French Acadians

Review: Fitzgerald on Faragher
John Mack Faragher. A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. xx + 562 pp. Illustrations, maps, notes, index. $28.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-393-05135-3; $17.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-393-32827-1.

Reviewed for H-NewEngland by Monica Fitzgerald, Department of History, California State University, East Bay

Lessons from the Borderland: Ethnic Cleansing, Colonial Identity, and Cultural Persistence
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow memorialized the story of the expulsion of the Acadians from their homeland in his 1847 fictionalized account, Evangeline. His poem recounted the trials of a young Acadian maiden searching for her long-lost lover from whom she was separated during the forced migration out of Acadia (Nova Scotia). The Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site in Saint Martinville, Louisiana, is home to a reconstructed Acadian homestead and serves to instruct visitors on the rich historical tradition of cultural diversity in the area. Indeed, it was a visit to this museum that spurred John Mack Faragher to explore the story of the Acadians and produce a comprehensive study of the peopling and un-peopling of the far corner of North America, known as Acadia. A Great and Noble Scheme provides a detailed account of what Faragher calls "the first episode of state-sponsored ethnic cleansing in North America" (p. 473).

Considering the issues of ethnic cleansing throughout the world in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, explaining the Acadian experience within the framework of modern definitions of ethnic cleansing is a compelling enough story. Faragher argues that war often justifies conduct that would otherwise be unconscionable, especially against groups who faced racial stereotyping, as the Acadians did. The English combined their anti-Catholic, anti-French, and anti-Indian hatred in full force against the Acadians. Lessons for us resonate on identifying the signs and dangers of "othering" groups who differ in heritage, culture, religion, and ethnicity. However, Faragher offers many additional lessons as well. He provides an account of a type of settlement in North America that could have been, one that assimilated with various peoples to create a distinct and new identity. His account is also a lesson about cultural persistence, and the Acadians' fight to maintain their identity through the battles of two empires, mass expulsion, and eventual resettlement. Perhaps it is in the borderlands of North America that we can learn most about our complex past, about the type of cultural interchange that was possible, the struggles for autonomy, and the painful reminders of the cost of fear and loathing.