Le Grand Dérangement

Acadian exile memorial, Grand Pré, NS, Gaspereau River
Acadian exile memorial, Grand Pré, NS, Gaspereau River

Evangeline is every Acadian forcibly exiled from Nova Scotia between 1755 and 1763. French Catholics lived in the land they called Acadia[1] for over a hundred years until Charles Lawrence and William Shirley, British governors of Nova Scotia and Massachusetts, respectively, ordered deportation by any means necessary. Nova Scotia and New England militia imprisoned Acadian men and boys, terrorized women and children and destroyed livestock and property. Soldiers under Charles Lawrence’s command crammed about 10,000 Acadians into ships that distributed them throughout the thirteen colonies, the West Indies, England, France and, in some cases, the bottom of the sea—not all the ships made port. The penniless refugees were neither expected nor welcomed.

Longfellow plaque St Martinville LA

The Acadians’ plight moved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write his book-length poem, Evangeline, in 1847. If you go looking for historical figures named Evangeline and Gabriel, you won’t find them. Longfellow may have been inspired by Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux, lovers who allegedly reunited under the Evangeline Oak after years apart. Any number of real-life people could have supplied the inspiration. The spirit of Evangeline is true, the story universal: a hostile government deprived civilians of property and livelihood and scattered them without a care for their wellbeing. Families were separated; many never reunited.

Grand Pré National Historic Site, NS

If you go to the Grand-Pré National Historic Site in Nova Scotia you’ll see a statue called “Evangeline.” A woman stands looking far away beyond the horizon, watching for people she will never see again. She is every Acadian. She is every refugee who’s been forcibly separated from lands and people they loved.


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[1] Modern day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI

Published by

Jan Rider Newman

Interests: Writing, research, keeping plants alive, genealogy, reading, photography. TV: NCIS, The Walking Dead, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife. Movies: Casablanca, Raising Arizona, Enchanted April, Some Like It Hot, Blade Runner. Music: Classical, golden oldies, classic country, rock 'n' roll.

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