Not really a baking question, but I’ll take it, reader Ellie! Cajuns are descendants of a group of French-speaking colonists known as Acadians. These people, a mixed bag of folks from almost every corner of France, originally lived along the east coast of Canada in a region that was called, not surprisingly, Acadia. They were getting along just fine there until a little thing known as the French and Indian War broke out in 1754. Essentially the North American preamble to the worldwide conflict known as the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War pitted Great Britain against, well, the French and the Indians. Or perhaps I should say some Indians, mainly those who lived along the frontiers of the British colonies in North America, who were sick of being pushed around by men who wore wigs and knee socks.
The interesting thing about the Acadians at this time was that though they spoke French, they were British subjects (ever since the French ceded the area that was known as Acadia to the British in 1713). So when British troops landed in 1755 and took an outpost on the border of Acadia by the name of Fort Beauséjour, it wasn’t really any big deal. That is, until the British began to suspect that their French-speaking brethren might not be 100% reliable allies in a war against the French. Their answer: a simple loyalty test, one where the Acadians were asked to swear allegiance to king and country and all that, nothing of any significance, just a formality really. Oh, and by the way please also renounce your Catholic faith in favor of the Church of England. There’s a good chap. Sign here.
Well, that was too much for most Acadians, who refused to swear the oath and were subsequently expelled from Acadia. Many were deported to France, others were resettled around the North American colonies, still others fled to the safety of the nearest French territory, which at that time was the Louisiana Territory. Unfortunately for them, the French shortly ceded Louisiana to Spain in 1762 to repay their war debt (nobody found out about it until 1764). So the Louisiana Acadians became Spaniards for a while. They briefly became French again in 1800, but when Napoleon became strapped for cash in 1803, France sold the Louisiana Territory again, and the Acadians — who by then had come to be known as “cajuns” — have been Americans ever since.
UPDATE: Reader Kerri, a Canadian of Acadian descent (try saying that ten times when you’ve had lots to drink) wants to reinforce the point that not all the Acadians moved to Louisiana where they eventually became Americans. There are plenty still left in Canada, and many are (at least these days) Catholic. She also offers this link to some traditional Acadian recipes.
Also, reader Jessica from Louisiana points out:
No one from [here] calls themselves cajuns (not seriously, at least). Cajuns don’t speak French, not anymore for a long long time. Nowadays cajun is pretty strictly just a style of cooking. To call someone cajun is essentially calling them poor (creoles were the rich). Gumbopages.com has a great write up on the differences between the Cajun and Creole peoples (and foods) here.