How The Marquis de Lafayette Inspired a Louisiana Town’s Transformation

In Louisiana, the town of Vermilionville underwent a significant name change to become what is now known as Lafayette. As per this research article from The Advocate, the residents were persistent in their desire to honor the Marquis de Lafayette, a renowned French aristocrat, freemason, and military officer. This post explores the story behind this renaming and the historical significance of Lafayette in both American and French history.

The story begins in the year 1824 when a distinguished visitor arrived in the United States. Gilbert du Motier, famously known as the Marquis de Lafayette, graced the American shores. A nobleman, military officer, and a key figure in both the American and French Revolutions, Lafayette held a special place in the hearts of many. His heroic efforts during the Revolutionary War and his influential role in French history made him a revered figure.In a gracious gesture, President James Monroe invited Lafayette to return to the United States as “the guest of the nation,” covering all his expenses. This invitation marked the beginning of a yearlong tour that would take Lafayette to various states, including the captivating land of Louisiana. The people of Louisiana eagerly anticipated his visit due to their strong French connections.

Meanwhile, nestled along the banks of a river, Vermilionville began to take shape. Founded in 1824, the town was named after the river that flowed through it. However, the residents had a grander vision. They wished to honor Lafayette by renaming their town after him. Unfortunately, their aspirations were met with a roadblock. Another town in Louisiana had already claimed the name Lafayette, thanks to a rule that prohibited multiple places within the same state from sharing identical names. So, where was this first Lafayette located? Surprisingly, it was situated in the enchanting Garden District of New Orleans. Today, if you wander through the neighborhood, you may stumble uponLafayette Cemetery, a testament to the town’s bygone existence. In 1852, New Orleans incorporated the original Lafayette, transforming it into a faubourg, or neighborhood, within the city. This change paved the way for Vermilionville’s long-awaited name alteration.

Finally, in May of 1884, Vermilionville officially became Lafayette. The residents’ unwavering determination had paid off. Professor Michael Martin, a history expert from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, sheds light on the town’s name change, explaining, “Lafayette was so popular that his name became synonymous with numerous cities and counties throughout the nation.” Indeed, Lafayette’s legacy had left an indelible mark on American soil.

During his time in Louisiana, Lafayette had also visited New Orleans and Baton Rouge. His presence in the state is commemorated by a plaque marking his stay in the Tessier Building on Lafayette Street in downtown Baton Rouge. The intricate ironwork adorning the galleries of this historic house mirrors the ornate beauty of New Orleans’ famed French Quarter.

Fast forward to the present day, and the parish is commemorating its bicentennial, marking 200 years since its establishment in 1823. The celebration serves as a tribute not only to the parish’s rich history but also to its diverse cultural heritage. Throughout the year, a series of events, including festivals and music gatherings, will honor the bicentennial. Sami Parbhoo, the coordinator of the celebration, emphasizes the significance of this milestone, stating, “All of our events during the year, including our festivals and music events, will be celebrating the bicentennial in some way.”

Today, the city stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of a remarkable individual who left an indelible mark on the history of both France and the United States. From its lively music scene to its mouthwatering cuisine, Lafayette continues to captivate visitors from near and far.

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A Vermilionville Event Teaches the Community about Courir de Mardi Gras

A recent event held at Vermilionville taught guests and visitors about the tradition, history, and legacy of Louisiana’s Courir de Mardi Gras, as per this article from The Acadiana Advocate.

The event took place earlier in February as Louisiana communities were easing into the Mardi Gras season ahead of Valentine’s Day. On Sunday, February 12, a traditional Mardi Gras Run was held at Vermilionville, and it was open for the public to enjoy and for families to participate in an interactive and educational experience with admission prices going to Vermilionville. The event was presented by Vermilionville and the Basile Mardi Gras Association, and it featured an interactive Courir de Mardi Gras tradition led by Le Capitaine, who sang “ La Chanson de Mardi Gras,” as the costumed riders made their way through the historic village begging for ingredients to make a gumbo, as is the tradition.

Although a traditional Courir is held before or at dawn, this family-friendly event began at 10 am with a screening of Pat Mire’s “Dance for a Chicken,” a Mardi Grad documentary that reveals the historic secrets of the traditional, rural Mardi Gras run, which is also known as Courir de Mardi Gras. After the screening, musician Kevin Rees demonstrated the proper use of the “La Chanson de Mardi Gras” with the event’s attendees before the Basile Association began riding through the historic village, which ultimately ended with the infamous chicken chase. The event ended with attendees grabbing a delicious lunch at Vermillionville’s on-site restaurant and enjoying live music and dancing from Feu Follet.

Traditionally, Courir riders will consist of people disguised in colorful and festive costumes with a cone-shaped capuchon hat”, a mask made of screen, and a top and pants covered in strips of fringed fabric. These riders would mount horses and go from house to house to ask neighbors and community members for ingredients for a communal gumbo. The gumbo would then be cooked and eaten by everyone in town on Mardi Gras before the start of lent.

This self-contained version of a traditional, albeit  wilder event was designed by the Basile Mardi Gras Association andVermilionville officials to teach a new generation about the humble beginnings of a long-held Mardi Gras tradition. The holiday has become so ubiquitous in Louisiana with businesses, schools, and portions of the city being closed annually for the event, so it stands to believe that the origins of the holiday can sometimes be lost on a new generation. Luckily, the Basile Mardi Gras Association and the historic and educational Vermilionville can help to rectify that lack of knowledge.

The event was a success, thanks to the organizers at the Basile Mardi Gras Association and Vermilionville. Jim “Pecoq” Young, who is a member of the Basile Mardi Gras Association commented by saying, “we love it. We get people from all over Louisiana and even out of state. People come from all over to see the Mardi Gras. We’re thankful to Vermilionville for inviting us over here and letting us help them celebrate.” A full listing of their calendar of events can be found here.

Vermilionvile’s mission is to “increase appreciation for the history, culture, and natural resources of the Native Americans, Acadians, Creoles, and peoples of African descent in the Attakapas region through the end of the 1800s. Through historic interpretation and conservation along the Bayou Vermilion, we strive to educate guests on the interactions of these groups and the connections between past and contemporary folklife, thus empowering guests to apply these lessons from our shared histories.”

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