Cajun History

Acadian Reminiscences – Chapter 5

 

Acadian Reminiscences
by Felix Voorhies, 1907

 

The Acadian Reminiscences, is a word painting of the life of the Acadians in the Teche Country in the long ago.

 

The plain, simple frugal life of these people, their devotion to principle, their unbounded faith in the goodness of God, their love for each other during all their misfortunes and perilous wanderings, appeal to the heart.

 

The simple pathos of the grandmother’s story comes to us with such consummate art, that the eye unwittingly grows moist, as the reader follows the journeyings of this little band, self-exiled and noble in their poverty, from desolated homes on the bleak Acadian coast, to their final destination in the hospitable valley of the Teche.

 

 

Chapter 5 – The Acadians Resolve to Leave Acadia as Exiles Rather than Submit to English Rule – Before leaving St. Gabriel, they apply the torch to the houses, and it is swept away by the flames.

 

“Their countenance bespoke the gravity of the situation, far more serious, indeed, than we then realized, and as they approached us, in the deathlike silence that prevailed, we could distinctly hear the throbbings of our hearts.  We were impatient to learn our fate, and yet we dreaded the disclosure.  Our anxiety was of short duration, and one of our elders spoke as follows.  I repeat his very words, for as they fell from his lips with the solemn sound of a funeral knell, they became engraved upon my heart.  “My good friends,” said he, “our hopes were illusory and the future is big with ominous threats for us.  A cruel and relentless enemy is at our doors.  The story of the wounded man is true; the English are applying the torch to our villages, and are spreading and scattering ruin as they advance.  They spare neither old age nor infirmity, neither women nor children, and are tender-hearted only to renegades and apostates.  Are you ready to accept these humiliating conditions, and to be branded as traitors and cowards?”

“Never,” we answered; “never!  Rather proscription, ruin and death.”

“My friends,” he added, “exile is ruin; it is despair; it is desolation.  Pause a while and reflect, before forming your resolve.”

“Not one of us flinched, and without hesitancy, we all cried out:  “Rather than disown our mother country and become apostates, let exile, let ruin, let death, be our lot.”

“Your answer is noble and generous, my good friends, and your resolve is sublime,” said he; “then let exile be our lot.  Many a one has suffered even more than we shall suffer and for causes less saintly than ours.  Let us prepare for the worst, for to-day, we bid adieu forever, perhaps to Acadia, to our homes, to the graves of those we loved so well.  We leave friendless and penniless for distant lands; we leave for Louisiana, where we shall be free to honor and reverence France, and to serve our God according to our belief.  My good friends, we barely have the time to prepare ourselves; to-night, we must be far from St. Gabriel.”

“These words chilled our hearts. It seemed to us, that all this was a dream, a frightful illusion, that clung to our hearts, to our souls; and yet, without a tear, without a complaint, we resigned ourselves to our fate.

“Ah! it was a cruel day to us, petiots.  We were leaving Acadia, we were abandoning the homes where our children were born and raised, we were leaving as malefactors, without one ray of hope to lighten our dark future, and it seemed to us that poor, desolate Acadia was dearer to us, now that we were forced to leave her forever.  Everything that we saw, every object that we touched, recalled to our hearts some sweet remembrance of days gone by.  Our whole life seemed centered in the furniture of our desolate homes; in the flowers that decked our gardens; in the very trees that shaded our yards.  They whispered to us ditties of our blithe childhood; they recalled to us the glowing dreams of our adolescence illumined with their fleeting illusions; they spoke to us of the hopes and happiness of our maturer years; they had been the mute witnesses of our joys and of our sorrows, and we were leaving them forever.  As we gazed upon them, we wept bitterly, and in our despair, we felt as if the sacrifice was beyond our strength.  But our sense of duty nerved us, and the terrible ordeal we were undergoing did not shake our resolve, and submitting to the will of God, we preferred exile and poverty, with their train of woes and humiliations, before dishonoring ourselves by becoming traitors and renegades.

“In the course of the day our grief increased, and the scenes that took place were heart-rending.  I never recall them without shuddering.

“Our people, so meek, so peaceable, became frenzied with despair.  The women and children wandered from house to house, wailing and uttering piercing cries.  Every object of spoil was destroyed, and the torch was applied to the houses.  The fire, fanned by a too willing breeze, spread rapidly, and in a moment’s time, St. Gabriel was wrapt in a lurid sheet of devouring flames.  We could hear the cracking of planks tortured by the blaze; the crash of falling roofs, while the flames shot up to an immense height with the hissing and soughing of a hurricane.  Ah!  Periots, it was a fair image of pandemonium.  The people seemed an army of fiends, spreading ruin and desolation in their path.  The work-oxen were killed, and a few among us, with the hope of a speedy return to Acadia, threw our silverware into the wells.  Oh, the ruin, the ruin, petiots; it was horrible.

“We left St. Gabriel  numbering about three hundred, whilst the ashes of  our burning houses, carried by the wind, whirled past us like a pillar of light to guide our faltering steps through the wilderness that stretched before us.