My brothers, sister, and I are some of the very few 100% Acadians left. I grew up in home where my parents spoke French. I went to a French Catholic school. On Sundays, I went to French mass. While my aunts and uncles all spoke English, they had a thick and unique French accent. I couldn’t communicate with one of my grandmothers (Memere) because she only spoke French and at the time I did not. So why was mine the first generation in my family to speak English as a first language? My family has been in this country for as long as anyone could trace back, so how did they maintain their heritage and culture for so long without assimilating? It is these very questions that have sent me on a journey of discovery that has brought me to northern Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, France, and believe it or not Louisiana!
Armand Joseph Martin
My father, Armand Joseph Martin (pictured right during a trip to Paris), is the ninth of ten children from Van Buren, a town on the Saint John River in Aroostock County, Maine. Its population, according to the 2010 census, was 2,171, and declining. Most people that live there today still speak French (in fact 75% of them do). Many people assume that given their close proximity to Quebec, they must be speaking Canadian French or Québécois. They actually are speaking Acadian French, a very different dialect. The Acadians are a separate and distinct group of people from an entirely different part of France. In fact, the Acadians descend from Poitou-Charentes, a farming, fishing and shipbuilding region in France.
Acadian French Language
French is obviously a minority language in the United States. Only about 1.6 million Americans speak French at home, and French is the fourth most-spoken language in the US (after English, Spanish, and Chinese, to be exact). These French-speaking communities are located mostly in southern Louisiana and in northern New England (see the colored areas on the map below, with red representing the greatest concentration of Francophones).
Acadian French derives loosely from late Middle French still widespread in a few French provinces (Anjou, Poitou, Saintonge, Aunis, Angoumois). When the French colonized the Americas, they spoke in this dialect, and have maintained pronunciation and vocabulary. This is why Acadian French shares some resemblance with Quebec French. Cajun French, spoken in Southern Louisiana and other parts of the southern USA, is another off-shoot of older forms of Acadian French. Since there was no linguistic contact with France from the late eighteenth century until the twentieth century, Acadian French retained features that died out during the French standardization efforts of the nineteenth century.
The Early Settlers
The first Acadians arrived in Saint Croix, a small island near present day Calais, Maine in 1604. Today, the island is uninhabited. French noble Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons established a settlement on Saint Croix Island in June 1604 under the authority of Henry IV King of France. He agreed to establish a French colony for the King in exchange for a monopoly on all fur trading. This outpost was one of the first attempts by France at year-round colonization in the territory they called l’Acadie.
Earlier attempts by Jacques Cartier at Charlesbourg-Royal in 1541, at Tadoussac in 1544, and at Sable Island in 1598 had failed. Cartographer Samuel de Champlain was part of the Dugua expedition and settlement on the small river island in 1604. During the winter more than half the settlers had perished due to a “land-sickness” believed to be scurvy.
The following spring, Champlain and François Gravé Du Pont, moved the settlement to a new location on the southern shore of the Bay of Fundy called Port-Royal. Champlain had discovered this new location earlier in the spring during a shoreline reconnaissance of the Bay of Fundy for a more suitable settlement site. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain and some of the settlers moved from Port-Royal to a settlement on the Saint Lawrence River that later became Québec.
Port-Royal was located on the north shore of present-day Annapolis Basin, a sheltered bay on the south shore of the Bay of Fundy. Champlain noted in his journals, that the bay was of impressive size; he believed it an adequate anchorage for several hundred ships of the French Royal Fleet, if ever necessary. That is why he named the basin “Port-Royal”, the Royal Port; this was, for many years, the name of both the body of water, and the subsequent French and Acadian settlements in that region.
In 1607, Dugua had his fur trade monopoly revoked by the Government of France, forcing settlers to return to France that fall. The Habitation was left in the care of Membertou and the local Mi’kmaq until 1610 when Sieur de Poutrincourt, another French nobleman, returned with a small expedition to Port-Royal. Poutrincourt converted Membertou and local Mi’kmaq to Catholicism, hoping to gain financial assistance from the government. As a result, Jesuits became financial partners with Poutrincourt, although this caused division within the community. In May, 1613 the Jesuits moved on to the Penobscot River valley.
In July 1613, the settlement was attacked by Samuel Argall of Virginia, on behalf of England. Argall returned to Port-Royal in November that same year and burned the Habitation to the ground while settlers were away nearby. He and his men sacked every building. Port-Royal was in ruins, but the settlers, peaceful with the Mi’kmaq, survived and the colony was not completely wiped out.
In 1621 King James I of England granted to Sir William Alexander all of Nova Scotia, which then included New Brunswick. On July 28, 1629, Sir William and seventy Scottish settlers were established at Port Royal, this time at the present day site of Annapolis Royal (about 5 miles away). During this time there were few French inhabitants living in the colony.
In 1629, Sir William Alexander sent a ship and some settlers who built Charles Fort at Port Royal, close to the site of Fort Anne. In 1631, under the terms of the Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye, the English colonists were ordered to abandon Port Royal to the French. The official handover did not take place until late in 1632.
With France gaining control of New France (including Acadia) under the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, they started recruiting and sending men and women with the intent of raising families and settling down in Acadia. Cardinal Richelieu approved of Isaac de Razilly leaving France on L’Esperance a Dieu on July 4, 1632 with 300 people (mostly men – there may have been 12-15 women in this group).
Le Grand Derangement
Without making distinctions between the Acadians who had been peaceful and those who rebelled against the British occupation, the expulsion of all the Acadians was ordered by British governor Charles Lawrence and the Nova Scotia Council. In the first wave of the expulsion, Acadians were deported to other British colonies. During the second wave they were deported to England and France (from where some Acadians later migrated to Louisiana). Many Acadians fled initially to Francophone colonies such as Quebec, the unsettled North Shore of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. During the second wave of the expulsion many of these Acadians were either imprisoned or deported. The deportation led to the deaths of thousands of Acadians primarily by disease and drowning.
During the French and Indian War, British colonial officers and New England legislators and militia executed the Great Expulsion (Le Grand Derangement) of 1755–1763. First, the Acadians had their boats and their guns confiscated. The French Fort Beauséjour was captured. Acadian delegates, in Halifax to present a petition, were imprisoned. The governor, Charles Lawrence, coveting the Acadian farmland, decided to settle the Acadian question once and for all. With the help of Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts, the Expulsion of the Acadians began, and the Acadians were be expelled from Nova Scotia and dispersed among the British colonies to the south, from Massachusetts to Georgia.
The Acadian and Cajun Connection
The Treaty of Paris (1763) ended the war and many Acadians decided to move to the region of the Atakapa in present-day Louisiana, often traveling via the French Colony of Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti). Joseph Broussard led the first group of 200 Acadians to arrive in Louisiana on February 27, 1765 aboard the Santo Domingo.
On April 8, 1765, Broussard was appointed militia captain and commander of the “Acadians of the Atakapas” region in St. Martinville. Some of the settlers wrote to their family scattered around the Atlantic to encourage them to join them at New Orleans. Only after many of the Cajuns had moved to Louisiana, seeking to live under a French government, did they discover France had secretly ceded Louisiana to Spain in the Treaty of Fontainebleau (in 1762). The formal announcement of the transfer was made in December 1764. The Cajuns took part in the Rebellion of 1768 in an attempt to prevent the transfer. The Spanish formally asserted control in 1769.
The Spanish governor, Bernardo de Gálvez, permitted the Acadians to continue to speak their language, practice their native religion, Roman Catholicism—which was also the official religion of Spain—and otherwise pursue their livelihoods with minimal interference. The term “Cajun” comes from “Acadien”. Pronouncing the word “Acadien” in Acadian French sounds like “A-ca-jen”, which transformed into the English word “Cajun”.
The first Martin ancestor in the New World was Robert Martin (born between 1585 and 1614 in the village of St. Germain de Bourgueil, Anjou, France. He and his wife, Marguerite Landry, were one of 15 families selected to settle in Acadia in 1632. Robert and Marguerite came to Acadia on the ship “L’Esperance a Dieu” under the orders of Isaac de Razilly, along with 300 other pioneers, including members of the Capuchin Order and possibly Acadian historian and soldier Nicolas Denys. They set sail on July 23, 1632 from LaRochelle and arrived in Acadia on September 8, 1632. Their son, Barnabe, was among the first born in Acadia of French parents. They settled in Port Royal, Acadia.
Simon Martin, the fourth generation to live in Acadia, was born in 1751, but his family must have escaped to Quebec during the Grand Derangement. He married Marie Geneviere Bourgoin in 1777 in Kamouraska, Quebec. From there, the next two generations lived in St. Basile, New Brunswick. Joseph Martin, born in St. Basile, New Brunswick in 1825, married Felonise Philomene Picard in 1854 and later moved to Maine. Their son and my great-grandfather, Philias was born in 1856 in the appropriately named Frenchville, Maine.
My mother is a Cormier, and she descends from Robert Cormier, who was a master ship carpenter in La Rochelle, France. Robert Cormier was born in the Poitou region of France. About 1634, he married Marie Peraude (Perreau) at La Rochelle. They had two sons, Thomas born in 1636 and Jean in 1643. Like many commoners, Robert could not afford to emigrate, so he sold three years of his life to work as an indentured servant in return for passage. Their son Jean, being very young, may have been too young for the voyage, and so probably remained in LaRochelle.
Robert’s articles of indenture read:
“Robert Cormier’s contract signed in LaRochelle on January 8, 1644 and by which Robert Cormier, vessel’s carpenter, Marie Perraude, his wife and Thomas Cormier, elder son, dwelling in this city, shall be compelled as they are promising, to get on the first day upon the first request, aboard the ship le Petit Saint Pierre, of which Pierre Boileau is the master and to go in Cape Breton Island, New France Country and to work for Sieurs Tuffet, Duchanin and deChevery as vessel carpenter and to do other things which could be ordered by Sieur Louis Tuffet, commander of Fort Saint Pierre in the said island and to this end, they shall be compelled to obey and carry the orders during the three next and consecutive years., commencing on the day of their embarkation and ending on the day they will re-embark for their return, the said three years done and over. And this for and on condition that for each year they will receive the sum of one hundred and twenty Tour’s pounds, having already received in advance the payment of the first year made by the said Sieurs Tuffet, Duchanin and deChevery and the balance will be paid or made to their order five months after the return of said ship, deducting for what they will have received in the said island and it is understood that in case the said Cormier and his spouse do not obey or revolt against the said Sieur Tuffet and/or other governor’s clerks, they shall be deprived of their wages in whole and kept responsible for all damages and interests. The said parties for the accomplishment of these agreements, having assigned one and other all their present and future belongings, and real estate, made in LaRochelle, this Eight day of January 1644. Attorney Francois Marcoux and clerical secretary Martin deHarrabilague, both residing in this city.”
His son Thomas appears in the 1671 census as a carpenter at Port Royal, aged 35, married to Magdelaine Girouard, with a 2-year-old daughter and possessing 7 cattle, 7 sheep and 6 arpents of land. This shows a typical early colonial holding, capable of sustaining a small family. Rather than sprawling the colony outward, the Acadians established villages in several distinct core areas, such as the Minas Basin and Beaubassin. It was to Beaubassin that Thomas Cormier moved his family along with others. The 1686 census shows him and his wife now with 9 children, 4 guns, 40 arpents of land, 30 cattle, 10 sheep and 15 hogs. This is considerably more holding than a French peasant could ever hope for in Old World France.