Wednesday, May 22, 2024

History of the Acadians

- Advertisement -
Acadians are descendants of 17th and 18th century French settlers in parts of Acadia in the northeastern region of North America

Acadians are descendants of 17th and 18th century French settlers in parts of Acadia in the northeastern region of North America. Presently the Canadian Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and the peninsula east of Quebec and south of the Kennebec River in Maine (USA). The story of the Acadians begins in France; They originally came from rural areas in the Vendée region of western France. They arrived in 1604 and settled in Acadia, now Nova Scotia, where they prospered as farmers and fishermen.

When the Acadians refused to sign an oath of allegiance to Britain, the British lieutenant governor, Charles Lawrence, as well as the Nova Scotia Council decided to deport the Acadians on July 28, 1755. The Acadians’ own sense of identity was rooted in a connection to their homeland, taught by their respected priests to be loyal to France. Although they maintained that they were a neutral nation, the British considered them a military threat until they refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown.

- Advertisement -

The two most dominant characteristics of the Acadians were their faith and their language. Despite the exile, their devotion to their Catholic culture and French origins remained constant. Their national symbols were always made around for submission to the Virgin Mary.

Although some Acadians remained after deportation, in the 1950s, they began to influence the economy, politics, and culture of the Maritime Provinces on many levels. Preserving their values and culture at home, they were able to develop a French education system (mainly in New Brunswick).

Acadians today live mainly in Canada’s Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia), as well as parts of Quebec in Canada, and Louisiana and Maine in the United States. In New Brunswick, the Acadians live on the North and East Shore of New Brunswick.

Acadians are well known as writers, politicians, artists, musicians and performers. Their other identity is the French of North America, or by genealogy starting with their last name. Where the last name is usually capitalized, is it possible to know who the Acadians are?

Beginning in the 1670s, French colonists left Port-Royal and found other settlements, the most important of which were Amherst, Nova Scotia, and Grand-Pré (now Grand Prix, Nova Scotia). The first official census taken in 1671 registered an Acadian population of over 400 people, of whom 200 lived in Port-Royal. In 1701 there were about 1,400; in 1711, about 2,500; in 1750, over 10,000; and in 1755, over 13,000.

These highly self-sufficient Acadians farmed and raised cattle in the swamps. The Acadians drained the swamps using a technique of tidally-adaptable barriers, thus making agriculture possible. They fished, hunted and trapped. They even had commercial relations with the English colonists in America despite the objections of the French authorities. The Acadians considered themselves “neutral” since Acadia shifted between the French and the English several times. By not taking sides, they hoped to avoid a military response.

Peninsular Acadia was not the only area of French population along the Atlantic. In the 1660s, France established a fishing colony at Plaisance (now Placentia, Newfoundland). The French population in both regions appeared to enjoy a fairly high standard of living. Easy access to land and the absence of strict regulations allowed the Acadians to lead a relatively autonomous existence. An important contribution to the survival of the Acadians was made by the indigenous Mi’comacks. By the late 17th century the Aborigines had gained considerable influence over the Acadians because of their knowledge of the forest and the land.

The deportation of the Acadians was a result of the contemporary geopolitical situation and was not a personal choice made by Governor Lawrence. He knew that British troops under General Braddock had been bitterly defeated by French forces in the Ohio Valley. Fear of a combined invasion of Lewisburg and Canada against Nova Scotia, theoretically joined by the Acadians and Mi’comac, explains, to a certain degree, the deportation order.

The exile process, once instigated, lasted from 1755 to 1762. Acadians were put on ships and deported to English colonies along the eastern seaboard as far south as Georgia. Some eventually found their way to Louisiana and were helped to find their culture as well. Others managed to escape to French territory or hide in the woods. It is estimated that three-quarters of the Acadian population was exiled; The rest avoided this fate by running away. An unknown number of Acadians died of starvation or disease. A few ships full of exiles sank at sea with their passengers.

In 1756, the Seven Years’ War broke out between France and England. Two French colonies, Île Royale and Île Saint-Jean, fell in 1758. More than 3,000 settlers were deported from Île Saint-Jean alone, half of whom lost their lives by drowning or disease. The Treaty of Paris (1763) definitively ended French colonial presence in the Maritimes and most of New France.

British authorities preferred the Acadians to disperse into the region. This policy suited the Acadians because it allowed them to avoid British-majority territories. This allowed British settlers to occupy lands previously owned by the Acadians.

Most of the Acadians found themselves on less fertile land, except on Prince Edward Island. Thus, these former farmers became fishermen or wood workers, cultivating their land only for subsistence. As fishermen, they were exploited but reduced to poverty, especially by companies from the Isle of Jersey in America.

In 1746, British forces defeated a Scottish Catholic rebellion at the Battle of Culloden during the Jacobite Rebellion. In the wake of the rebellion, the British Crown stripped the Acadians of their civil and political rights because they were also Catholic. Acadians were denied the right to vote and could not be members of the legislature. From 1758 to 1763 they could not legally own land. It was only later, in 1789, that Nova Scotian Acadians gained the right to vote. Those in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island had to wait until 1810. After 1830, Acadians were able to sit in the legislatures of the three colonies after the Roman Catholic Relief Act was enacted.

Generally neutral, innocent, these Acadians had virtually no institutions of their own even in the early 19th century. The Catholic Church was the only francophone (French-language only) institution in the Maritimes, but its clergy came mostly from Quebec or France. There were some francophone schools and teachers, who spread their knowledge from village to village. There were no French newspapers, and they had no lawyers or doctors. In fact, the middle class was no Acadians.

However, whether they were aware of it or not, the continued survival of these Acadians sowed the seeds of a new Acadia. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were 4,000 Acadians in Nova Scotia, 700 in Prince Edward Island, and 3,800 in New Brunswick. The Acadians’ population growth during that century was significant: they were about 87,000 at the time of confederation and 140,000 by the beginning of the 20th century.

Despite the long years of inhuman injustice and unfair treatment to the Acadians, they were never apologized to by the English government. Only on December 9, 2003, a Royal Proclamation was signed in Canada in which Queen Elizabeth II acknowledged for the first time the wrongs committed in the name of the English Crown during the 1755 Acadian deportation.

- Advertisement -

Stay in Touch

Subscribe to us if you would like to read weekly articles on the joys, sorrows, successes, thoughts, art and literature of the Ethnocultural and Indigenous community living in Canada.

Related Articles