January, 2012. St. Martinville, Louisiana – Questions Answered

Posted on January 27, 2012

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Where to start.

Where we SHOULD have started our adventure in the 22 parishes of Acadian Louisiana was St. Martinville.  But we didn’t.

So, if you’ve been following our posts, today we’ll be working backward, untangling definitions and descriptions that should have been straightened out at the beginning of our stay here, rather than at the end.

St. Martinville is located 16 miles south of Breaux Bridge, in St. Martin Parish, and calls itself  The Home of Acadiana.

The citizens of the Acadian parishes trace their history and customs back to French colonists who originally settled in today’s Canadian Maritime Provinces, then called Acadia.

In 1710 the British wrested this area away from the French, and the trouble began.

Though British subjects, the Acadians remained loyal to France through heritage and religion, and this greatly upset the Crown.  Therefore, between 1755 and 1764, more than 12,000 Acadians were kicked out of the country and dispersed among the existing 13 colonies, sent to the West Indies, and even a few sent back to France.

One group of Acadian refugees settled in Louisiana, then owned by the Spanish. They were welcomed there – the Acadians were Catholic, and Spain wanted to increase the Catholic population of the colony. These newcomers became known as “Cajuns”, a corruption of the French word “Acadians”.

Hinge detail in the Louisiana Old Capitol Building, Baton Rouge

Spain was essentially an absentee landlord during this period, governing the territory from Cuba. Though they were to retain the colony for only 39 years – until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 when it became part of the United States – the Spanish were largely responsible for establishing much of the character of Louisiana that is normally associated with the French. You can see this today in decorative designs – repeating arches and Arabesque ironwork, to name a few.

Anyway, the Acadians who traveled to Louisiana first landed at New Orleans, where they were given guns, seeds and tools and acreage in the Attakapas Indian territory, in the area of present-day St. Martinville.

Acadian Cultural Center and Memorial

So…we visited the Acadian Cultural Center and Memorial downtown and finally figured out the difference between the terms “Acadian – or Cajun” and “Creole”.

The Cajuns are descendents of the French Canadians as we explained above; the Creoles were born in the colony of Louisiana, descendents of the original French and Spanish settlers. And, Creoles can be Caucasian, mixed race or of African descent.

And so can the Cajuns. Over time, a mixture of French, Indian and African heritage has resulted in a spicy cuisine and, generally speaking, a particularly attractive olive-skinned, black-haired population.

Whew!

St. Martinville is a pretty place, an old place.  As the Acadians were Catholic, it is no surprise St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church was built in 1765, and still stands in the town square today.

Situated as it is on Bayou Teche, the interstate of its day, St. Martinville became a port of some importance for sugar growers and other agricultural producers.  In the 1830’s it was nicknamed “Petite Paris” (Little Paris) as it was a cultural mecca with good hotels and a French theatre.

Old Castillo Hotel

Today, you can still get a glimpse of bygone days through its many historic buildings and the peaceful waterfront park, where the Old Castillo Hotel, built between 1835 and 1840 to serve riverboats plying the Teche, still stands.

St. Martinville is still heavily involved in sugarcane production and processing, as well as the crawfish industry.

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