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Southeastern Geographer Vol. 26, No- 2, November 1986, pp. 90-113 MAPPING THE LOUISIANA FRENCH Lawrence E. Estaville, Jr. French settlement of Louisiana during the three centuries since La Salle's expedition down the Mississippi River has been the focus of more than a few researchers. As the Louisiana French region changed over the years, so too have the interpretations of its areal extent. The purpose of this cartographic review is to take stock of the collage of geographical delimitations that have been mapped for the Louisiana French. (J) But beyond revealing interpretive contradictions and work that remains to be undertaken, this study proposes, contrary to the conventional view, that the Louisiana French have not been geographically isolated since the early nineteenth century. (2) To substantiate this proposition, four specific questions are addressed: 1) What ethnic groups came into contact with the Louisiana French; 2) which ethnic group became culturally predominant in South Louisiana; 3) what spatial movements took place because of these contacts; and 4) what are the consequent geographical patterns? Maps of the Louisiana French can be temporally grouped into three classes: 1) those depicting eighteenth-century French distributions; 2) a larger category encompassing pre-twentieth century French boundaries ; and 3) an array of twentieth-century Gallic delineations. Most of these delimitations, in diverse ways, separate French South Louisiana from the Anglo-Saxon North, but a few flow outside the state to enclose parts of Texas and Mississippi. MAPS OF THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY DISTRIBUTION. Of the four maps of eighteenth-century Louisiana French areas, two are rough generalizations (Fig. 1). Without indicating his sources, Newton outlined the initial French occupance from 1699, the year Iberville founded Fort Maurepas at Biloxi, to 1763, the date Spain assumed control of Louisiana under the provisions of the Treaty of Fontainebleau. (3) Detro, drawing from a variety of descriptive historical accounts, estimated Louisiana settlement by French, Germans, Spanish, and AngloDr . Estaville was Assistant Professor of Geography at Clemson University in Clemson, SC when this article was accepted. Vol. XXVI, No. 2 91 FRENCH SETTLEMENT 1699-1800 Fig. 1. Early Gallic settlement reflected its linear orientation along the Mississippi , Red, and Ouachita rivers and Bayou Teche. Americans in 1800, although by the turn of the nineteenth century the French had assimilated the small groups of Germans and Spanish. (4) The remaining two delimitations etched more precisely a French cultural surrogate, the arpent survey system (Fig. 2). An arpent is about 192 feet. Eighteenth-century grants were elongated parcels of land with narrow levee frontages, commonly eight arpents, that were surveyed on the backslopes of rivers and bayous to a standardized depth of forty arpents. Because of the French law of coparency which required equal inheritance rights, these holdings tended through time to become fragmented into mere slivers of land. Taylor mapped as part of his research concerning agricultural settlement on the prairies of southwest Louisiana what he thought was the extent of the French forty-arpent survey system during the eighteenth century. (5) Hall, rationalizing the cultural importance and persistence of distinctive cadastral patterns, cartographically redefined the areas of the French arpent and American long lot survey systems in Louisiana. (6) The American long lot system, ac- 92 Southeastern Geographer FRENCH ARPENT SURVEYS 1699-1803 Fig. 2. The eighteenth-century French arpent survey system stamped a lasting cultural imprint upon the Louisiana landscape. cording to Hall, was simply a modification in English measurement of the earlier French arpent surveying method. Each of these attempts to demarcate eighteenth-century Louisiana French settlement underscores an inherent riparian linearity, though not always continuous, primarily along the lower Mississippi and Red River transportation arteries; on the banks of Bayou Lafourche, a Mississippi distributary, and Bayou Teche, a sluggish stream west of the Atchafalaya Swamp and the heart of the present Cajun subculture; and to a lesser degree along the upper Ouachita River in the environs around Fort Miro, today Monroe. NINETEENTH-CENTURY CARTOGRAPHIC LINKS. Only two investigators have provided cartographic links between the initial French implantations and contemporary patterns. Detro examined the toponymie evolution of a variety of physical features in Louisiana throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. (7) Focusing on Vol. XXVI, No. 2 93 such...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-6929
Print ISSN
0038-366X
Pages
pp. 90-113
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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