Chronicles of America 

Expulsion of the Acadians

We have now to turn back over a number of years to see what has been happening in Acadia, that oldest and most easterly part of New France which in 1710 fell into British hands. Since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 the Acadians had been nominally British subjects. But the Frenchman, hardly less than the Jew, is difficult of absorption by other racial types. We have already noted the natural aim of France to recover what she had lost and her use of the priests to hold the Acadians to her interests. The Acadians were secure in the free exercise of their religion. They had no secular leaders and few, if any, clergy of their own. They were led chiefly by priests, subjects of France, who, though working in British territory, owned no allegiance to Great Britain, and were directed by the Bishop of Quebec.

For forty years the question of the Acadians remained unsettled. Under the Treaty of 1713 the Acadians might leave the country. If they remained a year they must become British subjects. When, however, in 1715, two years after the conclusion of the treaty, they were required to take the oath of allegiance to the new King, George I, they declared that they could not do so, since they were about to move to Cape Breton. When George II came to the throne in 1727, the oath was again demanded. Still, however, the Acadians were between two fires. Their Indian neighbors, influenced by the French, threatened them with massacre if they took the oath, while the British declared that they would forfeit their farms if they refused. The truth is that the British did not wish to press the alternative. To drive out the Acadians would be to strengthen the neighboring French colony of Cape Breton. To force on them the oath might even cause a rising which would overwhelm the few English in Nova Scotia. So the tradition, never formally accepted by the British, grew up that, while the Acadians owed obedience to George II, they would be neutral in case of war with France. A common name for them used by the British themselves was that of the Neutral French. In time of peace the Acadians could be left to themselves. When, however, war broke out between Britain and France the question of loyalty became acute. Such war there was in 1744. Without doubt, some Acadians then helped the French--but it was, as they protested, only under compulsion and, as far as they could, they seem to have refused to aid either side. The British muttered threats that subjects of their King who would not fight for him had no right to protection under British law. Even then feeling was so high that there was talk of driving the Acadians from their farms and setting them adrift; and these poor people trembled for their own fate when the British victors at Louisbourg in 1745 removed the French population to France. Assurances came from the British government, however, that there was no thought of molesting the Acadians.

With the order "As you were" the dominant thought of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, the highly organized and efficient champions of French policy took every step to ensure that in the next struggle the interests of France should prevail. Peace had no sooner been signed than Versailles was working in Nova Scotia on the old policy. The French priests taught that eternal perdition awaited the Catholic Acadians who should accept the demands of the heretic English. The Indians continued their savage threats. Blood is thicker than water and no doubt the natural sympathies of the Acadians were with the French. But the British were now formidable. For them the founding of Halifax in 1749 had made all the difference. They, too, had a menacing fortress at the door of the Acadians, and their tone grew sterner. As a result the Acadians were told that if, by October 15, 1749, they had not taken an unconditional oath of allegiance to George II, they should forfeit their rights and their property, the treasured farms on which they and their ancestors had toiled. The Acadians were in acute distress. If they yielded to the English, not only would their bodies be destroyed by the savage Micmac Indians, but their immortal souls, they feared, would be in danger.

The Abbe Le Loutre was the parish priest of the Acadian village of Beaubassin on Chignecto Bay and also missionary to the Micmac Indians, whose chief village lay in British territory not many miles from Halifax. British officials of the time denounced him as a determined fanatic who did not stop short of murder. As in most men, there was in Le Loutre a mingling of qualities. He was arrogant, domineering, and intent on his own plans. He hated the English and their heresy, and he preached to his people against them with frantic invective. He incited his Indians to bloodshed. But he also knew pity. The custom of the Indians was to consider prisoners taken by them as their property, and on one occasion Le Loutre himself paid ransom to the Indians for thirty-seven English captives and returned them to Halifax. It is certain that the French government counted upon the influence of French priests to aid its political designs. "My masters, God and the King" was a phrase of the Sulpician father Piquet working at this time on the St. Lawrence. Le Loutre could have echoed the words. He was an ardent politician and France supplied him with both money and arms to induce the Indians to attack the English. The savages haunted the outskirts of Halifax, waylaid and scalped unhappy settlers, and, in due course, were paid from Louisbourg according to the number of scalps which they produced. The deliberate intention was to make new English settlements impossible in Nova Scotia and so to discourage the English that they should abandon Halifax. All this intrigue occurred in 1749 and the years following the treaty of peace. If the English suffered, so did the Acadians. Le Loutre told them that if once they became British subjects they would lose their priests and find their religion suppressed. Acadians who took the oath would, he said, be denied the sacraments of the Church. He would also turn loose on the offenders the murderous savages whom he controlled. If pressed by the English, the Acadians, rather than yield, must abandon their lands and remove into French territory.

At this point arises the question as to what were the limits of this French territory. In yielding Acadia in 1713, France had not defined its boundaries. The English claimed that it included the whole region stretching northeastward to the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the frontier of New England. The French, however, said that Acadia meant only the peninsula of Nova Scotia ending at the isthmus between Baie Verte and the Bay of Chignecto; and for years a Canadian force stood there on guard, daring the British to put a foot on the north side of the little river Missaguash, which the French said was the international boundary.

There was much excitement among the Acadians in 1750, when an English force landed on the isthmus and proceeded to throw up defenses on the south side of the river. This outpost, which in due time became Fort Lawrence, was placed on what even the French admitted to be British territory. Forthwith on a hill two or three miles away, on the other side of the supposed boundary, the French built Fort Beausejour. Le Loutre was on the spot, blustering and menacing. He told his Acadian parishioners of the little village of Beaubassin, near Fort Lawrence and within the British area, that rather than accept English rule they must now abandon their lands and seek the protection of the French at Fort Beausejour. With his own hands he set fire to the village church. The houses of the Acadians were also burned. A whole district was laid waste by fire. Women and children suffered fearful privations--but what did such things matter in view of the high politics of the priest and of France?

During four or five years the hostile forts confronted each other. In time of peace there was war. The French made Beausejour a solid fort, for it still stands, little altered, though it has been abandoned for a century and a half. It was chiefly the Acadians, nominal British subjects, who built these thick walls.

The arrogant Micmacs demanded that the British should hand over to them the best half of Nova Scotia, and they emphasized their demand by treachery and massacre. One day a man, in the uniform of a French officer, followed by a small party, approached Fort Lawrence, waving a white flag. Captain Howe with a small force went out to meet him. As this party advanced, Indians concealed behind a dike fired and killed Howe and eight or ten others. Such ruses were well fitted to cause among the English a resolve to enforce severe measures. The fire burned slowly but in the end it flamed up in a cruel and relentless temper. French policy, too, showed no pity. The Governor of Canada and the colonial minister in France were alike insistent that the English should be given no peace and cared nothing for the sufferings of the unhappy Acadians between the upper and the nether millstone.

At last, in 1755, the English accomplished something decisive. They sent an army to Fort Lawrence, attacked Fort Beausejour, forced its timid commander Vergor to surrender, mastered the whole surrounding country, and obliged Le Loutre himself to fly to Quebec. There he embarked for France. The English captured him on the sea, however, and the relentless and cruel priest spent many years in an English prison. His later years, when he reached France, do him some credit. By that time the Acadians had been driven from their homes. There were nearly a thousand exiles in England. Le Loutre tried to befriend these helpless people and obtained homes for some of them in the parish of Belle-Isle-en-Mer in France.

In the meantime the price of Le Loutre's intrigues and of the outrages of the French and their Indian allies was now to be paid by the unhappy Acadians. During the spring and summer of 1755, the British decided that the question of allegiance should be settled at once, and that the Acadians must take the oath. There was need of urgency. The army at Fort Lawrence which had captured Fort Beausejour was largely composed of men from New England, and these would wish to return to their homes for the winter. If the Acadians remained and were hostile, the country thus occupied at laborious cost might quickly revert to the French. Already many Acadians had fought on the side of the French and some of them, disguised as Indians, had joined in savage outrage. A French fleet and a French army were reported as likely to arrive before the winter. In fact, France's naval power with its base at Louisbourg was still stronger than that of Britain with its base at Halifax. When the Acadians were told in plain terms that they must take the oath of allegiance, they firmly declined to do so without certain limitations involving guarantees that they should not be arrayed against France. The Governor at Halifax, Major Charles Lawrence, was a stern, relentless man, without pity, and his mind was made up. Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts, was in touch with Lawrence. The Acadians should be deported if they would not take the oath. This step, however, the government at London never ordered. On the contrary, as late as on August 13, 1755, Lawrence was counseled to act with caution, prudence, and tact in dealing with the "Neutrals," as the Acadians are called even in this official letter. Meanwhile, without direct warrant from London, Lawrence and his council at Halifax had taken action. His reasoning was that of a direct soldier. The Acadians would not take the full oath of British citizenship. Very well. Quite obviously they could not be trusted. Already they had acted in a traitorous way. Prolonged war with France was imminent. Since Acadians who might be allied with the savages could attack British posts, they must be removed. To replace them, British settlers could in time be brought into the country.

The thing was done in the summer and autumn of 1755. Colonel Robert Monckton, a regular officer, son of an Irish peer, who always showed an ineffable superiority to provincial officers serving under him, was placed in charge of the work. He ordered the male inhabitants of the neighborhood of Beausejour to meet him there on the 10th of August. Only about one-third of them came--some four hundred. He told them that the government at Halifax now declared them rebels. Their lands and all other goods were forfeited; they themselves were to be kept in prison. Not yet, however, was made known to them the decision that they were to be treated as traitors of whom the province must be rid. No attempt was made anywhere to distinguish loyal from disloyal Acadians. Lawrence gave orders to the military officers to clear the country of all Acadians, to get them by any necessary means on board the transports which would carry them away, and to burn their houses and crops so that those not caught might perish or be forced to surrender during the coming winter. At the moment, the harvest had just been reaped or was ripening.

When the stern work was done at Grand Pre, at Pisiquid, now Windsor, at Annapolis, there were harrowing scenes. In command of the work at Grand Pre was Colonel Winslow, an officer from Massachusetts--some of whose relatives twenty-five years later were to be driven, because of their loyalty to the British King, from their own homes in Boston to this very land of Acadia. Winslow issued a summons in French to all the male inhabitants, down to lads of ten, to come to the church at Grand Pre on Friday, the 5th of September, to learn the orders he had to communicate. Those who did not appear were to forfeit their goods. No doubt many Acadians did not understand the summons. Few of them could read and it hardly mattered to them that on one occasion a notice on the church door was posted upside down. Some four hundred anxious peasants appeared. Winslow read to them a proclamation to the effect that their houses and lands were forfeited and that they themselves and their families were to be deported. Five vessels from Boston lay at Grand Pre. In time more ships arrived, but chill October had come before Winslow was finally ready.

By this time the Acadians realized what was to happen. The men were joined by their families. As far as possible the people of the same village were kept together. They were forced to march to the transports, a sorrow-laden company, women carrying babes in their arms, old and decrepit people borne in carts, young and strong men dragging what belongings they could gather. Winslow's task, as he says, lay heavy on his heart and hands: "It hurts me to hear their weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth." By the 1st of November he had embarked fifteen hundred unhappy people. His last ship-load he sent off on the 13th of December. The suffering from cold must have been terrible.

In all, from Grand Pre and other places, more than six thousand Acadians were deported. They were scattered in the English colonies from Maine to Georgia and in both France and England. Many died; many, helpless in new surroundings, sank into decrepit pauperism. Some reached people of their own blood in the French colony of Louisiana and in Canada. A good many returned from their exile in the colonies to their former home after the Seven Years' War had ended. Today their descendants form an appreciable part of the population of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The cruel act did one thing effectively: it made Nova Scotia safe for the British cause in the attack that was about to be directed against Canada.

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