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Louisiana's 'Cajuns': French Acadians of The South

James Dormon continues our America and the Americas series with a look at the growth of a group of 17th-century settlers in Nova Scotia.

 

This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of the Acadian farmers - Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands, Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
Evangeline. A Tale of Acadie (1847)

The question was posed by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Where were the Acadians? He then answered the question in his epic Tale of Acadie. The story he told was based in history; although poetic licence enabled Longfellow to shape his tale to the demands of dramatic narrative, the tale is in its primary contours essentially true. Evangeline (or her real-life prototype) was an Acadian, of course, but the story of her people continues long beyond the conclusion of her ill-fated search for her lost lover. It is the story of a group of people; French-speaking Catholics, farmers, fishermen, hunters, essentially a peasant folk whose forebears had arrived originally from the west-central French provinces to colonise 'Acadie' – now Nova Scotia – as early as 1604.

By 1650 the initial groups of settlers, augmented by the arrival of new colonists and by natural increase, had dispersed into village communities along the shores of the Baie Franqoise (Bay of Fundy) and on the interior waterways of the Minas Basin. An independent and self-sufficient people, they sought their subsistence and developed their patterns of life relatively unhampered by French colonial officialdom based at Port Royal (Annapolis Royal) and at Louisbourg on Cape Breton.

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