A tragic saga of conflict and human suffering — and the survival of a people
This is the story of one of the great crimes of history, a brutal act of ethnic cleansing committed two and a half centuries ago. More than 10,000 men, women and children were removed from their homeland at gunpoint and sent into exile. They were stripped of the farms that had nurtured and sustained their families for four generations. Their homes and most of their possessions were burned. Five thousand of these unfortunate people, maybe more, died of disease and deprivation or perished in shipwrecks. The destitute survivors were scattered along the east coast of North America or wound up in the port cities of England and France; some sought refuge in the jungles of South America or as far away as the windswept barrens of the Falkland Islands. Family and friends were separated, never to be reunited. Children were taken from their parents to work as servants or apprentices. An entire generation knew nothing but the squalor of refugee camps and prisons, the humiliation of enslavement, and the uncertainty of a nomadic life…
The scene of this crime was the northeastern corner of North America, what is now the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The victims were the descendants of the region’s French settlers, who called themselves Acadians and their homeland Acadie. They were proud, stubborn and self-reliant, their communities tight-knit through bonds of family and marriage …. Geography and history conspired to trap the Acadians in the crossfire as France and Britain fought for supremacy over North America. Time and again Acadie changed hands, finally falling under British rule in 1710. By 1755, with France and Britain on the verge of fighting yet another war, acting governor Charles Lawrence demanded that the Acadians swear allegiance to the British. He would accept nothing less than complete loyalty. When the Acadians asked to be considered neutrals, to be exempted from fighting their old masters to defend their new ones, Lawrence had the pretext he needed to banish them from their homeland ….
The deportation was a human catastrophe on a scale unprecedented in Canada and perhaps the darkest chapter in the nation’s history. It was calculated to destroy a people and wipe out a distinct culture, but it failed. The Acadians were too tough and too resilient. Their ordeal became the catalyst for a cultural revival and a resurgence of national pride. Today, there are an estimated three million Acadian descendants worldwide. Acadians who escaped deportation and those who returned established new communities in Atlantic Canada, where they now number close to 300,000. Thousands of deportees made their way to Louisiana, where the name Acadian was shortened to Cajun and the new surroundings forged a distinct new culture. More than a half-million Americans, most of them in Louisiana and eastern Texas, are descendants of these refugees.
This year, 2005, marks the 250th anniversary of the deportation of the Acadians. It is as good a time as any to take stock, to examine what we know about this pivotal event in the development of North America and what the Acadians can teach us about survival and belonging. It is a story filled with heroes and villains as well as ordinary men and women caught up in extraordinary events …. Deportation and exile did not destroy the Acadians as a people. They survived against incredible odds. They preserved a vibrant culture, a zest for life, and a deep respect for their heritage. This is a story of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of cruelty and unimaginable hardship. This is the story of the Acadians and the Cajuns (from the introduction)
Read the Google Books excerpt.
Shortlisted for the City of Dartmouth Book Award and the Evelyn Richardson Memorial Literary Award for Non-Fiction
The Acadians / The Cajuns
The Cajuns: A People’s Story of Exile and Triumph
(U.S. title, hardcover)
The Acadians: A People’s Story of Exile and Triumph
By Dean Jobb
(Published by John Wiley & Sons, 2005)
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