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  • Vidalia (Saint-Louis de Natchez)
    – A forgiveness to the Acadian people worthy of respect
The Natchez-Vidalia bridge
The Natchez-Vidalia bridge and the probable riverside location of Fort San Luìs de Natchez (photo credit: Billy Hathorn, license CC BY 3.0)

In accordance with the Treaty of Paris of 1763, France ceded its territory east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain and its territory west of this mighty river to Spain. In September 1766 the British forces restored old Fort Rosalie that was built by the French in the Natchez country in 1716, and renamed it Fort Panmure. Concerned by this militarization, the Spaniards erected Fort San Luìs de Natchez on the opposite river shores, where the town of Vidalia, the seat of Concordia Parish, is presently situated. In February 1768, 149 new Acadian refugees (29 families) were sent, against their will, to San Luìs de Natchez by Governor Antonio de Ulloa to serve as militia. It was on board the ship Jane commanded by Captain Richard Ryder that this group of Acadians emerged on the Louisiana coast in mid-January 1768 from Port Tobacco in Maryland.

We know that Pierre Guédry and Claire Babin were part of the trip. In addition, a list of customer sales at Port Tobacco clearly indicates that a man named Michel (Michael) Poupard bought two pairs of shoes on January 14, 1764. This forced colonization in San Luìs de Natchez did arouse the Acadians’ discontent who supported the dismissal of Ulloa during the 1768 rebellion in New Orleans. The following year, the new governor of Colonial Spanish Louisiana, Irish General Alejandro (Alexander) O’Reilly, allowed the Acadians to leave their isolated and unhealthy post and to choose their own place of residence. All left this frontier location far from any civilization. Today, nothing remains of Fort San Luìs de Natchez and its cemetery. Their story is briefly told below.

Map drawn up by Timothy F. Reilly (source Louisiana Digital Library)

Forced to settle in San Luìs de Natchez

At the outset, it is important to know that in October 1755 four British vessels (the Dolphin, the Elizabeth, the Leopard and the Ranger) left Grand-Pré and Pisiguit in Acadia (now Nova Scotia) for Maryland with 913 Acadian deportees in their dark holds. Upon their arrival at Annapolis’ docks on November 20, 1755, sick and destitute, 157 of them were taken to Port Tobacco where they lived in exile for 12 years with a high death rate. In October 1767, 150 Acadians from Port Tobacco hired the ship Jane to go to New Orleans. As soon as they disembarked, they were forced manu militari to settle in Fort San Luìs de Natchez, where they lived there miserably for nearly two years. Today, Vidalia is part of the Cajun country known as “Acadiana” which is the official name given to the French-influenced region of present-day Louisiana.

Alejandro O’Reilly
Alejandro O’Reilly, second Governor of Colonial Spanish Louisiana (painting by Francisco José de Goya, image in the public domain)

In New Orleans, members of the Breau family, one of the 29 families concerned whose genealogy dates back to La Chaussée in New Aquitaine (France), refused the settlement site imposed by Governor Ulloa. Rather, they wanted to settle in Cabanocée on the “Acadian Coast” where they had relatives. Threatened with deportation, they were given no choice but to move to San Luìs de Natchez. Brothers Alexis and Honoré Breau from Pisiguit, however, joined in the French Creole revolt against the intransigence of the Spanish authority. By this time, the Acadians had become the predominant cultural group in Louisiana, outside the capital. During the New Orleans rebellion in October 1768, several French-speaking Louisianans took up arms to force the departure of the first governor of Colonial Spanish Louisiana. Thanks to a well-applied orchestration Ulloa was overthrown without any violence or bloodshed and left Louisiana. Incidentally, the Breau family (also Breaux) is a root family of Acadiana. Nowadays there are many other variations of this family name, such as Brau, Braud, Braut, Braux, Breaud, Brot and Bro.

More astute than his predecessor, O’Reilly forgave the people for their involvement in the revolt, except for five French Creole leaders, namely Nicolas Chauvin de Lafrenière, Pierre Marquis, Jean-Baptiste de Noyan, Pierre Caresse, and Joseph Milhet. He saw more clearly the role of the Acadians in the future of the southern colony.