Metamorphosis of Acadian Society in Late-Eighteenth-Century Louisiana

by Carl A. Brasseaux

Louisiana's first large groups of Acadian immigrants dubbed their adopted homeland New Acadia, thereby giving voice to the unspoken purpose of the group's migration to that strange land. Notoriously stubborn, the exiles refused to deviate from their self-appointed task of creating a stable new world for themselves and their families. Achieving this goal required a shared vision, tenacity, industry, pragmatism, flexibility, and the ingenuity that is always born of poverty and necessity--traits that the immigrants shared in abundance.

Upon arrival in Louisiana, the Acadian exiles encountered an alien environment far different from their Canadian homeland and the lands they encountered during the period of exile and wanderings (1755-1785). The magnitude of the task before them can be appreciated only by someone who has weathered the rigors of both the Canadian winter and the Louisiana summer. The immigrants nevertheless adapted with remarkable rapidity and success.

The Acadians' successful adaptation to the bayou country was a direct result of their North American experience. The Acadians were a frontier people with approximately 150 years of experience in facing the rigors of life in the North American wilderness. The Acadian community had not only survived the ordeal, but had thrived because of its adaptability, pragmatism, cohesiveness, and tenacity--traits that would serve the exiles well in Louisiana. Indeed, within ten years of their arrival in Louisiana, most Acadian immigrants had achieved a standard of living comparable to the one that they had experienced in pre-dispersal Nova Scotia. According to the 1701 census of Les Mines, the most populous region of pre-dispersal Nova Scotia, the typical Acadian owned 12.7 cows, 8.95 hogs, and 12.04 sheep. The 1777 census of Ascension Parish, La., an area populated by refugees from Les Mines, indicates that the typical Acadian settler possessed 14.7 cattle, 11.59 hogs, and 1.03 sheep. The void created by the decline in sheep holdings was partially offset by the vast increase in the number of chickens maintained by the typical Acadian farmstead. Livestock holdings were far greater in the Attakapas country, a colonial administrative District including the modern civil parishes of Lafayette, Vermilion, St. Martin, Iberia, and St. Mary.

The disparity in livestock holdings between the Acadian settlements of the prairie region of southwestern Louisiana and the settlements along the Mississippi River belies the different economic backgrounds of the exiles who populated these areas. Most Attakapas Acadians (77.7 percent) were former residents of the Chignecto Isthmus area, a sparsely wooded region which had supported the Acadian cattle industry before 1755. As early as 1707, the Chignecto area boasted forty-two ranches. Though chronically neglected, the Acadian herds multiplied rapidly, providing the ranches with large surpluses by the early eighteenth century. As a consequence, the Acadian ranchers were able to smuggle 600 to 700 cattle to settlements at Ile St-Jean and Cape Breton Island.

Faced with the task of rebuilding their lives as quickly as possible, the leaders of the first large group of Acadian exiles to reach Louisiana, all of whom were drawn from the Chignecto Isthmus area, selected home sites in the lower colony's prairie country and engaged in ranching. The Acadian cattlemen quickly adapted traditional ranching techniques to the new environment, and, though their cattle continued to graze unoccupied lands in the royal domain without constant supervision, the Acadians nevertheless vigorously protected their livestock from the roving herds of wild cattle which could easily assimilate their domesticated longhorns. Ranchers also quickly utilized horses, which had been scarce in Nova Scotia and which had been employed primarily as draft animals, to trace the movements of their cattle in the broad expanses of the southwestern prairies. To discourage rustling, the exiles eagerly embraced the use of cattle brands, which were officially registered in the manner of modern trademarks.

The Acadians' skill as herders, the fecundity of their cattle, the lushness of the extensive grasslands in the Attakapas and Opelousas districts, and the region's mild climate, which helped to extend the life span of weak and old cattle, interacted to produce a remarkable growth rate among Acadian-owned herds. By 1771, only six years after their arrival as destitute immigrants, the Attakapas District ranchers owned an average of twenty-two cattle and six horses--approximately twice the corresponding livestock holdings in the last extant, pre-dispersal Chignecto census. This comparison is placed in proper perspective only when one considers that the foregoing Nova Scotian population count reflected over thirty-five years of development in the Beaubassin cattle industry. Median Attakapas livestock holdings rose steadily throughout the late eighteenth century, despite the ranchers' renewed interest in marketing their cattle. In fact, by 1803, Acadian livestock production had increased by at least 500 percent, and, in the Quartier de Vermilion alone, the average Acadian vacherie, included 125 cattle and 23 horses.

Faced with the difficulty of managing large herds with only the family labor pool, the prairie Acadians quickly resumed the practice of driving surplus beef to the nearest outlet. In 1773, Amant Broussard and Pierre Broussard, assisted by eight or nine drovers, began driving small herds of cattle to New Orleans. Following the Colette Trail along Bayou Teche, and the Bayou Black and Bayou Lafourche natural levees, the eighteenth-century Acadian cowboys initially guided only Creole-owned beef to the New Orleans slaughterhouse in herds of 100 to 150 head. Following Spain's entrance into the American Revolution as an ally of the Patriot cause (1779), the few surplus beeves on Acadian vacheries were also driven to market. By maintaining this crucial supply line to the colonial capital during the war, the Acadian ranchers and drovers not only prevented food shortages in New Orleans, but they also provided vital logistical support for the Spanish army during Governor Bernardo de Gálvez's successful campaigns against Manchac, Baton Rouge, Mobile and Pensacola, which ended the British presence in West Florida.

The trade patterns established by these cattle drives endured well into the nineteenth century. Cattle drives from the Attakapas and Opelousas prairies remained the main source of beef in New Orleans throughout the eighteenth century, but the percentage of Acadian-owned cattle shipped to the colonial capital rose sharply as the prairie herds proliferated at an amazing rate in the 1780s and 1790s. Despite their changing role in the Louisiana cattle industry and the affluence that it eventually brought to the ranching families, the Acadians continued to provide a large majority of the drovers involved in the cattle drives to New Orleans.

Acadian ranchers in the prairie country also engaged in subsistence farming. As in Beaubassin, Acadia, where a rise in cattle production had produced a corresponding decline in farm acreage, Attakapas District ranchers produced progressively smaller surpluses of corn, vegetables, and cotton as the size of their herds increased. The products of their fields balanced with the fruits of husbandry provided most of the necessities of life.

Unlike the Attakapas and Opelousas ranchers, the Acadian settlers east of the Atchafalaya Basin placed ever increasing emphasis on agricultural production. Except for the 1765 immigrants who settled at Cabannocé, the Acadians who were settled by the French caretaker regime and the Spanish colonial government along the Mississippi River were drawn primarily from the Mines area of Nova Scotia, the two largest settlements of which were Grand-Pré and Pisiquid. For example, at St. Gabriel, an Acadian community established along the Mississippi River in 1767, 83.3 percent of the settlers were natives of either Grand-Pré or Pisiquid. At San Luís de Natchez, Mines-area natives were present in 95.8 of the Acadian households.

These Minas Basin farmers brought to Louisiana an old agrarian tradition. On the shore of the Bay of Fundy, these farmers had adapted traditional French methods to the region's shorter growing season while simultaneously waging a never-ending battle against the elements and tides as they worked industriously to establish and maintain farms of reclaimed sea marsh. At Grand-Pré and Pisiquid, the typical Acadian yeoman cultivated vegetables, oats, rye, and wheat on five to ten arpents of land. These small farms were so productive that the area's farmers were routinely able to smuggle surpluses either to the French settlement at Louisbourg or to Boston smugglers at Baie Verte.

To these farmers fell the task of adapting their temperate zone agrarian technology to subtropical Louisiana. In opening their lands along the Mississippi River and, later, Bayou Lafourche, to agriculture, the Acadian pioneers encountered three formidable obstacles: First, the most fertile soil lay in the ridges that formed the crests of the natural levees lining the principal waterways of lower Louisiana. These ridges were invariably blanketed with dense groves of hardwood timber. Clearing these lands in Louisiana's climate was exceedingly difficult and dangerous. The riverbanks were populated with alligators, poisonous snakes, and swarms of disease-bearing mosquitoes. Poison ivy was the principal ground cover. Tools were scarce, but even when they were available, land clearing proceeded at an almost glacial pace. The Acadians had traditionally shunned the technique of slash and burn deforestation practiced extensively in the contemporary British seaboard colonies. Indeed, only 500 acres of woodland had been cleared in pre-dispersal Acadia, as compared to over 13,000 acres which the Acadians had reclaimed from the sea marsh. Thus, although the river parish Acadians applied themselves to the distasteful task of land clearing with characteristic energy and tenacity, their farms initially exhibited very slow improvement. By the early 1770s, the average Acadian farmer in the river settlements had cleared and cultivated at least two arpents--the minimum necessary for Spanish land patents--and had managed to produce at least seventy barrels of corn. In addition, Acadian probate inventories indicate that an additional six to thirty arpents had been enclosed with cypress pieux fences.

Acadian settlers along lower Louisiana's main watercourses were also obliged by the land regulations of February 1770 to build and maintain roads and levees across their properties. The levees were expected to be five to six feet in height, the minimum necessary to provide an effective barrier against the springtime flooding cause by the annual rise in water levels. The barriers were only effective, however, if all the levees were equally well built and maintained and if there were no gaps in the system. Similarly, settlers were expected to built and maintain a road across their property. This road was expected to run across the high ground and to link up with the roadway traversing the adjacent lands.

The Spanish government hoped by these means to establish a system of roads throughout the settlement areas. Although sound in theory, the system did not work well because many settlers ignored the land regulations and, after an initial period of strict enforcement, many local administrators refused to force compliance. Indeed, in some instances, the commandants were among the most notable violators. Lax enforcement of land regulations resulted in highly destructive periodic floods that prompted ever growing numbers of Acadians to seek permission to relocate west of the Atchafalaya Basin where levee maintenance was not required.

Those Acadians who remained along the Mississippi and Bayou Lafourche either by choice or necessity faced the task of adapting their agricultural practices to Louisiana's long growing season and high annual precipitation levels. Transplanted cultures rarely have the opportunity to replicate all aspects of their native culture in a new land. Environmental, social, political, and economic factors limit access to traditional material goods, requiring changes in diet, dress, architecture, and other physical manifestations of culture. This is certainly true of the Acadian farmers in eighteenth-century Louisiana. Wheat, barley and oats, for example, which had been the principal crops in the Mines area, were unsuited to South Louisiana's subtropical climate, as the immigrants' initial efforts to cultivate them demonstrated. They were thus compelled to cultivate small quantities of maize--a crop virtually unknown in Acadia--provided to them as seed grain by Louisiana's French and, later, Spanish colonial government.

The Acadians were also forced to seek a substitute for flax, their traditional fiber-producing plant. Grand-Pré farmers had consistently produced small quantities of flax for home consumption, and much of the Acadians' pre-dispersal clothing had been fashioned from home-produced linen. Flax, however, did not grow well in Louisiana's subtropical climate. In addition, wool, used extensively in the cool- and cold-weather clothing worn by the pre-dispersal Acadians, was of marginal utility in an environment with more than 120 days of temperatures over 90o Fahrenheit. It is thus hardly surprising that sheep were initially scarce in Louisiana's original Acadian settlements. Only in the 1770s did the Acadians make a concerted effort to acquire sheep, but the number of shepherds and the size of their flocks remained consistently small throughout the late eighteenth century.

Lacking access to the fibers traditionally used in the manufacture of clothing, the Acadians throughout lower Louisiana soon learned to produce cotton, which was not only more comfortable, but also more serviceable in Louisiana's semi-tropical climate. Unlike flax, cotton was easy to wash and to fashion into thread. Like wool, however, cotton could be easily woven into cloth on the looms which began to appear in the exiles' households by the early 1770s.

Louisiana's Acadian immigrants quickly mastered cotton cultivation, harvesting, and processing. As early as 1772, Acadians on both sides of the Atchafalaya--but particularly the denizens of the settlements along the Mississippi River--utilized pre-Whitney cotton gins to remove seeds and facilitate spinning of fibers into thread. Acadian women then wove the cotton threads into broadcloth known locally as cotonade. Throughout lower Louisiana, Acadian-produced cotonade was renowned for its excellent quality. Acadian stockings, moreover, were of so valued that they formed part of at least one Spanish governor's wardrobe.

As with fiber production, the Acadian immigrants quickly achieved self-sufficiency in food production. Success in food production required development of techniques to combat new insect pests; a quick adaptation to Louisiana's longer, warmer, and wetter growing season; and a fundamental change in Acadian farming techniques. The grains the Acadians had cultivated in pre-dispersal Acadian had simply required farmers to broadcast seeds over their fields. Louisiana's climate, however, dictated a change to row crops. Plows helped farmers neutralize the baneful effects of Louisiana's high annual precipitation levels, but Acadian farmers were not very familiar with this implement. Until the early eighteenth century, plows were rare in Acadia. Even in the mid-eighteenth century, ox-drawn plows enjoyed only limited use, and furrows were seldom more than two or three inches deep. In Louisiana, such small furrows were incapable of handling the region's torrential rains, and crops were exposed to frequent, extended flooding and the resulting root rot. Embracing the need for change, Acadians east of the Atchafalaya Basin quickly acquired oxen, fashioned wooden plows, and learned to cut deeper furrows. These Acadian farmers also learned to alleviate flooding by constructing drainage ditches across their properties as mandated by Louisiana's 1770 land regulations.

In Acadia, the principal garden products had been field peas, turnips, and cabbage. Turnips and cabbage, however, could be produced only in Louisiana's short winter season, and the crop consequently declined in importance. Peas, especially "English peas" (modern-day sweet peas), remained a garden staple, and they were supplemented by numerous bean varieties. In a remarkably comprehensive and insightful 1786 report on agriculture in the Lafourche District, Commandant Louis Judice indicates that local Acadian farmers cultivated field peas, kidney beans, "red beans, butter beans, and English peas." These legumes were among the most significant local food crops.

The peas and beans were supplemented by rice, tobacco, squash, and pumpkins--all also produced for home consumption. Although the Acadians had been inveterate pipe smokers from the earliest days of French colonization in the Bay of Fundy Basin, the eyewitness accounts of travelers who visited Acadian in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries suggest that the Acadians themselves produced little, if any, tobacco. Perhaps because of poor Acadian relations with the tribes residing east of the Atchafalaya Basin, the river Acadians began cultivating small quantities of tobacco by the mid-1770s.

Like tobacco, rice was a secondary crop. Sown in lowlands by river parish Acadians, providence rice (so named because of its dependence upon rainfall for irrigation) was used primarily as an insurance crop. Rice, which had traditionally served as a supplemental food for slaves on Creole-owned plantations in the vicinity of New Orleans, was consumed by Acadians during those years when the Louisiana corn crop failed. Because of the absence of reliable irrigation technology, rice remained a marginal crop. Only 4 of the 276 Acadian households in the 1788 census of the Lafourche District produced rice in significant quantities.

The Acadians experimented with other sub-tropical crops. By 1804, small quantities of okra--a West African vegetable introduced evidently brought to Louisiana by way of the French West Indies--were cultivated by Acadian farmers, who were probably introduced to the crop by their African slaves during the 1790s.

Other farm products were far less exotic. The Grand-Pré and Port Royal tradition of maintaining small, but highly productive orchards was revived in lower Louisiana. In their homeland, the Acadians were famous for their fine apple crops; apples, however, were not well suited to Louisiana's climate. Once again, the pragmatic Acadians were quick to adapt, and by 1786, Acadian farms east of the Atchafalaya Basin typical had orchards of fig, peach, and apricot trees.

Acadian fruit production was not limited to orchard produce. By the 1780s, most Acadians in the parishes along the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche also tended Concord, white, and grape vines.

Once the Acadians had mastered the techniques required to produce this plethora of new crops, their level of agricultural production increased dramatically. By the mid-1770s, for example, the typical Acadian farmer in the river parishes annually produced thirty barrels of surplus corn.

The river parish farmers also soon produced surplus pork, eggs, and poultry. Upon settlement, the immigrants had been given two cows and seven chickens by the colonial government. Within months of their arrival, the river Acadians also acquired small numbers of hogs--the principal source of protein in their pre-dispersal settlements. These hogs may have been acquired from slaves (or even fugitive slaves) from the more established settlements in the German Coast area. These hogs and hens proved as prolific as the Acadians themselves. In 1772, the typical Acadian Coast farmer owned twenty-four pigs and twenty-two chickens.

By the 1770s, the Acadian Coast settlers also owned small numbers of cattle, but, because local topography militated against ranching, the size of the Acadian herds remained small. There were nevertheless sufficient cattle in the river parishes to give rise to frequent disputes between neighboring farmers over the question of crop damage or destruction by stray livestock.

The acquisition of cattle--and other commodities--by river parish Acadians was made possible by the proceeds of a lucrative smuggling operation. For a half-century prior to the Grand Dérangement, Grand-Pré farmers had bartered wheat and barley for English manufactured goods and specie with Boston merchants at Baie Verte. Despite their recent traumatic experience at the hands of British colonists, the Acadians--most of whom were not fully bilingual following more than a decade of captivity in the English seaboard colonies--displayed absolutely no reluctance to engage in business with the Anglo-American settlers of British West Florida. Around 1770, the Acadians sought markets for their surplus corn, pork, and eggs, and they found eager buyers among the English merchants at Manchac. The high prices fetched by agricultural produce in English territory were made even more attractive by the Spanish government's long-enduring policy of setting artificially low prices on Louisiana-produced commodities. The Acadian contribution to this contraband traffic persisted and even expanded in the 1770s, despite increasingly stringent measures taken by the colonial regime to divert all Louisiana produce to the Crescent City. Acadian smugglers traveled by night along the west bank of the Mississippi River in order to avoid detection by Spanish sentinels at Fort St. Gabriel. Once above the Spanish fortification, the Acadians cross the Mississippi and deposited their cargoes of "eggs, milk, pork, and corn" at English Manchac, where these goods were bartered for manufactured items. Much of the trade centered around cast-iron tools which were in short supply in South Louisiana's frontier society. The flow of contraband dwindled in the mid-1770s as a result of flood damage to Acadian crops, but the smuggling continued until Spanish military forces captured British West Florida and annexed the province to Louisiana. Following the Spanish invasion of West Florida, the Acadians in the river parishes--like the exiles in the prairie region and bayou country--began shipping their ever-growing corn and pork surpluses to New Orleans.

The Acadian willingness to engage in business with their recent oppressors bears testimony to their pragmatism and business acumen. The contraband trade proved more lucrative than government-regulated intracolonial commerce, and thus the immigrants simply pursued their own interests. Similarly, despite chronically poor Acadian-Creole relations throughout the late eighteenth century, Opelousas and Attakapas District Acadians served as cattle drovers for the Creole cattle barons because the dangerous, physically taxing work provided funds necessary to stock their own newly established ranches. Only during the American Revolution, when the exiles served with distinction in the Spanish military against the British, did the Acadians allow their true feelings regarding their present and former oppressors to surface.

The pragmatism, flexibility, and frugality demonstrated in other aspects of their lives was also evident in the exiles' approach to cuisine. The manner in which meals were prepared was dictated by age-old cooking methods centering around the hearth, but the exiles completely transformed their cuisine in response to radical changes in their diet. In pre-dispersal Acadia, the exiles' diet had revolved around the seasonal fruits of agriculture, fishing, and hunting. During the spring and summer months, wild game and fish provided the settlers a steady source of protein, while the ubiquitous family gardens yielded peas, and a large variety of other vegetables.

In autumn, surplus cattle and hogs were slaughtered. During the fall butcheries, the Acadians usually killed far larger numbers of hogs than cows, and contemporary observers consistently reported the Acadian preference for salt pork over wild game. Some beef and pork was consumed immediately, but most of the meat was salted and stored for use during the approaching winter months. The salted meat was usually stored in below-ground cellars which became effective refrigerators when the winter chill froze the ground.

Once the salted meat had been processed and stored, farmers turned their attention to the harvest. In September, the Acadians gathered wheat, barley, and rye and then transported their grain to local mills for grinding. Turnips and cabbages, staples of the Acadians' winter diet, were also harvested in the fall, but only turnips were removed from the fields. Cabbages were allowed to remain in the fields, where early snowfalls provided natural refrigeration. The Acadians gathered them in small quantities only for immediate use.

Finally, Acadians gathered apples and spruce sprouts for storage in their cellars. A small portion of the apple crop was used in the production of cider, but the Acadians exhibited a pronounced preference for spruce-sprout beer, a noted Canadian anti-scorbutic.

With the exception of beer and cider production, the Acadians employed one of three basic cooking techniques in cooking their stored food--frying, boiling, and baking. These basic cooking methods were dictated both by the almost universal use of black, cast-iron cauldrons and the heavy consistency of the main foods in the Acadian diet. Salt pork required extensive boiling, as did most wild game and the shellfish Acadians gathered in tidal pools during the spring months. Most Acadian vegetables also required cooking in boiling water, particularly turnips and cabbage which were often cooked together in an extremely popular soup, a pre-dispersal delicacy, during the winter months.

Fish caught in local rivers and along the coast, on the other hand, required less cooking, but higher temperatures. As a consequence, fish were usually fried in oil, and, according to horrified French travelers, bear oil was the most common Acadian cooking oil.

Like frying, baking was applied to a narrow range of foods. Bread was the most common baked good. Whole wheat and mixed-grain breads were served at major meals, and the Acadians usually consumed the loaves with ample supplies of molasses obtained from Boston smugglers.

Food stocks available to the Acadians in Louisiana were radically different. Bread disappeared from exiles' tables in Louisiana because wheat was scarce and expensive. Cornbread thus quickly replaced whole wheat bread on the Acadians' tables. By the early nineteenth century, Acadians had begun applying cane syrup to their corn bread.

Similarly, because cabbages and turnips were far less common on post-dispersal farms, Louisiana Acadians experimented with new local ingredients when producing their popular wintertime soups. The results were soupe de maïs (corn soup) and gumbo.

Delicacies such as gumbo and soupe de maïs were reserved for special occasions and weekend social gatherings. No eighteenth-century description of the Acadians' everyday fare is known to exist. Circumstantial evidence, however, suggests that the typical meals consisted of salt pork, corn bread, and seasonal vegetables and fruits. Rice was eaten only rarely and in small quantities, except in years when the corn crop failed. Acadians varied their diet with eggs and wild game killed during the exiles' frequent hunting expeditions. Poultry constituted a less common source of meat, for only unproductive roosters and hens were ever killed.

The toughness of the old chickens, wild game, and leathery longhorn beef, as well as the need to purge salt from cured pork all dictated the perpetuation of pre-dispersal cooking techniques. As in Acadia, most major meals were prepared primarily by boiling. The typical eighteenth-century Acadian household consequently contained several cast-iron cauldrons, suggesting that meat and green vegetables--primarily beans and peas--were prepared separately.

By contrast, late eighteenth-century Acadian households in Louisiana generally contained only one frying pan. These pans were undoubtedly used to fry eggs, bacon, and fish. Some frying pans equipped with special covers, however, saw double duty as makeshift Dutch ovens.

The remarkable Acadian ability to adapt their traditional way of life with their new surroundings is also evidenced in their development of a new, distinctive architectural style. Pre-dispersal Acadian housing had represented a marriage of traditional European design, Nova Scotian building materials, and Native American insulation technology. Except for a handful of affluent Port Royal residents who owned two-story wood and masonry residences, little different from their counterparts in western France, and a few wealthy residents of the outlying posts, the typical Acadian colonist lived in a one-or-two-room cottage of either pièce-sur-pièce (log cabin) or poteaux-en-terre (post-in-ground) design. (The question of construction method is the matter of heated scholarly debate.)

The focal point of these small rectangular structures was a large, multipurpose room. This unpartitioned room functioned as a bedroom and living room in most homes. In some homes, this large was partitioned into cubicles containing sleeping quarters. Homes also contained garconnières (cock lofts) in the attic and a cellar used, as indicated above, for storage space. In pre-dispersal Acadia, attic space provided sleeping quarters for young men.

The Acadian exiles initially attempted to recreate their pre-dispersal house type in Louisiana, but the design was ill-suited to local conditions, as was the structure's well-honed ability to retain heat. The first Acadian homes in lower Louisiana were usually of poteaux-en-terre design. These homes, however, were subject to flooding, termites, and rapid wood rot. Second-generation homes were usually raised on piers, and front and rear windows were aligned to permit cross ventilation to cool the structure more effectively. Finally, the Acadians began to insert bousillage--a mud and Spanish moss mixture--into the walls of their homes. This wonderful insulating material helped draw humidity out of the air, thus effectively cooling the temperature in the living space.

Because the modified structures remained uncomfortably warm in summer months, the Acadians gave part of the structure's main, multi-purpose room over to a gallery, which provided a haven from the region's intense, unrelenting heat and heavy rainfall for much of the year. Galleries provided a convenient location for ladders (stairways in the larger homes of the early nineteenth century) to the attic, which remained a garconnière.

Cellars, on the other hand, were impractical in lower Louisiana because of the region's high water table and propensity for frequent flooding. The exiles replaced the lost storage space with storage sheds, usually of post-in-ground construction. These sheds usually measured approximately twenty by approximately sixteen feet.

The myriad changes to the Acadian house design made the structure more functional, but they did little to augment the building's modest creature comforts. Visiting an Acadian residence in 1731, Robert Hale found only beds with their attendant storage chests (located at the foot of beds), one table, two or three chairs, and a collection of badly worn earthenware plates and saucers; cups and mugs were extremely rare, and these utensils also reflected long and continuous usage.

Hale would have found the same furnishings in the typical Acadian household in Louisiana. Extant Acadian antiques indicate that the design of the furnishings differed only slightly from their pre-dispersal counterparts, but that the Louisiana furniture was constructed of very different materials. Acadian furnishings were usually fashioned from the region's superior cherry wood, while the furnishes of the post-dispersal settlements were generally made with softer, more workable cypress lumber. As some exiles gained affluence in the late eighteenth century, however, imported cherry furniture once again found its way into Acadian households. Modestly wealth Acadian immigrants also acquired, after the 1770s, armoires to replace the small wooden chests which had traditionally stored the Acadians' clothing and small valuables. As in pre-dispersal Acadia, most of the exiles utilized well-worn earthenware bowls and broken tin cutlery; in more affluent homes, these were replaced by porcelain vessels and iron spoons and forks.

Such luxuries were the exception, however. In the late eighteenth century, the average Acadian yeoman sat on a worn-out, handmade wooden chair at a hand-carved wooden table. He ate from chipped dishes, with damaged cutlery. He slept in the same room on a feather or straw mattress of his own construction. At the foot of the bed, he stored his few threadbare garments in a small cypress chest.

The exiles' material culture is a stark reminder of their pre-capitalist background. The Acadian ethos was not based upon materialism, but rather the biblical values of land and family. The Acadian attachment to the soil is vividly reflected in their agrarian lifestyle and in their very deep attachment to their place of nativity. This love of home and family was a defining characteristic of the exiles' French ancestors; it remains a conspicuous attribute of their descendants.

This consistency sheds insight into one of the great verities in Acadian history. Since its inception, the Acadian/Cajun community has changed continuously as the group has responded to changing political, environmental, cultural, social, and economic pressures. As Barry Jean Ancelet has noted, throughout this evolutionary process, the Acadian community has demonstrated a remarkable ability to ingest those changes that are compatible with the group's core values and to "spit out" those that do not. It is indeed notable that, after two and half centuries of separation at opposite ends of North America, Cajuns visiting the Maritimes still experience a profoundly moving sense of affinity and kinship with their northern cousins precisely because they still have so much in common.

The Acadian saga of adaptation to lower Louisiana is ultimately one of the world's great examples of the triumph of the human spirit. In Louisiana, the Acadian exiles displayed a remarkable ability to derive advantage from adversity--to borrow a common expression, to make lemonade from lemons. This characteristic has remained one of the group's most salient features, and it does much to explain the resilience of one of the world's most famous "survivor" groups.

 

 

 

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