Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Le Grande Derangement

During a visit to St. Martinville, the sixth oldest city in Louisiana, we learned the reason for the Acadians of Nova Scotia seeking refuge in this area.

Increasing friction between British and French forces beginning in 1754 led to the British capturing Fort Beausejour. In 1755, the British, aware of the refusal of the sizable French Acadian population to swear allegiance to England, instituted Le Grande Derangement and deported the Acadians to France, British ports in the colonies, and the islands in the Caribbean. Families were frequently broken apart.

Even in the colonies, the French were not accepted. Many either made their way back to Nova Scotia or journeyed to the New Orleans area. The latter group became known as "Cajuns," and their expulsion formed the basis for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1847 epic poem "Evangeline."

In the poem, Acadian maiden Evangeline Bellefontaine is torn from her betrothed Gabriel Lajeunesse on their wedding day. With a group of fellow exiles, she travels to Louisiana and searches many years for him. She finds Gabriel on his death bed. Reunited at long last, Gabriel dies as the two kiss. Evangeline dies soon thereafter, and the two are buried together in unmarked graves.

This oak, The Evangeline Oak, marks the legendary meeting place of Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux, the counterparts of Evangeline and Gabriel.

In the town square is St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church, the "mother church" of the Acadians, established in 1765.

Adjacent to the church is the priest's home.

Later, we visited the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site just north of St. Martinville to tour the Maison Olivier.

The architectural form is called a Raised Creole Cottage, which shows a mixture of Creole, Caribbean, and French influence. The ground floor walls are 14 inches thick.

Our tour leader, Mary Guirard, provided a comprehensive picture of the Acadians expulsion and their life in Louisiana. At this point of the tour, she described the mattress as having one side filled with dried Spanish moss (summer side) and the flip side filled with feathers (winter side). She demonstrated how the feather side of the mattress is "fluffed up" by removing a "rolling pin" from the headboard and rolling it up and down the length of the bed with the help of a second person.

The kitchen was housed in a separate building and seemed well-equipped for this well-to-do Olivier family.

In 1934, the property became the first park of the Louisiana State Parks system.

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