The 22-parish area known as Acadiana was officially designated in 1971, but its history goes back much further. The first known inhabitants to populate the Lafayette area were the Attakapas Indians in the 1700s, but the migration of the Acadians from French Canada in the 18th century would have the greatest cultural impact on the city. Approximately 18,000 French-speaking Catholic inhabitants settled Acadie (now Nova Scotia) in 1605 and lived there under French rule until 1713 when the region went into English hands. Refusing to pledge allegiance to the British crown, the Acadians were expelled in 1755 in what is known as “Le Grand Derangement.” Families were separated, and more than half of the Acadians lost their lives during the journey.
In 1784, the King of Spain allowed the Acadians to settle in South Louisiana. They joined others who had arrived as early as 1765 from the Caribbean and the East Coast, settling along the bayous of south central and southwestern Louisiana where they could live according to their own beliefs and customs. Their first settlement was a small trading post on the banks of the Vermilion River that came to be known as “Pin Hook,” now a major road in Lafayette.
The years of 1765-1785 marked the immigration of great numbers of Acadians due to land grants given by the French and Spanish governments. The Spanish took possession of the territory in 1766 and with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the area came to belong to the United States. In 1821, Acadian Jean Mouton donated land for the construction of a Catholic church. A settlement grew around the church, now St. John the Evangelist, and in 1823, the Louisiana Legislature created Lafayette Parish. The town of Vermilionville became the new parish’s seat and was renamed Lafayette in 1884 in honor of the French Marquis de Lafayette.