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A symbolic mural of Evangeline was painted by the American artist Minetta Good for the postmaster’s office in St. Martinville, Louisiana. Evangeline is seated beneath " the Evangeline oak", beside the Bayou Teche, grieving for her lover. Taken from Longfellow’s Evangeline A Tale of Acadie, page xxiv.

Acadian Exiles

In the poem "Evangeline", the heroine spends much of her life wandering North America in search of her lost love. The real Acadian exiles were much like Evangeline in their heartbreak from being forced from their homes. Many of them also travelled throughout the colonies and Canada in search of their families and friends and the life that they had been torn from.

It is estimated that more than 6,000 Acadians were deported from their homeland by the British in the 1750s. While the deportation itself has become a significant footnote in the history books, little has been said about the lives of the Acadians after the deportation. Many of the exiles died of disease and weakness from hunger and exposure to the elements during their journey from Acadia to their various destinations. Those who survived were scattered along the East Coast of America, and most of them were separated from their families and friends. For decades, the survivors travelled throughout the colonies, searching for relatives, acquaintances and a place to call home.

The first wave of Acadians was rounded up in 1755 and loaded onto English ships for transport. The colonial governments responded to the arrival of the exiles with varying dismay, since the Acadians were totally destitute and initially had to depend on the state for support. In Connecticut, 400 Acadians were divided and sent to 50 different towns. The families and friends that had managed to remain together through the chaotic deportation were often split apart in the haphazard allotment to various towns.

By November of 1755, nearly one-third of the deported Acadians were landed in South Carolina, although this was not the original intention of the English officials. The government and people were alarmed by the arrival of the Acadians, and the legislature dispersed four-fifths of the exiles throughout the South Carolina parishes. The other 130 Acadians were sent to Virginia, where they obtained permission from the Governor to return to their homeland and reached the St. John River in April of 1756. Within a few years,the Governor of South Carolina also granted permission for the exiles to travel freely, and soon thereafter more than 900 Acadians reached the St. John. By 1763, only 283 Acadians were left in South Carolina.

In October of 1755, 450 Acadians were shipped from Acadia to Delaware, but were forced to move on due to a smallpox outbreak on the ships. They reached Philadelphia in December, weak with disease, hunger and cold. The people and government of Philadelphia were very nervous about dealing with the exiles after having heard a scathing report of them from the English official in charge of their deportation. The exiles lived in deplorable conditions,but were helped extensively by the Quaker population.

In New York, Acadians were received with distrust. More than 100 boys and girls travelled to New York in search of their parents, but the government indentured many of them because of the high cost of providing for them. Adults who straggled into New York were seized and the men were detained in gaols to keep them from escaping.

In other places, such as Maryland and Louisiana, the exiles were well received. Although the Acadians were not actually landed in Louisiana by the British, they were attracted to the area by the familiarity of the language and the opportunity to establish a new community. The Acadians thrived in Louisiana and their culture evolved through the centuries to become know as "Cajun". The roots of the music, customs and culture of the modern Cajuns can be easily traced to their Acadian ancestors.

The Acadian exiles arrived penniless and homeless in the colonies and experienced a wide range of success and failure in their search for families, economic security and a home. Many exiles journeyed back to Acadia, settling in what are now known as the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The exiles who remained in the colonies either blended into the "melting pot" population or gravitated toward the small pockets of Acadian communities. Others, like Evangeline, wandered endlessly from place to place in search of the love, peace, prosperity and people that they had known and loved in their homeland of Acadia.


The Story behind Evangeline

Left: The tomb of Emmeline Labiche in St. Martinville, Louisiana.

The creation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie, awakened a sense of outrage and, at the same time, an interest in history, to those who read it. Based on a true story, the poem evolved as an Acadian myth. Longfellow was first introduced to the story by fellow writer Nathanial Hawthorne in 1845. Enthralled with the romantic potential of the story, Longfellow asked, and was granted, Hawthorne’s permission to use it as a basis for an epic poem. The poem first appeared in 1847.

The true story of Evangeline is the tale of Emmeline Labiche and her love, Louis Arceneaux, who were separated when the British invaded Nova Scotia in 1755. Louis, like Gabriel in the poem, was forced on a ship and set out to sea. An orphan, Emmeline was adopted by the family of the Widow Borda, who regarded her, "as not of this earth, but rather as their guardian angel, and this is why they called her no longer Emmeline, but Evangeline, or God’s little angel.(1) Exiled to Maryland, the family eventually joined other deported Acadians in Louisiana. After some time, Evangeline found Louis, but she could not be with him. Sources conflict regarding the events that follow; some say Louis had agreed to marry another woman, while others place the reunited lovers in a hospital where Louis lay dying. Either way, the devastation of losing the love of her life drove Evangeline to insanity and eventually death.

As those who read Lonfellow’s Evangeline will realize, the poet took some liberties with the tale in order to mold it to his liking. It is perhaps due to this poetic license that many became outraged after reading the seemingly harmless, romantic commentary on the displacement of a people. The French loved the poem; its portrayal of Acadian suffering was translated into French in 1865. The British, on the other hand, viewed it as misleading; the poem was removed from British Columbia school curriculum in the early twentieth century.(2) The poem became so widely read that many scholars felt the need to set the record straight. Historians of Nova Scotia attempted to prove the falsehoods revealed in the poem; what ensued was a debate between historians and the Acadian people over the Acadian "symbol of renewel".(3) The tactic used by historians was to attack not his poetry, but Longfellow’s reputation as a historian. Eventually, some historians succeeded in illustrating the embellished nature of the description of the deportation, but as M. Brook Taylor writes, "Once Acadians. . . had accepted Evangeline ‘as an acceptable embodiment of their own myths,’ the expulsion became the focal point of racial, religious and political passions."(4) However, in spite of historical inaccuracies, Evangeline remains one Longfellow’s best loved poems.

a Nation by preserving our cultural heritage.”


Evangeline and Justice

"Once in an ancient city, whose name I no longer remember,/ Raised aloft on a column, a brazen statue of Justice/ Stood in the public square, upholding the scales in its left hand,/ And in its right a sword, as an emblem that justice presided/ Over the laws of the land, and the hearts and homes of the people./ Even the birds had built their nests in the scales of the balance,/ Having no fear of the sword that flashed in the sunshine above them./ But in the course of time the laws of the land were corrupted;/ Might took the place of right, and the weak were oppressed, and the mighty/ ruled with an iron rod. Then it chanced in a nobleman's palace/ That a necklace of pearls was lost, and erelong a suspicion/ Fell on an orphan girl who lived as a maid in the household./ She, after form of trial condemned to die on the scaffold,/ Patiently met her doom at the foot of the statue of Justice./ As to her Father in heaven her innocent spirit ascended,/ Lo! o'er the city a tempest rose; and the bolts of the thunder/ Smote the statue of bronze, and hurled in wrath from its left hand/ Down on the pavement below the clattering scales of the balance,/ And in the hollow thereof was found in nest of a magpie,/ Into whose clay-built walls the necklace of pearls was inwoven." (Part the First, Sec. III.)

"Man is unjust, but God is just; and finally justice Triumphs..."

Longfellow's words put into the mouth of Rene Leblanc, sum up the entire tale of Evangeline and Acadia in just eleven words. In the simplicity of the phrase, an entire history is laid out for the reader. Through the tragic deportation sequence, the reader sees the injustice of man carried out quite harshly. Even as the British forces pulled the Acadian culture up by the roots, though, the devoutly Catholic Acadians found consolation in the justice of God, praying, "O Father, forgive them!" This injustice against a culture and separation of Evangeline and Gabriel was not resolved until the final reunification in the final words of the poem. The comforting justice of God is also a recurring theme in Longfellow's epic. In the above tale, Longfellow consoles the reader, through a small bit of foreshadowing, and let's the reader know that with God, everything will turn out in the end of both the poem and the common man's life. Remembering that story and the message contained within, comforts Evangeline during her search for Gabriel. When the cycle of justice is completed in the finale by Evangeline and Gabriel being reunited, the injustices have finally been overturned and the feelings of all are expressed best in Evangeline's last spoken words, simple though they be, "Father, I Thank Thee."


Historical Aspects of Acadia

The story of Longfellow's Acadians has its beginnings in the seventeenth century along the shores of the Bay of Fundy. The name, "Acadie," first bestowed on North America in 1524, by explorer, Giovanni Verrazano, was later adopted by the inhabitants of the, "continental cornice;" the modern day territory of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Little did King James of England realize, that his 1621 land grant of Acadia to sir William Alexander would have major global consequences for hundreds of years to come.

Because of Nova Scotia's geographic location, situated half way between Boston and the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, the Acadian people there were subjected to the economic and political policies of the world powers, England and France, at the same time. This strategic area referred to as the gateway to North America, "became a pawn on the great chessboard of imperialistic policies." Unfortunately, like all militarily crucial regions, Acadians suffered through numerous wars and battles as control of the region oscillated back and forth between French and English rule. The Acadians struggled to maintain there lives and homeland realizing that they were powerless to control their own destiny.

In 1713, the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, briefly insured peace and settled the war by changing the balance of power in North America. The British were ceded the Acadian lands, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The French Acadians were now English subjects and there homeland would soon include the British Naval centerpiece of the Maritime region, Halifax, which was built in response to the construction of the French fortress at Louisbourg, Cape Breton. Too soon the battles resumed and not until the Treaty of Paris in 1763, does Acadia as well as Canada and New France become united under one nation, Great Britain.

Throughout their tumultuous history, the resilient Acadian people preserved their own identity, fostered their unique French culture all while maintaining their neutral position during the wars on their soil. Today, Acadians continue to prosper fishing and farming in their homeland, but this has not always been the case.

Following the 1763 fall of Nova Scotia to the English, Acadians continued to maintain their oath of neutrality although they were now a British Crown possession. To correct this "problem with the Acadians," the British monarchy "demanded that the people swear an oath of loyalty." The fiercely independent Acadians refused as they "were convinced of there right to discuss and debate as the English Councillors were equally convinced of the Acadian right only to hear and accept. This stalemate resulted in, "le grand derangement;" the deportation of the Acadian people." On September 5, 1755, Acadian families were informed of their fate; "They were summarily imprisoned, and the British Council agreed unanimously that it would be most proper to send them to be distributed amongst the several colonies of the continent."

Over 6,000 Acadians were transported by ship to the British colonies. Some of those displaced settled in the East coast colonies while many simply waited to return to their homeland. A number of Acadian refugees landed in Louisiana joining other French Cajuns in the area.

Following the Treaty of Paris (1763) British authorities allowed Acadians to return with conditions. Within twenty years many Acadians did return but the fall of New France left Acadians little choice but to comply with the British demands for allegiance since France had been defeated and they could no longer count on the motherland's support. The many Acadians who returned to the English Maritimes settling throughout the region, starting over again, eventually becoming Canadians.

The Effect of "Evangeline" on the Interpretation of History in Nova Scotia

One of the effects that the publication of Evangeline had on the people of Nova Scotia was that it challenged traditional notions of the role of the British in the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755. Thomas C. Haliburton was the foremost historian in Nova Scotia prior to the publication of the poem. Longfellow used his book An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia as an aid in ensuring the historical accuracy of the poem. The interpretation of history that Haliburton sets out in his book was to become a familiar one; after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, peaceful English settlers came to Acadia/Nova Scotia and were threatened and harassed by the Acadians, (Haliburton frequently refers to them as "Neutrals", a reference to their refusal to sign an oath of loyalty to the English crown,) and the "savages" under the auspices of the leaders of New France and the Roman Catholic clergy. Thus it was assumed that the expulsion of the Acadians was a necessary - and inevitable - step in the formation of an English Nova Scotia.

"Evangeline", then, was somewhat unique in its time in that it observed the story of the expulsion from the Acadian perspective. In doing so, it drew the world's attention to the tragedy, and necessitated a response from patriotic Nova Scotians, who now saw it as their duty to defend the honor of their province by justifying the expulsion. Beamish Murdoch published a three volume History of Nova Scotia, or Acadie in installments between 1865 and 1867. Murdoch claimed that the expulsion of the Acadians was a regrettable act, but that it was necessitated by England's war with France. [Murdoch is also said to have claimed in private that a group of New Englanders, among them Gov. William Shirley of Massachusetts, were primarily responsible for the expulsion.] T. B. Akins was commissioned to build an historical archive for Nova Scotia, and in 1869 published Selections from the Public Documents of the Province of Nova Scotia. Akins was one of a number of historians who contended that Longfellow's poem should be seen more as a work of art than as an accurate rendering of history. His publication of the archive was an attempt to counter the emotional impact of the poem with historical documents that shed light on the social, political, and military conditions that influenced the decision to expel the Acadians.

Francis Parkman affected a much more anti-French tone in his book Montcalm and Wolfe, v.1, published in 1884. Parkman had travelled to Paris and researched several documents which reiterated the charge that the French crown and the Roman Catholic clergy had incited the Acadians and the Micmacs to hostilities toward the English settlers. The villain of Parkman's narrative was Louis Joseph Le Loutre, the "vicar-general" of Acadia and a missionary to the Micmacs. According to Parkman, La Loutre was able to bully the Acadians with the help of the Micmacs into raids against the English, though he also made it clear that the Acadians were willing accomplices in the treachery.

The claims of Murdoch, Akins, Parkman and others provoked an inevitable reaction from Acadian sympathizers. Quebec's Abbe Henri-Raymond Casgrain published Un Peleninage au pays d'Evangeline in 1887, primarily as a response to Parkman's claim of a French conspiracy against the English. Casgrain claimed that the Acadians had been illegally prevented from migrating from French territory by the English, and that the government of Nova Scotia had conspired to suppress evidence favorable to the Acadians. Casgrain's contention that the Acadians had been detained by the English was corroborated by A. Doughty in his volume The Acadian Exiles, published in 1920. Doughty cited "A Description of Nova Scotia" by Paul Mascarene, a British officer who, writing in 1720, observed that while the British were inclined to expel the Acadians because of their ties to the Catholic church and because they incited the Micmacs, they were nevertheless compelled to prevent the Acadians from leaving because, one, an Acadian migration to Cape Breton would create a dangerous French stronghold to the north and, two, that the English needed the Acadians as labor to help build English fortifications in the colony.

The portrait that emerges from the work of these historians is that of the Acadians as pawns in a colonial game between the French and English. Defenders of Nova Scotia cite the ominous influence of the French, acting covertly through the Roman Catholic church. Defenders of the Acadians point to the English as manipulators, tolerating and even making use of the Acadians when it suited them, then disposing of them when they were no longer needed. The irony is that this portrait of political maneuvering is a far cry from the romantic passages of Longfellow; it's more Machiavelli than "Romeo and Juliet". Nevertheless, the debate sparked by Evangeline inadvertently recuscitated interest in the history of the province, creating new interpretations of Britain's colonial history.

Artforms of Acadia

Known as "Evangeline’s Country" the area formerly called Acadia holds tremendous history through its art formations. Evangeline is a romantic poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describing the expulsions of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755. The Acadians were a French people who survived by cultivating the land through farming and the seas by fishing. In 1713, France compromised with Britain and gave the lands of Acadia to British rule. It is here that the resentment between the British and French began, but it continued for many years to come. Ultimately, Acadia refused to take allegiance from the crown of England. British Lieutenant-Colonel John Wilson gave unauthorized instructions to his troops on October 5, 1755 to remove all Acadians from the lands. Nearly 7,000 men, women and children were placed on ships and deported to various American Colonies along the East Coast. Many of them relocated to Quebec, France, Louisiana or to the French Islands off of the coast of Newfoundland, St. Pierre and Miquelon.

Unfortunately, men were separated from their families, families separated from lifelong friends and lovers separated from each other. Some were fortunate enough to be reunited with lost friends and families over the years to come. Others like the beautiful Evangeline and her handsome lover Gabriel faced a life bound by the power of the heart and the unending quest to meet each other once again. Evangeline is a literary artform proposed by Longfellow depicting the separation that flooded Acadia in 1755.

Perhaps the poem Evangeline grasped the world with its complex hexameter verse format, yet more likely it was the familiarity of two hearts longing for each other that gave this poem its tremendous successes throughout the world. Art forms, whether literary poetry, maps, paintings or drawings are a viable source of information when looking into the history of a people. In the pages following, you will find various maps of the lands of Acadia as well as paintings and photographs relating to Longfellow’s Evangeline and the land formerly known as "Acadie".

Stay tuned for a combination of art forms showing Evangeline and the lands of Acadia. A short bibliography follows.


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