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 Ragged bands of Acadians settle in Louisiana: Part 4
By Alice Ferguson 
Editors note: After their exile from Nova Scotia, the Acaians found themselves severed from their
families and scattered throughout the colonies of the New World. In the decade between 1755 and
1765, many of them found their way to the bayous and swamps of south Louisiana. As recorded in
Bona Arsenault's History of the Acadians, their passage was marked by New World settlers, officials
and poets of the era. In Part Four of our series, we find them arriving in small groups in the Attikapas
region, what is now the St. Martinville area. 

     In the late 1750's, there was no information superhighway; no television satellite relays, no wire
transmission of photographs, no news correspondents jetting around the world to cover the day's breaking
stories. 
     But there were stories, and none greater than the exodus of Acadian refugees travelling from Nova Scotia
to Louisiana. And there were many who noticed and wrote about them, including the poet Longfellow in
"Evangeline": 
          "Past the Ohio shore and the mouth of the Wabash,
          Into the golden stream of the broad and swift Mississippi,
          Floated a cumbrous boat, that was rowed by Acadian boatmen.
          It was a band of exiles; a raft, as it were, from the shipwrecked
          Nation, scattered along the coast, now floating together, 
          Bound by the bonds of a common belief and a common misfortune..."
     Many such ragged bands followed the Atlantic coast and the Mississippi river, eventually winding their way down the bayous Plaquemine and Teche. Bona Arsenault's History of the Acadians reports there was no
way to count their total numbers, so fragmented was the influx.
     By 1764, a year after the Treaty of Paris was signed, their arrival was old news to Louisiana officials, but
no less of a concern to the colony's government:
     "I am told that there are at least 4,000 who have picked Louisiana as their destiny after an erratic 10
years," wrote Louisiana military commander Charles Aubry. This unexpected event puts mem in the
greatest of difficulty. Nothing was foreseen to settle so many people; and the circumstances we find
ourselves in are, to say the least, critical. Never was the colony so short of food as it is today. To add to
the problem, they brought smallpox with them which will afflict our colony with a new plague. However,
under the circumstances, it is our duty not to abandon them."
     Quite a different attitude from that of the English colonial governments, which couldn't move th eAcadians
along fast enough. Louisiana officials, it seed, were determined to assist the refugees in whatever small way
they could.
     The refugees led southward by the brothers, Joseph and Alexandre Broussard dit Beausoleil, by way of the
French West Indies, were among the first on record to receive such assistance, in the form of cattle
donated to them by are tired French military captain. Joseph Broussard was also named "capitain
commandant des Acaiens des Attakapas," Arsenault wrote.
     Tragically, he did not live to see the cattle-based prosperity that was to follow for his people. Arsenault
reported that, after so long a journey and so many battles, Joseph Broussard finally fell victim to one of the
many plagues that swept through the camps of the Acadian refugees. He died on October 20, 1765, and
was buried at what is now the site of the Town of Broussard.
     The plague took others as well, as recorded in St. Martinville's parish registers: Francois Arceneaux;
Augustin Bergeron; Sylvain Breaux; Alexandre Broussard, Joseph's brother; Jean Dugas; Joseph Girouard;
Joseph Guillebeau. Many others had weathered a decade of homelessness, only to die in the land that their
descendants late in the 20th Century would know as Acadiana.
     But there were happy times as well as sad ones. Arsentult notes that St. Martinville's parish register also
recorded the earliest birth of the area: Anne, daughter of Olivier and Madeleine Broussard. She was
christened by a missionary, Father Jean Francois, who gave the Attakapas region a new name: la nouvelle
Acadie.
     Fortunately for Arsenault and other researchers, the newly settled Acadians quickly developed their early
grants of cattle, and used uniquely shaped brands to distinguish their herds. The brands were preserved in a
register that Arsenault called a "precious and unique record." Preserved in the archives of the University of
Southwestern Louisiana, the registry included more than 28,000 different brands as well as the cattle
owners' names, recorded between 1739 and 1888. In the registry's pages can be found scores of family
names still flourishing in the area today.
     In addition to livestock, the Acadians soon found sugar cane and sweet potatos to be profitable cash
crops, just as they are today. Even their architecture, Arsenault noted, survived not only the trek from
Acadia, but the generations between the settlement of Acadiana and modern times.
     The hardy determination of the refugees, who had finally found a permanent home, is apparent in the few
wills and similar documents recorded in the mid to late 1760's. One such inventory, of Pierre Arceneaux's
estate, totalled a value of $5,530 - a figure Arsenault described as "in the currency of that time, about ten
times" the modern value of U.S. currency.
     Soon the Acadians spread out across the Attakapas region, northward into the Opelousas territory. They
met and coexisted with other French settlers who came, both before and after the Acadians' arrival, directly
from France. The area also drew many Spanish settlers, who often joined Acadian communities and
adopted their lifestyle and customs.
     As of Arsenault's writing in 1978, some 800,000 souls in south Louisiana claimed the heritage of those first
Acadian settlers - that's nearly half of the two million descendants of Acadia throughout the world. And, as
lie notes in quoting Judge Felix Voorhies:
     "We are proud now of being called Acadians, for never has there been a people more noble, more
devoted to duty and more patriotic than the Acadians who became exiles, and who braved death itself,
rather than renounce their faith, their king and their country."

© 1994 Lafayette Daily Advertiser [June 27, 1994]