Many of these early American migrants settled in what is today St.
Mary, St. Landry, and Vermilion parishes, but English-speakers remained a substantial minority until Louisiana became a U.S. possession in 1803.
After the Louisiana Purchase, American authorities encouraged settlement in south Louisiana because the United States and Spain each claimed the area between the Mermentau and Sabine rivers. Diplomats argued for years before the Sabine was finally made the boundary between Louisiana and Spanish Texas, but the United States encouraged Americans to settle in the disputed territory even before the issue was settled, figuring that Americans living on the land would strengthen the U.S. argument.
Still, French speakers held the majority for a while. In 1803, English speakers were outnumbered seven-to-one by French speakers in south Louisiana. By the time Louisiana became a state in 1812, the ratio had fallen to three-to-one, despite the influx of nearly 10,000 French-speaking refugees from a civil war in Haiti.
Fifty years later, when the American Civil War began, English speakers constituted 70 percent of Louisiana’s free population statewide, although the numbers weren’t quite so drastic in the heart of Acadiana. As late as 1870, French speakers outnumbered English speakers in a majority of the 15 parishes where there were still substantial Acadian populations.
Those parishes were Ascension, Iberville, St. James, and West Baton Rouge on the Mississippi River; Assumption, Lafourche, and Terrebonne, along Bayou Lafourche; and the prairie parishes of Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, and Vermilion.
But richer and better educated Americans continued to gain in numbers and influence in south Louisiana.
“The antebellum Anglo settlers of the bayou lands were generally of English descent and better educated and far more affluent than the English-speaking immigrants to north Louisiana,” according to Brasseaux’s study. “These individuals, many of whom were planters, professionals, and merchants, wielded greater economic influence than their numbers would suggest.
Because of the Anglos’ influence and prestige, the Acadian upper and upper-middle classes gauged their success by their acceptability to the region’s new (Anglo) elite. ...It is hardly coincidental that the decline of the French language occurred when the Anglo elite emerged-generally in the late 1830s and
Indeed, an Acadian governor may have helped with the change from French to English. In 1843, Gov. Alexandre Mouton signed an act that allowed Louisiana newspapers to quit publishing certain legal and political advertisements that were usually written in French.
In Brasseaux’s view, “The quiet acceptance of the English language
... was symptomatic of upwardly mobile Acadians’ obsessive drive toward mainstream culture throughout the bayou country... By the 1840s Anglo-Americans had attained a position of social and economic leadership within the state, and ... leaders of the ... French-speaking communities found it expedient ... to wed themselves, sometime literally as well as figuratively, to the new majority.”
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