Acadian-Cajun Genealogy & History

History of the Cajuns

Cajuns in the 18th Century
Pre-1764 Louisiana

Louisiana Is Found and Claimed by France

     LaSalle (Rene Robert Cavalier) sailed down the Mississippi and claimed Louisiana for France in 1682.  He named it after his king (Louis XIV). Although the group did a bit of exploring, they did not stray far from the River.  LaSalle tried to return with a group of settlers in 1686, but bypassed Louisiana and landed at Texas.  After losing all 4 ships, he and a group of men set off for supplies.  Along the way, his dictatorial attitude caused his men to rebel and kill him. 
     The colony was left alone for over a decade, until Iberville was asked to try to settle the area.  He arrived in 1699 with a small group of settlers. 

The First Settlers

     Since Louisiana was basically wilderness, few families were anxious to tame a new land. Many of the first inhabitants of Louisiana were soldiers and people who came to make money ... they often returned home after they had taken care of their "business" in Louisiana. Also, France sent a number of "undesirables" ... prisoners, prostitutes, etc. ... to Louisiana to rid themselves of this class of people.  It even got to the point that the poor in France were picked up and sent to the colony.  This made early Louisiana an poor choice for families of settlers. 
     The territory of Louisiana was handled as a business enterprise. Someone was given control of the area in return for development and colonization. Antoine Crozat was in charge from 1712 to 1717.  When he realized his "investment" wasn't paying off, he relinquished the claim. John Law and his Company of the Indies took over Louisiana. At that time, land was not given to individual settlers.  Large sections of land were given to wealthy entrepreneurs. These large landowners then recruited "engages" to settle and work the land. They were like indentured servants who signed on for a specified number of years. Individual land ownership among common people was rare. 
     John Law, and the Company of the Indies, settled Germans along the Mississippi River (in
present-day St. Charles and St. John the Baptist Parish) in 1721. When the Company of the Indies folded in 1731, the Germans were released from their obligation and became independant land-owners. 

Slow Growth

     Over the next few decades, the population of the Louisiana grew, but it still numbered only a few thousand.  Most of the population outside of the few towns (such as Natchitoches, New Orleans, and Opelousas) were business people and the military.  The population of today's 'Cajun Country' was extremely small when Spain gained control of Louisiana in the 1760s.  It is under 4 decades of Spanish rule that the population of Louisiana saw significant gains.
     Louisiana was a "lost colony" from 1754 to 1763.  Louis Billouart, Chevalier de Kerlerec was governor during this time.  France sent no settlers, money, or supplies.  France had lost interest in the colony. 

Spain Gets Louisiana

     At the secret treaty at Fontainebleau, France on 11/3/1762, France ceded all of the colony west of the Mississippi River and the Isle of Orleans to Spain.  The French king gave it to his cousin (the Spanish king) so England wouldn't get it.  Officially, it was to repay Spain for helping France in its war against England.  Kerlerec was replaced in 1763 by Jean Jacques d'Abbadie, who found too much freedom and a shortage of all supplies.  [Eakin, Culbertson: p. 129]
     Official word of Spanish control didn't come until Sept. 30, 1764, and an announcement was posted.  Notices were usually posted on church doors.  People were upset; they had heard bad stories of Spanish control and strict domination.  They sent a petition to the French king to protest; it was taken by Jean Milhet.  But neither he nor the elderly Bienville could get to see the king.   Though Louisiana was now a Spanish territory, it still looked French.  The French flag even flew from the government buildings.  [Eakin, Culbertson: p. 133]   The key piece of information is that Spain still allowed the Acadians to settle in Louisiana.  Although the Acadians would no doubt be disappointed that they would be on Spanish soil, it was still a Catholic area and the environment was still predominantly French.

On to: The First Acadians in New Acadia: 1764-1784
Copyright © 1997-09 Tim Hebert