Published on December 5, 2012 by Amy
The Acadians (French: Acadiens) are the descendants of the 17th-century French colonists who settled in Acadia (located in the Canadian Maritime provinces — Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island — and some of the American state of Maine). Although today both Acadians and French-Canadian Québécois are francophone Canadians, Acadia was founded in a geographically separate region from Quebec (“Canada” at this time) leading to their two distinct cultures. The settlers whose descendants became Acadians did not necessarily all come from the same region in France. Acadian family names have come from many areas in France from the Maillets of Paris to the Leblancs of Normandy. Some Acadian families did not even originate in France, for example the popular Acadian surname ‘Melanson’ has its roots in Scotland and those with the Surname ‘Bastrache’ or ‘Basque’ can find their origin in Pays Basque (“Basque Country”) which is located between France and Spain.
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In the Great Expulsion of 1755, around 4000 to 5000 Acadians were deported from Acadia by the British; many later settled in Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns. Later on many Acadians returned to the Maritime provinces of Canada, most specifically New Brunswick. During the British conquest of New France the French colony of Acadia was renamed Nova Scotia (meaning New Scotland).
Acadia is home to the first permanent French settlement in North America, which was established at Port-Royal in 1604. In 1603 Henry IV, the King of France, granted Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts, the right to colonize lands in North America between 40° and 60° north latitude. Arriving in 1604, the French settlers built a fort at the mouth of the St. Croix River, which separates present-day New Brunswick and Maine, on a small island named Île-Ste-Croix. The following spring, the settlers sailed across the bay to Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal) in present day Nova Scotia.
During the 17th century, about sixty French families were established in Acadia. They developed friendly relations with the aboriginal Mi’kmaq, learning their hunting and fishing techniques. The Acadians lived mainly in the coastal regions, farming land reclaimed from the sea through diking. Living on the frontier between French and British territories, the Acadians found themselves on the frontlines in each conflict between the powers. Acadia was passed repeatedly from one side to the other, and the Acadians learned to survive through an attitude of studied neutrality, refusing to take up arms for either side, and thus came to be referred to as the “French neutrals.”
In the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, France ceded that portion of Acadia which is now Nova Scotia (minus Cape Breton Island) to the British for the last time. In 1754, the British government, no longer accepting the neutrality previously granted to the Acadians, demanded that they take an absolute oath of allegiance to the British monarch, which would require taking up arms. The Acadians did not want to take up arms against family members who were in French territory, and believed that the oath would compromise their Roman Catholic faith, and refused. Colonel Charles Lawrence ordered the mass deportation of the Acadians, without authority from LondonTemplate:Fact and despite earlier cautions from British authorities against drastic actionTemplate:Fact. Historian John Mack Faragher has used the contemporary term, “ethnic cleansing,” to describe the British actions.
In what is known as the Great Expulsion (le Grand Dérangement), more than 14,000 Acadians (three-fourths of the Acadian population in Nova Scotia) were expelled, their homes burned and their lands confiscated. Families were split up, and the Acadians were dispersed throughout the British lands in North America; some were returned to France. Gradually, some managed to make their way to Louisiana, creating the Cajun population, while others returned to British North America, settling in coastal villages and in northern New Brunswick.
In 2003, at the request of Acadian representatives, a proclamation was issued in the name of Queen Elizabeth II, acting as the Canadian monarch, officially acknowledging the deportation and establishing August 15 as a day of commemoration. The day of commemoration is observed by the Government of Canada, as the successor of the British government.
The Acadians today predominantly inhabit the northern and eastern shores of New Brunswick, Miscou Island (French: Île Miscou) and Île Lamèque. Other groups of Acadians can be found in the Magdalen Islands and throughout other parts of Quebec, in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia such as Chéticamp, Isle Madame, and Clare. Still others can be found in the southern and western regions of New Brunswick and in New England. Many of these latter communities have faced varying degrees of assimilation. For many families in predominantly Anglophone communities, French language attrition has occurred, particularly in younger generations. The Acadians who settled in Louisiana after 1764, known as Cajuns, have had a dominant cultural influence in many parishes, particularly in the southwestern area of the state known as Acadiana.
Today Acadians are a vibrant minority, particularly in New Brunswick and Louisiana (Cajuns). Since 1994, Le Congrès Mondial Acadien has united Acadians of the Maritimes, New England, and Louisiana.
Notable Acadians in the Maritimes include singers Weldon Boudreau, Delores Boudreau, Angèle Arsenault and Edith Butler, singer Jean-François Breau, writer Antonine Maillet; singer/songwriter Julie Doiron; boxer Yvon Durelle; pitcher Rheal Cormier; former Governor General Roméo LeBlanc; former premier of Prince Edward Island Aubin-Edmond Arsenault, the first Acadian premier of any province and the first Acadian appointed to a provincial supreme court; Aubin-Edmond Arsenault’s father, Joseph-Octave Arsenault, the first Acadian appointed to the Canadian Senate; and former New Brunswick premier Louis Robichaud, who was responsible for modernizing education and the government of New Brunswick in the mid-20th century.
August 15, the feast of the Assumption, is the national feast day of the Acadians. The national anthem of the Acadians is “Ave, maris stella”. On that day, the Acadians celebrate by having the tintamarre which consists mainly of a big parade where people can dress up with the colours of Acadia and make a lot of noise.
The flag of the Acadians is the French tricolour with a golden star in the blue field, which symbolizes the Our Lady of the Assumption, patron saint of the Acadians and the “Star of the Sea”. This flag was adopted in 1884 at the Acadian National Congress in Miscouche, PEI.
Acadians in the diaspora have adopted other symbols. The flag of Acadians in Louisiana, known as Cajuns, was designed by Thomas J. Arceneaux of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and adopted by the Louisiana legislature as the official emblem of the Acadiana region in 1974. A group of New England Acadians attending Le Congrès Mondial Acadien in Nova Scotia in 2004, endorsed a design for a New England Acadian flag by William Cork, and are advocating for its wider acceptance.
Acadians speak a dialect of French called Acadian French. Many of those in the Moncton area speak Chiac and English. The Louisiana Cajun descendants mostly speak English but some still speak Cajun French.
In 1847, an epic poem by American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline, was loosely based on the events surrounding the 1755 deportation. The poem became an American classic, and also contributed to a rebirth of Acadian identity in both Maritime Canada and in Louisiana.
Robbie Robertson wrote a popular song based on the Acadian Expulsion titled Acadian Driftwood, which appeared on The Band’s 1975 album, Northern Lights — Southern Cross.
Antonine Maillet’s Pélagie-la-charette concerns the return voyage to Acadia of several deported families starting 15 years after the Great Expulsion.