|Editors note: Descendants of the New World's
first French settlers - the Acadians - have built four
centuries of history in North America. In Part two
of a series chronicling that adventure, we find the
Acadians making their way southward towards the bayou
country of Louisiana.
In the fall of 1755, the course
of history in the New World was forever changed by the deportation of more
than 5,000 French Acadians from Nova Scotia. Almost overnight,
these Acadians found themselves
homeless, stripped of their possessions, torn from their
families, and forced to sail southward on
overcrowded, under-supplied ships.
In his book, History of the
Acadians, Bona Arsenault wrote of the events leading up to the fateful
day when the ships and their destitute passengers left
Canada's Bay of Fundy. He quotes John Winslow, an
English army officer who was stationed at Beausejour,
Nova Scotia during the upheaval:
"We are now hatching the noble
and great project of banishing the French Neutrals (Acadians) from this
province ... If we can accomplish this expulsion, it
will have been one of the greatest deeds the English in
America have ever achieved; for, among other considerations,
the part of the country which they occupy is
one of the best soils in the world..."
Historical documents, journals
and letters are Arsenault's primary sources for his description of the
which began in September of 1755. With systematic determination,
English troops occupied the French
Acadians' villages, burned their homesteads and arrested
anyone who resisted. All of the area's Catholic
priests were arrested as well, and their churches converted
In some places, the execution
of these orders led to bloody fighting between English soldiers and Acadians.
At Fort Cumberland, many were taken prisoner and deported
almost immediately, forced to leave wives,
children and home steads behind.
"One hundred and forty women,"
wrote a Catholic priest," threw themselves hopelessly and blindly onto
the English ships to rejoin their husbands," Arsenault reported.
In other areas, he discovered,
the fighting gave some Acadian families a chance to escape together and
avoid the fate of so many who were separated from their
loved ones. Fighting at Miramichi allowed some
200 families to escape into the forests, where they spent
a hungry, desperate winter.
Arsenault reported that it isn't
clear exactly what took place during English deportation efforts at Port
Royal, the Acadians' oldest settlement. All that's known
is that about half its population of 3,000 managed
to escape, and that many British soldiers and Acadians
On September 2, 1755, Winslow
issued orders for the arrest of the Acadians at Grand-Pre, as quoted by
Arsenault: "His Majesty's commandments (are)
that your lands and tenements and cattle and livestock of all kinds are
all forfeited to the Crown ... and that you yourselves are to be removed
from this province ... and I
hope that in whatever part of the world you fall, you
may be faithful subjects, and a peaceable and
On September 10, Winslow ordered
the first group of Acadians - 230 young men and boys - to board the
waiting English ships: "I ordered ye prisoners
to march. They all answered they wouldnot go without their fathers. I took
hold of (a prisoner) and bid march. He obeyed and the rest followed, though
slowly, and went off praying, singing and crying, being met by the women
and children all the way, which is 1½ mile, with
great lamentations, upon their knees ... Thus ended this
painful task of so many heart-breaking
Those prisoners filled the waiting
ships and remained aboard them, separated from their families, until more
ships arrived on October 8. Acadian women and children,
and the elderly and sick, were forced aboard
hurriedly and without organization. Hundreds were separated
from their relatives at the very point of
embarkation, Arsenault reported.
"The inhabitants," Winslow wrote
in his journal, "with great sorrow, abandoned their homes ... It was a
scene of confusion, despair and desolation ... Husbands
and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and
children, fiances and friends, believing they were merely
separating for a few days, were never to meet
again on earth, the ships having far distant destinations."
The various destinations had
been assigned by the English so that the Acadians could not easily regroup
and return to Nova Scotia. However, no one had told the
Acadians about that aspect of the plan.
On October 17, the ships finally
left the Bay of Fundy carrying some 5,000 Acadian exiles. Arsenault's
account states that 2,000 were bound for Massachusetts;
700 for Connecticut; 300 for New York; 500
for Pennsylvania; 1,000 for Maryland; 1,200 for Virginia;
500 each for North and South Carolina; and 400
for Georgia. "
In this way," Arsenault wrote,
" the Acadians were cruelly banished from their country and plunged
overnight into abject poverty .. These thousands of victims
(of) one of the most sorrowful upheavals in
history, left behind all the possessions they had accumulated
in four, five, even six generations."
The exiles found few friendly
faces in the English colonies. Only Maryland, with its large Irish Catholic
population, reached out the the Acadians. In most other
places, Arsenault wrote, the English "viewed the
Indians and the French with equal horror."
Most of the colonies didn't
even know the Acadian refugees were on the way, since the English government
didn't bother to inform in advance. None of the colonial governments had
the resources to feed, house or clothe the destitute refugees, who were
encouraged to move on as quickly as possible.
With great difficulty, they
did just that, Arsenault reported. Some managed to find their way back
Beaubassin area of Nova Scotia or to other points in
Canada. A few returned to France. Many of the
recently orphaned children were placed with English families
in the colonies, and absorbed by a foreign
Most of them, over the next
decade, trekked southward over land, by river, or along the Atlantic coastline
to the swamps and bayous of Louisiana. There, for the
second time in as many centuries, they set out to
conquer the wilderness of the New World.