Rosalie shifted her weight on the stiff barge seat next to her sister Nathalie as they floated up the bayou. The two grey-haired ladies were looking around each bend with anticipation as the boat made its way up Bayou Teche. The sun had set on this beautiful fall evening and the trees on either side of them appeared as dark silhouettes against the deep orange sky. The banks of the little river blended with the water into one dark mass ahead of them. The lantern at the front of the barge was able to light only what was directly ahead.
The two sisters’ excitement was almost more than they could contain. Here they were with their families making their way to a reunion that they never dreamed would occur. It had been almost 50 years since they had last seen their other two sisters.
They had been separated in the Grand Dérangement of 1755 when the French were expelled from Acadia in Canada by the British. Families were separated from each other as they were herded onto ships that would take them to places they did not choose to go.
Many of the banished Acadians eventually found themselves in Saint-Domingue which is present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic. Some made their way to France which one might think would be a welcome destination for the exiles, since Acadians were of French origin. But the French settled Acadia more than one hundred forty years before the Derangement. The only thing the Acadians had in common with the people of France was their language.
Still other exiled Acadians were taken to Louisiana to settle in the lowland marsh and fertile plain areas of the south central area. All would face hardships trying to recreate life in places so far away and so culturally different from where they had lived for generations.
For Rosalie and Nathalie the dream of ever seeing the rest of their family had been unimaginable. Would they even recognize their sisters after so many years had passed? The amazing series of events that occurred only months earlier set into motion this incredible reunion.
Rosalie’s family had recently arrived in New Orleans coming from Jamaica. They had moved to Jamaica to escape the French Revolution-inspired slave revolt in Saint-Domingue in the 1790′s. After several years there they had to leave their home again and were able to get passage on a ship to New Orleans. Once in New Orleans, Rosalie’s son began preparations to become a schoolmaster. During that time he by chance met Mr. Alexandre Frere who was himself a schoolmaster.
Mr. Frere was a private tutor for the household of the Pellerin family in Charenton, Louisiana, which is located on Bayou Teche in St. Mary Parish west of New Orleans. Gregoire Pellerin and his wife Cecile Prejean Pellerin were themselves exiled from Acadia in 1755. Mrs. Pellerin’s sister Marguerite Prejean Duhon, also resided at the Pellerin plantation.
As Rosalie’s son related his experiences and family stories to the older schoolmaster, Mr. Frere began to realize that the young man’s mother and aunt were in fact the sisters of his employer’s wife, Cecile Pellerin and her sister Maguerite Duhon! Mr. Frere was immediately compelled to arrange for all of them to be reunited as soon as possible.
But nothing could have prepared the sisters for the dramatic spectacle that lay ahead. As Rosalie and Nathalie rounded a bend on Bayou Teche they could see up ahead bonfires lining each bank. The glow of the fires lit up the sky! And people — throngs of people — were lining the bayou displaying as much excitement as the sisters possessed themselves!
As the barge drew near the dock, Mr. Pellerin was there to greet them and take them up to the plantation home where the reunion of the sisters would take place. Mr. Frere and Mr. Pellerin helped Rosalie and Nathalie and their families into caleches – small, hooded, two-wheeled carriages — and off they went.
Once at the home, as the sisters finally saw one another, they fell into each others arms shedding tears of joy and exclaiming cries of elation. Nearly everyone from the lower Teche region witnessed the touching reunion of the four sisters who had endured incredible suffering and injustices over their long lives, but now were able to behold each other once again.
Among those in the joyful assembly were members of the local Chitimacha tribe and their chief. It was they who built the large bonfires that lit the skies on that very special night. (To find out more about the Chitimachas go to http://www.chitimacha.gov/tribal_about_history.htm )
One of the sisters, Rosalie Prejean Pecot, is my fifth great-grandmother. Several years after her death in 1813, her daughter Marie Louise Pecot married Alexandre Frere — the man responsible for bringing the four sisters together. They are my fourth great-grandparents. It is their son, Adrien Frere, my great, great, great-grandfather who was later killed in the Last Island Hurricane of 1856. (See “Of Plantations and Hurricanes” on this blog.)
(For more information about the Acadians’ heritage and culture visit http://www.acadianmemorial.org/. The two paintings by Ms. De Boisblanc are found in the book String of Pearls and are used by permission from the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA.)