Longfellow was introduced to the true story of the Acadians in Nova Scotia by his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was told a story of separated Acadian lovers by Boston minister Rev. Horace Conolly, who heard it from his parishioners. Hawthorne and Longfellow had attended Bowdoin College together, though they were not friends at the time. Years later, in 1837, Hawthorne contacted Longfellow for his opinion on his recently published tales in the North American Review, which Longfellow praised as works of genius; the two became lifelong friends. Hawthorne was not interested in fictionalizing it so Longfellow turned it into a poem after months of studying the histories of Nova Scotian families.
Longfellow, who had never visited the setting of the true story, relied heavily on Thomas Chandler Haliburton's An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia and other books for further background information. He noted his reliance on other sources in his journal on January 7, 1847: "Went to the library and got Watson's Annals of Philadelphia, and the Historical Collections of Pennsylvania. Also, Darby's Geographical Description of Louisiana. These books must help me through the last part of Evangeline, so far as facts and local coloring go. But for the form and the poetry,—they must come from my own brain."
Evangeline was published in book form on November 1, 1847, and by 1857 it had sold nearly 36,000 copies. During this time, Longfellow's literary payment was at its peak; for Evangeline, he received "a net of twenty-five and sixteenths per cent" royalties, believed to be an all-time high for a poet. Longfellow said of his poem: "I had the fever a long time burning in my own brain before I let my hero take it. 'Evangeline' is so easy for you to read, because it was so hard for me to write."