Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Welcome to Bayou Teche Dispatches. . . .

Cypress logging raft on the Teche, ca. 1910 (postcard).

Bayou Teche Dispatches is a collection of my writings about south Louisiana history and culture. Often it consists of material I could not use in my books for one reason or another, but which I nonetheless found fascinating. I hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as I enjoyed researching and writing them.

If you publish information from these articles, however, please remember to cite this blog as your source and, if applicable, to supply a return link. Please do not repost articles in their entireties, but short block quotations that fall within range of "fair use" are acceptable.
~ Shane K. Bernard

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Table of Contents

When did racialization first occur in Louisiana?

Cajun country vestiges of ancient Greek and Roman culture

Fact or a misreading of source material?

 State of the Genre: Swamp Pop Music in the 21st Century
How is this south Louisiana/southeast Texas sound faring 50+ years after its heyday?

 Born of "Elite" White Reactionism?: Assessing Claims about the Rise of Cajun Ethnicity 

Disputing statements that Cajuns appeared only about 50 years ago

 Of Cajuns and Creoles: A Brief Historical Analysis
A look at the relationship between these ethnic groups

Notes on the Birth of Cajun Ethnic Identity 
An effort to clarify this important topic

❧ Thoughts on Cajuns and "Whiteness"
Were Cajuns always, or did they become, "white"?

 "Prairie de Jacko": Source of the Name?
Notes on an 18th-century place name along the Teche

 Notes on the Founding of Opelousas
Did it happen in 1720 or not?

 When Jimi Hendrix Appeared on My Father's Live TV Show 
in Lafayette, Louisiana, January 1965
The rock-guitar pioneer visited Lafayette

 Electronic Cajuns and Creoles: Early Television
as an Americanizing Agent
TV's impact on these two ethnic groups

 A Tool for Fighting Fake News & Conspiracy Theories: Teach Critical Thinking in American Classrooms
"Not what to think, but how to think"

 Portrait of a Cajun Woman: Andonia Thibodeaux 
of Bayou Tigre
An old tin-type photograph leads to a literary find

 Another Civil War Gunboat on the Teche: The U.S.S. Glide, aka Federal Gunboat No. 43

A legal document reveals the presence of one more gunboat on the bayou

 Now Available: My New Book about Bayou Teche

A narrative history of Bayou Teche and journal of canoeing the present-day bayou

 A Railroad History of Avery Island

An article I wrote for someone else's blog in 2010

 Sur le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 1

Port Barre to Arnaudville

❧ Rough Rider Redux: A Photo of Theodore Roosevelt in Downtown New Iberia?

A forgotten photo of Theodore Roosevelt in Cajun Country

❧ A Fiction Interlude: My Short Story "The Phrenologist"

A short story about racism set in antebellum New Orleans

❧ A Floating Dancehall on the Teche: The Club Sho Boat

A riverboat that became a nightclub and restaurant

❧ A Meteor over Cajun Louisiana: Window on Atomic-Age Anxieties

Confusing a meteor for an atomic bomb

❧ A Film Documents South Louisiana's Logging Industry, ca. 1925: Responsible Stewardship or Environmental Disaster?

Digitized film about cypress logging along the Teche

❧ A Glimpse from 1968: Historic Films Looked at Cajuns and Creoles in Epic Year

Digitized French films capture an important year in south Louisiana history

❧ Now Available: My Children's History of the Cajuns in English and French Editions

Buy my Cajun book for kids so I can pay off my credit card

❧ "Cajuns of the Teche": Bad History, Wartime Propaganda, or Both?

A 1942 film with excellent images, horrible script

❧ A Snake, a Worm, and a Dead End: In Search of the Meaning of "Teche"

Searching for the meaning of the word "Teche"

❧ Galaxies, Bowling and Swamp Pop: Johnny Preston and The Cajuns in Escondido

Examining a Cajun reference in a chain e-mail about old gas stations

❧ Serendipity and Fort Tombecbe: Cooperation between Historians and Archaeologists

Accidentally finding a map of a fort coincidentally excavated by my friend

❧ Notes on Two Nineteenth-Century Engravings of South Louisiana Scenes

Vintage magazine images of Cajun and Creole women

❧ Finding History Right around the Corner: Heroism on the Cajun Home Front

A nearly forgotten World War II landmark a block from my residence

❧ My Father's Childhood Autograph Book on the History Channel?

When Dad met Hank Williams, Sr.

❧ My Oddball Collection of Cajun Warplane Photos

Cajun-themed combat aircraft

❧ Elodie's Gift: A Family Photographic Mystery

An old tin type image given to me by a great-aunt

❧ The Nike-Cajun Rocket: How It Got Its Name

A rocket named "the Cajun"?

❧ Middle Name or Clerical Error?: Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil and "Gaurhept"

Perpetuation of a historical error

❧ Debunking the Alleged Origin of the Word "Coonass"

Finding a word by accident that wasn't yet supposed to exist

❧ More on That Word "Coonass": A Labor Dispute Trial Documents Its Use in 1940

The earliest known use of this controversial word

❧ "To Err Is Human": Errata from My Books

Everyone makes mistakes

❧ An Old Bull Durham Tobacco Ad in New Iberia, or Palimpsests on the Teche

This vintage advertisement has since been destroyed

❧ Remembering Polycarp: A Cajun TV Show Host for Children

Everyone loved Polycarp!

❧ From Jet Fighters to Football: Origin of the Phrase "Ragin' Cajun"

Where this catchy term originated (as far as anyone knows)

❧ The Elusive André Massé, Pioneer of the Attakapas

An almost mythical explorer of the Teche region

❧ More on the Elusive Andre Massé, Early Settler of the Attakapas District

Revelations about him in a historical document

❧ La Chute: A Waterfall on Bayou Teche?

A waterfall in largely flat south Louisiana

❧ Gumbo in 1764?

The earliest known reference to gumbo in Louisiana

❧ On That Word "Gumbo": Okra, Sassafras, and Baudry's Reports from 1802-1803

More on the history of gumbo in Louisiana

❧ La Pointe de Repos — Early Acadian Settlement Site along the Teche

Colonial-era settlement near present-day Parks, Louisiana

❧ A 1795 Journey up the Teche: Fact, Fiction, or Literary Hoax?

It almost fooled me . . . almost

❧ All the Same Place: Isla Cuarin, Côte de Coiron, Île Petite Anse, Petite Anse Island & Avery Island

Evolution of a place name in the south Louisiana coastal marsh

❧ The Grevembergs, Early Cattle Ranchers of the Attakapas

When someone accidentally transposes two numerals

❧ Tracking the Decline of Cajun French

Research behind the language stats in my book The Cajuns

❧ The Secret CODOFIL Papers

I waited how long for the FBI to release these documents?

❧ Agnus Dei Artifact Found on Banks of Bayou Teche

A religious symbol turns up in the mud at Breaux Bridge

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Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Race, Language, and Culture: A Note on Identity in Louisiana

I thank historians Dr. Carl A. Brasseaux (Ret.) and Dr. Michael S. Martin of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for evaluating this essay:

I have seen it stated in a few journalistic and social media outlets that, to quote my fellow researcher Joseph Dunn (for whom I have great respect), “From the late 19th century through today, the baseline for identity in Louisiana shifted from language and culture to race and skin color.” This change occurred, he states, because “of heritage language loss, forced assimilation into English, and Americanization.”(1)

I think it is important, however, to note that the idea of ascribing identity to race, or racialization, did not appear from nothingness after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
(2) Indeed, there is strong evidence that race — not merely language and culture — served as a vital element in fixing identity decades before Napoleon sold Louisiana to the fledgling United States.

The Code Noir (1724)
Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France

In 1724, for example, French administrators in Louisiana adopted a set of regulations aimed at governing race relations in the colony. The very name of that decree invoked race: the Code Noir — the Black Code. France created the Code Noir, to quote Louisiana’s highly accessible state encyclopedia, “to regulate the interaction of European-descended (blancs) and African-descended people (noirs) in colonial Louisiana.”(3) Though it contained some measures pertaining to Jews in the colony, the Code Noir (again, as its name implies) primarily concerned persons of African heritage: it regulated “nègres,” both “libres” and “esclaves,” as well as their treatment by enslavers and by the colonial apparatus in general.

Furthermore, it identified those it regulated based not on their language or culture, but on their race and, beyond that, their status as free or enslaved. For example, the code outlawed (on paper if not in practice) marriage between Whites and persons of African descent, even if the latter were not enslaved but “gens de couleur libre” (free persons of color). It precluded enslaved Blacks from selling anything without the written permission of their enslavers. It forbade Blacks enslaved by different masters from gathering in large groups, even for weddings, on pain of being flogged or even branded. And so on.(4)

After Louisiana became Spanish territory in 1762 its new rulers adopted (eventually) their own race-based regulations, the Sistema de Castas, or Caste System. Tulane historian Lawrence N. Powell describes this intricate system as “a taxonomic arrangement that often verged on the absurd” because of its tortuous attempt to categorize race. As Powell observes about New Spain in general in The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans:
A mixed-race population was forever spilling into the interstitial spaces, and obliging the Spanish bureaucrats charged with keeping track of it all — the census takers and notaries on the one hand, and thousands of parish priests on the other, all keeping racially distinct baptismal and marriage records — to devise, on the fly, cognitive labels for new people. . . . One Mexican scholar counted forty-six different mixed-blood types in the sources he consulted. Only ten categories were fundamental, however, and these were all spinoffs of three main divisions: Spaniards, Indians, and Negroes. . . . One scholar has dubbed the system a ‘pigmentocracy’ [my italics]. 

Those racial categories and sub-categories used by the Spanish included Mestizos, Castizos, Mulatos, Moriscos, Lobos, and Coyotes, as well as the overtly quantitative Cuarterones and Quinterones, among other gradations based on racial descent and admixture.

Las castas (The Castes).
Anonymous, 18th century,
Museo Nacional del Virreinato,
Tepotzotlán, Mexico.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Although the Spanish did not import the full Sistema in all its complexity to Louisiana, Powell nonetheless remarks the essence of the classificatory regime did get transferred to Louisiana, implanted by the priests and notaries tasked with verifying individual genealogies and entering their verdicts in registry books segregated by race” [my italics]. Racial gradations in Louisiana during the Spanish colonial period included Negro, Mulato, Cuarterón (Quadroon), Grifo (or Grifa), Pardo (“Colored”), and Moreno (“Black”).(5)

What evolved over time from this byzantine race-based system of identity was a simpler, more fundamental three-tiered racial order placing enslaved Blacks on the bottom; free, often multiracial (part-White) persons in the middle; and free Whites on top. This framework would in time be replaced by an even more fundamental binary system that viewed persons as either “Black” or “White,” with no “in-between” multiracial gradations. The binary system arose, strangely enough, even as some continued to refer to a trichotomy made up of “Blancs,” “Noirs” and “Mulâtres.” (Indeed, as late as 1920 the U.S. Census Bureau classified respondents as Black, White, or Mulatto, among other racial/ethnic classes.)(6)

As illustrated by the Code Noir under French rule and the Sistema de Castas under the Spanish, racialization existed in Louisiana long before the coming of American rule. This is important because, as noted, it has been argued that “heritage language loss, forced assimilation into English, and Americanization” shifted “the baseline for identity in Louisiana . . . from language and culture to race and skin color. . . .” Clearly, the issue is not so clear-cut. If a shift occurred, it may have been one of degree, with Americans continuing to use race as the major criterion for identity, albeit perhaps on a larger or more stringent scale than the colonial French and Spanish (though the Spanish, as shown, were fairly stringent when it came to racial identity).(7)

Powell's The Accidental City (2012)

Still, something must account for the presence of race-based identity in early colonial Louisiana. That something, I suggest, was an influence that existed on a vastly larger scale than Louisiana (even as colonial Louisiana covered about a third of the North American continent). I refer to novel if benighted theories of race — part quasi-religious, part pseudo-scientific — that permeated western thought at the time. These theories stemmed from interactions between Europeans and persons of African descent, both in the New World and on the African continent. In short, by the 18th century race as identity was a notion known across the western world, and not at all unique to Louisiana. This explains how Paris and Madrid were able to impose ideas about racial identity not merely on Louisiana, but on colonies throughout their far-flung empires.

This, however, does not mean language and culture exerted no impact on identity. As they do today, language and culture, like race, ethnicity, religion, and other attributes, served as boundaries, markers, or shibboleths used to inform inclusion as well as exclusion (which, for good or bad, is how group identity works). Yet the rise to dominance of racial identity in colonial Louisiana occurred well before the coming of the American period and its pervasive Americanizing agent, the English language.


(1) Joseph Dunn, “A Primer on the Evolution of Creole Identity in Louisiana,” Louisiana Perspectives [blog], 13 February 2018,, accessed 1 May 2024. See also Howard Blount (with Joseph Dunn), “The Acadian Exile, Louisiana Creoles, and the Rise of Cajun Branding,” Backroad Planet, 6 December 2018,, accessed 4 May 2024; Jules Bentley, “Blanc like Me: Cajuns vs. Whiteness,” Antigravity, July 2019,, accessed 4 May 2024.

(2) Merriam-Webster defines racialization as "the act of giving a racial character to someone or something: the process of categorizing, marginalizing, or regarding according to race. . . . : an act or instance of racializing." "Racialization,", n.d.,, accessed 8 May 2024.

(3) Michael T. Pasquier, “Code Noir of Louisiana,” 64 Parishes [Louisiana state encyclopedia], 6 January 2011,, accessed 2 May 2024.

(4) “Louisiana’s Code Noir (1724),” English translation, 64 Parishes, n.d. [October 2013],, accessed 2 May 2024, see Secs. I, VI, XIII, XV. For the Code in the original French see:

(5) Lawrence N. Powell, The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012), 293, 294, 295; Benjamin Groth, “‘Sacred Legalities’: The Indelible and Interconnected Relationship between Baptism and Race in Spanish New Orleans,” Louisiana History 64 (Winter 2023): 48, 56.

(6) Powell, Accidental City, 293; Paul Schor, “The Disappearance of the ‘Mulatto’ as the End of Inquiry into the Composition of the Black Population of the United States,” Counting Americans: How the US Census Classified the Nation (Oxford University Press, 2017), abstract, July 2017,, accessed 2 May 2024.

(7) For more on Americanization, see my book The Cajuns: Americanization of a People (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003).


Recent works touching on racialization in colonial Louisiana, as recommended by historian Michael S. Martin:

Dewulf, Jeroen. From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians (Lafayette: UL Press, 2017).

Groth, Benjamin. “‘Sacred Legalities’: The Indelible and Interconnected Relationship between Baptism and Race in Spanish New Orleans,” Louisiana History 64 (Winter 2023): 45–82.

Johnson, Jessica Marie. Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020).

Johnson, Rashauna. Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Milne, George. Natchez Country: Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015).

Wegmann, Andrew N. An American Color: Race and Identity in New Orleans and the Atlantic World (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2022).

White, Sophie. Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).