The German-Acadian Coast
Continued from Home Page
Now these areas were not solely settled by Germans and Acadians, in fact many of the "Germans" came from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France and some from Switzerland and Belgium. Louisiana also saw many non-Acadian French who came directly from France, the Caribbean Islands and from other parts of Canada, namely Québec. Others were Spanish, and there were many Africans, most brought as slaves from West Africa. But a good representation of Les Gens de Couleur Libres (Free People of Color) could also be found along the coasts, many who had migrated from the Caribbean, others born in Louisiana. And human nature being what it is, one can not rule out the fact that over the years all of these groups would eventually marry and form many large "families" of people all related, perhaps 10 generations back, somewhere along the line. Chances are if you're not someone's cousin, then one of your cousins or your spouse may be related to them. At this point it should be mentioned that because the Germans would soon be out numbered by their French speaking counterparts, that the Germanic languages spoken by these first settlers eventually died out to be replaced by French. Many of the surnames were Gallicized or completely translated into French. Because of this, well into the early 1900s, 85% of the residents were still speaking French, even if they had a good German surname.
These settlements were founded in the Lower Delta of the Mississippi, which over millions of years, has deposited much sediment to form most of current southeast Louisiana. Along the banks of the river, this sediment formed natural levees, an average elevation of about 10 feet above sea level. The land behind the levee would gradually slope from anywhere from ½ to 2 miles into the cypress swamps where the elevation was only a few inches above sea level. Each spring, the river would often overflow its banks and in most cases a crevasse would form, where the natural levee would break inundating the land with a fresh deposit of fertile sediment. Needless to say, this process has provided the Lower Delta with some of the richest, most fertile land in the world; however, this process would also cause many problems for settlers who in the 18th century attempted to permanently establish their homes here.
These settlers attempted to protect themselves from the crevasses and flooding of the river by improving the levees and building man-made levees (known elsewhere as dikes). In dividing the land for settlement, the colonial government officials employed the French long-lot system, whereby each landowner, was given a parcel with a narrow river frontage. The parcels would then extend parallel to each other and perpendicular from the river back towards the swamps. Each landowner was required to maintain the portion of the levee on their property, and they even owned the land between the river and the levee, known as the batture.
Today most property along the river is still configured in this pattern. The only exception is that today's land owners are not responsible for the maintenance of the levee. In 1929, the Army Corps of Engineers raised, reinforced, and improved the levees and built a system of floodgates known as spillways after the great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. The levees are now maintained by the government. Some residents like to cut the grass along their levee and batture.
Today, one will seldom hear the terms "German" or "Acadian Coasts" in conversation or used to describe the parishes of St. Charles, St. James or St. John the Baptist. They are unfortunately used to explain our area only in historical terms. Many of today's residents of these areas are unaware of the term originally applied to their parishes. Collectively today, the tri-parishes are popularly known as the "River Parishes" which implies the parishes along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The terms "eastbank" and "westbank" are quite popular to distinguish which side of the river one is located. And not a day goes by that someone doesn't say "across the river" or "l'autre bord du fleuve" to refer to the residents or the communities on the opposite bank from themselves.
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