|Courtyard of Old St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Philadelphia|
FROM THE ARCHIVES of Old St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia
“Then he beheld, in a dream, once more the home of his childhood; green Acadian meadows…… with Sylvan rivers among them”
Over 200 years ago a great part of the land known as Nova Scotia was originally called Arcadia after a garden spot of ancient Greece. It soon became mispronounced as Acadia. In the first days of the 1600’s the French arrived, followed by the Jesuits in 1607 to take charge of a new mission. In 1713 England gained political control with the proviso that the inhabitants be allowed to practice their Catholic religion. The French Acadians were pressured to take an oath of allegiance to the British Monarch which they had been told they were absolved from. The oath would have made them Protestants and have them renounce their religion, the Mass and Transubstansation, key articles of the Catholic faith. They refused to take the oath. As the tension between the French and English escalated the despised Acadians were considered as suspicious enemies and the “Grand Deranangement” was begun.
“And with the ebb of that tide the ships sailed out of the harbour, leaving behind them the dead on the shore, and the village in ruins.”
In 1755 the Acadian fishermen and farmers were expelled from Nova Scotia. They lost everything, all their possessions, properties, and lands. The families were broken up, some never to be reunited. During July 1755 the deported were herded onto “old hulks” which were hired at the cheapest price. On July 10, three of the ships, “The Hannah,” “Three Friends” and “Swan”, were bound for Philadelphia and eventually a sanctuary called St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church.
“Finding among the children of Pennsylvania a home and a country”
November 20, 1755 two ships appeared on the horizon of the Delaware River. The next day a third arrived. After 70 days, the 454 Acadians, arrived in the city of “brotherly love”. They couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. Governor Morris wouldn’t allow them to disembark due to all the preceding anti-French propaganda. He didn’t know what to do with them or where to put these “suspicious spies”. They were detained on the ships until Anthony Benezet obtained permission to board. He was shocked at the filth and disease of the people and pleaded for their release. The Pastor of St. Joseph’s, Father Harding, and the members of the Society of Friends, led by Anthony Benezet, secured public aid for them. The money was used for their maintenance and to build “huts” between 5th & 6th on the north side of Pine Street. The “enemies” were finally allowed, (after three months), to leave the ships. The curious citizens of Philadelphia lined the streets to watch the parade of Acadians, clad in rags and blankets, marching toward their new lives. They found it hard to believe that these wretched people were their “mortal enemies”. 50 Acadians died immediately of smallpox, starvation, and other conditions. They were buried in paupers’ graves in the South East corner of Washington Square. St Joseph’s was to be taxed to capacity with their new congregation and the responsibilities of the French Catholics. Father Farmer was recalled from Lancaster to look after their spiritual needs. The Acadians had not seen a priest or attended Mass in eight months. In their first Memorial to the Assembly they said “Blessed be God that it is our lot to be sent to Pennsylvania where our wants have been relieved and we have in every respect been treated with Christian benevolence.”
Between 1755 and 1763 14,000 Acadians were deported from Acadia, 8000 survived. In time some went back to Nova Scotia, others to France and Louisiana (hence Cajun).
“Under the humble walls of the little Catholic churchyard, in the heart of the city, they lie, unknown and unnoticed”.
“Acadia” A Lost Chapter”, Philip H. Smith
“Acadians, Catholicity in Philadelphia”, JLJ Kirlin
Robert Parsons SJ, “Pennsylvania Missions” unpublished manuscript
This past summer the archives received a request from Quebec to search for an Acadian ancestor in our baptism and marriage records. The ancestor, Pierre Vincent, was found in Father Farmers’ 18th century marriage records.
Guest post by Maryjane Green, Historian for Old St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.