez, Romero and Viator were among the names of the Spanish settlers.
Prior to the Civil War, many other groups made their way into Louisiana, whether intending to stay or to continue to other destinations, many nonetheless remained in the Acadiana area. Groups of all nationalities came at the time of the war of 1812, at the time of the westward expansion, drawing such people as the legendary Jim Bowie, whose family settled in the Opelousas area. Following the Civil War, northern English-speaking people poured into the state.
Italians settled in the Atchafalaya area with over 30,000 of them immigrating, to Louisiana to work as laborers in the sugar industry.
Anglo-Americans settled in and around the basin in the mid-19th century, beginning after 1803 and peaking about 1850-60. Many entered the cypress lumber industry, some became fishermen and trappers.
Many were English, Irish, Welsh, Scandinavian and other national origins, and of course there were the English-speaking Afro-Americans who came as slaves, many of whom remained as sharecroppers after the Emancipation.
Most recently, the resettlement of Vietnamese people had occurred in St. Martin Parish, particularly in the Henderson area where they work in the seafood industry.
Tracing the history of the people who have come into the parish, one can easily see that it is a true melting pot, evenas the whole of America is.