ONCE upon a time, in a land of the far north, which we now call Nova Scotia, there lived a company of French people whose ancestors, in generations back, had come from France to make their homes in the New World.
They were very happy and peaceful, for they were industrious and frugal. In spring and summer there were bright flowers and abundance of fruits, while autumn brought a bounteous harvest. They desired nothing more than to be let alone in their homes, to pursue their daily labors undisturbed, and, on the Sabbath, to worship God in their own way. They called their country Acadia.
So the dark-eyed children wandered through the woods and orchards in the bright sunshine, and through the fields when the grain waved, and over the meadows where the cows tinkled their bells. The fathers of these boys and girls worked in the fields or in their shops; and built little houses by the side of the streams. Their mothers took care of the homes, nursed the babies, and made clothing for the winter.
All day long the colony was very busy. Not a soul who could do anything to help was idle; even the children, when not in school, and even after their hours of play, had their appointed tasks to do. At night the families would gather on the doorsteps, or in winter by the fires, and tell stories of their ancestors who lived in France.
Because their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had left France to come to America, these people still loved the old country, and considered themselves to be French. They spoke French, dressed in French manner, and kept up the customs of the land in which their forefathers were born.
Thus, for a hundred and fifty years, lived these peasants in the happy valley of Acadia. There were about seven thousand of them, and to them the world, with its quarrels and wars, its rulers and conquests, was of no moment; they cared to have no part in it.
Times of trouble soon loomed up for the Acadians. The land in which they lived became an English possession, and the King of England was their lawful ruler. The simple Acadians, ignorant of dynasties and kings, and loving only the old France of their ancestors, refused to take the oath of allegiance to England.
"We are French people. Our great-grandfathers came from France. We speak French, and our priests tell us to love the land from which we sprang. We cannot forswear our beautiful France," they said to the British officers.
An English Governor was sent to rule over the country. The French and Indian War commenced, and it was feared the Acadians would send help to the French, even though they promised to be neutral.
"We are French born, and therefore love the French people. You say we are now English subjects by treaty and cession of our land to England. Therefore, we pray you to let us be neutral; we do not want to enter this war, for we would not care to take sides against our King and our people," replied the Acadians to their new Governor.
But the English were not satisfied with this, and decided upon the harsh measure of moving all the Acadians away from their homes. On the first day of June, 1755, a ship sailed into the Bay of Fundy, and anchored within a few miles of Beau Sejour, the only military post held by French troops.
It took short work to dispose of this fort. In a few months the troops were ready to carry out the order of the English government. The people were again asked if they would take the oath of allegiance to the British King, and again they said, "No."
It was now August, and the waving fields of grain betokened the industry and thrift of the people. The cattle were lowing in the meadows, and the orchards were heavy with the ripening fruit. The green slopes were dotted with farm-houses, from whose chimneys came the curling smoke of busy housewives, and around whose doors grew bright autumn flowers nodding to the laughter of little children.
A body of English troops encamped in the village of Grand Pré. An order was issued for all the men to gather at the church on a certain day, in order to hear a decree of the King. The bayonets of the soldiers showed plainly that the men had to obey.
Clad in homespun, wholly unarmed, and innocent of impending misfortune, the men came, at the sounding of the bell and the beating of the drums. Without, in the churchyard, were the women, sitting or standing among the graves of their dead.
Then there arrived the guard from the ship, and the soldiers entered the church. The door was closed, and the men waited in silence to hear the will of the King.
The Commander arose, and held up a paper bearing the royal seal. Then he spoke: "You are convened by his Majesty's orders to be told that all your lands, dwellings, and cattle of all kinds are forfeited to the Crown, and that you yourselves are to be transported from this Province to other lands. Even now you are prisoners."
The men listened to the voice of the Commander as if they did not hear him. They were silent for a moment in speechless wonder. Then, when they understood the awful meaning of the order, louder and louder grew their wails of anger and sorrow. They rushed, with one impulse, to the door, but in vain; for the soldiers had barred the entrance and held it with their bayonets.
One man, a blacksmith, rose, with his arms uplifted and with his face flushed with passion. "Down with the tyrants of England! We have never sworn allegiance. Death to those foreign soldiers, who seize on our homes and our harvests!" he cried. But the merciless hand of a soldier smote him upon the mouth, and he was dragged to the pavement.
The order was carried out to the letter. In a few weeks, the population of the peaceful valley was launched upon the sea for unknown shores, while the lowing of cattle and the howling of dogs were the only sounds heard from the desolate homes that once were the scenes of peace and plenty.
Some of the people escaped to the woods and were not captured. The others were scattered among the English colonies all the way from Connecticut to Georgia. Many made their way back to Canada, while some few returned to their old homes in Acadia. A number found their way to Louisiana where, on the west bank of the Mississippi, their descendants may still be found.