Historical Capsules

Acadians contributed to Baltimore’s urban growth

Three years prior to the arrival of the first Acadians in Baltimore in January 1756, the village had 27 dwellings, including a church, two taverns and a brewery. Its population hardly exceeded 200 souls. Over the years, family names were transformed from Aucoin to Wedge, from Boudreau to Budrow, from Célestin to Sollertine, from Doiron to Gold, from Dupuis to Wells, from Leblanc to White, and from Deschamps to Deshon. After the exodus to Louisiana, most of the 200 or so Acadians who did stay around Chesapeake Bay gathered in Baltimore to live better and enjoy life. Several other Acadian families from Pennsylvania did join them. Baltimore’s French agglomeration became known as “French Town“.

The CourtHouse of Baltimore (Courtesy of Baltimore Sun, July 14, 2016, without modification)

Point Philpot (at the foot of Thames Street) is the landing site of the first Acadians who arrived from Annapolis, Maryland. From there, some good Samaritans took them to vacant houses, shelters and commercial places where they were lodged. Baltimore’s largest residence, that of Irish migrant Edwin Fottrell, welcomed a few Acadian families. This brick dwelling was located at the corner of Calvert and Fayette streets, where today the courthouse is located. A family room was converted into a chapel. John Ashton, a jesuit priest from Ireland, came from Carroll Manor (near Washington DC) once a month. From these modest beginnings emerged the first Catholic Church of Baltimore. In 1760, the city had more than 1,200 inhabitants. A few years later the parishioners erected Saint-Pierre church in the district which temporarily served as the cathedral from 1791 to 1821.

In Baltimore, the Acadians were left to their own devices. Having learned self-reliance from the Mi’kmaq First Nation with whom they cohabitated cordially in Nova Scotia, Acadian families gathered at “French Town” (along Charles Street between Baltimore and Lombard streets only a few steps away from present-day Inner Harbor). Helping each other mutually, they built their own houses. In 1766, Acadian Paul Bigeo (Bijeau) resided on what is today lot 36 on the site where now stands a shining skyscraper at 36, Charles Street (photo). Ten years later, on the eve of the War of Independence, the population of Maryland’s metropolis exceeded 6,000 people spread out in 560 buildings. According to the United States Census of 1790 (the first), Baltimore (with 13,500 inhabitants) was the fifth largest American city after New York (33,100), Philadelphia (28,500), Boston (18,300) and Charleston (16,300).

Many Acadians became sailors. With Baltimore as their home port, they enjoyed economic success over the years. In addition, some of them moved to Fell’s Point, the actual old port of Baltimore, to work in shipyards and short-sea shipping.

801 Charles Street, former property of Pierre Doiron (Peter Gold) (Courtesy of American City Business Journals)

At the turn of the century, a number of Acadians invested a portion of their savings in real estate, buying income property for renting or leasing mainly in the Baltimore Federal Hill neighbourhood, just south of “French Town“. For instance, the pretty house at 801 Charles Street built in 1805 was acquired by Pierre Doiron (Peter Gold) in 1818. Joseph Gautrot and Jean Germain (John Germane) from Princess Anne, Maryland, did the same.