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Jeanne Dugas (1731-1817)
The life story of Jeanne Dugas, born in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, in 1731, offers a realistic image of the experiences and viewpoints of Acadian women in the 18th century during a pivotal period in Acadian history in Canada.
Starting in 1755, Nova Scotia’s Acadians, unwilling to swear unqualified oaths of allegiance to the British Crown, were rounded up and put on ships bound for British colonies. This was the beginning of the Grand Dérangement, also known as the Expulsion of the Acadians. At the time the expulsion began, Jeanne Dugas and her family lived on Île-Royale (now Cape Breton Island), which was still French territory. However, in 1758, Louisbourg fell to the British and the Acadians of Île-Royale were also at risk. Dugas and her family fled to avoid capture and found refuge with other Acadians along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 1761, she and her family were taken prisoner following a raid on refugee camps and were detained near Halifax. After being released, she lived in several Acadian communities before settling in Chéticamp, Nova Scotia becoming a pioneer in that community.
Dugas’s personal history illustrates the experiences of Acadians in the 18th and early 19th centuries, before, during, and after the Grand Dérangement. She and her family lived through eight dislocations over a period of 50 years of movement, proving that the expulsion was a longer and more complex phenomenon than generally thought. Dugas’s story also reveals linkages between Acadians from across the region, including those from Acadia, Île-Royale and Île-Saint-Jean, as well as Restigouche and the other safe havens in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Her numerous displacements connect geographically distant places that together play an important role in Acadian history.
Dugas and other Acadian women in this time period ensured the survival of their families and communities, thus contributing to the survival of the Acadian people. Throughout the privations and instability of war, Dugas managed to feed and care for her family, and she helped rebuild her family’s life in new and unfamiliar locations. In Chéticamp, Dugas worked as the village midwife, and as midwives were also caregivers, she likely looked after the sick. In this role, she helped her community flourish during the years of Acadian resettlement in Cape Breton after 1764. She appeared in the census as a widow in 1809 and died eight years later, at 86 years of age.
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Hon. Catherine McKenna Parks Canada History and Archaeology
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