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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Expulsion of the Acadians
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[The year of the conflicts last described was marked by another event of great importance, and one which has aroused more feeling than any other circumstance of the war. This was the removal of the French settlers from Acadia, and their dispersion through the English settlements. This event has been treated mainly from the stand-point of sentiment, the cruelty of the deportation strongly dwelt on, and the action of the English regarded as indefensible. A calmer and fuller review of the circumstances gives a new face to the situation, and shows that the English action, though it proved of little utility, had much warrant in the circumstances of the case. We extract an account of this deportation from Hannay's valuable "History of Acadia."

It was preceded by certain military events which need to be outlined. About the last of May, 1755, Colonel Monckton sailed from Boston, with three thousand troops, with the design of reducing the French settlements on the Bay of Fundy, which were considered as encroachments on the English province of Nova Scotia. This province, the Acadia of a former period, had been taken by the English in 1710, and was ceded to the English government by the treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The French, however, had steadily encroached upon the peninsula, and had strengthened themselves by forts on its New Brunswick border, from which a hostile influence disseminated itself through the French population of the peninsula. Monckton's expedition was successful in reducing these forts. A block-house on Chignecto Bay was first carried by assault, and then Fort Beausejour, a strong post on the neck of the peninsula, was invested, and taken after a four days' siege. Fort Gaspereau, on Green Bay, was next captured, after which the French abandoned their post on the St. John's River. As the hostility of the Acadians to British rule continued unabated, and as their presence endangered the security of the province, it was resolved to remove them and endeavor to replace them by settlers loyal to the British government. The circumstances of this removal we append in the words of Mr. Hannay.]

The English, after a possession of Acadia which lasted nearly forty years, had not succeeded in founding a single English settlement or adding to the English- speaking population of the province. The French Acadians, on the other hand, had gone on increasing and spreading themselves over the land. They were strong and formidable, not only by reason of their number, but because of their knowledge of wood-craft, of the management of canoes, and of many other accomplishments which are essential to those who would live in a forest country, and which were almost indispensable qualifications for soldiers in such a land as Acadia. All that the English had to show for their thirty-nine years' occupation of the country were the fortifications of Annapolis and a ruined fishing-station at Canso. All the substantial gains of that time belonged to France, for the Acadians were nearly three times as numerous as when Port Royal fell, and they were quite as devoted to the interests of France as their fathers had been. Acadia in 1749 was as much a French colony as it had been forty years before. The only difference was that the English were at the expense of maintaining a garrison instead of the French, and that they sometimes issued orders to the inhabitants, which the latter very seldom chose to obey.

[Of the various schemes to give Acadia an English population all proved failures, except that of 1749, in which a large colony was established at a point hitherto unoccupied, where a town rapidly arose from which has sprung the present city of Halifax. The Acadians, however, steadily refused to take the oath of allegiance to Great Britain, and, while professing to be neutral between the English and the French, secretly abetted the latter. Three hundred of them were found in Fort Beausejour when captured, and their hostility to the English was pronounced.]

The event for which the year 1755 will be ever memorable in the history of this continent was not the capture of Beausejour, nor the defeat of Braddock. These were results which occurred in the ordinary course of warfare, and which grew naturally out of the struggle which England and France were waging in America. Our interest in them is merely the interest of patriotism; we feel no sympathy for the individual soldier who lays down his life for his country, for it is the business of the soldier to fight and to die, and to some a death on the field of battle which is lighted by the sun of victory seems the happiest death of all. The event which gives the year 1755 a sad pre-eminence over its fellows -- the expulsion of the Acadians -- was an occurrence of a very different character. The sufferers were men who were, or ought to have been, non-combatants, and in the common ruin which overtook them their wives and children were involved. The breaking up of their domestic hearths, their severance from their property, the privations they endured when driven among strangers, and the numberless ills which overtook them as the result of their first misfortune, have an interest for the people of every nation, for they appeal to our common humanity. It seems at the first view of the case an outrage on that humanity and a grievous wrong that such an occurrence as the expulsion of the Acadians should have taken place merely from political motives. The misfortunes and sufferings of the Acadians stand out prominently, and appeal to every eye; a great poet has sung of their sorrows; (Longfellow, in "Evangeline.") innumerable writers of books have referred to their expulsion in terms of condemnation; and so the matter has grown until it came to be almost a settled opinion that the expulsion of the Acadians was something which could not be justified, and of which its authors should have been ashamed. That is the view which one historian of Nova Scotia gives of the affair. Perhaps those who examine the whole matter impartially, in the light of all the facts, will come to the conclusion that it would have been a real cause for shame had the Acadians been permitted longer to misuse the clemency of the government, to plot against British power, and to obstruct the settlement of the province by loyal subjects.

One statement has been very industriously circulated by French writers with a view to throw odium on the transaction. They say that the Acadians were expelled "because the greedy English colonists looked upon their fair farms with covetous eyes," and that the government was influenced by these persons. A more flagrant untruth never was told. . . . None of the lands of the Acadians were settled by the English until several years after the French were expelled, and not until most of the lands had gone back to a state of nature in consequence of the breaking of the dikes. . . . Five years elapsed after the expulsion before the noble diked lands of Grand Pre were occupied by English settlers, and the lands of Annapolis were not occupied by the English until nine or ten years after the French had left them. . . . From motives of economy, if for no other reason, it was considered highly desirable that the Acadians should remain on their lands, in order that they might supply the garrisons with provisions at a fair price, and so reduce the cost of maintaining them. It was also felt that the French, if they could be induced to become loyal subjects, would be a great source of strength to the colony, from their knowledge of wood-craft and from their friendly relations with the Indians. It was, therefore, on no pretext that this desire to keep the French in the province -- which is attested by more than forty years of forbearance -- was succeeded by a determination to remove them from it. . . . It must be remembered that in 1755 England was entering on a great war with France, which, although it ended disastrously for the latter power, certainly commenced with the balance of advantage in her favor. In such a death-struggle, it was evident that there was no room for half-way measures, and that a weak policy would almost certainly be fatal to British power. Ever since the treaty of Utrecht, a period of more than forty years, the Acadians had lived on their lands without complying with the terms on which they were to be permitted to retain them, which was to become British subjects. Although the soil upon which they lived was British territory, they claimed to be regarded as "Neutrals," not liable to be called upon to bear arms either for or against the English. Their neutrality, however, did not prevent them from aiding the French to the utmost of their power and throwing every possible embarrassment in the way of the English. It did not prevent many of them from joining with the Indians in attacks on the garrison at Annapolis and on other English fortified posts in Acadia. It did not prevent them from carrying their cattle and grain to Louisburg, Beausejour, and the river St. John, instead of to Halifax and Annapolis, when England and France were at war. It did not prevent them from maintaining a constant correspondence with the enemies of England, or from acting the part of spies on the English and keeping Vergor at Beausejour informed of the exact state of their garrisons from time to time. It did not prevent them from being on friendly terms with the savages, who beset the English so closely that an English settler could scarcely venture beyond his barn, or an English soldier beyond musket-shot of his fort, for fear of being killed and scalped.

[The Acadians seem to have been badly advised. No interference was attempted with their religion, yet some of their priests acted as political agents of France, used all their influence to keep alive hostility to the English, and induced many of the inhabitants to emigrate from the province. Several thousand Acadians in all thus emigrated, fourteen hundred of whom, led by a French officer, remained on the borders of the province, armed, and reinforced by a large body of Indians. This fact made the authorities more persistent in their efforts to force the inhabitants to take the oath of allegiance, and induced them to adopt measures to disarm them. Acadian deputies soon after came to Halifax, demanding that their guns should be restored, but persistently refusing to take the oath "to be faithful and loyal to his majesty George Second." Other negotiations ensued, but the deputies were determined to take no oath except one with a reservation that they should not be obliged to take up arms. Governor Lawrence insisted that they should become full British subjects, or they could not be permitted to remain in the country, declaring that they had always secretly aided the Indians, and many of them openly taken up arms against the British. To this they replied that they were determined, one and all, to quit their lands rather than take any other oath than that they had already taken.

On Monday, the 28th of July, the final memorial of the inhabitants was received. They all firmly refused to take the unconditional oath of allegiance to the British government. In consequence, it was decided to expel them from the province.]

The determination to remove the Acadians having been taken, it only remained to make such arrangements as seemed necessary to carry out the object effectually. The council decided that, in order to prevent them from returning and again molesting the English settlers, they should be distributed amongst the colonies from Massachusetts to Virginia. On the 31st July, Governor Lawrence wrote to Colonel Monckton, stating the determination of the government with reference to the Acadians, and informing him that as those about the isthmus had been found in arms, and were therefore entitled to no favor from the government, it was determined to begin with them first. He was informed that orders had been given to send a sufficient number of transports up the bay to take the Acadians of that district on board. Monckton was ordered to keep the measure secret until he could get the men into his power, so that he could detain them until the transports arrived. He was directed to secure their shallops, boats, and canoes, and to see that none of their cattle was driven away, they being forfeited to the crown. He was told that the inhabitants were not to be allowed to carry away anything but their ready money and household furniture. He likewise received explicit directions as to the supply of provisions for the inhabitants while on the voyage.

Lieutenant-Colonel Winslow, who was commanding the troops at Mines, received instructions relative to the removal of the Acadians in that district, dated the 11th August. He was told to collect the inhabitants together, and place them on board the transports, of which there would be a number sufficient to transport two thousand persons, five hundred of whom were to be sent to North Carolina, one thousand to Virginia, and five hundred to Maryland. After the people were shipped he was ordered to march overland to Annapolis with a strong detachment to assist Major Handfield in removing the inhabitants of that river. Handfield's instructions were similar to those of Winslow, and he was informed that vessels sufficient to transport one thousand persons would be sent to Annapolis. Of these, three hundred were to be sent to Philadelphia, two hundred to New York, three hundred to Connecticut, and two hundred to Boston.

[Each master of a transport bore a circular letter from Governor Lawrence to the governor of the province to which he was destined, giving his reasons for this extreme measure. These reasons were those already given, that the Acadians had persistently refused to take the oath prescribed by treaty forty years before, that their claim of neutrality was a false one, that they had continually furnished the French and Indians with intelligence, provisions, and aid in annoying the English, that part of them had acted treacherously and part had broken into armed rebellion, that to drive them into Canada would but strengthen the enemy, and that the step taken was indispensably necessary to the security of the colony.]

The work of removing the Acadians met with no success at Chignecto, where the population was large and comparatively warlike. Boishebert, after being driven from the St. John, had betaken himself to Shediac, and from there he directed the movements of the Acadians of the isthmus. When the English tried to collect the inhabitants for the purpose of removing them, they found that they had fled to the shelter of the woods, and when they attempted to follow them they were met by the most determined resistance. On the 2d September, Major Frye was sent with two hundred men from the garrison at Fort Cumberland [formerly Fort Beausejour] to burn the villages of Shepody, Petitcodiac, and Memramcook. At Shepody they burnt one hundred and eighty-one buildings, but found no inhabitants, except twenty-three women and children, whom they sent on board the vessel they had with them. They sailed up the Petitcodiac River on the following day and burnt the buildings on both sides of it for miles. At length the vessel was brought to anchor, and fifty men were sent on shore to burn the chapel and some other buildings near it, when suddenly they were attacked by three hundred French and Indians under Boishebert and compelled to retreat with a loss of twenty-three men killed and wounded, including Dr. March, who was killed, and Lieutenant Billings, dangerously wounded. Boishebert was found to be too strong to be attacked even with the aid of the main body of troops under Major Frye, so the party had to return to Fort Cumberland, after having destroyed in all two hundred and fifty-three buildings and a large quantity of wheat and flax.

At Mines Lieutenant-Colonel Winslow succeeded in accomplishing his unpleasant duty without resistance. On the 2d September he issued an order to the inhabitants of the districts of Grand Pre, Mines, River Canard, and vicinity, commanding all the males from ten years upward to attend at the church in Grand Pre on the following Friday, the 5th September, to hear what his majesty had authorized him to communicate to them. The inhabitants attended in obedience to this summons to the number of upwards of four hundred, and were informed by Winslow that, in consequence of their disobedience, their lands and tenements, cattle, live-stock, and all their effects, except their money and household goods, were forfeited to the crown, and they themselves were to be removed from the province. He told them, however, that he would take in the vessels with them as large a portion of their household effects as could be carried, and that families would not be separated, but conveyed in the same vessel. Finally, he told them that they should remain prisoners at the church until the time came for them to embark. At Piziquid, Captain Murray collected the male inhabitants in the same way to the number of nearly two hundred, and kept them in confinement. Considering the situation in which they were placed, they manifested but little emotion, and offered no resistance worthy of the name. The task of getting so many families together, and embarking them with their household effects, proved tedious, but finally it was accomplished, and the inhabitants of Mines and Piziquid, to the number of more than nineteen hundred persons, were got on board the transports, and carried away from their homes in Acadia to lands of which they knew nothing, and where their presence was not desired.

At Annapolis many families took the alarm when the transports arrived, and fled to the woods for safety, and much difficulty was experience din collecting them. Hunger finally compelled most of them to surrender themselves, and upwards of eleven hundred were placed on board the vessels and sent away. One vessel with two hundred and twenty-six Acadians on board was seized by them in the Bay of Fundy, and taken into St. John, and the passengers she carried were not afterwards recaptured. The total number removed from Acadia in 1755 was some- what in excess of three thousand souls. Some of them were taken to Massachusetts, some to Pennsylvania, some to Virginia, some to Maryland, some to North and South Carolina, and some even to the British West Indies, Wherever they were taken they became for the time a public charge upon the colony, and were the occasion of much correspondence between the governments which were obliged to maintain them and that of Nova Scotia. Many of those who went to Georgia and South Carolina hired small vessels and set out to return to Acadia, and the governors of those colonies were very glad to facilitate their movements northward by giving them passes to voyage along their coasts. Several hundred of those who landed in Virginia were sent by the government of that colony to England, where they remained for seven years, finally taking the oath of allegiance, and many of them returning to Acadia. A number of these people went from Virginia to the French West Indies, where they died in large numbers. The great bulk of the Acadians, however, finally succeeded in returning to the land of their birth. Some got back in the course of a few months, others did not succeed in returning until many years had elapsed, yet they succeeded, nevertheless, and the ultimate loss of population by their enforced emigration in 1755 was much less than would be supposed.

[It must be admitted that the preceding narrative is, to a considerable extent, a case of special pleading, by a writer determined to put the best face on a bad matter. The deportation of a whole people, against their consent, of which there are many cases in history, is necessarily attended with hardship and suffering which only the most extreme need can justify. It cannot fairly be said that this need existed in the case of the Acadians. Though some of them were actively hostile to the English, the bulk of the people were quiet, industrious, and inoffensive, and the extent of their crime was that they refused to take an oath that would oblige them to bear arms against their countrymen. The expulsion was one of those instances in which, it being difficult to distinguish between the sheep and the wolves, they are made to suffer together. The position of the English was an awkward one, and their action, though it occasioned much suffering and proved of no special utility, had much good argument in its favor.

The resistance of the Acadians continued for twelve years longer, and not till 1767 did any considerable number of them consent to take the oath of allegiance required, though the whole country had long been English. Many of them had emigrated to the French West Indies. Of these a considerable number returned, disgusted with the government of those islands, and fully ready to take the oath. Others, who were surrounded by English colonies, did likewise. Each family, on doing so, received a grant of land from the government, and soon there arose an eagerness to take the oath of allegiance to England equal to the former determination to resist it.]

James Hannay

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