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A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland.

A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland. By John Mack Faragher (New York: Norton, 2005. xx plus 592 pp. $28.95).

This is a well-written and thoughtful work. Comprehensive in scope, thorough in its synthesis of a rich and varied body of literature, and masterful in its discovery and research of dispersed documents and distorted records, A Great and Noble Scheme constitutes a singular, indispensable, and classic introduction to tragic Acadian history. Beginning in the first decades of the seventeenth century with their settlement in present-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island this work focuses on their extirpation, expulsion, and dispersal to colonial New England, France, England, and Saint Domingo. It offers, in its concluding chapters, a story of the Acadian diaspora, which dispersed people to Quebec, Maine, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, elsewhere in the Canadian Maritimes, and Louisiana where a generation later they began to gather themselves and to constitute the Cajun people.

More than a distinguished study of a unique, but largely forgotten, North American people, Faragher's Great and Noble Scheme is also a historical meditation on French and English North America colonial policies. It reconstructs the attitudes, policies, and acts of the North American colonies, especially complicit neighbor Massachusetts. It puts us before an act of eighteenth-century genocide and offers a detailed account of this "tragic story of expulsion of the French Acadians from their North American homeland." At the same time, his work invites readers to reflect on this singular people's ability to persist over decades despite expropriation, expulsion, and exile.

In the fall of 1755, on the very eve of the Seven Years War, known in North America as the French-Indian War (1756-1763), the expulsion, or what the Acadians and French call le grand derangement, was executed. The governor of Nova Scotia acted with the agreement of his newly appointed head of court, with the cooperation of English Royal Navy and government, and in unity with the governor of Massachusetts who helped raise an army of two thousand soldiers and assembled a fleet of ships--including those of Boston merchant, John Hancock. Collectively, a handful of men in England, Nova Scotia, and Massachusetts had determined that the hour had come to implement what an anonymous correspondent from Halifax described as "a great and noble scheme." Through a mixture of guile and violence the executors of the scheme carried out the systematic roundup of the seven thousand residents. They expropriated their lands, burned their homes, and confiscated and slaughtered their livestock. In the most horrid instances, families were split up, as related in Longfellow's epic, Evangeline (1847). In crowded ships Acadians were set to treacherous autumn seas, and dispersed among unprepared and unwelcoming New England colonies. Faragher calculates the systematic expulsion, murder, and starvation over the next decade resulted in the loss of about ten thousand Acadian lives, more than half of eighteen thousand alive at the start of the derangement

The survivors, those who did not drown at sea, as a thousand did, or die of disease during passage as great numbers did, met mean but different fates in individual colonies. Some colonies refused to allow them to disembark. Others allowed them to land, but refused aid and abandoned Acadians to their own meager resources. While individual citizens of Massachusetts displayed brotherly behavior by ministering to the Acadian newcomers and even advocating for their rights, the colony, which was most responsible for Acadian expulsion, treated them as alien and unwanted wards of state. The Acadians were segregated into small groups and assigned to different towns for keeping. As is amply documented by colonial records, families (like that of my own ancestor Pierre Boodrot) were barely paid for their work. Their older children were conscripted and taken away for work, and they were denied, though ineffectively, the right of free movement in township and colony. Known throughout the colonies as French Neutrals, those who would fight for neither France nor England, the Acadians were identified as heretical Catholics and dangerous Frenchmen. Everywhere the Acadians, considered enemies of faith and order, were greeted as a great and unjustly imposed economic burden. Nowhere, however, were they designated as prisoners of war, which would have made their principal evictors--the English government, Halifax, and Massachusetts--responsible for defraying expenses for the keep of the newcomers.

The Acadians, whose close and interbred families kept tabs on one another as best they could, tallied countless tales of woe. Without home or protector, in the colonies they were denied even the comfort of a priest or the comfort of knowing, when, how, or where they could seek a new home. Others, having fled to the deepest marshes of New Brunswick to practice resistance, were hunted down, starved out, captured, and then killed or exiled. In effect, they suffered the same fate as defeated French and Indians.

As much as the fate of the Acadians anticipates nineteenth and twentieth century genocidal acts of forced removal, it historically belongs, as Faragher's narrative recognizes, to the colonial era when rival France and England struggled for global dominance. In this period colonists and native peoples everywhere were treated as pawns of imperial design, and subordinated to imperial conceptions of dominion and associated abstract ideas of property, treaties, and legal titles. Providing a historical sketch of Acadian settlement in North America, in his most informative chapters Faragher traces the development of expulsion plan and scheme during the four decades after the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). The Acadians, beginning in the first decades of the sixteenth century, learned as small, non-seigniorial, democratic, communities to transform the salt marshes of the Bay of Fundy and its adjoining bays and basins into valuable and, thus, coveted agricultural land. Their skills in farming, especially the raising of cattle, their mastery of sailing as well as local and long distance trade made them an ideal match for the Mikmac Indians, who skillfully hunted, trapped, and fished the same lands and had, not insignificantly, women available for marriage. Indeed, it was the Acadians' intimate and long-term contact with the Mikmac that made the Acadians accessible, identifiable, and, therefore, ideal scapegoats for both Indian and French wrongs against English settlers and soldiers.

The Acadians' jealous defense of their independence most determined their fate. Seeking to maintain their religion and language as well as their distinct culture and lifestyle, the Acadians sought to steer a middle course without the benefit of having a centralized government. Determined pacifists, they tried to find a middle ground between their Indian neighbors; demanding and intrusive Quebec and the Church, which presumed to direct the Acadians without offering protection; and the mounting power and presence of English, who had with the Peace of Utrecht taken formal dominion over Acadia. The French wished to resettle the industrious Acadian on their lands. Though not indifferent to benefits of having prosperous Acadians as neighbors and settlers, the English and the colonists, nevertheless, intermittently attacked the Acadians. During heated times, when fears and antagonisms ranged highest against the French and the Indians, the colonists attacked the Acadians, and their English rulers insisted that the Acadian swear an oath of absolute fidelity to the king. The failure to establish agreement over what the oath required only cloaked a deeper divide: the Acadians wanted independence and the British increasingly insisted on control.

The borderland and independent-minded Acadian people continually fell afoul of imperial and colonial policies, interests, and ambitions. Living at the crossroads of conflicting peoples and cultures, the Acadians also found themselves situated along the fault line of mounting imperial rivalries. The extreme solution of Acadian removal waxed and waned for almost half a century before being full endorsed and embraced by those in power. In the 1740's, with the founding of Halifax and growing preparation for war against the French, the plan for Acadian removal gained a full life in sectors of the English government and among ruling circles in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts.

Proving his merit as a historian, Faragher does not reconstruct the expulsion as if it were inevitable. He does not, as did master historian Francis Parkman in his classic multi-volume study of the French-English struggle for North America, attribute the derangement to such single and simple causes such as the stubborn refusal of the Acadians (en tete comme un'Acadian) to assent to the English demand for an oath to the throne. At the same time, Faragher does not reduce the tragedy to the inevitable consequence of a galactic struggle between England and France, Protestantism and Catholicism, or yet Quebec versus Halifax and Boston, or Europeans versus Indians. Rather in the spirit of moral history as formulated by Lord Action, Faragher based his history on detailed knowledge of what real and individual men thought and did. While he calls attention to those who were intelligent, sympathetic, just, and even courageous in treatment of the Acadians, he also names those who articulated the policy of expulsion, legally rationalized it, and single-mindedly and ruthlessly implemented it.

"History records," Faragher writes, "the names of the individuals responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Acadians." There was William Shirley, Colonial Governor in North America and Governor of Massachusetts; Charles Lawrence, Governor of Nova Scotia; Jonathan Belcher, Nova Scotia Chief Justice and son of a Massachusetts governor; Edwin Boscawen, Vice Admiral of the Royal Navy; Savage Mostyn, Rear Admiral of the Royal Navy; the Nova Scotia Council; Charles Morris Massachusetts surveyor and planner of the expulsion; Robert Monckton, British General, who initiated the 1755 attack from Boston and later became lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia and supervised the expulsion; John Winslow, New England Colonel who cleared the inhabitants of Grand Pre; and John Handfield, an English Major of Acadian background, who used deceit in clearing the Acadians of the Annapolis region. Against the backdrop of this epoch war for North America, Faragher assigns individual blame for a great act of extirpation--and he sets a standard for those who would choose to subject the past to moral judgment.

Joseph Anthony (Boodrot) Amato

Marshall, MN
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Author:Amato, Joseph Anthony (Boodrot)
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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