Atlantic History The Acadian Diaspora
by
Christopher Hodson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0086

Introduction

Late in 1755, an army of British regulars and Massachusetts volunteers undertook what one officer described as a “disagreeable” duty: deporting the entire Acadian population of the province of Nova Scotia. Within weeks, the soldiers managed to arrest about 7,000 civilians, or about half of the province’s French-speaking Catholic settlers. Over the next three years, Anglo-American troops captured 3,000 more Acadians on Île Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island) and in present-day New Brunswick. During and after the Seven Years’ War, those who escaped the British assault established footholds on the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The rest, however, were shipped off to a dizzying array of destinations. Between 1763 and the mid-1780s, thousands of Acadians turned up in the port cities of British North America, England, and France; the Caribbean colonies of Saint-Domingue, Martinique, and Guiana; the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, and experimental colonies on Belle-Île-en-Mer and in the French province of Poitou. Although many of the exiles’ descendants remained in these scattered locations, others gathered again, establishing new communities in the Saint Lawrence valley, the Canadian Maritimes, and Louisiana, where they came to be known as Cajuns. This long run of deportations and displacements, then, is the grand dérangement—the “great upheaval” or, in modern terms, the Acadian diaspora. Since the 19th century, scholars have written much about these events. They have dissected Anglo-American motives and explored the Acadians’ persistence as a distinctive minority, all while examining the grand dérangement both in its 18th-century context and (more recently) in relation to modern episodes of coerced migration. The works detailed below represent the most important trends in the historiography of this still-understudied topic.

General Overviews

Encompassing Acadian history before and after 1755, these overviews are concerned with the causes of the deportation and the Acadians’ methods of coping with the radical changes it triggered. Daigle 1995 includes important essays on Acadian demography, politics, and culture from the 17th century to the present. Arsenault 1994, Brasseaux 1987, and Griffiths 1992 examine the 1755 expulsion and the grand dérangement as manifestations of the Acadians’ deep-seated sense of collective identity, while Faragher 2005 and Jobb 2005 make explicit comparisons between the British campaign in Nova Scotia and modern cases of ethnic cleansing or genocide. Lauvrière 1924 and Brasseaux 1991 are most useful for their accounts of the Acadian exiles’ varied experiences in North America, the Caribbean, the South Atlantic, and Western Europe.

  • Arsenault, Bona. History of the Acadians. Saint-Laurent, Quebec: Fides, 1994.

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    Originally published in 1965. A relentlessly detailed historical and genealogical survey of the Acadian past. Has largely been supplanted by newer scholarship, but remains a good source of information.

  • Brasseaux, Carl A. The Foundation of New Acadia: The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765–1803. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

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    Classic—if somewhat scattershot—account of the grand dérangement and the establishment of Acadian settlements in late-18th-century Louisiana. Argues for near-universal ethnic cohesion among the exiles and explores the unwillingness of British, French, and Spanish authorities to grant them social and cultural autonomy throughout the grand dérangement.

  • Brasseaux, Carl A. Scattered to the Wind: Dispersal and Wandering of the Acadians, 1755–1809. Louisiana Life Series 6. Lafayette: University of Southwest Louisiana, 1991.

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    This slim volume presents a very brief overview of the Acadians’ various post-1755 migrations. A good introduction to the scope of the grand dérangement.

  • Daigle, Jean, ed. Acadia of the Maritimes: Thematic Studies from the Beginning to the Present. Moncton, Canada: Chaire D’études Acadiennes, Université de Moncton, 1995.

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    A fine, comprehensive collection of essays on Acadian history, demography, and culture. Updated from 1982 first edition.

  • Faragher, John Mack. A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland. New York: Norton, 2005.

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    The best narrative account of the Acadian expulsion and the first years of the grand dérangement to date. Written for a popular audience, Faragher’s book argues, not unproblematically, that the 1755 removal constitutes the earliest case of state-sponsored ethnic cleansing in North American history and a precursor of American manifest destiny.

  • Griffiths, Naomi E. S. The Contexts of Acadian History, 1686–1784. Winthrop Pickard Bell Lectures in Maritime Studies. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992.

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    A brief but thorough introduction to Acadian history and the historiographical debates surrounding the Acadians’ colonial history under the French and British regimes, the 1755 expulsion, and the grand dérangement.

  • Jobb, Dean A. The Cajuns: A People’s Story of Exile and Triumph. New York: Wiley, 2005.

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    A work of popular history that traces the broad outlines of Acadian history from the colony’s foundation through the grand dérangement and the Acadian cultural renaissance of the late 19th and 20th centuries. A bit bombastically, the author compares the expulsion of 1755 to modern genocides. Very little historiographical import, but useful as a starting point.

  • Lauvrière, Emile. La tragédie d’un peuple: Histoire du people acadien de ses origines à nos jours. 2 vols. Paris: Henri Goulet, 1924.

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    Nearly ninety years after its publication, Lauvrière’s work remains relevant. The first French-language history of the Acadians, it covers both their pre-expulsion relations with the British government of Nova Scotia and each major destination of the Acadian exiles after 1755. Must be read alongside newer scholarship, but must be read.

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