Quebec Studies

Louisiana Francophones: Origins and Evolution since 1673

Quebec Studies (2002), 33, (1), 103–115.

Abstract

103 Louisiana Francophones: Origins and Evolution since 1673 Alfred Olivier Hero, Jr. Ann Arbor, Michigan Francophone Louisiana is far more diverse and complex in its origins and evolution than most non-Louisianians generally assume. While the Acadians who settled there following their expulsion from the Canadian Mari­ times during what became known as le Grand Dérangement comprised an important segment of the francophone population, they were neither the first nor the largest group to arrive. This article, which does not pretend to be an exhaustive history of the region, will explore different aspects of the francophone presence within some 150 miles of the Gulf Coast between Beaumont, Texas, and Mobile, Alabama, and on the shores of the Missis­ sippi River and its tributaries up to near the disputed Canadian-Louisiana border of the French colonial period. The French (1699-1762) and Spanish (1762-1803) Colonial Periods. By the time of the arrival of even the first major Acadian contingent, at least 12,000-19,000 francophones,1 not counting slaves and Indians, were already living in the French colony of Louisiana. Only a handful of Acadians settled in Louisiana before 1764 and most of those arrived as sailors on private ships or as soldiers among French colonial troupes. These few Acadians set­ tled along the banks of the lower Mississippi and its tributaries where they married and integrated into the increasingly diverse francophone society made up of settlers who had come, in order of magnitude, first from France,2 secondly from present day Quebec,3 and thirdly from Saint-Domingue4 (present day Haiti) and other French Caribbean colonies. During their first generation in Louisiana, francophone settlers often enslaved Indians to cul­ tivate the fertile soils along the great river and to work in their small busi­ nesses and homes. Indians, however, proved to be generally unproductive slaves who often escaped into the wilderness to return to their own or join other tribes. Black slaves, mainly from Senegal, began arriving in increasing numbers near the end of the first francophone Louisiana generation. They came to New Orleans primarily via Saint-Domingue, as did a number of whites involved in the slave trade. Sold to francophone masters, blacks learned at least rudimentary French and their children were baptized as Catholics. Their children and later descendants, both slaves and free people of color, continued to speak French as their family language until the Second World War. We also should take note of the growing presence of Frenchspeaking free people of color resulting from sexual liaisons between fran­ cophone white males and black slave or Indian women, between blacks and Indians, and their respective progenies with one another. Canadians from the St. Lawrence valley were especially significant in the early francophone population and continued to play important leader­ ship roles in French Louisiana. Roughly half of the settlers during the first Québec Studies, Volume 33, Spring/Summer 2002

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Hero, Alfred