Recent plans to renovate the small triangular green space Downtown in front of the former Lafayette City Hall and to name it Place Mouton — and The New Orleans City Council’s December decision to remove four Confederate monuments from places of prominence in the Crescent City — have offered our community an incredible opportunity: to ask important questions, seek meaningful answers and benefit from a larger dialogue about our shared histories and the things we hold dear.
The number of people bearing the Mouton surname and their descendants in this region is arguably countless. We come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and so many of us share a heritage scarred by persecution, slavery, the Civil War and its aftermath.
“By 1850, there were some 374 slave owners in Lafayette Parish; of those, 68 percent were descendants of Acadians,” according to a 2013 report on the history of Lafayette’s Freetown neighborhood authored by professors C. Ray Brassieur, Lionel Lyles and Michael S. Martin. “All told,” the report continues, “the parish contained 3,174 enslaved persons by then, a number that would increase to 4,367 a decade later.” By 1860, members of the Mouton family owned 256 slaves.
Gen. Alfred Mouton did not live to see two of his half-brothers marry black women. One of those couples, Charles Alexandre Mouton and Mathilde Scholl, along with two of their children are entombed in St. John Cemetery, next to the cathedral built on land donated to the congregation by his grandfather and our city’s founder, Jean Mouton, in 1821. The Downtown-adjacent Freetown neighborhood, in fact, was carved from his father Gov. Alexandre Mouton’s expansive Île Copal plantation, and Alexandre donated lots inside that subdivision originally known as the Mouton Addition to the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church and the Good Hope Baptist congregation. “The church built there would serve not only as a house of worship, but also as an early school for black children,” the Freetown report notes.
The ancestors of so many of our region’s Moutons share one thing in common — they were forcibly removed from their homes. The fact that the Acadian exiles would go on to achieve prosperity in part through the abhorrent institution of chattel slavery is so much more than just a cruel irony. But the ties that bind us were not entirely born of these human failings. Our distinctive ways of living, and our Cajun and Creole cultures in particular, are largely based on the concept of sharing, collaboration and Creolization. And it is my hope that we will lean on these better parts of our natures to chart our future.
I think General Mouton’s statue could perhaps be more appropriately sited in the rear garden of his father Alexandre’s house, now known as the Lafayette Museum. The addition of some wellresearched and thoughtful interpretive panels there, and in a renovated Place Mouton, could honor all the folks who share the Mouton name while pointing out both our historical achievements and our dark failures, and might go a long way toward telling the world so much more about who we are as a people.
Together, we can make the most of this opportunity, and present and future generations can benefit from our example. Let’s not let this chance to do better — with everyone’s input and help — pass us by.
Todd Mouton is the author of Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop Music, and the fifth great-grandson of Jean Mouton.