Into The Flow, Part 4 - France
The French settlers that followed called the new land New France and established settlements in Detroit, Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh), St. Louis, Memphis, Natchez, and Mobile. In 1718, a port was established near the mouth of the Mississippi River to support the large, successful farms and plantations that developed in the lower Mississippi Valley. The port was named New Orleans and it became one of the busiest ports in the New World and an essential trading center.
Catholic missionaries and priests worked hard to establish parishes throughout the new land. As a result of their power, only French Roman Catholics were permitted to immigrate to Louisiana. The Huguenots (French Protestants) were forced to immigrate to the English colonies, were their small numbers were absorbed with little impact on music or culture. In fact, the French population in the America never achieved that of the English or Spanish. By the mid 1700s the French population of New France is estimated to be just around 80,000 people, spread thinly from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. In contrast, the population of the thirteen English colonies was about 1.5 million people, all concentrated along the eastern shore.
In 1754, a conflict between English and French settlers resulted in war. The French and Indian War ended when an army of English regulars and colonial militia lead by General James Wolfe defeated the French at Quebec in 1759. The battle was honored in song shortly after its conclusion with one of the first and finest (in my opinion) Anglo-Canadian ballads, “Brave Wolfe”. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris the Louisiana Territory was turned over to Spain in 1763. Spain returned the land to France in 1803 and, having no use for such a foreign outpost and in need of funds, the French sold it to the United States.
The French settlers of Acadie (now Nova Scotia) were summoned to the town of Grand Pre by the English Lieutenant-Governor Lawrence. It was September 5th, 1755, and the message he had for the French who had farmed and inhabited their land for nearly a century would become know to the Acadians as the ‘Grand Derangement’. The French-speaking people who's families had emigrated from the western areas of Berry Poitou, Santonage and Touraine in France had shared this maritime homeland with the English since 1621 were to be expelled from their land. They forfeited all of their land, livestock and belongings and watched as their homes and buildings were burned to the ground.
The outcast Acadians were loaded onto ships at gunpoint and shipped south along the coast to English colonies. After stops in Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia, where they were not welcome, they set out for the Gulf coastal areas of Louisiana. The flow of exiles lasted nearly fifteen years. Although far from their homeland of Acadie, they continued to call themselves Acadians. The Spanish, and even French, of Louisiana mistook their heavily accented pronunciation of ‘Acadians’, and called the new settlers ‘Cajun.’ The Acadians have managed to hold fast to their heritage and language. Linguists claim that the Cajun French dialect is unique in that it is a patois of 18th century French.
The French impact on American music was much more regional than that of the English, Spanish, and German. The Huguenots tended to settle in English colonies and assimilate into English culture over time. The Catholic French in America were few in number and left little imprint on American music. The lasting gift to American music comes from the enclaves of French speaking people, mostly in Quebec and Louisiana, which have enriched our collective musical heritage.
Clemo Breaux & Joseph Falcon are the first family of Cajun music, and the first to record.
The song is perhaps 300 years old, originally sung by explorers and fur traders in the wilderness of Canada. Here sung by Canada's most treasured folk music ambassadors.
I have written before of the importance of 'Jolie Blonde', considered a Cajun anthem.
When I think back on the years that I lived in the Old Blue Bus in south Louisiana this song, and its title, summarize the experience perfectly.