The Acadians are an ethnic and cultural group who trace their lineage to settlers expelled from Canada in the mid-18th century. Although the group scattered after their expulsion, a large number formed an active community in southern Louisiana, eventually leading to the Cajun ethnicity. Their name comes from the area of Canada they settled in, part of the Maritime Provinces of the northeastern seaboard.
In the 1630s, French immigrants arrived in Acadia in large groups, recruited by the French government to settle the land. Though spread over a large region, the Acadians congregated mostly around Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Quite early in their residence, the settlers created a strong alliance with the Mi'kmaq Indian tribes, leading to frequent marriages between the two groups. Contrary to some reports, not all the Acadian settlers were French. Some English and German families also joined the settlement, and were largely accepted by the French majority.
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Unfortunately, the Acadian provinces were in the middle of constant disputes between the French and English over ownership. After nearly a century of conflict, the French and Indian war broke out in the 1750s, pitting France against Britain in the North American theater. British forces assaulted Acadian towns repeatedly during the war, putting those who refused to swear to the English crown under pain of treason. In 1755, thousands of un-sworn Acadians were expelled from their homes in what is known as the Great Upheaval.
The 1755 exile was not the only one for the Acadian territory. Over the next decade, many more were thrown out of the area as British power increased. By the time of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, thousands of Acadians had been displaced, and forced to settle in other locations throughout the world.
The end of the French and Indian War left Louisiana in French control, leading a large colony of Acadians to settle alongside the Mississippi river in the Louisiana territory. Although they had to survive severe climate changes from their native home in Canada, and the takeover of the area by the Spanish government, the population quickly thrived. Although they intermarried with people from many other cultures, a large influx of settlers from France joined the Acadians in 1785, leading to a lasting French impact on culture and lifestyle. Eventually, the name was dialectically changed, leading to the modern term “Cajuns.”
Other Acadian exiles fled to throughout the American colonies, deep into French-Canadian territories, or even back to France. They also formed a large part of the French presence in the Caribbean islands, contributing to French involvement in the Age of Sail. In modern times, Acadian descendants have a proud heritage from their many cultural influences. In America, they are noted for their contributions to Southern music, cuisine and cultural practices. Through freezing Canadian winters and devastating exile, the Acadian people proved their tenacity and hardiness, something still prized by descendants today.