The 19th century saw the lifestyle of most
Acadians slowly develop. Some ended the century in much the same
way as their grandparents entered it. But some, especially those
who developed larger farms and ranches and those who lived in the cities,
changed more rapidly. At the beginning of the century, just about
every Acadian spoke French, worked with livestock and/or crops, and were
Catholic. At the end of the century, it may be that most Acadians
(now primarily called Cajuns), still maintained those 3 ways of life.
But others may have become Protestant, would speak English in their business
and perhaps in the home, and worked in a variety of occupations.
No drastic changes occurred in the lifestyle
of the average Acadian. As new materials, methods, and ideas came
to society, the Acadians adopted some. For example, though the basic
house style stayed the same, corrugated tin roofs replaced wooden shingles.
As new fishing techniques came into the area, the Acadians started using
The basics of Acadian history in the 1800s
are covered on this page. For more information on specific aspects
(ie. education, religion, etc.), check out the Encyclopedia
of Cajun Life.
Their time in Acadia had been marked by numerous
changes of ownership. Since they had been in Louisiana, Spain had
maintained a steady control ... giving them the stability they had in Acadia
once England gained control in 1713. But in 1803, the Louisiana territory
was bought by the United States. This would mark the final time that
their ruling authorities would change.
President Jefferson had sent representatives
to Napoleon to ask about purchasing the Isle of Orleans, so that the U.S.
would have unfettered access to send ships up and down the Mississippi
River. Napoleon had viewed Louisiana as a source for goods to support
Santo Domingo. With the rebellion and loss of control on that island,
his need for Louisiana diminished. The entire territory was offered
to the U.S. Though not approved by Congress, the deal was too good
to pass up and the representatives made the deal. The territory became
U.S. property for $15,000,000. In a matter of weeks, Spain transferred
it to France, who in turn completed the deal with the U.S.
The "Second Expulsion" ?
This opened up Louisiana to American settlers
(of various nationalities). They didn't wait for Louisiana to become
a state (in 1812). They moved in and acquired typical pieces
of land. Gradually, they made their way across Louisiana. Many of
them came to make money. Since the Acadians (and others) had taken
all of the land fronting the Mississippi River, the new settlers often
had to start out on the swampy or wooded back land. But they soon
began buying out their neighbors (often Acadians) to increase their holdings.
Since the Mississippi River area was the most accessible, it was the first
area inhabited by the new settlers.
In one area, they were the primary settlers.
The lower Teche (present-day St. Mary Parish) was midway between Attakapas
and Bayou Lafourche, so the Acadians hadn't settled the area yet.
The first few decades of the century saw that area develop as American
plantation land. Only after the Acadian populations grew throughout
the 19th century did Acadians start to move into that area.
Some (ie. Rushton, Cajuns) have said that the movement of Acadians in the first few decades of the
19th century was a "second expulsion." This would be a misnomer.
No one forced the movement. The the decision to move was made by
the Acadians, who profited from it.
By selling their land, Acadians could obtain
a good bit of money. The riverfront property was the most fertile
for growing and brought a good price. The Acadians hated debt, and
this was a way to pay off their creditors and have some left over.
They could then move on to settle another area (for free). All it
cost them was their labor to build another home. In some cases the
buyers may have given them more that the land was worth. The idea
of successful small-scale living may have been seen as a bad example for
the slaves to see and the plantation owners wanted to get rid of their
Acadian neighbors. (The Environmental Impact,
H. M. Brackenridge wrote in 1814 (Views
of Louisiana) that "lands have risen in price, since they have
grown in demand for sugar plantations, and many of the petit habitants
bought out." Large sugar cane plantations were spreading out along
the Mississippi River. This also brought a dramatic rise in the slave
population of Louisiana. In the first quarter century, the number
of slaves increased several times over.
The average Acadian usually never grew enough
crops or raised enough livestock to grow rich. They also continued
to grow vegetables for their own consumption. Their crops/livestock
would be sold to provide for those items they couldn't grow, raise, or
Though the average Acadian still had a small
farm/ranch, most Acadian families followd the example of their neighbors
and acquired from 1 to 3 slaves between 1790 and 1810. (The
Founding of New Acadia, Brasseaux, p. 135)
This varied from region to region.
Some historians have written that the Acadians rarely owned slaves.
In some cases that was true. But in some cases, wealthier Acadians
acquired dozens of slaves. It is difficult for some to see why Acadians,
who had been opressed by the English in their past, would do the same thing
to another culture. But they were following the common culture of
East and West
These Acadians can be called the bayou or wetlands
Acadians. They often lived along the bayous. Some moved into
the swamps in lower Lafourche and Terrebonne and in the Atchafalaya Basin.
They'd often live on the natural levees (brulees). They still farmed
to some degree, depending upon how much dry land they had available.
For some, raising crops was abandoned entirely. For some, whose swamp
homes were regularly flooded, they began living on houseboats. This
innovation made its way into the area in the late 1800s.
by George Rodrigue
| By and large, the east and west sides
of Acadiana didn't mix. The century saw a difference in eastern and western
Acadiana (the south central area of Louisiana most populated by Acadians)
develop more clearly. As previously discussed, in the western part
... west of the Atchafalaya many Acadians raised livestock. The first
Acadians at Attakapas had been from the Beaubassin area and were accustomed
to such activity. To the western part of this area, Acadiana had
the pasture land to accommodate herds of cattle. Rice became a more common crop
than cotton. In the eastern part, around Attakapas/Opelousas, corn
and cotton was more common.
Eastern Acadiana consisted more of strips of
good land lining the rivers and bayous. Cotton and corn were the
major crops, though sugar cane soon became a major crop. In the east
there were really two areas. The settlers along the Mississippi River
(the Acadian Coast and upriver) were farmers. Some withstood the
temptation of selling their lands and remained along the River. Many
who succeeded enlarged their holdings. But smaller farmers (petits
habitants) were often bought out and moved elsewhere (see above text).
In the first half of the century, much of the movement from the Mississippi
River and upper Bayou Lafourche was south, to lower Lafourche and Terrebonne
Most of these Acadians would hunt and fish
... perhaps catch a few crawfish. But some turned this into their
occupation. Trapping, something their ancestors had seen in old Acadia,
became the occupation for some. In the latter half of the 19th century,
oysters became big business, as did the lumber industry.
Acadian -> Cajun
So how did the Acadians turn into Cajuns.
It's more than just the alteration of a nomenclature. That's simple
to understand. The Acadians may have sometimes called themselves
Cadiens. Also, in the French pronunciation, the first syllable "a-"
is sometimes softly spoken. The "di" may have sounded like a "j".
To the English-speaking settlers, the name was heard as Cajuns.
It had become commonplace within the first few decades. It was not
used by the Acadians themselves, but by the English in referring to them.
The name also took on a certain connotation.
To the English, the simple carefree lifestyle
that the Acadians were comfortable with was viewed as lazy and culturally
inferior. To be called a Cajun was an insult to them. Some
Acadians also took that point of view. As one write of the 19th century
wrote, "we must not call them ‘Cajuns to their faces lest they be offended,
that the term is taken as one of reproach." [Julien Ralph, Harpers'
Monthly, Nov. 1893] As an Acadian became successful,
he often shed himself of aspects of the Acadian culture. More than
a few wealthy Acadians tended to pass themselves off as Creole.
The culture of the Acadians was also changing.
The Acadians had learned to adapt to the new land. They grew different
crops, made clothes of different materials, built their homes in a different
style, and so on. Along with these changes, they adopted other elements
of neighboring cultures. In many areas, they were the dominant culture.
When marriages between Acadians and other nationalities occurred, the family
often remained mostly Acadian in nature. English, Spanish, and German
spouses would soon be speaking Cajun French, cooking gumbo, and attending
The same thing happened with other aspects
of the cultures. Various pieces of other cultures were assimilated
into the Acadian culture. The combination of Acadian culture and
bits & pieces of other cultures resulted in the Cajun culture we speak
of in the 20th century. One example is the accordian, considered
a staple of Cajun music; it came from the Germans. Another is okra
gumbo, which actually came from Africa by way of the West Indies.
For the most part, Acadians spoke French.
It was the French their ancestors brought with them to Acadia in the 17th
century. Over time, words from other languages were incorporated.
The language was primarily learned in the
home. It is true that most Acadians didn't receive 12 full years
of schooling. When they did, they might find a school that taught
in French. The 1879 and 1898 state constitution provided "that the
French language may be taught in those parishes or localities where the
French language predominates, if no additional expense is incurred thereby."
It is probable that some, if not most, Acadians
learned some English so that they could have some understanding of business
dealings. Since the U.S. became a state, official documents were
prepared in English. Still, French was commonplace in many parts
of Acadiana. French newspapers existed throughout the century.
Acadians: Rich and Poor
It is a safe assumption to say that the average
Acadian was on the lower end of the economic scale. Their handmade
homes were as simple as they had been in Acadia. They worked enough
to provide for their families, but didn't go out of their way to accumulate
wealth. Illiteracy was common.
But some Acadians were able to became wealthy,
usually in one of two ways. Some worked harder at increasing the
size of their farm/ranch. They abandoned the traditional non-materialistic
view of the Acadians and sought to become well-to-do like some of their
Creole neighbors. The other method was to marry into wealth.
A number of Acadians married outside of their culture, often to wealthy
Creoles, and entered a different class of society. Some of these
wealthier Acadians tried to distance themselves from their former culture,
which was viewed as inferior. They built fine homes, acquired "store-bought"
furnishings, and dressed in manufactured clothing.
Some people have tried to say that Acadians
were very successful in 19th century Louisiana, and that we shouldn't be
view them as just simple, lazy, poor, and illiterate. While it is
true that some became successful, it is a fact that most Acadians did maintain a simple and easy-going lifestyle. But that was the way
they wanted it. Is that so wrong?
Many people today, stressed out with the complexities
of modern life, say how they need to simplify their lives and take it easy.
They talk about the need to spend more quality time with family and friends.
They are describing the attitude of the 19th century Acadian ... live easy
and enjoy the people around you. In some ways, the laid back attitude
of those Acadians may have been superior to our materialistic, over-stressed
attitude of today ... don't you think?
Though the Acadians had steadfastly resisted
fighting in Acadia, when the War of 1812, many Acadians took part in protecting
their new homeland. The same goes for the Civil War. But they
didn't rush out to join the conflicts. As in Acadia, the Acadians
wanted to stay out of the fighting. Still, many Acadians fought and many
were injured or died in the Wars of the 19th century.
Some Acadians went on to become high ranking
The Century Draws to a Close
As previously mentioned, many Acadians ended
the century just as their grandfathers had began it. Some changes
were made, but the average Acadian still lived on a little farm/ranch in
a handmade house. He worked just hard enough to provide for his family.
In the 1890s, William H. Perrin wrote (in Southwest Louisiana Biographical
and Historical) that the Acadians were still as primitive as they had
been in old Acadia. Certainly there were exceptions. Acadians
became politicians, military officers, rich merchants, etc. But the
average Acadian was still living much like he would have in old Acadia.