In order to understand the impact of the Great Expulsion on the Acadian peoples, one must first be familiar with the history of the Acadian settlement. The Acadian people originated from various villages in France, and after a long journey by sea, they had settled primarily in what is currently known as the Province of Nova Scotia. This settlement happened circa early 17th century. The Acadians settled in Nova Scotia including Cape Breton Island. The capital of Acadia was Port Royal, which would later be changed to Annapolis Royal. The history of the process of the Great Expulsion began in the early 1700’s. Britain began to take control in 1710 with the invasion of Port Royal. After the Conquest, Acadia was no longer considered an independent settlement of France; it would become a French speaking British settlement, strictly ruled by British authority.
In 1754, The Great Expulsion, Le Grand Dérangement, began with the systematic removal of between ten to twenty thousand Acadians from Nova Scotia by the British Empire. The main objective of the British was to further control Nova Scotia by permanently removing the Acadian settlers. The complexity of the issues between the British and French Empires worsened with the Indian-French War in 1754, which lasted until 1763. The British officials rounded up Acadians, placed them on ships, and sent them back to France, Caribbean Islands, as well as to specific American Colonies. For example, many settlers were sent to colonies such as: New England, New York, Virginia and later Louisiana. Many Acadian settlers had difficulties entering the American Colonies, and as such, had no choice but to return back to Nova Scotia, while others attempted to return to France.
The following excerpt is the speech given by Charles Lawrence, the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, on Friday September 5, 1755, at the Grand-Pré Church. During this speech, Acadian people were notified that their homes, land and cattle would be forfeited over to the British government, and that the Acadians would be deported from Nova Scotia. This speech would forever impact the lives of the Acadian people.
“Gentlemen, – I have received from his Excellency, Governor Lawrence, the King’s Commission which I have in my hand, and by whose orders you are conveyed together, to Manifest to you His Majesty’s final resolution to the French inhabitants of this his Province of Nova Scotia, who for almost half a century have had more Indulgence Granted them than any of his Subjects in any part of his Dominions. What use you have made of them you yourself best know …That your Land & Tennements, Cattle of all Kinds and Livestocks of all Sorts are forfeited to the Crown with all other your effects Savings your money and Household Goods, and you yourselves to be removed form this Province...Thus it is Preremtorily his Majesty’s orders That the whole French Inhabitants of these Districts be removed, and I am Throh his Majesty’s Goodness Directed to allow you Liberty to Carry of your money and Household Goods as Many as you Can without Discommoding the Vessels you Go in. I shall do Every thing in my Power that all those Goods be Secured to you and that you are Not Molested in Carrying of them of, and also that whole Family Shall go in the Same Vessel, and make this remove, which I am Sensable must give you a great Deal of Trouble, as Easey as his Majesty’s Service will admit, and hope that in what Ever part of the world you may Fall you may be Faithful Subjects, a Peasable & Happy People.” (http://www.acadian-cajun.com/)
This speech outlines the terms and conditions of exactly what was going to be inflicted upon Acadian society. It has a profound significance on the lives of the Acadian settlers, as well as the history of what would have eventually been considered the country of Canada. Firstly, the identity of Acadians was hindered tremendously, due to the fact that they had already settled in the region of Nova Scotia for roughly 100 years. The Acadians contributed greatly to the development of agriculture in the territory. This is evident as Lieutenant-Governor Lawrence states in his speech that all land and cattle would be forfeited to the Crown. The Ultimate objective of the British government was to re-establish Nova Scotia as a British settlement free of French influence, language and cultural practices, which had not been achieved after the Conquest of Acadia in 1710.
Moreover, the Acadian culture and way of life was influenced tremendously with their expulsion. Prominent Acadian historian Naomi Griffiths states that the exile of these people not only affected individuals but “destroyed a way of life and broke a close-knit kin group into fragments” (Griffiths, p104). With the loss of their Agriculture, the Acadians also lost the link to their environment, and their everyday way of life. For example, they no longer had control over what they ate, and what they wore. At this point the British Empire seized control of the territory.
The Acadians also lost connections with other Acadian settlers in the territory, which consisted of other family members and kin. They were forced against their will to leave the only land and life that they had ever known. They were placed onto ships bound for foreign territory with nothing but a few possessions. During the exile, some families were split, and most did not accept living in English speaking settlements especially in settlements south of Upper Canada along the North American East coast. Eventually, after 1763 several Acadians slowly began to return to the Nova Scotia settlement as well as other French speaking regions such as; New Brunswick, and parts of New France. This demonstrates how strong the Acadian identity was in the time period, and how it was not completely lost as a result of the expulsion. They were able to re-establish themselves in French speaking territories, and as a result Acadian heritage still exists in Canada today.
In closing, the expulsion of Acadians from their traditional territory in Nova Scotia from 1755 to 1763 had a profound impact on the culture and identity of the Acadian people. The expulsion indicates the dramatic and inhuman treatment of these people by the British Empire and how the lives of Acadians were altered thereafter. The speech given by the Lieutenant-Governor Charles Lawrence shows how life and culture was conducted in the land of what later would become Canada.
To further understand the path of the Acadian people over their history, click to view this interactive link: http://www.cbc.ca/acadian/feature_atlas.html
Griffiths, Naomi. The Contexts of Acadian History, 1686-1784. Montreal, 1992. A fantastic overview of Acadian life and culture, including the Great Exile.
http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/index-e.html (Library Archives Canada)
http://www.grand-pre.com/en/history-of-grand-pre.html (Grand Pre website)