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Journal of Social History 39.4 (2006) 1247-1250
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This is a well-written and thoughtful work. Comprehensive in scope, thorough in its synthesis of a rich and varied body of literature, and masterful in its discovery and research of dispersed documents and distorted records, A Great and Noble Scheme constitutes a singular, indispensable, and classic introduction to tragic Acadian history. Beginning in the first decades of the seventeenth century with their settlement in present-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island this work focuses on their extirpation, expulsion, and dispersal to colonial New England, France, England, and Saint Domingo. It offers, in its concluding chapters, a story of the Acadian diaspora, which dispersed people to Québec, Maine, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, elsewhere in the Canadian Maritimes, and Louisiana where a generation later they began to gather themselves and to constitute the Cajun people.
More than a distinguished study of a unique, but largely forgotten, North American people, Faragher's Great and Noble Scheme is also a historical meditation on French and English North America colonial policies. It reconstructs the attitudes, policies, and acts of the North American colonies, especially complicit neighbor Massachusetts. It puts us before an act of eighteenth-century genocide and offers a detailed account of this "tragic story of expulsion of the French Acadians from their North American homeland." At the same time, his work invites readers to reflect on this singular people's ability to persist over decades despite expropriation, expulsion, and exile.
In the fall of 1755, on the very eve of the Seven Years War, known in North America as the French-Indian War (1756-1763), the expulsion, or what the Acadians and French call le grand dérangement, was executed. The governor of Nova Scotia acted with the agreement of his newly appointed head of court, with the cooperation of English Royal Navy and government, and in unity with the governor of Massachusetts who helped raise an army of two thousand soldiers and assembled a fleet of ships—including those of Boston merchant, John Hancock. Collectively, a handful of men in England, Nova Scotia, and Massachusetts had determined that the hour had come to implement what an anonymous correspondent from Halifax described as "a great and noble scheme." [End Page 1247] Through a mixture of guile and violence the executors of the scheme carried out the systematic roundup of the seven thousand residents. They expropriated their lands, burned their homes, and confiscated and slaughtered their livestock. In the most horrid instances, families were split up, as related in Longfellow's epic, Evangeline (1847). In crowded ships Acadians were set to treacherous autumn seas, and dispersed among unprepared and unwelcoming New England colonies. Faragher calculates the systematic expulsion, murder, and starvation over the next decade resulted in the loss of about ten thousand Acadian lives, more than half of eighteen thousand alive at the start of the dérangement
The survivors, those who did not drown at sea, as a thousand did, or die of disease during passage as great numbers did, met mean but different fates in individual colonies. Some colonies refused to allow them to disembark. Others allowed them to land, but refused aid and abandoned Acadians to their own meager resources. While individual citizens of Massachusetts displayed brotherly behavior by ministering to the Acadian newcomers and even advocating for their rights, the colony, which was most responsible for Acadian expulsion, treated them as alien and unwanted wards of state. The Acadians were segregated into small groups and assigned to different towns for keeping. As is amply documented by colonial records, families (like that of my own ancestor Pierre Boodrot) were barely paid for their work. Their older children were conscripted and taken away for work, and they were denied, though ineffectively...