|Edouard Richard on 'ACADIAN MANNERS'|
|The following is
an excerpt beginning on page 34 from Edouard Richard's book titled 'ACADIA
-- Missing Links of a Lost Chapter in American History"
published in 1895 by Home Book Company in New York and John Lovell &
Son in Montreal.
Richard, an Acadian descendant was an ex-member of the House of Commons of Canada in the late 1800's. Richard's two volume book focuses on examining and analyzing the treatment of Acadian history by his contemporaries from Raynal to Parkman. His book is well researched, thoughtful and provocative. For one who might consider reading the two volume, 800 page set, the writing is a wordy, complicated and difficult-to-read treatment of Acadian history. This book is one of a very few books on Acadian history that are important.
Of his contemporary historians, Richard evaluates the work of his contemporaries in researching and documenting the history of Acadia. His findings are a serious indictment of Francis Parkman's work on Acadian history. Of the participants in the history of Acadia, Richard concludes that Charles Lawrence, the Governor of Nova Scotia in 1755 was solely responsible for prosecuting the tragic eviction of close to 15,000 Acadians starting with Grand Pré and Beaubassin in the autumn of 1755. Richard presents credible evidence that Lawrence ignored direction from the English government, specifically the Lord of Trades and set the eviction in motion with the assistance of Governor Shirley, governor of Massachusetts without receiving direction from London for such action.
"...Some modern writers have treated the picture of Acadian manners as a creation of the fervid fancy. It has been held that the imagination was author of much of it, that this ideal society was incompatible with what we know of human nature. I am willing to grant, indeed, I have no doubt, that the conventional picture has been embellished by fancy; yet I hold that a close study of the circumstances of this people makes one understand better how a state of things clearly proven to have existed was possible. The defects common to all Frenchmen, particularly those which spring from their too great sociability, such as jealousy, backbiting, idle gossip, existed there as everywhere else, but toned down by the exceptional status of the people. Nor was their condition always enviable; it certainly was not so in the early days of the colony, when these families were strangers to each other, and probably also during the greater part of the French occupation.
The destruction of Port Royal by Argall, France's neglect, the frequent raids of Anglo-Americans had forced a certain number of the first colonists to become adventurers, forest rangers (coureurs de bois), fisherman in the train of Biencourt, Denys, La Tour. This roving element could not be expected to show as high morality as the first followers of Poutrincourt, or as the society that was afterward formed when all these separate units coalesced. But here, as in all other lands, given the time to form new habits of order and economy, given a sedentary life in the midst of a sober and hard-working people, given a comfortable competence drawn from a most fertile soil, a gradual purification of morals was sure to result. At the same time, an adventurous life had steeled many men for the ceaseless struggles they had to face before the final conquest of the country. On the other hand, the abandonment in which France had so long left them, the habit of living beyond the sphere of action and the regulations of a government jealous of its authority, bred in the Acadians a spirit of independence that would ill consort with the restrictions put upon them in after years by the French governors. In fact, when, after the Treaty of Breda, France took firm hold of the administration in Acadia, there arose much grumbling and murmuring against a government that took pleasure in throwing around the people, the complicated net-work of Old World formalism. Of this we find proofs in the correspondence of the governors: M. de Brouillan, in one of his letters, calls the Acadians half-republicans. However, these difficulties were very rare among them, and were as nothing compared to the troubles that arose among the sharers of authority.
Necessity had taught the people to govern themselves, to hold meetings, to consult together, to settle their differences amicably or according to simple rules quite sufficient for their local needs. They had thus acquired a habit of liberty and a taste therefor. They knew by experience that they could dispense with an authority that was only irksome, that did not improve their condition, that ensured them no additional security in their relations with one another. Hence it was that, under English rule, they got rid, as much as possible, of official regulations and ruled themselves.
Certain it is that, in their special situation, better results could be hoped for from this method, from the laisser faire, than from the vexatious interference of an uncontrolled authority. Matters of public interest were decided at public meetings; men worked all together at works of public utility, as when they completed a vast system of dikes, which were built in so short a time as to point to unusual harmony and good-will among the workers. Their reward came in an abundance of all that could meet their needs and their simple tastes, beyond which they had no ambition and were therefore easily satisfied. Nor had they any anxiety about the future of their children: the custom had been early established that the community was to provide them with all things necessary for a homestead, and a few years sufficed to make them as well off as their parents. The good understanding must, surely, have been remarkable, since even under English rule, there is not on record a single case in which the people disagreed in the decisions upon matters of general interest; whatever the decision might be, it was always, as far as can be gathered, unanimous.
When all these exceptional
circumstances are understood and taken into account, the familiar picture
of their simplicity of life, morality, abundance, harmony, and social happiness
has nothing, it seems, that should provoke wonder; the same circumstances
would, I believe, have brought about elsewhere somewhat similar results.
For a century they were strangers to France and Canada; they had formed
habits and built up traditions that made them a separate people. They were
Acadians. And, if the increase by immigration was almost nil, quite otherwise
was it with the multiplication of families, since, eighty years later,
this small nation counted 18,000 souls..."