The Third Generation and Le Grand Derangement

In 1736, on a date lost in history, Claude and Angelique’s youngest child and third son to live beyond childbirth was born at Chateauguay, their happy home where they were surrounded by their children and grandchildren. They named him Pierre Francois Primeau.

The older children were content to live close to the ancestral home, farming the land and enjoying the security of being surrounded by family. Pierre Francois, however, saw his future on far horizons, and he set out from Chateauguay to make his way in the world.

The record is silent as to when Pierre left or what were his destinations on the journey. We do not know what his motivation was for leaving. Did he leave due to a family conflict? Was he in trouble with the law? Did the economic situation force him to go elsewhere to earn a livelihood? We have no answer for these questions.

Pierre is listed on the wall of Acadian Exiles at the Acadian Heritage Museum in St. Martinville, so it can be assumed that in his travels he resided for a time in Nova Scotia, since residence in Acadie is one of the requirements for listing on the wall. One writer suggests that Pierre Francois lived in the Minas community in Acadie, but there are no written records to support this assertion. It may be that he never lived in Acadie. If he did not, then our family’s claim to Acadian ancestry would have to come through another line. The expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia occurred in stages between 1755 and 1763. By the time of the final removal, Pierre Francois had reached an age where it is plausible that he could have lived independently in Acadia, perhaps doing farm labor or other work, until he was forced to move.

At some point, Pierre arrived at the city of Baltimore in the British colony of Maryland. We do not know whether he arrived aboard one of the ships transporting the Acadian exiles. Maryland was one of the few places where the deportees were welcomed.

In 1768, in Baltimore, Pierre married Susanne Plante, an Anglo-American Protestant, when he was 32 years old. Susanne was the daughter of James Plante and Anne Spencer.

Word had spread among the Acadians that there was a movement to re-settle in Louisiana, and in 1769, Pierre and Susanne booked passage on the schooner Britannia, which set out for Pensacola or the British territory north of New Orleans on January 5, from Port Tobacco, Maryland, under command of its skipper, Philip Ford. Aboard was a multiethnic group of 100 passengers, 32 of whom were Acadians. Blown off course by a storm and damaged, the ship was unable to navigate into the Mississippi River for New Orleans, and it continued westward, seeking a safe landfall on the coast. Finally, in strong winds and fog, the ship entered Espiritu Santo Bay in Texas, in the vicinity of Matamoros, where the party disembarked. The voyage had taken months. To make matters worse, the ship, which was sailing under the British flag, was now in territory controlled by the Spanish, who were hostile to England and English shipping. There were decades of bad blood between the two kingdoms, particularly on the seas, where each nation regularly plundered the other’s vessels. Ford asked for provisions and permission to return to Louisiana, but the Spanish officer in command instead arrested him and his crew, took the passengers into custody, and allowed the Spanish soldiers to pillage the damaged ship. Ford and his crew were placed in stocks for 24 days, and the entire party was held at the interior post at La Bahia until at last the crew and passengers were allowed to travel to Natchitoches, where they arrived on October 24, 1769, a journey that took the party one and one-half months. At Natchitoches, which was the territorial capital, Governor Alejandro O’Reilly granted permission to the Acadian and German families, whom he considered neutrals, to settle in the Spanish territory. The Acadians were sent to the Opelousas and St. Martinville areas, and the Germans were transported to Fort Saint Gabriel at Iberville. In a letter to his superior, Julian de Arriaga, O’Reilly commented on the affair:

“The English families have returned to Pensacola … I have given the Germans and Acadians lands, tools for their fields, and two hundred and sixty-seven pesos fuertes in money. The settlement of these poor families is very costly for the exchequer.”

The pesos were divided among the travelers at three pesos for each person. They also divided among them 16 large axes, 16 hatchets, 16 spades, 16 iron pots, and 6 drawing knives. Each German family, in consideration of their assignment to the fort at Iberville, received in addition one gun, 12 flints, and 3 pounds of gunpowder. The Spanish record states the names of the heads of the Acadian families as: Olivier Benoit, Louis Latier, Etienne Rivet, Honore Trahan, Antoine Belar [Bel’isle?], Jean Vincent LeJeune, and Pierre Prinne [Primeau].

Pierre and Susanne settled in the area of Opelousas. They likely lived typical lives for the time, farming or plying a trade in the town, raising much of the food they ate and selling the surplus to buy goods. In 1773, their first child, Victorine, was born. Their second, Clara, was born in 1774.

Pierre and Susanne probably did not know that the Second Continental Congress in the American colonies in 1775 had authorized a Continental Army to wage war against British governance. News then was not instantaneous as it is today, and it would take months for word of the rebellion to reach them. They carried on with their lives and their third child, a son named Donat, was born March 7, 1776.

As early as April 15, 1776, Pierre was serving in the Opelousas militia under the command of Captain Etienne Robert de la Marandiere, who was in turn under the command of General Don Bernardo de Galvez, military governor and namesake of Galveston, Texas. Pierre’s name appears again in the same militia’s June 8, 1777, roll, which qualifies him as a patriot of the American Revolution, because Spain joined the rebellious colonies in war against Britain in 1780. Galvez ousted the British from the area now part of the State of Louisiana north of New Orleans and east of Baton Rouge known as the “Florida Parishes,” and referred to then as West Florida. Fighting between the Spanish and British forces in the area raged between 1779 and 1781. Galvez set out from New Orleans with a force of Spanish regulars, Louisiana militia, and 600 Acadian volunteers and captured Fort Bute at Bayou Manchac across from St. Gabriel, and went on to capture Baton Rouge. As a militiaman, it is not inconceivable that Pierre saw action, but he was 43-45 years old at the time, which was not youthful in that era, and it is just as likely that his service was in the home guard.

To this point in Pierre’s story, we see elements of the Primeaux mythology: Pierre is the one to bring our family to Louisiana; he arrived during the Spanish regime, so it is probable that he also came to be known as Pedro; there was a war, and he may have been a combatant, but there was no brother killed in it. The family myth, as with all myths, has elements of truth.

There were more children. Joseph was born March 9,1778. Theodore was born June 1, 1780. Angelique was born October 1, 1781, and Julian was born October 13, 1784.

The final, youngest child was born February 14, 1787. Pierre and Susanne had him christened Francis, and he is our next ancestor in line.

All of the children were born in the Opelousas area.

In July 1779, at Opelousas, Susanne was baptized a Roman Catholic, and the marriage of Pierre and Susanne was validated by the church.

According to the genealogical charts, all of Pierre’s children’s surnames have the letter x affixed at the end. Although some authorities contend that the transformation occurred later, the genealogical charts show that it was during the Spanish regime that the notorious “Cajun x” makes its first manifestation. There are two prevalent theories to explain the appearance of the extra letter. The first theory is that the illiterate Acadians attested to their record by “making their X” on the written documents that later got transcribed with the x on the end. At first blush, that would seem to explain why Primeaux, Comeaux, Thibodeaux and Simoneaux all appear with the same last letter. But it leaves unexplained why Martin, Broussard and Leblanc, to point out a few, did not receive the same treatment. It is unlikely that all of the Martins, Broussards and Leblancs were literate, and everyone whose name ended in the letter u was illiterate. The second theory is based on the fact that in French one pluralizes a word ending in -eau by adding the letter x, so that the plural of Primeau would be Primeaux. The presumption is made that for some reason the record-keepers needed to pluralize the record entries. This explanation fails because, again, the alleged pluralization is limited to the family names ending in -eau. Martin, Broussard, LeBlanc and many other Acadian names are not pluralized in this fashion. There may be no definitive explanation. It may simply be that the Spanish found it difficult to transcribe the -eau names without some diacritical mark to aid them. Whatever the case, it is clear that once the letter became attached in the official records, it stuck even to this day.

It was in 1783 that the American colonies won their independence from Britain. It would be years, though, before that world-changing event affected the lives of the Acadians, and they continued their existence under the benign governance of the Spanish.

Some time after the birth of Francis, the family relocated to the St. Martinville area. Pierre died in St. Martinville on August 16, 1790, at the age of only 46. After his death, Susanne moved with the children to the Atakapas District, where she settled on the lower Vermilion River and remarried Simon Abreo of Aragon, Spain, in April 1795. Three of her five Primeaux sons created families of their own, and none of them married an Acadian.