ECW Weekender – The Lafayette Museum

Southeast Louisiana is packed with history, but not exclusively to New Orleans or even Baton Rouge. Though its Civil War history is a little scarce, Lafayette (founded as Vermilionville in 1824), has its fair share of history if you know where to look. Of course, the first place to hit is the Lafayette Museum, also known as the Jean Mouton House.

Lafayette Museum (Mouton Mansion), built c. 1800-1826 by Alexandre Mouton

During the late eighteenth century, Acadian refugees from Canada settled in the area, establishing themselves as subsistence farmers and intermarrying with local European planters. Their unique culture, now affectionately called Cajun, is marked by amazing food, jumping Zydeco music, and a special dialect of the French language. Jean Mouton, one of the most prosperous Acadian landowners in the area, donated land to the parish to establish the town of Vermilionville in 1824. Though he owned a plantation outside of the town, he also owned a small two-room cabin in town he dubbed Maison Dimanche (Sunday House) where he and his family stayed one day a week while attending Catholic mass. That structure still exists behind the Mouton mansion, connected by a breezeway.

The house itself – or part of it – was constructed in 1826 by Alexandre, Jean’s son, shortly after his marriage to Celestine Zelia Rousseau. Three of the rooms on the bottom floor to the left of the front door serve as the original addition to the home. Alexandre Mouton went on to become the first Democratic governor of Louisiana in 1843 (serving for three years), but not before selling his home in Lafayette to Judge Cornelius Voorhies in 1836. After a brief residency, the judge sold it to Messrs. Samuel M. and Benjamin P. Paxton in November of that same year, and then the home passed into the hands of Dr. W.G. Wells in 1849. It was in the care of Dr. Wells that the home was bulked up, adding more rooms downstairs, an upstairs, and a cupola. This is the fully realized mansion guests can visit today. Ten years later, it was sold again to Dr. William B. Erwin in 1859, and his family would reside there through the tumultuous years of the Civil War. Vermilionville witnessed a minor battle along Vermillion Bayou, also known as the Battle at Pinhook Bridge (in a developed area along West Pinhook Road that crosses the river) just south of the old Mouton residence. It’s highly likely that the Erwin family – if they were still in town – would have heard the sounds of battle on April 17, 1863, as Confederate and Union artillery exchanged shots across the river.

The stronger Civil War connection lies with one of the sons of Alexandre Mouton, Jean Jacques Alexandre Alfred Mouton (or just Alfred, for the sake of brevity). Born in 1829 in St. Landry Parish (Opelousas), Alfred was the only child of Alexandre and Celestine not to be born in Lafayette Parish. He enrolled at West Point in 1846, graduating in 1850, 38th in a class of 44. Alfred may have stood out amongst his class for his Acadian heritage, French being his first language, and knowing little English. He remained with the United States Army for a short time before resigning to take on work as an assistant civil engineer for the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western Railroad in the early 1850s. Just prior to the Civil War, Alfred returned to Lafayette Parish and became an influential member of the community as a sugar planter and son of the former governor.

Portrait of Alfred Mouton in Confederate uniform on display at Lafayette Museum

At the onset of the secession crisis in 1860, the Mouton family heartily supported Louisiana’s separation from the Union. Alexandre served on the state secession convention in 1861 and Alfred organized a company from across Lafayette Parish, later incorporated into the 18th Louisiana Infantry within which he was promoted to the rank of colonel. The regiment fought at Shiloh and Corinth in 1862, and other small engagements at Georgia Landing (1862), Irish Bend, and Fort Bisland (1863) near his hometown. By 1864, he was awarded the rank of brigadier general. At the battle of Mansfield in 1864, Alfred fell in battle, and the men he commanded, “[w]ith tears of grief and rage in their eyes… ran on through the deadly hail, determined to avenge the death of their leader.”[1]

Dining room at Lafayette Museum (Mouton House). Notice the black and white checkered pattern on the floor is not a rug or real marble, but painted wood to boost the asthetic appeal of the room. Portrait on the far end of the room is of Alexandre Mouton as a child.

At the Lafeyette Museum, visitors can expect a fairly typical house-museum experience. Instead of guided tours, guests are introduced to the house and the many families that lived there through a short film that takes them through each room of the home and explains the origins and significance of many of the antiques on display. One cabinet in the Exhibit Room exclusively showcases Civil War artifacts linked to Alfred and Alexandre Mouton like an inkwell used at the secession convention and a piece of the 18th Louisiana Infantry flag. Upstairs rooms are tailored to tell a specific story about Acadiana and local history like the Carnival Room with its bedazzled Mardi Gras apparel and the solemn Nun’s Room, pointedly less glamorous with handmade quilts and a hair wreath. The Maison Dimanche behind the mansion displays items that would have been found in the average eighteenth-century Acadian country home or kitchen, packed with everything from a spinning wheel, coffee grinder, pie safe, and butter churner. After the main house was built, this building most likely was used as a detached kitchen. The modest garden houses an old sugar kettle and the bell that used to announce sessions at the first courthouse in Vermilionville.

Sugar kettle on display in the back garden of the Lafayette Museum (Mouton House).

The Lafayette Museum is currently owned and operated by Les Vingt-Quarte on a non-profit basis with volunteers serving as docents Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00am to 4:00pm, and Sunday through Monday for group tours by appointment only. For those who enjoy house tours – especially ones that personify the eighteenth century – the Lafayette Museum is not a place to overlook.



[1] John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963), p. 342

5 Responses to ECW Weekender – The Lafayette Museum

  1. Just wanted to emphasize that this is appreciated greatly by a descendant of military serving Lafleurs from St. Landry Parish (Ville Platte). Please don’t be discouraged and continue on the path you’ve chosen…

      1. Well, if you are from Ville Platte, you must be related to Fr. Lafleur. I was fortunate enough to know his sister, Edna, when she was living in N.O. She told me all about him, his courage, and his selflessness. A few years ago, just by luck, I came across a book about Fr. Lafleur at some restaurant/cafe along IH 10. I can well believe the Lalfleurs are a military serving family.

  2. Pingback: Emerging Civil War

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!