I guess that it makes sense to ask what is a Cajun before we can really talk about the
history. In this section we will attempt to accomplish a bit of both. We will
explain what a Cajun is, and go through the early history of the people in the process.
When we get to the end, maybe both of us can learn a thing or two about Cajun history.
The people that we call "Cajuns" today originally came from France. Way back in 1504 there
were French fishing ships that were working the waters around Nova Scotia (Canada).
Then in 1605 the French set up a permanent colony and trading post at
what is now known as Ainnapolis Royal, Nova Scotia and
what was then called Port Royal. These original settlers of one of the earliest
North American settlements became known as Acadians. Why did these original "Cajuns"
leave France for Nova Scotia? No one can say for sure. Our best bet is that they simply
wanted a fresh start. Imagine being told that you could start a new life in a wilderness
that is full of furs and potential. That was likely enough motivation to encourage
these early settlers. It does not appear that they left France because of any religious persecutions.
In 1610 the king of France (King Henry IV) was assassinated.
England decided that they were not going to recognize the French
claims to the land in Nova Scotia. This was the beginning of a long battle between England
and France to determine who owned this region of the New World. In 1613 a British
military expedition from Virginia destroyed Port Royal, and our Cajun ancestors had to hide
in the wilderness and live among the Indians in the region. In 1632 England decided
to give Nova Scotia back to France. All was going well for the Acadians until 1713 when
France decided to give Nova Scotia back to England for some unknown reason. The English
quickly moved into Acadiana and began taking their lands by force and persecution.
The English also tried to get our Cajun ancestors to bear arms against France and to
renounce the Catholic faith, but they refused to do so.
Many Acadians left Acadiana at this time to move to Louisiana.
From October 8th to the 27th of 1755 the British began the process of deporting
our Cajun ancestors from Nova Scotia. They were secretly rounded up,
placed onto ships, and sent to the 13 original British colonies in North America
(the U.S.). As many as 5,000 Acadians were kicked out of Acadiana in this manner.
Over the next few years, more of our Cajun ancestors were rounded up from Canada and
kicked out of the country. Some were even shipped to England and held as prisoners.
The original colonies outlawed Catholicism. Since these early Cajuns were Catholics,
broke, and spoke a different language, they were not treated well.
Most of them were not allowed to exit their ships, and some of them snuck off
of the ships to live with the Indians in the new colonies. While there are many individual
stories of struggle and triumphs, most of the deported Acadians eventually ended up
in Louisiana. As many as 1,000 of them died along the way. Another factor that led to our
ancestors moving to Louisiana was that in 1763 France gave up their claims to all lands
that were east of the Mississippi River. To stay out of the lands owned by the British,
the Cajuns moved to the western side of Louisiana (French Louisiana). By the end of 1763,
over 2,000 Acadians were scattered along port cities in French Louisiana.
At the same time, over 1,700 Acadians were still living in Nova Scotia
(prisons and hiding), but most of them eventually ended up in Louisiana as well.
When the Cajuns arrived in French Louisiana, most of the good land was already taken.
Adding to their problems, they were told to get out of New Orleans.
Their solution was to move to lands that were not occupied, and that were more
difficult to settle. They eventually claimed lands of their own, and their numbers climbed
to over 4,000 by 1790 and over 10,000 by 1810. Since the Acadians were being persecuted
and sold into slavery in the 13 original colonies, those that could escape and travel
to Louisiana did so during this period.
The regions of Louisiana that these settlers moved into became known as the Acadiana
Parishes. There are 22 Acadiana Parishes in Louisiana today: Acadia, Ascensions,
Assumption, Avoyelles, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville,
Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, Point Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin,
St. James, St. John The Baptist, St. Charles, St. Mary, Terrebone, Vermillion, West Baton Rouge.
While many Cajuns did eventually settle in areas that are east of the Mississippi
such as Baton Rouge and New Orleans, remember that those regions were not settled by
the Cajuns until later because the English controlled the territory and persecuted the
Acadians because of their Catholic faith and their Cajun language.
Eventually, the term "Acadian" was shortened to "Cajun" after they settles in Louisiana.
To this day, Cajuns are what makes Louisiana unique to the rest
of our country, and to the world. Now you know what a Cajun is.