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Lifestyles of Early Acadian Women

History fascinates Virginia and she loves to travel to historic places. Many of these are places her ancestors lived in earlier times.

A docent reenacts the activities of an Acadian woman of the 1700s in New Brunswick, Canada.

A docent reenacts the activities of an Acadian woman of the 1700s in New Brunswick, Canada.

What Was Life Like for Acadian Women in the 1700s and 1800s in Canada?

When you visit the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada, there are museums, historic sites, and even a full historic village showing the lives of the early Acadians. It particularly interested me to see how the women lives were during these times.

In the 1600s and 1700s, immigrants from France settled in Nova Scotia. Settling a new land was hard but by the mid-1700s they had churches, schools, and prosperous communities. During the time of the French and Indian War (1750s), the British deported the Acadians but some escaped to start their lives over in New Brunswick.

There's a Historic Acadian Village (Village Historique Acadien) in New Brunswick that shows the life and culture of these French-speaking people. It's a great place to visit to learn how they lived at different periods of time.

early-acadians

Women's Clothing of the Early Acadians

When you visit the Acadian Historic Village in New Brunswick, people dressed in traditional clothing suitable for the period greet you in the homes and about the village.

Here you'll see examples of the attire that women wore in the 1700s and 1800s in the Acadian communities.

Some Clothing Was Knitted

The women of the household would weave the cloth and sew the clothing for the whole family. You'll note in the photo above that she is knitting. She's wearing a very simple cap.

The women of the household would weave the cloth and sew the clothing for the whole family. You'll note in the photo above that she is knitting. She's wearing a very simple cap.

Wool and Flax Could be Spun into Fiber for Weaving

Stripes seem to be popular for the gathered, long skirts. This woman wear a patterned cap that ties under her chin, instead of the plain white head covering. Her apron is a rough weave, so possibly flax or linen. She is spinning fiber.

Stripes seem to be popular for the gathered, long skirts. This woman wear a patterned cap that ties under her chin, instead of the plain white head covering. Her apron is a rough weave, so possibly flax or linen. She is spinning fiber.

The same docent explains to visitors how they make the fabric. In the basket behind her, you see the flax waiting to be made into fiber for weaving.

The same docent explains to visitors how they make the fabric. In the basket behind her, you see the flax waiting to be made into fiber for weaving.

The Acadian Traditional Clothing on Prince Edward Island

I found an article in an 1829 newspaper that described the clothing of the women and men on Prince Edward Island.

"In Prince Edward Island, the Acadian women dress nearly in the same way as the Bavarian broom girls. On Sundays, their clothes and linen look extremely clean and neat, and they wear over their shoulders a small blue cloth cloak, reaching only halfway down the body, and generally fastened at the breast with a brass brooch.

On weekdays, they are more carelessly dressed, and they usually wear sabots (wood shoes.) The men dress in round blue cloth jackets, with strait collars, and metal buttons set close together; blue or scarlet waistcoats, and blue trowsers."

This is from page 1 of the Vermont Aurora newspaper of Vergennes, Vermont, United States of America on Thursday, Apr 30, 1829. I found the article through a search on Newspapers.com which I subscribe to.

The article cited McGregor's History of the Maritime Colonies of British America for the information.

Sabots - Wooden Shoes

early-acadians

Video Explaining the Acadian Spinning Wheel

Here you see the spinning wheel in use at the Acadian museum in Louisiana where the Acadians are known as Cajuns.

The woman explains the techniques for making cloth, then weaving it into fabric. It takes many hours to create clothing in that era.

At the general store, Acadians could buy thread of different colors and patterned cotton fabric. Many Acadians lived in isolated communities with limited access to goods like these.

At the general store, Acadians could buy thread of different colors and patterned cotton fabric. Many Acadians lived in isolated communities with limited access to goods like these.

Here's a woman is making lace. You can see examples of it on the cuffs of her dress. This dress appears more formal than that worn by women in the more humble homes. The dress fabric is probably store-bought.

Here's a woman is making lace. You can see examples of it on the cuffs of her dress. This dress appears more formal than that worn by women in the more humble homes. The dress fabric is probably store-bought.

A woman's life revolved around her family and the church. Families were large so there was plenty of work to keep a woman busy from dawn to dark. Caring for the children, preparing meals for a dozen or more people, weaving the clothing, and cleaning the home were never-ending tasks.

The traditional foods were made from what the family grew. There were thin buckwheat pancakes called Ployes. Potatoes were made into Rapee Pie made with grated potatoes, onions, and meat. Another meal was Fricot. It was a hearty stew made with potatoes, dumplings, and whatever meat, fish or seafood was locally available.

Are You of Acadian Descent?

Outdoor Bread Oven at the Acadian Village

early-acadians

Stoves and Ovens of the Early Acadians

This outdoor oven served for baking the bread needed for large families. By being separate from the house, it minimized the risk of fires and wouldn't heat up the house in summer. I don't know if these were used by a whole community or if each family had their own oven.

You can see a step-by-step reconstruction of an Acadian bread oven on the P.E.I. Heritage Buildings site.

This kitchen below is in the Acadian Historic Village in New Brunswick, Canada, and it featured a basic cast-iron stove with a stone base and a metal stovepipe. Note the supply of wood ready for use in the stove.

The table is set for the family dinner. I'm wondering if the cabinet next to the woodpile is an old icebox or just a cupboard.

The photo shows a cast iron stove from the Acadian Historic Village in New Brunswick. You can read more about old stoves on the P.E.I. Heritage site.

Stoves in Later Times

The next photo shows a more advanced stove. I found a site that gives Acadian words for tools and it mentions a "double-decker stove [Poêle à deux ponts]: Cast iron stove with a closed cooking surface which could also be used as an oven." That sounds very much like the photo I took below.

You can see this stove at the Acadian Village in New Brunswick.

You can see this stove at the Acadian Village in New Brunswick.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Virginia Allain

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