Fifth Generation: Return to Vermilion Parish

Pierre Armelin Primeaux was born in St. Martinville and died in Abbeville at the age of 83, a remarkable lifespan for a male in that era – one that encompassed nearly the entire nineteenth century.

Pierre returned to the area of what is now Abbeville to live. It may be that his mother died and, as the eldest son, he inherited her place in Vermilion Parish. He married Celestine Gisclar on November 7, 1829, and their marriage is documented in the church records in Abbeville. She was the daughter of Noel Gisclar and Charlotte Fredrick, who were from St. James Parish, which straddles the Mississippi River.

Pierre’s was the first generation of the Primeaux family to have been born citizens of the United States.

The children of Pierre Armelin and Celestine were: Pierre Aurelien Primeaux, born November 10, 1832; Joseph Florestan Primeaux,, who is our forebear; Marguerite-Odeide Primeaux, born October 26, 1839; and Eugenie Primeaux, born June 10, 1842.

Joseph Florestan, called by his middle name, was born in rural Vermilion Parish. Eugenie was born in Lafayette. There is no information as to the other children.

On July 25, 1843, a French Capuchin missionary, Pere Antoine Desire Megret, purchased some land on the east bank of the Vermilion River from Joseph LeBlanc and his wife, Isabelle Broussard. He converted their former home into a chapel and the place became known as La Chapelle, but people began referring to the place as “Abbeville” as early as 1844. Later, the priest planned out a town modelled on a French provincial village, and he had it incorporated in 1850 with the name Abbeville. Most people believe the town is named after Father Megret’s home town in France. Others believe the name comes from the locals referring to it as “the priest’s town,” La ville d’abbe, or Abbeville.

Vermilion Parish was created by the State Legislature in 1854, from Lafayette Parish. There were two significant settlements in the area: Abbeville and Perry’s Bridge, and Perry’s Bridge was the interim site of Parish of government until the Louisiana legislature could name the permanent Parish Seat. Father Megret campaigned for Abbeville to be named, and Robert Perry, founder of his eponymous community, lobbied for his. At stake was the future of each place, for the winner would be assured commerce, traffic, a Sheriff, courts, county agency jobs, schools, and all of the amenities that would be required to support them. With so much in the balance, it is not surprising that heated arguments and even armed conflicts flared between the partisans. In 1854, the legislature named Abbeville the Parish Seat. Abbeville grew and prospered, and Perry’s Bridge, now known as Perry, today is a mere crossing on the lower Vermilion River and a bedroom community for Abbeville.

Ironically, neither Father Megret nor Robert Perry lived to see the outcome of their struggle. Megret died in 1852 and Perry in 1853.

The calamity that took Father Megret’s life was an epidemic of Yellow Fever that swept through the region and took many lives. There is a roster of lives lost to the disease in Abbeville and there are no Primeauxs listed.

In 1846, Father Megret had persuaded the Sisters of Mount Carmel to come to Abbeville to establish a school. His original plans must have been for the Sisters of Charity to take on the task, because the plat he drew of his city included a street named “Street of the Sisters of Charity,” which is Charity Street today.

As the nation developed and grew, commerce increased among the states, bringing an influx of Les Americains into southwest Louisiana. New settlers with Anglo-Saxon names came into the area, many of them with wealth and education, and established themselves as an elite class among the less educated and relatively poorer Acadians. Many of the newcomers considered themselves superior to the Acadians, and made their attitude known, causing conflict with the French-speaking population. With their superior education and wealth they wielded power out of proportion to their numbers, and some of them engaged in sharp-dealing and chicanery to defraud the Acadians out of their land and money.

Lawlessness became a problem in the Atakapas region, and the authorities seemed powerless to quell it. Vigilante Committees were formed in several communities and parishes, including Vermilion Parish. At the head of most of the committees were Creoles or Americains who enlisted poorer Acadians to do their dirty work. Former Governor Jean Jacques Alfred Alexandre Mouton, a graduate of West Point, Creole owner of a plantation near present-day Lafayette, and later a Confederate Civil War General who was killed in the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, organized a Vigilante Committee and was prominent in the movement. The vigilantes would meet and hear “witnesses” who would bring accusations of various crime ranging from petty theft to murder. If the committee deemed the accused guilty, a party would set out on horseback, generally in the night, to apprehend the culprit. The first offense was punished by exile. The second offense earned the whip. The third offense got the offender lynched. It was mob rule, and most of the convicted offenders were Acadians who were poor and landless. Some were likely guilty, but many were victims of guile or anti-crime hysteria. One of those exiled was “Euclide Primo.” The pedigree charts show a Euclide Primeaux, born August 10, 1829, in Abbeville, who was the nephew of Pierre Armelin. The vigilante movement came to a head with a confrontation on September 3, 1859, between bandits and vigilantes on Bayou Queue de Tortue (Turtle Tail Bayou) at the border between Lafayette and St. Landry Parishes. Mouton led several hundred vigilantes against a gathering of reputed outlaws and took 24 of them prisoner. Those adjudged to have been leaders were given 100 lashes of the whip. Others received 40 lashes, and still others 20, all according to the severity of their offenses. The 1986 movie Belizaire the Cajun accurately portrays the events of this era.

The Vigilante Movement came to an end when the Governor banned it and popular sentiment turned against its excesses. Many had come to believe that the vigilantes were more about persecuting the poor than apprehending and punishing the lawless.

Pierre Armelin died August 16, 1891. Celestine died and was buried on May 10, 1901, in Abbeville.