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HISTORY CORNER: The Acadians 400-year journey to the Cajun Bayous of Louisiana

| June 14, 2020 1:00 AM

Unwanted in Canada by the British, Acadians were exiled to faraway lands

The Acadians are an amazing French-Canadian culture that was named after the home of Pan, a mythical Greek god who lived in a bucolic Eden named Arcadia.

Italian Explorer Giovanni da Verrazano gave that name to all the Atlantic Coast north of Virginia “Arcadia,” a word in Greek meaning “refuge” or “idyllic place” — like Eden. Arcadia was later changed to Acadia.

When the Acadians arrived in Louisiana centuries later, the name was mispronounced as “Cajuns.”

The Acadian story begins in France in 1603 when Pierre Dugua de Mons was granted a monopoly on fur trading in New France — now Nova Scotia — by King Henri IV.

The following year, de Mons, Samuel de Champlain and 77 other men headed for North America. They started a new settlement at Île Ste-Croix, a 35-acre island near the mouth of the Saint Croix River on today’s border between New Brunswick and Maine.

That first winter was a disaster. Lacking fruit and vegetables, 65 of the men became ill with scurvy and 35 died. The survivors then moved to Port Royal on the southwest coast of Nova Scotia and began a thriving new settlement called “Acadie” (Acadia).

It was the start of the Acadian culture that more than 400 years later would become today’s Cajuns who live mostly in Louisiana — but endless battles and hardships would face them before they got there.

For decades, the British and French fought for ownership of Nova Scotia. More French settlers arrived between 1632 and 1653, and ownership changed back and forth many times.

The French Acadians ingeniously converted the salty marshland to fertile farmland prospered, set up trading posts and made friends with local indigenous Mi’kmaqs who helped teach them how to live off the land — but they did not make friends with the British when they took over.

The Acadians were seen as a threat to support France in the ongoing battle with Britain, so the British required Acadians to make an oath swearing fealty to the King of England — which meant trading Catholicism for Protestant because the king was also head of the Church of England.

That bristled the Acadians who feared being called to arms to fight for the British against their homeland, France, and preferred to remain neutral.

But the neutrality pledge did not satisfy the Brits, who were nervous that those neutrals would still side with the French.

In 1755 — a fateful year in Acadian history — British patience ran out. Nova Scotia Lieutenant Gov. Samuel Lawrence and the Nova Scotia Council — without permission from the Crown — told the Acadians that they either pledge allegiance to Britain or be deported forever. That applied to “French neutrals” as well.

Acadians requested that they not be required to bear arms against France, but Gov. Lawrence was adamant, stating that his order was unconditional.

British troops then rounded up entire villages and jammed them into ships — many of them barely seaworthy — and sent them to Quebec and to the 13 British colonies in New England. Their settlements were burned to the ground, with cattle and belongings left behind confiscated.

The Grand Dérangement was underway.

Three years later, more Acadians were shipped off to Britain and France.

One report said between 10,000 and 18,000 Acadians were displaced during Le Grand Dérangement, with thousands more killed or dying from cold, disease or perished when their ships were lost at sea. Some were jailed.

Many families were callously separated, never to see each other again.

The redcoats didn’t get all of them however. Many fled into the surrounding woods, and others sought refuge among the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia or made it safely to today’s New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island.

And the Acadians under the leadership of Joseph Broussard fought back, attacking the British on multiple occasions with help from the Mi’kmaqs — but to no avail.

“A related concern,” one account said, “was whether their Mi’kmaq neighbors might perceive this as acknowledging the British claim to Acadia rather than the Mi’kmaq. As a result, signing an unconditional oath might have put Acadian villages in dangers of attack from Mi’kmaq.”

When the French and Indian War started in 1754, the British feared that the Acadians, French and Mi’kmaq’s would join forces against them — fearing the Mi’kmaqs as a “brutal warrior force.”

It took the British about 10 years to round up and deport the Acadians.

There were 14,000 Acadians before the first wave of deportations, and by 1764, less than 3,000 were left.

The Expulsion devastated the civilian population and wrecked the economy in the region.

In 1764, things started looking up for the Acadians. The British began allowing small groups of Acadians to return — but not to their former settlements — relocating elsewhere in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Others ended up in Newfoundland, the West Indies, and as far away as the Falkland Islands near Argentina.

Getting rid of the French Acadians allowed for the English to settle the fertile and rich Acadian land under the British Crown, and that’s what they did by advertising in New England newspapers for Anglo families to move north and take over the dispossessed Acadian lands.

Many accepted the offer.

During the 20 years that followed, the next big event in Acadian history unfolded. In 1785, some 3,000 Acadians who had been deported back to France boarded ships at Nantes bound for Louisiana, which had become a Spanish colony in 1763.

By that time, the Acadians had matured into a strong, closely knit and stable ethnic culture. The core was French, but in Louisiana they were exposed to other cultures that included Black Creoles, American Indians, Germans, Spaniards and Italians that brought a new dynamic to the Acadians that in the closing years of the 1700s, the Cajun culture was born.

The Spanish welcomed them and helped them get started by giving them lowlands along the Mississippi River, hoping to block British expansion from the East.

Not all Acadians were pleased. Some would have preferred Western Louisiana, where they had family and friends who’d settled there earlier, and it was better farmland for mixed crops.

Unlike many ethnic groups that have been absorbed into the American “melting pot,” the Acadian/Cajuns have maintained their unique cultural identity.

One report said, “They settled the mosquito-infested swamps, bayous, and prairies that nobody wanted. They did the back-breaking jobs that others would not do. With their strange sounding dialect, they were even rejected by other Frenchmen already in Louisiana.”

But this assimilation hurdle had the benefit of uniting the Acadians into an even tighter and stronger ethnic group.

Later, the French took over Louisiana and other vast regions of the West from the Spanish, and when the U.S. bought those lands from Napoleon with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Acadians/Cajuns became American citizens.

As the Acadian identity transitioned to Cajun, many moved north up the Mississippi, or west to the prairies to farm and raise cattle.

Because Cajuns spoke French dialect, they did not quickly blend into the English-speaking culture and remained distinctively different — developing their own way of life, music, dance and food, for which they are noted and appreciated today.

Glenn Conrad and Carl Brasseaux of the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana suggest that the Cajuns have a “handful of common characteristics” that include strong ties with family and environment, and remaining for years or generations in the same location, and also “tend to be less materialistic than the average American.”

Today the Acadians live mostly in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Others are scattered in other parts of Canada and other countries, including France, St. Dominique, Martinique, French Guiana, the Falkland Islands and St. Pierre & Miquelon.

In the U.S., the Cajuns are a thriving culture mostly in southern Louisiana, but also in Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, with pockets elsewhere.

In 1847, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published Evangeline, a poignant epic poem about an Acadian woman who was separated from her one true love during the 1755 deportation and spends her life trying to find him. The poem brought the story of the Acadians to the world.

It’s a story worth telling.

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Contact Syd Albright at silverflix@roadrunner.com.

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Cajun and Creole food difference…

Creole dishes use tomatoes while Cajun cuisine traditionally does not. Creole culture is older and is mainly of Spanish, African, Portuguese, Italian, Native American and Caribbean influences. These dishes are more complex and slightly richer with more cream and butter, and are well spiced and dishes often include seafood, smoked meat, onion, bell pepper and celery — with jambalaya a traditional recipe.

Acadian quote…

“To be Acadian is to have pardon in your heart, and to look forward with hope.”

— Zachary Richard, Louisiana-born Acadian singer songwriter and poet

Cajun English and Cajun French…

Acadians speak a variety of French called Acadian French. Many of those in the Moncton area speak Chiac and English. The Louisiana Cajun descendants speak a variety of American English called Cajun English. Many also speak Cajun French, a close relative of Acadian French from Canada, but influenced by Spanish and the West African languages of Louisiana and the peoples they mixed with.

— Wikipedia

Truth about Cajuns…

“The Hollywood movie crowd had helped to create an image of the Cajuns as simple-minded swamp dwellers whose lives revolve around eating, drinking and dancing. They depicted us as dull, unambitious people who aspire to nothing more than the Saturday night dance and another can of beer. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth!”

— Trent Angers, author, The Truth About the Cajuns

Church influence…

Most Cajuns are Roman Catholic, with church teachings a guiding force in Cajun society, characterized by male dominance in families, stable marriages, large families and the Cajun cultural “joie de vivre” attitude toward life.

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Painting “The Deportation of Acadians” by Henri Beau, the event taking place in 1755 in Nova Scotia.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS Charles Lawrence (1709-1760), governor of Nova Scotia remembered for expelling Acadians from Canada’s maritime provinces in 1755.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS This painting by C.W. Jefferys, depicts the British telling Acadians they can stay and not be deported if they will sign an oath of allegiance to the King of England and abandon the Catholic faith; few did and 10,000 were exiled.

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PAINTING BY CLAUDE PICARD British soldiers burning Acadian farms and homes before deporting them to many destinations from New England to Falkland Islands in the 1700s.

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PAINTING BY ROBERT DAFFORD/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS In 1785, 1,500 Acadians exiled to France from Canada migrated to Louisiana, shown in this painting waiting to board the ships.

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PAINTING BY ROBERT DAFFORD Painting by Robert Dafford of despondent Acadians exiled from Canada to England where they were held as prisoners until 1763.

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TROVER.COM Statue of Evangeline at Grand-Pré National Historic Site, Nova Scotia; fictional Arcadian heroine in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem about her searching for her true love, lost when they were separated at the deportation by the British.

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PAINTING BY LEWIS PARKER British troops round up Acadians and exile them from Canada beginning in 1755, with many returning years later.

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CATHY RICHES/WORDPRESS.COM Cajun shack in the Louisiana bayou.

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LOST BAYOU RAMBLERS Lost Bayou Ramblers, a younger generation musical group reviving old-time Cajun music.

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WELL PLATED BY ERIN Cajun Shrimp Boil Foil, typical popular Cajun dish. More recipes: https://www.wellplated.com/cajun-shrimp-boil-foil-packets/

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Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP, File Super-star singer Beyoncé, is a descendant from Acadian ancestors, including Acadian leader Joseph Broussard (AKA Beausoleil) exiled from Canada in the 1700s.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS Monument in Halifax harbor, Nova Scotia, commemorating the use of Georges Island as a prison for deported Acadians during the Grand Dérangement of the 1750s and 1760s, showing Georges Island nearby.