Lafayette and the surrounding area is a mix of American Indian, African American, English, French and Spanish culture. The area is situated in the region known as Southwest Louisiana. The Vermilion River runs through the city. Today, the city and parish are at the heart of Acadiana.
The earliest records label the area as the Attakapas and Opelousas districts named after the local Indian tribes. Before 1765, few Europeans settled in the area, mostly trappers and smugglers. By 1765, Acadians were arriving in New Orleans and the Spanish governor began settling them in the Lafayette area at St. Martinville and Opelousas. Both the French and Spanish officials granted lands freely along the bayous Carencro and Vermilion. Generally, the size of 6–8 arpents along the stream with a depth of 40 arpents. Two of the earliest settlers were Andrew Martin, Jean and Marin Mouton. It wasn't until Louisiana Governor William C. C. Claiborne created the counties of the Orleans Territory in 1805 did the Attakapas County exist.
By 1811, the Attakapas Country was split into the St. Martin parish and the St. Mary parish. The original village which would become Lafayette, was laid out by Jean Mouton and his surveyor, John Dinsmore, Jr. in 1821 and was given the name "St. Jean du Vermilionville". Later, the name would be shortened to "Vermilionville". The boundaries were defined in an 1836 charter and later expanded in the 1869 charter.
In 1823, the Louisiana legislature divided St. Martin parish and created Lafayette Parish. The parish name Lafayette was chosen due to the enthusiasm of General Lafayette's visit to the United States. However, the city's name remained Vermilionville due to the fact that the name "Lafayette" was already given to a suburb of New Orleans. Eventually, in 1884, the suburb was incorporated into New Orleans and Vermilionville became Lafayette.