Christopher HODSON. The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History. New York,: Oxford University Press 2012, 272 pages. $34.95 hardcover. ISBN 13: 9780199739776.
Reviewed by Richard RYMARZ, St Josephís College, University of Alberta, Canada

The year 2013 will mark the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris which in North America is most noted by bringing about a conclusion to the so called French and Indian Wars. A significant action in this conflict was the expulsion of thousands of French speaking Catholics from Acadia, a region of Nova Scotia. The telling date here is 1755. This is when a combined force of British regulars and Massachusetts militia defeated the Acadians who had remained loyal to the French crown and to New France centred originally on the St Lawrence. About 7000 Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia all together and another 7000 pushed further into the relative wilderness of eastern Canada.

Hodson has written a fine account of the expulsion placing it in historical context. He skilfully using a wide range of archival documents from diverse sources to tell the story of the Acadian exiles. Hudsonís central thesis is that the Acadians found themselves caught up in a vast imperial geopolitical reordering. This saw European empires groaning under the weight of huge national debt and at the same time trying to control newly founded colonies. What they needed, above all, was access to cheap and pliable labour, preferably white, that would consolidate the imperial cause. This was a constant problem for French colonial expansion. It would eventually defeat French dreams of empire in North America as the vastly more populated English colonies placed French interests in an impossible situation. After the defeat of 1755 the Acadians found themselves transported to the swamplands of Louisiana, the cane fields of the Caribbean and to desolate islands in the South Atlantic. In addition, many of the early expelled Acadians founds themselves being resettled in the British colonies of the eastern Atlantic seaboard; places such as the Carolinas and Maryland. Here they were treated as defeated enemies and regarded as pariahs. Hodson writes eloquently of the plight of the transported Acadians. The horrors of the tropics are well known but the despair of the Acadians who reached the Falkland islands has not been well documented. These were the most remote European settlement on earth and the author strongly conveys their isolation. He captures well the desolation of the Falklands, describing the lingering silence of these settlements, a silence that was broken only by the cries of sea monsters! All of this fits well into the argument that the Acadians were filling the need for white settlers to help populate teetering colonial outposts.

Less well known, and outside the major thrust of this work, is Hodsonís discussion of Acadians being resettled in France. Here they largely formed new agricultural communities. In this context the Acadians were, not quite noble savages but seen as vigorous, robust colonials hardened by their experiences. And they were just the people to serve as models for the indolent inhabitants of the French countryside. This is another aspect of the Acadian story, one that sees them as an idealized form of rustic farmer. To be sure they were defeated in battle but against overwhelming odds. They were, importantly, still capable of exemplifying the most noble ideals of the flourishing peasant unaffected by the debilitating impact of civilization and corrupting culture. In this light the Acadians fitted well into the emerging worldview of French philosophers such as Diderot.

I would recommend this well written and researched book. It give a fine narrative account of an important aspect of North American history and describes the plight of a significant Catholic population.

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