Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Poem as Modern Myth: “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My paternal ancestors come from a very distinguished group in 18th century British society – the ones removed from debtors’ prisons and dumped off the coast of Georgia. This solved two problems at once – it relieved prison overcrowding and provided settlers for the new American colony.

My mother’s ancestors were a fusion of French colonists in Louisiana and German refugees from Alsace-Lorraine. (The German branch left Alsace after Germany defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which makes me wonder why Germans would leave after a German takeover.) The French side of her family descended from colonists from France and deportees from Acadia in Canada – the people who eventually became known as the Cajuns of south Louisiana.

Longfellow about the time he published "Evangeline."
The Acadians were deported from what is now Nova Scotia in 1755 and dispersed among numerous colonies and countries. The English in charge of the deportation claimed they had a decree from King George II, but no such decree has ever been found. It was more likely an illegal land grab. The Acadians had been in the area since 1604 and had developed prosperous villages and farms. The deportation split families and friends; at least one couple were separated from most of their children. A goodly portion ended up in the French colony of Louisiana, settling in the country to the west and northwest of New Orleans.

By the mid-19th century, the story of the deportation was largely forgotten. And then, in 1840, at a dinner in Boston that included both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a guest told the story of a couple in Acadia separated on their wedding day.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Top photograph: The Evangeline monument to Acadians at St. Martinville, La.

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