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 from LIVES OF QUIET DESPERATION and is made available to the public. However, Gary M. Lavergne retains copyright and all rights are reserved.

THE GRAND DERANGEMENT: Cajuns Settle Louisiana

From Lives of Quiet Desperation by Gary M. Lavergne

The French colonial experience in Louisiana from Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d' Iberville's founding of Biloxi in the late 1690s to the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which ceded Louisiana to Spain and drove France out of North America, was not at all successful or pleasant. Like other French colonial possessions, Louisiana suffered from a lack of investment, a shortage of settlers, and neglect. It was not until shortly after the Spanish took administrative control of the Louisiana colony that any significant population increase took place. In 1784, Spanish Governor Don Bernardo de Galvez ordered a census of the colony. It was revealed that from 1766-1784 Louisiana's population had doubled to 27,500; New Orleans had grown to a city of about 5,000. The largest group of immigrants during this time period was the Acadian exiles.

"Acadia" was an early term for the maritime provinces of eastern Canada and the coastal region of northern Maine. It was established as a proprietary colony by Pierre Duguay, Sieur de Monts. One year earlier he had acquired a decade- long monopoly over the region's rich fur and fish assets. Initially, the colonization of the area was a near-disaster. In 1605, in a second attempt to colonize, de Monts transferred the colony to present-day Port Royal, Nova Scotia; it became the first permanent settlement in Acadia. By 1610 the colony consisted of only 25 men, but the foundations of a permanent settlement were laid. Crops were sown, land had been parceled out among the settlers, and the fur trade had been reestablished. But as Carl Brasseux documents in his landmark The Founding of New Acadia, the French hold on Acadia was tenuous at best. The lack of a firm political and financial commitment to colonization would characterize the French colonial experience in the New World. In 1613 Port Royal was demolished by an English privateer named Samuel Argall. In 1628 the French in Acadia had become so demoralized that they could not prevent the settling of Scottish Calvinists at Port Royal by Sir William Alexander, who had been granted proprietary rights by the King of England who named the area "Nova Scotia." During this period, the French held onto their claims by continuing their fur-trading operations. The restoration of French domination of the area occurred with the signing of the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye in 1632, and through the Company of New France, the French began to concentrate on securing Acadia as a stronghold. Vulnerable outposts were reinforced, the fur trade was expanded, and most importantly, immigration to Acadia was finally encouraged. In July, 1632 three hundred French settlers landed and after being organized into military units reoccupied Port Royal. Like Quebec, Acadia's strategic importance was geographic; it was mid-way between New England and Canada (Quebec). Like other French colonial possessions, Acadia suffered greatly from internal dissension and outright warfare among economic rivals. In the 1650s, while France was preoccupied with a European war, the British seized Acadia and held it for 16 years; by the late 1660s the French regained control. As the British threat loomed, and Acadia became a battleground among imperialist nations, internal dissension subsided and the Acadians began to close ranks. The insularity from other French influences and the necessity to guard against the ever-present British danger forged a French culture quite different from what was found in New Orleans, Quebec or Continental France. Numerous attempts by the British to make Acadians loyal subjects were met with obstinacy and derision, not so much because of the loyalty of the Acadians to the French Crown, Quebec, or their Catholic faith, but more so because of generations of absolute and unrelenting isolation. As Brasseaux states:

    The role of geographic isolation in creating, molding, and nurturing early Acadian society cannot be overemphasized. Chronic isolation enhanced the impact of the frontier on the transplanted Frenchmen for it dictated not only the need for economic self- sufficiency, but also for a clannish, self-contained society, able and willing to carve a new life far from other European outposts in North America. Such independence was absolutely essential in the Acadian settlements whose lines of communication with the outside world were often tenuous at best.

Over time the insular Acadians sought to alleviate tensions with the British by professing to be French Neutrals, asking only not to be required to fight against other Frenchmen. For a time the British agreed. (The neutrality argument would be attempted again, without success, during the American Civil War as Union troops marched through Louisiana in 1863.) This understanding, however, was short lived as the British became alarmed at the birthrate of the Acadians. In 1737, the Acadian population stood at approximately 7,500; by 1749, it had zoomed to 18,000. The fact that Acadians occupied the best lands in Nova Scotia and were thus preventing English colonists from moving there exacerbated tensions with British authorities.

Acadians had large, closely-knit families, who after five generations developed their own culture. God, family, and land were important. No one was rich--no one was poor. There was little or no interest in a formal education; no premier educational institutions were founded. Acadians produced nothing resembling political parties and, unlike most ethnic groups, no single prominent leader ever emerged amongst the ranks of the people. When left alone, Acadian life was calm, gentle and tolerant. In November, 1975, during a lecture on Acadian life, Glenn Conrad claimed that during a 42 year period there was not a single recorded crime. Children married young and were provided for by neighbors. In many respects, Acadian life, characterized by an almost complete lack of social classes, resembled an often sought proletarian utopia.

The chronic insularity of the Acadians also produced a stubbornness and a determination to question and resist authority. As a people, Acadians were very quick to challenge English, French, and Catholic political and moral rule. Anti-clericism among Acadians is a consistent theme of Acadian colonial history. As Brasseaux documents in The Founding of New Acadia, they came to view the Catholic church in much the same light as the colonial government; it was established to provide essential services without undo disruption to routine activities and without undue financial burden. For pastors or government officials to exert too much leadership beyond those parameters deemed essential would be to invite spasms of protest. It is a mentality that has been perpetuated to this day. Consequently, the most harmonious ecclesiastical and civil parishes were those with docile leadership. Brasseaux continues:

    For many if not most of the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Acadians, Catholic missionaries were shadowy figures who provided the settlers minimal contact with the church hierarchy. Forced to fend for themselves, even to the point of conducting paraliturgical services, the immigrants ultimately came to divorce religion from the area's traditionally dominant religious institution. Priests consequently became little more than petty religious administrators, stripped of their cloak of religious invincibility and vulnerable to personal criticism...It was with this mental framework that the Acadians faced exile...after the Grand Derangement.

The epic battle between the forces of British and French Imperialism for domination over the North American continent was the Seven Years War. Also called the French and Indian War (1756-1763), the British were successful in defeating the French and a coalition of Indian allies. Before the onset of the war, in 1754, the British began to fear a revolt in Acadia. They required an oath of allegiance to the British Crown, including the promise to bear arms in defense of England. The alternative for the Acadians was to leave the colony. And so began the Grand Derangement, or the diaspora of the Acadians from their home of five generations. They were allowed to take their furniture and money; many families were separated and sent to different destinations; their homes were burned and their land taken. The displaced Acadians were packed on ships and distributed from Massachusetts to Georgia. Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, George Mason, and Patrick Henry, all architects of American Civil Liberties, refused to accept the Acadian refugees because of a prevalent religious prejudice against Catholics. Some others were taken to England and then relocated to France after the war.

The result of the Seven Years War, the Treaty of Paris of 1763, gave the Acadians 18 months to leave the English Colonies. Where were they to go? The Acadians themselves wanted to return to Nova Scotia; the British quickly vetoed that idea. The French denied relocation to Louisiana. (The secret Treaty of Fontainbleu giving Louisiana to Spain had not yet been made public.) By 1764 the Acadians flooded Santo Domingo. In 1765, the first group of Acadians arrived in Louisiana at New Orleans. In was the Spanish who allowed the Acadians to relocate in the prairie land of the Attakapas District (St. Martinville) in April of 1765. In 1766 another flood of Acadians arrived from Santo Domingo and were forced to settle along the Mississippi River, the "Acadian Coast." Spanish Governor Don Antonio de Ulloa's idea was to create a buffer zone of Acadians between the English colonies and New Orleans. He allowed no further settlements in Attakapas. Finally, in 1785, those Acadians who had been sent to England during the war and were relocated in Poitou in France afterwards arrived and were settled along Bayou LaFourche. And so it was the Spanish, more than the French, who were responsible for the end of the Acadian Odyssey, i.e. the Acadian relocation to Louisiana.

Once ejected from Nova Scotia, the Acadians were an unwanted people. An anti-papal movement throughout the American colonies brought derision upon the helpless Acadians; they were summarily despised everywhere they went. Occasionally, a compassionate individual like Henry Callister of Oxford in England would be concerned enough to petition British authorities in behalf of the Acadians, or even donate substantial sums of money for clothes and other provisions for the destitute Acadians. Unfortunately, this type of individual effort was rare and had little or no positive effect. More often, schemers like Louis Elizabeth de la Vergne (no known relation to the author) and "every land shark and swindler" tried unsuccessfully to exploit the exiles. De la Vergne futilely proposed the settlement of 120 Acadian families on his barren, war ravaged estates in the province of Lorraine in France. Again, the Acadians stubbornly clung to their insular heritage, and bitterly resisted all efforts by others to create a serfdom. Indeed, not the least of the problems faced by the displaced Acadians were the attempts of other Frenchmen, i.e. the Louisiana Creoles, still of a monarchial mentality, to create a peasant class of the Acadians. It resulted in conflict between and among the Louisiana French and insularity for the Acadians all over again.

The Acadians were forced to adapt to more than just new political and social surroundings. Indeed, in a matter of a few months they had been relocated from frigid maritime Canadian provinces to an insufferably hot and humid climate closely related to a tropical rain forest. Seemingly endless precipitation is outdone only by the dangers of floods and the hurricane season. Louisiana rains are legendary:

  • * the greatest precipitation in one year was 106 inches in Amite * Opelousas holds the record for rainfall in one month at 30 inches * it once rained 22 inches in one day at the Sabine Refuge
  • * in a twelve hour period it rained 12 inches in Baton Rouge, and * one full inch of rain once fell in New Orleans in five minutes.

Choosing homesteads were often difficult exercises in anticipating where flood plains began and ended. The tortuous heat and humidity must have tested the vitality and persistence of the Acadians who were more familiar with a frigid, almost Arctic climate. It surely brought the Acadians even closer together and thus reinforced their tradition of insularity.


There are still vestiges of insularity among Acadian descendants. Traces of the Acadian language, music, food (although heavily influenced by the Spanish and Africans), and accented English can be readily recognized in what is now called "Acadiana." The attitude that government and church were established to provide essential services without undo disruption to routine activities and without undo financial burdens prevail. And yet the forces of education, industrialization, commerce, and technology brought competing influences and cultures to the "Land of Evangeline." The construction of Interstate Highway 10 made once isolated Acadian communities quite accessible. The flowering of the oil and gas industries during the 1960s and 1970s and its economic boom created a plethora of skilled positions that few Cajuns could fill. Consequently, there occurred an influx of skilled labor to Southwest Louisiana, bringing with them other influences and traditions. The founding of a major university in Lafayette and the age of mass communications brought the world to the doorsteps of the descendants of the once decidedly insular Acadians. Concern over the demise of the Cajun culture resulted in the creation, by act of the Louisiana Legislature, of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL).

Cajun culture and insularity, however, face a new diaspora. Far greater than threats ever posed by the British or Spanish, is the incompatibility of traditional Cajun values with the realities of modern American life. The explosion of information, knowledge, high technology, mass communications, mobility, and competition are an anathema to insularity and laissez le bon temps roullez. The historic Acadian neglect for education has resulted in a people who know very little of their own history, and are too often ill prepared for jobs of the real world of work. The dependence on an oil, natural gas, fishing, and an agricultural based economy devastated Louisiana during the 1980s when all of those industries went bust simultaneously. The axiom that a government job, while it paid little, was secure, was no longer true in Louisiana where tax revenues dwindled and hundreds of state government jobs and services were eliminated due to a depleted tax base and no support for revenue enhancements. Consequently, many Acadian descendants, this author included, were forced to look elsewhere for meaningful employment.

There is a New Derangement taking place in Louisiana, which is one of only four states of the United States who will have fewer Congressional Districts as a result of the 1990 Census. Evidence of the New Derangement occurred to this author shortly after moving from Church Point, Louisiana, to Austin, Texas in the Summer of 1989. After receiving a call from another Austinite and former Church Point native, the author was told of a meeting of the "CIA" which were initials for "Cajuns in Austin" Thinking that the group consisted of a few close friends, the author was shocked to find out that at times there could be as many as 200 people in attendance. Austin is only a mid-sized city and an average of 400-500 hundred miles from most Cajun communities.

Cajuns have always been survivors. The New Derangement may not eliminate the Cajun culture. Scholars like Glenn Conrad, Mathe Allain, and especially Carl Brasseaux at the Center for Louisiana Studies of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL) are working not only to preserve a unique heritage worth preserving, but to replace fiction and legend with historic fact. Scholarly works like The Founding of New Acadia and In Search of Evangeline: The Birth and Evolution of the Evangeline Myth are slowly replacing fabrications like Longfellow's Evangeline and Acadian Reminiscences as sources of Acadian history and heritage. It is left for the descendants of the Acadians to decide that their own heritage is worth preserving; that their history needs no embellishing; and that survival may mean a little more enlightenment and a little less insularity.

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