Thursday, December 19, 2013

The New Acadia Expedition

Historical Archaeology and the New Acadia Expedition of Discovery:

A Cultural Manifesto

Dolores del Río as Evangeline.

 In 1929 Evangeline Bellefontaine, a.k.a. Emmeline Labiche, arrived in St. Martinville, Louisiana, in fulfillment of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic saga and as portrayed by Mexican actress Dolores del Río. Although del Río lost standing years later as an accused communist and was killed while portraying Kiowa Indian Neddy Burton in Flaming Star with Elvis Presley, her beauty and celebrity inspired decades of Evangelinization.

Del Río's monument to Evangeline in St. Martinville.

Forty-two years later, the State of Louisiana officially recognized 22 parishes as the Heart of Acadiana, cementing the popularity of the Ragin’ Cajuns over the Bulldogs at Université des Acadiens. While Evangeline became renowned for sliced bread and horse races, the statue of del Río cast in her image continues to draw the sympathy and curiosity of tourists who also frequent one of her several Oak trees and a State Historic Site she shares with the poet.

One of Evangeline's Oaks.

Dolores del Río passed away in Newport Beach, California in April of 1983. Only six months later, discovery of the first Acadian settlements was recognized as a major research goal in the State of Louisiana’s Comprehensive Archaeological Plan. Over the past 30 years, however, support for both Evangeline and archaeology in Louisiana have declined. State funding for archaeology has been drastically reduced, leading to the termination of university and regional archaeology programs, further stagnation of research, and expulsion of archaeologists from Louisiana.

While the Evangeline monument has remained an empty tomb, annual re-enactments of her disembarking have increased interest in canoeing and keeping the Bayou Teche clean. Meanwhile, the original, lost settlements and unmarked graves of Acadian émigrés may be inadvertently destroyed by development. 

The expedition of discovery to find the original settlements of New Acadia is scheduled to begin in the Summer of 2014. History is destined to be re-written. Historical archaeology examines material traces of the past and offers unique and contrasting sources of information in critique of historical narratives, identity creation, founding myths, and the reproduction of cultural traditions.

“The Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana.” Detail of the color mural by Robert Dafford, at the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville.

In 1765 the freedom-fighter Joseph “Beausoleil” Broussard led a group of Acadian families to the Attakapas District in present-day Iberia and St. Martin parishes. The émigrés from Acadie were part of the Grand Dérangement or forced expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia that would inspire Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie.  

Land Patents of the 1770s at Fausse Pointe on the Teche Ridge.

Many of the Acadian exiles died soon after their arrival, including Beausoleil and his brother, Alexandre. The founders of New Acadia were buried at the places they settled, on the Teche Ridge in the vicinity of present-day Loreauville. Two and a half centuries later, in the Heart of Acadiana, their gravesites and homesteads remain unmarked and unknown. 

A view of the Bayou Teche south of Loreauville.

 The New Acadia Project combines public archaeology, public history and applied anthropology in a multi-disciplinary, collaborative investigation of eighteenth-century Acadian settlement of Louisiana. No previous study has located or attempted to discover the places where the founders of New Acadia actually settled.

The long-term goals of the New Acadia Project are:

(1) To promote development of the cultural economy by engaging communities in cultural resource management planning and heritage conservation.

(2) To advance existing knowledge of the history of Acadian settlement by locating and examining the original homesteads and associated unmarked burials.

(3) To delineate and understand the settlement patterns and households of New Acadia.

(4) To examine the variable relationships between history, identity, and landscape. 

A sugarcane field on the Teche Ridge in Iberia Parish.

Support is currently being sought to accomplish the above goals through archival research, interviews, community engagement, archaeological survey, and geophysical remote sensing. Preliminary research has already identified two historic family cemeteries and the location of a third nearby area with a potential for human burials. One of these sites may contain the unmarked graves of the brothers Beausoleil or other Acadian émigrés of 1765.

Anyone interested in supporting or assisting the New Acadia Project may contact the NAP Steering Committee at:

P. O. Box 53597, Lafayette, LA 70505

(337) 233-5832

The New Acadia Project is also online at: