Acadiana—The Cajun Homeland in Louisiana

The Defining Event

Acadie, what is now Nova Scotia (with parts of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island), was as noted ceded by the French to the British in 1713 by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht that ended the War of the Spanish Succession. The European warfare was part of the long French and Indian Wars in North America. The French population of Acadie was Roman Catholic and judged to be without unequivocal loyalty to the British Crown perhaps not incorrectly. Give their large numbers and their refusal to take an oath of unconditional allegiance to the British, Governor Charles Lawrence feared that the Acadians would become allies of the French in any future conflict. While the Acadians asserted their neutrality, there was reason (of ethnic and religious affinity) to suspect that they would take up arms against the British if given the opportunity.

This distrust provided a rationale for the large deportations of Acadians from Nova Scotia beginning in 1755. These expulsions came to be known as Le Grand Derangement, the great removal. Whether Governor Lawrence was ordered to expel the Acadians is not historically clear and really makes little difference. Notably, Governor Lawrence was not criticized by his superiors in London, and the expulsions continued after his death. This forced removal began with the seizure of several thousand Acadians who were dispersed to various locations without regard to family ties. These captives were sent to various colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia in groups not exceeding a thousand so that “they cannot collect themselves together again” (Faragher 2005: 336). About half of the Acadian population became part of this diaspora, while the others fled to neighboring regions in what are now known as the Maritime Provinces in Canada. In fact, Acadian settlements are still found on the west coast of Nova Scotia and on the Maine-New Brunswick border.

Unquestionably, the expulsion process was not easily accomplished. The resistance hero was Joseph Broussard, who harassed British troops until he led a group of Canadians to Louisiana in 1764 (dying there a year later). Thousands of French Acadians did not survive these mass deportations, but the British typically justified the expulsion as a “cruel necessity” brought about by the exigencies of the pending resumption of the French and Indian wars. This argument from expediency has a familiar modern resonance.

Le Grand Derangement poses the interesting issue of whether it was an early example of “ethnic cleansing.” As expressed by a United Nations report in 1994

‘Ethnic Cleansing’ is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent or terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.

To a large extent, it is carried out in the name of misguided nationalism, historic grievances, and a powerful driving sense of revenge. This purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups. (United Nations Commission of Experts Final Report [S/1994/674] May 24, 1994)

Based on this finding, it would appear that the Cajun expulsions meet the criteria of the U.N. declaration in several ways:

  • 1. The operation as carried out by Anglo-American forces in 1755 included the forced deportation of civilian populations, the cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, and the plunder and wanton destruction of communities. These are practices now defined as “crimes against humanity” (Faragher 2005: 469).
  • 2. The removal was carried out systematically, after long planning, with the explicit approval and use of government agents.
  • 3. The expulsion was intended to eradicate the Acadian community “and destroy their identity as a distinct people” (Faragher 2005: 336).
  • 4. As is typical of all ethnic cleansing, the process was facilitated by the systematic “dehumanizing” of the population involved. By constructing the Acadian as an ethnic “other,” through the promotion of antiCatholic and anti-French stereotypes, the subsequent hatred served to deny them legal and moral protection. The definition of a people as “subhuman” creates the “moral ambivalence” that legitimizes the otherwise unacceptable measures necessary for ethnic cleansing.

In 2003, the Canadian government of Jean Chretien requested a Royal Proclamation by Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson (Queen Elizabeth Il’s

Canadian surrogate) that constituted an acknowledgment of responsibility and approximated an official apology:

Whereas on 28 July 1755, the Crown, in the course of administering the affairs of the British Colony of Nova Scotia, made the decision to deport the Acadian people;

Whereas the deportation of the Acadian people, commonly known as le Grand Derangement, continued until 1763 and had tragic consequences, including the deaths of many thousands of Acadians - from disease, in shipwrecks, in their places of refuge and in prison camps from Nova Scotia and England as well as in the British colonies in America;

Whereas We hope that the Acadian people can turn the page on this dark chapter of their history;

. . . Now know you that We, by and with the advice of Our Privy Council for Canada, do by this Our Proclamation . . . designate 28 July of every year as “A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval”. (Government of Canada Royal Proclamation, December 10, 2003)

For the French Acadians of Louisiana, the forced removal was an extremely cruel act, really catastrophic; it caused untold physical and emotional harm and destroyed entire communities. The expulsion has been traditionally regarded as the single defining event in Acadian history and marks a historical division of the Acadian people. Of the displaced 2600 to 3000 gradually made their way to Louisiana. In 1713, Spain had acquired Louisiana, and in 1783 the Spanish subsidized further Acadian emigration to enhance a Catholic population to counter a perceived threat from the newly independent, largely Protestant, USA.

 
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