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History of Grand-Pré (1989): Your Denial Is Bolstered by Your Dreams

 John Frederic Herbin, History of Grand-Pré (Herbin Jewellers, 1898)

 

photo credit: yours truly

All that’s left is a single cross, and that only thanks to Herbin.

The Acadian Disapora of 1755 is an oft-neglected point in North American history; I’ve discovered a few books about it, though aside from Herbin’s, all of them seem to have been written in 1990 or later. (The most recent as of this writing, Christopher Hodson’s 2012 study The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History, looks especially interesting.) Herbin’s history came out a century before that. The introduction to the 7th edition, printed in 2003, is a bit sketchy, but I believe, reading between the lines, it has been in print more often than not in the ensuing hundred fifteen years. The idea that an event of this magnitude—think of it as a North American version of the Armenian genocide of 1915 or the Khmer Rouge’s ethnic cleansing policies in Cambodia—could have been represented for almost one hundred years with a single book is staggering to me, but that seems to have been the case. As far as the book itself, goes, to me, it seemed to raise more questions than it answered, but as a starting point for more research, it is indispensable; Herbin was the descendant of one of the few Acadians left in Nova Scotia at the time he penned this book, and that gives him a perspective on the events that, while obviously biased, is unique, and almost impossible for any nonfiction writer working today to emulate.

Before the American Revolution, during the long period of time known as the French and Indian Wars (while America delineates a single French and Indian War, of which the Acadian Diaspora was one of England’s opening salvos, the actual span of the multiple wars that made up that period of history ran from 1688 all the way to the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763), Quebec was not the only French settlement in Canada. The French had also settled in Acadia, a portion of eastern Nova Scotia that basically encompasses the entire southeast peninsula; the northwest border of Acadia is delineated by Fort Lawrence, Fort Beauséjour, and Fort Gaspareaux. Herbin’s history is mostly concerned with the area surrounding the Minas Basin, which includes the cities of Minas, Grand-Pré, and Piziquid, with references to Annapolis, Halifax, and a few other of the towns southwest of the Minas Basin. The basic thrust of Herbin’s short history is that: (a) previous to the 1720s or thereabouts, the French and British, despite the ongoing French and Indian Wars, lived if not in harmony, at least in neutrality with one another; some contemporary accounts reported here indicate that the Native Americans were just as antipathetic to the Acadian French as they were to the English; (b) with the appointment of Lawrence Armstrong as Governor-General in 1725, things went to pot (with the exception of a brief period under Governor Paul Mascarene, who was willing to work with the French despite their refusal to take an oath of fealty to England), culminating in the 1755 diaspora; and (c ) the Acadians were innocent, honest, hardworking folks who did nothing at all to incite British ire against them. While I am certainly not going to be a British apologist here (I’m Scottish, so my family are well-used to Britain wandering in somewhere and immediately setting up shop and behaving like they own the place), as I said before, when reading this, it’s probably best to take Herbin’s points, especially the last one, with a grain of salt.

That said, there are places where it’s more obvious than others that Herbin was quite conscious that he wasn’t telling the whole story. There is a religious component to all of this, with the Catholic Acadians rubbing the Church of Scotland-believing Brits the wrong way. Herbin touches on this during the chapter on the Diaspora itself, which is almost at the end of the book, but up until then, there is at most a vague acknowledgment of same. But the things Herbin chooses to point out about the religious aspect of it all make it seem like this was much closer to being at the heart of the conflict than Herbin intimates; specifically, he points out, if only in passing, that Acadia’s priests were the first people imprisoned, and ultimately the first people expelled, from the colony. He is also entirely unwilling to countenance the idea that the Acadians were running arms to the Quebecois; I haven’t dug into any of the more recent volumes about the incident yet, but from what I’ve read online, this seems to be taken as a given by most researchers on the subject at this time. That does tend to throw a different light on things, doesn’t it? Still, Britain’s response to same was the definition of overreaction, and the successful quashing of any reportage on the incident at all for over a century afterwards continues that trend. Now that it’s all being brought back to light, might as well go to the source. ** ½

[ed. note: I have since discovered this book is available in electronic form free of charge at arhive.org.]

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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