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Eyes of an Eagle

Jean-Pierre Cenac, Patriarch: An Illustrated History of Early Houma-Terrebonne

Christopher Everette Cenac

Publication Year: 2011

In the year 1860, Jean-Pierre Cenac sailed from the sophisticated French city of Bordeaux to begin his new life in the city with the second busiest port of debarkation in the U.S. Two years before, he had descended the Pyrenees to Bordeaux from his home village of Barbazan-Debat, a terrain in direct contrast to the flatlands of Louisiana. He arrived in 1860, just when the U.S. Civil War began with the secession of the Southern states, and in New Orleans, just where there would be placed a prime military target as the war developed.

Neither Creole nor Acadian, Pierre took his chances in the rural parish of Terrebonne on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Pierre's resolute nature, unflagging work ethic, steadfast determination, and farsighted vision earned him a place of respect he could never have imagined when he left his native country. How he forged his place in this new landscape echoes the life journeys of countless immigrants--yet remains uniquely his own. His story and his family's story exemplify the experiences of many nineteenth century immigrants to Louisiana and the experiences of their twentieth century descendants.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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pp. 2-7

Acknowledgements, Dedication, Jean-Pierre Cenac

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pp. 7-12

Contents, Foreword, Preface

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pp. 13-18

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pp. 19-22

Every summer during part of my childhood in the fifties, Uncle Bill Cenac took me out trawling on his lugger, the Flossie. Those vacation days began when I was nine or ten, and they are among my life’s fondest memories. Those times also helped to form within me a profound sense of family. ...

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1. 1858: Barbazan Debat

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pp. 23-28

“Where are you in that head of yours, Pierre? You sit at this table, drinking coffee with us. But your eyes always go to the window. And you haven’t heard a word of what I’ve said for the last five minutes.” ...

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2. Descending the Mountains

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pp. 29-38

Jean-Pierre Cenac left his ancestral French village of Barbazan-Debat in the pays Basque (Basque country) of the High Pyrenees sometime before February 1860, and made his way to the port city of Bordeaux. In this southwestern French metropolis wrapped around a crescent section of the Garonne River, he had his first taste of life in a large city. ...

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3. November 1860: Determination

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pp. 39-42

Clinging to his carpetbag satchel, Pierre hunkered down in a corner of the deck where he could brace himself against the jostling caused by high seas, wind, and rain. Only a few weeks out, and he had already learned that anyplace was better than the passenger hold below deck during a storm. ...

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4. The Crossing

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pp. 43-58

When Pierre left Bordeaux aboard the ship Texas on October 30, 1860, his passport’s physical description gave a picture of the 22-year-old man as “one meter 68 centimeters” tall (5 feet 6.14 inches), with brown hair and eyebrows, round forehead, auburn eyes, large nose, medium mouth, nascent beard, round chin, oval face, and dark complexion. ...

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5. March 21, 1861: The Decision

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pp. 59-64

Dim gaslight lanterns on the narrow street helped Pierre to pick his steps over the curbside’s reeking open gutter. He was headed toward the sound of commotion he estimated to be a few streets over. From that direction a brass band’s loud oompahs mingled with loud voices and hurrahs. ...

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6. The Call of the Good Earth

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pp. 65-76

When Louisiana seceded from the Union on January 26, 1861, the state became for two months an independent nation with its own flag, army, and government. Louisiana joined the Confederacy on March 21, almost exactly three months after Pierre Cenac stepped off the ship in New Orleans. ...

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7. 1862: First Encounter

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pp. 77-80

Jacques Benoit and several other young men stood in a conversational huddle on the wooden banquette outside, on the corner of Main and Barrow. Jacques caught sight of Pierre using his wooden paddle to remove golden mounds of bread from the open-air oven behind Jean-Marie Dupont’s bakery shop. ...

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8. A Lush Paradise

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pp. 81-92

Pierre Cenac’s Terrebonne Parish consisted of a lush combination of vast cultivated lands, thick stands of timber, and undeveloped wilderness. Louisiana’s bayou country was not an “Eden…as Longfellow and his successors have claimed, but a dense and forbidding semi-tropical jungle.”1 ...

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9. February 14, 1862: The Baker’s Plans

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pp. 93-96

St. Valentine’s Day is much more important here than in the Old Country, Pierre decided as he put the finishing touches on special pastries he and Jean-Marie had made for the day’s customers. Many of les Americains placed their orders as long as a week ago. Even in the middle of a war, some of them still have enough to spend on a few treats for their sweethearts and children. ...

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10. Tangled Roots

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pp. 97-110

When Pierre Cenac and other immigrants arrived in southeast Louisiana in the early 1860s, they found the dominant economic group in the rural landscape of southeast Louisiana to be Anglo-Americans. This was not because of their numbers, but by virtue of their being by far the largest landowners in the mid-nineteenth century. ...

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11. Early May, 1862: Witness to War

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pp. 111-114

“Union soldiers.” Pierre said it in a low voice to Jacques Benoit, whose neck was craning out the boarding house window next to Pierre’s. Both their nightshirts billowed in the early May breeze. They stayed in place at their windows, stretching their necks around the sweet olive trees just outside, and above a low house across the street. ...

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12. The War Comes to Town

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pp. 115-121

As national political strife became more heated in the late 1850s and early 1860s, Louisianans in all geographical regions became alert to the potential need for military readiness on their home ground. Terrebonne Parish residents were no exception to this heightened level of watchfulness. ...

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13. August 9, 1865: The Future Smiles

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pp. 122-124

Father Jean-Marie Joseph Denece turned toward the little church’s tabernacle and genuflected, his long vestments skimming the altar’s raw wood floors. He began to intone the Latin marriage rites that Pierre had heard so often at his brothers’ and cousins’ weddings in the old stone church of Barbazan-Debat. ...

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14. From Artisan to Entrepreneur

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pp. 125-143

Jean Baptiste Cenac was born on August 30, 1865, at the Cenac home in Dulac, or possibly at the home of Pierre’s father-in-law. It was common practice at the time for young couples to move in with one set of parents before becoming established themselves. The Charles Fanguy house may have been a temporary residence for the newlyweds. ...

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15. 1883: The Cradle Falls

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pp. 144-146

Steady, solemn murmurs filled Pierre and Victorine’s living room in Dulac. Black muslin covered the walls from the chair rail to the baseboards, fastened there by the older girls in solemn preparation for tonight’s wake. All the chairs the boys could fit in had been arranged along the walls. ...

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16. Progress and Heartbreak

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pp. 147-159

From the time they were married until the early 1880s, Pierre and Victorine with their ever-growing brood lived a boom time of family well-being and business growth. Of their 11 children born by the beginning of that decade, their daughter Josephine was the youngest, born in 1880. ...

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17. December 24, 1898: La Tristesse

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pp. 160-162

Christmas Eve, and all Pierre could do was to sit by the fire and stare at the silent flames consuming logs until they split and folded over on themselves. It would be easy to do that myself, but I have to be stronger. ...

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18. A Place of Substance

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pp. 163-186

In the years coinciding with the oldest of the Cenac children marrying and leaving home, Pierre became more community-minded and politically involved. One newspaper of the time records that Pierre and Victorine’s house in Dulac was the polling place for the Third Precinct of Terrebonne Parish’s Fourth Ward. ...

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19. May 30, 1899: Expanding Visions

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pp. 187-190

Fannie Gatewood Cenac stood on the kitchen steps of her inlaws’ Dulac house. Her oldest daughter was pouting. “Maman, Adenise keeps telling me that I have to call her Tante Adenise. I’m 10 and she’s just eight. Why should I call her that?” Fannie giggled at the long-standing argument. ...

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20. Houma’s Golden Age

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pp. 191-200

As the turn of the twentieth century approached, Pierre had already made plans for a momentous change in his and Victorine’s day-to-day lives. In a number of purchases from January through the end of the year 1899, Pierre had amassed property opposite the town of Houma on the north side of Bayou Terrebonne. ...

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21. September 1913: Looking Back

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pp. 201-204

“Of course I’m not comfortable. I feel terrible. How can I feel comfortable?” Pierre snapped at Jean Charles. The younger man turned to look out of the train window and gripped the seat divider a little more firmly. He took a deep breath. ...

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22. The Oyster Is King

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pp. 205-232

Oyster harvesting, packing, and shipping in Terrebonne Parish had its early origins in oystermen’s working the natural reefs in coastal waters. The industry in later years accounted for a full 50 percent employment of the population in Houma. ...

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23. April 5, 1914: Here to Stay

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pp. 233-240

Pierre pulled aside the curtains and looked out a front window of his house, across Park Street toward Bayou Terrebonne. It was lined with sailboats, gasoline-powered oyster luggers, and towboats, in some places docked two deep. ...

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24. Passing the Torch

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pp. 241-246

Pierre probably looked on with pride as his sons established themselves as industry leaders. But as the boys had been building and acquiring in the early years of the 1900s, their father had been divesting himself of some of his former properties and businesses. ...

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pp. 247-260

Victorine continued to live in the family home on Park Avenue with her youngest daughter Adenise. Adenise married in 1921, and for a time she and her husband and first child Marion lived with her. Her oldest daughter, Marie, lived nearby on Carlos Street. ...

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pp. 261-262

A longtime interest in the history of his family and south Louisiana in general prompted initial research by Christopher E. Cenac, Sr. for this book. His primary influence in honoring family ties came from his father Philip Louis Cenac, who had great respect and affection for his relatives. ...

Appendix I: Terrebonne Sugar Estates c. 1900

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pp. 262-265

Appendix II: Terrebonne Parish Canals

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pp. 266-271

Appendix III: Genealogy

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pp. 272-287

Appendix IV: About the Authors

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pp. 288-289

Appendix V: Glossary of French Words and Terms

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pp. 290-293

More to Come

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pp. 294-295


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pp. 296-300


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pp. 301-303

Back Cover

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p. 305-305

E-ISBN-13: 9781617033360
E-ISBN-10: 061547702X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780615477022

Page Count: 305
Illustrations: 1000 b&w and color illustrations (approx.)
Publication Year: 2011