Friday Road trip * The story of Evangeline

Today’s road trip is one filled with History and Mystery : As we discover more about Evangeline

Longfellow’s poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (1847) tells the story of Evangeline Bellefontaine and Gabriel Lajeunesse, two young people separated at the time of the Acadian exile. As the British begin deporting Acadians from their ancestral homeland, the young lovers are torn apart on their wedding day.

Evangeline parish and the parish seat of Vile Platte is only about 1 h 2 min (56.6 mi) via LA-10 W and I-49 N. A parish named after the famous poem and filled with history.

Lady Evangeline Statue :

The true story of Evangeline is the tale of Emmeline Labiche and her love, Louis Arceneaux, who were separated when the British invaded Nova Scotia in 1755. Louis, like Gabriel in the poem, was forced on a ship and set out to sea. An orphan, Emmeline was adopted by the family of the Widow Borda, who regarded her, “as not of this earth, but rather as their guardian angel, and this is why they called her no longer Emmeline, but Evangeline, or God’s little angel.(1) Exiled to Maryland, the family eventually joined other deported Acadians in Louisiana. After some time, Evangeline found Louis, but she could not be with him. Sources conflict regarding the events that follow; some say Louis had agreed to marry another woman, while others place the reunited lovers in a hospital where Louis lay dying. Either way, the devastation of losing the love of her life drove Evangeline to insanity and eventually death.

As those who read Lonfellow’s Evangeline will realize, the poet took some liberties with the tale in order to mold it to his liking. It is perhaps due to this poetic license that many became outraged after reading the seemingly harmless, romantic commentary on the displacement of a people. The French loved the poem; its portrayal of Acadian suffering was translated into French in 1865. The British, on the other hand, viewed it as misleading; the poem was removed from British Columbia school curriculum in the early twentieth century.(2) The poem became so widely read that many scholars felt the need to set the record straight. Historians of Nova Scotia attempted to prove the falsehoods revealed in the poem; what ensued was a debate between historians and the Acadian people over the Acadian “symbol of renewel”.(3) The tactic used by historians was to attack not his poetry, but Longfellow’s reputation as a historian. Eventually, some historians succeeded in illustrating the embellished nature of the description of the deportation, but as M. Brook Taylor writes, “Once Acadians. . . had accepted Evangeline ‘as an acceptable embodiment of their own myths,’ the expulsion became the focal point of racial, religious and political passions.”(4) However, in spite of historical inaccuracies, Evangeline remains one Longfellow’s best loved poems.

a Nation by preserving our cultural heritage.”

On the banks of the Teche are the towns of St. Maur and St. Martin.
There the long-wandering bride shall be given again to her bridegroom,
There the long-absent pastor regain his flock and his sheepfold.
Beautiful is the land, with its prairies and forests of fruit-trees;
Under the feet a garden of flowers, and the bluest of heavens
Bending above, and resting its dome on the walls of the forest.
They who dwell there have named it the Eden of Louisiana.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie”

Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation 

Outdoors; Recreation; State Historic Site

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, the first in the Louisiana State Parks system, honors the story of Evangeline and the author who made her famous. The main attraction here is Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation built around 1815 that once grew indigo, cotton and sugar. Sitting on the banks of Bayou Teche in the Cajun Country town of St. Martinville, Maison Olivier features a mix of French, Creole and Caribbean architectural influences that were typical of the early 1800s.

Come back next Friday I share more of my vacation finds close to home … Lisa

4 thoughts on “Friday Road trip * The story of Evangeline

  1. There is an Evangeline site in Nova Scotia that I visited when my family were there many years ago. If I ever make it to Louisianna, I shall check this site out and make that visit full circle.

    Liked by 1 person

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