Ethnic Cleansing, 1755

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In Salon, Andrew O'Hehir interviews John Mack Faragher, author of A Great and Noble Scheme. I haven't read the book yet, but it sounds like it's a fascinating history of the British empire's assault on the Acadians—French Canadian settlers who were friendly with the Indians and neutral in the war between France and Britain, and who were the ancestors of today's Cajuns.

From the interview:

I got very interested in the Seven Years' War because so many of the issues it raises seem to engage the same dilemmas that have preoccupied the late 20th century. Post-colonial problems. The questions of settlements and settler societies; the response of native people, which at the time was characterized as terrorism. Military cum political operations, like the one against the Acadians, or even more dramatic ones, like the distribution of smallpox-infected blankets [among the Indians] by Lord Jeffrey Amherst, that might have genocidal implications.

All these are late 20th century concepts, of course, or at least 20th century concepts. So the project for me was to try to use those concepts and see what is revealed about historical actions 200 years ago, when they would not have recognized those concepts. It's not an exercise in classification nor, I hope, an exercise in trying to make moral judgments. Rather, if a historian uses these concepts to look back at this story, does it suggest something more than it would have otherwise?

For some interesting reader responses, go here.

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  1. Great article. Here’s a salon premium daypass for those who don’t want to suffer through an ad for something they have no intention of buying anyway: http://www.salon.com/news/cookie.html

    Another interesting point: the Acadians didn’t all become Cajuns. Nova Scotia still has a very large Francophone minority. And some of the other Maritime Provinces also have significant French-speaking minorities (not to mention French-majority areas in eastern Ontario). The boundaries of Quebec are just a bunch of lines the Brits drew on a map (sound familiar?).

    I’m fairly annoyed with the sort of “social conservatives” who see ethnic “Balkanization” as the ultimate danger to social cohesion. The modern idea of the nation-state, with everybody within a given set of lines on a map sharing a national identity (“the Swiss people,” “The Yugoslav people,” “the Iraqi people”) and speaking the same standard form of the national language as those in the capital city is, in my opinion, at least as destructive. It’s given us, among other things, the mass exchanges of population between Turkey and Greece after WWI and the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Silesia and the Sudetenland. It’s also given us the too-often successful attempt to eradicate a wide variety of regional dialects in favor of the schoolmarms’ idea of standard English (in the UK it’s “BBC Standard,” a homogenized middle class version of south midlands dialect; and in the US, a sort of Californicated/lower Midwest TV news anchor-speak).

    I saw an interesting interview with Shelby Foote in which he talked about how much more local variety there was in spoken English before the radio had time to smooth things out. He told about going to some college in Tennessee (Vanderbilt, I think) and amusing classmates with his Mississippi dialect (e.g. “oithwoim”). And does anybody in northern New England younger than 60 still talk like a Stephen King character?

    Anyone ever wonder, by the way, why exactly the same kinds of “errors” seem to crop up in so many different English dialects? Maybe because they were accepted usage in the English spoken by most people until the grammarians of the English Renaissance and the schoolmarms of the 19th century tried to impose an artificial latinate grammar on it.

    For example, in Middle and early modern English, “ain’t” was a common contraction for “am not.” And as is the case today in many languages, double negatives were a perfectly acceptable way of adding emphasis. There are *quadruple* negatives in Chaucer, for cryin’ our loud: “He never yet no villainye ne saide, in all his lyf unto no maner wight.” (The Knight’s Tale)

    End of rant.

  2. Boy, who’da guessed that a bunch of Canadians would write in to bellyache about how they shouldn’t have called it “America’s” atrocity? What’s next: bloggers griping about how mainstream media just doesn’t get it?

  3. Those would be the less interesting reader responses. Though I appreciated O’Hehir’s response.

  4. Jesse Walker,

    Note that quite a number of Native Americans (use your own term of choice here) who were friendly with the Acadians or who had married into Acadian families were forcibly shipped off to Jamaica to be slaves there. This was standard British policy for most of the 17th and 18th century. That is, if one were run across a group of unfriendly natives (or at least potentially unfriendly) then either kill them or ship them off to slavery in the Caribbean.

    Kevin Carson,

    The boundaries of Quebec are just a bunch of lines the Brits drew on a map (sound familiar?).

    They divided Canada into Lower & Upper parts to better control the situation there after the revolt in the 1830s.

  5. Jesse Walker,

    And a lot of historians have commented on the fact that the “Tea Party” conspiricists wore Indian garb. A number of my friends who deal with this period view it as part of the general effort to create a new American identity, and identity infused with “Indianess” till this day.

  6. They divided Canada into Lower & Upper parts to better control the situation there after the revolt in the 1830s.

    False
    Lower and Upper division was created in 1791 to give American Tories their own country. Teh british responded to the rebellions of 1837 by UNITING Upper and Lower Canada.

  7. History sucks but at least you get some good food out of it sometimes.

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