Louisiana judge put the ‘x’ in Cajun names

 

Breaux is among the top ten French surnames listed in the telephone books of Acadiana, but it wasn’t always spelled that way.

Looking through old Louisiana records, you can also find it spelled Breau, Brau, Braud, Braut, Braux, Breaud, Brot and Bro, and probably a few other ways. In France and Canada, you will also find it spelled Brault, but you will seldom find that spelling in Louisiana (or the Breaux spelling outside of Louisiana).

Nobody took much notice of the variant spellings until it came time to count how many Breaux’s there were for the Census of 1830.

Judge Paul Briant of St. Martin Parish was in charge of the census for this area, and he decided that it was time to set down one spelling for all the Breaux’s (and for the Boudreaux’s and Comeaux’s and others who spelled their names as the whim struck them on any given day).

He’s the one who put the “x” on the end of Cajun names. The old myth that it came from the mark signed by illiterate Cajuns is just that… a myth.

Judge Briant recognized that there were more than a dozen ways to form the “o” sound in French surnames and arbitrarily selected the “eaux” ending because he thought it was the one most used in the Acadian ancestral lands in France.

That’s the way he wrote the names on the census record and that’s the way they’ve generally been spelled since.

Practically all the Breauxs of south Louisiana trace their ancestry to Vincent Brault, who sailed to Acadie from La Chaussée, France, sometime before 1661, the year he married Marie Bourg in Port Royal.

Several Breaux families made their way to Louisiana after the great exile, the first of them probably being the families of Althanase Breau and his cousin Jean-Baptiste. A young batchelor named Fermin Brau probably came to Louisiana with those families, all of them settling on the so-called Acadian Coast (St. James, Ascension and Iberville parishes) of the Mississippi River.

Firmin was one of the first of the family to move to the Teche country, probably about the time he married Marguerite Brau (1769). He is listed as a member of the Attakapas militia living at “La Pointe” in 1777 near what is now Breaux Bridge.

In 1771, Firmin began buying the land on which Breaux Bridge stands from Jean François Ledée, a New Orleans merchant who’d acquired the site as a French land grant. By 1774, Breaux’s branding iron was registered in the famous brand book kept in St. Martin Parish, and by 1786 he was one of the largest property owners in the Teche country.

Most of the Breaux families in southwest Louisiana can claim kin to Firmin through one of his six sons, most of whom raised big families on farms on bayous Teche or Vermilion.

One of those sons was Agricole, who, according to Charles West’s 1986 study of French surnames in south Louisiana, “was instrumental in constructing a bridge across the Teche at the present site of Breaux Bridge and after whom the town is named.” Firmin had built a little foot bridge, then Agricole built one big enough for horses and buggies.

But if Agricole’s bridge gave the town its name, it was his widow, née Scholastique Picou, who, as we shall see, saw to it that a town grew up around it.

 

By Jim Bradshaw

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I am very grateful to Jim Bradshaw for permitting me to include this interesting article (published by eunicetoday.com) on my web site.

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