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Conclave to mark Acadian diaspora; Deported from New Brunswick.

Byline: George Barnes

In August, people from many parts of the United States and several other countries will make their way to New Brunswick to visit with long lost relatives and reconnect roots that, in some cases, have been separated for 254 years.

The Acadian World Congress will be held Aug. 7-23, but far from being just a big family reunion, it is part of an effort to keep alive the memory of what amounted to an Acadian diaspora. For many, that traumatic history is always present, even if it is 11 generations since Acadians were forced from their homes and shipped off in small groups to live in British colonies.

Beginning in 1755, and continuing until the 1763 Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years' War between the French and English, 12,618 Acadians living in Nova Scotia - and many who had made their way to other parts of the Maritimes to escape deportation - were rounded up and placed on ships and sent to Massachusetts, Louisiana and many other parts of the United States, England and France.

Many families were separated, either because ship captains would not wait or the ships were too crowded. Thousands never returned. Three ships transporting the exiles went down at sea, taking the lives of 836 men, women and children.

The event is known to Acadians as Le Grande Derangement, but called by some the Acadian holocaust.

The trauma is felt by Acadian families even today.

"The people who were deported were broken people," said Doris Leger. "It took another 100 years for them to recover."

Mrs. Leger is vice president of the Acadian Cultural Society in Fitchburg and editor of Le Reveil Acadien, the society's journal, which helps Acadians around the country keep up with news about their culture and history. She said the reason the tragedy clings to Acadians is that the tragic history is how they define their identity.

The thousands that were exiled have become hundreds of thousands who populate Fitchburg, Gardner, Leominster, Marshfield, Waltham and other communities in Massachusetts and the United States, as well as more than 50 other countries around the world. Some are families exiled in 1755 from Nova Scotia who never returned. Many others are families that found their way down from New Brunswick and other Canadian Maritime provinces in the past 100 years to work. They are descended from Acadian families who were later able to return home, although many found their homes in Nova Scotia taken by people from Great Britain.

Ulysse Maillet of Gardner said his ancestor, Jacques Maillet, came to Nova Scotia at 13 to fight the British. When the French were defeated at Port Royal, he was deported to New York. Later, Jacques' son married and moved back to New Brunswick. He was killed in the fighting, and his family was deported to Boston.

They later moved back to New Brunswick after living in Maine.

Ulysse's is the first generation of his family born in Massachusetts. He said his family's struggles to return home to Acadia, even to the point of changing their name to Myers for a while to fit in with the British, has always amazed him.

Mr. Maillet is secretary of the Acadian Social Club in Gardner, a social organization that also works to promote the Acadian cultural identity.

The trauma suffered by the Acadian people is hard for the average American to imagine. They were ripped from their homes, and many of their buildings, including churches, were burned. They spoke French, but all but about 2,000 of them were taken to English-speaking British colonies, where they were expected to assimilate.

"We were deliberately dispersed and separated because the British wanted us to lose our culture," said Warren Perrin of Louisiana.

Mr. Perrin is a lawyer and author of "Acadian Redemption," a biography of what he calls the Acadian holocaust. Mr. Perrin is a direct descendant of Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard, hero of the Acadian resistance during the deportations, and has worked to keep the Cajun Acadian culture alive in Louisiana, both as a lawyer and through the Acadian Heritage and Cultural Foundation he helped create.

"We're doing that in our schools," he said.

At the beginning of the 1900s, Mr. Perrin said, efforts were made and laws created to eradicate the French language from Louisiana schools by prohibiting the speaking of it in school.

"We've since reversed it and annulled the old laws (that prohibited speaking the language)," he said. There are now 32 French immersion schools where it is the only language spoken.

But even though Acadian has recently been named a protected minority under the Equal Rights Act, there continue to be efforts by some political leaders to change the culture in Louisiana from the Cajun French to something more anglicized, Mr. Perrin said.

"For me, it is a daily struggle," he said.

Most notably, in 1990, Mr. Perrin petitioned Queen Elizabeth II of England claiming that the deportations of Acadians were contrary to British law and asking for an apology.

In 2003, the petition resulted in a royal decree that July 28 would be celebrated as the annual Day of Commemoration of the Acadian Deportation. Mr. Perrin sees that as an apology by the British crown.

Mr. Perrin said he got more involved in Acadian issues in 1988 when his youngest son, Bruce, asked him what the Acadians did wrong to be deported. He became determined to show they did nothing wrong.

The proclamation by Queen Elizabeth, in effect, removed the deportation edict and made it legal for Acadians to return home.

Mr. Perrin was in Leominster recently, promoting his book, with author Ann Davidson of Upton, who wrote "Catherine's Cadeau," a story of a woman visiting Nova Scotia who was transported back in time to 1755 when the Acadians were being deported. They also visited Marshfield, where John Winslow, head of the British forces charged with deporting the Acadians, lived. He kept a diary that is the only known record of the deportations.

Ms. Davidson said she is not Acadian but grew up in Nova Scotia a few miles from Grand Pre, where the deportations took place.

She said the tragedy to her is that most of the people deported were farmers who did not take sides in the war between the French and English, but suffered grave consequences.

"There is something about their story that has just stuck with me," she said.

"Their story was so sad. I worked with middle school kids who had never heard about the Acadians. I wanted to write a story that would be a page-turner, and teach history, too."

Contact George Barnes by e-mail at


CUTLINE: (1) Ann M. Davidson of Upton is the author of "Catherine's Cadeau," which focuses on the deportation of Acadians. (2) Acadian flag (MAP 1) The Acadians (MAP 2) Destinations of Acadian deportees

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 14, 2009
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