Names Lost, Part 20: Browe and Sears


This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers,
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean
Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pré.

AN ILLUSTRATION FROM an early edition of “Evangeline” (1847) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem tells the story of an Acadian girl named Evangeline who searches for her lost love. Acadia encompassed the eastern part of Canada, now known as the Maritimes. Many of its early settlers were French and many later migrated to Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns.

These lines come from the prelude of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, “Evangeline,” published in 1847.  As a scion of New England society who prized his Puritan past, Longfellow made an unusual departure in choosing as his subject matter the tragic love story of Evangeline Bellefontaine and Gabriel LaJeunesse, evicted in 1755 from their villages in Acadie, present-day Nova Scotia. French-speaking Catholics in the region had refused to take an oath of loyalty to the British crown and thereby renounce their faith. What started in the Ohio Valley as the French and Indian War also played out on the battlefields of the European continent in the Seven Years War. Acadian families thus became pawns of war in the epic struggle between the French and British Empires— forcibly expelled, villages burned, and herded unto ships heading to Boston. 

By 1763, the French lost Canada. Many people today have a passing familiarity with one chapter in this tragic saga through the stories, culture, and cuisine of one group of Acadians sent to Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns.  Not all Acadians went south. After an uneasy hiatus in New England, some families were then removed to the eastern townships of Quebec, enduring disease and privation along the way.


Against this tumultuous background, several years ago I remarked to friend Tom Browe of Florence, “I bet your last name is Acadian.” It did not take me long to prove my supposition. Tom’s great-great-grandfather was Jedidiah Browe (1834–1908).  If his surname, originally Brault/Bro, were not already recognizable as an Acadian name, Jed, baptized with the name Gidéon Bro, indicated his birthplace as “L’Acadie, Lower Canada,” on his declaration of American citizenship.  L’Acadie is today combined with the town of St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, founded by Acadian exiles in 1776. 

PHOTO POSTED ON “Ancestry” of Frank Browe.

Jed came to Vermont as a child and later married his first wife, Celina Tatro, who died at age 26 from tuberculosis. He then married his second wife, Vermont-born Electa Sears (1848–1927), fourteen years his junior. Their son Frank Browe (1870–1939), Tom’s great-grandfather, is buried in Pittsford’s Evergreen Cemetery, his burial service officiated by Rev. Bowen Shattuck of the Pittsford Congregational Church. From their early days in Vermont, the Browes joined Protestant churches.

Jed Browe’s father, Gideon Bro, the third generation born in L’Acadie, Québec, was the great-grandson of Jean Baptiste Brault, born in Grand Pré [Evangeline’s village], circa 1748, son of Alexis Brault and Marguerite Barillot. In 1755, the entire family was deported to Boston and thence to Braintree, Massachusetts, where they awaited their next forced destination. Court documents list Alex Bro, “capable of labor,” his wife, nearing the end of pregnancy, and a “weakly” son John. Alexis was among those who petitioned the general court of Massachusetts for them to resettle in the town of L’Acadie. Today, descendants of the immigrant ancestor from France to Acadia [Nova Scotia], Vincent Brau, number in the tens of thousands.

JEDIDIAH BROWE/ELECTA GRAVE in Middlebury Cem- etery.

Electa Sears, Jedidiah Browe’s wife, daughter of Frank Sears and Saphronia Tatro also an Acadian descendant. Her father, born Francois Cyr/Sire, served during the Civil War for one year as in Company F of the 9th Vermont Infantry. Frank died on September 10, 1876, age 51, his life likely cut short because of wartime hardship. It took Saphronia several years to qualify for a widow’s pension, which she collected until her death at age 91 on 26 January 1915. She lived the entirety of her long widowhood with her daughter Electa Browe. By 1910, they were a four-generation household. Electa (Sears) Browe’s obituary notes that she was a member of the Shelburne Methodist Church for years. 

Looping back to the Wisells and Welcomes, Part 19: Minerva Sears married Levi Welcome in 1843; Mary Sears married Joseph Wisell in 1846. These women, born a generation earlier than Electa Sears, were all Cyrs/Sires, descendants of the original progenitor, Pierre Sire from France who was counted in the 1671 Census of Port Royal, predecessor of Annapolis, Nova Scotia. Scholarship on the Acadian diaspora has flourished in the last several decades, making it more accessible than ever for Vermont descendants to learn the tortuous migrations paths of their ancestors.  A very helpful link below to Acadian surnames:

GRAVESTONE OF FRANK Sears, likely erected in the 20th century, Charlotte Cemetery.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, through a tragic love story, brought to the national consciousness the human cost of forced migration. At the end of his poem, Evangeline, a Sister of Mercy, is at last reunited with her dying Gabriel in a Philadelphia charity hospital. These two characters passed into legend. It is fitting for us to conclude with the final lines of Longfellow’s lament, my first exposure to this haunting story of wandering exiles.

Still stands the forest primeval; but under the shade of its branches
Dwells another race, with other customs and language.
Only along the shore of the mournful and misty Atlantic
Linger a few Acadian peasants, whose fathers from exile
Wandered back to their native land to die in its bosom.
In the fisherman’s cot the wheel and the loom are still busy;
Maidens still wear their Norman caps and their kirtles of homespun,
And by the evening fire repeat Evangeline’s story,
While from its rocky caverns the deep-voiced, neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

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