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.
QUEBEC CITY AND THE EMERGENCE OF LOUIS LAVERGNE
from Lives of Quiet Desperation by Gary M. Lavergne
The Age of Exploration and the struggle to colonize the New World produced three major imperialist nations: Spain, Great Britain, and France. It was the French anbition to become a world power that brought Louis Lavergne to New France (Canada) in the middle of the 17th Century.
Spain had interests in the New World, but those interests were centered in Central and South America and were fueled by the discovery and exploitation of gold and silver. Great Britain's interest centered on agricultural and shipping pursuits, a much more stable and safe existence befitting colonists. France's interest centered on the fur trade, bringing with it frequent internal clashes between farmers interested in clearing the land, and fur trappers interested in preserving the wilderness. What all three imperialists powers shared was a deep suspicion of one another. Very often the moves and decisions of each of the powers were strategic; an attempt to subvert the emerging influence of another competitor.
Quebec City's history is inextricably tied to its strategic position on a bluff high above a narrowing of the St. Lawrence River. Its value as a military fortress was first realized by the founder of New France, Samuel de Champlain. Champlain was New France and without him it is doubtful that French Canada would exist today. He was the first to see that the chief obstacle to colonization was not the climate, but disinformation spread by French fur trading interests, who monopolized trade and did not wish to see the country settled. Much of Canadian History is the struggle between trappers and agrarian homesteaders.
One of world history's great practitioners of realistic power politics in international relations was the Bishop of Lucon, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), a sincere but certainly not an ardent Catholic, and an efficient, ambitious, even brilliant administrator. Raison d' etat (Reason of State) motivated all his policies. He lived in splendor, usually accompanied by his private choir and corps of musicians because he believed such a retinue befitted the chief minister of a great and splendid kingdom. He was largely responsible for building la grande nation of Louis XIV. It was Richelieu who sent many Jesuits to the New World for the purpose of spreading the faith, but also spreading French influence. In addition to sending Jesuits, he formed the Company of New France in an effort to make France a world power. The Company's objectives were simple enough:
1. New France was to be self-sufficient in agriculture;
2. natural resources were to be discovered and exploited; and
3. missionary activities were to be fostered.
The Company of New France owned the lands and had the right to parcel them out to settlers. In turn, they agreed to settle 4,000 settlers in the next 15 years. Not surprisingly, the Jesuits, the fur trappers (referred to as Coureurs de Bois or "Runners of the Woods"), and colonists were often at odds over the use of the land and natural resources of New France.
Samuel de Champlain was a born explorer. In an area recently abandoned by Indians he founded the first French settlement in the New World in 1608. The settlement was Quebec. Fishing was not feasible there; its value was military. Early defense systems would be built and rebuilt many times over the next 200 years, resulting in a walled fortress that earned Quebec the name "Gibraltar of North America." When Louis Lavergne entered Quebec City sometime before his marriage to Marie Anne Simon on 26 May 1675, he entered an area fraught with danger. He lived among a people dangerously divided and reduced to petty bickering. The French alliance with the Algonquins and Hurons made bitter enemies of the Mohawks and Iroquis Indian tribes. Political struggles between the Jesuits and colonial leaders were simultaneous with economic struggles between agrarians and Coureurs de Bois. Champlain's governorship was occupied by wars with the British and the Indians. Life for Canadians was very hard, especially whenever France and England were at war on the European continent. By 1650, there were approximately 500 settlers in Canada. Most of those settlers were engaged in agricultural pursuits. For a long period of time Canada was on the brink of disaster. What was done in North America in the name of France was pretty much accomplished by what the Catholic Church or independent commercial enterprise could get done, and the success of either of those efforts depended upon a delicate and unreliable alliance with selected Indian tribes against other Indian tribes and the British. Those efforts should have been directed by the government, but that period of French- English history was dominated by war.
Louis Lavergne was assuredly recruited by the Company of New France to help construct the slowly growing Quebec City. He moved to the New World right at the time of the rise of King Louis XIV to absolute power in France. The king's appointment of Jean Colbert as Finance Minister signalled the development of a clear policy regarding the relationship of Canada and France: Canada was to be used to make France rich. The objective was to make France an imperialist nation; the colonies were to develop raw materials and serve as markets for the mother country; the colonies were to become the springboard for further penetration into the North American continent. (The economic policy is called Mercantilism, and it was that policy that led to the American Revolution against the British from 1776-1783). In order to build a proper infrastructure to meet those objectives, skilled laborers were needed very badly. As a mason (bricklayer), Louis Lavergne was almost certainly recruited for his skills.
After his arrival in Quebec City, the 28 year old Louis Lavergne met and married Marie Anne Simon, the 14 year old daughter of Hubert Simon and Marie Viez de la Mothe. Their marriage would last only 12 years; Louis Lavergne died in Quebec in 1687. At least one and more probably two of his sons, Louis and Phillippe, floated down the Mississippi River to help settle yet another new territory and city, New Orleans in Louisiana.(1)
(1) Lavergne family tradition maintains that two brothers floated down the Mississippi River by canoe to the New Orleans area. The tradition is supported by documentation in Quebec, insofar as Phillippe Lavergne is recorded as having been born in Quebec on 18 June 1683. There is no record of his marriage or death there, possibly suggesting his departure for Louisiana with his brother Louis, Jr. However, unlike Louis, there is no record of his living in Louisiana either. There are a number of possibilities; he could have died en route to Louisiana; he could have never left Quebec and died in obscurity there; or he could have made it to Louisiana and died in obscurity there. Most family traditions are rooted in historical fact, but in this case there is no way to establish this tradition as an historical truth.