Cajun History

Acadian Reminiscences – Chapter 9

 

Acadian Reminiscences
by Felix Voorhies, 1907

 

The Acadian Reminiscences is a word painting of the life of the Acadians in the Teche Country in the long ago.

 

The plain, simple frugal life of these people, their devotion to principle, their unbounded faith in the goodness of God, their love for each other during all their misfortunes and perilous wanderings, appeal to the heart.

 

The simple pathos of the grandmother’s story comes to us with such consummate art, that the eye unwittingly grows moist, as the reader follows the journeyings of this little band, self-exiled and noble in their poverty, from desolated homes on the bleak Acadian coast, to their final destination in the hospitable valley of the Teche.

 

Chapter 9 – The Acadians Leave Maryland to Go to Louisiana
Their perilous and weary journey overland – Death of Rene Leblanc – They arrive safely in Louisiana and settle in the Attakapas region on the Teche and Vermillion Bayous

“As I have already told you, petiots, during three years, we had lived contented and happy in Maryland, when we received tidings that a number of Acadians, exiles like us, had settled in Louisiana, where they were prospering and retrieving their lost fortunes under the fostering care of the French government.

This news which threw us in a flutter, engrossed our minds so completely, that we spoke of nothing else.  It gave rise to the most extravagant conjectures, and the hope of seeing, once more, the dear ones torn so cruelly from us, was revived in our hearts.  The news was deficient, however, in one respect:  it left us ignorant of the fate of those who, like us, had been exiled from St. Gabriel.

“That uncertainty cast a gloom over our hopes which marred our joy and happiness, and increased our anxiety.

“Our suspense became unbearable, and we finally discussed seriously the expediency of emigrating to Louisiana.  The more timid among us represented the temerity and folly of such an undertaking, but the desire to seek our brother exiles grew keener every day, and became so deeply rooted in our minds, that we concluded to leave for Louisiana, where the banner of France waved over true French hearts.

“We announced our determination to our benefactors, the Brent and Smith families, and, undismayed by the perils that awaited us, and the obstacles we had to overcome, we prepared for our pilgrimage from Maryland to Louisiana.

“Our friends used all their eloquence to dissuade us from our resolve, but we resisted all their entreaties, although we were deeply touched by this new proof of their friendship.  We disposed of the articles that we could not carry along with us, and kept our wagons and horses to transport the women and children, and the baggage.  In all, we numbered two hundred persons, and of these, fifty were well armed, and ready to face any danger.

“We journeyed slowly; the wagons moved in the centre, while twenty men in advance, and as many in the rear marched four abreast.  Ten of the bravest and most active of our young men took the lead a short distance ahead of the column, and formed our advance guard.  Our forces were distributed in this wise, petiots, for our safety, as the road lay through mountain defiles, and in a wild and dreary country inhabited by Indians.

“We secured, as scouts and guides, two Indians well known to the Brent family, and in whom, we were told, we could place the most implicit confidence.  We had occasion, more than once, to find how fortunate we had been to secure their services.  We set out on our journey with sorrow.  We were parting with friends kind and generous; friends who had relieved us in our needs, and who had proved true as steel, and loving as brothers.  We were parting from them, lured with hopes which might prove illusory, and when we grasped their hands in a last farewell, words failed us, and our tears and sobs told them of our gratitude for the benefits they had, so generously, showered upon us.  They, too, wept, touched to the heart by the eloquent, though mute, expression of our gratitude.  Their last words, were words of love, glowing with a fervent wish that our cherished hopes might be realized.

“We set out in a westerly direction, and we had soon lost sight of the hospitable roofs of the Brent and Smith families.  We again felt that we were, once more, poor wandering exiles roaming through the world in search of a home.

“Our journey, petiots, was slow and tedious, for a thousand obstacles impeded our progress.  We encountered deep and rapid streams that we could not cross for want of boats; we traveled through mountain defiles, where the pathway was narrow and dangerous, winding over hill and dale and over craggy steeps, where one false step might hurl us down into the yawning chasm below.  We suffered from storms and pelting rains, and at night when we halted to rest our weary limbs, we had only the light canvass of our tents to shelter us from the inclemency of the weather.

“Ah! petiots, we were undergoing sore trials!  But we were lulled by the hope that far, far away in Louisiana, our dreamland, we would find our kith and kin.  That radiant hope illumined our pathway; it shone as a beacon light on which we kept our eyes riveted, and it steeled our hearts against sufferings and privations almost too great to be borne otherwise.

“Thus we advanced fearlessly, aye, almost cheerfully, and at night, when we pitched our tents in some solitary spot, our Acadian songs broke the silence and loneliness of the solitude, and, as the gentle wind wafted them over the hills, the light couplets were re-echoed back to us so clearly and so distinctly, that it seemed the voice of some friend repeating them in the distance.

“As long as we journeyed in Virginia, barring the obstacles presented by the roads of a country diversified by hill and dale, our progress, though slow, was satisfactory.  The people were generous, and supplied us with an abundance of provisions.  But when the white population grew sparser and sparser, and when we reached the wild and mountainous country which, we were told, bore the name of Carolina, then, petiots, it required a stout heart and firm resolve, indeed, not to abandon the attempt to reach Louisiana by the overland route we were following.

“During days and weeks, we had to march slowly and tediously through endless forests, cutting our way across undergrowth so thick, as to be almost impervious to light; brushwood where a cruel enemy might lay concealed in ambush to murder us, for we were now in the very heart of the Indian country, and the savages followed us, stealthily, day and night.  We could see them with their tattooed faces and hideous headgear of feathers, frightful in appearance, lurking around in the forest, and watching our movements.  We were always on the alert, expecting an attack at any moment, for we could distinctly hear their whoops and fierce yells.

“Ah!  Petiots, it was then that our mental and bodily anguish became extreme, and that the stoutest heart grew faint under the pressure of such accumulated woes.  Our nights were sleepless, and, careworn and on the verge of starvation, we moved steadily onward, the very picture of dejection and of despair.  Thus we toiled on day after day, and night after night, during two long weary months on our seemingly endless journey, until, dispirited and disheartened, our courage failed us.

“It was a dark hour, full of alarming forebodings, and we witnessed the depression of our brother exiles with sorrow and apprehension.

“But a kind Providence watched over us.  God tempereth the wind to the shorn lamb.  The hope of finding our lost kindred stimulated our drooping spirits.  We had been told that Louisiana was a land of enchantment, where a perpetual spring reigned.  A land where the soil was extremely fertile; where the climate was so genial and temperate, and the sky so serene and azure, as to justly deserve the name of Eden of America.  It smiled to us in the distance like the promised land, and toward that land we bent our weary steps, longing for the day when we would tread its soil, and breathe once more the pure air in which floated the banner of France.

“At last we reached the Tennessee river, where it curves gracefully around the base of a mountain looming up hundreds of feet.  Its banks were rocky and precipitous, falling straight down at least fifty feet, and we could see, in the chasm below, its waters that flowed majestically on in their course toward the grand old Meschacebe.  It was out of the question to cross the river there, and we followed the roadway on its banks around the mountain, advancing cautiously to avoid the danger that threatened us at every step.

“That night, we slept in a large natural cave on the very brink of the precipice by the river.  At dawn of day we resumed our march, and as we advanced, the country became more and more level, and after four days of toil and fatigue, we halted and camped on a hill by the riverside, where a small creek runs into the river.  We met there a party of Canadian hunters and trappers who gave us a friendly welcome, and replenished our store of provisions with game and venison.  They informed us that the easiest and least wearisome way to reach Louisiana was to float down the Tennessee and Meschacebe rivers.  The plan suggested by them was adopted, and the men of our party, aided by our Canadian friends, felled trees to build a suitable boat.

“There, petiots, a great misfortune befell us.  We experienced a great loss in the death of Rene Leblanc, who had been our leader and adviser in the hours of our sore trials.  Old age had shattered his constitution, and unequal to the fatigues of our long pilgrimage, he pined away, and sank into his grave without a word of complaint.  He died the death of a hero and of a Christian, consoling us as we wept beside him, and cheering us in our troubles.  His death afflicted us sorely, and the night during which he lay exposed, preparatory to his burial, the silence was unbroken, in our camp, save by our whispered words, as if we feared to disturb the slumbers of the great and good man that slept the eternal sleep.  We buried him at the foot of the hill, in a grove of walnut trees.  We carved his name with a cross over it on the bark of the tree sheltering his grave, and after having said the prayers for the dead, we closed his grave, wet with the tears of those he had loved so well.

“My narrative has not been gay, petiots, but the gloom that darkened it will now be dispelled by the radiant sunshine of joy and of happiness.

“Our boat was unwieldy, but it served our purpose well.  We stored in it our baggage and supplies; we sold our horses and wagons to our Canadian friends, and taking leave of our Indian guides, we cut loose the moorings of the boat.  We floated down stream, our young men rowing, and singing Acadian songs.

“Nothing of importance happened to us after our embarkment, petiots.  During the day, we traveled, and at night, we moored our boat safely, and encamped on the banks of the river.  At last we launched on the turbulent waters of the Mississippi and floated down that noble stream as far as bayou Plaquemines, in Louisiana, where we landed.  Once more we were treading French soil, and we were freed from English dominion.

“As the tidings of our arrival spread abroad, a great number of Acadian exiles flocked to our camp to greet and welcome us.  Ah! petiots, how can I describe our joy and rapture, when we recognized countenances familiar to us.  Grasping their hands, with hearts too full for utterance, we wept like children.  Many a sorrowing heart revived to love and happiness on that day.  Many a wife pressed to her bosom a long lost husband.  Many a fond parent clasped in rapturous embrace a loving child.  Ah! such a moment repaid us a thousandfold for all our sufferings and privations, and we spent the day in rejoicing, conviviality and merriment.

“The sequel of my story will be quickly told, petiots.  Shortly afterwards, we left for the Teche region, where lands had been granted to us by the government.  We wended our way, to our destined homes, through dismal swamps, through bayous without number and across lakes until we reached Portage Sauvage, at Fausse Pointe.  The next day, we were at the Poste des Attakapas, a small hamlet having two or three houses, one store and a small wooden church, situated on bayou Teche which we crossed in a boat.

“There, the several Acadians separated to settle on the lands granted to them.

“You must not imagine, petiots, that the Teche region was, at that time, dotted all over like nowadays with thriving farms, elegant houses and handsome villages.  No, petiots, it required the nerve and perseverance of your Acadian fathers to settle there.  Although beautiful and picturesque, it was a wild region inhabited, mostly, by Indians and by a few white men, trappers and hunters by occupation.  Its immense prairies, covered with weeds as tall as you, were the commons where herds of cattle and of deer roamed unmolested, save by the hunter and the panther.  Such was the region your ancestors settled, and which, by their energy, they have transformed into a garden teeming with wealth.

“The Acadians enriched themselves in a country where no one will starve if he is industrious, and where one may easily become rich if he fears God, and if he is economical and orderly in his affairs.

“Petiots, I have kept my promise, and my tale is told.  Your Acadian fathers were martyrs in a noble cause, and you should always be proud to be the sons of martyrs and of men of principle.”

“Grandmother,” we said, as we kissed her fondly, “your words have fallen in willing and loving hearts, and they will bear fruit.  We are proud now of being called Acadians, for there never was any people more noble, more devoted to duty and more patriotic than the Acadians who became exiles, and who braved death itself, rather than renounce their faith, their king and their country.”

 

[FINIS]