Jim Bradshaw: Treaty designed to expel French sent them to Louisiana instead
A treaty that was signed in Paris in early February 1763, had far-reaching consequences for the great European powers of the day, but it was also one of the most important documents in the history of south Louisiana.
It officially ended the struggle that was known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe, as the French and Indian War in North America, and in Louisiana as the crisis that gave the British the excuse they’d been looking for to send the Acadians into exile.
The treaty ending the war allowed Acadians who had been scattered throughout the English colonies to return to their ancestral homelands, or to go someplace else. Some of them came to Louisiana at that time, but not in large numbers.
More importantly for the Louisiana story, it allowed Acadians who had been sent to England to go to France. They weren’t particularly welcomed there, either, and they wandered or were moved from place to place for the next 20 years, but the treaty had the effect of putting a large group of Acadians together and in such circumstances that when Spain was looking for settlers for its Louisiana colony, they were willing to come.
More than 1,500 Acadians sailed from France to Louisiana in 1785, and those families make up a large part of our Cajun ancestry.
But the Treaty of Paris had an even more direct bearing on Frenchmen who had come to Louisiana with the Sieur d’Iberville in 1699 to establish a French colony in the Mobile area (which was then considered part of Louisiana). Those included family names such as Fontenot, LaFleur, Doucet, LaGrange, Bonin, Deshotel, Brignac and others.
These families were in at least their second generation in North America — some had been here longer — when the treaty gave to Great Britain the territory east of the Mississippi River that once belonged to France. French families were given the right to stay where they were and accept English rule or to move to “some French colony of their choice.”
Most of the Frenchmen decided to leave and settled first in the Pointe Coupee area, where a good number of them apparently didn’t like the land they were offered. Within a year many of these Alabama exiles moved into what is now St. Landry and Evangeline parishes.
The Coushatta people were neighbors and allies of the French at Mobile and were also eventually forced to move across the Mississippi. About 1795, their primary chief, Red Shoes, left Alabama for Louisiana, bringing with him about 100 of his followers.
The biggest effect internationally of the 1763 treaty is that it was supposed to require France to give up all of its possessions in North America, which it did. But by that time Louisiana was Spanish in name but still largely French in culture.
It held onto the huge area west of the Missisippi that eventually became U.S. territory under the Louisiana Purchase.
So it was that the 1763 treaty that was supposed to run Frenchmen out North America resulted, ironically, in running many of them to a Spanish Louisiana that still spoke mostly French. In fact, with the large influx of Acadians and Creoles, it can be argued that more Frenchmen came to Louisiana during Spanish rule than during all the years that it was a French colony.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.