Ascension Parish

EARLY DAYS

Houmas HouseOver 500 years define the history of the site of Ascension Parish; a site historically identified by the important junction of the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche.

About the year 1200, these waterways were one, then the river changed course, leaving behind a small stream the Native Tribes called ‘bayuk’; today’s Bayou Lafourche.

The Houma, Bayougoula, and Tchitimacha tribes occupied this site for years before Europeans. While primitive, they lived in organized communities with disciplined beliefs.

They were hunters and farmers who built mounds and temples. They knew pottery, basketry, and ceramics. They named the Great River, ‘Michi Sipi,’ and are to be credited for helping the early settlers.

The first Europeans (Spanish explorers) arrived here before 1520. In 1541, the conquistador, Hernando de Soto, was the first to write of the Great River, and his lieutenant, Luis de Moscoso, was likely the first to travel the length of Bayou Lafourche on his escape to Mexico.

In this period the Tribes spoke openly of ‘the fork’ (Bayou Lafourche) in the river as another route to the Gulf, but this openness faded, and la fourche was thought mere fable. In 1680, however, the French missionary, Louis Hennepin, wrote of the strategic fork in the river. Afterwards, the search for ‘la fourche’ became an obsession for the French.

In 1682, Rene Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, descended the Mississippi. In April, he found the Gulf, and claimed ‘La Louisiane’ for France.

Due to seasonal high waters la fourche was not found. Because he did not document the river’s mouth, for nearly twenty years Louisiana was mostly undisturbed, other than ‘coureurs-des-bois’ (French trappers) roaming the territory.

By 1698, France and Spain were competing for Louisiana. Serving France, in 1699, Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville rediscovered the Mississippi, and began colonization. With help from the Natives he found Bayou Manchaq, which today is one of Ascension’s northern boundaries. ‘La fourche’, however, remained elusive.

In 1700, d’Iberville’s brother, Jean-Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, with Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, and Henri de Tonti, found la fourche, and named it ‘Les Riviere de Tchitimacha.’ In this period, Iberville founded Mobile in 1702; St. Denis founded Natchitoches in 1714,

Bienville founded New Orleans in 1718, and the French became firmly established from Canada to the Gulf.

It is thought that a tiny village existed on the Mississippi at Bayou Lafourche at this time. The village was called ‘La Fourche des Tchitimacha,’ and later ‘La Fourche.’ In time, French, Canadians, Germans, Spanish, English, African and Native Slaves populated it.

 

 

 

 

 

CREATING ASCENSION PARISH

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In 1804, The Purchase was divided, with Louisiana as the ‘Orleans Territory.’ This was divided into 12 counties, with the L’Ascension area as ‘Acadia’; population 5,000. Due to its prosperity, Acadia became the ‘Gold Coast.’ In 1807, the Territory was divided into 19 parishes. ‘Ascension Parish’ was created from Acadia. In 1812, the Territory became ‘Louisiana,’ the 18th State.

Today, Ascension Parish is a true American treasure. It is the ‘Gateway’ to a glorious and sublime portrait of time and people spanning more than five centuries. Ascension Parish is an immense collection of diverse histories deserving simply of recognition, celebration, and protection.

 

 

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