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  • St. Martinville
    – On the former hunting ground of the Atákapas
Plaque at the junction of routes 111 and 190 near Beauregard Regional Airport (photo credit: Otr500, license CC BY-SA 3.0, without modification)

Long before the arrival of the Acadians in 1765 southwestern Louisiana was inhabited by the Atákapas, indigenous people made up of six tribes. They also occupied southeast Texas. They were called by the neighbouring First Nations “The People” (of the country). Those in the east (in Louisiana) were “The Sunrise People” and those in the west (in Texas) “The Sunset People”. François Simars de Bellisle, a French navigator aboard the Maréchal d’Estrée vessel, was said to have been the first white man to meet the Atákapas among whom he lived from 1719 to 1721. He remained in Louisiana until 1762. During his stay he participated in several expeditions in the interior country (Lower Louisiana) and visited various trading posts such as Attakapas Post (same nation, different spelling) in St. Martin Parish.

St. Martin de Tours Church
St. Martin de Tours Church in the parish seat of St. Martin Parish (photo credit: Z28scrambler, license CC BY-SA 3.0, without modification)

Today St. Martinville is the parish seat of St. Martin Parish on the shores of Bayou Teche. The municipality is located on the former hunting ground of the Atákapas. Teche is a Chitimacha (a tribe of the Atákapas) word meaning “snake”, related to the bayou’s twists and turns resembling a snake’s movement. Europeans arrived in the mid-1700s, as did African slaves. At that time, St. Martinville was a cow farm, but the cows were replaced by the sugar cane industry before the end of the 18th century. As soon as they arrived, the Acadian refugees founded St. Martin de Tours Church. It is said in legends that it was designed by Lieutenant Louis Antoine Andry, a military engineer.

Beausoleil, an Acadian Hero

Official poster of the 250th anniversary
Official poster of the 250th anniversary with St. Martin de Tours Church and the Santo Domingo ship in the background

According to historian Charles Étienne Arthur Gayarré, between January 1 and May 13, 1765, approximately 650 Acadians landed in New Orleans, ten years after their expulsion from Acadia (Nova Scotia) by the British. We know that on April 24, 1765, Charles-Philippe Aubry, interim governor of Louisiana (Spain did not officially take possession of the territory until March 5, 1766), wrote to the Duke of Choiseul, head of the Louis XV government, to inform him of the arrival in New Orleans aboard the Santo Domingo ship of Joseph (Beausoleil) Broussard, an Acadian hero, accompanied by some 200 migrants seeking refuge in Louisiana. This large group was made up of 58 to 60 Acadian families. The French administration has done everything possible to help the sick and destitute exiles and to settle them in a region that will allow them to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. The chosen region was Attakapas Post on the Bayou Teche. In addition, a six-month supply of provisions, ammunition, livestock, tools and medicine was given to the settlers. The governor instructed Lieutenant Louis Antoine Andry (born in Paris, France) to lead the Acadians to their new destination and provide them with adequate assistance.

On April 8, 1765, Beausoleil was appointed captain of the militia and commander of the Acadians of the Atákapa region, which included, among others, the parishes of St. Landry, St. Martin and Lafayette. Beausoleil died a few months later, and was buried on October 20th at Camp Beausoleil, near the actual site of the town of Broussard, a few kilometers south of Lafayette.

Hero of the Acadian resistance during the Great Upheaval, Beausoleil was born in Port-Royal around 1702. From the 1740s, he actively participated in several clashes between the French and the British in Acadia, succeeding in a few brilliant acts, especially during the siege of Fort Beauséjour by British forces in 1755. After this event, Beausoleil would have joined the forces of Charles Deschamps de Boishébert and Raffetot before arming a privateer which succeeded in destabilizing the English troops present in the Bay of Fundy (formerly the “baie Française”). Wounded in 1758, he joined Boishébert at the Miramichi, from where he continued the resistance. In 1762, the British authorities finally managed to capture him and imprison him in Halifax. In 1764, Beausoleil led a large group of Acadians to Louisiana.