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Acadian Odyssey: The Grand Derangement

About This Daily Classroom Special
Acadian Odyssey, created by Ron Dupuis, explores the culture of his ancestors by visiting "real" Cajun towns, presenting folk stories and language, describing the unique Cajun way of cooking, and allowing web site visitors to experience numerous Cajun-related festivals in Southern Louisiana. Ron is a teacher at Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge (LA) and former Teachers Network web mentor. 

Leaving Nova Scotia

Refusing once again to take an oath to the King of Britain, the Acadians had effectively sealed their fate. Preparations began in 1755 to expel the "popish recusants" from British controlled lands. The British began planning the treacherous methods where they would first capture the men and place them on boats, sending the women and children separately; in effect, tearing apart the strong family connection that was at the heart of Acadian culture. British troops were on hand to ensure that no Acadians would escape before the appointed time for their departure. Needless to say, cattle and crops remained in Nova Scotia under British control.

It began with 400 Acadian men being tricked into attending a special meeting in Fort Cumberland in the Beaubassin region to hear "the reading of orders of His Excellency the Governor." It ended with their being made prisoners with many others being "collected" in a short time. As the 400 men were forced to board ships, it is said that 140 women threw themselves "hopelessly and blindly" onto the ships in vain hopes of rejoining their husbands. It was in this manner that the early expulsion was committed. In the Grand-Pré area, 418 Acadians were led into a church and then taken prisoner and told of their fate to be expelled. But in Annapolis Royal, where the French were even more distrustful of the English, half of the 3,000 population managed to escape and were not recaptured.

On September 10, 1755, the first ship loaded with Acadians left the harbor at Grand-Pré. This historic site is now known to Acadian descendants throughout the world as Plage Evangeline.

All the while, other prisoners were being held, awaiting the arrival of additional ships. Food shortages began, and the Acadian women were encouraged to bring provisions to their men held in captivity. But these provisions never reached their loved ones, for the British troops were without expected supplies coming from England and were hungry as well...

Extra ships failed to show and the Acadians were then piled onto the ships at hand. Women were separated from their husbands and their children became instant orphans. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, finacées and friends all believed they would meet soon. In fact, they would never meet on earth again. These thousands of victims left behind all possessions that in some cases had accumulated over five or six generations. Never again would they see what they had worked, suffered, and endured for: their churches, villages, homes, cemeteries, and families. Bona Arsenault, in his book History of the Acadians, states it well, " one of the most sorrowful upheavels in history." George Bancroft, in his History of the United States, tells that "these unfortunate Acadians were guilty of no other crime than their attachment to France."

The British wanted no homes remaining for any uncaptured Acadians, so in the winter of 1755, 686 houses, 11 mills, and two churches were burned in Grand-Pré alone. Roughly 600 Acadians awaiting deportation watched as their families' livelihoods were reduced to ashes and smoke in the winter skies. The aftermath was likened to a "blackened desert" which left the uprooted Acadians truly without a country.

After Acadia

The British decided to spread the Acadians out among the English colonies in America in order to prevent them from regrouping and returning to Nova Scotia. Not a big surprise, but the settlers in those areas had not been forewarned of the coming Acadians and the French were regarded equally with the Indians, with fear and distrust. As the Acadians arrived in these areas, they were in effect placed into a form of slavery, not allowed to leave the designated areas to search for lost family members. The children were taken away and placed with colonist families. Many of these children grew up and never discovered their ancestry nor the fact that they have an Acadian name.

Cajun CountryBy far, the largest number of exiles settled in the territory of Louisiana. Today, approximately 800,000 of their descendants live in the southwestern part of the state. Rather than coming directly, many Acadians came to Louisiana after first arriving in parts of Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia. As the Acadians began arriving in Louisiana, they believed they were landing in a French territory, unknown to them was the fact that Louisiana had been ceded to Spain, who would take full control in a short time. But despite the fact of bringing various diseases with them, including small pox, the Acadians were given land and even cattle in order to settle in this new land, a "New Acadia." The first three Acadian settlements in Louisiana were: St. Jacques de Cabahannocer (today, St James), Lafourche de Chétimachas (Donaldsonville), and St. Gabriel D'Iberville (St. Gabriel).

Between 1777 and 1788, approximately 3,000 Acadian refugees sailed from France to Louisiana. They headed to St. James, Donaldsonville, and St. Gabriel to search for relatives. The Acadians had been brought to France by the last French governor of Nova Scotia, coming from areas such as Boulogne, Saint-Malo, Le Havre, La Rochelle, and Bordeaux. Through various means, the French-based Acadians learned of family ties in Louisiana and persuaded France to allow them to join their loved ones.

Acadians Today

The descendants of the Acadians in Louisiana have managed to preserve the pride of their Acadian ancestors. In the southwestern areas of Louisiana, one can still hear French spoken in homes, although English has become the language of business and used on the streets. Various dialects and accents exist in Louisiana today, making comprehension of the French language difficult to an outsider. This is why visitors may feel that English is more predominant, for Acadian descendants switch to English to be more easily understood. The descendants of Acadians who were dispersed through the western world more than 200 years ago still manage to conserve their language and traditions, in spite of mounting obstacles.

Did you know II?

Bayou: a navigable water stream, particular to Louisiana.

 

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