In January 1769, the inhabitants of Presidio La Bahía bore witness to one of the greatest human struggles of the era.
The French and Indian War had raged for nine long years along the eastern seaboard of Canada down into the American colonies of New England. At the war’s conclusion in 1763, an entire population of people known as the Acadians would fall victim to mass expulsion from their homeland.
As far back as 1710, the British had begun their conquest of Acadia. For nearly 50 years, the Acadian people were subject to British rule and discrimination. When the French and Indian War began in 1754, the British acted immediately to dispel all Acadians in what would become known as “The Great Expulsion.”
“The Great Expulsion” officially began in 1755 and would not end until 1763, when seemingly all Acadians had vanished. Sum total, between 11,000 and 14,000 people were driven from their land and homes in regions of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine and other parts of New England. The Acadians were ordered to board vessels en route to France, or anywhere really, so long as it was not British territory.
Very few Acadians evaded exile by sea. Those who did managed to make it south to Maryland. The British utilized port cities as far south as Georgia to expel the Acadians en masse.
Though the Acadians had been dealt a cruel and debilitating blow, they were strong, sturdy people. Before the ship’s oars touched water, many Acadians already had a plan in mind. They would travel to Spanish Louisiana and re-establish themselves under a more compassionate and welcoming government.
For Spain, this seemed like a win-win situation. Through the Acadians, they would gain more people to maintain their stronghold on Spanish Louisiana and continue to grow their empire. The fact that the Acadians were very anti-British was an added bonus.
By 1769, many Acadians had already arrived and established roots in Spanish Louisiana. With the help of Spanish agents working secretly on French soil, many more were soon on their way. But it was a single schooner named Britannia, oddly enough, that would have a direct and lasting effect on Presidio La Bahía.
The Britannia left port in Maryland on Jan. 5, 1769. On board were exactly 100 souls bound for New Orleans. After nearly two months at sea, the Britannia was finally in sight of the Louisiana coastline. But just as the schooner had come in sight of land, a dense fog shrouded the Britannia and a strong easterly wind knocked the vessel off its course.
Several days later, the captain was forced to make landfall near present day Matagorda Island or possibly St. Joseph Island.
Shortly thereafter, the crew and passengers were discovered by Captain Francisco Thobar (Tovar), the commanding officer of Presidio La Bahía. Upon their meeting, Captain Thobar seized their vessel along with all of its contents and supplies, and ordered the weary bunch to the presidio.
As if their hardship hadn’t already been enough, the Acadians, many of them women and children, were forced to march through marshland and swollen creeks for some 50 to 60 miles. Furthermore, as soon as they arrived at the presidio, their personal possessions were seized, the passengers were put to work, the captain and pilot of the schooner were imprisoned, and Thobar refused to permit them passage to New Orleans, despite earlier assurances by Don Alexandro O’Reilly, governor of Spanish Louisiana.
After nearly six months of being stranded at Presidio La Bahía, the Acadians were likely overjoyed when Captain Rafael Martinez Pacheco arrived from Louisiana with orders to accompany them overland to Natchitoches, La.
Despite the good news, their struggle was far from over. By the time their 350-mile trek from La Bahía to Natchitoches had ended, very few of the original Acadian troupe were left.
Once in Natchitoches, Gov. O’Reilly did see to it that the weary bunch was taken in by Acadians who had already been in Natchitoches for some time. They were provided food, shelter, and supplies, and given work in fields cultivating wheat and rye.
But the honeymoon was short-lived and the Acadians revolted upon the realization that they were little more than pawns in Spain’s efforts to keep the British out of Spanish territories.