The theme for the St. Martinville celebration is “Sugar, Slavery and Statehood.” The sugar culture was the reason Louisiana was prized, and the combination of sugar and slavery led to statehood, explains Fontenette.
According to the state’s Bicentennial web site, “Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Louisiana’s road to statehood was not all smooth.” It was another nine years before the territory became a state. The site further explores the tensions created between a predominantly Catholic and French-speaking Creole population and the incoming British heritage of the American system.
The period between the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and statehood in 1812 and what led to statehood greatly interests Fontenette. Among other things, becoming a state required a population of 60,000. A good portion of the population growth during this period came from those that left Saint-Domingue (Haiti) during and after the revolution (1791-1804), initially mostly white planters and les gens de couleur libre (free people of color) followed later by formerly enslaved African heritage people.
Fontenette is currently doing research on this period and the ties between Louisiana and Haiti. She recently returned from her first trip to Haiti. Future exhibits and speakers and discussions will explore the ties between Louisiana and Haiti, and the effects of the Haitian Revolution on Louisiana given that the revolution was in full throttle at the time of the Louisiana Purchase.
Johnson is enthusiastic about an exhibit she is currently organizing at the Maison Duchamp on the Martin family, donated by the family. Included in the exhibit will be reproductions of cattle brands, the Martin genealogy and pictures of the Claude Martin house, along with other artefacts. She hopes to open the exhibit in the next couple of weeks.
She is also working with a graduate student from ULL who is in the process of digitizing a scrapbook from 1865 and building a program where the public will be able to access the scrapbook online and actually flip the pages.
Also planned are interactive interviews with local people connected to the scrapbook.
Events planned for the near future include a presentation by ULL graduate student Sarah Senette on free black women of the Attakapas District in the evening on May 9 and an open discussion led by Patty Gutekunst on the position of sheriff in St. Martin Parish and how it was initially interpreted.
The celebration was kicked off in March with the exhibit, Ayiti à Haiti at the Maison Duchamp Cultural Center. A delegation of mayors and dignitaries from Haiti arrives April 25-27, followed by a visit from the Quebec Minister of International Relations, Monique Gagnon-Tremblay on April 27.
More exhibits and speakers are planned during the year for the Maison Duchamp. For more information on the Bicentennial of Louisiana Statehood, visit their web site at www.louisianabicentennial2012.com.