Prairie Basse

A Place Called La Prairie Basse


Mike LeBlanc

0.0 Hello = Bonjour

In the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville and Joan Didion, I have written about a place, a singular, particular place in Louisiana known to its Cajun , Creole, and Afro-American inhabitants as La Prairie Basse, or The Low Prairie as it is translated into English.

Tocqueville was an early social scientist who traveled to early 19th Century America in whose company I aspire belong when he is said to think that:

through associating, the coming together of people for mutual purpose, both in public and private, Americans are able to overcome selfish desires, thus making both a self-conscious and active political society and a vibrant civil society functioning according to political and civil laws of the state.

Joan Didion is a 20th Century writer who first began writing in what would be later named creative non-fiction, in such books as Slouching Toward Bethlehem about the 1960’s counter culture in California. She explored:

the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos; the overriding theme of her work is the individual and social fragmentation. At the peak of her career, her writing was recognized for its significance in defining and observing American subcultures for mainstream audiences.

1.0 Contradictions

These may seemed to be contradictory traditions, but the conflict between association and fragmentation, and between social integration and cultural disintegration were essential to understanding how new cultural patterns were created. This analysis of dialectical forces within a society had a long tradition among sociologist and anthropologists. Part of this analysis is to use another opposite method, that of historical particularism, that is to say to describe a culture in terms of its uniqueness and not in terms of its similarity to other cultures as used in dialectical analysis.

And so, I utilize an two modes of analysis with inherent conflicts; thus I have written not as a dispassionate social scientist, but rather as native anthropologist as they were once called in the mid 20th Century. These natives of primitive societies were trained in anthropological methods and described a culture as inside to an outsiders. Occasionally and pejoratively, some anthropologist were said to have gone native, that is to say to have abandoned their scientific objectivity and to have subjectively adopted the culture of those whom they had studied.

Although I was trained in the anthropology as a profession, I have not written also as an academic, although I you will see references to the works within social sciences and more generally, Wikpedia; for I have written of what I know to be true in my bones and not necessary by reviewing a body of literature through long research and study. Yes, I write in part as a knowledgeable insider for a general audience of outsiders; some academics, some anthropologists, some historians, may find this work useful, but that is not my purpose. I wish to tell a story not only to you the outsider, but perhaps also to my descendants who will come generations later when they will wonder about their identity.

While Tocqueville wrote in the third person in French, I wished to write as Didion did: in first person English, a tongue I learned somewhat broken from my mother, who learned French first from her mother and then later at school, English, the language of oppression as well as liberation in Louisiana. I will write not in one tense, past or present, but in both of these as well as in the future tense; for as we will see, cultural conflict is a long story with a past, a present and a future, in which new languages and new genomes are created when different races and their languages come into contact.

2.0 Americans: Their Race and Languages

English was introduced in La Prairie Basse by the Americans who came just before and after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Before then, the French had created a polyglot, multi-racial society in which shades of language and race were tolerated. The English and more generally the Britons used language and race as cultural markers to oppress their inferiors. In contrast, the French, particularly their men, escaped to America in the 17th century Louisiana where they soon where liberated from the bounds imposed by European traditions and lived in a state of nature as le bon sauvage, that is the noble savage, before being corrupted by civilization and an unnatural order. These men married, both monogamously and polygamously, women of other races and languages. Their children in La Prairie Basse inter-married among themselves while accepting Europeans and Africans who were later to arrive and settle.

We know of these marriages because their very imprint (as well shall see) is upon the land of La Prairie Basse. The region in which this place is found is Acadiana, a place denoted as the home places of persons of Acadian descent and those who inter-married with them.

3.0 The Acadian and Their Exile

Acadians were exiled from Acadie, a place later named by Britons as Nova Scotia, after it been cleansed of a people who settled the New World as early as 1605. At the same time, the pilgrims were stealing food from Native Americans and the settlers in Jamestown practiced cannibalism, these Acadians inter-married with the Micmacs, a first nation of Canada. They each adopted each other ways to adapt to the New World and each prospered. Out of this conflict between English and French and French and Native American, a sturdy cultural tradition was to emerge that still lasts in Louisiana some 400 years later.

The Acadians were exiled by the British; and for two generations, many of them roamed the Atlantic world seeking a place to call a homeland. They were given succor by the Spanish who had come to rule Louisiana after the disastrous Seven Year War (1755-1762), also known as the French and English War by American and British scholars. It was this war and the cultural continuity that ensued that made North America, except for islands in linguistic and racial archipelagos, a land dominated by monolingual pure blooded English speakers.

Acadiana and particularly La Prairie Basse is one of these archipelagos, where the American surveyors arrived in the 1810’s to recognize lands given by the Spanish crown to the original settlers who where Acadians, French, Catholic Germans and Irish, and the odd Protestant American who settled among them and adopted their ways and language.

4.0 Grand Fathers  and Their Apex

Among these original settlers was one of my collateral kinsman, Placide LeBlanc, (1795- 1852) whose father was Frederic LeBlanc, (1771-1794), one among of the first generations of Acadians born in Louisiana. The father of Frederic was Simon Joseph LeBlanc, (1737-1815) who was what anthropologist called an apical ancestor, one who stood at the apex of a pyramid and founded extended networks of descendants, sometimes called clans among so-called primitive peoples.

4.1 Beausoliel

Simon Joseph was one of the original soldiers among the band led by Joseph “Beausoliel” Broussard, (1702- 1765) who captained a small band that fought a guerilla war against the British in Acadie during the Seven Year War. Beausoliel (whose named means Sunshine in French) and his men remained free while many other Acadian men were captured during a ruse in 1755. Then their wives and children were held hostage on board ships upon which their men were force to board. After they embarked, the boats dispatched the exiles to distant lands, splitting families near and wide across the Atlantic from New England and the southern English colonies, Carolina’s, the Carribean, and Old England itself. The English thus gave the sentence of transportation, a fate some might say worse than death; for they were denied their homeland forever and forced those sentenced to be beggars and paupers. Their children, who were more tractable, were taken from their families and then indentured, forced to speak a broken sort of English as an ethnic marker. Some Acadians were repatriated to France and others were lost to the currents of history. About half of all Acadians were said to have died during the diaspora that lasted fifty years from 1755 to about 1805.

4.2 Le Point de Repos and La Prairie Basse 

At the end of the war, Beausoliel and his soldiers were imprisoned and later released by the English. These rebels and their families immigrated to French Haiti and then to Spanish Louisiana in 1765, where Beasoliel died. Yet, his comrades made connections with Acadian sailors who traveled wide upon the known world with letters given from trusted hand to hand. The correspondence called for the displaced Acadians to come to a place called Le Point de Repose, that is the Point of Rest, a bend on the Bayou Teche, a place very near La Prairie Basse. Those could came to a place connected by bays and bayous in their lower reaches and thence to their head waters on a series of streams, all known as bayous whether or not they responded to the tidal flow of their bays.

5.0 Prairies, Ponds, Marshes, and Swamps

The descendants of Simon Joseph LeBlanc received land grants from both the Spanish and later from the American government on lands not yet taken by the original settlers. This was a locale of contrast: One place was Grand Coteau, meaning in French, Grand Hill and many a low-lying area called a marais in French. Now a marais could be pond, grassland marsh or a wooded swamp, but its essential feature was water held for a time before draining. Connected to these coteaux and marais were prairies. These prairies were not just meadows as you might imagine, but also grasslands in which a person needed to stand upon a saddle to navigate to a horizon landmarked with giant live oaks. Canebreaks, areas thick with a plant much like bamboo, was interspersed within these grasslands. Occasionally, the traveler would see tree lines along the marais, ponds, and bayous.

Among these bayous were the Teche and the Vermilion, large rivers and then their minor inter-connections: Bourbeux , Carenrco, Datidier, Fusilier, Pont Brule, Magenta. These bayous in turn were connected in this land of high and low lands to other streams across an adjoining enormous swamp, known as the Atchafalaya Basin and thence to New Orleans, one grand city of Louisiana that lay at the base of the Mississippi, which drained three-quarters of North America.

6.0 Mid Louisiana Area of Interest

La Prairie Basse falls within an area that can be named as the Mid Louisiana Area of Intrest. This area is a part of Acadiana, and lies between the Vermilion and Teche Bayous. It is a rectangle starting in Bunkie (being one of the last outposts of Cajun families) then east to Angola (the infamous prison farm on the Mississippi River), then South to Loreauville (the nearest municipality to Le Point de Repos); and then West to Kaplan (a town on the border between the marsh lands along the Gulf Coast and the Cajuns prairie); and then again North to Bunkie, our point of beginning.

6.1 Thematic Maps

The physical and cultural features of the area can be understood with a set of mapped themes (which I created) for each of the following features:

-1- Drainage Basins as mapped by the US Geological Survey’s hydrologic units
-2- Ecological Areas as mapped by the Louisiana State Dept of Ecological Quality
-3- Soil Types as mapped by the USDA and its Natural Resources Conservation Service
-4- Parishes and Municipalities as mapped by US Census Bureau’s 2010 Census
-5- Black Population as mapped by myself using national, state and local census data

6.2 Scaled Maps

Each theme is a lettered set of scaled maps showing the epicenter near Arnaudville:

-A- Full Scale: 1:100,000 – One Inch = 8,333 Feet = 1.58 Miles
-B- One-Third Scale: 1:30,000 – One Inch = 2,500 Feet = 0.47 Miles
-C- One-Sixth Scale: 1:18,000 – One Inch = 1,500 Feet = 0.28 Miles
-D- One-Twelfth Scale: 1:8,000 – One inch = 667 Feet = 0.13 Miles
-E- One-Twenty Eighth Scale: 1:3600 – One Inch = 300 Feet = 0.06 miles

6.3 A Great Diversity of Life Forms

The physical forces as shown on the drainage, ecological and soil type maps show that La Prairie Basse lies within or is in close proximity to a series of micro-environmental niches that support a great diversity of life forms. The full scale drainage map shows that the drainage area adjoining Bayou Teche is very narrow strip with the remainder of the area drained by the Bayou Vermilion. With these two streams being so close, either one can be used for transportation and hunting by early settlers and the Native Americans who were the first nations to inhabit this land. Each stream is connected by the Bayou Fusilier. Indeed, the connectivity between these two bayous is now managed by a drainage district that controls the flow of water down both streams by the Teche-Vermilion Water District. The full scale soil map closely mirrors the drainage map in that the soil types along Bayou Teche and Bayou Fusilier are the same. The history of La Prairie Basse is told most clearly by the full scale ecological area map. Here, the map reader sees the area adjoining Bayous Teche, Vermilion, and Fusilier are along an ancient path of the Mississippi River, the southern holocene meander belt. To the west of the land adjoining the west bank of the Bayou Vermilion is the Lafayette Loess Plains where one see the expansive Cajun Prairie. A singular uniting feature of these three maps is Atchafalaya Basin, one of the largest swamps in North America, which historically separated New Orleans from Acadiana.

6.4 Municipalities

Unlike New Orleans, the original 18th Century colonial capital, Acadiana municipalities were generally founded in the 19th Century to provide city services and as such they are typically higher in population density than unincorporated areas. As can bee seen on the maps, the distribution of cities is along the Teche and Vermilion in and around La Prairie Basse, which is an unincorporated area.

6.5 Black Populations

The current distribution of black populations in and around La Prairie Basse is shown on two series of maps: (1) the Mid Louisiana area of interest maps and (2) environmental justice maps of Lafayette Parish and its municipalities as well as Louisiana State and US lower 48 demographics.

6.6 Spatial Variation

The eleven environmental justice maps illustrate spatial variation. Black populations in the United States are found most frequently in the southern states, where slavery was practiced in the 19th Century. The state of Louisiana is one of those states; but within those states there is a great deal of variation in the number of Blacks within parishes (that is to say counties) as well as various levels of census geography (blocks, block groups, and tracts).

The national map shows the aggregation of black population at the country/parish level, showing that Louisiana State and Lafayette Parish are within the Black population belt stretching from Texas to Virginia as shown in the color blue.

The Louisiana State map shows parishes and then census tracts within those parishes. The northern part of Lafayette Parish has the largest concentration of Black population. Note that the population of Blacks in the state are concentrated along navigable streams, where plantation complexes were generally located. These rivers in the 19th Century provided transportation of sugar, cotton, and tobacco to markets as far distant as Europe and Asia.

Lafayette Parish census tracts are shown at a much larger scale in the Lafayette Parish tract map. Here we see that the concentration of Black populations are in the northern part of the parish. The urbanized area is shown by a series of black dots across the areas where the US Census Bureau measures increased population density and roadways.

7.0 Africans and Native Americans

Within this vibrant ecological system, the area had been originally settled by African men who had been enslaved and sent to La Praire Basse to hunt deer in these grasslands. The French slaveholder during the early 18th century in a way freed them because he returned to New Orleans. He only required that they send skins of deer for which they exchanged gunpowder and other manufactured goods. While the deer was being hunted to extinction, these Africans intermarried with Native Americans and French settlers. When the deer had been hunted to extinction, the Acadians arrived and adopted a Spanish pattern of being pastoralist who herded cattle in prairies which had provided a fecund locale to deer. Many pastoralists tend their herd on foot, but these settled adopted the Spanish tradition of herding cattle upon horses.

7.0 Land Grants: Spanish and American

Simon Joseph LeBlanc was to receive a land grant from the Spanish Crown in Le Point de Repos along the Bayou Teche and from the United States land office in New Orleans in La Prairie Basse. The Spanish created a special kind of land grant system, that is cadastral web of parcels along rivers. Land that was not along a river was left to future surveyors to divide once the main water transportation system was settled. This cadastral system is called by various names including the arpent system (a unit of measurement used to measure distance and area in Louisiana and Quebec) and French long lots, for the frontage of streams was at premium and divided among the settlers.

In contrast, the Americans created a checkerboard system of grids of townships and ranges without reference to the ecological feature upon which it was placed. Each square in this grid was 6 miles by six miles. Each of the 36 sections within this major grid was divided into sections, one mile square. In the parlance of the American cadastral system, these were regular sections whereas the arpent system used irregular sections. They were called irregular because they did not impose an order on the natural landscape, but rather designed land holding along the ecological features found unique in parcel of land. Thus, American culture imposes order while the French culture responded to uniqueness. This cultural conflict is imprinted upon and the land can be easily seen upon township and range maps which I drew.

A central meridian and baseline divided Louisiana west of the Mississippi into roughly four equal quarters. Ranges were reckoned east and west of the central meridian. Townships were numbered north and south of the baseline that runs from Louisiana across Mississippi and Alabama into the northern border of the state of Florida, marking off the land once owned by Spain.

8.0 The LeBlanc Clan: Simon, Fredric and Placide

Simon Joseph LeBlanc’s property in La Prairie Basse was in Township 8 South and Range 5 East in a long strip numbered Section 48 and laying along Bayou Bourbeux. His son Frederic was to inherit this strip and thence Federic’s son Placide came to live upon the parcel.

One of the reasons that Simon Joseph may be considered an apical ancestor is that he is the father of a large prolific clan, among whose members I claim descent. Simon Joseph practiced serial monogamy in that he married a younger wife after his first wife died. Altogether, Simon Joseph fathered had 12 (some say 17) sons and daughters who in turn created families.

Today in Louisiana, there are literally thousands of us descended from these two unions. My first name given at baptism into the Catholic faith is Michael, one of the most frequent of my generation. It is a faith that I claim from my ancestors who were first converted to that religion when Gaulle was ruled by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. My last name is LeBlanc, one of the most frequent French last names in the New World. I once counted 35 Michael LeBlancs in the metropolitan area of Lafayette, where I live. Some of us are white like myself, but I know of one or perhaps two who are black. And some must be brown, if they are descended from Placide.

8.1 Catherine Thibodeaux and Margurite Guilbeaux

I claim to be an ancestor of Côme LeBlanc, (1762-1811), the first born son of the Simon’s first wife, Catherine Thibodeaux (1736-1765). Placide (1795-1852) is descended from the afore mentioned Frederic LeBlanc (1771-1850), the first born son of the second wife, Marguerite Guilbeaux, (1743-1814) who bore all of her children in Louisiana after Catherine had died upon arrival in Louisiana. Again, we see a conflict with death and a transformation with new life taking place with an ensuing cultural continuity.

8.2 Catherine “Ton Ton” Pierre

Placide married Catherine “Ton Ton” Pierre (1801-1888), an Attakapas Indian. Her nick name, “Ton Ton” is pronounced in French similarly to the word tante, that is aunt, being the sister of brother or sister of an ascending generation. I believe that Ton Ton is an aunt to a grand number of descendants and indeed she is an apical ancestor in her own right.

Placide’s inherited land grant of 78 acres fronted upon Bayou Carencro, which is inter-connected a short distance of less than a mile to a bridge across Bayou Vermilion near is headwaters. That bridge is named TonTon’s Bridge. Adjoining that bridge is land owned by the descendants of Ton Ton who still reckon descent from her among, some of whom might be called white, other black and yet other Indian. They speak English now, but it is well understood that they spoke French among themselves before World War II. These and other related kinship groups practice ethnic endogamy so that the hues of their skins are passed onto their children.

8.3 Rachel Mouton

Rachel Mouton in her memoir Life as an Oxymoron writes (on page 63) about Ton Ton saying that she was a

“full blooded Atakapas-Ishak Native American (who was) baptized and given the Christian name, Catharine Pierre. She was a popular medicine woman, a healer who treated the sick with infusions and poultices from plants and herbs. TonTon gathered her herbs near he home along the Vermilion Bayou in Prairie Bass, LA. She was well known, for her work is mentioned in historical writing that feature Indian Healers. The bridge near her home is still there and is to this day called TonTon Bridge. My mother and her sisters and brothers all grew upon that land.”

9.0 Ethnicity and Ethnic Maintenance Systems

Mirroring the ecological and racial diversity of the area, we find four distinct ethnic groups in La Prairie Basse. This is not to say that these groups do not share a great deal in common, indeed they are intertwined, like the bayous which link the Atchafalaya, Teche and Vermilion. We have the mixed race descendants of Ton Ton and Placide and their extended kinspersons, whom we shall call Creole for the purposes of this essay. A second group is another endogamous group are found in La Prairie Basse, the descendants of the Acadians, now called Cajuns, who are racially generally said to be white. Many French, Canadian, Irish and German intermarried with this group. These inter-marriages typically produced children whose maternal language was French. A similar racial group, les Americains, that is the Americans as they are know locally, are the ones whose ancestors did not intermarry either with the Cajuns and Creoles and never spoke French as a maternal language. These are typically the owners of plantations. The fourth endogamous group are Afro-American, the slaves held by the other ethnic groups in the area. Most slaveholders were Americains and less so, Acadians and Cajuns; but I suspect that a slaveholder might be found with further research among the Creoles in this area; but perhaps not.

9.1 Religion

As we shall discuss further, Cajuns and Creoles were usually Catholic, while the religion of slaves depended on the religion of their masters being either Catholic or Protestant. Americains, being typically Scotch Irish, tended to be Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian. Other Americains, especially those with large landholdings, tended to be Episcopalians, that is descendants of true Englishmen and Englishwomen. All of these are generalities, within which a great deal of variation might occur because race and religion were fundamental ethnic boundaries and their maintenance, yet ethnicity is a fluid and dynamic system, both in the past and the present.

9.2 Langauge

Language has waned as a marker as most younger people from La Prairie Basse only speak English and the French, while waning, is hard to extinguish because many yet speak it.

Many of these descendants of the Cajuns and Creoles are speakers of Cajun French and yet others of both races are speakers of Creole French, which is more similar to the French of Haiti than the French of Louisiana. English speakers utilized a great many institutional pressures to destroy the French language because (as I believe) linguistic differences was utilized to repress francophones until the immergence of an American national identity and its ties to a global system of war and trade. Before World War I (1914-1918), there was little need to speak English if you were a agricultural worker and French speaker; but that war saw the transformation of the energy consumption away from coal and wood in steam engines to oil in internal combustion engines. The need for petroleum products during World War II (1939-1945) freed Louisiana from its dependence on agriculture. Louisiana had oil and gas in abundance, creating another way to participate not in just in local economy based on plantation and subsistence agriculture, but on an international market based on petroleum.

Louisiana French is still spoken today by myself and others, despite the effort to extinguish that language by English language political, legal, educational, and economic institutions. We are told that we do not speak “the real French”, but broken French and English, if we listen to monolingual English speakers who seek to force their hegemony upon us. But this is the big lie; for I have traveled to Quebec and New Brunswick as well as France where we can be understood ourselves.

Language as a primary ethnic marker still plays a significant role in ethnic identify in the in the present as evidenced by monthly gatherings at Nunu’s, a cultural and arts collective in nearby Arnaudville. The participants sit in a circle on old chairs in an old warehouse, telling old and new stories in Cajun French about such topics as how Halloween and trick or treat was first celebrated among the Cajuns who generally in times past only celebrated Old Soul Days on the following day with the cleaning of the graves of their ancestors.

9.3 Macaroni and Cane Syrup

A women of over 70 years will begin speaking about hard times and making popcorn balls not from popcorn, but from macaroni rolled in cane syrup, both as a treat for Halloween and a food to be eaten as regular meal. Like a black man who we shall encounter at the end of this essay, she will tell this story with rancor and with a smile on her face. She will break your heart for she is a survivor of conflicts implicit in the culture of Louisiana, a place she loves above any other.

9.4 Music and Cuisine

Other ethnic maintenance systems shared by both Cajuns and Creoles is that of music and cuisine. I have tasted a sauce picquant made of tomatoes and peppers and I might have told you if the cook was Cajun or Creole; but you as an outsider would be sent adrift in the complexity of the stew. Likewise, if I heard a radio station playing Louisiana music, I could tell you if the musicians were probably Cajun or Creole; but these are fine distinctions, much like the fine distinctions required to differentiate Cajun and Creole cooks. Both of these groups have various racial hues along a continuum with one set of Creole hues overlapping the skin color and hair texture of Cajuns. Sometimes, when I encounter person from these overlapping hues, I need to hear them speak before I can guess in which group they might self-identify. Thus, we encounter several dialectical cultural patterns in music, race, and language in La Prairie Basse. Their resolution is the continuance of cultural traditions, which are antithetical to the American traditions of monolingualism and differentiation of whites and blacks into two distinct categories.

Among these speakers, the sense of place is not less real than to the descendants of TonTon. People tell of a place called La Prairie Basse, by defining it only as land upon which they were raised and still live upon. Their Creole notions of the place do not overlap with Cajun notion where the prairie is located. And so again, we have a conflict in which each side settles among themselves their own cultural meanings.

10.0 Adjacent Angles, Prairies and Points

There is yet other places, known as Prairie Laurent, Prairie des Femme, and Point Clair. Each has its distinctive character based on the stories upon which its sense of place was created.

10.1 Prairie Laurant

Prairie Laurant is also known as Prairie des Mulates, that is literally, Prairie of Mulattoes. Mulatto is in French, is called a mulâtre for men and mulâtresse for women.[1] Perhaps one of the most well known residents of La Prairie Basse is Clifton Chenier, and his brother, Cleveland, both proud black men, who are among the founders of Zydeco music. Reflecting their racial heterogeneity, their music is a hybridization of Blues, Jazz, Cajun, Country and Western, and Rhythm and Blues, played with an accordion, that quintessential French instrument, and a washboard, a folk instrument used to create African rhythms.

10.2 Prairie des Femmes

To south of Prairie Laurent, a place is still called La Prairie des Femmes (or literally Prairie of Women). If you ask an inhabitant of that place (who are mostly Cajuns) what is the origin of that place name, you will be told that all of the men were killed while on a hunting expedition in time long forgotten or during a war, particularly World War I or World War II. However, the earliest maps of the area created by Spanish indicate that the place was called the same name so the meaning has been placed mouth to ear for some 300 years, its true meaning lost to the ghosts of another time.

To the east of La Prairie des Femmes is a place called Pointe Claire, a pasture used in the spring to herd cattle upon the grasslands. As late as the 1960’s, the cattle were driven by horseback from land laid fallow in the winter months to these nearby pastures for their spring grass. These lands were first discovered by that early band of Africans who hunted deer to extinction and were later to inter-marry with Acadians who herded cattle upon those lands.

10.3 McVeigh Plantation

To the south of La Prairie Basse lies the McVeigh plantation, a place of level lands upon a prairie cleared of its high grass and where slavery was practiced in the 19th Century and later where share cropping also enslaved Afro-American, Creoles and Cajuns in a labor system meant to drive their laborers and their families into penury and serfdom meant to tie them to land as well as to enrich their land owners. Today, McVeigh Road runs down the middle of this plantation and is bordered on both sides by cane fields.

McVeigh Road comes to an end at its intersection with Louisiana Highway 31, which parallels Bayou Teche. Alongside of highway is a narrow strip of land upon, which was too narrow to farm and which was the location of the sharecropper shacks used in the early 20th Century. While the descendants of Ton Ton were free persons of color and devote Catholics, the descendants of the slaves working on the McVeigh plantation were lively Protestants, practicing within the Baptist Convention.

10.4 First Bethlehem Baptist Church

At the intersection of McVeigh Road and Louisiana Highway 31 is a small Afro-American church named the First Bethlehem Baptist Church. The current minister of some 30 years will welcome a visitor on a Saturday evening as prepares his church for a 8:30 Sunday morning service. He will tell you of a declining membership because most of the black families have moved to urban areas, places infested with drugs. Their shacks are now gone, but their family members still occasionally return to bury their dead in the adjoining cemetery. He will tell you the difference between a massive B3 Hammond and its cousin C2 Hammond organs in relation to his tiny, old, mute Hammond, which was donated by a Catholic Church. He can show you a model of a dock with hand railings and a flat deck that can be lowered into the nearby bayou and to baptize members. He can tell you of a baptismal pool made of chest high cinder blocks, painted white on the outside and blue on the inside. He will break you heart when he tells you of the time that a branch was cut from an overhanging live oak, that had created comfort on hot summer Sundays; and how that branch fell and toppled the steeple and its bell. Sadly, the steeple was never replaced. He will continue in the same vane and tell you how the bell was stolen. He will also tell you that the air conditioners meant to replace the live oak’s coolness was stolen twice by thieves. He will tell you all of this without bitterness and rancor; for he is a cultural survivor telling tales of the resolution of opposites, leaving good men to seek refuge in this small church form the opposing forces of history and culture, in the wake of historical forces that destroy and out of its destruction, a new cultural patterns will emerge.

[1] Albert Valdman (Editor),‎ et al, Dictionary of Louisiana French: As Spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities (Oxford, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), page 409.