LOREAUVILLE — When the British expelled them from Nova Scotia, the first Acadian settlers made their new home somewhere in present-day Iberia Parish, near the village of Loreauville. The specific location of the 1765 campsite, however, is unknown.
More specifics about those first Acadians are what researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette hope to uncover with the New Acadia Project, which started in 2013.
The project’s latest public meeting took place Saturday afternoon in the Loreauville High School gymnasium, where researchers, headed by Mark Rees, of the UL-Lafayette archaeology department, explained the project’s goals and fielded questions.
Alan Broussard, head of the New Acadia Project steering committee, said while the records that are available are limited, each one is helpful in their search.
Rees, a descendent of Beausoleil Broussard, the leader of the first Acadian settlers, said based on church documents from the time period, researchers know there were named settlements in multiple locations where 35 of the first settlers were buried in the first year after their arrival.
“We know one thing’s for certain, and that is, we don’t know where New Acadia is,” Rees said.
But the team has marked off a large area south of Lake Fausse Pointe as potential sites of burials of the original settlers or encampments, and most of the research being done has led Rees to remain optimistic they will find the spot.
As Loreauville Mayor Brad Clifton put it, “We know they were here” and it’s just a matter of finding out where.
Rees said much of the research is archaeological digs, which have led them to eliminate certain sites as the campsites or burial sites, narrowing the search area.
All of the research being conducted by the team is occurring on private land, so Rees used the public meeting to hear input from the community and the landowners about how they felt the project was going.
The feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive.
Russ Erikson, of Loreauville, whose land was used as a dig site by the archeologists said the team’s members have conducted themselves with great professionalism and he was excited to have them tracing the origins of the Acadians.
“They were quite likely our ancestors,” Erikson said.
Rees called on the crowd to spread word of the project and come forward with any information they may have.
A possible oral history, spread down through generations could be of use as well as any information the locals found through genealogical research could be of use to the team, Rees said.
“Digging in the archives is just as important as digging in the ground,” he said.
The team has four sites it hopes to examine through the coming winter and they are hoping to find a good lead during that time. Funding for the project extends through May 2016, but Rees is trying to obtain grants to extend the project past that date.
The project has both local government and private sponsors. As with most research, Rees said, finding money and sponsors is always a challenge. He said the team could have made much more progress if it had greater financial resources.
Clifton said it is an exciting time right now for Loreauville. In addition to the research, there is already a proposal for an Acadian Odyssey Monument Park for the village.
The most important thing for Clifton isn’t for his community to hold the bragging rights as the original Acadian settlement, but rather to keep the history of the Acadians alive.
There are plenty of historical questions to be answered through this research, Rees said. Important issues such as answering the question, “Did they have a crawfish boil on their first night?” he said jokingly.