This post is a Vignette on my Breaux Family Genealogy tracing my ancestors’ trek from Acadia (Nova Scotia) resulting from the Acadian Expulsion of 1755 by the British, their being dumped into Maryland, their eventual sojourn to Louisiana, their fate under Spanish rule, their role in the Acadian Militia and the American Revolution and their ultimate assimilation into the American mainstream.
Thanks to Stanley LeBlanc for his posting of an article titled “Louisiana’s First
Acadian Religious.” But for that posting, this thread of Acadian history might have
remained obscured in the archives of the Attakapas Gazette. On reading the article, I was struck immediately by the connection it made to my Breaux family genealogy–a connection I describe in this article.
Geraghty begins by describing Longfellow’s casting of Evangeline as a Sister of Mercy,
“nursing the sick and wounded, comforting the bereaved, and engaged in other
humanitarian works during the twilight of her long and frustrating search for Gabriel.”
This contemplation over the mythical Evangeline led to his query to the Ursuline Nuns of New Orleans as to the history of any Acadian girls who might have become nuns during Louisiana’s colonial period. As Geraghty notes the Ursuline Convents response was negative with an indication that whatever records might have existed were lost in
catastrophic floods and fires. Geraghty notes that several months after this initial
response he received a follow-up letter from Sister Jane Frances Heaney, O.S.U.,
Archivist. In the interim, Sister Heaney had found a large French manuscript volume that provided information on four Acadian girls that had entered the Ursuline Convent seeking a religious vocation. The manuscript lists the four as Rose LeBlanc, Marguerite Bourg, and the two sisters Anne Gertrude Braud and Elizabeth Bro(sic). Rose and Anne
Gertrude were the only two to successfully receive the religious habit, Rose being first,
serving the Ursulines from 1766 to her death at the age of 38 in 1773. Anne Gertrude
received the name of Sister Marie Joseph and received the religious habit in April 1770.
The French manuscript described Sister Marie Joseph, “She had great charity seeking to
be of service to everyone. She died at the age of 72, having past 47 in religion.”
In her correspondence to Geraghty, sister Heaney writes:
“On page 21 there is a very short entry: August 6, 1768, Elizabeth Bro[sic], sister of
Gertrude, asked to be received at the novitiate and was accepted. Her health became always worse and she died [on] May12, 1771 after having received the last sacraments. She has been buried in our cemetery.”
Sister Heaney then added this comment:
“Note: I found the case of this Sister very puzzling. In every other case where a novice was found not to have the health necessary to function as an Ursuline, she was returned to her family. I wonder what was so exceptional about this sister that they kept her at the novitiate for nearly three years even though her health was becoming steadily worse.”
In reading the article, I realized immediately that the two Breaux sisters were my great
aunts, five generations removed. I had traced the travails of my Breaux forebears from le Grande Derangement of 1755, the deportation from Pisiguid, Acadia (Nova Scotia), on
October 28, 1755, packed like sardines in the hold of the ship Dolphin, the treacherous
seas forcing a stopover in Boston on November 5, with final debarkation on November
30 at Annapolis Maryland, and the 14-year exile in Port Tobacco, MD, before eventual
destination to Louisiana. In knowing through genealogical research the momentous
events affecting the family’s circumstances in Louisiana it dawned on me that there was a logical historical explanation as to why Elizabeth was allowed to remain with the Ursulinesan explanation I put forth in this article.
In Genealogie Breau, Clarence Breaux of Metarie, Louisiana and Robert Brault of Quebec, Canada describes how the Breaux’s, Braud’s, Breau, Bro, Brow of North America are all one family line–descendants of Vincent Breaux and Marie Bourg. This monumental work won the first prize in the 2001 Best Family Monography of the Canadian Societe Genealogique Canadienne-Francais. The British deportation of Acadians in Pisiquid in October 1755 swept up portions of three generations of descendants of Vincent Breaux. In the Maryland census of 1763, listed by Gregory Wood, Acadians in Maryland, Charles and Claire Trahan Breaux are listed in Port Tobacco along with their children Marie, Margarite, Elizabeth, Anne, Madeline, Pierre, and a young orphan named Anne.
From Genealogie Breau, we find that Charles’ and Claire’s married children, also in Port Tobacco, include Antoine, Jean Charles, Joseph Charles, and Janvier. In one of the few historical items of the Acadians presence in Port Tobacco, Wood lists notes from the Daybook Memoranda of the Reverend George Hunter who served St. Thomas Manor, a Jesuit plantation. The notes include a reference to investments in education and payments to Acadians including “10 October 1765 French Seamstresses (sic) account to Clare Braux an order to Mr. Mundell for (unclear) crop f1:4:0.” From this association with the Jesuits, one can conclude that the Breaux’s (while in Port Tobacco) reinforced their original Acadian Catholic faith exemplified by Charles’ and Claire’s two daughters Elizabeth and Anne later entering the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans.
Charles Brault was my fifth great grandfather, 12B in the Henry numbering system used
by the authors in Genealogie Breau. The two sisters Elizabeth and Anne Gertrude in
the Ursuline convent are my great aunts—five generations removed. Charles had died in Port Tobacco before the Breauxs took the voyage from Maryland to New Orleans aboard the ship Ginea. His widow, my fifth great grandmother, Claire Trahan Brault, was one of the Braults who were shipped to Natchez as was Jean Charles, my fourth great grandfather and his brother Joseph.
The Breauxs traveling from Maryland to New Orleans aboard the ship Ginea were prevented from settling in St. James where earlier Breauxs and other Acadians had settled several years earlier. As Brasseaux, author of the book Founding of New Acadia describes, the Spanish Governor Ulloa wanted these new settlers to form an outer defense perimeter against hostile British and Indian forces. The Breauxs were more than reluctant to settle in the Natchez territory, it would break up the close family ties which they hoped to reestablish in St James. Furthermore, the Natchez Post (current day Vidalia, Louisiana), was isolated and remote (250 miles upriver) from the other Acadian communities having recently been established on the lower Mississipi.
The water was bad and the lands infertile and there was the problem of the English and
their Indian allies. Lillian Bourgeois, in her book “Cabanocey-The History, Customs and
Folklore of St. James Parish” indicates that the founder of St. James, Jacque Cantrelle,
40 years earlier, was one of the few survivors of an Indian massacre of settlers in the
Natchez Colony. Jacque Cantrelle lived until his late seventy’s dying in October of 1777
and was thus a pillar of Saint James at the time the Breaux’s were being forbidden to
settle at St. James in 1768. As the Breaux clan stopped at St. James as they headed
upriver, the earlier Indian massacres surely became part of the general conversation and undoubtedly furthered their concerns and discontent.
Claire died in Natchez in June 1768, about four months after the February 1768 arrival
in Louisiana. According to Breau Genealogie, “the widow Claire and children Isabel
(Elizabeth) 25, Anne 23, Magdelaine 21, and Pierre 17 were sent up to the Natchez
Jean Charles, 12B2, was the second son of Charles and Claire and brother of Joseph,
12B3, and the Breaux sisters to later enter the Ursuline convent, Elizabeth, 12B7, and
Anne Gertrude,12B8, and first cousin of Honore and Alexis whose role in this saga is
described below. We know that by 1777, nine years after arrival in Louisiana most of the
Breauxs are in Manchac, St. Gabriel or St. James, the result of protests and unrelenting
entreaties by the Breaux brothers Honore 1252 and Alexis 1253, and first cousin Joseph,
12B3. Brasseaux, in two of his books, Founding of New Acadia and The New
Orleans Rebellion of 1768 recounts how the St. James Acadian community was so
riled by Governor Ulloa’s actions sending the Maryland arrivals to Natchez that 200
Acadians and German Coast residents became participants with French Creole militia
forces in a bloodless coup overthrowing the Spanish governor who boarded a ship and
returned to Spain. The Breaux’s protests and entreaties against settlement in Natchez are memorialized in a deposition given by Honore Breaux to the Louisiana Superior Council in November of 1768.
In July of 1769, under orders from the Spanish Crown, General Alejandro O’Reilly
organized a task force of two thousand men and 24 ships to sail to Louisiana to restore
Spanish authority and punish the ringleaders. In late August, six of the ring leaders were found guilty of treason and executed the next day by firing squad.
Honore died in 1768-1769, shortly after the events he described in his deposition. His
cousin Joseph (son of Charles and Claire) took over leadership of the Breaux clan (and
continued the entreaties and petitions for more favorable settlement lower on the
Mississippi.). When Honore complained in his November 1768 deposition that members
of the Breaux clan were dying in Natchez, it is apparent that his Aunt Claire (mother of
Anne Gertrude and Elizabeth), is one of those he referred to. Brasseaux, in Founding
of New Acadia pages 78-89, quotes Governor Ulloa as describing the Acadians’ propensity for working “until they died of exhaustion.” Given the distances involved
between the various settlements and New Orleans, primitive traveling conditions and the many movements and travels of Honore, Alexis, and Joseph during the protests, petitions, and periods of hiding as fugitives, it perhaps is no wonder that Honore himself was dead within a year of arrival in Louisiana.
Elizabeth and Anne Gertrude’s parents were now both dead, brother Joseph was being
threatened with deportation, first cousin Honore (head of the extended family) had died, and cousin Alexis was a wanted fugitive for refusing to settle in Natchez. The subsequent Acadian role in the overthrow of Spanish governor Ulloa has been traced by historians as largely due to the St. James Acadians becoming incensed over Governor Ulloa’s decision to settle the 59 or so Breaux clan members (and other Acadians) in Natchez and his refusal to reconsider after their petitioning. In the aftermath of the quelled rebellion, it was undoubtedly tenuous as to who might be swept up with treason and other charges.
Three Breauxs were viewed as agitators including Anne and Elizabeth’s brother
Joseph. Given these family circumstances, it seems logical that this is why the gravely ill
Elizabeth, by then in the Ursuline Convent, was allowed to stay with the Ursulines-counter to normal procedure. Both of her parents were now dead–the remaining family was in turmoil, having been shipped 250 miles upriver and was again facing another
resettlement. Given the communications of the day, the 250-mile distance and the
turmoil surrounding her surviving family, Sister Elizabeth simply had nowhere to go. As
noted in Sister Heaney’s correspondence with Geraghty, the gravely ill Elizabeth was
allowed to remain with the Ursulines until her death in May of 1771.
Three generations later, Joseph’s great-grandson and namesake Joseph Arsenne Breaux
became one of the most prominent citizens of Louisiana, (a true renaissance man).
Early in life, he volunteered and performed humanitarian assistance during a small pox
epidemic, acquiring the disease from which he almost died. He was greatly involved in
public education and is credited with codifying the states laws on education and was
named State Superintendent of Schools. He was a very successful businessman and
attorney who capped his career by serving as Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme
Court. He was a philanthropist and benefactor of Charity Hospital (the Tuberculosis ward was named after him) and two great universities, Tulane and Loyola. To this day
endowed scholarships at Tulane and Loyola are given as “Breaux Scholarships.” He was
a leader of the “Accomodationists”– those seeking through compromise to avoid the
coming Civil War in opposition to the “secessionists.” He was a staunch opponent of the
corrupt Louisiana Lottery. He has left us with the “Breaux Manuscript,” a document
describing the Louisiana Acadians of his era.