The Acadians

Les Acadiens

Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485-1528) was a Florentine explorer of North America who, at the time, was in the service of the King of France (one that hardly anyone has ever heard about: Francis I[1]).  Verrazzano’s sixteenth-century map of North America designates the entire region of the eastern seaboard (above Virginia) as Arcadia.  Verrazzano named this region after an ancient Greek place which means “refuge” or “Idyllic place.”  In 1603, King Henry IV of France granted a colonial charter south of the St. Lawrence River, which he designated La Cadie.  Since no one today knows what Cadie means, Samuel de Champlain added an r and the word became Arcadia, which is what Verrazzano intended.  At some point, however, the French removed the r and the word reverted to L’Acadie, which in English is said as Acadia.

Acadia was a French colony of New France located in northeastern North America, which included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), and Maine.  The people referred to as Acadians today are the descendants of French settlers in Acadia, a migration that began in 1604 from the southwestern region of France: Poitou and Aquitaine[2].  Mixing over time with indigenous people, the Acadians developed a unique ethnicity within the French-Canadian colonies and the result of this anomaly was the creation of a distinct cultural history.  It wasn’t long before the Acadians prospered as farmers and fishermen.

Between 1604-1704, ownership of Acadia changed hands several times, with Great Britain officially gaining control in 1710, but it was a conflict that began earlier, in 1688 with the War of the Grand Alliance.  As with many confrontations that took place in North America, this conflict involved several powerful European nations: France, the Holy Roman Empire, Dutch Republic, England, Spain, Savoy, and Portugal.  It was fought in Europe, North America, and India.  It encompassed King William’s War (in America), the Williamite War (in Ireland), and the Jacobite Risings (in Scotland) (where William III and James II struggled for control of England and Ireland), and expanded into a quest for the control of North America by England and France.

Louis XIV of France emerged from the Franco-Dutch War in 1678 as Europe’s most powerful monarch, whose armies had won numerous victories.  By employing combinations of military aggression, territorial annexation, and other inventive strategies, Louis sought to capitalize on his gains by extending his power into French frontiers.  What Louis accomplished, however, was to set off alarm bells among the protestant nations and caused them to look for ways and opportunities to check French power.  Where better to do this than in North America?  King William’s War was the first of six inter-colonial conflicts[3] that involved France, England, and their native American allies.

Setting the stage

Given the interests of Spain and France in the new world, King James II (1685-1688) sought to assert his authority over colonial affairs.  James, of course, was deposed by William and Mary (1689-1694), but they quickly reinstated most of King James’ colonial policies.  They incorporated the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, and the Province of Maine into the Province of Massachusetts Bay; New York and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were reorganized as Royal colonies with governors appointed by the Crown.  Maryland too became a Royal colony, and colonies that retained their proprietorships were forced to acknowledge the prerogatives of the British monarchy.

Through immigration, the importation of slaves, and natural population growth, British America experienced tremendous growth.  In 1750, 1.5 million people lived in the thirteen colonies.  Most lived as farmers, but the cities were beginning to expand, and with the defeat of the Dutch and the imposition of the Navigation Acts[4], North America became part of the global British trade network.  Prior to the American Revolution, the economic output of the British colonies made up around 40% of the empire’s gross domestic product.

Before 1650, nearly all immigrants to the British colonies went freely but paid for their passage by becoming indentured servants.  With improved economic conditions and relaxation of religious restrictions in Europe, the willingness of people to take on such an adventure declined.  To make up for a shortage of labor, the British increased its importation of slaves (forced migration), and of course, slave populations increased naturally over time.

The colonies, and their inhabitants, represented a substantial British investment and the British realized that it was an investment they had to protect and, given its overall productivity, expand upon.  There was certainly no better way to challenge French settlements in North America than by pushing its own settlements further west and establishing good relations with native populations.

The Acadian Issue

Under the Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell (1653-1658), Major General Robert Sedgwick led an English expedition into French Canada and seized the forts at Saint John, Port Royal, and the settlement of Penobscot.  The effect of this expedition was the establishment of British authority over Acadia.  The French governor was taken prisoner and sent to England where he remained until he accepted allegiance to the British and paid a substantial fine.  Acadia was returned to France in 1667 (Treaty of Breda) … the result of, according to some historians, war-weariness in England.

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of Spanish Succession and gave the British possession of French territories in Newfoundland and Acadia, the latter of which the British renamed Nova Scotia.  Beginning in 1713 and lasting for the next 45 years, French Acadians steadfastly resisted British occupation.  Acadians refused to acknowledge British suzerainty, steadily rebuffed British demands that they sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to the British Crown, and they made no secret of providing “aid and comfort” to what remained of French authorities in Canada.

During these 45 years, Acadians participated in various military guerrilla styled operations against British interests, such as raids on Dartmouth, Nova Scotia[5].  The Acadians also operated a clandestine supply network to help sustain a French presence in Canada.  For their part, the British actively sought to neutralize Acadian guerrillas and disrupt their re-supply efforts.  In 1755, the British decided that they had had enough of Acadian insurrection.  To solve the problem, the British decided to round up all Acadians and deport them.  Colonel Robert Monckton directed five separate campaigns.

Chignecto Campaign

After the fall of Fort Beauséjour in 1755 (renamed Fort Cumberland), Lieutenant Colonel John Winslow arrested a third of the regional population of male Acadians.  An additional number of men found themselves in custody at Fort Lawrence.  British officers informed the families of these men that they would be permitted to join their husbands at a future time.  True to his word, Colonel Winslow loaded 3,000 Acadians (men, women, children) aboard transport ships and sent them to the Carolinas.  To discourage Acadians from ever returning, Colonel Monckton ordered all villages and towns burned to the ground.

Cobequid Campaign

Captain Thomas Lewis commanding 250 regular British forces destroyed two villages in Cobequid, both of which had strategic significance to Acadian guerrilla operations.

Grand Pré Campaign

Colonel Winslow proceeded to Grand Pré and arrested every Acadian man (and boy above the age of ten).  Because of their treasonous behavior, he informed them, they must forfeit all worldly goods to the Crown.  He eventually loaded all Acadian families aboard ship for deportation.

Piziquid Campaign

Captain Alexander Murray conducted a similar operation but did not destroy the surrounding village in this region; these villages and towns were subsequently awarded to New England planters.  The British intended to replace the Acadians with settlers from the New England colonies.

Annapolis Royal Campaign

Major John Handifield commanded a detachment responsible for expelling Acadians at Annapolis Royal.  He was slow to take the Acadians into custody but finally loaded 2,000 Acadians on seven ships earmarked for the Carolinas.  En route, Acadian prisoners seized control of the Pembroke and sailed her to the St. John’s River (flowing from Maine into Canada).  After proceeding as far as possible upriver, the Acadians burned the ship.  They were met by Maliseet Indians who guided them to the location of an expanding Acadian community of escapees.

By the end of December 1755, the British had deported more than 7,000 Acadians to the lower Atlantic colonies, but the action sparked a guerrilla war that would last for four years.  The British didn’t arrest every Acadian; some escaped and went to live among their Indian allies.  With Acadians being fully aware of the deportation scheme, people living further north in the Annapolis Valley fled into the forests of the North Mountain in Nova Scotia.  The following winter was particularly harsh and many of these people died.  Local Indians helped the survivors escape across the Bay of Fundy into New Brunswick.  In the Cape Sable region of southwestern Nova Scotia, Acadians formed new guerrilla groups and initiated raids against the British village of Lunenburg.

In April 1757, Acadian and Mi’kmaq guerrillas assaulted Fort Edward, killing thirteen British soldiers, stealing what supplies they could carry, and setting fire to a warehouse.  The same group assaulted Fort Cumberland a few days later.  These activities prompted the British to initiate a second expulsion campaign in 1758.

Aftermath

What happened to Acadians deported away from their Canadian homeland?  Over time, some returned to Canada; their ancestors continue to live in Novia Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward’s Island.  Some remained in the lower colonies, reestablishing their lives among English, Scottish, Irish communities.  Others found their way to the southern portions of Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns, a derivative of the French Les Acadiens.

Lower Louisiana has been settled by French colonists since the late 17th century, many of whom evolved into what we call today Louisiana Creoles[6].  Over the years, the Louisiana French Creole mixed with other races to such extent that today, other ethnic groups refer to themselves as creole as well, including native Americans, Africans, and Spaniards.  Acadians were a later-arriving group of French-speaking people who share certain aspects of French culture, including the Catholic religion.  But in terms of language, Cajun French in no way resembles the French language before the Acadians arrived.  It is a variety (dialect, perhaps) of French spoken in Louisiana.  There is also what some people call Cajun English, influenced by a French dialect, and spoken only by Cajuns.  Outsiders, whether speaking French or English, will not be able to understand most Cajun French or English.

There is one aspect of Acadian/Cajun culture everyone understands … their great food: Jambalaya, Gumbo, Étouffée, Boudin (sausage) (especially with red beans and rice) Blackening (spicey preparation of steak and fish), and Pain Perdu (French Toast).  My conclusion to this piece is that were it not for British high-handedness in 1713, we would not have great Acadian food in Louisiana today.

Sources:

  1. Anderson, F.The War That Made America. New York: Viking Press, 2005.
  2. Bailyn, B.The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America—Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675.  New York: Knopf Publishing, 2012.
  3. Griffiths, N. E. S.From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People, 1604-1755.  Queen’s University Press, 2005.
  4. Moody, B.The Acadians.  Toronto: Grolier Publishing, 1981.
  5. Reid, J. G., and others.The Conquest of Acadia, 1710: Imperial, Colonial, and Aboriginal Constructions.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Endnotes:

[1] A shame, really, because King Francis I is the gentleman to whom we attribute the beginning of the French Renaissance.  He did this by attracting many Italian artists to work for him, including Leonardo da Vinci, who sold him the Mona Lisa.  He was also responsible for the beginning of the French exploration of the New World.

[2] The ethnic origins of Aquitaine can be traced back to pre-Roman Basque who themselves evolved from the Vascones and Aquitainians (present-day Navarre, western Aragon, and La Rioja of Peninsular Iberia.  The modern word Basque comes from ancient Vascone.

[3] Four French and Indian Wars, Father Rale’s War, and Father Le Loutre’s War.  The French and Indian Wars (1754-1763) pertain exclusively to the conflict between England and France in North America coincidental to the Seven Years’ War, while the others pertain to battles of economic warfare in the St. Lawrence River valley in Canada and the lower Great Lakes region that pitted the Iroquois against French Algonquin alliance.  Father Rale’s War was a series of battles between New England settlers and the French allied Wabanaki Confederacy (1722-1725).  Father Le Loutre’s War (1749-1755) again pitted New England settlers against the Micmac Indians led by Fa. Jean-Louis Le Loutre in a guerrilla-style engagement.

[4] A series of laws designed to bolster British state power and economic interests by imposing restrictions on colonial trade.

[5] Despite the British conquest of Acadia, Nova Scotia remained primarily occupied by Catholic Acadians and Mi’kmaq natives.  The Dartmouth Massacre of 1751 occurred when Joseph Broussard led Indians into Dartmouth, destroying it and killing twenty villagers to prevent the town from becoming a protestant settlement.

[6] Creole is a term used by French and Spanish speaking people to distinguish persons born in a place away from the mother country.  French Creole simply means a person of French extraction not born in France.  While Acadians would certainly qualify as creoles, their unique ancestry makes the term Cajun more appropriate, especially since that is what Louisiana Acadians prefer to be called.

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
This entry was posted in Colonial America, History. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Acadians

  1. You might enjoy reading Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem (and masterpiece) Evangeline. It used to be required reading before exiting 8th grade or, later, high school.

    My middle school students enjoyed reading and studying Evangeline>. We had an excellent study guide with vocabulary words and relevant questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kidme37 says:

    You might be interested in checking the current show Curse of Oak Island on the history channel. Shows are available on demand on our Spectrum TV. The new version air during the winter months and show what they’ve been up to over the summer. It is slow moving but some points of interest stand out.
    – Oak Island is part of Nova Scotia so I wonder if any of this overlaps with what went on on Oak Island in the 1700’s.
    – It is believed, based on various evidence that the Knights Templar and others constructed deep underground spaces in which to hide various treasures and/or items of historical and possible religious importance.
    – 2 pieces of bone were found 170 feet down during a drill operation. One was European, one Middle Eastern based on DNA testing.
    – A lead cross was found and dated to this period and very much resembled cave drawings of lead crosses in France I believe. The shows will bring it up in the intros.
    – Square structures made from large hand cut wooden beams have been found 100+ feet down and dated to the early 1700’s Imagine doing that by hand and not having the walls cave in on you. Very difficult today with modern equipment.
    – Flood tunnels were built to booby trap the vaults and a huge quantity of cocount fiber was used to filter out anything that might block the tunnels from the sea. The nearest coconut fiber was in the Bahamas area I believe.
    – Lots more. Watching a few episodes should get you close to up to speed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mustang says:

      I’ve watched a few of that series, but not recently. Like so many of those reality TV series, the participants never seem to “get to where they are going,” and as you say, it is a very slow moving plot. I am interested in “Templar” migration to North America, but if it happened, it had to have occurred much earlier than the 1700s. The topic is fictional fun reading, though. On that topic, you may enjoy Dungeon, Fire, and Sword by John J. Robinson. Robinson (1918-1996) served as a Marine in WW II … has written several books about Templars and Freemasons. He was a member of the Medieval Academy of America, the Organization of American Historians, and the Royal Over-Seas League of London. Good writer, too. Were he still alive, I’m sure he would be interested in the Oak Island dig.

      Liked by 1 person

    • kidme37 says:

      Yes, I don’t expect them to find any treasure as I never expect anyone to find any fabled treasure above ground, but noting what these people did in terms of digging and building during that time period is somewhat interesting. I may check out that author.

      Like

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