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|Acadian journey by flotilla from New Orleans to Concordia; Sickness & fear|
ACADIANS IN CONCORDIA: 1768-1769
(Third in a Series)
Destined to settle near the Spanish fort in Concordia south of present day Vidalia, dozens of Acadians boarded three boats in New Orleans on February 20, 1768, to make the journey up the Mississippi.
The Acadians included a number of married couples with children, 11 widows with children, and eight orphans. Although various Spanish documents reveal slightly different numbers, it appears that the total arriving at Concordia was 149.
Margarita was the oldest at 66. She had four children.
Historian Richard E. Chandler studied the makeup of the Concordia-destined Acadians and found that the average age was 20, heads of families "averaged 39 years of age, married women 32.2. Women and girls outnumbered men and boys 85 to 62."
He added that "the large number of widows and orphans...(40.7 percent of heads of families were widows and almost nine percent of dependent children were orphans) may be due in part to the fact that during the expulsion from Nova Scotia families were torn apart, husbands and wives were separated as were parents and children. Also, the scourge of Acadians in exile, smallpox, and other disease took a heavy toll..."
Oscar William Winzerling wrote in the "America Odyssey," that Acadian families, even before they were forced out of Nova Scotia beginning in 1755, had a history of caring for widows and orphans, noting: "Simple, industrious, and kindhearted they lived unto themselves but with an open heart of justice and charity to everyone...If a widow were found helpless through old age or infirmity, her neighbor would volunteer to cultivate her gardens and fields, cut firewood for her and gather the harvest. An orphan was welcomed in any home and was treated like a natural child, while the poor and aged were given special care by the community."
Each of three boats the Acadians boarded was manned by a captain, bowman and three sailors to row. The Acadians were also required to help row up river against the current of the Mighty Mississippi. About 50 people were loaded on each boat along with provisions and supplies.
This journey was part of a Spanish plan to defend and populate strategic locations along the west side of the Mississippi from Missouri River in Upper Louisiana southward to offset British forts and proposed settlements along the east side. The Spanish and English had carved up much of the real estate in North America following the French and Indian War and France, the big loser, was booted out.
LOUISIANA THE 'WHITE ELEPHANT'
The French had dedicated enormous sums of money trying to grow a colony in Louisiana but had little success outside New Orleans, now in Spanish hands. England, France and Spain were each hurting financially following the global Seven Years War, which included the French and Indian War in North America.
France considered Louisiana a "white elephant" and, according to historian Gilbert C. Din in a 1973 "Louisiana History" article, "France used Louisiana as an inducement for Spain's signature on the peace treaty ending the war and as compensation for the loss of Florida (to the British)...However, the Spaniards were slow in taking possession of the colony for a number of reasons, among which was the lack of troops to garrison it. The problem was apparently solved when...France's chief minister offered to permit the French soldiers in Louisiana to enter Spain's service."
On May 21, 1765, Antonio de Ulloa was appointed Spain's first Louisiana governor and was selected because, said Din, "of his administrative experience in the Indies, his residence in France, and his knowledge of the French language..." The bulk of Louisiana's population at the time was French.
Before he arrived in Louisiana in 1766, the French had began a program to relocate Acadians to Louisiana and had basically allowed them to settle where they wanted -- along the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, along Bayou Teche and in Opelousas. The Acadians destined for Concordia wanted to settle with their relatives at a community known as Cabannoce´ in present day St. James Parish and didn't learn of Spanish possession of Louisiana until they arrived in New Orleans.
They were horrified at further separation of their families and pleaded with Ulloa. But he refused to budge -- Concordia was the destination. Two brothers, Honore' and Alexis Braud, leaders of this group, took flight with their families. Ulloa ordered a manhunt.
In the meantime, when the three boats departed New Orleans in March 1768, Lt. Pedro Piernas, commander of the Concordia fort, was in charge of the small flotilla heading up river.
THE RIFLE AND FEAR OF INDIANS
The world during these days was changing rapidly. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 had revamped ownership of the planet, especially in North America. America historian Francis Parkman wrote that "half a continent...changed hands at the scratch of a pen."
As the victor in the war, Great Britain now commanded a vast global empire, but was drained financially. The American colonies, which now totaled two million people, was the fastest-growing region in the world, and the British saw the colonies as a means to rebound financially. Taxes were enacted -- without representation -- and the Americans didn't like it one bit. In time, they would rebel.
In America, one in five people living here was a slave. Massachusetts had 5,000, Virginia 170,000. In Charlestown, South Carolina, ships docked almost daily loaded with African slaves.
In the meantime, Native Americans were becoming more and more dependent on European trade goods, particularly the rifle. By this time the Choctaw in Mississippi, 14,000 strong, were primarily using weapons to hunt and in war.
The colonists had learned how to fight like Indians. When the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, no one was more stunned than 24-year-old George Washington at how ineffective British commanders and troops were in frontier warfare. They soon adapted, but Washington never forgot it.
Wrote Alexander Rose in his 2008 book, "American Rifle," when "they first experienced the Indian style of fighting, English settlers (especially those with a soldier's background) were amazed by how different it was from their own. In European warfare of the time troops formed long, thin lines spread across a chosen field of battle and efficiently marshaled by their officers. They would fire a volley or two from their muskets, then attempt to advance toward the enemy army as quickly as possible to use bayonets against them. Essentially...warfare was based on these factors: volume of fire, officer imposed discipline and shock combat at close quarters."
The Indians fought much more simply, but effectively. "By contrast" to the European way of war, said Rose, "the Indians relied on individual accuracy, initiative and surprise." The Acadians had the experience of frontier Indian attacks etched in their psyche from earlier times and this fear remained with them in Louisiana.
Adding to the paranoia was the story of the ill-fated 1764 expedition of British Major Arthur Loftus. The expedition departed New Orleans with about 400 men, women and children, including the British Army's 22nd Regiment. Some of these men would later fight against the Americans during the revolution.
The expedition was in route to the Illinois country to take possession of a region which stretched from lakes Michigan and Superior to the Ohio and Missouri rivers. The journey was cut short to 240 miles in 22 days at La Roche a Davion, later known as Lofus Heights and better known today as Fort Adams in Wilkinson County. There, the Loftus party, wracked by desertion, was harassed and "fired on by a considerable number of Indians, who entirely disabled them." Of a 15-man scouting party in two boats, six were killed and four wounded in the attack by several small tribes, including the Tunicas and Yazoos.
Loftus turned around and skedaddled back to New Orleans, a decision for which he was criticized. But this unsettling Indian attack, mounted from the Concordia side of the Mississippi, was well known four years later by the Acadians heading upriver and who would soon pass the very point of attack. Even Ulloa's promise to provide every family with a weapon and ammunition didn't help ease the paranoia.
THE JOURNEY UP MISSISSIPPI
In New Orleans, because of the flight of the Braud brothers, Piernas was ordered to make a head count to insure everyone was on board before departure. On Feb. 29, 1768, the flotilla docked at Cabannoce´ with instructions from Ulloa to the co-commander there -- Nicholas Verrett. Verrett was chosen to give the Acadians a tour upriver and also to entertain a guest named Jacob Walker, who the Spanish hoped would lead other settlers from the colonies to the Concordia fort. According to Carl Brasseaux of Louisiana Studies in Lafayette, which studies the Acadian culture, Walker was among the "oppressed Catholic minority" in Maryland who had been following the plight of the Acadians.
"Whenever a stop is made for lunch, supper or sleep, an attempt should be made to do so or at some settlement of the most advanced Acadians," said Ulloa in his instructions, "so that Mr. Walker might evaluate the progress that they have made, the way in which they live, the fertility of the lands, the livestock that they have and the ease and comfort of the families, for this is the purpose of taking him along."
At the St. Gabriel fort in present day Iberville Parish, Ulloa wanted Walker to see and "appreciate the beginnings of their establishments and the fact that people who arrived as late as July have already cleared and opened up their land, are living in their own houses, are herding some small livestock and no doubt will do some planting this year."
Ulloa wanted Walker to inspect the "fenced areas for livestock, fields for planting seeds and tobacco, and gardens for all kinds of vegetables. They do not lack anything with the exception of wheat bread." Additionally, Ulloa wanted Walker to see that from Pointe Coupee to Concordia that "the lands are vacant, that they have not been opened or conceded to anyone, and that the fertility is the same in all of them."
Piernas reported that a two-year-old child, who had been ill for nine months, had died and was buried at Des Allemandes, near New Orleans. As the journey continued up river, Piernas said his passengers were becoming more and more disgruntled. They had passed family members and friends along the way and wanted to settled near them. As a result, said Piernas, the Acadians "are always pestering and begging me as is their nature."
He said a few families tried to remain in Iberville "but I allowed no one to stay" although one family had slipped away and "was five leagues away in the home of a relative." Piernas brought them back. Detained for two days there due to heavy rain and strong winds, the daughter of one of the Acadians -- Maria Dupuis -- died. She "had been ill with hemorrhages for four years," said Piernas.
'TERRIBLE STATE OF AFFAIRS'
The Acadians already settled along the Mississippi from Baton Rouge to New Orleans had suffered many illnesses. There, said Cabannoce´ co-commander Nicholas Verrett in June 1766, existed a "terrible state of affairs." Verrett explained to Ulloa "the deplorable conditions faced by these people. There are many sick people among them. The situation will only worsen, since the fevers have only just appeared."
The hot southern summers were hard on everyone, but the Acadians, unaccustomed to the extreme heat and harsh conditions at the outset, died in great numbers.
"I have seen with my own eyes," said Verrett, "in a hut, a sick man laid up, and a woman in labor," referring to an Acadian couple. "Their only nourishment was the rice and the corn which is allotted to them by order of the king. People who have reached this state and who cannot obtain broth or any relief cannot hope to recover...
"Left to their fate, with the necessary foods and relief that their situation requires, they are doomed to sudden death...the confined woman who was bearing her child is not receiving the proper nourishment. Unable to provide the milk her child requires, she is on the verge of losing it. The other sick people scattered along the coast (river settlements) fall into the same category. What help can they expect from medicines when they are deprived of nourishing foods? Reduced to a diet of grits and boiled rice, their bodies cannot regain the strength lost in fighting the disease.
"To make matters worse, the physician, despite his many efforts, cannot properly care for the sick. He is constantly called upon to run back and forth from across the district, and consequently, he is unable to determine the effects of the medicines that he administers." A hospital was needed, said Verrett, and Ulloa authorized its construction.
But the Acadians weren't the only ones who suffered -- everyone did -- on both sides of the river and of all colors and creeds. The flotilla reached the Concordia fort known as San Luis de Natchez on a spring day -- March 20, 1768.
By now Lt. Piernas, the Spanish commander at the fort, was ready to pull his hair out as he dealt with three boatloads of Acadians who didn't want to be there.
(Editor's Note: Photos, maps, illustrations, etc., often included with Stanley Nelson's weekly column in The Concordia Sentinel, are not duplicated on website. To subscribe to Sentinel, call 318-757-3646.)
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