About Gary Lavergne








While sitting on the front steps of a very modest home in the small Cajun community of Church Point in Louisiana, Nolan Lavergne talked to his son about the happiness and hardships of growing up on a tenant farm in rural St. Landry Parish. His son was a rookie high school American History teacher who asked a seemingly simple question: "Who was your grandfather?" The father did not know.

"Well, Daddy, I'm going to find out for you," said the son.

Thus began a fourteen-year-long project culminating in Lives of Quiet Desperation, a look at the ancestry of Gary M. Lavergne, a Louisianian of French descent. In addition to a substantial genealogy with over 1,200 names, Lavergne includes a series of concise essays placing generations in historical context. Special treatment is given to the forces that helped to determine the migrations of various groups of French-speaking people, and the pioneers who helped to build new worlds in Canada and French Louisiana. Particular emphasis is placed upon defining and describing the differences between Cajuns, Creoles, and other Louisiana French cultures.

The vast majority of the ancestors were simple, poor, tenant farmers with large cohesive families. the uncommon were pioneers of note. they all faced considerable odds and led lives of quiet desperation.

This page is an excerpt of LIVES OF QUIET DESPERATION and is made available to the public. However, Gary M. Lavergne retains copyright and all rights are reserved.


From Lives of Quiet Desperation by Gary M. Lavergne

Louisiana's French heritage has been the subject of much prose and poetry. Since Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "Evangeline" romanticized the Acadian Odyssey, numerous novels, works of historical fiction, histories, documentaries and motion pictures of the recent past tended to melt all French cultures into a generic "Cajun" culture. Louisiana is very likely the most ethnically diverse of the fifty states. Pockets of German, Irish, Czech, Anglo-Saxon, Indian, Spanish and Italian communities can be easily located and identified. The general tendency of writers is to add French to the above list of influences, and to equate French with Cajun. As Glenn Conrad writes in Attakapas Gazette: "No matter the interpretation placed on the content and status of the South Louisiana lifestyle, there seems to be an iron-clad rule that the piece must end by quoting a South Louisiana 'Cajun' saying, laissez les bons temps rouller." Louisiana's historical French heritage is not that simple; to homogenize it is to deny a diversity.

The Center for Louisiana Studies of the University of Southwestern Louisiana is engaged in ongoing research on identifying the cultural contributions of the several groups of French-speakers who settled Louisiana in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hopefully, their noble work will do much to analyze the various cultures of the Louisiana French.

In another article in the Attakapas Gazette entitled "How Acadian is Acadiana?" (Winter, 1986), Conrad identified four distinct groups of French-speakers to arrive and settle in Louisiana between 1700-1900. The first group were soldiers, administrators, entrepreneurs, and adventurers who settled in Louisiana between the founding of the colony in 1699 and the surrender of it to Spain in 1766. The Louis Lavergne from Quebec who married Elizabeth Tomelin in New Orleans in 1725, and her father, Pierre Tomelin, would be good examples of this category. Historically, Sieur de Bienville, the founder of the city of New Orleans and the "Father of Louisiana" would be a member of this class of Frenchmen. Many of these Frenchmen were not interested in settling as much as engaging in business, commerce or getting wealthy through investment and speculation. Many, like Pierre Tomelin, came to Louisiana directly from France. Others, like Louis Lavergne made their way to New Orleans from Canada via the Mississippi River. In South Louisiana such family names as Delahoussaye, Fontenot, Boutte, Soileau, Patin, Bonin, Lavergne and many others pre-date the arrival of the Acadians and as such are not Cajuns themselves. These families and their descendants who remained in Louisiana after cession to Spain were generally referred to as Creoles. Today, the term Creole has additional and varied meanings. Successive generations of Creoles were given over to a lifestyle generated by a plantation or mercantile economy.

The second group of French immigrants to Louisiana were exiled Acadians from what was Acadie and is today called Nova Scotia. For approximately five generations French peoples lived and worked in the frigid climate of the Canadian maritime provinces. The Acadians were forcibly ejected from their homes shortly after the Seven Years War (1756-1763) between France and Great Britain. The forced migration has been called the "Grand Derangement." The term "Cajun" originated circa the Civil War and was used as a pejorative term until it was adopted by the Acadians themselves. Genevieve Massignon's Le Parles francais d'Acadie is a helpful source in identifying Acadian surnames, as is the 1714 census of Acadie. Acadian names found in this genealogy include:

Aucoin, Brasseaux, David, Guidry, Pitre, Benoit, Breaux, Doucet, Hebert, Poirier, Bergeron, Broussard, Dugas, Lalande, Prejean, Bernard, Chaisson, Duhon, Landry, Richard, Blanchard, Comeaux, Dupuis, Leblanc, Savoie, Boudreaux, Cormier, Foret, Leger, Simon, Bourgeois, Daigre, Fournier, Lejeune, Sonnier, Bourque, Daigle, Girouard, Martin, Thibodeaux, Trahan.

Cajuns bitterly resisted attempts by other Frenchmen to make them a peasant class. Social friction between Acadians and Creoles resulted in an insularity for the Cajun culture for many generations. For a significant period of time, Cajuns cooperated in the near suppression of their own culture by not encouraging, even punishing their own children when they spoke French in public or in school. They tended to be more rustic, engaging in farming, fishing, and cattle raising.

The third group of settlers to enter Louisiana were refugees from slave insurrections on the West Indian island of Hispanola, especially that part that is present-day Haiti. From 1793 and on into the 1830s, thousands of refugees poured into New Orleans and spread across Louisiana. This group of French speakers were so similar in culture to the original French settlers, or Creoles, that they were quickly assimilated into that element of French-American society. In South Louisiana some of the family names of this group would include Domengeaux, Pecot, Sigur, and Sorel.

The final wave of French immigrants to Louisiana came over in waves during the nineteenth century after various upheavals in France. The Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s and the era of the Franco-Prussian War saw the movement of thousands of French families from Europe to America, and Louisiana in particular. Some family names from this group are Bloch, Faul, Petitin, Monie, Coussan, and Croucet. These nineteenth century immigrants eventually settled into a lifestyle of small business operations in tiny urban centers of South Louisiana.

As Conrad suggests, recent popular literature has done more than any of many other factors to blur the distinctive cultural characteristics of Louisiana's French-speaking groups and their descendants. The media blitz that followed the "Cajun Craze" of the 1980s was compounded by the French Louisianians themselves and several would-be historians. Very often, articles, monographs, and books about "famous Cajuns" contain references to persons who aren't Cajun at all. Many Lavergnes do not know that they are not Cajun, but of Creole descent; it doesn't matter because, like most Louisianians of this generation, they don't know the difference anyway. Moreover, it doesn't matter because most twentieth century Louisianians are much like the subject of this family tree, an amalgam of all of Louisiana's French, plus much much more.

| Gary's Bio |Before Brown| Worse Than Death| Bad Boy From Rosebud | Sniper in the Tower | Cajuns |