Documents Reveal Twist to Acadian Expulsion

By Juliana L’Heureux

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Although it's difficult to believe, colonial Acadian history might be ripe for re-invention. Historic documents recently presented in Nova Scotia indicate a different point of view about the 1755 British expulsion of the Acadians in the brutal episode called "Grand Derangement". Portland poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized the cruel story in the epic poem "Evangeline". In fact, recently translated information could neutralize the anti-British sentiment fueled by Longfellow's mythical story. According to documents written before the expulsion, even the French colonial government in Paris considered exporting the Acadians out of their homeland.

Wayne Melanson is a 9th generation Acadian and Heritage Presentation Supervisor for the Port Royal National Historic Site in Nova Scotia. He recently learned about the documents from an Acadian historian who returned from Paris with the evidence. "Due to their independent nature, probably brought on by years of separation from their mother country, France was frustrated with the Acadians," explains Melanson.

Widely accepted interpretations of the miserable expulsion accuse the British of exercising a progressive plot to take over the Acadians' fertile farms in the Grand Pre area of Nova Scotia. British herded up the Acadian men, held them hostage in a local church and demanded they take an oath of allegiance to the British King. When the Acadians steadfastly refused to take the oath, all but about 2000 of them were summarily separated from their families and all were expelled. They were "scattered to the wind".

Nova Scotia was a small piece of property in the battle between France and Great Britain over control of Canada. Naturally, the French attempted to exert supremacy by using the only way 18th century disputes were ever settled, via the use of force. Correspondence from the French Crown to an emissary named Duc d'Anville directed him to sail a fleet of ships to Nova Scotia to fight the British and to fix the Acadian problem. Of course, history didn't turn in favor of the French. Duc d'Anville's fleet of ships never reached Nova Scotia and the mission failed.

France's problems dealing with the Acadians isn't new information, but the possibility of the French expelling them as a result of their rebellious behavior is recently disclosed knowledge. "I always knew about troubles with the Acadians from other historic French documents," explains Melanson. "It wasn't until these primary documents were translated into English and presented to Acadian historians recently in Paris that I came to understand what the trouble was all about", he adds. Apparently, King Louis XV indicated in writing that he was prepared to deport the Acadians to the British colonies if they didn't comply with French directives to pay taxes and to stop making deals with whomever they chose to trade with. It's unclear why the King of France wanted to deport the Acadians to the British colonies, but that's where many of them were exiled in the 1755 deportation anyway.

Ironically, this Acadian controversy comes at a time when a movement is building to ask Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britian to pay compensation to the ancestors of the displaced Acadians. One proponent of this effort is Roger Paradis of Frenchville who has written passionately in support of reparations.

Melanson says he harbors no ill feelings about the Grand Derangement and the harsh treatment of his ancestors by the British. "I'm just proud to still be here and representing the Acadian heritage," he says.

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Copyright 1994-2002, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux