Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Almost an idiot"


Did Acadians commonly suffer from what we now call

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

after the Grand Derangement?

Or was 

Geoffroi Benoit the only one with documented mental illness 

after the deportation??

Some time ago I wrote about Godefroy/Geoffroi/Godfroi Benoit and Madeleine Babin in a post. Now I have some new information and new thoughts about this couple. Some readers of this blog know I have an interest in medical and nursing diagnoses and am a practicing nurse practitioner in NYC.  I haven't grappled with mental illnesses in this blog although I have posted about hypothyroidism, cholera, tuberculosis, smallpox, nicotine addiction. Although there seems to be a strong vein of psychological issues in my family, I just haven't thought about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many men and women of WW2, including my father Arthur, had profound repercussions from PTSD . So I am charting a new course when I write about PTSD.

Before I go into PTSD, I would like to take a simple look at two words we do not commonly use in everyday American speech: derangement from the French and idiot from the Greek "idiotes" meaning "private person" or person lacking a skill or expertise.
The name the Acadian call the deportation from Acadia is "Le Grand Derangement".  In English it calls to my mind words like "deranged", chaos, helter-skelter. The word "Idiot" which was in common usage when I was a child but is seldom used today unless attempting an insult. Below are definitions from an online dictionary.

idiot [id-ee-uh t] noun
1. Informal. an utterly foolish or senseless person: If you think you can wear that outfit to a job interview and get hired,you're an idiot!
2. Psychology. (no longer in technical use; considered offensive) a personof the lowest order in a former and discarded classification of mental retardation, having a mental age of less than three years old and an intelligence quotient under 25.
1. fool, half-wit; imbecile; dolt, dunce, numskull.
Copyright 2015

To understand what "idiot" meant in the 18th century, I found this definition online at A Guide to Eighteenth-Century English Vocabulary Jack Lynch 14 April 2006:

Idiot didn’t always have the same insulting tones it has today. An idiot was someone with impaired mental ability (Johnson’s definition is“A fool; a natural; a changeling; one without the powers of reason”). The word could be used in a value-neutral sort of way: when Swift willed money “for building and maintaining an hospital for idiots and lunatics,” he wasn’t being insulting.


Again from we find in today's usage it means insanity, disorder, disarrangement or the act of deranging. In medicine it is also used for mental disorder or insanity

With that background in mind, let's proceed to a recent communication from Michael B. Melanson (the Melanson Family genealogist) who brought a description of Geoffroi Benoit to my attention via a FB communication. In his massive work, "Melanson-Melancon: The Genealogy of an Acadian and Cajun Family". Dracut Massachusetts: Lanesville Publishing. 2004., Melanson cites documents in the Massachusetts Archives (Volume 23) detailing events in the lives of Acadian exiles in Boston. The details include a description of Geoffroi Benoit,  who is 

"disoriented in the senses" (pp 358-360) 
and  another that 
"Geoffroi was reported to be almost an idot [sic, idiot]" (p 300).

In my next post, I will continue to investigate and share my findings about PTSD and the Acadians! Please "stay with me" and if you have an Acadian ancestor with documentation of mental instabilty after the deportation, please email me at

I am also working on expanding this family on WIKITREE

Here's my line to Geoffroi and his ancestors:


my mother, Dorothy Wills

Dorothy's mother, Marie Elizabeth "Libby" Bissonnette, daughter of

Celena Beauvais 1850-1942 married Joseph Bissonnette,  was the daughter of

Solyme Beauvais 1821-1902, who was the son of

Genevieve Benoit 1799-1832, who was the daughter of

Paul Benoit 1751-1831.  He likely experienced the Acadian Deportation as a small child - 4 or 5 years old. He was the son of

Geoffroy Benoit 1716-1769
He and his wife were exiled to Lancaster in the Massachusetts Colony where they lived until they were able to move to Quebec. He was the son of

Claude Benoit 1686-1743, he was the son of

Martin Benoit 1643-1714. Martin was born in France and came to Acadia to start a life with his wife, Marie in the spring of 1671 aboard l'Oranger.

Below is a recap of the stories written about Acadians in this blog so far.  This list includes some early posts that may not have been well researched but I am reviewing them for accuracy and hope they will "make the cut"!

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