6
The Conspiracy

And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters. … So that the man that is tender among you, and very delicate, his eye shall be evil toward his brother, and toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the remnant of his children which he shall leave.

—Deuteronomy 28:54

In November 1774, Anne-Robert Turgot was perhaps the busiest man in France. Louis XV had died of smallpox in May, thrusting his pudgy, insecure nineteen-year-old grandson onto the throne. Eager to court public opinion in ways that had never occurred to his callous, womanizing predecessor, the young Louis XVI made the popular Turgot his minister of the marine. In August, after a spasm of purges and resignations at Versailles, Turgot was elevated to controller general of finances, the all-important post charged with regulating the French economy.

It was a tough job, but Turgot was as qualified as anyone in the kingdom to do it. Born in 1727 and destined for the priesthood, he became something of a prodigy upon entering the Sorbonne. Before turning thirty, Turgot published a translation of the fourth book of Virgil’s Aeneid, two Latin orations on the relationship between Christianity and human progress, and pamphlets in favor of religious tolerance. He also frequented all the best Parisian salons while developing friendships with the economist and administrator Vincent de Gournay (the man usually credited with coining the phrase laissez-faire) and the most prominent advocates of physiocracy.

Then, in 1761, Turgot was appointed royal intendant for the Limousin, a province in central France. Inhabited, as he put it, by “poverty-stricken peasants” who “have cultivated their farms in the same old way” for centuries, the Limousin turned Turgot into a bona fide reformer.1 He reduced the corvée burden imposed by landowners on their tenants, reorganized local taxation, encouraged innovation in his capacity as president of the Agricultural Society of Limoges, and agitated in print for free trade on a national scale. Turgot’s successes made him a celebrity among philosophes and courtiers, eventually leading young Louis XVI’s mentor, the comte de Maurepas, to recommend the intendant to the new king.

Not that Turgot’s appointment as controller general was uncontroversial. The abbé Galiani, an Italian wit who in 1769 had written an influential treatise on France’s grain trade, wondered aloud whether “his administration of finances will resemble his brother’s Cayenne”—a project bathed in good intentions that ended in tragedy and a broken reputation for the “very virtuous, very philosophical” man in charge. And within three weeks of taking office, Turgot did the very thing that Galiani prophesied would “break his neck”: he deregulated France’s grain trade, removing all of the old provincial privileges and corporate barriers that hampered the free flow of the kingdom’s most important commodity.2

Channeling Gournay and the physiocrats, Turgot took the step with an eye toward the ultimate goal of “stimulating competition, from which necessarily results … a price the most advantageous to the buyer.”3 In the short term, he was focused on austerity measures, having been charged by Louis XVI himself with three objectives: “no national bankruptcy, no increase of taxes, no new loans.” That meant slashing 20 million livres from the king’s budget. Without those cuts, Turgot warned, “the first cannon ball that is fired” would force the state into total insolvency.4 Between deregulation and drastic budget trimming, the controller general soon drew derisive criticism from almost all quarters.

Perhaps that is why, in November 1774, with his months-old administration already scrambling to defend itself, Turgot opened his handsome office at Versailles to an unlikely visitor: Jean-Jacques Leblanc, who first introduced himself as an Acadian living in the province of Poitou and then announced that he wanted to help.

They made an odd couple. Still youthful at forty-seven, Turgot had the confidence of the most powerful monarch in Europe and had basked in the approbation of the continent’s greatest intellectuals for twenty-five years. Leblanc was in his early fifties and, since his deportation from Ile Saint-Jean by the British in 1758, had suffered through fifteen years of rootless poverty in Saint-Servan, a gritty dockside village near Saint-Malo. He was semiliterate but possessed a brawler’s drive and a knack for smooth talk. Leblanc “lacked neither spirit nor subtlety,” wrote a grudging admirer.5

No one knows precisely what the two men said to each other. But the dramatic events that followed their meeting at Versailles illuminate the complexities behind two seemingly straightforward stories: the demise of old-régime France’s strange, ambitious attempt to colonize itself, and the end of the Acadians’ grand dérangement.

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Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, Louis XVI’s controller general of finances. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.

Jean-Jacques Leblanc was mysterious, and probably intentionally so. But what is known is that by the early 1770s, he had grown tired of succumbing to forces beyond his control. His “cousin” Joseph Leblanc dit le Maigre had spent the last years of his life on Belle-Ile, pining for a voyage to Miquelon or Nova Scotia that never materialized.6 So when Jean-Jacques was confronted with a French colonization scheme rooted, like Belle-Ile’s was, in a disappointing piece of land and the disappointing people who lived there, he took action.

The piece of land in question was the province of Poitou, the ancestral home of Leblanc’s family. It stretched from the borders of Brittany in the north to Saintonge and Angoumois in the south, and from the Atlantic coast inland toward the cathedral town of Bourges. Once the seat of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s luminous medieval court, Poitou had subsequently become best known for dirt-eating poverty. Not even locals defended it. The sixteenth-century satirist François Rabelais, a native of the Poitevin town of Chinon, claimed that when Satan tempted Christ with the kingdoms of the world, he withheld the province from view so as to make a better impression.7

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By the 1760s, observers noted that Poitou had missed the technological changes, quickening markets, and political innovations that had of late energized agriculture in the Parisian basin.8 The evidence abounded. In 1766, a visitor to the town of Poitiers witnessed a plowman making his ninth pass at a field of unbroken clods, working with “a kind of hook pulled by two mediocre cows.”9 Year after miserable year, such stagnation resulted in empty barns and food shortages. “We have no reason to congratulate ourselves … on the grain harvest,” wrote one contributor to a local newspaper during the early 1770s. It was an annual lament. “Poitou will never be what it could and should be,” another writer claimed, “until we learn to profit from the instructions, already so widespread, on Agriculture, the principle of all wealth.”10 But according to Arthur Young, a British agronomist who rambled through Poitou on the eve of the French Revolution, those vital lessons were wasted on the province’s population. In 1787, he described Poitou as an “unimproved, poor, and ugly country,” wanting in “communication, demand, and activity of all kinds” and yielding “half of what it might.” Young singled out the rural hinterland outside the town of Châtellerault: it was, he wrote, “thinly peopled,” with estates littered across a “white chalky country” almost devoid of improvements.11

Others linked Poitou’s sluggish agriculture to a decline in its population. Poitou’s forward-thinking elites, like those elsewhere in France, feared that peasants were leaving rural areas for the “unbridled luxury” of urban life.12 The province’s problems, though, seemed particularly severe. In 1763, for example, the chevalier d’Eon, France’s ambassador in London, fired off a series of harried letters detailing a British plan to lure Protestants from Poitou, Vivarais, and Languedoc. A minister named Gilbert, he claimed, had already taken families to London, promising prosperity in a silk-producing colony in Florida or South Carolina.13 The British plan came to nothing, but the panicked French reaction revealed a widely held sense that any more population losses might send Poitou over the edge. Moreover, many at Versailles were inclined to see heartland regions such as Poitou as barometers of the health of the kingdom at large. Army men agreed that peasants made the best soldiers, while quartermasters and royal accountants knew that rural populations yielded the provisions and tax revenue that decided wars.14 As a result, crown officials such as Henri Bertin, controller general of finances during the early 1760s, saw Poitou’s “drought of inhabitants” as a domestic issue with international ramifications.15

As in Guiana, Saint-Domingue, terra australis incognita, and Belle-Ile, postwar Poitou gave rise to striving patriots who barraged Versailles with petitions, schemes, and requests for funding. In Poitou, the great exemplar of the species was Louis-Nicolas, marquis de Pérusse des Cars. Born into a family of Limousin nobles in 1724, he found an outlet for his substantial ambition in the army. At ten years of age, he carried Louis XV’s standard at the Battle of Parma; at twenty, he fell wounded at the Battle of Coni in Italy; three years later he took command of his own regiment. Somewhere amid the campaigns and promotions, Pérusse married well. His wife’s father blessed the union with a dowry that included a château near Châtellerault, a great deal of land in Poitou, two houses in Paris, and a sum of money. Pérusse reached the rank of brigadier general during the Seven Years’ War and in 1760 helped defeat Frederick the Great at the Battle of Kloster Kamp. Dragged from the field unconscious and bloodied, he went to Châtellerault to heal in a home he had scarcely seen.16 What he saw disgusted him. His wife’s vast inheritance consisted not of handsome fields tilled by plump peasants but of “15,000 arpents … uncultivated, vacant, and held in common,” a scene of “devastation … caused by the want of inhabitants.” For a man still in his thirties, broken in body but alive in spirit, the conditions were appalling. Pérusse therefore vowed to foster better farming and “repeople his land.”17

How? One way of approaching problems such as Pérusse’s ran through agronomy. At root, agronomists simply argued that agriculture ought to be treated as a science, and that farming practices were susceptible to improvement through innovation, experiment, and the reasoned application of new technologies.18 A vogue for agricultural techniques (“agromania,” as boosters called it) had begun in the 1750s with the publication of Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau’s Traité de la culture des terres, which introduced French readers to the British agronomist Jethro Tull, whose fertilizers and sturdy plows promised personal profits and plentiful tax income. In an age of emulation, agronomy also made cultural sense. In 1762, members of the Agricultural Society of La Rochelle declared their intention to “encourage farmers by their example, to clear uncultivated lands, to acquire new kinds of crops, and to perfect different methods of farming lands currently under cultivation.”19 The power of emulation, of course, extended beyond the furrows. Agriculture produced rustic, virtuous individuals, meaning that the adoption of proper farming by the elite would, perhaps, induce patriotic behavior in subjects up and down France’s social hierarchy. Mostly, though, agronomists preferred fieldwork to grand pronouncements. Sarcey de Sutières, founder of France’s first agricultural school, touted his “twenty years of experience” against those who “prescribe, from the depths of their chambers, new laws for the plowman, and sometimes even for nature.”20

Pérusse knew plenty about agronomists and their recipe for rural renewal. He was no less familiar with a group he called their “sworn enemies”—the physiocrats.21 By the early 1770s, physiocracy had evolved from an esoteric theory of political economy to a true phenomenon in French political culture.22 Physiocrats had become more and more insistent that their program of social reorientation held the sole key to the revival of a French countryside in crisis. Many spoke of this reorientation in mystical rather than practical terms, but the particulars involved the unification of scattered peasant farms into great estates managed by “agricultural entrepreneurs.”23 Landed peasants would become wage earners, their rudimentary subsistence farming discarded in favor of la grande culture, or large-scale commercial agriculture.24 Privileges held by estates, towns, ecclesiastical orders, and guilds would be abolished, freeing markets and allowing goods to flow unfettered. These steps taken, the all-important produit net, or the surplus wealth generated by all economic activity, would rise. Demographic growth would ease the tax burden on agrarian families, allowing for earlier marriages and more children. “In the midst of a vast population,” landowners would soon become “illustrious instructors” of their fellow men, spreading knowledge of “that science on which depends the happiness of the world.”25

Agronomists and physiocrats sparred throughout the 1760s but found common ground on one subject: their distaste for French peasants of the kind that tilled Pérusse’s lands so unproductively. Where the men behind the Acadian colonization of Belle-Ile had reserved their venom for bellilois farmers in particular, these thinkers unleashed theirs on the kingdom’s entire rural population. The abbé Nicolas Baudeau, for example, glossed all peasants as “bad patriots,” blaming their “miserable self-interest” for allowing “uncultivated lands to languish in sterility.”26 In economic terms, Mirabeau imagined North American Indians and French peasants to be equally backward. “Among the savages,” he wrote, “the vilest hunter may consume the product of fifty arpents of land,” a horrifying inefficiency replicated, almost, in places such as the wastelands of Poitou.27 Emulation was all well and good, but in the face of such peasant stubbornness, harsher measures received a hearing. “In Sweden,” snarled one rough-and-ready seigneur, “they used violence to force the people to clear lands.”28 Likewise, Baudeau touted the “salutary violence” of closing the “moors and bad woods” in which peasants (including Mirabeau’s Indians) hunted, making the “spade, the hatchet, and the rake” their only recourse for food.29

Faced with this state of affairs, Quesnay’s disciples had become boosters of the booming business of internal colonization. In part, the physiocrats and their friends at court simply wanted to compete, as a contributor to the Journal d’agriculture, du commerce, et des finances explained in January 1767:

Our neighbors the English have cleared new lands. By their clearing they have augmented their riches and their population. And who knows to what degree the taste for agriculture, which has made so much progress there, influenced the successes of which they boast today? This art makes men brave and robust, and attaches them more particularly to the homeland, of which the honor and interest are dear to them.30

Concrete plans soon emerged from the physiocrats’ jealousy. Baudeau, for example, laid claim to “all foreign colonists whom we may settle in the kingdom.” Their presence in France, he predicted, would be “one of the surest ways to remedy the depopulation of our countryside.” To that end, Baudeau proposed the creation of a “General Company of Land Clearance,” an enterprise headquartered at Versailles and modeled on the colonial joint-stock companies of an earlier era. Both “foreigners and French subjects enrolled in this new agricultural militia,” he wrote, “will work for the state in general, for themselves, and for the company,” enjoying a solde as they carved new “agricultural provinces” from the kingdom’s wastelands.31

The Acadians’ mixed results on Belle-Ile notwithstanding, the French bought into such arguments during the late 1760s. Some revived old schemes aimed at drying and settling marshes near Bordeaux or Rochefort, while Louis XV himself looked favorably on a proposed colony in the Fôret de Brix near Cherbourg.32 In 1768, officials contacted the abbé le Loutre about placing Acadians on the newly acquired island of Corsica. Busy locking horns with Belle-Ile’s clergy and mediating (some said causing) disputes between Acadians and bellilois, the priest looked over the proposal and dismissed it. Family plots were too small, tithing rates too steep, and worse, in Corsica’s climate “one can even see grass burned to the root from the sun’s ardor.”33 In 1769, a noble named Châteaubriand offered land near his home in Saint-Malo to migrants, while a mysterious “M. de la Pierre” hoped to settle newcomers in the Fôret de la Rocquette in lower Brittany.34 The comte de Closnard wanted one hundred families (Acadians, if possible) for a settlement near the Loire River. In spite of early failures, internal colonization had arrived.35

The marquis de Pérusse stood at the cutting edge of these developments. In 1762, he began corresponding with the agronomist Louis-François-Henri Menon, marquis de Turbilly. Like Pérusse, Turbilly had served in the army; after retirement, he wrote a book on the clearing of wastelands and advised Louis XV on the founding of agricultural societies.36 The two men hatched a plan. From his time in Germany, Pérusse recalled Bavarians with “well-cultivated farms … good reputations, and integrity of manners.” With Turbilly’s help, Pérusse sent agents across the border to make an offer. Late in 1762, four families arrived in Châtellerault from the German frontier.37 Giving twenty-five arpents to each, Pérusse exempted them from seigneurial dues and the corvée. He predicted rapid progress. As the Germans worked, investments and migrants would follow. Local tenants would experiment with new methods. No more would men be forced into cities; with livings to be made and girls to marry, they would remain in Poitou to increase the output of grain and children. It was a great plan, and Pérusse was breathlessly excited about it. As in other colonies, however, indigenous people made their presence felt in Poitou. Pérusse was forced to hire “a number of valets … as much to protect [the Bavarians] from the peasants of the canton as to aid them in their work.” Turbilly noted that the colony “went marvelously” thereafter.38

The little settlement became a lodestar for a French government eager to cultivate innovation.39 In letters to Versailles, Pérusse delighted in his successes. “The paternal bounties of the Sovereign … and the wise views of an Enlightened and patriotic Ministry,” he wrote, demanded “encouragement” for the “relentless” work of clearing uncultivated land.40 He asked for a massive subvention of 450,000 livres, which would allow him to “lead [agriculture] to its perfection.”41 Pérusse planned to import more Germans, tempting the persecuted Catholics with promises of free land and the right to “exercise whatever profession seems best to them” after working for three years on his estate.42 France’s war debt, however, spoiled the plan. Although the proposal received “the most flattering praise,” it did not pass. Crucially, however, Henri Bertin retained a positive image of the Poitou settlement. In 1766, he lauded the Germans (by then 130 strong) and their leader, who “fill[ed] the dual goals essential to the good of the state, providing for its population and the culture of its soil.”43 Pérusse’s experiment was too striking to forget, and Bertin did not.

As Poitou continued its decline and Pérusse accelerated his scheming, the various communities of Acadian refugees across northern France were disintegrating at the edges. Belle-Ile, whose Acadians were trickling back to the mainland, was only one example. In Cherbourg, once a center of recruitment for the Kourou settlement, some succumbed to poor conditions and an inconsistent solde. As one observer reported in 1767, the weakest “languished on straw beds in their rooms,” unable to jolt themselves into activity.44What energy the town’s refugees could muster seemed to go toward fighting old battles over social prominence. Cherbourg’s officials reported that Acadians who styled themselves “nobles” were angling for pensions from the king instead of the dailysolde. Their main motive, as the exasperated Frenchmen complained, was avoiding “the humiliation of seeing themselves mixed in with all the others who were once their vassals or servants.”45 Although most Acadians married other Acadians, unions with the French were becoming more common, embedding refugees in new families and launching them on new, complicated trajectories.46 Elizabeth Bourg, for example, had arrived in Cherbourg from Ile Saint-Jean in January 1758 with her older sister. Courted by a soldier named Désiré, the sister married and moved to Niort in central France, taking Elizabeth with her. When the newlyweds suddenly died, Elizabeth, by then twenty-five years old, slipped into poverty, leading Niort’s mayor to request money for her support.47 The uncertainty of breakaway Acadian lives worried many. When a Cherbourg Acadian named Marguerite Bazer tried to enter an Ursuline convent in nearby Valognes, Choiseul himself denied her request, proposing “that she should instead marry an Acadian man.”48

Bazer’s dashed hopes hint at powerful forces arrayed along the Acadians’ social boundaries, pressing inward to keep the refugees together. True, Acadians surely found comfort and security in familiar faces. But external conditions also fostered cohesion. First among these was the Acadians’ identity as a privileged corps within French society. Rooted in genealogical memory and sweetened by promises of money and land, status as a “true Acadian” was worth fighting for. Félix Leblanc did so after being left off the “general roll” compiled by Lemoyne in 1772. Writing to Turgot’s predecessor as controller general of finances, Leblanc was unable to reconstruct his family history through documents such as parish registers. So he painstakingly recounted his birth in the parish of Saint-Charles des Mines near Grand Pré, his service in the Acadian militia at Pointe Beauséjour, and his 1755 deportation to South Carolina. He managed to escape from Charleston and eventually made his way north to the Saint John River, where he suffered “troubles and miseries” in the wilderness with Charles des Champs de Boishébert and his Acadian guerillas. Given the position of royal “mail carrier,” Leblanc then hauled letters between Louisbourg and Québec before being captured on Ile Saint-Jean and sent to Boulogne-sur-Mer aboard the Neptune. He included the names of several Acadians who might “serve as witnesses” to his story.49 Life inside the corps, Leblanc knew, offered benefits too substantial to ignore.

Beyond France’s corporate political culture, transformations in the imperial world also conspired to push Acadians together. These were the same changes that had, ten years earlier, compelled the French to settle Germans and Acadians on the Kourou. Mostly they had to do with the dangers and costs of an empire powered by African slavery. On an international scale, new thinking produced a new kind of labor market, one that threatened to crush atomized individuals but favored large, cohesive groups of free white settlers. British entrepreneurs, for example, tried to move entire Greek and Corsican villages to New Smyrna in Florida, while the Spanish attempted to lure whole Swiss villages to their internal colony in the Sierra Morena.50 Etienne-François Turgot worked hard to transport large groups of Maltese settlers to Guiana but could not sway them. And Catherine the Great hoped to plant “whole Colony’s” of German or French settlers (emphatically not “fugitives and passportless people”) into the borderlands of the Russian Empire.51

Already popular among French colonizers ranging from long-range voyagers such as Bougainville to stay-at-home types such as Pérusse, who described the refugees as “highly superior to the mass of our peasants,” the Acadians’ renown spread across Europe.52“New solicitations,” wrote one nervous French administrator in 1772, came the refugees’ way almost weekly.53 The British, of course, had been active in trying to draw Acadians to the island of Jersey or even Nova Scotia since 1763.54 In the late 1760s, the Spanish joined the fray, making overtures to refugees in Saint-Malo about opportunities in their Sierra Morena colony or Louisiana.55

An expanding smorgasbord of choices made for “excitement” among the once trammeled refugees. In 1772, for example, the marquis de Saint-Victour offered land near Ussel, a rocky hamlet in the Limousin, to more than a hundred Acadian families. Each would receive two hundred arpents, one hundred of which had been cleared, plus all of the usual exemptions and their royal allowance. Saint-Victour would dig a ditch down the center of the land, and after twenty years would choose one half to keep for his own.56In April, Acadians in Saint-Malo heard about the plan and rejected it.57 Annoyed, Saint-Victour agreed to see Prosper Giroire and Marin Daigle, two brothers-in-law representing refugees in the Breton seaport. The pair arrived in Ussel on December 9, 1772. The meeting did not go well, and Saint-Victour withdrew his offer. Lemoyne blamed Daigle, who allegedly said that he would migrate “nowhere unless … assured of a thousand écus of revenue.” “The Acadians’ heads are absolutely spinning,” Lemoyne seethed, wondering aloud if “these people imagine we will make lords of them.”58 A “part of the [Acadian] nation,” one French observer declared, had managed to scuttle a promising settlement.59 While many were “persuaded that they will find what they have long been looking for in the Limousin,” some agitated for migration to Corsica or Ile-de-France (now Mauritius), “others for the Mississippi, others to return to Canada … and still others will not leave the coast of France.”60

By the early 1770s, then, the three thousand Acadians scattered throughout France faced a difficult decision. To escape the fate of the landless poor, they could embrace one of two visions for the future of their community. On one hand, Acadians could risk entering the Atlantic market for colonists, betting that demand for large groups would ensure a settlement on good terms. On the other, they could cling to their status as a corps within the old régime, banking on the king’s promise of land and hereditary rights. Whether they remained in France or tested the waters, however, the refugees were bound to move and act as a single body. Both the government’s grant of corporate privileges and the nature of the imperial labor market demanded as much; as individuals, families, or small groups, Acadians faced penury in France and uncertainty beyond its shores.

In 1772, Jean-Jacques Leblanc began a long struggle to foist his vision for the Acadian future on his compatriots. Early that year, he sent a memorial to Pierre-Étienne Bourgeois de Boynes, Louis XV’s minister of the marine. Claiming to speak for “113 heads of family,” he reminded de Boynes that the king had promised French lands to his Acadian subjects. It had not happened. As a result, reports from Acadians in Spanish Louisiana had proven tempting. Reading a letter from “our brothers … who have escaped from Halifax, Maryland, and Philadelphia,” Leblanc noted that his friends were “happy” in Louisiana. Knowing “how much we cost France,” he asked that his group be allowed to sail for New Orleans.61 In July, a second delegation from Saint-Malo visited Louis XV’s summer retreat in Compiègne. Claiming to represent six hundred families across Brittany, they told the king that Carlos III of Spain had offered to settle them in the Sierra Morena, a scenario they preferred to more time wasted in France.62

The king’s response stunned Leblanc. Instead of allowing the expensive guests to leave, Louis XV ordered his ministers to devise a French colony for the Acadians that would both satisfy justice and “discharge the state of the cost” of their upkeep.63 Royal generosity, however, had limits. “Truly Acadian families” alone would merit the king’s “kindnesses.”64 Leblanc’s initial bid to coax the Acadian community onto the imperial market had, in effect, been hijacked. The promise of internal colonization, coupled with guarantees of the Acadians’ corporate privileges, seemed certain to attach them solidly to metropolitan France.

Henri Bertin, then serving as the king’s adviser on agricultural affairs, approached Pérusse about the Acadians. The marquis leapt at the chance to receive them. He hired the agronomist Sutières to examine the soil of his estates in preparation for the refugees’ arrival. When only one of his own domains received Sutières’s mark of “first quality,” Pérusse cajoled the bishop of Poitiers and the nuns of a local convent into donating some of theirs.65 Plans for the new colony combined rationality and elegance. Pérusse desired the 1,347 Acadians who had self-identified as “farmers” on Lemoyne’s census, along with “153 others … whose type of industry is most analogous to agriculture.” The colonists were to be divided into five villages of thirty households apiece. Ten Acadians would live in each of the colony’s 150 stone houses, which included “two rooms, one of which has a chimney, a cellar, a tool closet, and a barn.” Each household would receive four oxen, two cows, two plows, a cart, and animal feed for the first year. In addition to 6 sols per day until at least 1776, perks included full ownership of their cleared lands, tithes “reduced to the fortieth” for fifteen years, total exemption from royal taxes and the corvée for at least a decade, free salt, and tobacco “at the prices given to the troops.”66 Between 1774 and 1776, the king would defray these expenses with 600,000 livres in eight payments, after which the colony would sustain itself.67 Pérusse predicted a “useful enterprise … which will not fail to be imitated by many.”68

Recruitment, however, went nowhere. Officials contacted Acadians in Saint-Malo in October 1772 and arranged for a group to visit Poitou. After a tour of the region, two of the refugees said something brash. “This is not worth Acadia,” they told Pérusse, “or the settlements proposed … by the Spanish.” The confused marquis wrote that the men then headed back “to convince their brethren … that the lands they had seen were a kind of marsh … and that there was not a tree within twenty leagues.”69

In the summer of 1773, crown officials sent Antoine-Philippe Lemoyne, the colonial administrator who had earlier assembled the “general roll” of Acadians in the kingdom, to pitch Pérusse’s project to refugees in northern seaports. In Le Havre, most liked the idea.70 In Cherbourg, Eustache Perot, Jacques L’Anglois, and dozens more signed on.71 In July, Lemoyne met with Acadians in Saint-Malo, including Jean-Jacques Leblanc, whom he cast as “their confidence man, their orator.” After Lemoyne addressed an Acadian “delegation,” the refugees left and forced him to wait as they pored over the plans for Pérusse’s settlement. They then returned, and one (probably Leblanc) rose to speak: “You have, sir, remitted to the heads of the nation—”

Lemoyne interrupted, flush with anger. He claimed to know the “Acadians only as French, as subjects of the king committed to obey him … not as a foreign nation.” It was a rash statement, and it elicited a harsh response. A lone man named Martin Porcheron agreed to go to Poitou. Fifteen hundred others said no.72

Lemoyne held more meetings in and around Saint-Malo, but each produced the same result; a few Acadians accepted, while hundreds refused. “Tormented” by the “perfect harmony” of Saint-Malo’s refugees, Lemoyne started to ask hard questions.73 Beneath the veneer of Acadian consensus, he detected “serious intrigues,” propaganda, and arm-twisting meant to “force the government’s hand” and drive the refugees toward “the Mississippi.”74 So Lemoyne decided to fight chicanery with chicanery.

Launching his own campaign to “catechize” the truculent Acadians, Lemoyne sent a second Acadian deputation from Saint-Malo to view Pérusse’s lands.75 Curiously, it included the mutinous Leblanc, Simon Aucoin (“even more ill-disposed than Jean-Jacques,” noted Lemoyne), and the “honest” Augustin Doucet. Lemoyne pulled out all the stops to make the tour a success. A secretary to the comte de Blossac, the province’s royal intendant, guided the Acadians around Pérusse’s estate in a fine carriage, while two locals, Sébastien Dupont and Louis Dansac, were paid to testify to the Acadians of the land’s fertility. At various points along the way, the group descended from the carriage to probe the dirt with sticks and grind clods into powder, discussing the soil’s composition, color, and depth in meticulous detail. At the end of the day, the Acadians and their hosts drafted and signed a long document at Pérusse’s château. It confirmed that the land they had seen featured “six or seven thumbs of topsoil, dewy and light, and underneath a grayish-yellow soil … that seems to have both salts and substance; cold, but liable to be reheated by work and running water.”76 Then the royal official returned to his offices in Poitiers, Dupont and Dansac trudged off to their own farms, and the Acadians began the long trek north to Saint-Malo.

Within days of the deputation’s return, an “official report” praising Poitou’s soil began circulating in Saint-Malo with the Acadians’ names prominently affixed to it. Lemoyne then distributed a letter from the abbé de l’Isle-Dieu, vicar general of Canada and the Acadian missions, in which the priest berated Acadians in nearby Morlaix and said that he would pray to “our Divine mediator to remove your ideas and destroy your prejudices … of which I am sure you will repent.”77 Parish priests in Saint-Malo received another letter imploring them to push Acadians to Poitou. A few refugees, Lemoyne told the clerics, had “refused the king’s graces” for “reprehensible, even criminal motives,” weaving a “veil of seduction that covers the eyes of far too many.”78 He warned that all those unwilling to go to Poitou would lose the prized allowance. Setting a tough example, he revoked the privileges of a “restless, conspiring Acadian” named Alexis Trahan.79

Jean-Jacques Leblanc held his ground, but it was eroding fast. With Aucoin, he claimed that the assessment of Poitou’s soil had been forged, and that the government’s warnings about the allowance were “only threats.” “When I ask these two men if they will go,” noted Lemoyne, “they respond, ‘Oh my God, no!’” Two weeks after Leblanc and Aucoin’s return from Poitou, however, 150 Acadians had signed on, with more responding daily.80

Within a month of Lemoyne’s visit, most of Saint-Malo’s Acadians had agreed to settle on Pérusse’s lands. For most, it was a difficult choice. After his visit to Poitou in July 1773, Augustin Doucet confided that “the lands are excellent and he would not have come back [to Saint-Malo] had his wife and children been with him.”81 He did not, however, talk much with others about “the richness of the soil and the favors granted by the king,” fearful that Leblanc and his allies would brand him a “bought man.”82 Only when Lemoyne’s tactics undercut the consensus enforced by Leblanc and his like-minded compatriots did Doucet openly cast his lot for the internal colony of Poitou. Sensing a shift toward Pérusse’s colony, Leblanc signed on. His fate and the community’s, as he knew, were one and the same. However, he would have more to say about the direction that community took.

In great, disorderly caravans, the Acadians rolled into Châtellerault in October and November 1773. Pérusse and his cohort were surprised by the Acadians’ sudden appearance. “The arrival of these people has embarrassed us a bit,” fretted one friend, wondering aloud why Lemoyne had chosen to rush the operation.83 Few of the projected 150 houses had been constructed, leaving the refugees in a familiar state: homelessness. Pérusse scrambled to make arrangements. He turned to friends such as M. Delauzon of Chauvigny, who agreed to quarter eight families in the outbuildings of his farm.84 By December, fourteen hundred new colonists had arrived. Pérusse judged them “big, robust, hardworking, and very fecund,” exulting that “almost all the women arrived pregnant.”85

Pérusse did, however, notice subtle differences among the refugees. First, a few people who were not Acadians at all had sneaked into the mix. He labeled them “very different” from the rest and thanked his stars their numbers were few.86 Second, Pérusse noted a difference in the “suppleness of character” corresponding to the “province [the Acadians] had inhabited.” Those who had come from Le Havre and Cherbourg proved “docile, confident in the king’s bounties, having no other desire than to be settled.” Those who had previously lived in Brittany formed two classes. The Acadians who had been placed in the “countryside” or on Belle-Ile, Pérusse wrote, “want only to work and do so well,” their good desires leading them to “forget Acadia.” In ports such as Saint-Malo, however, the Acadians had developed a taste for oppositional politics. “They wish,” he wrote, “that a deliberation be made, as in the Estates [of Brittany], on the settlement of individuals and nations.”87

Still, the colony seemed destined for success. Construction moved forward in the spring and summer, and while local peasants grew envious of the benefits lavished on the newcomers, others elsewhere grew enamored of the colony. For his part, Sutières abandoned his other concerns and stayed on Pérusse’s payroll, outfitting a farm called Champfleury, where he held forth on the latest techniques. The proud agronomist wrote essays in the local newspaper inviting local farmers (especially the “naysayers and jokers”) to see the improved plows and pungent fertilizers that allowed “his grain, even when sowed in poor soil that has always produced mediocre crops,” to become “the best in all the canton.”88 Slowly Acadians moved from Châtellerault out into the countryside, taking up residence in the six angular villages laid out by Pérusse the previous year.

But the death of Louis XV changed everything. Although his reputation as an agrarian-minded reformer could not have been stronger, Turgot had hated Pérusse’s project from the start. “As far as I can tell, the man seems disinclined to favor this project,” wrote one of Pérusse’s correspondents at court.89 Indeed, the new controller general was equal parts improver and cost cutter; in Limoges in 1762, he had shut down an experimental farm sponsored by the provincial agricultural society, castigating members for wasting its annual budget of 10,000 livres.90 From Versailles, the Acadian colony of Poitou—a 600,000-livre holdover from a previous, poorly run administration—looked like a bad investment for a kingdom on the fiscal brink.

Beyond such practical matters, Turgot despised privilege. Like many of the physiocrats, he sought to liberate the French economy from the “particular corps” whose time-honored rights bred stagnation. The Acadian colony, however, depended on what Turgot called “privileges and exemptions” granted by Louis XV to this “corps … in the heart of the French nation.”91 The existence of such privileges was bad enough, but worse was the ingratitude displayed by their beneficiaries. Weeks after ascending to the ministry, he complained to Pérusse that a few Acadians, “whether by indolence, idleness, or … ill-will,” not only had refused to clear lands but had slowed the colony’s progress by “communicat[ing] their way of thinking” to others.92 Turgot, then, saw the Poitou project less as a colonial innovation than as a costly eyesore populated by serial whiners.

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A map of the Acadian colony near Archigny, 1773. Courtesy of the Archives départementales de la Vienne, Poitiers, France.

Turgot spent his first weeks at Versailles overhauling the Acadian settlement to ensure either its transformation or its demise. The king, he assured Pérusse, “proposed to grant this colony all the privileges that may lead to its prosperity.” But to be certain “that the idle may not enjoy the same advantages that good cultivators merit,” Turgot threatened the colonists with banishment and the loss of their hereditary privileges if they refused their appointed tasks. Figuring that clearing the land given to each house (roughly thirty arpents) would take three years, Turgot offered an additional 72 sols per year to those who kept pace. If twenty arpents were not cleared after two years, the new money would be forfeited and the offenders driven from their homes. More “condemnable conduct,” he warned, would cause the Acadians “to lose [the king’s] kindnesses” altogether.93

Acadian reaction to Turgot’s assault was swift. With Pérusse’s help, one group tried to appeal to higher powers, presenting a united front against the controller general’s reforms. In a letter to one court grandee, refugees recounted hardships during the years between 1758 and the colony’s foundation. “We were forgotten, and … endured the most awful indigence,” they wrote, recalling the “state of misery that cost the lives of many of our children.” Writing under Pérusse’s care, the Acadians blamed these trials on “the withdrawal of a portion … of the six sols per day that His Majesty granted us,” blaming ministers and inept local officials for failing to deliver the money. Fearful of “the return of cuts in our allowance,” they requested not only this powerful person’s intercession with Louis XVI, but a particular grace certain to attract “all the blessings of Heaven.” They asked that one of the villages bear “your august name … a name so dear to France that we will be assured of success.” After receiving a positive response, more than three hundred Acadians cheered the christening of the “Village de Marie-Antoinette.”94 In light of later events, this was probably a bad omen. In 1774, however, all parties in Poitou were likely pleased with their new patron. Their claim to speak for the Acadian nation (they prayed the queen to grant “the satisfaction of seeing our reunion with those of our brethren, cousins, and nephews who … wish to share [the colony] with us”), along with the young Austrian’s help, it seemed, ensured a solid political footing.

Not all of the refugees agreed. In November 1774, Pérusse discovered that Jean-Jacques Leblanc had gone to Versailles. The intendant at Poitiers assured Pérusse that he had issued no passports for such a voyage, but revealed that several local notables had signed a petition against the Acadian colony, which he assumed Leblanc would deposit on Turgot’s desk.95 Pérusse mulled over the possibility of the ill-disposed minister making common cause with the Acadian renegade. “I know not what success [the Acadians] will have with the controller general,” he snarled to a local cleric, “but I do not doubt that they will be highly favored of the man.”96 Writing to Turgot, Pérusse described Leblanc’s visit as a plot against reform. The signatures on the Acadian’s petition, he claimed, came from petty landowners who resented his successes and hoped to keep Poitou’s common lands uncultivated.97 Leblanc, Pérusse claimed, had paid for the voyage to Versailles by extorting “five sols per individual, great and small,” from his Acadian tenants. He asked Turgot to clap Leblanc in prison “for a few days only” upon his return to Poitou.98 The order never came.

A record of what Turgot and Leblanc said to each other in November 1774 has not survived. In the absence of a smoking gun, however, the circumstantial evidence suggests that the two men found effective ways to work together against the success of Pérusse’s colony. After Leblanc left Versailles, Turgot sacked Sutières, punctuating the firing with a recommendation that the agronomist be shipped off to Spain to direct farming in the Sierra Morena colonies. An enraged Pérusse wrote directly to Louis XVI in protest, arguing that “the state cannot be deprived of such a precious citizen” and that “the poor gentleman would perish in a climate so different from the one in which he has always lived.”99 Then Turgot suddenly ordered the colony reduced from fifteen hundred inhabitants to six hundred “satisfied with their lot.” For the rest, a difficult choice awaited. “His Majesty is disposed to establish the others either on Corsica or on Ile de France,” Turgot declared, demanding that Acadians decide promptly between the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean islands. Those who waited until January 1, 1776, would, in Turgot’s words, “cease to enjoy the allowance that has been granted them … and will not be able to aspire to any of the government’s graces.”100

It was a brilliant ploy. Turgot knew that no Acadian would take his offer. Saint-Malo’s Acadians, after all, had already rejected a settlement in Corsica proposed to them in 1772. Many of the colonists in Poitou had also survived the Kourou disaster, leaving them with a marked “prejudice” against tropical locales such as Ile de France.101 Forcing Acadians to choose between two frightening destinations or the loss of their privileges, Turgot looked to trim his budget and encourage free markets. For Leblanc, the scheme promised to destroy the Acadians’ status as a corps, leaving them no choice but to follow him toward the Atlantic.

In Poitou, Leblanc set to work. During the winter of 1774–75, Pérusse noticed ominous changes in his tenants. Few performed the routine duties of a rural household. Wood went unchopped, cattle remained untended, and land clearance ground to a halt. Pérusse blamed Leblanc and a few others who “have set up a council among themselves to decide … if they will or will not execute any orders given to them.” The rest, leaders reported, “dare not say or do anything without their consent.”102 By spring, the clique had succeeded in “preventing their well-established comrades from laboring.” Those caught working in the fields endured “mistreatment” from gangs of Acadians and local peasants.103 Turgot chimed in, delaying the Acadians’ solde for nine weeks in the spring, complaining that illnesses had “overburdened his offices.”104 Officials in Châtellerault placated Acadians with loans, but impoverishment bred dissatisfaction.

The conspiracy came to fruition the next summer. In July 1775, a mysterious visitor appeared in Châtellerault. Avoiding Pérusse with care, he spent several hours in an apartment with Leblanc and some other Acadians, who then escorted the stranger on a tour of their settlements. Faced with curious colonists, the man, who called himself Dubuisson, claimed powerful protectors, including the physiocrat Dupont de Nemours and Turgot himself.105 His message was simple. This land, he told the Acadians, “would never produce a harvest.” Dubuisson assured the refugees that were he in their position, he would not “give one push to the plow or one swing with the pickaxe” in fields of such quality.106 Censure of Pérusse’s administration followed, in which Dubuisson argued that the marquis had falsified reports about his soil. As one official in Châtellerault noted, any hope of “witnessing the reign of peace among the Acadians” seemed to evaporate as he spoke.107

Convinced of Turgot’s ill will and Leblanc’s perfidy, Pérusse attempted to save the colony by dismissing refugees who gave him trouble and keeping those he liked.108 Since all had rejected Corsica and Ile de France, Turgot planned to transport nine hundred Acadians to Nantes. Off the dole, they would scrape up enough money to go elsewhere—likely Louisiana, although Pérusse remarked with disdain that a few “flatter[ed] themselves that the Americans rebelling against England would receive them gladly.”109 He demanded that Leblanc be the first to go, along with those who had “without authority … established themselves as heads or deputies of their Nation.” Next came the lazy, and last the non-farmers. When Turgot proposed to give departing Acadians three months’ pay as a gift, Pérusse shot back. He recommended that the minister subtract from this ill-considered reward the value of “tools … and wood taken to make furniture, as well as firewood … for the king’s profit.”110

With Acadians refusing to migrate to Corsica or Ile de France and the situation in Poitou growing ever more chaotic, Turgot offered to pay their way to the port at Nantes, even hinting at a continuation of the allowance for the departed. As Pérusse put it, Acadians who wished to remain a “corps de nation” in order to “more easily obtain the king’s graces” became targets.111 Pierre Boudrot and four friends approached Pérusse in August 1775, seeking protection from “the threats made to them by many of their neighbors.” Leblanc and his allies were pressuring the five men to sign a list of families who wished to renounce their privileges and leave for Nantes. Pérusse offered semantic cover. He told the official charged with registering the signatures to allow Boudrot and company to sign a loose sheet of paper, so that if “others ask you if they have signed, you may say yes.”112

Ruses, however, could not protect everyone. On August 27 and 28, vandals threw rocks into the houses of Acadian fence-sitters, smashed holes in their slate roofs, and choked off their wells with logs.113 In November, Jean-Baptiste Hébert, Marin Daigle, Joseph Doucet, and his brother Jean reported a disturbing altercation at the door of a local church. As the group walked in, Simon Aucoin vowed to “knock them senseless” before his own departure for Nantes if they did not leave Poitou.114 Leblanc’s campaign had succeeded. By late fall, Pérusse admitted that “only nine families dared work the soil.”115

The colony disintegrated that winter. Between October and December, more than nine hundred Acadians left for Nantes.116 Pérusse was left with three hundred tenants and no promise of funds to support them. He put on a brave face, corresponding about fig trees for Acadian farms, intervening on behalf of a refugee whose cow ate the peas of a high-strung local named Jacques Velvé, and trying to prevent Marguerite Hébert, the colony’s midwife, from leaving her remaining charges.117 Others cursed the Acadians. “Too bad for them,” one Châtellerault man crowed; “if they find better elsewhere, I will rejoice.”118 Privately, Pérusse plotted revenge even as his last Acadian tenants began to disappear. “One day,” he resolved, those who had ruined his attempt to cultivate imperial perfection in old France “would finally fall silent.”119

The participants moved on, but the conspiracy that decimated the Acadian colony of Poitou reverberated through their lives for years to come.

After liquidating the Acadians’ homes, the marquis de Pérusse turned to politics, representing the nobility of Poitou at the Estates General in 1789 and, ultimately, in the National Assembly. But by 1791, liberal aristocrats such as Pérusse had gone hopelessly out of style. Badmouthed by name on the floor of the legislature for his sponsorship of the “atrocious” Acadian settlement in Poitou, the marquis fled France for the German border late that year. He served in the counterrevolutionary Armée des Princes until his death at Paderborn in Westphalia in 1796.120

Anne-Robert Turgot’s love of free markets and hatred of privilege helped spark the conspiracy in Poitou. Those same qualities soon led others to conspire against him. In September 1774, Turgot deregulated France’s grain trade. The next year, he tried to abolish all privileged guilds. Bread prices rose, riots ensued, and opponents derided Turgot as a threat to all corporate rights and to liberty itself. Louis XVI fired him in May 1776. The next finance minister of any significance, Jacques Necker, followed Turgot’s lead when it came to Acadians. “Their pretensions,” Necker wrote in response to one of Pérusse’s requests to rebuild the Acadians’ colony, “are hereditary only to a certain degree.”121 Like Turgot, he envisioned “dividing them up and melting them … into society so that each may become a sailor, soldier, artisan, merchant, or plowman according to his faculties.”122 Occupied with American affairs and the king’s rapidly deteriorating finances, Necker toyed with a few Acadian colonization schemes but soon lost interest altogether. “It has been a long time,” a courtier told Pérusse in 1778, “since I have heard M. Necker speak of the Acadians.”123

When Jean-Jacques Leblanc died near Nantes in November 1781, his quest to tailor France’s Acadian community for the Atlantic labor market was nearly complete. It had not come easy. Back in 1777, a group of refugees in Nantes had informed ministers at Versailles that 2,366 Acadians would settle in Corsica if their privileges remained intact. Soon after, Necker was visited by two Acadian “delegates,” also from Nantes, who set him straight. The refugees advocating Corsica, the two men explained, did so “out of fear of being deprived of their allowance” and did not represent the Acadians’ true wishes.124 The men then finished the work begun in Poitou. They repudiated the Corsican colony, absolved the monarchy of responsibility for the Acadians’ back pay and personal debts, and agreed to slash their own allowance from 6 to 3 sols per day.125 Dismantling the corporate identity that had attached them to the kingdom, the maneuver effectively eliminated the Acadians’ financial incentive to remain in France. Their route to security and opportunity would run not through privileges born of the old régime’s internal colonies but through engagement with the entire spectrum of Atlantic empires.

In 1783, word of an impending Acadian exodus from France to Spanish Louisiana spread throughout the kingdom. The author of this new scheme was Henri Peyroux de la Coudrenière, a onetime apothecary in Nantes who had established a thriving plantation near New Orleans during the 1770s. On a return visit to Nantes, he heard the story of Pérusse’s failed colony and met up with an ambitious Acadian cobbler named Olivier Terriot. Together, the two convinced Spain’s ambassador in Paris, the comte de Aranda, to forward to the king in Madrid a plan to settle all of France’s Acadians on the fertile but vulnerable borderlands of Louisiana. Peyroux, an amateur natural historian who admired both physiocrats and agronomists, touted the Acadians’ expertise at clearing, building, and farming. The Spanish must not forget, he declared, “that the ancient inhabitants of Acadia, who today are scattered throughout Canada, Louisiana, France, and the United States, individually possessed all those talents.”126 Early in 1784, Carlos III, who had invited Acadians to the Sierra Morena fifteen years earlier, signed off, offering to pay the refugees’ way across the Atlantic and provide them with good land, new houses, and free farm implements in Louisiana. The king demanded, however, that Peyroux and Terriot gather at least sixteen hundred Acadians for the journey. Otherwise, he warned, the deal was off.127

The terms were good, but the migration was never a foregone conclusion. Told of Peyroux’s invitation, a group of Acadians in Saint-Malo wrote to Versailles expressing a strong preference for Boston, where they might live happily in the new, anti-British republic and perhaps recover their kin “raised and instructed according to the rites of the English sect” since 1755.128 As Peyroux’s primary recruiter, Terriot bore the brunt of Acadian discontent in Nantes and throughout Brittany. One evening at a tavern, while Terriot held forth on the virtues of Louisiana, an angry refugee suddenly attacked the cobbler “like a desperado, struck me several times, and would undoubtedly have killed me if some friendly Acadians, who took his knife away, had not intervened.”129 “I am sorry, but what do you expect?” exclaimed one Spanish official upon hearing Terriot’s complaints. Rooted in widely circulated horror stories about Louisiana and their own harsh experience, Acadian reluctance was understandable. “The life we must live in France is hard enough,” wrote Acadians in Saint-Malo, “without taking a blind chance on that in Louisiana.”130 Eventually, though, a combination of arm-twisting and benefits offered by the Spanish held sway. In 1785, sixteen hundred Acadians, or 70 percent of France’s refugees, sailed from Nantes to Louisiana.

The Acadian flight from Pérusse’s colony, which in turn led to their migration en masse to Louisiana, is usually portrayed as a function of ethnic consensus, shared values, and communal bonds forged during decades of ungoverned isolation in Nova Scotia. Yet there was no such straightforward expression of solidarity. Indeed, Pérusse’s experiment ended in a struggle between Acadian factions desperate to construct a community suited to thrive in the Atlantic world. Some wanted to remain in Poitou, enjoying the corporate rights associated with France’s internal colonization boom. Others hoped to enter a labor market dominated by states seeking settlers in bulk. With Turgot’s help, Jean-Jacques Leblanc prevailed. Like his opponents, Leblanc saw the peculiar empires of the 1760s and 1770s as arbiters of land, rights, and redress, and used coercion to guarantee what he believed to be the best outcome for all of his compatriots.

For these Acadians, the world consisted of empires whose principal weakness—a chronic lack of proper colonists—made them powerful enough to dictate the nature of their most intimate relationships. True, British settlements on the Channel Islands, Spain’s colonies in Louisiana and the Sierra Morena, and experiments such as Pérusse’s never generated much military or economic power for governments in London, Madrid, and Paris. But for thousands of poor, mobile workers such as the Acadians, such colonial projects structured their perceptions of the world around them, which in turn compelled them to restructure themselves.

No one knew these realities like Augustin Doucet. He was among the first Acadians to see Pérusse’s lands in 1773, but his efforts to prop up the colony came to nothing. By the summer of 1776, Jean-Jacques Leblanc and hundreds of settlers were gone, Turgot had stanched the flow of money, and Doucet’s crops were failing. On behalf of the “small number of Acadian families” holding on near Archigny, Doucet appealed to Versailles. Determined to “work with all our strength to clear the land,” he asked Louis XVI’s ministers for a renewal of “the graces the king has granted us.”131 No less than Leblanc, whose will pushed the Acadians toward Louisiana, Doucet and his friends fashioned themselves to fill a niche in an Atlantic of empires. They merely did so in an empire that would become an evolutionary dead end.

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