Friday, February 17, 2017

How did the Cajuns find Pierre Part ?

Le bon Voisin'age (Neighborliness /  Connection)  between Bayou Pigeon, La.  & Pierre Part LA.

Even though Bayou Pigeon is in Iberville Parish,   most everyone  knows the Cajun residents of Bayou Pigeon came here from Pierre Part, La.  

Thus Bayou Pigeon has more  in  common with Pierre Part than with any other community in our home Iberville Parish.

Since most people know the Cajuns  are descendants of Acadians  from Nova Scotia, and the story  of the 'Grand Derangement'.   

But that does  not answer  the questions of the inquiring mind, How did the Cajuns  get  to Pierre Part?

The rest of the story:

The  very first Acadians to arrive in the Louisiana territory consisted of 21 people in 4 families. 

They came in 1763,  and  settled on the west bank of the Mississippi in "the area of the vacant lands between [Nicolas] Verret's Plantation and [Jacques] Jacquelin's Cow Ranch," near the present site of Lagan, St. James Parish..  Here they created a little Nouvelle-Acadie of their own called The First Acadian Coast.   This settlement preceded the Bayou Teche Cajun settlement by at least one year.

More Acadians arrived in the immediate area  in 1765 /1766, and settled above the First Acadian Coast at  present day Donaldsonville, on Bayou Lafourche, in Ascension Parish..   This was called  the "Second Acadian Coast".  A third Acadian coast was “The Maryland Acadians,” who settled at St.. Gabriel, Iberville Parish.. 

The Acadian Coasts are  not "coasts" as one would think of the term today as land along the seashore of an ocean.  A coast  by definition is "the land near the shore“  but in this case, the shore is the land along the Mississippi River.. During the 18th and 19th centuries the term coast was used to describe the distinct settlements situated just above New Orleans along the Mississippi River's edge.. There are naturally two coasts. The left coast or left bank,  was the land located on your left-hand side if traveling down river, the east bank, and the right coast or right bank was the land located on your right-hand side if traveling down river , the west bank.  “ The Coasts,”   in this context are named for the first settlers to establish along their shores. 

These new settlers  were called 'Les petits habitants'  French  for  Small Farmers.

In August 1770, a  Spanish census …of the Acadian settlers in the district, (1 st & 2 nd)  Acadian  Coast) and counted 84 families.  

In 1777… the Spanish governor counted… 61 men, 67 women, 128 boys… 92 girls, 1,178 horned cattle, 158 horses, 80 sheep, 882 swine, 130 arms, 1 free savage, 12 goats, and 3 kid

Explanatory  note: A pieux is a board.  The earliest were hand rived were of cypress.  The Cajuns brought with them to Louisiana  many skills, incluing all  aspects of  farming. Carpentry was one of them, fencing  for the  farm was important.  The cajuns had  two kinds of pieux fences, and both are depicted in the sketch.  One was of vertical boards, and it could be a small picket fence around the house, are a very tall one around a vegetable garden (to keep out chickens).  The other pieux fence had pieux boards driven into the ground, and holes were dug into them (often with a special froe).  Then horizontal pieux were placed in the holes, as seen around the field near the house. 

After the new  USA  completed  the Louisiana Purchase, new American immigrants, began to move into the area. These Americans had money to spend on land, and they began to push / buy out  the small and poor Acadian farmers, “Les petits habitants" from the good front lands along the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche. 

The Bayou Lafourche Acadians did not to resist these new immigrants too much, the Americans were willing to pay a good price to the Acadians for their small farms and they distrusted the new Anglo goverment. After Grand  derangment they distrusted any goverment!  Instead of taking the money and moving or looking for better ground to the north or to the  Bayou Teche  area , the  Lafourche Basin Acadians would fall back closer to the east edge of the Atchafalaya Swamp, 

This  was  documentd by Pitot, James (Pacques-françois), Spanish Cabildo Ward Commissioner of New Orleans; 1802 -1804. He wrote a critique of Spanish rule  of  Louisiana colony - 1796 to 1802 for the  French who had taken over from the  Spanish.  This was before the Louisiana Purchase He observed that La-fourche Parish was alreadying enjoying an increased rate of growth. His description of the region reveals the changing complexion of Acadian  coast settlement along Bayou Lafourche ,as English  speaking planters began to move into the region the  'Les petits habitants' withdrew into the further reaches of the swamps”.  The  Les petits habitants recognized there was some opportunity for agriculture in the Pierre Part area, ie.,  along the narrow strips of ridge lands along the Bayous. 

Leading to the south  and west of  Bayou  Lafourche several smaller bayous provided ingress to areas around Lake Verret, Grand River and Lake Palourde.

The Acadian “les petits habitants”displaced  by the plantation system followed two migratory patterns; (

From the Upper Lafourche Valley to the Atchafalaya interior , ie., Pierre Part, Belle River, lower Grand River area, 4 Mile Bayou and Bayou Boeuf.  

The Lower Lafourche  Valley , to Paincourtville, Napolenville, Houma, Raceland area.

The Route to Pierre Part;   

At the Village of Port Barrow on the banks of Bayou Lafourche slightly below Donalsonville, there was a  cordelle road / path,  it was either along  Bayou  McCall,  a small slough , to the source of  Grand  Bayou, which led to Lake Verret. 

By 1815 a small settlement of families, existed on the west banks of Lake Verret, where Bayou Pierre Part flows into the Lake Verret. These  first settlements  were placed on the *brules, surrounded by swamp.  Brules’ were  high natural ridge  cleared and burned… ‘brules” French  ‘for burnt’. 

Between 1780 and 1803 the Attakapas Canal (pronounced tuck-a-paw) was completed, ie., a  man made canal made by extending a natural bayou  that was connected  to Lake Verret with Bayou Lafourche.  This route  also  provided a shorter route  to the lower Atchafalaya Basin ( Morgan City and the area of Bayou Teche to the west than Bayou Plaquemine.

Pierre Part / Belle River continued to grow because there was some opportunity for commercial agriculture along the narrow strips of ridge lands along lower Grand River. Several large Commercial  sugar plantation were started by several successful  Acadian  planters  from Upper  Bayou  Lafourche.

It was not long however before the vast majority Acadians  Petite Habitants recognized the vast natural resources  that existed in the Atchafalaya River Basin were easier to harvest than  eking out a living farming.  They turned their livelihood to the swamps. By 1820 they were shifting their living from subsistence farming to fishing, trapping , hunting, moss picking, and logging cypress trees.  

They came to be  called 'petits habitats de marecage',  Farmers of the  Swamp . 

Because of the isolation and ruggedness of the Atchafalaya Swamp this group of Cajuns became semi- isolated from  the new  Americans  and even their cousins living on the levee lands along Bayou Lafourche. They did not intermarry with other ethnic groups, therefore Pierre part, Belle River Lake  Verrett communities maintained the traditional French Acadian culture and language much longer than their cousins. 

Today, Pierre Part  is one of the small pockets of Cajun French speaking communities left in  Louisiana. 

Preserve the  Heritage...


Selected  Reference :

Bergeron, Maida Owens, "Language Maintenance and Shift in a Bayou Community." (1978). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 8174.