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Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana

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History

Avoyelles Parish is known for its French colonial history and tradition of French language use. The contemporary Creole traditions, in both music and food, reflect European, African and Native American influences. While Avoyelles has a distinctive history of European immigrants, dominated by the French in its early history, it is considered the most northern of the 22 "Acadiana" parishes. These have a tradition of settlement by French-speaking refugees from Acadia (now eastern Canada) in the late 18th century. They contributed strongly to the development of culture in this area, as did Africans and the indigenous Native Americans. The parish is noted for its brand of Cajun/Creole style music and its gumbo, a popular soup with roots in the three major ethnicities noted above.

Records from the Catholic churches in Mansura and Marksville document the founding of a trading post and a Catholic school by French colonists. The merchants wanted to conduct fur trading with the Tunica Tribe and the missionaries hoped to convert the natives to Christianity. The trading post was built near the Avoyel/Tunica settlement; it was preserved until the mid-1960s. Historic roadside markers on LA 1 identify the site of the historic Catholic mission school.

Franco-European settlers first called this area Hydropolis, meaning water city, referring to the marshes and bayous. The major mode of transportation was by Indian canoe and pirogue, a French-style dug-out canoe. Church records identify settlers with all their family members listed, as well as some property; in some cases they listed slaves by name. Church records and documentation were recorded in French during the years of initial settlement, then in Spanish during their brief rule in the late 18th century, with a return to French after France reacquired the area under Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century.

After his troops failed to regain control over Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Napoleon withdrew from North America. He sold the large Louisiana Purchase territory in 1803 to the United States under President Thomas Jefferson. As the US expanded its rule, local documents began to be recorded in the English of the new government. The United States arranged for the Lewis and Clark Expedition and others to survey the Louisiana Territory. It hired local French soldiers, surveyors and doctors, many of whom eventually settled in the area.

Many of the French people who settled Avoyelles Parish immigrated from France in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Many of the French words commonly used today in the parish date to terms used during the Napoleon period in France, indicating that this was the period of immigration. They have not been used in France for many generations.

The Spanish influence in Louisiana was more dominant in New Iberia — this was named after colonists from the Iberian Peninsula, commonly known as Spain and Portugal. There are no Spanish surnames in Avoyelles. A few families from French Canada (Quebec) settled in Avoyelles. They were from a different geographic area of Canada than the Acadians of present-day Nova Scotia, who were expelled by the British from their homeland (Acadie) beginning in 1755 during the Seven Years' War with France. Many deported Acadians eventually made it to Louisiana from 1764 - 1788, after several years of living in exile along the eastern Atlantic seaboard, Canada, St. Pierre and France.

In the later 19th century, immigrants from Scotland, Belgium, Italy, and Germany also settled here, following the French Creoles. Together they established today's towns and villages. Their direct ties to Europe set them apart from the Acadians/Creoles of southern Louisiana, who came from a culture established for generations in Canada. At the turn of the 19th century, free people of color of African-French descent also settled in Avoyelles. Many came from New Orleans, which had a large community of free people of color. Others were refugees from Saint-Dominque, where slaves had rebelled to gain independence as the nation of Haiti. Others came from other colonies in the French West Indies.

The blending of these three cultures: Native American, European and African, created a distinct Louisiana Creole culture noted in the local language, food, Catholic religion, and family ties.

In the 21st century, the Avoyelles Parish culture has been classified as "Cajun" because of the perceived similarities in speech, food, and various folk traditions with the more southern Acadian parishes. But, few families in Avoyelles are of Acadian descent. From the 1800s until the mid 1900s, local Confederate units and local newspaper reports in The Villager always referred to the Avoyelles French families as Creoles, the term for native-born people of direct descent from early French colonists and born in the colony.

Following the disastrous Great Flood of 1927, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a system of levees along the Mississippi River. It reduced immediate flooding in Marksville and other towns, but has caused indirect damage to the wetlands. This has ultimately caused more serious flooding as the speed of the river has increased.

Adjacent Parishes

Cities, Towns & Villages

  • Bordelonville
  • Bunkie
  • Center Point
  • Cottonport
  • Evergreen
  • Fifth Ward
  • Hessmer
  • Mansura
  • Marksville (Parish Seat)
  • Moreauville
  • Plaucheville
  • Simmesport

Links

Wikipedia

Bayou Rouge Baptist Church Bayou

Marksville Prehistoric Indian Site

Bunkie Station

Clarendon Plantation House

Fort DeRussy