June 02, 2013


On June 26, 1756, the noise of the stevedores and sailors, prostitutes and drunks who worked and caroused in Liverpool’s docks was briefly stilled. They stopped to watch as an 86 ton sloop, ‘The Industry’, tied up alongside. Below decks there was not the shipment of rum they might have expected; no coffee or cotton, tobacco or timber, not even a consignment of slaves on which so much of the city’s wealth was based.

These unfortunates were known as Acadians, descendants of French settlers who had sailed to Nova Scotia 150 years before and lived there peaceably until they were subjected to British rule and forcibly expelled in 1755.

In his book, ‘Crucible of War’, an account of the battle for power in North America between France and Britain, historian Fred Anderson, described the expulsion as ‘chillingly reminiscent of modern ethnic cleansing operations…executed with a coldness and calculation rarely seen in other wartime operations.’

The Acadians were no threat, in fact, they prided themselves on their neutrality, refusing to fight for either France or Britain but, quite simply, they were in the way. Almost the entire population was ‘removed’, as the British governor put it, and of a population of about 18,000, as many as 14,000 were exiled. Some estimate that eventually 8,000 died. As Henry Longfellow wrote in ‘Evangeline’, his verse saga about a young couple split by the expulsion: ‘Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed! Scattered like dust and leaves…’

In 1785, when the handful of the exiles who had survived the 30 years since the Great Expulsion had given up hope of a free and fair existence, a French businessman offered to resettle them in Spanish-owned Louisiana. Many had been offered schemes like this before and died in their thousands working like slaves in the French colonies of Haiti and Guyana, even the Falkland Islands. Nevertheless so miserable was their lot that, reluctantly, sceptically, they sailed to New Orleans.

For once, their doubts were unfounded. There were settlements as they had been promised but by the time LeBlanc and his family settled on a bayou off the River Mississippi in the summer of ’85 he had spent more than half his life as an exile. He died within a year aged 56.

In time, the name Acadian became corrupted. Today the descendants of LeBlanc and his exiled comrades are known as Cajuns.

•Richard Holledge has written a novel about the Acadian Expulsion and the time Jambo LeBlanc and his comrades spent in Liverpool. ‘The Scattered’ is available on Amazon and Kindle.


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