ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
A History Of The Breaux Family
Addendum To The Allendom Papers
* THE ODYESSY CONTINUES
* VINCENT BRAUD
* THE PROBLEM OF NAMES
* ECHOES OF LIFE IN ACADIA
* THE WINDS OF CHANGE
* "THE GRAND DERANGEMENT"
* THE ACADIAN EXILE
* NIGHTMARE AT SEA
* THE ENDING OF WAR
* LIFE IN ACADIA
* FAMILY AND CULTURAL SOLIDARITY
* UPWARD MOBILITY
* ROSARIE CLOATRE
* A WOMAN OF MEANS
* ANTEBELLUM ST. JAMES PARISH, LOUISIANA
* "THE FAMILY-WHO-LIVED-NEXT-DOOR"
* THE WAIST OF THE HOURGLASS
* SO MUCH TO KNOW...SO LITTLE TIME
ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
ADDENDUM TO THE ALLENDOM PAPERS
Janet Wood Duncan
Stephen Joseph Duncan
Oscar Breaux, a free St. James Parish
African-American and cousin of Leontine Breaux Allen
"You can tell a Cajun a mile off
but you can’t tell him
a damned thing up close!"
It’s been said that in any endeavor we
climb upon the shoulders of the giants who have gone before. Even "new"
discoveries, inventions or adventures build on knowledge and ideas worked doubt long
before. (Henry Ford did not have to reinvent the wheel!). So it is with this, our
contribution to the continuing search among the descendants of Leontine Braud for
the stories of our ancestors.
We are Janet Wood Duncan and Stephen Joseph Duncan (great-grandson of Leontine by
way of her daughter, Marie Isabelle Allen Warnie and granddaughter, Josie Mae Allen
Warnie Duncan) and this work would never have come about had we not attended the
1990 family reunion for Leontine’s descendants. On that beautiful summer day we were
handed a booklet representing the work of our family giants: our Aunt Ruth (Braud
Allen Warnie Romine-Strange) and Betty (Breaux Allen Charbonnet Reid-Soskin), who
undertook the initial investigation into our family’s history.
Aunt Ruth had collected family lore and begun the search through the Mormon Archives
in Oakland, California and the Diocesan Church records in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Together, Ruth and Betty then delved into the National Archives at Golden Gate cemetery
in San Francisco and Cousin Betty got it all together in narrative form. Finally
the Reunion Committee produced copies for distribution, planned and executed a splendid
party and invited us all to come. What follows is our contribution to the family
story -- both inspired by and meant to be read as supplement to the original Reunion
The Odyssey Continues...
What captured our attention almost immediately
was the union between Leontine’s parents; the plantation owner’s son, Edouard Braud
and the slave, Celestine. Although the common metaphor for a search of one’s roots
is an inverted pyramid -- with the searcher at the apex following a single line back
(usually through the male line since one coon name is easier to follow) -- our metaphor
looked more like an hourglass, with the sands of our African and European ancestors
flowing into the "waist" of Edouard, Celestine and Leontine, then emerging
and increasing into the fascinating melange of relatives gathered together at the
reunion. We were also struck by the strength of some of the women who sparkled in
our family’s history and mused that it might prove interesting to trace a matriarchal
genealogy -- the last name would change at each generation but the line would be
no less "real" than the traditional "family name" genealogy.
After our mother, Josie Duncan, passed away last fall we reread the Reunion Document
and decided to take a sentimental journey by train back to New Orleans, the land
of her birth and seat of our family’s story. The train ride would leave us only three
days in New Orleans -- not much time for any in-depth family sleuthing -- so we set
for ourselves what seemed like 4 modest and achievable goals: (1) to find and visit
the site of the original "homestead" of Leontine and George, (1) to try
to locate the area where the Breaux plantation was located, (3) to see if we could
shed any light on Edouard and Celestine’s marriage -- its effects on the Breaux family,
why there appear to be no children for that long stretch after Leontine’s birth and
before Theophile’s, etc., and (4) no matter what, add at least one piece of information
to the family story that was previously unknown.
Aunt Ruth wished us godspeed and gave us the name of her contact at the
Catholic Diocesan Archives in Baton Rouge, Ms. Una Daigré, and said if we
got up that way to stop by and deliver her regards. Cousin Betty Bundled together
her latest update on the Reunion Document along with some names and addresses that
may prove fruitful and managed to get them into our hands the day before we left.
The Diocesan Archives actually seemed like a pretty good place to start but Una wasn’t
there the morning we arrived. Her fellow archivists suggested that the genealogy
room of the nearby Bluebonnet Branch of the library contained copies of many of their
records and might be worth an hour of our time. We walked into the library at a little
after eleven in the morning. At eight-thirty that night one of the volunteers who
staff the room tapped us on the shoulder and said she was sorry, but they’d be closing
at nine and could we possibly be able to come back tomorrow!
We had wandered into the land of the giants.
Within an hour of arrival, we realized we’d stumbled into an avalanche of information
we couldn’t hope to absorb. The Braud (Breaux) name opened a door into a world of
epic proportions, documented by generations of giants and historians who’d come before.
Reels of microfilm raised new questions, even as they answered old ones. As the staff
got involved in our quest, new books and mimeographed sheets appeared on our tables
as if by magic, usually accompanied by a whispered, "I don’t know if this will
help but there may be something in here...".
We stopped trying to figure things out and began burning up the copying machine --
if it looked at all promising (and sometimes even when it didn’t) we’d run it through
the machine and toss it in a folder to be sorted out later.
We are pleased to report that we achieved all four of our objectives. The 9-hour
marathon at the Bluebonnet Library was followed by a return to the Baton Rouge Diocesan
Archives, a trip to the St. James Parish courthouse at Convent to view the original
documents (and marvel at the actual signatures of ancestors who have been dead for
well over a century), a brief sojourn into the State Archives in Baton Rouge, and
one magical afternoon with the Mississippi at our backs, sugar cane fields at our
feet and the indescribable sensation that somehow, we’d managed to find our way home...
It has taken us six months to sort it all out and fashion a coherent story. We offer
this as an addendum to the work of the giants within our own family without whose
inspiration and encouragement we might never have embarked on this odyssey.
We regret that our source list at the end of this story is neither as scholarly or
as complete as we would have liked. In our initial excitement at uncovering so much
new information, we at first neglected to take proper notes on titles, authors, etc.,
of the documents we were copying. Thus, there is some important information that
we included in the work that we cannot cite source information for. Also, the reference
numbers to the documents themselves. References in the text, therefore, direct the
reader to the source item and the place where we know it can be found. It’s lousy
science, but we hope it will prove valuable for future sleuthing.
The Acadia history is all taken from Brasseaux’s book (appendix A); other historical
references arise from our lifelong love of history -- once again, not documented
From time to time in the narrative, a notation in brackets (NFS..) appears. This
is a "Note for Future Sleuths" and conveys information we think may be
helpful for further investigation or suggests a new direction for further sleuthing.
Finally, in an attempt to cut down on possible confusion, we have rendered all of
our direct ancestor’s names in capital letters as they appear throughout the text.
We’ve arranged our story chronologically and in narrative fashion, apologizing for
the gaps that still exist but hoping that cousins will find enough bits and pieces
of themselves in the pages that follow to be able to share in our feelings of connection.
Our family history is a finely woven tapestry. It is our pleasure to offer you a
look at the story behind one of its threads... .
Janet Wood and Stephen Joseph Duncan
The search for the origins of the Breaux
in North America leads us back more than a hundred years beyond the American Revolution
to the Maritime Provinces of what is now Canada. Our story begins in feudal France
where, in 1632, some 300 members of the peasant class, weary of the rising prices
levied by the landlords and a class system that kept them forever chained to some
else’s land for life set sail for the New World.
Although superficially united by their common language and a desire for a better
life, their ties to each other ran much deeper; virtually all were from the same
west central provinces in France and all shared a history of intensely strong family
ties and a love of working the land that was already generations old. These elements
provided a foundation and a bond that would hold their society together through the
rigors of a new and hostile environment and help them to survive and attempt on the
part of a mighty nation to obliterate their culture entirely -- an effort that at
one point would include placing a bounty on their scalps.
They were a tough bunch, these ancestors of ours.
They called themselves Acadians
There is some confusion about the area in Nova Scotia where they settled came to
be called "Acadia". One story traces it to a Micmac Indian word meaning
"roots growing in fertile soil", another says that the name was bestowed
by Verrazano in 1524 when he sailed by and was reminded of the legendary Arcadian
forests of ancient Greece. What is certain, however, is that from the first moment
of their arrival they considered themselves Acadians first and Europeans only if
someone else insisted upon it. Unlike their fellow French colonists in the St. Lawrence
Valley or the English colonists at Jamestown, the Acadians received no support from
the ships fro the Old World and virtually no social support in the form of religious
or administrative structure. They essentially governed themselves, administered justice,
practiced their Catholic faith and occasionally snagged an itinerant priest (France
and the Catholic Church were far more interested in converting "savages"
than in providing spiritual support for Acadians) to bless their marriages and baptize
Bound to the fur-trading companies for a period of five years after their arrival
in the New World, they initially earned their way by trapping and shipping furs to
France and trading furs for other goods with French and English colonies to the south.
But within a generation they hacked their way through the dense forests and cleared
enough land to return to their first love -- tilling the soil. The area around Pisiquid
-- the settlement where our Breaux ancestors lives -- became known as the breadbasket
of the colonies and surplus Acadian apples, vegetables, oats, rye and wheat made
their way into the grateful New England colonies -- legally when politically possible
and smuggled in if the political wind required it.
For over a hundred years (1632-1755) the benign neglect of the Acadian settlers by
whatever European power happened to be in charge of the area at the moment (it was
traded back and forth between France and England in the assorted treaties that ended
European conflicts of the time), left them free to create an extraordinarily stable
and productive culture, firmly rooted in the land, connected by a nearly religious
regard for the extended family, all fueled with a fierce devotion to personal and
Despite a 50% infant mortality rate, not to mention harsh winters and smallpox and
other epidemics, the Acadian population doubled in one generation. By 1710 it had
grown to 2,500 and 1755 - a year of almost apocalyptic horror in Acadian history
- it is estimated that there were 12,000 to 15,000 Acadians living in 10 different
towns scattered around the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
We are indebted to a distant cousin, Clarence Breaux, for his diligence in tracking
and recording the early "Brauds" in Arcadia, then leaving a typed copy
of his work on file in the Bluebonnet Library. (B-2)
All of the Breauds (Breauxs, Breaus, etc.) of Louisiana are descended from one man
who came to Acadia from La Chausseé near Loudun, France, not long after its
founding. He was born ca 1631 and although we have not found the exact date of his
arrival in Acadia, we know that he married MARIE BOURE there in 1661 and over the
next 20 years, until his death in 1681, they produced five sons: ANTOINE, Pierre,
Francois, Jean and René. The first four them have descendants represented
in Louisiana. Alas, as so often happens when tracking a family name through the male
line, especially when one moves back past the official census
records, we as yet have no information of his daughters. The stories of the striking
and strong Braud women in our past must wait until the mid-1700’s to emerge. (NFS:
VINCENT’S background and see if his immigration was connected or merely coincidental.)
VINCENT’S eldest son, ANTOINE BROT, (born ca 1666) is our direct ancestor and his
marriage to MARGUERITE BASIN produced five known sons: Antoine, Charles, ALEXANDRA,
Pierre and Jean Baptiste -- all of whom had grandsons who came to Louisiana.
ALEXANDRA BROT was born in Acadia in 1701 and married MARIE DEGAS. ALEXANDRA and
MARIE had three known sons: Amend (born 1721-12), ALEXIS (born 1725), and Joseph
Honoré (born 1730-31). It is at this point in our family’s history that the
people really spring to life. ALEXIS is the great-grandfather of EDOUARD, the plantation
owner’s son who married the slave, CELESTINE, the event at the "waist"
of our hourglass analogy. Their daughter, LEONTINE’S photo graced the cover of the
Reunion Document that inspired our trip to New Orleans.
The brothers, ALEXIS and Honoré, along with their families and the orphaned
children of Amend, eventually came to New Orleans on February 4, 1768. It is this
part of our story that has found its way into the history books and not only answers
many of our questions but provides fascinating glimpses of the people, places and
personalities that led to the marriage of EDOUARD and CELESTINE.
To On The Shoulders Of Giants Part 2