The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History

The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History

The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History

The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History


Late in 1755, an army of British regulars and Massachusetts volunteers completed one of the cruelest, most successful military campaigns in North American history, capturing and deporting seven thousand French-speaking Catholic Acadians from the province of Nova Scotia, and chasing an equal number into the wilderness of eastern Canada. Thousands of Acadians endured three decades of forced migrations and failed settlements that shuttled them to the coasts of South America, the plantations of the Caribbean, the frigid islands of the South Atlantic, the swamps of Louisiana, and the countryside of central France.

The Acadian Diasporatells their extraordinary story in full for the first time, illuminating a long-forgotten world of imperial desperation, experimental colonies, and naked brutality. Using documents culled from archives in France, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, Christopher Hodson reconstructs the lives of Acadian exiles as they traversed oceans and continents, pushed along by empires eager to populate new frontiers with inexpensive, pliable white farmers. Hodson's compelling narrative situates the Acadian diaspora within the dramatic geopolitical changes triggered by the Seven Years' War. Faced with redrawn boundaries and staggering national debts, imperial architects across Europe used the Acadians to realize radical plans: tropical settlements without slaves, expeditions to the unknown southern continent, and, perhaps strangest of all, agricultural colonies within old regime France itself. In response, Acadians embraced their status as human commodities, using intimidation and even violence to tailor their communities to the superheated Atlantic market for cheap, mobile labor.

Through vivid, intimate stories of Acadian exiles and the diverse, transnational cast of characters that surrounded them,The Acadian Diasporapresents the eighteenth-century Atlantic world from a new angle, challenging old assumptions about uprooted peoples and the very nature of early modern empire.


The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou
shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them:
and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth…. The Lord
shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of

—Deuteronomy 28:25, 28

Universal truths are uncommon. But this may well be one: to be torn away from familiar places and people is to know terror. Exiled from first-century Rome to the remote Black Sea port of Tomis, the poet Ovid lamented that his dreams had become “tortures,” dark visions of barbarian attacks, enslavement, or, worst of all, “my friends, and my dear wife distorted, disappearing, the wounds of our separation torn open again.” For those uprooted en masse and scattered, such horrors crept all too readily into waking hours. “As long as I have lived,” exclaimed Shem Tov Ardutiel, a medieval chronicler of Jewish expulsions in western Europe, “I have been in the grasp of unrest, pursued by shame, wandering, isolated, set apart from companions, made strange to brothers.” The modern era has produced much, much more of the same. Dispersed by famine, slavery, war, and racial, ethnic, or religious scapegoating, victims know well the panic endured by the Israelites “removed … into all the kingdoms of the earth.”

The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible from the fourth century BCE, uses διασπορά to express this last, most alarming of Jehovah’s punishments. It means “diaspora,” a word that might be rendered into plainer English as “to sow abroad,” and which has come to stand for the dispersal of people belonging to one nation, culture, or place of origin. Although the term once referred exclusively to events in Jewish history, most scholars now recognize that there have been many diasporas, each a reflection of the era in which it unfolded. This book tells the story of one such diaspora, and of the long-forgotten eighteenthcentury world it illuminates.

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