[p. 63]

The Acadians

"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlock
Bearded with moss and in garments green, indistinct in the tiwlight
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic."

The marriage agreement had been signed, elaborate preparations were on for the wedding of Gabriel Lajeunesse and Evangeline Bellafontaine in the Acadian village of Grand Pre in 1755. In the midst of the festivities an order came from Governor Charles Laurence for all the men of the little French settlement to gather for a conference with English officials in the village church on a certain day. When the men were assembled, doors of the church were barred and the officials announced that the Frenchmen were their prisoners.

Outside the church the women and children of the parish waited patiently for news from the conference. Darkness came on and when the men did not come from the church, sadly the women went to their homes, at a loss to understand the proceedings.

On the morning of the fifth day, English soldiers opened the church doors, and marched the prisoners down to ships which had been riding at anchor in the harbor, hurried them aboard and sent them from their native land. Wives were torn from husbands in the confusion, parents were put on separate boats from their children.

With the anxious group who gathered when the church doors were opened was Evangeline, promised bride of Gabriel. Halfway down to the water she greeted and bade farewell to her lover with the memorable words:

"Be of good cheer for if we love one another
Nothing in truth can harm us, whatever mischances may happen."

And Gabriel was hurried to one of the boats, leaving Evangeline on the shore with her father, ill and inconsolable. During the night her father died, and doubly bereft, the distraught maiden witnessed the burning of the village and shortly afterward set out with Father Felician, the faithful priest of the parish, to search for Gabriel.

After undergoing many hardships and sufferings, some of the Acadians, expelled by the English, settled in Cape Breton, others in distant Louisiana. And it was to Louisiana that Gabriel had found his way. And to that far southern country journeyed Father Felician and Evangeline, Evangeline seeking her lover, the priest his lost flock.

Finally in the Louisiana settlement they found Basil, Gabriel's father. But Gabriel, restless, too, had left the day before they arrived to trade for furs with the Indians in the Ozark mountains. Evangeline, not satisfied to wait for his return, persuaded his father, Basil, to accompany her and they started forth to find him.

Many times they spoke with those who had seen and known Gabriel. Once Evangeline heard the splash of the oars of Gabriel's boat as they passed on the broad bosom of the Mississippi, unaware of the nearness one to the other. But long searching proved in vain.

Years passed and Evangeline became a sister of mercy in Philadelphia, never completely giving up hope of being reunited with her lover, and looking daily for him among the stranger faces that she passed in the city.

While going about her deeds of mercy at an almshouse among the dying smallpox patients, she, an old woman, found her lover.

Let Longfellow complete the story:
"Still stands the forest primeval; but far away from its shadow
Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping.
Under the humble walls of the little Catholic church yard,
In the heart of the city they lie, unknown and unnoticed.
Daily the tides of life go ebbing and flowing beside them,
Thousands of throbbing hearts, where theirs are at rest and forever,
Thousands of aching brains, where theirs no longer are busy,
Thousands of toiling hands, where theirs have ceased from their labors,
Thousands of weary feet, where theirs have completed their journey."

Thus Longfellow gives the tragedy of one of the group of expelled Acadians. And in Louisiana in the quaint and historic town of St. Martinsville, in the middle of one of the principal streets, stands to this day "Evangeline's Oak" where Longfellow's heroine is supposed to have sat in saddened meditation over her elusive lover.

Far back in 1713 by the treaty of Utrecht the English were given Acadia, or Nova Scotia, but the native French settlers never were made into loyal English subjects. They professed themselves to be French neutrals, but naturally their sympathies were with their kindred in Canada, and they could not altogether be suppressed whenever conflict promised between France and England. At the outbreak of the old French war of 1755 it was decided to expel them from the English soil. The force able removal of this people from their home, so touchingly described by Longfellow in his Evangeline, was the final chapter of the story.

With this band of Acadians from the far distant country came the Hebert family to Louisiana. One, Louis Hebert, whose descendants live in Beaumont, was born during the stress of the expulsion. His grandchildren, Martin, Ben B., Will, Louis and Mrs. Mary Azema Hamshire, have been factors in the community. The first three named are still living (1925). Listed in the archives of Louisiana among the chiefs of the Acadian groups were also the Broussards, whose descendants live here.

And the Blanchette, Jirou, Bordages, Chaison and other French families also have played an important part in the building of the city and county.

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