Friday, February 17, 2017

How did the Cajuns find Pierre Part ?

How did the Cajuns get to Pierre Part?

Just, how did the Cajuns get to Pierre Part?

Since most people know the Cajuns are descendants of Acadians from Nova Scotia, and the story of the 'Grand Derangement' and how 2500 Acadians from Acadia came to Louisiana.

But that does not answer the questions of the inquiring mind, how did a lot of those Cajuns end up in Pierre Part?

Here's 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 began to arrive in 1765 /1766, most were settled above present-day Donaldsonville, on Bayou Lafourche, in Ascension Parish.   This area was called the "Second Acadian Coast".  

In 1765 the Spanish Governor of Louisiana who wanted to increase beef to New Orleans and upon learning that one group of Acadians just arriving in Louisiana were known as Cattle farmers sent them to the Bayou Teche region, which was known in pre-Acadian days as cattle country, ie., grass prairies.

Thus, the beginning of so-called Prairie Cajuns and eventual formation of four different Cajun subcultures based on the environment they lived in.

For this story we are concerned with what has become known as Bayou Cajuns.

 A third Acadian coast was “The Maryland Acadians,” who settled at St. Gabriel, Iberville Parish in 1785.

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 century Louisiana 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, ie., Acadian Coast and German Coasts

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's.

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


The Cajuns brought with them to Louisiana many skills, including 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. Explanatory note: A pieux is a board.  The earliest were hand rived of cypress.

Louisiana Purchase 1803

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, they hated debt.
The Americans were willing to pay a good price to the Acadians for their small farms and they distrusted the new Anglo (English speaking) government. After Grand derangement they distrusted any government, much less English speaking!  

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, the 'interior' as it was called. 

This was documented 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 already 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 interior, 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. 

1. From the Upper Lafourche Valley to the Atchafalaya interior, i.e.., Pierre Part, Belle River, i.e.., the Lower Grand River area, 4 Mile Bayou and Bayou Boeuf.  

2. The Lower Lafourche Valley, to Paincourtville, Napoleonville, Houma, and 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 along, 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. 

Other settlements were placed on the *brules, surrounded by swamp, Brusly St. Vincent, Brusly St. Martin.  Brules’ were high natural ridges cleared and burned… ‘brules” French ‘for burnt’. 

Between 1780 and 1803 the Atakapa's Canal (pronounced tack-a-paw) was completed, i.e.., 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, i.e.., Morgan City and thus through Morgan City a faster route to the area of Bayou Teche rather than traveling the Mississippi River to Bayou Plaquemine, then west across the vast Atchafalaya Swamp.  Where navigation was continuously hindered by log rafts / jams which moved around in the annual flood pulse.

Commercial Agriculture

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 plantations were started by several successful Acadian planters from Upper Bayou Lafourche.

Florentine Michel and Company 

Florentine Michel acquired land on the shores of Belle Riviere and built a sugar plantation that became known as “Florentine Michel and Company,” which was to become the Grand Riviere Plantation.  Florentine built the Grand Riviere Plantation into a successful enterprise and sold it in 1848 for $17,000. He left Belle Riviere and moved back to Bayou Lafourche Basin. 

Florentine Michel and his wife, Marguerite Arthemise Theriot were married 2 February 1819 and had seven children: Pierre Florentine Michel, Jr., 1819; Francoise Michel, 1821; Delphin Michel, 1823; Joseph Justilien Michel, 1827; Marie Angelina Michel, 1830; Paul Elphage Michel, 1833; and Marie Michel, 1835. When Florentine Michel died on Sept. 20, 1855, he left each of children an inheritance of $2,311.29. 

Adélard Rousseau ( a French Creole) also owned a successful plantation, Belle River.  (Source; Mr. Wildy Templet book).

Joseph (Justinien/Justilien) Michel, son of Florentine was born near Convent, St. James Parish, in June 1827, he married Marguerite Azella, daughter of French Creole Adélard Rousseau, at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Paincourtville, Assumption Parish, in July 1848. 

Justilien Michel formed a sugar Plantation at Bayou Pigeon in 1857.

'Petits Habitats De Marecage'

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.  

Thus, 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 the Cajuns on the eastern side of the Atchafalaya swamp became semi- isolated from the new Americans and even their cousins living on the levee lands along Bayou Lafourche. 

Thus, the beginning of what we know of today as 'Bayou Cajuns'.

They did not intermarry with other ethnic groups, for several generations therefore Pierre part, Belle River Lake Verrett communities maintained the traditional French Acadian culture and language much longer than their cousins. 

Today, Pierre Part has maintained better than most past Cajun communities the Cajun Language. 

It is one of the last small pockets of Cajun French speaking communities on the eastern side of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Preserve the Heritage...


Selected  Reference :

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

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