Sonnier Family News article, Calcasieu, LA
submitted by: Lee Crockett
Submitted to the LAGenWeb Archives
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Sonnier Family Heritage Rich On Many Fronts
BY: NOLA MAE ROSS
American Press 01/19/1992
Louis and Louise Sonnier's lives were torn asunder. They lived in Nova Scotia for more than eight decades close enough to sniff the salty air from the Atlantic Ocean and close enough to see the schooners that eventually took their family on a painful journey.
The Sonnier's and their Acadian neighbors should have been used to having their homeland tossed back and forth between Britain and France. There were years of looking over their shoulders to see who was gaining on them. but they never dreamed their lives could be so torn as by what was to happen.
''Pledge allegiance to our queen,'' threatened the Britons, current masters of this land called Acadie (French) or Nova Scotia (English), ''or we'll put you completely off this island.'' Up until then, the threat was never enforced but that all changed on Sept. 5, 1755, when the English posted an order for all Acadian males over the age of 10 to meet at the Grand Pre Church.
Among those gathering at the church were Marcell Sonnier, son of the patriarch Louis, as well as his grandsons Charles, Pierre and Rene Sonnier.
The men were kept waiting and waiting for a decision. Finally, on Oct. 7, they were marched from the church to the harbor, where they were put onto different boats. Then the women and children were gathered onto ships, separating families wherever possible separating betrothed lovers, husbands from wives and mothers from screaming children on their way to becoming ''orphans.''
It became known as ''The Expulsion of the Acadians ''the blackest day in Acadian history. As the boats pulled away from shore, the Acadians saw their homes torched. They watched helplessly as the flames seem to reach the sky, burning like their broken hearts.
Only the boat captains knew where they were going. History says that some went to England, some to France and some to the northeast coast of America.
The Sonnier's and their neighbors had nothing left nothing but a strong faith in a better life and in freedom from these tyrants, plus the great strength from their Acadian heritage. Many never saw their kin again. And many, like the Sonnier's, have gaping holes in their family histories where whole generations dropped through.
Most of these Acadians had a vision Louisiana. They knew Louisiana to be a French province where they could be free. So hundreds of these homeless people started slowly for Louisiana. These journeys continued from 1755 to 1785. Some of the Acadians arrived in Louisiana within 10 years of the expulsion, others never arrived. But those who did reach Louisiana were shocked to find that the land now belonged to Spain. Nevertheless, they stayed, and were treated well by the Spaniards. The Sonnier's slowly moved across Louisiana, some settling in St. James Parish, some in Attakapas country on the Teche St. Martinville and others to the Opelousas Post.
Sylvain Sonnier I, a grandson of the Nova Scotia patriarch, and his wife, Magdaliene Bourq, settled south of Opelousas at Bellvue. He also had a vacherie, or ranch, in a cove on Plaquemine Brulee, a Spanish land grant. He was also a member of the Opelousas Militia. Still other Sonnier's kept going west to the far end of Louisiana, as evidenced by a number of Sonnier's in the Vinton area.
Sylvain Sonnier II, who first wed Humilda Como and then Judith Bello, daughter of Donato Bello, is the ancestor of nearly all the Sonnier's in Allen, Jeff Davis and Calcasieu parishes. Two of his sons Belile (Belisle), who married Eloise LaCase, and Donato (Donat) Sonnier, who married Melite Casanova moved to Imperial Calcasieu in the section that is now Allen Parish. At that time, the area was known as Prairie Soileau and included today's town of Oberlin. Today there is a Soileau community between Oberlin and Elton.
Three cemeteries in that area have many departed Sonnier's one northeast of Oberlin named Durio, a Sonnier cemetery on land donated by Donat Sonnier in Soileau and one named Pine Chapel north of the Guy community.
Sonnier's were mostly farmers and cattlemen in the early days. The original Louis Sonnier in Nova Scotia was also a soldier as was Sylvain I, the first Louisiana Sonnier, who served in the Opelousas Militia.
During the Civil War, the names Sonnier, Sonier, Saulnier and Saunyer were on the Confederate Army rolls. From from Allen Parish were two brothers Charles Sonnier, who was killed during the war, and William Belile, a private in Company B, 16th La. Infantry Battalion, which later became the Confederate Guard Response Battalion.
After the war, William Belile married Clementine Mouille and raised a large family in the Prairie Soileau area. Most of his descendants continue to live in that area today. One was Lucien ''Tom'' Sonnier, whose nickname came from an Indian who followed around as a child. Tom first married Louise Castello, then Celina Guillory. He fathered 16 children.
One of those children was Joe Sonnier, a well-known resident in Kinder. He served on the City Council for many years and operated a filling station.
One of his daughters was Mrs. Charles (Betty) Sarver, who is president of Allen Parish Genealogy and Historical Society.
''During World War II he was often called upon to help those in desperate need of rationed tires and gasoline,'' she recalled. ''One time a minister and his wife had a tire blowout on their trailer home. There were no tires to be had, not even old used ones. ''My father noted that the size of their tire looked the same as an airplane tire he had seen, discarded at the Lake Charles Air Force Base. He obtained permission to get several for that family.'' Among other descendants of Sylvain Sonnier who live, or have lived, in Kinder and Oberlin, are Ronnie, son of McKinley Sonnier, who operates the Sonnier farms; Woodrow, Delmer, Brenda Sonnier Byrd; Fred, James, Simon, Mrs. Tom (Lucille) Patrick; Mrs. Martin (Celestine) Storery; Roy and Amie Sonnier and their great-granddaughter, Kim Manuel; Ida Sonnier Rider; Pearl Sonnier Taylor; the late Jack Sonnier; and many more.
Don Louis Sonnier, another son of Sylvain, has descendants in the Lake Charles area, including the late Sam Sonnier, Lake Charles electrical contractor for many years; Mrs. Jacques (Sally) Sonnier Hand and Perry Sonnier, both of the Bundicks community; and Johnny Sonnier of Hemphill.
In Sulphur, Clay Sonnier was a barber, while his son Ruel was the postmaster there for many years. Another son who lives in Lake Charles is Col. James Sonnier, retired after 27 years in the air force. His sister, Ruth Sonnier Romero, lives in Kaplan.
In Fenton was Louis Sonnier. According to his son, Verlin Sonnier of Lake Charles, ''My father drove a school bus to Fenton High School for 36 years and he also ran a small country store. Today my mother, Mrs. Ieanise Fontenot Sonnier, lives near my sister, Mrs. L.L. (Vida) Whitaker, in Edna, between Kinder and Fenton. My brother, Joe Sonnier, lives in Topsy.''
The name Sonnier has long been familiar in the music world, as Eddie Shuler, Lake Charles musician and owner of a recording studio, attests. Shuler, who once recorded Dolly Parton in her songs ''Puppy Love'' and ''Girl Left Alone,'' also worked with Jo-El Sonnier during the first six years of Sonnier's career.
Jo-El Sonnier is now widely known for his hit songs ''No More One More Time,'' ''Raining In My Heart,'' ''Come On Joe'' and ''Tear Stained Letter.'' The Cajun-country singer is currently in Nashville, Tenn., recording for Capitol Records. The late Danny James Sonnier, a Lake Charles musician known professionally as Danny James, recorded many songs with Shuler. ''He could make that guitar sing,'' Shuler recalled. Two of Danny James' more popular records were ''Boogie In The Mud,'' written by Rockin' Sidney of Lake Charles, and ''Paper In My Shoe'' by BooZoo Chavis, also of Lake Charles.
Giles Sonnier, a nephew of Danny James, is now working as a guitarist. He plays with a style much like his uncle's. Howard Sonnier of Lake Charles plays the guitar as well as a fiddle and French harp, and currently plays Cypress Creek Bank. He has also cut a record and written several songs.
In Church Point there's Johnny Sonnier, who is rapidly climbing to the big time with his recordings of ''The Devil Went To New Iberia'' and ''Chere Alice.'' In 1934, Lennis Sonnier joined the famous Hackberry Ramblers. He wrote the original ''Jolie Blonde,'' which became one of the group's most requested songs.
Lennis is still interested in music, despite a stroke that made it hard for him to play the guitar. He's now hunting for a fiddle, which he thinks will be easier to handle. He has seven sons, stepsons and close relatives who are musicians mostly drummers.
The art world has also profited from the Sonnier family. In Scott, Floyd Sonnier operates his Beau Cajun Art Studio. The 58-year-old artist works in pen and ink to preserve his Acadian heritage through authentic sketches of Cajun life.
''I can't remember ever not being an artist,'' he aid. ''My parents would say I started drawing when I was 3.''I remember well in school in Church Point. I was the only artist in my class. In fact, I was the only artist in the school. Every Christmas I was called on to go around the classrooms and draw Christmas scenes on the blackboards.''
Floyd's goal of preserving Acadian history through has led to considerable research and to becoming an adviser for the television documentary ''Halfway Home,'' which chronicled the Acadian Expulsion. ''It was when working on this that I suddenly realized that although I knew my own Cajun background, none of my school books mentioned the Acadians, much less the Expulsion and the flight from Acadie, and we certainly did not have to read the poem 'Evangeline,''' Sonnier said. He had acquired his knowledge of the Acadians from family stories handed down from generation to generation for nearly 250 years. Although the Acadian Expulsion was long ago and today's Sonnier's did not live through that dark beginning and the tortuous trail of tears to a better life, they still cherish the strength and spirit of their forebears as well as the surprising number of Acadian customs still present in their daily lives.