Note: This is the second of three posts in an extended essay exploring my relationship with my father and my son through the songs of Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam.
With the passage of time, everything changed, as it always does. By 2002, Cat Stevens had been Yusuf Islam for 25 years, becoming a Muslim in late 1977 and appearing to disappear from Western public life altogether. During that time across the 1980s and 1990s, my brother and I both grew up. We moved far away from home, and we had sons of our own. My brother’s was named Joseph, after our mother’s father, Joe Krupa, a Slovak steelworker from the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania.
My son was named after one Noel Matherne, born around 1768 on the First German Coast of Louisiana. He married a woman named Charlotte Delmer on November 24, 1789, and among their children was one Eugene Matherne, among whose great-grandchildren was my own great-grandmother, Pauline Badeaux, born in 1896 and deceased in 1998. Pauline married Ernest John Guidry II in 1917. Their first-born son, Ernest John Guidry III, married Marie Lezina Vicknair on June 7, 1939, and on March 21, 1940, Ronald James Guidry was born. Ronald married Mary Krupa on September 7, 1963 and on June 3, 1964, John Alexis Guidry was born. On June 10, 2000, John married Denise Shanks and Noel Shanks Guidry was born on May 28, 2002.
From infancy through his third year, I sang Noel to sleep every night with “Moonshadow,” delighting in the playful exchange of eyes and ears and teeth and hands throughout the lyric.
This August of 2011, my father, my son, and I are travelling together to Nova Scotia. We’re going back to the Acadian homeland, called l’Acadie by its first European settlers. As Cajuns, we don’t really have a European homeland, which sets us apart from most white people in America. Our ancestor, Claude Guidry, was either born in l’Acadie in the 1640s or arrived there from France in 1671 (the records are disputed). There is no known Guidry prior to Claude, and the path backwards vanishes there.
He is known in the archives as Claude Guidry dit Laverdure dit Grivois. “Dit” means roughly “said to be” (like “also known as”), and Claude’s other names mean “The Green” (Laverdure) and “Saucy” (Grivois). “Saucy,” as far as the record indicates, appears to refer to Claude’s and children’s joviality and penchant for living life the way they saw fit. They were outlaw fishermen and trappers who intermarried with the local Micmac Indians and lived with them, thus exempting themselves from the early census of the colony in 1671, which didn’t count people in mixed-race marriages and their children.
We’re going to go to Claude’s old haunts in Lunenburg, LaHeve (Bridgeport), and Annapolis (Port Royale). If Claude was on the ship L’Oranger, which reached l’Acadie/Nove Scotia in 1671, he would have disembarked in Lunenburg, then known as Mirligueche. If he wasn’t on that ship, then he was already living there among the Micmac. Which story is true isn’t as important to me as simply knowing that I will walk the ground that Claude trod. It’s a dream I’ve had for many years, of standing with my son on the Eastern Coast of Nova Scotia, looking out across the Atlantic Ocean and telling him that our people came from that water, somewhere over there, leaving everything behind, and growing up here, on the land of the New World.
The British and French had both laid claim to Acadie since the early 1600s, and across time this tension provoked an independence in the people there, who preferred to mind their own business and generally refused to sign oaths to bear arms for either side. As it became apparent that the French might not support these renegades, Yankee forces in Boston and the lower colonies formed a plan to expel the Acadiens and repopulate the land with Protestant Scots and Germans, creating a prosperous market for the farms and factories of New England.
“The Great Expulsion” of 1755 was an Eighteenth Century case of ethnic cleansing that dispersed our people throughout the Britain’s Atlantic Empire. An idealized version of the story is told by Longfellow in Evangeline, a more historical form in John Mack Faragher’s A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Explusion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland (New York: Norton, 2005).
That’s how we ended up in Louisiana. How Noel and I ended up in New York is another story, but at least we’re not the first Guidry’s to make the move from Louisiana to New York.
Notes and Credits
The photo of Ron Guidry was taken from the website Josh Q. Public, profiling some great pitchers, including our namesake, the Ragin’ Cajun.
Throughout the 1600s, both the British and French and tried to have the Acadiens sign oaths of allegiance. For the most part the people refused to do so, preferring to be left alone. Neither the French nor the British wanted to protect them, and they fit into neither country’s imperial schemes. Some yielded to the pressure, however, and on August 16, 1695, Claude Guidry signed an oath of allegiance to the British King. The record in Ancestry.com states,
The Oath read “We do Swear and Sincerely Promise That we will be Faithful and bear True Allegiance to his Majty King William, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. So help us God.” Captain Fleetwood Emes, Commander of the Sorlings Frigate administered the Oath at Port-Royal. In taking the Oath, Claude signed his name as “Claude Gaidry”.
On January 9, 1723, Claude Guidry “conditionally baptized” twin grand-daughters Helene and Marie-Josephe Guidry in Boston. They were there with other Acadiens who were prisoners and refugees of a war between the English and the Indians that lasted from 1722-25, known variably as “The Three Years War,” “Rale’s War,” “Lovewell’s War” and “Governor Dummer’s Indian War.” This is the last mention of Claude in any historical record. Not long after he returned to l’Acadie and passed away some time thereafter, among his family in his homeland.