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Acadian Colonists' Origins

 
 
French Origins


So, from what part of France did the majority of the early settlers of Acadia originate? 

     Good question.  Since Charles Menou d'Aulnay was in charge of Acadia during the 1640's ... when many of the early Acadian settlers arrived, it is thought that they were recruited by his men. Since d'Aulnay's family owned property south of Loudun in France (see Poitou map, right), it has long been assumed that the colonists were common folk from near his home. The exact origins have been the subject of several studies. 
     LaTour was also known to have brought workers to Acadia.  Except for LaTour, the earliest Acadian names probably date back to Razilly's group in 1632 ... though we don't have a list.  Since Mathieu Martin was considered the first born in Acadia (1636), the business of settling down and raising a family might not have really begun until after Razilly's death in 1635.

Church at La Chaussee
Church at La Chaussee
     One of the most famous is Genevieve Massignon's work, Les Parlers Français D'Acadie.  In this work (done in French), she seeks to establish Acadian origins based on linguistics. She makes the argument that many of the Acadians come from the Poitou region, south of Loudun.  To put it simply, the words that the Acadians used were found to be in the Poitou area of France at the time.  She also found a number of records in that area that bore surnames found in early Acadia.  Some of the villages in the area include Martaize, Aulnay, and  La Chaussee. 
     Another work is Les Origines Francaises des Premieres Familles Acadiennes by Nicole T. Bujold & Maurice Caillebeau. Also in French, it looks into the possible origin of the Acadians. This work also identifies Loudunais as the source for a number of the Acadians.  Maurice's son Philippe has a website on the subject.  I believe that the Centre d'etudes acadiennes plans to do some research on Acadian origins as one of their future projects. 

    Benjamin Sulte, in “Origin of the French Canadians” (1906), p. 99, says that their the Acadian dialect would place their origin around the Bay of Biscay and at the mouth of the Loire River.  Massignon (in Les Parlers Francais) suggests that they came from the Loudunais area in NE Poitou (northern section of today’s Vienne dept.). 

     Another idea of the origins of the Acadians has recently been presented by Michel Poirier.  He says that they might have come from Baie de Bourgneuf (about 40 km W of Nantes).  His ideas are presented (in French) at the St. Pierre & Miquelon website.  Some details that he cites to support his theory include: 
    - the location of the monastery of the Assumption (on the island Chauvet), which was regularly attended by Richelieu and was the property of his brother, Alphonse. 
    - Port-Royal and the church of  St Jean-Baptiste 
    - salt-water marshes in the area were drained ... much like the dyke system utilized in Acadia 
    - it was a zone surrounded by Protestants and enclosing Catholics.
Origins from Other Areas
     Of the pre-1632 Acadians, the only one that seems to have left descendants in the area is LaTour.  Over the years, people from other countries made a home in Acadia. Some, such as the Grangers, may have come with the English.  We don't know exactly how most of them arrived, due to the lack of ship lists. The core of the settlers in the 1650s may have come from Razilly’s 1632 group, who were mainly from Britanny and Touraine. [Lauvriere, La Tragedie, 1, 63].   In addition, both d'Aulnay and LaTour had also brought people to Acadia from 1635 to 1654. 
     Scottish names may be Peselet (from Paisley), Coleson, Caissy (from Casey), Pitre (from Peters), and Melanson (Lauvriere, La Tragedie, 1, p. 63).  Current scholars say that perhaps only Caissy was English (actually Irish). [Clark, p. 101] 

     One family that has been surrounded by confusion has been the Melancon/Melanson family.  Melancon is an English name, so early researchers believe they were English or Scottish.  Further research has found that the Acadian Melancons were sons of Pierre La Verdure.  He married Priscilla Mellanson around 1630 in England or Scotland.  He and his family arrived in Acadia with Sir Thomas Temple on the Satisfaction in 1657.  One son is thought to have stayed in New England.  One son, Pierre, a stonemason, was born in 1632 and married Marguerite Mius d'Entremont around 1664 in Port Royal.  One son, Charles, was born in 1642 and married Marie Dugas in 1663 at Port Royal.  The Melancons were some of the first settlers of the Grand Pre region. 
     While the name is English (or Scottish), it is now thought that their father was a French Huguenot.  The 2 Melancons who settled in Acadia took their mother's surname. Check out Mike Melanson's website for more information on the Melancons.  NOTE: Archaeologists in Nova Scotia having been working on excavating the Melanson Settlement in recent years.  It is now a national historic site.

     The table below lists some of the other surnames and their nationalities.
Nationality Surname
Basque AROSTEGUY
BASTARACHE
OZELET
Channel Islands SEMER
Croatia MATHIEU
England DRUCE
GRANGER
HENSHAW (HENSAULE)
Flemish PITRE
Ireland CASSY (CAISSY) 
GAINER (GUÉNARD)
LONG 
O'NEALE (ONEL)
Portuguese MIRANDE 
RODRIGUE
Scottish JOHNSON (JEANSON)
Spanish GOUSMAN
Source: Patronymes acadiens by Stephen White

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