« PreviousContinue »
of war; their state was an anomalous one, to which they were reduced by a most tyrannical exercise of superior force, resting for its justification, not upon sufficient proofs, but an alleged inevitable state necessity. So far as the Acadians quartered upon Massachusetts are concerned, there is incontrovertible evidence that they were not only willing, but eager, to support themselves by their own industry; and that many of them did so, in whole or in part. But they were among strangers, whose modes of employment were not the same as those to which they had been accustomed; they had brought with them no materials or tools; they were in a state of utter destitution. Many had been broken down in heart and constitution, by the unparalleled sufferings to which they had been exposed. Some were too old to labor, and others too young. They arrived, too, after the winter had set in, and an immediate supply of clothing, fuel, and provisions was absolutely necessary for the preservation of life. With the strongest possible desire to support themselves by their own industry, the thing was impossible. So far as labor could be found which they were able to perform, they gladly performed it. This is proved by contemporary documents of indisputable authority, now in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, in Boston.
They were distributed, as we have stated, among the towns, and placed under the supervision of the town authorities, who were required by the legislature to make provision for their subsistence. Generally speaking, families were allowed to take a house, the rent of which formed an item in the account presented by the selectmen to the provincial treasury. The necessaries of daily subsistence were furnished, either by the trades-people, whose bills were made out in their own name, or were charged to the town, and allowed by the accountants at the treasury. In some cases, it was found more economical to furnish them with a certain weekly sum of money according to the number of persons in the family, leaving it to them to make their own purchases. Many individuals, and some families, appear to have been no burden to the towns at all, after the needful supplies had been furnished them on their first arrival.
The powers intrusted to the town authorities soon gave rise to numerous cases of dissatisfaction. Petitions came pouring in upon the General Court for legislative interpo
sition. The selectmen sometimes exercised their power to bind out the young in an oppressive and cruel manner, unnecessarily separating children and parents, to the grief and despair of both; so that the legislature were obliged to suspend the authority with which the town-officers had been invested.
From 1756 nearly to 1763, discussions growing out of the anomalous and cruel position of the French captives formed no inconsiderable part of the business of the legislature. Many of the petitions above alluded to are preserved; some of them are expressed in the most touching and pathetic language, and disclose a state of suffering which it is impossible to think of without the deepest commiseration. But as we follow the legislative records on from year to year, they grow fewer and fewer; many of the captives died; some established themselves in regular occupations; and finally, at the peace of 1763, most of the survivors found their back to Nova Scotia, or removed to Canada.
The fate of the Acadians sent to the other provinces we have not the means of knowing with so much precision. Some finally settled among their countrymen in Louisiana, or farther up the Mississippi. Others became hunters, trappers, or Coureurs-des-bois in the West. Others, attempting to return in vessels, along the coast, from some of the Southern provinces, were arrested in Massachusetts, at the request of Governor Lawrence, who writes to Governor Shirley on the 1st of July, 1756, "I entreat your Excellency to use your utmost endeavours to prevent the accomplishment of so pernicious an undertaking, by destroying such vessels as those in your colony may have prepared for that purpose, and [by arresting] all that may attempt to pass through any part of your government, by land or by water, on their way hither." As if any danger could be apprehended from a few brokendown Acadian peasants! It turned out, that the other colonies were not so rigid in enforcing the captivity of these unhappy exiles. The ninety-nine returning Acadians - for that was the number arrested in Massachusetts, and distributed, like the rest, among the towns who excited such terrors in the breast of Governor Lawrence, were furnished with passports by the governors of Georgia, South Carolina, and New York.
We have thus given a very rapid and imperfect narrative
of an historical transaction, in which it is painful to know that citizens of Massachusetts, if not parties to the plot originally, were the principal agents by whom it was carried into execution. One circumstance, of great importance in forming a judgment of its moral character, has not excited the attention of historians as much as it should. Most of them make no allusion to it whatever; Minot mentions it without a word of comment. By the second article in the terms of the capitulation, drawn up, too, by the officers of the besieging army, the inhabitants were to be "left in the same situation as they were when we [the English] arrived." On the faith of this, the garrison of Beau Séjour capitulated on the 16th of June, and that of Gaspereau a few days after. By the other article, the soldiers of the garrisons were to be transported to Louisburg, at the expense of the king of Great Britain, and not to bear arms for six months. This last was faithfully executed. How faithfully the former was kept, the preceding pages have shown. If this affair had occurred on the great theatre of European politics, the names of all who were engaged in it would have been handed down to the execration of posterity. It is like those great acts of pagan cruelty, the results of international hatred, the reducing of whole communities to slavery, and dividing their lands among the citizens of the conquering nation, which disgrace the pages of Greek and Roman history. Compared with the partition of Poland, the standing reproach of three of the leading powers of Modern Europe, the desolation of Acadie is a crime of much darker dye. The former transferred a nation from their domestic oppressors to a foreign master, probably bettering their condition by the exchange; the latter sunk an innocent people, from a state of almost unexampled happiness, into the miseries of utter poverty and hopeless exile. We forbear to run the parallel
This subject, wholly national in its character, Mr. Longfellow has made the basis of the poem of Evangeline. He has selected those circumstances in the story which are susceptible of poetical treatment, and so combined them as to create, from authentic historical materials, a tale of rare beauty, tenderness, and moral power. The first part describes the life of the Acadians of the village of Grand-Pré with such minute and graphic touches, that the lovely scenes
of more than pastoral happiness there enjoyed are presented to us as vividly as is Sicilian life in the best idyls of Theocritus. The poet then selects one group from this happy village, that of Benedict Bellefontaine, whose daughter is the "gentle Evangeline," and her favored lover, Gabriel Lajeunesse, the son of Basil the blacksmith. Their betrothal is then formally made, with the assistance of old René Leblanc, the notary public. This takes place just before the violent seizure of the people on the 5th of September, and that terrible scene is delineated with a close adherence to the facts of history. With the destruction of the village, and the embarkation of the unhappy prisoners, the first part of the poem closes. In the second part, the scene changes to the colonies whither the Acadians have been carried into exile. The lovers have been separated from each other, and many a weary year has passed, and Evangeline has patiently wandered in search of her lost lover; she is led onward by rumors of him from place to place, but always in vain, down the Beautiful River and the Mississippi. At length, in Louisiana, she finds the home of Basil the blacksmith, who has now become a herdsman, living in great abundance, with many of his Acadian friends around him. But Gabriel, despairing and heartbroken, has just left him, to "follow the Indian trails to the Ozark mountains," and to become a hunter and trapper. His boat had passed her in the night. The next day, Evangeline resumes her journeying, accompanied by Basil, but they find no trace of Gabriel, until they reach the Spanish town of Adayes, which Gabriel had left for the prairies only the day before. They follow his flying steps.
Hope still guided them on, as the magic Fata Morgana Showed them her lakes of light, that retreated and vanished before them."
The pursuit is vain; Gabriel is always in advance. From the tents of the Jesuit Mission he has departed just before their arrival. Evangeline remains at the Mission, hoping that in the autumn, when the chase is done, Gabriel will return; but he comes not with the autumn, though a rumor was wafted "sweeter than song of bird "
"Far to the north and east, it said, in the Michigan forests, Gabriel had his lodge by the banks of the Saginaw river."
She leaves the Mission "with returning guides, that sought
"Thus did the long sad years glide on, and in seasons and
Divers and distant far was seen the wandering maiden;
Then there appeared and spread faint streaks of gray o'er her
Dawn of another life, that broke o'er her earthly horizon,
pp. 144, 145. At last, Evangeline finds a home among "the children of Penn," and becomes a Sister of Mercy in Philadelphia; and when pestilence falls on the city, she spends her days and nights in attendance upon the poor in the "almshouse, home of the homeless." Thither is brought an old man, with thin gray locks upon his temples, in whom she recognizes the form of Gabriel.
"Suddenly, as if arrested by fear or a feeling of wonder, Still she stood, with her colorless lips apart, while a shudder Ran through her frame, and, forgotten, the flowerets dropped from
And from her eyes and cheeks the light and bloom of the
Then there escaped from her lips a cry of such terrible anguish,
But, as he lay in the morning light, his face for a moment
Seemed to assume once more the forms of its earlier manhood;