We are in the part of Louisiana that calls itself Acadiana. Many of the locals call themselves Cajans. Being here made us wonder specifically what these names mean and how they came to be. The story started in Atlantic Canada which was known as Acadia in the mid 18th century when the British evicted French immigrants from present day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island after France lost what we call the French and Indian War. In Europe it’s called the Seven Years’ War and it mainly was fought there. To solidify their hold on the land, the British put these folks on boats and shipped them south. For the most part, they were not any more welcome in the American colonies than they were in Canada and they continued to move south toward New Orleans, seeking to live under the French government. What they did not realize was that France had ceded this territory to Spain, but the Spanish were happy to have more Catholics around and they were allowed to live their lives without further interference. Eventually this territory went back to French rule until the Louisiana Purchase added the territory to the US. After the Revolutionary War even more French immigrated here. They tended to be working class people and did not generally mix with the French Creoles who were already here. The Creoles were the descendants of well to do, well educated European people and they tended to own the finer homes and larger plantations. At first most of the Creoles were French and a version of the language is still commonly spoken here today by people whose roots are Creole or Cajan.
The tragic displacement of the Acadians was dramatized and made famous by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem Evangeline. It tells the sad love story of an Acadian girl who searches for her lost love Gabriel when they became separated during the forced relocation. When Gabriel despaired of ever finding Evangeline again, he married someone else. Of course, she found him and died of a broken heart. Her sadness is a metaphor for the sadness of a displaced people.
Today we saw the oldest state park in Louisiana named Longfellow-Evangeline Historic Park, which had us very confused because it had nothing to do with Longfellow or Evangeline. Rather it is a restoration of a typical Creole plantation home. It was a large, two story home, but the construction and decor were not lavish and resembled many other homes we’ve seen except for the dining room. A large flat panel attached to a string was mounted over the dining room table. A slave child would pull on the string and flap the panel, creating a breeze and keeping the flies away.
Then we saw a plantation home called Shadows on the Teche. It was not nearly as fancy as homes in the New Orleans area, but is special because it remained in the family for four generations and was not damaged or burned down after the Union Army moved into the area. The family were pack rats and never threw anything away. The 17,000 papers - letters, receipts, journals, contracts, etc. - that were found in the attic have given historians a vivid picture of what life was like throughout the entire time the Weeks family lived here. Because it is so hot and humid here, the halls and stairways were all built on the outside of the house, which was narrow and had no interior rooms. Every room had large windows and today it was cool and comfortable inside. That may not be the case in August.