Surviving the French and Indian War with Music: The Story of the Cajuns

Essential Question

How did the Acadians, or Cajuns, use music and dance to maintain their communal bonds after being displaced during the French and Indian War?

Overview

The lives of 17th century European settlers in North America seems unimaginable compared to today. English colonists along the Atlantic Coast who struggled to maintain their settlements were constantly being besieged by disease, the threat of starvation, Indian raids, and unforgiving weather. Further west, French fur traders led a primitive existence, sleeping in tents and eating the campfire-cooked meat of game they caught. Under such harsh circumstances, most of the endeavors to settle in the New World ended in disaster, and only a handful of communities survived.

Acadia, an early colony encompassing what is today Northern Maine, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), not only survived, but thrived. The colony was founded in the early 1600s by a small group of adventurous French settlers eager to make a living through transatlantic fur trade. After barely surviving their first winter, the Acadians quickly built villages, forts, and dykes along the coast. They created the first permanent European settlement north of Florida, and by 1606, were successful enough to create and stage lavish plays for visiting French dignitaries.

As time went on, the Acadians became an entirely self-reliant community of farmers, growing distant from France. When France and England began fighting over claims to Acadian land, the Acadians strategically remained neutral. Because of their large population, their knowledge of the land, and their alliance with the surrounding Mi’kmaq tribe, Acadians were left alone by the competing English and French empires for close to a century.

Acadian neutrality came to a violent end in 1755, when the British decreed that the Acadians were to be removed from their homelands and forcibly relocated to England, France, the Caribbean, and the American colonies. While commonly known as Le Grand Dérangement, (or “The Great Expulsion”), the displacement of the Acadians might today be considered genocide. Under the command of Governor Charles Lawrence, a zealot for the British monarchy, Acadian families were ripped apart and crowded into ships built for transporting goods rather than people, all the while British troops burned down Acadian homes and farms. Overcrowded and provided with only the meagerest of meals, many Acadians succumbed to disease before the ships even arrived to shore. Those that did survive were often met with hostility and apathy in their new lands.

After years of searching for a new home in Europe and North America, many Acadians made their way to Louisiana. Still under the rule of the French and Spanish, officials in Louisiana were sympathetic to the plight of the Acadians, and offered them lands of their own to cultivate. The news spread to other displaced Acadians, and soon a new Acadia was growing in Southern Louisiana. After decades in this new land, the Acadians became known by the nickname given to them by others in Louisiana: the Cajuns.

Throughout their endeavors to settle Acadia and new lands following Le Grand Dérangement, music and dance has served as a continual source of comfort and joy for the Acadians. Historical accounts of the Acadians throughout the centuries regularly note the community’s affection for song and dance, and the characterization of Acadians as a musical people was solidified by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. But singing and dancing together served as more than a distraction for the Acadians: it was an essential vehicle to preserve their culture and the continued survival of their society.

In this lesson, created in partnership with the Association for Cultural Equity, students trace how the French and Indian War led to the Acadians’ displacement and their resettlement in Louisiana by examining historical maps and reading excerpts from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. In addition, students will examine historical documents and ethnographic film clips from the Alan Lomax Collection to consider how music and dance has been a way for the Acadian/Cajun community to preserve their cultural and genetic lineage, even in the most perilous of circumstances.   

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Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • The history of the Acadians, from the Maritime Provinces to Southern Louisiana
    • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie
    • The French and Indian War (Causes, belligerents, and effects)
    • Triangular trade routes between the United States, Western Europe, and the Caribbean
    • The role music and dance plays in reproducing Cajun culture and community
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Students will be able to trace the history of the Cajuns back to the French and Indian War by examining Cajun music, historical maps, and American literature.  

Activities

Entry Ticket Activity (Optional):

  1. Have students read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie in its entirety before the class.

Motivational Activity:

  1. Tell students that they will be assuming the role of ethnographers–social scientists who study people in their own environments. They will be watching a video of a musical performance, and as ethnographers, should practice a type of detailed description that anthropologist Clifford Geertz called “thick description.” They should observe the subject’s behavior, but also the context behind that behavior (the surrounding environment, the subject’s personal background, etc.). Ask students to take notes that detail the setting of the performance, the performer’s age, attire, body, body language, and anything else they notice. Play Clip 1, “Dewey Balfa and Robert Jardell, ‘Calcasieu Waltz,'” then ask:
    • What general observations did you have while watching the video?
    • Where does it seem like the video was shot?
    • What were the instruments you saw being played? (Fiddle, button accordion, guitar, triangle)
    • How would you describe the singing? What language is it in? (French)
    • What was the audience doing while the music was being played?
    • How would you describe the demeanor of the musicians? Do they seem serious, or more playful?
    • How would you describe the demeanor of the audience?  
    • How would you describe the way the people in the video are dressed?
  2. Through class discussion, it should become clear that the music is being played in a bar, people are dancing, the musicians are having a good time, and the lyrics are not in English. Ask students, based on these observations, what sorts of conclusions might reached:
    • Based on the location and style of dress, what socioeconomic class of people does this music seem to appeal to?
    • Knowing this is American music, where might it have come out of? What state is French sometimes spoken? (Louisiana.)
    • What might be the function of this music? (Encourage students to think beyond the music’s ability to entertain people, and consider the ways it might lead to coupling or creating communal bonds).

Procedure:

  1. Tell students that the music they watched in the video came from Cajuns in Louisiana, who are descendants of the Acadians, some of the earliest European settlers in North America. (In Louisiana, “Acadien” was shortened to “‘cadien,” which in French is pronounced “cajun.”)
  2. Give each student Handout 1 – Excerpts from Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Explain that they are receiving a poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which tells the tale of how the Acadians came to the United States.
  3. Read excerpt 1 of the handout aloud as a class. Ask students:
    • In the first paragraph, how does Longfellow depict the landscape of Acadia? (encourage students to think about what the word “primeval” means, and the ways Longfellow personifies the forest as a group of bearded “Druids of eld.”)
    • What question is Longfellow asking in the second paragraph? (Longfellow asks what happened to the farmers who once settled Acadia.)
    • What kind of tone does Longfellow set with these two paragraphs, which introduce the entire poem? (Encourage students to look at the language of the section. Word like “sad,” “wail,” “waste,” “departed” and allusions to abandonment reveal the tragic tone this poem will take.)
    • Does Longfellow give any clues as to why Acadia has been abandoned? Why might have all the farmers left this land? (Encourage students consider the line: “Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean.”)
  4. Have students read aloud excerpt 2 of the handout. Ask them:
    • What setting does Longfellow introduce in the first paragraph, and what does it tell you about the Acadians? (Longfellow describes Acadians in and around a church, giving the hint that the Acadians were religious people.)
    • In the first paragraph, how does Longfellow foreshadow what is to happen to the Acadians? (He mentions that the Acadians gathered in a graveyard, and that the soldiers coming into the sacred space of the church were loud and “clamorous,” perhaps revealing the tragedy to come.)
    • What is occurring in this excerpt? Who might the commander be referring to by “His Majesty?” (Students should come to realize that all the Acadian’s lands were taken by the British, and they became prisoners forced to leave their homelands.)
    • Why might have the King of England wanted the Acadians to leave?
  5. Explain to students that the beginning of Longfellow’s poem takes place during the French and Indian War, which was part of the larger Seven Years War that lasted from 1756 to 1763.
  6. Show Image 1, “Seven Years War.” Ask students:
    • Who were the primary belligerents in the war?
    • Where did the primary conflicts take place?
    • Why do you think Winston Churchill described the Seven Years War as the first “world war”?
    • Why might have a war between mostly European countries been fought throughout the world? (At this point, European countries had colonies on nearly every continent.)
  7. Show Image 2, “Triangular Trade.” Ask students:
    • What do you think this map shows?
    • What kind of things do you think were being shipped from the Americas to Europe?
    • What kinds of things do you think were being shipped from Europe to the Americas?
    • What might have been going from Africa to the Americas?
    • How might the slave trade and the export of resources from the Americas to Europe be related? (Students should realize the slaves were imported from Africa to harvest the tobacco, cotton, and sugar that was being exported to England and France.)
    • Considering this map, what might you think was one of the main causes of the Seven Years War? What was being fought for in the war? (Trade, and the control of land between different European colonial empires).
  8. Explain to students that most of the fighting in North America was done in Northeastern United States and Canada. In America, this part of the war was called the “French and Indian War,” and was fought between English, allied with British Colonists (including George Washington), and French Colonists, allied with many Native American tribes.
  9. Show Image 3, “North America during the French and Indian War,” and ask students:
    • Looking at the map, which parts of the United States were held by Great Britain, and which were held by France? (Students should identify that the colonies were held by Great Britain, while the land west of the Ohio River was mostly held by France.)
    • Why might have Great Britain wanted to possess lands further west?
    • Where is Acadia on the map, and who controls it? Who controls the lands west of Acadia, and who controls the lands East of Acadia?
    • Why might have the British and French both wanted the region of Acadia? (Encourage students to think about the natural bay [The Bay of Fundy] that is between Nova Scotia and Acadia, which provides a port of trade.)
    • Why might have the British wanted the Acadian exiled from this area? What about them might have been seen as a threat to the British? (If necessary, remind students that the Acadians came from France, spoke French, and were Catholic, unlike the English-speaking British, who were mostly Protestant).
  10. Return to Handout 1, and have students read aloud section 3. Ask them:
    • What do you think Longfellow is describing in the first paragraph?
    • How did the British expel the Acadians? Where might “Gaspereau’s Mouth” be? (Gaspereau is a river that leads into the Bay of Fundy.)
    • How did the Acadians maintain their composure during this ordeal? What does this say about them? (Longfellow portrays them as musical and Catholic, as they sang “a chant of the Catholic Missions” for comfort.)
    • Does Longfellow portray the Acadian exodus as orderly, or disorderly? How do you know? (Encourage students to examine the second paragraph in particular.)
    • What is occurring in the third paragraph? (The British are setting fire to the farmhouses.)
  11. Tell students that what Longfellow is describing is known as Le Grand Derangement, or “Great Upheaval” Show Image 4, “Acadian Deportations.” Ask students:
    • What is this map showing?
    • Where were the Acadians sent after they were removed from their homes? (Great Britain, France, the Caribbean and the American Colonies)
    • As uneducated farmers, how might have the Acadians had a hard time adapting to the large cities they were resettled in? How might have their ties to France and Catholicism complicated their relocation in England and The American colonies specifically?
    • Did the Acadians arrive to Louisiana from Acadie, or from other places? What does this say about Acadian migration to Louisiana? (Students should notice that most Acadians came to Louisiana from France, the Caribbean, and the Colonies, not from Acadie. This means Louisiana was not an initial point of settlement.)
    • What might have been attractive to the Acadians about Louisiana? Was Louisiana controlled by the British at this point, or another country? (After discussion, explain to students that while during this time Louisiana was controlled by Spain, it was occupied by French administrators who were sympathetic towards the Acadians and wary of the English. Many saw Acadians as ideal settlers of the region, and offered them lands.)
    • What other complications or issues might have the Acadians experienced during the displacement? (Remind students that disease, especially smallpox, was a common occurrence at this time.)
  12. Tell students they will now be considering what role music and dance played for the Acadians before and after their deportation. Pass out Handout 2 – Historical Accounts of Cajun Dances and Parties. Have students read the handout, either individually or in groups. Ask students:
    • According to the documents, what was the mood at these dances? Are the documents consistent in describing the mood, or are they contradictory?
    • Where were these dances being held? Do you get the sense they occured in fancy halls, or more modest settings? Why?
    • What did these dances consist of? What were people doing besides dancing?
    • What were some of the primary purposes of these events? (Entertainment, coupling)
    • Who attended these dances? Did they cater to a particular age group or gender?
    • Given what you know about their forced disbursement, why might these events be important for the Cajun community? (Encourage students to think about how the dances might serve to reproduce Cajun culture through community bonding and coupling.)   
  13. Play Clip 2, “Michael Doucet and BeauSoleil, ‘Courtableau,’” and tell students this is a more contemporary version of Cajun music and dance then the accounts they just read. Ask students:
    • What about the event filmed might be traditional to Cajun culture? (The dancing, the language)
    • What about this event is more modern? What do you notice about the instruments? Do some seem more modern than others?
    • What might the presence of these more modern instruments reveal? (Encourage students to consider the ways Cajun music is evolving with the times).
    • Besides the use of different instruments, what other factors might have influenced Cajun music? (Encourage students to think about other possible inhabitants in Louisiana [Native Americans, African Americans, Anglo-Saxons, etc.], and how they might have influenced the sound.)

Summary Activity:

  1. Show Image 5, “Writing Prompt,” and have students follow the prompt given, either on paper, or as a class discussion.

Extension Activity:

  1. Writing Prompt: Imagine you are an Acadian who has just settled in Louisiana. Drawing upon what you learned in the lesson, write a letter to your relatives in Massachusetts explaining why you think they too should relocate to Louisiana.   

Explore Further:

  1. Books:
    • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (Wildside Press)
    • James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (Bantam Classics)
    • Ryan Andre Brasseaux, Cajun Breakdown (Oxford University Press)
    • Dean Jobb, The Cajuns: A People’s Story of Exile and Triumph (Wiley)
  2. Films:
    • Les Blank and Chris Strachwitz,  J’ai été au bal (I Went to the Ball) (Arhoolie)
    • Alan Lomax, Cajun Country  (Folkstreams)
  3. Records:
    • Various Artists, The Classic Louisiana Recordings: Cajun and Creole Music, Vol. 1-2 (Rounder)
    • Various Artists, Le Gran Mamou: A Cajun Music Anthology (Country Music Foundation)
    • Various Artists, Cajun Breakdown: Cajun String Bands of the 1930s (Arhoolie)
    • Various Artists, Cajun Honky Tonk: The Khoury Recordings, Vol. 1-2 (Arhoolie)
    • Various Artists, Folksongs of the Louisiana Acadians (Arhoolie)

Standards

Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (K-12)

Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Reading 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (K-12)

Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Writing 7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (K-12)

Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Common Core ELA: Reading Literature

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

CCRL. 1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCRL. 2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

CCRL. 7 Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch.

CCRL. 9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

CCRL.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the appropriate grade text complexity band proficiently,with scaffolding as needed at the high end.

National Core Arts Standards

Responding

  • Anchor Standard #7-Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #8-Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #9– Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

Connecting

  • Anchor Standard #10-Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standards#11-Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.  

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

National Standards for Music Education – National Association for Music Education (NAfME)

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.

Core Music Standard: Connecting

  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.

Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (K-12)

Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Reading 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (K-12)

Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Writing 7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (K-12)

Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

National Core Arts Standards

Responding

  • Anchor Standard #7-Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #8-Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #9– Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

National Standards for Music Education – National Association for Music Education (NAfME)

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.

Core Music Standard: Connecting

  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.