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5 A Case Study
6 Attempts at Relocation
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Beginning in 1755, nearly 10,000 French inhabitants of Nova Scotia, also known as the Acadians, had their homes and property confiscated and were forcibly deported to other British colonies in America.
Of these, some 2000 found themselves bound for Massachusetts. Destitute and among foreigners of a different religion and language, these Acadian families were distributed among many Massachusetts towns, where they were forced to rely on local residents for basic support.
Having been under British rule since 1713, the Acadians were removed by authorities at the outset of the French and Indian War because of their refusal to take an unqualified oath of allegiance to the British crown. Since they preferred to remain neutral, they were referred to as the “French Neutrals” by British authorities and their Massachusetts “hosts.” This exhibit tells the story of the Acadian experience in Massachusetts, where they were compelled to remain until the end of the war in 1763.
In 1763 many Acadians began to petition the Massachusetts General Court for permission to leave the province, preferring to return to Nova Scotia or relocate to France, St. Domingue (Haiti), or Quebec, areas populated by those who shared their language and religion. Many Acadians eventually made their way to Louisiana. Their descendants today are known as the Cajuns. A few remained in their new homes in Massachusetts.
Acadia, or Nova Scotia, as it appeared in 1755. Although its boundaries were contested, they were often stated as running north to the St. Lawrence River and south to Maine. Massachusetts Archives
The French & British Presence in Acadia 1498–1748
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Once encompassing present-day Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and parts of southern Quebec, Acadia was a region of persistent conflict.
Claims by John Cabot for the English in 1498 and Jacques Cartier for the French in 1534 served as the basis for continued struggle over this territory. Possession of the area, primarily settled by the French, shifted regularly, being ceded to the French in the Treaty of Breda (1667) and the English in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Although Louisbourg was captured by the English in 1745, it was returned to the French in the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle (1748), while the English maintained control of the colony overall, which they called Nova Scotia.
Treaty of Breda, 1667 — This treaty guaranteed France dominion over Acadia following the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667).
Treaty of Utrecht, 1713 — The article shown here ceded possession of Acadia or Nova Scotia to Great Britain as a result of Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). Cape Breton Island, originally part of Acadia, was left to the French.
Prelude to War, 1750–1755
Nova Scotia, 1755 — This detail, taken from a map of North America, displays the location of Fort Beausejour on the Chignecto Peninsula. The British Fort Lawrence stood across the Missiguash River. Massachusetts Archives
The boundaries of Acadia or Nova Scotia had long been at contest, the presence of the French in supposed British territory increasing the apprehension of many.
Acadians had remained in the colony following the assumption of British control in 1713.Their refusal to take an unqualified oath of allegiance earned them the title “French Neutrals” and the contempt of British authorities. Massachusetts had always taken an interest in the affairs of Nova Scotia and feared that the French presence there threatened its safety, and perhaps that of all the British North American colonies. Governor William Shirley began voicing such an opinion in 1749.
William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts (1741—1757), portrait by Thomas Hudson, c. 1750 Instrumental in the effort to expel the French from Nova Scotia, Shirley is credited by many historians with being one of the architects of the Acadian deportation along with Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia (1755-1760). Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Art Commission
Some Points Stated Concerning the Settlement of the Boundary of Nova Scotia, 1749
Addressing the legislature, Governor Shirley warned that French encroachments in Nova Scotia threatened the safety of the British colonies and the profitability of New England industry. Massachusetts Archives
In 1750 he entered into uneasy negotiations with the French when they established Fort Beausejour on the Chignecto Peninsula. These having proved unsuccessful, Shirley began recruiting forces in 1755 to expel the French from Nova Scotia, appointing Colonel John Winslow as second in command. Troops left Boston Harbor in May. By June, they had captured Fort Beausejour.
War loomed ahead.
Fort Beausejour, 1755
A similar plan, obtained by the British from a French spy, provided detailed specifications needed for the fort’s capture. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada
Spencer Phipps, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts (1732-1757) Portrait by Alice Ruggles Sohier, 1930
Phipps served as acting governor during Shirley’s extended absences from the province. During the influx of Acadians into Massachusetts, Phipps often headed the legislature and took part in many of the decisions regarding their disposition. Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Art Commission
Petition to the King, 1751
Likely fearing support of French encroachments in Nova Scotia on the part of the Acadians, the Massachusetts legislature headed by Lieutenant Governor Spencer Phipps petitioned the King for their complete removal. Massachusetts Archives
The Deportation 1755–1762
Colonel John Winslow (1703-1774) Resident of Marshfield, Winslow served as commander to the provincial troops enlisted for the expedition to Nova Scotia. He was instrumental in the capture of Fort Beausejour and played a major role in the detention and physical removal of the Acadians in the Grand Pré region. Courtesy of the Historic Winslow House Association
On September 5, 1755, John Winslow, under orders from Nova Scotia Governor Charles Lawrence, announced to the Acadians that their homes and property were forfeit to the Crown and that they were to be removed from the colony.
Purportedly to protect British interests in Nova Scotia, Governor Charles Lawrence had decided that the Acadians should be removed and dispersed throughout the American colonies. They were held under guard until hired ships arrived to transport them and what few items they could carry. Their homes and farms were burned to prevent those who escaped from supporting themselves if they remained.
Proclamation read at the church at Grand Pré, September 5, 1755
Although required to announce to the Acadians plans for their deportation, John Winslow found it “very disagreeable to [his] natural make & temper.” Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society
List of Acadians confined by Col. John Winslow, September 15, 1755
Following the deportation order, Acadian men were confined to prevent their escape. This detailed list enumerates each man’s family size and livestock holdings as well as listing his home village. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Memorandum for Capt. Murray, 1755
This is a transcript of a letter from Nova Scotia Governor Charles Lawrence to Captain Alexander Murray directing him to “take an eye for an eye…in short a life for a life” in cases where Acadians molested the troops or caused “mischief” while awaiting deportation. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Forced to wait until October, many were in danger of starving. Upon arrival of the ships, the Acadians were herded on board, in many instances being separated from friends and family, despite assurances to the contrary. Initial transports were bound for Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. Later ships delivered Acadians to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Georgia.
Taken from a contemporary map of Bermuda, these images depict two distinct styles of ships that were used to transport the Acadians to the American colonies. Generally mercantile in nature, they are (top & bottom) a snow and a sloop. Courtesy of the Hart Nautical Collection, MIT
Journal of John Winslow. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Map of North America, 1755 Displayed are the destinations of deported Acadians in 1755 and 1756. Massachusetts Archives
In November 1755, the first ships packed with Acadians arrived in Boston Harbor.
Although the vessels were bound elsewhere, poor conditions on board prompted investigation by a joint committee of the Massachusetts General Court. A number of passengers were allowed to disembark. They were soon followed by nearly 2000 others for whom Massachusetts would be their final destination.
Exiles in Massachusetts 1755–1766
Letter from Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia, August 11, 1755.
Addressed to Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, it is similar to those sent to the governors of the American colonies to which the Acadians were deported, detailing the danger they posed to the security of Nova Scotia and the necessity of interning them in the receiving colony. Massachusetts Archives
General Court Committee Report, 1755
The intent of this report was to reveal conditions on board the first series of transports laden with Acadians and bound for Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Massachusetts Archives
Having arrived destitute, the Acadians’ appearance prompted action by the provincial legislature to provide for their support. As they were dispersed among various towns, the overseers of the poor and selectmen were directed to provide for them at the province’s expense. Further legislation was passed when it became apparent that the Acadians’ stay would be extended. Legislators attempted to secure assurances of reimbursement from the government of Nova Scotia, but to little avail.
Massachusetts General Court Acts 1755-1756, Chapter 35
The law required towns to provide Acadian exiles with houses and working tools and with general care in cases of necessity, to be reimbursed by the province. It also instructed the towns to provide them employment and authorized their indenture. Massachusetts Archives
Being both French and Roman Catholic, the Acadians were not especially welcome in their new setting. Many townspeople feared they would escape or seek retribution under cover of darkness. Others simply balked at the expense of their support. There were some, though, who took pity on them and assisted them during their sojourn.
Boston Gazette, 1756
Bostonians were wary of their Acadian prisoners. The author of this letter feared their escape in stolen ships under cover of darkness or worse, their destruction of the town or powder house, “heated with Passion and Popish Zeal.” Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library
Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780), portrait by Walter Gilman Page, 1900
As a member of Council and later Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, Hutchinson acted as a friend to the exiled Acadians, making attempts to keep families together that were threatened with separation and writing petitions for several illiterate Acadians wishing to address the General Court. Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Art Commission
A Case Study: Marshfield and the Acadians
As was the case with many Massachusetts towns, Marshfield began to receive Acadians in the fall of 1755.
As the influx of Acadians into the province grew, the legislature was forced to find places to accommodate the new visitors. Among those arriving in Marshfield was the Michel family, consisting of seven members. A later arrival, the Meuse family, although unassigned to the town by the legislature, was permitted to reside in the town in order to provide for its own support.
Petition of Joseph Michel, March 30, 1756
Unlike the Meuse family, which willingly entered into an indenture, Joseph Michel’s eldest sons were forcibly indentured by two of the selectmen of Marshfield. Unhappy with this turn of events, Michel sought intervention from the General Court, arguing that since the boys had found their own employment the contract should be considered null and void. Massachusetts Archives
The Michel Family
Originally farmers from the area of Annapolis Royal, the Michels claimed to have been friends of the English in Nova Scotia, having provided wood and provisions to the nearby garrison. They arrived in Marshfield in the fall of 1755. Placed in a local schoolhouse, likely because of a lack of available housing, they were provided for by the selectmen of the town.
Only several months after their arrival in the town, the Michels received a visit from the selectmen, advising them that their two eldest sons had been indentured—Francis, 23, to local farmer Anthony Winslow and Paul, 15, to mariner Nathaniel Clift. Both the family and neighbor Caleb Tilden voiced their disapproval of the indenture, but to no avail. In response, the boys’ father, Joseph Michel, petitioned the General Court.
General Court Committee Report, April 26, 1756
In response to the petition of Joseph Michel, a joint committee was appointed to investigate. Its advice, approved by the legislature, declared that forced indenture was contrary to legislative intent in cases where Acadians were willing to work and were not agreeable to indenture. Massachusetts Archives
With the exception of the two eldest sons, who were relocated to Plymouth in 1760, the majority of the family remained in Marshfield, Joseph Michel dying there in 1763. The rest of the family continued on and it is likely that they integrated themselves into town life.
The Meuse Family
Hailing from Cape Sable, the Meuse family arrived in Massachusetts sometime between the summer and fall of 1756. Residing in Plymouth, the Meuses provided for their own support, yet when this became difficult they petitioned the General Court, complaining that they were not being provided for by the town as were other Acadians.
Marshfield Town Meeting Records
As did other towns, Marshfield regularly voted on methods of support for the Acadians. These entries record payments made for wood for cooking and heating, the use of a cow for milk, and even the funeral of Joseph Michel in 1762. Courtesy of the Marshfield Town Clerk’s Office
The response of the General Court was to assign them to the town of Wareham, but while waiting for its answer the Meuses contracted with Nathaniel Ray Thomas of Marshfield in order to provide for their support. Permission was given for them to remain in Marshfield.
Complaining of mistreatment by Thomas, the family’s indenture was cancelled and the entire family was moved to Easton. Unable to support themselves, several of the sons left the town to seek employment while Charles Meuse, father of the family, complained again of a lack of support by town officials. Unhappy with Massachusetts life, the Meuses requested permission to go to France and, later, Quebec. It is assumed that they eventually left the province.
Nathaniel Ray Thomas
A wealthy inhabitant of Marshfield, Thomas entered into a contract with Acadians Charles Meuse, his son-in-law Paul Clement, and their families. Courtesy of the Marshfield Historical Commission
Meuse Family Indenture, February 28, 1757
Written in French, this document served as the Meuse family’s contract with Nathaniel Ray Thomas. In exchange for laboring on his farm, Thomas agreed to provide them with housing, food, and clothing. Massachusetts Archives
Petition of Charles Meuse and Paul Clement, January 12, 1758
Claiming that Nathaniel Ray Thomas had not fulfilled his end of the contract and complaining that “the women [of the family] are almost naked as also some of the men,” Charles Meuse and Paul Clement petitioned the General Court seeking their assistance in the matter. Massachusetts Archives
This early nineteenth-century lithograph of the farm of Nathaniel Ray Thomas depicts how the farm may have appeared when Charles Meuse and family performed their indenture. The family of Joseph Michel was also cared for by Thomas for a brief time, although not under such terms. Courtesy of the Marshfield Historical Commission
Attempts at Relocation 1763–1766
With the end of the war and the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), the Acadians in Massachusetts began to signify their desire to leave.
Petitions, some with over one thousand names, were submitted by Acadians to the General Court of Massachusetts beginning in 1763. Many sought to depart the province and settle in other regions, among them France, St. Domingue (present-day Haiti), and Quebec. Having been prevented from migrating to French colonies, Acadians left the province not in a large-scale movement but in small, isolated groups. Some few, it would appear, remained in Massachusetts.
Acadian Petitions, 1763-1766
Petitions submitted to the General Court contain the names of heads of families and number of family members of Acadians wishing to leave the colony and go to France (left) or Quebec (right). The name of the Charles Meuse family appears on both petitions, although the family had been reduced by half, having separated in order to provide for their own support. Massachusetts Archives
Address of Governor Bernard to the House of Representatives, February 13, 1766
Forwarding several Acadian petitions to the House of Representatives, Governor Bernard advised that permission be granted and funds allowed for the transport of Acadians to Quebec, believing them to be industrious British subjects, temporarily disadvantaged by circumstance. Massachusetts Archives
Message of the House of Representatives to Governor Bernard, June 26, 1766
After consideration of additional requests by the Acadians for support during their proposed attempts at resettlement in Quebec, the House of Representatives denied them further aid. As a result, Acadians left for Quebec in small groups. Massachusetts Archives
Francis Bernard, Governor of Massachusetts (1760-1769), portrait by
Giovanni Battista Troccoli, 1925
Following the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), Governor Bernard found himself having to deal with the matter of the Acadians wishing to leave the province and return home, settle in the French colonies, or settle in the newly-established British colony of Quebec. Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Art Commission
Proclamation of Governor Francis Bernard, November 28, 1764
Faced with the requests of nearly one thousand Acadians and their attempts to relocate to the French colony of St. Domingue (Haiti), Governor Bernard found it necessary to issue this proclamation forbidding their transport, claiming that it would tend to “strengthen the dominion of a foreign prince.” Massachusetts Archives
Circular containing the Articles of Capitulation and the Proclamation of Governor James Murray, 1766
This circular, published in French, details several articles agreed upon by French governor Pierre de Rigaud upon the surrender of Quebec, guaranteeing former French subjects freedom to practice the Roman Catholic faith. Newly appointed British governor James Murray promised land to persons of French origin wishing to settle in Quebec, a very appealing proposal to displaced Acadians. Massachusetts Archives
Evangeline Postcards (1906-1920)
Romanticized depictions of Longfellow’s fictional heroine, Evangeline. Courtesy of the Nova Scotia Museum of Cultural History
Evangeline & Historic Memory
In 1847, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, a fictional tale of Evangeline and Gabriel, lovers separated during the Acadian deportation.
During a conversation at his home with Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Reverend Horace Connolly in 1840 or 1841, Longfellow heard the legend of two betrothed lovers separated during the Acadian expulsion. Intrigued by the tale, he went on to read Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s History of Nova Scotia, and in 1845 began work on the poem.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
The poet as he appeared ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Cambridge Historical Society
Although fictional and historically inaccurate in many respects, it has served as the only glimpse of the historic event for several generations of readers. The character Evangeline herself has become representative of the Acadian removal and subsequent dispersal. An Acadian presence remains strong today in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and in Louisiana, where they have become known as Cajuns.
Statue of Evangeline, Grand Pré National Historic Site, Nova Scotia
Standing outside the church at Grand Pré, the entire site stands as a memorial to the Acadian deportation of 1755. Courtesy of Nova Scotia Tourism, Culture and Heritage
Statue of Evangeline, St. Martinville, Louisiana
A gift to the town from Delores Del Rio, star of the 1929 film adaptation of Longfellow’s poem, this statue serves to memorialize the Acadian deportation and the later settlement of many Acadians in Louisiana. Courtesy of the Louisiana Office of Tourism
Evangeline Oak, St. Martinville, Louisiana
Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux, the “true” Evangeline and Gabriel (from a reinvention of Longfellow’s poem by Felix Voorhies), are supposed to have met under this tree after their long separation. Under either pair of names, this entirely fictional couple, continues to symbolize the Acadian triumph over adversity resulting in their strong presence in Louisiana today as Cajuns. Courtesy of the Louisiana Office of Tourism
Online Exhibit Sources
French and British Presence in Acadia, 1498-1748
A New Map of Nova Scotia, and Cape Britain. With the adjacent parts of New England and Canada, composed from a great number of actual surveys. 1755. SC1, Series 38X, Transcripts and Documents Collected in France, 1492-1850, v. 2: no. 9. Massachusetts Archives.
Treaty of Breda (1667). Goldsmith'-Kress Library of Economic Literature, no. 1831, Baker Library, Harvard Business School.
Treaty of Utrecht (1713) from Statutes, treaties and documents of the Canadian Constitution, 1713-1929 by W. P. M. Kennedy. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1930. online at
accessed 7 March 2005.
Prelude to War, 1750-1755
Plan du fort de Beausejour scitué sur le continent du Canada dans le fond de la Baye francoise. H3/250/Beausejour (Fort)/. Library and Archives Canada.
Governor William Shirley, by Thomas Hudson, c. 1750. Commonwealth of Massachusetts Art Commission.
Some Points Stated Concerning the Settlement of the Boundary of Nova Scotia presented to the Massachusetts General Court by William Shirley, 1749. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 5, pages 349-359. Massachusetts Archives.
Lieutenant governor Spencer Phipps, by Alice Ruggles Sohier, 1930, after a portrait by an unknown artist. Commonwealth of Massachusetts Art Commission.
Draft of a Petition submitted to the King of Great Britain by the Massachusetts General Court, 1751. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 6, page 90a. Massachusetts Archives.
The Deportation, 1755-1762
Colonel John Winslow, by Eleanor Richards, ca. 1920, after a portrait by Joseph Blackburn. Historic Winslow House Association.
John Winslow journal, 1744-1757, pages 148-149, 178-179, 197-198. Massachusetts Historical Society.
A New and Accurate map of North America: wherein the errors of all preceeding British, French and Dutch maps, respecting the rights of Great Britain, France & Spain & the limits of each of his Majesty's provinces are corrected. 1755. SC1, Series 38X, Transcripts and Documents Collected in France, 1492-1850, v. 2: no. 2. Massachusetts Archives.
Detail of map of Bermuda, 1755, number AF-MB-K19. Forbes Collection. Hart Nautical Collections. MIT Museum.
Exiles in Massachusetts, 1755-1766
Letter to William Shirley from Charles Lawrence, 11 August 1755. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 5, pages 427-432. Massachusetts Archives.
General Court committee report on the condition of ships carrying French Neutrals, 7 November 1755. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 23, page 3. Massachusetts Archives.
Boston Gazette, 23 August 1756. Colonial Newspaper Collection, Boston Public Library Rare Books Department.
Massachusetts General Court Acts 1755-1756, Chapter 35. SC7, Series 207, Engrossed Acts. Massachusetts Archives.
Governor Thomas Hutchinson, by Walter Gilman Page, 1900, after a portrait by Edward Truman, c. 1741. Commonwealth of Massachusetts Art Commission.
A Case Study: Marshfield and the Acadians
Photographic reproduction of a portrait of Nathaniel Ray Thomas, reproduced with permission from Of Tea and Tories: The Story of Revolutionary Marshfield by Cynthia Hagar Krusell. Marshfield, MA: Rapid Service, 1976, page 11.
Indenture of Charles Meuse and family, 28 February 1757. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 24, page 8. Massachusetts Archives.
Lithograph of Thomas-Webster Estate, reproduced with permission from Marshfield, a Town of Villages, 1640-1990, by Cynthia Krusell and Betty Bates. Marshfield Hills, MA: Historical Research Associates, 1990, page 17.
Petition submitted to the General Court of Massachusetts by Charles Meuse and Paul Clement, 12 January 1758. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 23, page 393. Massachusetts Archives.
Petition submitted to the General Court of Massachusetts by Joseph Michel, 30 March 1756. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 23, page 51. Massachusetts Archives.
Massachusetts General Court Committee report on the petition of Joseph Michel, 26 April 1756. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 23, pages 56-57. Massachusetts Archives.
Town Meeting Records, Births, & Deaths, [v.3], pages 109, 113, 126. Town Clerk's Office, Marshfield, MA.
Attempts at Relocation, 1763-1766
List of Acadians wishing to go to France, 24 August 1763. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 24, page 486-491. Massachusetts Archives.
Petition submitted to the General Court of Massachusetts by Acadians wishing to go to Quebec, 2 June 1766. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 24, pages 562-563 and 565a-569. Massachusetts Archives.
Governor Francis Bernard, by Giovanni Battista Troccoli, 1925, after the original by John Singleton Copley, 1776-1779. Commonwealth of Massachusetts Art Commission.
Proclamation of Governor Francis Bernard, 28 November 1764. SC1, Series 161x, Transcripts of Public Documents, [vol. 2], page 424. Massachusetts Archives.
Extrait de la Capitulation du Canada par mons. de Vaudreuil, 1 March 1765. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 24, pages 553-556. Massachusetts Archives.
Address of Massachusetts Governor Bernard to the House of Representatives, 13 February 1766. SC1, Series 45X, Massachusetts Archives Collection, 1603-1799, vol. 110, pages 236-237. Massachusetts Archives.
Message of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Bernard, 26 June 1766. SC1, Series 532, House Journal, 1722-2002, vol. 1766-1767, page 129. Massachusetts Archives.
Evangeline and Historic Memory
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. [ca. 1860-1865]. Portraits, CHS Image Collection. Cambridge Historical Society, Cambridge, MA.
Evangeline postcards. Photo number 78.65.139, 86.90.4, and 89.81.24. History Collection, Nova Scotia Museum, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Statue of Evangeline. 3-2 Evangeline, St. Martinville. Slide Collection. Louisiana Office of Tourism.
Evangeline Oak. 3-1 Evangeline - St. Martinville. Slide Collection. Louisiana Office of Tourism.