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History of the Cajuns: Canary Island Settlers of Louisiana

1778-1783 ... The Canary Island Migration
     The Canary Islands are a collection of 7 islands about 100 miles west of the coast of Morocco.  Spaniards conquered the area and migrated to the island in the 15th and 16th century.  By the 18th century, the islands were controlled by nobles.  The main product of the  islands was the production of orchil, a lichen that produces a violet dye.  When the orchil crop was low, which happened periodically, the workers practically starved to death and didn't receive much help from the nobles.  After a failed revolt in 1762, a group of 300 from the island of Gomera migrated to Louisiana. [German Hernandez Rodriquez, "La aportacion de la isla de la Gomera al poblamiento de la Luisiana, 1777-1778," IV Coloquio de historia canario-americana (1980) (2 vols.; Salamanca, 1982), II, p. 227-245] Canary Islands, 1758
     Since the late 1600s, Spain had encouraged the Canary Islanders to move to the Caribbean colonies.  After Spain acquired Louisiana in 1762, it recognized the need to populate the territory.  When the Revolutionary War brought the English in conflict with the American colonies, Spain recognized the danger from possible English hostilities in Louisiana.  On August 15, 1777, Spain ordered  a second battalion be formed in Louisiana.  It looked to the Canary Islands for 700 recruits.  It tried to get married recruits so that they could not only defend the area, but also populate it.  [Din, p. 15]
     The recruits were required to be from 17 to 36 years old, healthy, without vices, and at least 5' 1/2" tall.  Butchers, gypsies, mulattoes, and executioners were not permited to sign up.  Though it wasn't in a written agreement, they understand that they were going to stay in Louisiana permanently.  The recruits were to receive 45 reales upon signing up and 45 more upon arrival in New Orleans.  They also got 1/2 peso a day while waiting to leave.  People were also paid for finding these recruits; in fact, they were paid according to the height of the recruits.  The payment was: 15 reales if at least 5' 1/2", 30 reales if at least 5' 2", and 45 reales if at least 5' 3". [Din, p. 16]
     Five of the island sent recruits to Louisiana: Tenerife (about 45%), Gran Canaria (almost 40%), Gomera, La Palma, and Lanzarote. The 700 recruits brought their families, bringing the total number of immigrants to 2,373.  The following ships brought the Islenos to Louisiana 
  • Santisimo Sacramento - 264 passengers - departed July 10, 1778
  • La Victoria - 292 passengers - departed October 22, 1778
  • San Ignacio de Loyola - 423 passengers - departed October 29, 1778
  • San Juan Nepomuceno - 202 passengers - departed December 9, 1778
  • Santa Faz - 406 passengers - departed February 17, 1779
  • El Sagrado Corazon de Jesus - 423 passengers - June 5, 1779
Another ship with the last group of 100 recruits (and their families) were delayed because of the war between England and Spain.  They had to stay over in Cuba for the duration, where a number of them died.  They finally arrived in 1783 

     The St. Bernard (LA) USGenWeb site has a page with the

ship lists of the Canary Island immigrants.
     Passenger lists of the ships bringing the Canary Islanders can be found in Din's The Canary Islanders of Louisiana (available from LSU Press). When they arrived, they primarily settled in four areas: Valenzuela, Nueva Iberia, Galveztown, and Terre-aux-Boeuf (San Bernards de Galvez). 

VALENZUELA (Plattenville, at the beginning of Bayou Lafourche)
     Galvez had selected an area on Bayou Lafourche south of the Mississippi River.  For the most part, the Lafourche area was deserted, though some settlers were already located where Bayou Lafourche merged with the Mississippi.  The area he selected was named Valenzuela.  There were already some Acadians in the area, but most were along the Mississippi River.  Lieut. St. Maxent was appointed as commandant of Valenzuela and went there early to prepare for the arrival of the first Islenos in March of 1779. 
     Judice, the commandant of the Acadians, owned the land at the SW corner of the juncture of Bayou Lafourche and the Mississippi River.  This caused a bit of conflict, because Maxent was military commander of Valenzuela, but Judice was actually in charge over civil matters. 
     St. Maxent brouth the first settlers a few miles down the bayou and settled them on the left bank.  More of the recruits and their families arrived later.  Ten houses had been build by May.  Their houses were about 15' x 30' with 2 doors, 3 windows. and a chimney.  They may have had a gallery, 6' wide, on one side of the house. 
     A little ways down the Lafourche, on the right (west) bank, we find the following settlers (in this order) in 1779: Francisco Hidalgo, Pedro Gonzales, Juan Hidalgo, Juan Aleman, Andres Pereyra, Diego Gonzales, Baroleme Hernandez, and Juan Figueres.  [Din, p. 67]
      A census in 1784 found 174 people at Valenzuela, 154 of which were Islenos.  By the time the Acadians arrived on the seven ships in 1785, the population of the Lafourche Interior was 353.  Over 800 Acadians came to the Bayou Lafouche area, increasing the population to about 1,500 in 1788.  They settled further down the Lafourche 
     Both the Islenos and the Acadians were Catholic, but they didn't receive a priest until Father Bernardo de Deva came in March 1793.  [Din, p. 77]  Each group wanted the church built in their area.  A couple of years later, it was finally built in the Acadian area ... near present-day Plattenville. 

NUEVA IBERIA (New Iberia, along the Bayou Teche)
Coming Soon

GALVEZTOWN (near Manchac on the Amite River)
Coming Soon

TERRE-AUX-BOEUF (San Bernardo de Galvez)
Coming Soon

Canary Island Settlers (Islenos) References
  • The Canary Islanders of Louisiana (Gilbert Din)
  • Canary Islands Migration to Louisiana, 1778-1783 (Charles Maduell)
  • Canary Islands Migration to Louisiana, 1778-1783 (Sidney Villere)
  • Masters of the Marsh: An Introduction to the Ethnography of the Isleños of Lower St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, with an Annotated Bibliography (Joseph Valsin Guillotte)
  • The Language of the Isleños: Vestigial Spanish in Louisiana (John M. Lipski)
  • The Spanish Tradition in Louisiana (Samuel G. Armistead)
Canary Island Links
Other Nationalities in Louisiana
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