Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Q. Anti-Catholic prejudice in Connecticut, as evidenced recently in the debate about a proposed bill allowing interference with the Catholic Church, prompted memories of one of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s most famous poems, Evangeline, which related the tragedy of the French Catholics, also called Acadians and French Neutrals, who were expelled by the British from Nova Scotia during the 1700s. Could you briefly review this for me?


A. Anti-Catholic prejudice is not new to Connecticut. But the story of the Acadians is one of the most disturbing chapters in early Connecticut (as well as other States). I also recalled this chapter in the light of recent anti-Catholic activity and attitudes in the body politic.


The events surrounding this chapter were related in part by the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem Evangeline.


One source of the historical record is The Diocese of Hartford by Father James H. O’Donnell (D.H. Hurd, 1900).We can simply cite Father O’Donnell’s observations and conclusions:


“We come now to the saddest page in the history of early Catholicity in Connecticut. We are to follow the footsteps of the exiled Acadians in their sorrowful wanderings from their peaceful and happy homes in Nova Scotia to the shores of Connecticut, where, by legislative enactment, they were distributed throughout the State. The sufferings endured by this kindly, industrious and religious people vividly recall the persecution of their coreligionists in Ireland by the same despotic power. Seven thousand Acadians were scattered along the coast from New Hampshire to Georgia. Of this number, four hundred reached Connecticut. In ruthlessly expelling these unfortunate people from their homes and forcibly transporting them into exile, the British Government maintained its reputation for severity when dealing with its Catholic subjects. Its hostility to the Catholic religion led it to perpetrate crimes from which humanity recoils, not the least of which was the expulsion of the French Neutrals and the barbarous destruction of their churches, harvests and homes…


“…Thus were these unhappy people scattered throughout Connecticut. Family ties were shattered, wives were separated from husbands and tender children were deprived of their natural and God-given protectors…


“…In Connecticut the Acadians were not only frequently treated as paupers, they were bound out to the most menial service…


“…The unfortunate Acadians became the objects of unpardonable ridicule, were branded as superstitious and as the disciples of error. Socially they were outcasts, destitute of influence among their fellows, and solely because they worshiped God according to the manner of the church founded by Jesus Christ ….”


Citing one of his sources, Father O’Donnell went on:


“ … From Smith’s Acadia: History is replete with instances of the readiness of man, in every degree of enlightenment, to lay down his life in defense of his right to worship God as he chooses: the Neutrals were denied the services of their priests, when such deprivation meant, according to the light of their faith, the loss of their hope of happiness in the world to come…. The banishment from one’s country has ever been adjudged one of the most severe penalties known in jurisprudence; this, and the other extremes of human misery, the poor, exiled Acadians suffered, by the voluntary acts of men differing only in language and religion …”