We have come here today to remember our Acadian Ancestors… Who were they?
The Acadians were immigrants who left France some 400 years ago to pioneer a new land called "Acadie" – Acadia – a land they would call home. Like all immigrants who leave their homeland in search of a better life they fulfilled their hopes and dreams in this land of Acadia.
With their French wives who were the backbone of the Acadian family, they worked hard, they played hard and they were dedicated to the well being of their families before God and before one another. They had a "joie de vivre" like none other and were a happy people who loved to sing, who loved to dance and who loved to play the fiddle as much as they loved this land they called home.
Unfortunately continuous wars and strife between France and England would finally see them exiled from this precious homeland where they married, raised their families and loved the life they had come to know. Their grandparents and parents had been the first settlers of this land and life was good…
During the summer, fall and winter of 1755, British soldiers sailed from Boston, Philadelphia and other Colonial ports headed for that land known to us today as Nova Scotia. Settlement by settlement saw men, women and children marched to embarkation points all along the shores of the various Acadian settlements where they would become human cargo to be removed and deported from their lands for places unknown to them. Of the approximately 15,000 Acadians living in this land, [a great number in that century] most of them would be scattered all over the world. Some were exiled to British seaports when refused debarkation in Virginia – most would be exiled to the British Colonies of the Carolinas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York. Ships would leave Annapolis Royal, Pointe-des-Boudreau, Pisiquid, Port Latour and Halifax. Six ships would sail for Boston, these arriving in Boston Harbor at various times and carrying almost two thousand men, women and children aboard.
Once arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Acadian exiles could be found throughout the colony in Methuen, Amesbury and Andover to the northeast, in Westboro to the west… all the way to Cape Cod to the south and of course in all of the villages that then surrounded Boston.
As Acadian descendants, we know all to well what befell our Acadian Ancestors. Life in exile saw them live in utter poverty. Subjected to illnesses they never knew, according to Stephen White, 40% or some 5,640 Acadians may have died between 1755-1763 while in exile or imprisonment. Nonetheless, because of their faith in God and family, as difficult as life was even as they saw some of their children ripped from the heart of their families and indentured into British families, they did not despair. In fact, they prayed tenaciously and remained strong in their faith but still they were not afraid to move into the political arena of the day as they petitioned the Selectmen in the various villages of Massachusetts to hear their plight and to provide help –
Those petitions stand today as a testament that they were here and they have become part of the history of Massachusetts – their presence clearly made known by these records, is found in Volumes XXIII & XXIV at the Massachusetts State Archives that by the way, are now part of an exhibit at the Commonwealth Museum.
So what had been an attempt at ethnic cleansing has become a story of tenacity, of faith and of survival. We are connected with so many brothers and sisters around the world who have suffered similar fates.
In 1847, a Son of Massachusetts heard their story one evening while having dinner at a friend’s home in Cambridge. He was so moved by what he heard that he set out to memorialize the plight of the Acadians. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote "Evangeline" and though it lacks much in historical fact, it nonetheless made known to the world this dark piece of history that forever changed the lives of Acadians and their descendants. Evangeline became an image to hold onto for as Evangeline who had forever sought to find her Gabriel who she had been separated from at Deportation, Acadians still sought their place on earth where they could live in the peace and the harmony they once knew in a homeland that no longer existed.
We remember all of our Ancestors whether exiled or imprisoned from 1755 to 1763; we remember all those who died from illnesses that were foreign to them; children born in the holds of the ships who did not survive; we remember our elderly and frail Ancestors, who died on those ships or in exile; we remember them all.
Acadia no longer exists on modern day maps – there is no Acadian homeland we can call our own. However, when we visit what was once our Ancestral lands especially in places like Grand-Pré, Beaubassin, Pisiquid, Ile St-Jean, for example, the spirit of our Ancestors – who and what they were as a people is still very much alive and we feel their presence in these hallowed places.
In spite of their travails, they have left us a precious gift: because of their tenacity, because of their deep faith and commitment to God and family, Acadia lives on today in the hearts of all Acadians; whether in the records of genealogical societies; whether in museums or in the work of all of you here gathered who have searched for your roots; and finally Acadia lives on in the work of people like Stephen White, an Acadian descendant, who is genealogist in residence at Moncton University and who is himself a native son of Massachusetts born and raised in Wayland.
And so today, on the 250th anniversary of the Deportation of our Beloved Ancestors, we have come here to a city where so much history, both good and not so good, has taken place and has long endured.
Faneuil Hall - Photo Credit: Sarah M. Consentino
As we stand in the shadow of Faneuil Hall where on July 18, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read in Massachusetts for the first time, how fitting it is that we are here just a few weeks after celebrating our Independence Day on July 4th - for in a sense, this day too is an Independence Day for Acadians as we remember, as we celebrate and as we honor the freedom of our Ancestors as well as our own freedom; certainly not their freedom nor our freedom to live in Acadie; but their freedom of mind, spirit, happiness and love that they possessed no matter where they were. There is much to learn from the many emotional and spiritual freedoms they enjoyed despite the environmental and physical detriments they endured.
So then this is by no means a commemoration of sadness but rather it is a Celebration – we celebrate our Cultural Survival on the date of the most traumatic event in our History… and more than that, it is a Celebration of Life… A Celebration of the lives of all Acadians… a Celebration of the lives of our Ancestors!
We say to them on this special day: Thank you for your faith, for your love of family and for your tenacity to life – it is because of you that we stand here remembering our Heritage, remembering your sacrifices but especially remembering those gifts of inner strength and love you have left as our legacy.
THIS IS OUR HISTORY!... THIS IS OUR SPIRIT!
We honor you, we love you… and we are so proud to be Acadians as well as Americans…
Vive l’Acadie! – Long live Acadia! - and God Bless America!
My thanks and love to our daughter Sarah who was kind enough to edit and to make appropriate suggestions.