At the time of the exile of 1755, hundreds of Acadians who managed to escape deportation hid in the forests of old Acadie. They hoped France would regain control of the place they had known as home for generations and that they would one day reclaim their homesteads.
As leaders of the Acadian resistance, the brothers Broussard remained in Acadia until after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, becoming known for their courage, marksmanship, and contagious cheerfulness (hence the nickname Beausoleil, referring to a smile as bright as the sun).
Along with other families whose homesteads had been burned and pillaged, Joseph and Alexandre fled into the woods with their families. Joseph, a sharpshooter and militia captain, “took a heavy toll of English soldiers sent into the area to capture refugees,” Acadian historian Bona Arsenault wrote. Broussard’s shooting skills became legendary.
But he and his fellow Acadians had more to contend with than British soldiers. More than 600 of those who were hiding in the Miramichi River area died of starvation and a “horrible contagion” in the winter of 1757. French missionary Francois LeGuerne wrote that they attempted to survive by eating “the leather of shoes, carrion, and some even the excrement of animals.” There was nothing the Broussards could do to feed or warm them.
The lack of food, threats of Indian attack, and the continued English assaults against the last few Acadian strongholds, eventually took their toll. Even the strong-willed Joseph and Alexandre began to give up hope. The final blow for Joseph came when Quebec fell to the British in 1759.
“He lost all hope since the refugees who were with him had no food, or other essentials left, and winter was fast approaching” Arsenault recorded.
In desperation, Joseph and Alexandre, along with Jean Basque, Simon Martin, Jean Bourg and Michel Bourg led their followers to the British-held Fort Cumberland. They hoped to cut a deal with the English rather than die of hunger. There was no deal to be made. The Acadians were imprisoned at Halifax until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, ending the war between France and England.
The treaty stopped the shooting but it did not give the Acadians their homes back. Hundreds of them wearily boarded boats to leave the land they had hoped to reclaim.
Joseph Broussard’s name appeared on the registry of a ship bound for the West Indies in 1764. But he and his followers could not stay there. It was too hot for people accustomed to the Canadian climate. They sailed again, this time for Louisiana.
Nicolas Foucault, a government official in New Orleans, recorded their arrival there: “A few days ago, 193 Acadians arrived in Louisiana from Santo Domingo. Since they were extremely indigent, we assured them of the help they need between now and until such time as they are able to choose land in the Opelousas region.”
Foucault recorded the arrival of 200 more Acadians two months later. He could not feed them or keep them in New Orleans and was at his wit’s end when a retired army captain, Antoine Bernard d’Hauterive, agreed to supply the Acadians with cattle and set them up at the Poste des Attakapas, modern St. Martinville.
Beausoleil Broussard signed the d’Hauterive Compact as leader of this group. Pierre Arcenaud, Jean-Baptiste Broussard, Victor Broussard, Jean Dugas, Joseph Guillebeau and Olivier Tibaudau also signed the document that set out the terms of their settlement.
Their new home was far different from the one they had known, but it was a rich place where crops would grow, cattle could be fed, and, most importantly where, finally, they could live in peace.
But Joseph “Beausoleil” Broussard did not witness the rebirth of his fellow Acadians in the Attakapas. He died of yellow fever just weeks after leading them here.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.