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The Legend of Evangeline

"This is the forest primeval" begins Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1847 epic poem "Evangeline," which is loosely based on the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia, as ordered by British governor Charles Lawrence and the Nova Scotia Council. In the poem, Acadian maiden Evangeline Bellefontaine is torn from her betrothed Gabriel Lajeunesse on their wedding day, following an edict "that all your lands, and dwellings, and cattle of all kinds forfeited be to the crown." With a group of fellow exiles, she travels to Louisiana, learning that Gabriel had already arrived there before her but then departed for the Ozarks. She leaves to search for him, finding Gabriel many years later on his death bed. Reunited at long last, Gabriel dies as the two kiss. "And, as she pressed once more the lifeless head to her bosom, meekly she bowed her own, and murmured, 'Father, I thank thee!'" Evangeline dies soon thereafter, and the two are buried together in unmarked graves.

Rice's beautiful Evangeline. 1896 Henry W. Longfellow / John Andrew & Son, Boston. 1907

Between 1755 and 1763, more than 14,000 Acadians were deported from Nova Scotia to the British American colonies, Europe and British prisons in what became known as The Great Upheaval or Le Grande Dérangement. Many settled in Louisiana, ultimately establishing the Cajun culture. In 2003, Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson, representing Canada's government, declared the crown's acknowledgment for the event and designated July 28 as "A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval."

Longfellow 's poem became an American classic, with reinterpretations following years later. In particular, "Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of the Acadians" (1907) by Felix Voorhies of St. Martinsville, La., finds Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux searching for each other against a backdrop of southern Louisiana. Voorhies' story, and Longfellow's poem, memorializes the history of the Acadians and their struggles.

If you search for "Longfellow" in "The Nineteenth Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals" presentation, you'll find several of Longfellow's poems as they appeared in such magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, along with first editions of such titles as "Aftermath" and "The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Other Poems."

St. Martinville still holds its claim to fame as the true setting for the star-crossed lovers' story with a museum, Evangeline statue and the Evangeline Oak, the place were the two were reunited. You can check out the pictures as part of the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information collection.

Longfellow's Evangeline has also inspired composers to dedicate their songs to her story of love lost. The "Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music" presentation features 19th century sheet music, including popular songs, operatic arias, piano music, sacred and secular choral music, solo instrumental music, method books and instructional materials and music for band and orchestra. Searching for "Evangeline" pulls up such classics as the "Evangeline Polka," the "Kissing Song" and "Evangeline Song."

A. Rice's beautiful Evangeline. 1896. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: Not available; Call No.: POS - TH - 1896 .E8, no. 3 (C size) <P&P> [P&P]

B. Henry W. Longfellow / John Andrew & Son, Boston. 1907. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-123280 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: BIOG FILE - Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth [item] [P&P]