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Something of a Peasant Paradise?

Something of a Peasant Paradise?: Comparing Rural Societies in Acadie and the Loudunais, 1604-1755

Gregory M.W. Kennedy
Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    Something of a Peasant Paradise?
    Book Description:

    Were Acadians better off than their rural counterparts in old regime France? Did they enjoy a Golden Age? To what degree did a distinct Acadian identity emerge before the wars and deportations of the mid-eighteenth century? In Something of a Peasant Paradise?, Gregory Kennedy compares Acadie in North America with a region of western France, the Loudunais, from which a number of the colonists originated. Kennedy considers the natural environment, the role of the state, the economy, the seigneury, and local governance in each place to show that similarities between the two societies have been greatly underestimated or ignored. The Acadian colonists and the people of the Loudunais were frontier peoples, with dispersed settlement patterns based on kin groups, who sought to make the best use of the land and to profit from trade opportunities. Both societies were hierarchical, demonstrated a high degree of political agency, and employed the same institutions of local governance to organize their affairs and negotiate state demands. Neither group was inherently more prosperous, egalitarian, or independent-minded than the other. Rather, the emergence of a distinct Acadian identity can be traced to the gradual adaptation of traditional methods, institutions, and ideas to their new environmental and political situations. A compelling comparative analysis based on archival evidence on both sides of the Atlantic, Something of a Peasant Paradise? Challenges the traditional historiography and demonstrates that Acadian society shared many of its characteristics with other French rural societies of the period.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9054-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    (pp. 3-17)

    Alexandre Bourg was in many ways typical of the colonists of Acadie¹ at the end of the seventeenth century.² A scion of one of the founding families of Port Royal, he married young, at the age of twenty-three, and had a large family that ultimately included sixteen children. Like many other young couples, Alexandre and his wife, Marguerite Melanson, chose to move to the Minas Basin soon after the New England expedition of William Phips captured and looted Port Royal in 1690. Settling at Grand Pré, they worked on their own marshland farm, cultivating wheat and peas as well as...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Natural Environment
    (pp. 18-47)

    The natural environments of Acadie and the Loudunais were very different from each other. The Loudunais was dominated by flat plains that had been transformed for agriculture and settlement over generations, while Acadie was a mix of rocky, forested uplands and marshy lowlands that had been little changed by the native hunter-gatherer population. This leads to a number of questions. How difficult was it for the colonists to get started? Did the fertile marshlands, once drained, give them an edge in agricultural productivity over their Loudunais counterparts? What impact did wild places and predators have on both societies? What other...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Political and Military Environment
    (pp. 48-92)

    As mentioned in the general introduction, the political history of Acadie has been written on numerous occasions. My intent is not to produce yet another narrative of events; rather, in this chapter I focus specifically on how the political and military environment influenced the development of rural society. First and foremost, both the Loudunais and Acadie were military frontiers and experienced more than their fair share of war and violence. Between 1605 and 1763, whenever war was declared between England and France, Acadie was one of the theatres of operation, changing hands no less than ten times. Of course, the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Rural Economy
    (pp. 93-127)

    In the first two chapters, we saw how the natural and political environments influenced the development of rural societies in the Loudunais and Acadie. Many of these aspects, such as soil fertility and natural resources, trade opportunities and taxation, affected the economy. This chapter examines the rural economy in greater detail. What did the inhabitants’ farms look like? What did they trade and with whom? How much wealth did they generate and how was it divided among richer and poorer members of the community?

    It has long been assumed that the Acadians enjoyed a much higher standard of living than...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Seigneury
    (pp. 128-167)

    “No land without a lord.” All land in France belonged to the king, who conceded it to the lords (seigneurs) in return for fealty and service. The same principle extended to France’s colonies. The first seigneurial concession in Acadie was in 1606, when Henry IV confirmed the grant of the territory of Port Royal to Jean de Poutrincourt. Yet it has become commonplace to dismiss the importance of the seigneury in Acadie, especially after the death of Charles de Menou in 1650 and the subsequent English capture of Port Royal in 1654.¹ This gives the general impression that the inhabitants...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Institutions of Local Governance
    (pp. 168-205)

    When we think of the political structures of the early modern period in Europe, we tend to emphasize the increasing centralization and bureaucracy of the state, the absolutism of Louis XIV, and the power of the institutional Church. In contrast, historians of Acadie highlight the relative freedom of the colonists and the system of local governance that they employed. They elected their own representatives and negotiated directly with French and British governors, compromising on and often refusing state demands such as militia service or an unconditional oath of allegiance. Not surprisingly, some of these governors complained about their attitude. A...

    (pp. 206-212)

    At first glance, Acadie and the Loudunais do not seem to resemble each other very much. Their natural environments were profoundly different. In the latter, large, flat plains combined with a warm, moderately wet climate to create ideal conditions for the cultivation of wheat and other cereals. In the former, the rocky and forested uplands and granite shores contrasted with low-lying marshes around the Bay of Fundy. Once drained, these marshlands proved exceptionally fertile but required constant protection from tides and storms and were also subject to long, cold winters and unpredictable frosts in spring and autumn. Further, while the...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 213-268)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 269-272)