16th century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano gave the name Arcadia to the Atlantic coast north of Virginia. France established settlements along the north east coast from the early 1600s, and they adapted Verrazzano’s name by calling the area Acadia. England and the Netherlands also had settlements and claimed the area. In 1710 Britain conquered the peninsula east of the Bay of Fundy and renamed it Nova Scotia. The French settlers, or Acadians, refused to give their allegiance to Britain. During the Seven Years War, a decision was taken to expel the disloyal Acadians from the area and between 1755 and 1763 around 6,000 were deported to other British colonies, Britain, and France. At the end of the war many of the deportees resettled in French controlled Louisiana only to find that it had secretly been handed over to Spain. In time, the name Acadian became corrupted to Cajun.
Maison Oliver, Longfellow Evangeline State Park
The Cajuns were not the only ethnic group living in the area. Along Bayou Teche there were also Frenchmen, Spaniards, Créoles (people of French & Spanish descent), Indians, Black slaves and free Blacks. Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among these diverse peoples. Maison Oliver is a plantation home built around 1815 by wealthy Creole Pierre Olivier Duclozel de Vezin. The structure is an example of a Raised Creole Cottage, an architectural form which includes a mixture of Créole, Caribbean, and French influences.
St Martin de Tours & Priest's Home, St Martinville
Early settlers named this area the Attakapas District after an Indian settlement on Bayou Teche. The settlement founded on the banks of the bayou in the mid 18th century was therefore known as Attakapas Post. In 1765 Acadians expelled from Nova Scotia arrived to add to the population. The church was originally called l'Église des Attakapas, but later it changed its name to lÉglise St-Martin de Tours, and town followed suit by becoming St. Martinville. The current church was built on the site of the original one in 1836 andit is regarded as the ‘mother church’ of the Cajuns.
Evangeline Oak, St Martinville
The poet Longfellow wrote about the tragedy of the Acadian exile from Nova Scotia in his poem ‘Evangeline’. The poem describes the search by an Acadian girl named Evangeline for her love Gabriel from whom she was separated during the deportations. She searches for him across North America but finally gives up and settles in Philadelphia. In old age, while working with the poor, she finds Gabriel and he dies in her arms. The poem is fictional and in some areas historically inaccurate, for example it fails to mention that New England colonists played a leading role in the expulsions and it portrays the Acadians as a peaceful people rather than active rebels against British rule. The characters in the poem needed to be made real in order to satisfy the needs of the tourism industry, so it is claimed that Evangeline was based on Emmeline LaBiche who is buried in St. Martin de Tours Church Square and Gabriel on Louis Arceneaux. This oak tree in St. Martinville is claimed to be the meeting place of Emmeline and Louis.
Beau Bassin, Vermillionville, Lafayette
On the banks of the Bayou Vermilion is a museum that recreates the Cajun and Créole way of life between 1765 and 1890. Beau Bassin is one of 18 buildings on show, six of which are original to the period. We have never managed to set foot in Vermillionville as in 1996 our schedule meant that we passed by before it opened for the day and in 2010 we arrived just after the 3pm deadline for last tickets. This picture was taken from the other side of the bayou. Instead of visiting Vermillionville we went to the nearby Acadian Cultural Center which provides a much more accurate version of Acadian history than Longfellow.
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Castille Home & New Hope Chapel, Acadian Village, Lafayette
The Acadians settled to the west of the Mississippi River as at the end of the Seven Years War (or French and Indian War) the eastern side became part of British West Florida. This is low lying country with many slow moving water courses known as bayous and the Acadians built thier settlements on the banks of the bayous. The Acadian Village to the west of Lafayette recreates the way that the Cajuns lived in the 19th century. Seven authentic buildings have been restored and a further four buildings have been reconstructed.
LeJeune’s Bakery, Jeanerette
The art of baking French loaves is still alive and well in Jeanerette. LeJeune’s Bakery was set up in 1884 and five generations later the same family are still running it. They still bake bread and ginger cakes by hand using the same recipes as they did when the bakery was founded. A flashing red light on the front of the building is used to tell customers that the French Bread is ready for sale. LeJeune's Bakery (but not the bread) is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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