The Kiss Before the Storm

By Patricia B. Mitchell

Books from the Mitchells An Affair of the Heart: America's Romance with Louisiana Food La Cuisine Francaise French Cooking in Early America

Richard Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor, was born in 1826, near Louisville, Kentucky. After his graduation from Yale in 1845, he bought a sugar plantation on the Mississippi River near New Orleans. He was occupied there as a planter until the Civil War broke out. During the war he served well and rose to the rank of major general. In 1879 he wrote Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War. The passage below is from that book.

The Acadians

The upper or Northern Teche waters the Parishes of St. Landry, Lafayette, and St. Martins — the Attakapas, home of the “Acadians.” What the gentle, contented creole was to the restless, pushing American, that and more was the Acadian to the creole. In the middle of the past century, when the victories of Wolfe and Amherst deprived France of her Northern possessions, the inhabitants of Nouvelle Acadia, the present Nova Scotia, migrated to the genial clime of the Attakapas, where beneath the flag of lilies they could preserve their allegiance, their traditions and their faith. Isolated up to the time of the war, they spoke no language but their own patois; and, reading and writing not having come to them by nature, they were dependent for news on their curés and occasional peddlers, who tempted the women with chiffons and trinkets. The few slaves owned were humble members of the household, assisting in the cultivation of small patches of maize, sweet potatoes and cotton, from which last the women manufactured the wonderful Attakapas cottonade, the ordinary clothing of both sexes. Their little cabanes cotted the broad prairie in all directions, and it was pleasant to see the smoke curling from their chimneys while herds of cattle and ponies grazed at will. Here unchanged was the French peasant of Fénélon and Bossuet, of Louis le Grand and his successor, Le Bien-Aimé. Tender and true were the traditions of La Belle France, but of France before Voltaire and the encyclopaedists, the Convention and the Jacobins, ere she had lost faith in all things, divine and human, save the bourgeoisie and avocats. Mounted on his pony, with lariat in hand, he herded his cattle, or shot and fished; but so gentle was his nature that lariat and rifle seemed transformed into pipe and crook of shepherd. Light wines from the Médoc, native oranges and home-made sweet cakes filled his largest conceptions of feasts; and violin and clarionet made high carnival in his heart.

On an occasion, passing the little hamlet of Grand Coteau, I stopped to get some food for man and horse. A pretty maiden of fifteen springs, whose parents were absent, welcomed me. Her lustrous eyes and long lashes might have excited the envy of the “dark-eyed girl of Cadiz.” Finding her alone I was about to retire and try my fortune in another house; but she insisted that she could prepare “monsieur un diner dans un tour de main,” [“for the gentleman a dinner in a turn of the hand”] and she did. Seated by the window looking modestly on the road, while I was enjoying her repast, she sprang to her feet, clapped her hands joyously and exclaimed: “V'la le gros Jean Baptiste qui passe sur son mulet avec deux bocals. As! nous aurons grand bal ce soir.” [“There goes big Jean Baptiste on his mule with two jugs. Ah! We will have a big dance this evening.”] It appeared that one jug of claret meant a dance, but two very high jinks indeed. As my hostess declined any remuneration for her trouble, I begged her to accept a pair of plain gold sleeve buttons, my only ornaments. Wonder, delight and gratitude chased each other across the pleasant face, and the confiding little creature put up her rose-bud mouth. In an instant the homely room because as the bower of Titania and I accepted the chaste salute with all the reverence of a subject for his Queen, then rode away with uncovered head so long as she remained in sight. Hospitable little maiden of Grand Coteau, may you never have graver fault to confess than the innocent caress you bestowed on the stranger.

It was to this earthly paradise and upon this simple race that the war came, like the tree of the knowledge of evil to our early parents.