September 10, 2010

Le Grand Dérangement

In 1755, almost 10,000 French settlers were expelled from the Acadia area of Canada because they refused to take an oath of allegiance to the British government. I do not know if any of these people were our ancestors but I do know that many of the names involved are in our tree. 

This area, it seems, had been in conflict from the day it was born, passing back and forth between France and England. Here the French catholic immigrants settled and, despite a lack of farming experience, flourished. The soil was rich, the summers warm, and crops grew. These people had a distinct culture and language.

When the area again came under British rule, the government looked closely at these people. They were of French descent and Catholic. Where would their allegiance lie in times of war? It was decided to demand an oath of allegiance to Britain.  The Acadians objected and the government, at that time, didn't enforce it, and for some time the issue was forgotten, at least by the French.

In 1755, Britain again looked to Acadia. The French population, with no oath of allegiance, had rapidly expanded and, to make matters worse, the Native population, especially the Huron, sided with the French.   Again, the government demanded that the oath of allegiance be signed by the French settlers, and this time the law had grown teeth. Those who did not sign would be expelled from the country.

Many, happy with their lives and the good living they had in the New World, did sign the oath hoping that there would never be a reason it would be in effect. Others fled to other parts of Canada.  For those who refused to sign, expulsion was the answer. They were loaded onto ships and sailed out of the country. This was a time of real hardship. Families were split up, possessions had to be left behind, and, worst of all, they were sailing off to unfamiliar territory.  Some returned to France. Many settled in the New England States.  About 300 Acadians settled in Louisiana which already had a large French population.   A few, for some strange reason, sailed to England. Homes and crops left behind were burned to the ground. This was to discourage any hopes the people might have of returning. There was nothing left to return to; however, some did return.

Additional readings:

Acadia and the Acadians
The Acadian Expulsion

In Literature - Evangeline

This lengthy narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is based on a tale of hearsay (which the poet heard from a friend of Hawthorne, who had it from an Acadian woman). It is told against the historical background of the British expulsion in 1755 of the French-speaking Acadians from their lands along the shores of the Bay of Fundy—le grand dérangement (as the Acadians still call it), which had to do with the end of a 150-year struggle between France and England for possession of what is now Nova Scotia. Evangeline tells the story of an Acadian girl who is separated from her betrothed at the time of the expulsion and wanders in search of him throughout the American Midwest and the Atlantic states, only to find him years later on his deathbed. After he dies in her arms, Evangeline too dies, released from a life of exile and steadfast loyalty that has received no reward on earth.