A Great and Noble Scheme

A Book Review by Juliana L’Heureux

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A newly published history describing the tragic expulsion of the French Acadians from their homeland puts the account of this horrible incident into a readable format.

"A Great and Noble Scheme", by John Mack Faragher presents the daunting facts about the terrible French removal in a logical history, combined in one nicely readable text.

This year marks the 250th anniversary of Le Grand Derangement, a tragic episode in North American history known as the 1755 British expulsion of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia (called Acadie by the French at the time).

Besides the tragic nature of the expulsion itself is the unfortunate lack of first person journals describing the incident from a French Acadian's point of view.

Popular Maine poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his classic interpretation of the Acadian separation from their homeland in his epic poem "Evangeline", written in 1847, or 92 years after the incident occurred.

Faragher provides information about how the Acadians found themselves in a terrible vice with the British. The Acadians actually tried to remain neutral in the series of conflicts known as The French and Indian wars between the British and the French for control of Canada and North America. Acadians preferred trading to war. They continued their commerce with the French in Quebec and France, with the British and, also, with New Englanders. Acadians prospered with this economic freedom.

Most historic accounts of the 1755 expulsion focus on the actual incident and what happened subsequently to the Acadians who were "scattered to the winds" in boats where they sailed to ports on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Faragher's history takes the time to describe the nature of the "neutral" Acadians prior to the expulsion, or those who wanted to remain free and aloof from the continental conflicts.

Faragher describes how the Acadians became victims of the schemes some claim were premeditated by British Lieutenant Governor Charles Lawrence (1709-1760) and Massachusetts Governor William Shirley (1694-1771). Using a classic propaganda campaign to stir up negative news about the Acadians, Faragher describes how Lawrence and Shirley preyed on colonial anti-French sentiments of the time. Lawrence used weaknesses he perceived in the Acadian social or political systems to justify writing a deportation order, forcing them out of the property they developed during over a century of settlement in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley region.

Back in Massachusetts, Governor Shirley sought the assistance of John Winslow to supplement the British troops in Nova Scotia, thereby contributing to the Acadian expulsion scheme. Recruitment of Massachusetts militia began in early February, 1755, immediately after the colony's Assembly voted to approve an expedition to Nova Scotia in a secret session, writes Faragher.

Winslow was a highly regarded New England citizen and a seasoned military man. Due to his good reputation, he quickly recruited about 2000 Massachusetts militia to join him and the British in executing the "Great and Nobel Scheme" of 1755, writes Faragher. Winslow's recruits were motivated by clerics and others who preached against the Acadians who were Roman Catholics. "French Catholics must be evicted from L'Acadie at the muzzle of our guns and at the point of our Swords", wrote Governor Shirley on February 18, 1755.

Lawrence supposedly ordered the Acadian expulsion without authority to do so, but modern historians have tried implicating the British Crown in the incident.

Faragher keeps the horror of Le Grand Derangement alive with this well documented accumulation of data about a horrible incident in America's colonial history. A Great and Noble Scheme is well annotated.

For those interested in history, this book about the Expulsion is one of the easiest to understand out of the many others I've read.

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Copyright 2005, Juliana L'Heureux