HÉBERT, ÉTIENNE, farmer; b. 1736 in Grand Pré, N.S., son of Jean-Baptiste Hébert and Élisabeth Granger; d. 11 Jan. 1823 in Saint-Grégoire (Bécancour), Lower Canada.
Étienne Hébert belonged to the fourth generation of Héberts in Acadia. The deportation of the Acadians in 1755 [see Charles Lawrence*] separated him from his family at the age of 19. He was sent to Baltimore, in Maryland, which was almost the only American colony to show sympathy for the unhappy people arriving from that persecuted land. The fact that many inhabitants of Maryland were Catholics who had been sheltered in England by Lord Baltimore and his brother, Leonard Calvert, may account for this response. The Acadians were left free to move about as they wished, settle permanently, or emigrate, even to New France.
Hébert was able to take advantage of this favourable attitude. Placed in the service of an army officer who quickly became his friend, he gradually acquired not only substantial savings but above all valuable experience; in particular, he learned how to make his way through great stretches of forest, and along lakes and rivers, as well as over portages known only to a few. With this experience, he could tackle the project that had been taking shape in his mind from the time he arrived in Maryland: to find his parents, three brothers, and four sisters. This was no mean task, since the policy of deportation had been in effect until 1762, increasing the ranks of the exiles, who in addition had been widely dispersed. Acadians were to be found in all the British colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia. Some had fled to Louisiana, others had been sent to England. The large number in Maryland were scattered in more than eight localities, all distant from one another. At some unknown point, Hébert succeeded in finding his father, mother, and brother Jean-Baptiste in that colony, at Georgetown. But no trace was to be found of the others.
Then in 1763 came the cession of New France and the complete impossibility of a return to Acadia. The interdiction was lifted the following year, but with the proviso that the Acadians take the oath of allegiance. In 1764 or 1765 Hébert made up his mind to “go up to Canada” where, it was said, the conquerors had provided the new British subjects with acceptable conditions of life. Having learned from sailors in Boston, where by 1764 he had gathered his rediscovered parents and brother, that Trois-Rivières was less than 100 leagues away, he set out on his own in that direction, with a compass, axe, musket, tinder-box, saucepan, and birchbark canoe. After many adventures he wound up among the Acadian refugees near Nicolet at Saint-Grégoire (then called Sainte-Marguerite). At first he was disappointed to find none of his family there; but having been advised to cross the St Lawrence to Petite Acadie, a row of concessions in Yamachiche where some Acadians were living, he had the great joy of finding his sisters Marguerite, Françoise, and Marie.
Since he felt sure that he could gather his family together in the region, he bought four adjoining properties in the upper part of the village of Saint-Grégoire. Soon after, he left for Boston, which he had chosen as the gathering point for his family and for many other exiles whom he had been asked to bring back. He organized veritable expeditions, assembling five to ten families to travel from Boston to the Trois-Rivières region overland or by ship. From the autumn of 1766 registers of births, marriages, and deaths attest to the arrival of a great many of these Acadian exiles. In 1767 he brought his parents and brother Jean-Baptiste. But exile and the rigours of the voyage proved fatal for his mother, who was buried at the age of 66 in Trois-Rivières on 3 Oct. 1767. Hébert was also successful in his search for his sister Anne and brothers Joseph and Honoré, so that by 1771 or even earlier the entire Hébert family was finally reunited.
In the course of his searches Hébert had also found Marie-Josephte Babin, a girl from his native region. She was 24 and he 33 when they were married at Trois-Rivières on 2 Oct. 1769. They were to have nine children. One son, Major Jean-Baptiste Hébert, was a farmer, builder (notably of the Séminaire de Nicolet), Patriote, and member of the House of Assembly. Their grandson Nicolas-Tolentin Hébert*, parish priest of Saint-Louis at Kamouraska, helped to colonize the Saguenay and Lac Saint-Jean regions, and Hébertville was named after him.
After his 15 years of wandering and searching, Étienne Hébert enjoyed what seems to have been a happy and uneventful life. He died on 11 Jan. 1823. As a person responsible for reconstituting a whole family that had been dispersed along the east coast of what is now the United States, a task considered impossible, Étienne Hébert belongs to the ranks of unrecognized heroes with whom the history of Acadia abounds. There are now more than a million and a half descendants of Acadian refugees from the years 1755–75 living in Quebec.
[Our knowledge of the Hébert family is drawn from several accounts which unfortunately were not committed to writing until after three generations of this Acadian family had lived in Quebec. Inevitably, although in broad outline these accounts furnish similar information, each group of the many Hébert descendants identifies the hero differently, as one or other of the four brothers. In addition to the oral tradition, there are a number of written accounts of varying quality. These materials were studied in conjunction with contemporary documents, in particular the score of lists of Acadian prisoners in New England recently located in the Archives nationales in Paris, the many parish registers of the old administrative district of Trois-Rivières covering both shores of the St Lawrence, the valuable notes on Acadia compiled by Mgr Louis Richard, and the Journal paroissial de Saint-Grégoire, at Bécancour. This extensive research led to the conclusion that it was Étienne who was responsible for the reunification of the Hébert family. a.b.]
Arch. du séminaire de Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, Qué.), Louis Richard, “Notes sur l’arrivée des Acadiens dans le district de Trois-Rivières après 1755,” cahier 3. J.-E. Bellemare, Histoire de Nicolet, 1669–1924 (Arthabaska, Qué., 1924), 144–47. Adrien Bergeron, Le grand arrangement des Acadiens au Québec . . . (8v., Montréal, 1981), 4: 103–23. H.-R. Casgrain, Un pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline (2e éd., Québec, 1888), 273–75. F.-L. Desaulniers, Les vieilles familles d’Yamachiche (4v., Montréal, 1898–1908), 4: 71–83. Alfred Désilets, Souvenirs d’un octogénaire (Trois-Rivières, 1922), 58–70. C.-É. Mailhot, Les Bois-Francs (4v., Arthabaska, 1914–25), 3: 216–21, 279–80. P.-M. Hébert, “Jean-Baptiste Hébert, 1779–1863,” Les Cahiers nicolétains (Nicolet, Qué.), 2 (1980): 67–89; 6 (1984): 128–29, 131; 7 (1985): 3–7; “Jean-Baptiste Hébert, ‘Major,’” Soc. hist. acadienne, Cahiers (Moncton, N.-B.), 3 (1968–71): 168–73.