To awaken oneself, as the French would say;
a reflexive looking inside.
To awaken oneself.
To bring oneself out of a state of sleep or rest; to dust off the cobwebs; to destroy the rust that has settled in from decades of monotony or sloth, slowly creeping up one branch to reach the ripest fruit but at what cost?
What is the price of being awake?
Of seeing the world through a philosopher’s lens or a politician’s skeptical pocket book?
Why study the chambers and valves of the pump that sloshes around a life-giving liquid, when it seems to do just fine on its own
without the help of man
or woman, a soft creature by nature,
or so we assume that which we have been told
in our sleep
by our parents
who read us bedtime stories
told by their parents
and theirs before,
whose source of fact comes from a paper or radio show,
or the neighbor next door,
who last time I checked has been camping for years
on the bale of hay so perfectly propped on their porch
where they spy like crows seeking the next empty headed scarecrow to feed on,
to pluck out their button eyes and deafen their cornfed ears
so he may lie asleep for years and years,
because who needs change anyway?
Our books are comfortable collecting dust and mites on the shelves and side tables perched neatly next to a memory foam throne that has more skills for retention than the current generation who have lost the knack for memorization.
Who needs facts when Siri is your best friend, cousin to your second aunt twice removed, Google, who is happy to do all the heavy lifting for you because we have grown weary, atrophied, complacent. Our fingers more skilled at swiping right than turning a page, or cracking a spine, taking a whiff of the history in fine cursive lines. We squint to read because our eyes our heavy from dreaming of princes and fairies, education, libraries, equality, justice, and so many other tales we’ve heard in the folklore of future generations, sent in a tiny capsule from those with 20/20, without correction, or the need to sit in the front section of a lecture to see in the reflection of the screens projecting images back of ourselves walking around like zombies, eyes glazed over with the film of deception or better yet closed, shut tight, locked,
with no way in from the outside,
stuck in our own prison
pondering what the cost would be to
w a k e o n e s e l f u p ,
to run full force out of this dream, or nightmare, where opinion holds court over truth as a monarch who awaits a curtsy, because that is what we are expected to do.
To bend the knee, to bow the head,
stay quiet and underfed,
malnourished of facts,
an autobiography writing its own ending
if the puppet master continues to get his way
and his every move we complicity obey,
if we don’t break free from the strings
tying us to the Bastille’s floor of stony concrete,
we’ll be running madly
through bloody streets
and severed heads
to defeat forces believed to be beyond our control
but what David has set his mind to
no Goliath can put asunder
so we must awaken ourselves from this slumber
and Stay Woke.
A slight of hand slightly different than what appears in the mirror,
if a mirror is even something to be trusted,
as it is constructed of metal and glass and bits
made from man
with their sweaty hands,
tinkering away to create a shard
where you can stand and reflect
on if the angle of where your jaw and chin meet measures up in a way that pleases the masses and check off the box we are put inside,
concealed and bound with chains and locks
into a mold.
but not clever like Houdini,
with a skill for wiggling out of any corner society has backed him into
and with a flash,
they are fooled.
Full of deceit and lies,
for the tricks they’ve been sold,
because the age-old smoke and mirrors has succeeded again
but We are n o t f o o l e d.
We are not tricked.
We see a spade for a spade on the back of an ornate king bedazzled in diamonds, capturing the hearts of queens,
the masters of the craft
of making us laugh
as a distraction from the true terror illuminated under the Light of the Moon,
but that’s just one side of the story.
The shadow of the eclipse is presented to one hemisphere,
while the other bathes in milky, incandescent pools of hope,
dancing in masks on the dreams of the other
because they are blinded by the brightness of what isn’t even light,
but a reflection of light,
if light is even what we think it is.
Alas, we have been tricked
by Science (or Ignorance),
into believing that our side of the story is what truly holds water
when in fact it is w e i g h t l e s s ,
blown away by a strong current,
the hurricanes and cyclones of another world,
built to destroy our perception of perfection,
when if you flip a coin you can’t make heads or tails
and Grey suddenly becomes the only truth you’ve ever known;
in its subtlety,
in its wavering footsteps,
on a dusty surface too cold for life,
but too beautiful to not consider the possibilities
and dream of a Universe bigger than our earthly tricks and games,
where we have put blame on the other side of a two-way mirror
that if we just wait long enough,
we will see the problem we’ve been staring at the whole time is
So the Moon turns and fades…
Its shadows deceive our eyes
which require light shone just the right way
to reveal the magicians truth:
that behind the glitter, the smoke, the dust, the velvet, and the rabbit-filled top hat,
the Glass is shattered.
A sparkle glimmers blindingly at just the right angle,
a geometric revelation that when all is said and done,
when the lights fade and the music stops,
the violin creaks a final screech,
the bow halting,
we are left in a world of Grey,
where d e t a i l s n o w f a d e
and perceptions bleed into one dull shade…
We are one card-up-the-sleeve away from giving up the Magician’s secret:
Things Aren’t Always as They Seem
From nothing comes all.
Just a seed,
a tiny inkling of an idea,
a germ germinated through soil and muck and dirt,
worm-covered and slick, slimy, slithering through the trenches,
the maze of roots rooted in the ground.
the base of all where Life begins and falls.
It’s a cyclical merry-go-round spinning at a dizzying rate,
flashing with vibrant, neon, technicolor,
blinding from the speed and change
The rate of change.
The rate of death.
The death of Life.
All from a singular being, swollen with watery pride.
Is it a nest or a tomb this watery grave?
New Life or Undead,
walking stiff legged, blank faced, glazed eyes
crying out in hunger for the first or the last time?
The lines are blurred as they so often are in every color of the spectrum:
red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, ultraviolet rays
blazing down from the sun,
creating a photosynthetic, polyester, plaster, and ceramic life,
molded from the clay of the earth or the rib of a woman: the holding cell of all,
this ossiferous cavern mingling blood and bone
made from sweat and tears for 9 months and 18 more or less years.
What defines the life of a creature other than to live
to count the moments until breath ceases to be the arduous, single, laborious task when the first and the last give an overwhelming sense of joy and relief to the owner
and all those fortunate enough to witness it?
It’s taken for granted.
The sack protected by the rib,
given by the rib from which you were created, is the Great Protector.
It rises and falls as the sun and moon do daily,
e t e r n a l l y
chasing each other around the universe,
playing tag throughout the galaxies.
waning over all to give rise and fall to the chests of its subjects
whether they gasp in fear, awe, surprise, shame, joy
or in the pangs of,
h e e h e e h o o h e e h e e hoo
the Breath of all breaths which brings forth you and I
no matter who we have killed.
We all come from a breath,
with a breath,
the very life giving,
life sustaining effect
that will be our demise.
an abundance of towels Abundance paper mâchéed with hundreds, the money of peasants
the presents of peasants
pheasants, feathers, peacocks, sequined, majestic birds take flight
soaring, swarming, flying through space
the luxury to waste such precious moments to not be present
winged in abundance
fabrics, mixed metals, stilettos of all colors
a waterfall or water feature, which is a basic need
when your carpet is cash, your wallpaper coins
your furniture upholstered with deeds to castles
chateaux of the old world, enriching your new world
where you reign as sovereign to your body, your shrine, your temple, your hive
to busting your ass on the streets
so you can sleep in golden honeyed hexagonal sheets of 1000 ply Egyptian thread cotton passed down by godmother Cleopatra
the Queen of Kings
the Queen of gods
Her art withstands; respect long gone
but who gives a shit when you own all the johns
all the drones in the palm of a powerful hand whose primary task is keeping a firm grasp on a bejewelled scepter
the other hand housing the nectar
a salty heap of caviar
the offspring of thousands of women who offered themselves as sacrifice to the great god Independence
Though I come from a bit of a melting pot of ethnicities, most of my lineage, in fact just about half, is French. My father’s maternal line is French Canadian and both of my mother’s parents have French lineage in New Orleans directly from France and from those who relocated to New Orleans from French Canada. I always felt that if I searched deep enough, I would find a common ancestor between my mother and father. The French colonization of Canada was isolated to a very small region. Surely, there was bound to be a crossover! Ding! Ding! Ding! SUCCESS! I’ll take 9th Great Uncle Grandpa for $500, Alex!
I found a glimmer of a possible connection on a late night Ancestry.com binge a few years ago. However, trying to unravel 300 years of lineage crossover hurt my brain. There wasn’t a computer screen big enough to zoom out as much as I needed to compare the lines. I’ve had a pin on the task of tracking down the exact person that linked my mom and dad but I have been distracted with other parts of my lineage. In my research for this blog post, in which I had no intention of talking about the possibility of my mother and father being related, I accidentally stumbled across the answer! What do they say about finding something when you stop looking? A watched pot of water never boils? Something like that!
But before we get into more about my 9th great Uncle Grandpa Jean, let’s talk about his great-grandparents and their children and grandchildren, whom this blog was originally intended to be about, Nicholas Hébert and Jacqueline Pajot.
Jacqueline Pajot was born c. 1544 right at the height of the European Renaissance in the St. Gervais or The Marais neighborhood in Paris near the Place Baudoyer to bourgeois candle maker, Simon Pajot, and his wife Jeanne Guerineau. This was a time in French history where Paris was the largest city in Europe and was a hot spot for social, political, religious, and artistic change and growth. Discovery and innovation were the theme of this century. During Jacqueline’s lifetime she saw the first street lighting by candles, the first theatre open, the first ballet performance, the beginnings of primary and secondary education, and the growing importance of merchants, especially those who made household items, like her father. I imagine Simon stayed quite busy since the city administration decreed in 1524 that lanterns with lit candles should be hung in front of houses at night. By 1594, a new decree from the police called for lanterns to be hung in the streets of each quarter, with city officials designated to see that they were regularly lit.
At the end of the 15th century, another new industry was born: the printing of books. By the 16th century, Paris was the second most important center of book publishing. In 1500, there were 75 printing houses, second only to Venice. In spite of their growing popularity, books were still considered luxury items. They were printed and sold in the neighborhood nearest the University which was about 2 miles from where the Pajot’s lived on the other side of the Seine. The growing availability of books increased the desire for primary education. Most noble families had private tutors for their children. Schools were organized by the church and were for boys only. As religious reform was growing, many Protestant schools were popping up and sometimes even included girls! However, this wouldn’t have applied to Jacqueline as her family practiced the religion of the Crown, Roman Catholicism. Jacqueline would have perhaps studied with the Ursulines, a religious order for women that provided secondary education for young women, however, the curriculum was limited to reading, writing, sewing and embroidery.
King Francis I helped strengthen the city’s position in scholarship and learning. In 1530, the King created a new faculty at the University of Paris with the mission of teaching Hebrew, Greek and mathematics. Though the growth of the University had positive effects for many, it had a darker cause as well that would be the beginning of a dark time for Parisians for years to come. The University devoted much of its attentions on fighting Protestant heresy. Throughout Jacqueline’s life, she would see a continual increase of tensions between the Protestants and Catholics that would greatly impact her later.
As mentioned before, the Pajot’s were devout Roman Catholic’s as most “good” families were in Paris in the 16th century. They are listed as parishioners of Église St. Gervais. The Église St. Gervais is a perfect representation of a church in that era with a melange of Gothic and renaissance features. The lower nave and the choir stalls, which featured hand carved scenes of daily life, different professions of the time, and various animals, represent the leftovers of the late Gothic style. Though the chapels were complete in 1530, the facade wasn’t constructed until the early 17th century, after Jacqueline died. The facade features an “up-to-date” design more reminiscent of the architecture of the renaissance era, more specifically known as French Baroque.
It was at Église St. Gervais that Jacqueline is said to have been married at least 2 times. I can not find any record of her first husband. Her second husband is documented as Louis de Cueilly. They were married in about 1555. They had 3 children. In my research, I have found varying information about Jacqueline’s birth date. Different sources range anywhere from 1535-1547. It is documented that she was widowed 3 times before marrying her third husband, Nicholas Hébert, in 1564 at Église St. Germaine de Prés, a 6th century abbey on the Left Bank of Paris. If Jacqueline was born closer to the later estimated dates, that would mean she would have been married three times with multiple children all by the age of 17. Though this seems extreme for us in the 21st century, it wasn’t too uncommon in the mid 16th century. The legal marriage age for women was 12, however most women didn’t marry until their early 20s unless they were from a wealthy family, like Jacqueline. It was with her third husband, Nicholas, with whom she would mother children of importance to my family history and the history of many families in the New World.
Nicholas Hébert was born in 1547 to Johannes and Joanna Hébert in Paris. He was an apothecary, grocer, and spice merchant. In fact, he succeeded Michel de Nostradame, more famously known as Nostradamus, as chief apothecary and court physician to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, after Nostradamus’ death in 1566. (If any of you are as big of fans of CW’s Reign as I am, you know how exciting this discovery is!!!) Nicholas owned the Coeur Royal, the Trois Piliers, and the Mortier d’Or at 129 Saint Honoré St. Many notable historical moments occurred on Saint Honoré Street. It was on Saint Honore St. that Joan of Arc was wounded in 1429. At 9 Saint Honoré St., in 1610, King Henry IV of France was assassinated by a Catholic zealot. At 92 Saint Honoré St., 15 Molière, the playwright, was born in 1611. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, clergyman and political writer during the French Revolution, lived at 273 Saint Honoré St. Maximilien de Robespierre was sheltered by Maurice Duplay at 398 Saint Honoré St., where he was later picked up by the cart which took him to the guillotine on the Place de la Concorde in July 1794.
It was at 129 Saint Honoré St. that Nicholas and Jacqueline’s children, Charlotte, Jacques, Louis, and Marie, were born and raised. The Mortier d’Or was a large three story house built in 1415 for wine merchant, Jehan de Paris. It was made of freestone with two separate living quarters. The ground floor housed the store where Nicholas dispensed his spices and medicines. His son Louis followed in his father’s footsteps and learned the apothecary trade. He assisted his father at the French Court. They are almost certain to have had unusual access to the palace. To this day, the ground floor of 129 Saint Honoré St. still serves as a vitamin and supplement shop.
As with many of the bourgeoise, Nicolas supported the Guise (Catholic League) in the Religious Wars. He soon found himself in financial trouble and was forced to sell one of his estates, the Coeur Royal. In 1570, Nicolas had to mortgage Mortier d’or.
In 1572, Jacqueline’s mother, Jeanne, was very ill and dying. On October 3, 1572, Jeanne had her will drawn up. She had stated that all goods that belonged to her would go to her son Isaac, who was 23 at the time and living with her. To avoid any difficulty, she specified that “all the wood of chêne (oak), water, and house as far as can be seen” would belong to Isaac. However, she had named Nicholas Hébert the executor of her will. Jeanne died a few days later and on October 16, Nicholas drew up the inventory of goods from her estate. In her will she stated that above all she wished that her children live in friendship without argument or difference, which it seems is one of many wishes they didn’t respect.
Isaac, being the eldest son, was unhappy with how Nicholas had divided Jeanne’s goods. He demanded to see his mother’s will, which Nicholas, as executor, continued to put off. Isaac wasn’t satisfied with Nicholas’ procrastination so he tried to speed up the process by involving the provost. He claimed that he and his other siblings were owed various sums of money and objects from Jacqueline’s estate. The matter was to be settled out of court, but it would only add to Nicholas and Jacqueline’s already struggling financial situation. Isaac realized that the price of conducting business through the provost was such a large expense and it would be more than the sum of what he believed to be owed anyway, so he dropped it. They eventually came to an agreement and made appropriate divisions among all of the siblings in the amount of 150 pounds.
However, the next year, all of the family mutually decided to turn against Nicholas and Jacqueline once more. They approached the provost with a different charge and yet again came to an amicable agreement. A significant sum of money would be distributed equally between the Pajot children.
After much familial strife, Jacqueline, Nicholas and their children ended up with Saint-Mande and its vineyards a bit outside of the center of Paris. On July 15, 1580, Jacqueline died as the result of a fall. There are no records of foul play, but it does seem oddly suspicious to me that a man in financial trouble, who has already tried to swindle money out of his in-laws, would lose his wife to “unfortunate fall.”
After his wife’s “mysterious” death, Nicholas hired Jehan de Paris to tutor his children. He remarried 2 years later to a widow named Marie Auvry. Some of Nicholas’ goods were seized over an inheritance issue with a new sister-in-law. Nicholas was on the verge of bankruptcy. He had to borrow heavily and when he found that he was unable to meet his commitments, he was taken to court and forced to sell his remaining shares in Mortier d’Or. However, even that was not enough to settle his debts and he was sent to prison for two years in the Chatelet. When he was released, he was very ill and his second wife had passed away.
“Like all edifices in the Old Regime connected with the administration of justice, the Châtelet enjoyed a very sinister reputation, even worse than the storied Bastille. Relatively few Parisians of common stock were ever able to claim the dubious distinction that a relative or friend languished in the dungeons of the Bastille; many more could make the claim for the dank chambers of the Châtelet, inherently far more fearsome than the dry and relatively comfortable prison a mile to the east.”
Around 1589, Nicholas married for the third time to a Renee Savoreau. She had many financial interests in the Chartres region. (I’m sensing a common theme here). He lived out the rest of his days in St-Germaine-des-Pres until his death in January of 1600.
Though Nicholas and Jacqueline’s stories both seem to have come to a sad and untimely end, their descendants went on to leave their mark on the world, specifically the “New World.” Their son Louis, who learned his father’s trade of medical arts, science, and pharmacology, is widely considered to be the first Canadian apothecary, the first European to farm in Canada, and the first colonist of Quebec. He followed his cousin on an expedition to Canada in 1606 in hopes of making a fortune in the fur trade. However, as a pharmacist, he seemed to be more interested in plants and horticulture. He was highly regarded and particular note was made of his knowledge and pleasure in cultivating the land. In 1617, Louis was the first private individual to receive a grant of land in the New World from the French government. On April 11, 1617, Louis, his wife, Marie, and 5 other French families set sail on the Saint-Etienne for Quebec. Louis was recognized as having been of great service to the colony; for being a physician and surgeon, for being the principle provider of food, and for having fostered good relationships with the natives. According to the Historical Demography Research Program of the Université de Montreal, Louis and Marie are considered the tenth most important couple in French-Canadian ancestry at that time, with 4592 descendants by 1800. There is a statue of Louis and Marie in Montmorency Park.
So what does all of this have to do with my 9th Great Uncle Grandpa?
Well, Nicholas and Jacqueline had another son, Jacques Hebert. Though Jacques might not have been as historically significant as his brother Louis’, it turns out he is pretty significant in my family history. Jacques had a son named Antoine. Antoine had a son named Jean and thus we meet Great (x9) Uncle Grandpa Jean! Jean was born in Port Royal, Nova Scotia in Canada in 1653. Jean and his wife Anne Doucet parented at least 13 children, hence the ancestral wires crossed in my genealogy.
The Heberts on my dad’s side remained in Canada until 1887, when my great-great-great grandfather, Pierre Hebert, immigrated to Munising in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On my mom’s side, my Hebert ancestors were actually a part of the Ile Saint-Jean campaign, which was a series of military operations in 1758 that deported the French colonists, or Acadians, back to France as the British conquest swept through Canada. The Acadians refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the British crown which led to their eventual deportation. Of the 12 transport ships, 8 made it to France, with a death toll up to 1,500 people. One of the survivors was my 6th great grandfather, Theodore Bourg (Son of Jean Pierre Bourg and Elizabeth Hebert), who was only 13 at the time of the deportation. Theodore grew up in St. Malo, France, a port city in Brittany in Northwestern France. St. Malo had a tradition of asserting its autonomy in dealings with the French authorities and local Breton authorities. From 1590 to 1593, Saint-Malo declared itself to be an independent republic, taking the motto “not French, not Breton, but Malouin.” If anyone knows me or my family, you will know that this attitude has seemed to have survived all the way to 2017. Theodore Bourg remained in St. Malo until 1785, when Spain paid for 7 ships to transport Acadian refugees from France to settle in Louisiana. Theodore, now 39, his wife Anne, and their 3 children, Theodore (5th great grandfather), Anne, and Magdaleine, boarded the Le Saint Remi on June 27, 1785 en route to Louisiana. They arrived 75 days later and settled with several other families along Bayou LaFourche. And the rest is history!
Is your head spinning yet? Mine is! Perhaps this chart will help.
So there you have it! Sorry Mom and Dad, but you are cousins. Very, very, very distant cousins. Oh, and just in case that bit of news wasn’t enough to handle for one day, you two are both related to Hillary Clinton, who shares a common ancestor mentioned earlier in this post, Jacqueline Hebert’s father, Simon Pajot (remember the 16th century candle maker?). I know you will both be thrilled about that. But, at the end of the day, if you really think about it, we are all related somehow. It just takes a certain level of curiosity, stubbornness, and a yearly subscription to ancestry.com to really prove it.
Out of my 16 great-great grandparents, 2 were German/Spanish, 2 were Scottish, 2 were British, 7 were French, and 3 were Spanish. That means that more than a quarter of my ancestors are of Spanish descent. Pretty surprising, right? Other than the fact that I have an affinity for tacos and anything made from an avocado, you would never know that blonde-haired, blue-eyed little me has any connection to the land of passion and conquistadors. Though a few ancestors were from the mainland of Spain, the majority of them were Isleños (islanders), a name given to the people from a small Spanish archipelago 60 miles West of the Moroccan coast called Islas Canarias, or The Canary Islands.
The Canary Islands is likely derived from the Latin name Canariae Insulae, meaning “Islands of the Dogs.” According to some historians, the islands were given this name because it contained a “vast multitude of dogs.” Some have even speculated that the native people, the Guanches, used to worship dogs and treat them as holy animals. They would even mummify their dog with their owner to help guide them in the afterlife. The ancient Greeks even have recorded that there were a people living far to the west who were “the dog-headed ones,” who worshipped dogs on an island. The most notable dog native to The Canary Islands is the Perro de Presa Canario or the Canary Mastiff. They were originally bred for working with livestock (note for later).The importance of dogs in their etymology and culture is retained in their coat of arms and depicted on their flag.
The Canary Islands is the largest and most populated archipelago of the region. It is made up of 7 large islands and several smaller islands, all of volcanic origin. My ancestors come from the islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and Lanzarote.
Tenerife is the largest and most populous. It is known internationally as the Island of Eternal Spring with temperatures ranging from 64-82 year round. It is believed that Tenerife is the location of The Elysian Fields mentioned in ancient Greek mythology. Perhaps this is the namesake of the street in New Orleans. Tenerife is also famous for hosting one of the world’s largest carnavals.
Gran Canaria is the third largest in the archipelago in area and altitude. It was populated by the Canarii who are thought to have arrived as early as 500 BCE. The capital city of Gran Canaria is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which is also jointly capital of the whole of The Canary Islands with Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It was the first stop Christopher Columbus made on his way back from the Americas.
Aguimes is another notable city in Gran Canaria from which many of my ancestors hailed. Aguimes has been restored to reflect the perfect picture of a traditional and peaceful Canarian town. It has some of the best preserved cave dwellings including a church built into the mountainside and many popular cave restaurants.
Lanzarote is the easternmost island in the archipelago. Like the other islands that make up The Canary Islands, Lanzarote has volcanic origins. It has solidified lava streams as well as extravagant rock formations. It is sometimes referred to as the “Island of 1,000 volcanoes.” Arrecife, meaning rock reef, is the capital city. The name was given to the city in the 15th century in reference to the black volcanic reefs. Ships would utilize these reefs as a hiding place from pirates.
I have yet to uncover exactly what city my ancestors were from in Lanzarote. In the late 18th century, there were volcanic eruptions on the island for six years from 1730 to 1736. My 7th great grandfather and grandmother, Domingo† and Maria Campo lived in Lanzarote during this time of extreme volcanic activity. They are both recorded to have lived until 1751, so it seems they survived the eruptions. I can’t imagine living during a time where the threat of volcanic eruption was a daily concern! The volcanoes are now classed as historical and therefore dormant, although you can feel the heat under the surface atTimanfaya. Today, the heat coming off just nine layers of volcanic rocks is used to cook steaks and fish for tourists.
So what does this mean for me and my family? Why would these people leave behind such a seemingly paradisaical land? How did they traverse 4,300 miles of ocean and become such an important link in my ancestral chain?
From the first arrival of Europeans in the mid 1500s until statehood in 1812, Louisiana flip flopped between Spanish and French rule several times. During a time of Spanish rule in the late 18th century, the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez, sought to grow his army to protect against British expansion and populate Louisiana with more Spanish citizens. In 1777, the Spanish government issued the royal order to begin recruitment from the Canary Islands. At about the same time, the Canary Islands was going through an economic downfall and many jobs were being seized by the industrialization of other major European cities and countries. A plague of African locusts invaded the islands. Paired with a terrible drought, the locusts ruined the dried-out crops on which the farmers depended upon for survival. This created a perfect opportunity for Governor Gálvez to recruit. He offered Canarians (preferably married with children) an escape from their poor living conditions, land, farm tools, a house, a monthly stipend and a fresh start in a new land across the Atlantic.
One of Gálvez’ recruits was my 7th great grandfather, Manuel Nunez de Villavicencio*. In July of 1778, Manuel, his wife Josepha Suarez, and their 5 children set sail for Louisiana on the S.S. Sacaramento, the first ship of Isleño immigrants heading for the port of New Orleans, under the command of Captain Benito Ripoli y Barcelo as a part of the Louisiana Batallion. Manuel and 260 other passengers arrived approximately 6 months later at the port of New Orleans.
The Isleños settled in four towns strategically placed around New Orleans to guard the city from British invasion: Galveztown, situated just below Baton Rouge, Valenzuela, located along Bayou Lafourche, Barataria, located along Bayou des Familles in Jefferson Parish, and La Concepcion, later San Bernardo, located in St. Bernard Parish along Bayou Terre-aux-Boeufs (see map below). Manuel and his family settled in the latter along Bayou Terre-aux-Boeufs, sometimes referred to as the “end of the world.” It is situated on the extreme outskirts of the bayou, where the land and sea blur into one. There he made his living as a farmer and fisherman. Manuel and other Isleño farmers in the area provided the New Orleans market with the majority of their garlic, onion, bean, potato and poultry supply. The inhabitants adapted to their new terrain and learned how to best profit off of the land and sea as farmers, hunters, trappers, and fisherman. However, their work would be put on a temporary hold. Shortly after arriving in the new world, Manuel and his many of his Canarian brothers, served in the Revolutionary War in the Gálvez expedition from 1779-1783.
The few published church records from the time in the St. Bernard Parish suggest that Manuel and his sons were probably the progenitors of the Nunez families in the area. By the mid 1800s, most of his descendants were living in the upper part of the Bayou between Reggio and St. Bernard. They brought the tradition of domesticating cattle to the area, hence the name Terre-aux-Boeufs or “Cattleland.” Ranchers from all over Louisiana and even parts of eastern Texas brought their herds of cattle to St. Bernard for training. Isleños specialized in livestock domestication due to a scarcity of horses and mules in Tenerife. In their homeland, they were forced to use oxen for crop cultivation (remember the dogs?). In addition to cattle training and farming, many Isleños worked on sugar plantations, harvesting sugar cane and cypress. Vincent Nunez, grandson of Manuel and my 5th great grandfather, was a prominent merchant and sugar planter. Apparently prominent enough that robbers pinned his house for a break-in in November of 1852, though they only got away with a few “sundry” items.
The Isleños brought so much more to Louisiana than farming and ranching techniques and men to build Gálvez’ army. They brought rich cultural and social traditions that are deeply a part of the southern Louisiana lifestyle to this day.
Something that I’ve experienced within my life, that was most likely passed down from my Isleño ancestors, is the importance of family. Isleño’s entire social life was centered on the family and Roman Catholicism. Religious holidays were of great importance and celebrated extravagantly with dancing and huge feasts. If you know my family, you have most likely been to one of our infamous crawfish boils. We often celebrate major holidays, like Easter, blasting music, playing yard games, and sucking crawfish heads with family and friends. Growing up, Christmas was an all day event where everyone in the family, immediate, extended, first, second, third cousins, and even ex-husbands and wives, crammed into my great grandmother’s den to open presents and eat food until we were sick. However, this practice wasn’t reserved for major holidays only. Every month we would have a birthday party to celebrate all the family members born during that month. If it wasn’t a holiday or a birthday, chances are many of us were still gathered at grandma’s house eating dinner together several times a week, if not daily, like our ancestors, who ate all meals together as a family. Many of my grandmother’s recipes featured a medley of beans that had been stewing in a pot all day with salt pork or pickled pork, a culinary tradition passed down by our Spanish ancestors.
An observation was made by Raymond MacCurdy, who spent 7 years amongst the Isleño community in village of Delacroix. He observed that the people were “very devout and superstitious, stoic, have a sense of humor, and are extremely hospitable…they respect and obey their elders.” Add in the parties and the importance of family, and you have an exact description of my family.
Another tradition of great importance to the Isleños of Louisiana was décima singing. This was a Spanish tradition traced back all the way to the 15th century. Due to the geographical isolation and lack of formal education in that part of the state, oral traditional art was the best way for the people to pass along their stories and traditions. Generally, décimas are a stanza of poetry consisting of 10 lines per stanza, 40 lines, or 4 stanzas, per song. These songs were often sung at events in the communities, such as dances, weddings, and holiday celebrations or even after a long day of work or after a meal at a friend’s house. Their musical influences seeped into the mainstream at the beginning of the 20th century as Latin Jazz made it’s way to the forefront of the dance halls and night clubs. Today there are fewer than a handful of people still practicing the tradition, one of the reasons being the loss of the Isleño language that is only spoken by a few elderly in the community. Though the tradition has waned from the society, remnants still live on in Isleño descendants’ passion and affinity for music.
Many of my family members have a natural, raw talent for music. In fact, many of my cousins and my grandfather, direct descendants of the Nunez line, are extremely talented musicians without ever having studied music or learned to read it, much like their ancestors. My most notable Isleño relative, who made a living as a musician, is my 3rd great grandfather (Manuel Nunez’ great, great grandson), Alcide Nunez. Alcide was a jazz clarinetist in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in the early 20th century during the birth of jazz in New Orleans. Stay tuned for a more in depth post on Alcide, his career, and his contributions to Jazz.
Of the four Isleño settlements, two survived into the nationhood of our country, including St. Bernard, the village where most of my ancestors originally settled. They all endured a plethora of hardships including storms, floods, sickness, disease, mosquitoes, intense heat, and the many yet to be discovered mysteries of the swamp. They were a people running away from drought-ridden, locust-plagued land only to find that their lives would be threatened by drowning and disease. It was not the Heaven they had dreamed of however, it was their new home and there was no turning back.
For centuries they would endure many threats to their home in the form of natural disasters. Floods, hurricanes, and intense heat made it extremely difficult to create a life sustained by farming and fishing. Living so near a disappearing coastline makes for easy work as a fisherman, but can be disastrous for a farmer. The Isleños have persevered through centuries of major hurricanes including several just after their arrival in the late 18th century, the hurricane of 1812, the Chenier Caminanda Hurricane, categorized as the deadliest hurricane in Louisiana history, Hurricane Betsy in 1965, up to the historic Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Some, growing weary of constant reconstruction, have moved to other cities, other states even. However, time and time again, Isleño people return to the land their ancestors built up from nothing but a marshy swamp. They have tenaciously fought to restore these lands, preserve their culture, and press on.
Aside from my deep love for dogs, it is in the of spirit of perseverance and preservation that I feel most connected to my Isleño ancestors. While cherishing and honoring the rich traditions that make up the very essence of who we are, we continue to press forward, through the storms, standing at the end of the world, ready to face any challenge life may bring.
†Domingo Campo -> Francisco Campo -> Antonio Campo -> Simon Campo -> Josephine Campo -> Frank Cuadrado -> Odeal Cuadrado -> Odeal Ayo -> Tracy Pigrenet -> Me
*Manuel Nunez -> Estevan Nunez -> Vincente Nunez -> Victor Nunez -> Alcide Nunez
->Mary Nunez -> Dora Mae Mocklin -> William Pigrenet -> Tracy Pigrenet -> Me