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Local History
Lafayette, Acadiana, and Louisiana
The information in this section is quoted from the Web
site of the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission
  Lafayette, the heart of Acadiana and the unofficial capital of Cajun Country, with its gleaming present belies an exciting and captivating past. Lafayette is a metropolis which displays an extraordinary mixture of tradition and progressiveness. Having a rich French heritage blended with Spanish, American, Indian and African influences, the city represents a colorful combination of lifestyles.

Lafayette lies 15 miles west of the Atchafalaya Basin and 35 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico and exhibits the subtropical climate typical of South Louisiana. The city is situated in a geographical area of forests and prairies interlaced with bayous, swamps and marshes.

The first known inhabitants, the Attakapas Indians, were known to have populated the Lafayette area in the 1700s. The tribe was very powerful and feared by other Indians. The Attakapas dominated until three opposing tribes, the Opelousas, Alabamons and Choctaws, united in battle and conquered their opponent. Legend reports that the Attakapas Indians supposedly ate their prisoners of war.
The exact date when the first European settlers reached the Lafayette area is not known. Early historians report that a few trappers, traders and ranchers were present in the region prior to the Spanish occupation of 1766. A census conducted in 1769 by Spanish Governor O'Reilly indicated a population of 409 for the area.

The historical event of the 18th century which had the greatest cultural impact on Lafayette was the migration of the Acadians from French Canada. Approximately 18,000 French-speaking Catholic inhabitants settled Acadie (now Nova Scotia) in 1605 and lived there under French rule until 1713 when the region went into English hands.

Faced with the refusal of the Acadians to pledge allegiance to the British crown and Anglican Church, English Governor Charles Lawrence took action. Acting on his own and not under orders from the crown as he professed, he gave the orders that led to the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, also known as "Le Grand Derangement."

Families were separated and as the Acadians went to sea under dreadful conditions, more than half lost their lives. The exiles ended up in many locations and in 1784, the King of Spain consented to allow them to settle in South Louisiana. The Acadians then joined a scattering of their people who had arrived as early as 1765 from the Caribbean and the East Coast.

Some exiles settled at various locations along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, but most followed the path which led to New Orleans. There they received a hostile greeting from the French aristocracy so they headed west into unsettled territory. They settled along the bayous of south central and south western Louisiana where they could live according to their own beliefs and customs.

The first settlement, known as Petit Manchac, was established by the English who used it during the Revolutionary War as an outpost. It constituted a small trading post on the banks of the Vermilion River where the Old Spanish Trail crossed the bayou (about where today's Pinhook Bridge is located). The village also came to be known as Pin Hook, a name about which many stories of origin exist.

The years of 1765-1785 marked the great immigration period of the Acadians and many land grants were given by the French and Spanish governments. As a result of the Treaty of Fountainebleau in 1762, Louisiana went from French to Spanish rule. The Spanish actually took possession in 1766. The French Revolution of 1789 had its effect on Lafayette as many French Loyalists fled to Louisiana to settle. With the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Louisiana then became possession of the United States.

More specifically for Lafayette, in 1821, Jean Mouton (an Acadian) donated land for the construction of a Catholic church. On May 15, 1822 Bishop Duborg created the church parish of St. John the Evangelist of Vermilion which encompassed the area from Mouton's plantation south to the Gulf of Mexico and west to the Sabine River.

A settlement grew around the church and on January 17, 1823, the Louisiana Legislature created Lafayette Parish from the western portion of what was St. Martin Parish. Mouton made a second land donation to the new community, this time for a courthouse. The town of Vermilionville became the new parish's seat. The settlement grew and the town of Vermilionville was renamed Lafayette in 1844 in honor of the French Marquis de Lafayette.
Some of the information in this section is quoted from the Web site
of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
  Acadiana is the popular term given to an eight-parish region. Lafayette Parish is at the heart of Acadiana and is surrounded by the remaining seven parishes: Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Saint Landry, Saint Martin, Saint Mary, and Vermilion. (Unlike other states, Louisiana has parishes rather than counties.)

French-speaking Acadian refugees, driven from their homes in Acadie (now Nova Scotia) by the British in 1755, settled along the swamps and bayous after wandering for 10 years along the Atlantic seaboard. They quickly adapted to their strange new environment and were soon harvesting crawfish, shrimp, crabs and oysters. They built houses and boats (called pirogues) from cypress trees, trapped beaver and muskrat, and grew rice, hot peppers and okra. And they developed a style of cooking that has become world-renowned, with savory, spicy dishes that include crawfish pie, gumbo, jambalaya and other delicious concoctions.
The information in this section is quoted from the Web site of
the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
  No other state has a more varied or colorful past than Louisiana. The state has been governed under 10 different flags beginning in 1541 with Hernando de Soto's claim of the region for Spain. La Salle later claimed it for Bourbon France and over the years Louisiana was at one time or another subject to the Union Jack of Great Britain, the Tricolor of Napoleon, the Lone Star flag of the Republic of West Florida and the fifteen stars and stripes of the United States. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Louisiana became an independent republic for six weeks before joining the Confederacy.

Earlier, in 1803, Louisiana had become a part of the United States because of the region's importance to the trade and security of the American mid-west. New Orleans and the surrounding territory controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River down which much of the produce of the mid-west travelled to reach market. To get the vital region in American hands, President Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon.

With the acquisition of Louisiana, Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the fledgling U.S. and made it a world power. Later, 13 states or parts of states were carved out of the Louisiana Purchase territory. (They are as follows: Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado and Montana.)

Through much of its early history Louisiana was a trading and financial center, and the fertility of its land made it one of the richest regions in America as first indigo then sugar and cotton rose to prominence in world markets. Many Louisiana planters were among the wealthiest men in America.

The plantation economy was shattered by the Civil War although the state continued to be a powerful agricultural region. The discovery of sulphur in 1869 and oil in 1901, coupled with the rise of forestry sent the state on a new wave of economic growth. Eventually, Louisiana became a major American producer of oil and natural gas and a center of petroleum refining and petrochemicals manufacturing, which it remains to this day.

Document last revised Friday, September 10, 2004 3:56 PM

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