The word Acadia has been interpreted by many historians to mean “fertile land, or rich pastures”.
Nova Scotia is one of the founding cultures of the Acadians. When French settlers first came here to settle down, they first settled in La Have. This is also where the Fort Point Museum commemorates their arrival on May 8th 1604. This is when the ship carrying Samuel de Champlain arrived in the New World. Champlain was largely responsible for choosing LaHave as the First Capital of New France. About 28 years later, Isaac de Razilly who was a French general and Viceroy landed at Port Point to carry out the orders of his king.
For those who are interested in seeing a reconstruction of the history of the Acadians, the best place to be is Port-Royal because this is where you can get a look at how those early settlers lived in Canada. A journey past the dykes built by early Acadians is certainly worth taking. At Grand-Pre National Historic Site, one gets to see the way the largest community of Acadians lived. This has been beautifully described by English poet Longfellow in his poem called Evangeline: A Tale of Acadia.
While passing through different French-speaking villages, one gets to see in the Yarmouth and Arcadian Shore region some excellent examples of Acadian churches including but not limited to Elise Sainte-Anne Church which happens to be the earliest church build on mainland Nova Scotia. Eglise Sainte-Marie/St. Mary’s Church at Church Point is another excellent example of Acadia.
The definition of Acadia
Acadia is a term that generally describes any area that included parts of southeastern Quebec and Eastern Maine as well as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The term Acadia is believed to have been derived from the Greek word Acadia which means rural contentment. The earliest Arcadian settlements were constructed at Port Royal on the Bay of Fundy which was settled by Champlain. Many houses and gardens, as well as a theatre, were constructed at this time. However, in just two years’ time, this settlement had to be abandoned till in 1610 attempts were made to resettle this region. About this time, the English founded Virginia in the US. The English also tried to lay claim to the entire eastern region at this time.
Tussle between the French and English
The early seventeenth century saw a real tussle between the French and English to lay claim to this part of the New World. In the early twenties in the seventeenth century, the Scottish King James 1 granted the land to a poet who in turn called the region New Scotland or Nova Scotia.
Colonizing Nova Scotia
In 1632, attempts were made to colonize Nova Scotia. At this time, a treaty gave title of the region to the French, who wanted to build a buffer against both the English and Governor Isaac de Razilly, who was related to Cardinal Richelieu. At this time, about 300 men and women came and settled in Acadia. Lands were reclaimed after dykes and sluices were built to help drain out the rain water. The reclaimed lands were very fertile and were used to grow wheat, oats and apples.
Unsurprisingly, the Acadians did a lot of trading with the English and sold their surplus grains in return of which they bought manufactured products like dishes, tobacco and cloth as well as rum and molasses.
An isolated community
The Acadian community lived somewhat isolated from France as well as Canada. The Acadians were also largely ignored by the French and English. In the middle of the seventeenth century, Acadia came under English rule but at about this time the French began to take this region more seriously. In 1663, New France became a Royal Colony under Louis IV but the cost of waging military campaigns meant that Acadia was left neglected – perhaps because it was under English rule. The Acadians, however, maintained very good relations with the local natives and often used them as allies against competing tribes and colonists.
Oath of allegiance to the English
In the middle of the eighteenth century (1755) Governor Charles Lawrence summoned the representatives of the Acadians who were then requested to sign an oath of allegiance against Britain’s enemies. The Acadians however refused and so the British ordered their expulsion. This led to 10,000 Acadians being rounded and shipped to the Thirteen colonies to the south. At the same time, their farms, barns and churches and shops were burned to the ground. All their livestock and crops were also burned and a mass expulsion took place. This was when the Acadians wandered about aimlessly for many years. Some Acadians even went to England where they were arrested. Others went to France where they were treated as outcasts. This was when the Acadians were without a country to call their own.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, some Acadians (3000 to be exact) went to Louisiana where they settled in the mosquito-infested swamps. They also took on back-breaking work that was shunned by others. Even the French people who were living there shunned them because of their strange dialect.
The Civil War
The Civil War cam and devastated the economy. Soon, Acadians began to marry those who were not Acadians. This was done in order to survive in hostile environments. Their spouses learned French and became absorbed into the Cajun population. This is one of the reasons why so many popular Cajun musicians have French-sounding names.
Post Second World War
After the Second World War, returning veterans wanted better education and better-paying jobs. This led to a gradual migration of Acadians from strictly French-speaking communities to the mainstream world. Acadians became more Americanized and more and more non-Acadians began to marry Acadians. This is when they were named Cajuns, which describes a culture that came about from the Acadians.