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History of the Cajuns

The Britain (Britannia)
To Louisiana via Texas

    The last group of Acadians to leave Maryland sailed on Jan. 5, 1769 on the schooner Britain. Although it had reached Louisiana by Feb. 21, fog prevented them from heading upriver and east winds blew the ship towards Texas. It veered off course and ended up in Matagorda Bay. The captain, Philip Ford, wanted to head to Louisiana, but Spanish officials put the crew in stocks for 24 days and those on the ship were treated as smugglers. When they were finally allowed to go, they had to travel by land. The crew and about 100 passengers (including 32 Acadians) arrived at Natchitoches on Oct. 24. Gov. O'Reilly sent the Germans to Fort St. Gabriel to be assigned land. The Acadians were sent to the west bank of the Mississippi River below Bayou Plaquemine, arriving in mid-April 1770. The commandant in Natchitoches tried to get them to stay, but they headed south. The German and Acadian settlers were given land, tools (ax, hatchet, spade, iron pot, drawing knife), and 3 pesos/person. The English were sent to Pensacola.

The Acadian passengers included:

Antoine Beliar, 36, Marie, wife, 22, Etienne Simon, son, 2

Olivier Benoit, 40, Marie Bruset, wife, 46, Charles, son, 15, Marie Rose, daughter, 8, Magdalene, daughter, 6

Louis Latier, 39, Anne, wife, 38, Marie, 15, Marie Rose Benoit, orphan, 13, Marguerite, 9, Antoine, son, 7, Paul, son, 6,
Ysabelle, daughter, 4

Jean Bicente Le Jeune, 20, Blaise, brother, 18, Marguerite, sister, 17, Nanette, sister

Pierre Primeau, 25, Susanne Plant, wife, 20

Jaques Ruseau, 28

Etienne Ruvel, widower, 46, Etienne, son, 21, Francois, 18, Pierre, 16, Ochodol, 14

Honore Trahan, 45, Marie Corporon, wife, 50, Pierre, son, 18, Joseph Le Jeune, orphan, 13

An account of what appears to be a sailor on the ship from Maryland headed for Louisiana that was blown off course and landed in Texax can be found in A Tour in the United States of America; containing an Account of the Present Situation of the Country, by J. F. D. Smyth, London, 1784. It is recounted by Basil Sollers as follows:

During the time I was at New Orleans, a gentleman from Maryland, who had fallen, by a very unfortunate accident, into the hands of the Spaniards in New Mexico, and with several other British subjects had been most cruelly treated by them, arrived there.

Having at length obtained his liberty, for he had been a considerable time very rigidly confined, he came to New Orleans, to endeavour to procure a passage either to Virginia, Maryland, or Philadelphia.

This gentleman, descended from a Roman Catholic family in Maryland, was master of a vessel belonging to his brother Athanasins Ford, of Leonard Town, in St. Mary's County, and had saild from the river Potowmak, loaded with the French Neutrals (as they were called), who had been removed from Nova-Scotia by the British government on account of their strong predilection to the French interest there, which at every risk they were always ready to promote and support.

The vessel was navigated by British sailors, and was bound to the Messissippi, in order to carry these French Accadians to their countrymen there, where they intended to settle.

But having got into the trade-winds, and being unacquainted with the navigation of that part of the gulf of Mexico, 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 in 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 the Mississippi.

Happening to discover a horse, immediately after their coming on shore, they killed him for food, which was certainly very excusable in their emaciated, starving condition.

They had scarce finished their wretched repast, when the vessel was seized on by the Spaniards, and confiscated for the use of the King; and they were carried, most of them to the town of New Mexico, and some to Santa Fe, the capital, no less than eighty- six days journey within land from the place where they came on shore on this inhospitable coast.

Here they were all closely confined for some time.

But at length the common people were permitted to go at large, in the day, on condition of their labouring for the inhabitants.

Yet the officers belonging to the vessel, as well as all the English sailors, were still imprisoned with the most rigid and barbarous severity.

However they were also offered a limited enlargement, on condition of their signing a paper, written in the Spanish language, which however they privately contrived to obtain a translation of, and found it contained an acknowledgment on their part of having been guilty of the most unjustifiable and aggravated crimes, and of being treated with the greatest humanity and tenderness during this their captivity.

This they had the resolution and virtue of refusing to subscribe to, although they were actually in danger of starving and perishing for want of necessary food.

At length a priest, possessed of more humanity than the rest of the barbarous inhabitants of that country, having called to visit them, took compassion on their extreme wretchedness, made them a present of a fat bullock every day, and interested himself so effectually for them as to obtain their enlargement.

But so numerous were this man's flocks of cattle, as well as of horses, that although these poor unfortunate creatures received above a hundred oxen from him, yet they could not be missed out of the whole flock.

For it seems the land there is not overgrown with woods, as in the rest of America, but is universally a rich meadow, abounding with the finest grass in the world, and interspersed here and there with clumps or clusters of tall and stately trees.

     Might this be the Britain or yet another ship? This fellow seems to say they were taken as far west as Sante Fe.


Copyright © 1997-09 Tim Hebert

    Carl A. Brasseaux and Richard Chandler, "The Britain Incident, 1769-1770: Anglo-Hispanic Tensions in the Western Gulf," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 87 (April 1984)
   Carl Brasseaux, The Founding of New Acadia, p. 104