|Way down yonder: The Cajun Connection
|The Acadians meet the Germans
|When the first Acadians headed for Louisiana, they would be arriving in Spanish territory. Up until
the time of the Acadian settlement, Louisiana had been inhabited by Europeans since the beginning of
the 18th century, but mostly by the military and traders. The only attempt at actually colonizing the
area was from a group of Germans who became the first Europeans to establish themselves along
their shores on the Mississippi River above New Orleans.
John Law of the Company of the Indies cooked up a plan to settle Louisiana and circulated
thousands of pamphlets throughout the Rhineland region of Germany where thousands of Germans
signed up. A few hundred of them made it to America, and in 1721, those Germans settled along the
Mississippi River in present-day St. Charles and St. John the Baptist Parish, known as Lac des
Allemands or Carlstein, "The German Coast". After the Company of the Indies disbanded in 1731,
the Germans were freed from their obligation and became independent land-owners.
They withstood floods, epidemics and hurricanes, making successful settlements whose tidy farms
provided food for early New Orleans. Meanwhile, other scattered Acadians who had heard from
relatives and friends in Louisiana, traveled there to reunite. Together, the Germans and the Acadians
from the Cabannocé Post area would one day march on New Orleans and overthrow one Spanish
colonial governor, Antonio de Ulloa, in 1768, and later, they united under another Spanish colonial
governor, Bernardo de Gálvez, to fight the British during the American Revolution.
Their homes were around Bayou des Allemands and Lac des Allemands. The Germans and
Acadians gradually intermarried and all began speaking French, helping to create the unique Cajun
culture. In fact, it was the German settlers' accordion that made its way into Cajun music. Well into
the early 1900s, 85% of the residents were still speaking French, even if they had a good German
surname. The German population of Louisiana actually extended well beyond the New Orleans area.
Ironically, it was because of the French that the Rhinelanders had initially fled their ancestral German
homeland. The starvation and poverty resulting from constant French incursions had forced them to
leave. Yet, here, facing mutual enemies and because of a desire to survive, the two groups merged.
|Although most people think of Cajuns as French, many are a good part German! The earliest
recorded German immigrants to Louisiana arrived before 1722. Between 1848 to 1900, Germans
were the largest foreign-language speaking group in Louisiana. By 1850, fully one-fifth of Louisiana's
population was German-speaking, and there were more than 50 German newspapers and journals
published in the state.
This story about Louisiana Germans begins with the story of the Acadians. Long ago in the 17th
century, sixty hearty French families settled in a territory later to be called Acadia, an area spanning
from the Canadian Maritime provinces to the state of Maine. These industrious settlers brought with
them pre-fabricated homes from France as well as engineering techniques such as dike construction
so as to reclaim farmland from the sea.
They managed to maintain healthy, friendly relations with the local Indians, and the Acadian
settlements in Canada did very well and had a rapidly growing population.
In 1713, France ceded the portion of Acadia (now Nova Scotia minus Cape Breton Island) to the
British. This changed the lives of the Acadians forever. Since they lived between French and British
territories, the Acadians found themselves in a precarious position and consequently refused to take
up arms for either side. The British feared that these French settlers might rebel and join the French
side instead of remaining neutral and decided to force them to pledge allegiance, deporting anyone
who refused to other French colonies or even to France. In 1730, the Acadians signed an oath, but
stipulating that they would never take up arms against the French or the Indians.
When hostilities erupted between France and Britain during the Seven Years' War, the British
demanded that the Acadians take an absolute oath of allegiance to the British monarch, which would
require their to take up arms. Many Acadians, being a fiesty lot and not wishing to take up arms
against family members in French territory, refused. Colonel Charles Lawrence ordered the mass
deportation of the Acadians, an action which would turn out to be a classic case of ethnic cleansing.
The horror of these events is reflected in actions taken in the area of Grand-Pré where Colonel John
Winslow was put in charge of the deportation, He decided to make a surprise move upon the
unsuspecting Acadians. On a September day of 1755, the British stormed the village with a force of
2,500 men and dragged the surprised Acadians away from their homes, allowing them to take only
what they could carry. They tossed them onto prepared transport boats, and set them off to alien, far
away places. Almost the whole town of Grand-Pré was deported. One boat heading to Louisiana
from there encountered a storm and had to stop in Boston, where some Acadians managed to stay
and wait for an eventual return to Canada.
In the "Great Expulsion (le Grand Dérangement)" of 1755-1763, more than 14,000 Acadians, three-
quarters of the Acadian population of Nova Scotia, were expelled. The British burned their farms and
homes and confiscated their hard won lands, breaking up families and tearing apart friends and whole
communities. The Acadians were dispersed throughout the British lands in North America, and
thousands were sent back to France, which was totally foreign to them at that point. Others later
returned to British North America and settled in northern New Brunswick and Maine. Their story
gave Longfellow his inspiration for the poem "Evangeline". Many went to Louisiana.