Acadia

 

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Map of Acadia

Map of Acadia circa 1768

Acadia, or Acadie, the ancient name of NOVA SCOTIA and adjacent regions. It is supposed to have been visited by Sebastian Cabot in 1498, but the first attempt to plant a settlement there was by De Monts, in 1604, who obtained a charter from the King of France for making settlements and carrying on trade. In that charter it is called Cadie, and by the early settlers it was known as L'Acadie. A settlement was made at a place named Port Royal (now Annapolis), by Poutrincourt, a bosom friend of De Monts, but it was broken up in 1613, by Argall, from Virginia. These French emigrants built cottages sixteen years before the Pilgrims landed on the shores of New England. When English people came, antagonisms arising from difference of religion and nationality appeared, and, after repeated struggles between the English and French for the possession of Acadia, it was ceded to Great Britain by the treaty of Utrecht in 1713. But for many years not a dozen English families were seen there. The descendants of the early French settlers occupied the land, and were a peaceable, pastoral people, who never engaged in the forays of the French and Indians along the New England frontiers. They were attached to their fatherland and their religion, and they refused to fight against the former or abjure the latter. This attitude was accorded to them by solemn agreements, and they were known as " French Neutrals." They were happy in their neutrality, and in their isolation they formed one great and loving family. Pure in morals, pious without bigotry, honest, industrious, and frugal, they presented an outline picture of Utopia.

When New-Englanders began to colonize Nova Scotia vigorously, their priests, fired with zeal for the Church, disturbed their repose by dread of " heretics " and warnings not to take the oath of allegiance to Great Britain. " Better," said the Jesuits, " surrender your meadows to the sea and your treasures to the flames than, at the peril of your souls, to take the oath of allegiance to the British government." So the priests, with which Canada furnished them, and on whom they implicitly relied, disturbed the peace and led them on to their ruinous troubles. At one time they would resolve to flee to Canada ; at another the love of their homes would make them resolve to remain. The haughtiness of British officers aided the priests in fomenting disaffection. The English despised the Acadians because they were helpless in their lack of knowledge of English laws, and they were continually robbed of their rights and property by English officials. Was any of their property demanded for the public service, they were " not to be bargained with for payment "; so the orders ran. Under various pretences they were continually shorn, yet they meekly submitted to the tyranny of their masters. The English officers were authorized to punish Acadians for what they might deem misbehavior, at their discretion, and, if British troops should be annoyed by them, they might inflict vengeance on the nearest Acadians " whether guilty or not." Finally, persuaded by the French government and their priests, the Acadians abandoned nearly all the peninsula, and settled themselves in a fertile region on the isthmus between the northern extremity of the Bay of Fundy and Northumberland Strait. The object of the movement was to make them form a barrier against the encroachments of the English. There the French built two forts, the principal of which was Beau Sejour, on the Bay of Fundy, where the isthmus is only 15 miles wide. In June, 1755, a land and naval armament came from Boston, landed at the head of the Bay of Fundy, captured the forts, and took military possession of the country of the French Neutrals. The French soldiers were sent to Louisburg, and the Acadians who had been forced into the French service were granted an amnesty. They readily took an oath of allegiance, expected forbearance, and went on quietly cultivating their land. But the exasperation of the people of New England, because of the horrible forays of the French and Indians on their frontiers, had to be appeased, and vengeance was inflicted upon these innocent people. It was resolved to banish the French Neutrals from their country. Governor Shirley had proposed it years before, in order to supply their place with Protestants; and the British government had promoted emigration thither, that a strong admixture of Protestants might neutralize the efforts of the priests to make the Acadians disloyal. Now Shirley's scheme was adopted, and General Winslow, who commanded the invaders, was made the executor of it.

It was believed by the English that if the Acadians were permitted to go to Canada or Cape Breton, they would thus strengthen the enemies of the English ; to distribute them would destroy their strength and prevent attempts to return. To accomplish this, a disgraceful artifice was employed. The English authorities issued a proclamation, ordering " both old and young men, as well as all the lads of ten years of age," to assemble on Sept. 5, 1755, at designated places. They obeyed. The proceedings at one place afford a fair picture of those at all others. At Grand-Pre, 418 unarmed men and youths were assembled, and marched into the church. There General Winslow told them they had been called together to hear the decision of the King of England in regard to the French inhabitants of the province. " Your lands and tenements," he said, " cattle of all kinds, and live-stock of all sorts, are forfeited to the crown, and you, yourselves, are to be removed from this his province. I am, through his Majesty's goodness, directed to allow you liberty to carry off your money and household goods, as many as you can, without discommoding the vessels you go in. You are now the King's prisoners."

Every household in Grand-Pre was filled with consternation. At Grand-Pre alone 1,923 men, women, and children were driven on board British vessels at the point of the bayonet. Fully 2,000 were thus expelled from their homes in Acadia. The men and boys assembled at the church went first; the sisters, wives, and daughters had to wait for other transports. They marched from the church to the water's edge, some in sullen despair, others with hands clasped and eyes uplifted, praying and weeping, and others singing hymns, while on each side of the sad procession was a row of women and children on their knees, imploring blessings upon the heads of dear ones. They were all finally distributed in the various English colonies. Many families, separated at the outset by the cruel arrangements for their transportation, were never reunited; and for a long time the colonial newspapers contained advertisements seeking information about fragments of dismembered families. They were dropped along the shores of the English colonies, from the Penobscot to the Savannah, with-out resources, and ignorant of the language of the people among whom they were thrust, excepting in South Carolina, where the Huguenot families treated them with great kindness. They abhorred the alms-house and dreaded service in English families. They yearned intensely for their native land and kindred in language and religion. Many wandered through the forests to Canada and Louisiana-men, women, and children-sheltered in bush-camps and kindly cared for by the Indians, that they might rest under French dominion. Some families went to sea in open boats, to find their way back to Acadia; and, coasting along the shores of New England, were there met by orders from Nova Scotia to stop all returning fugitives. Many touching stories of parents seeking their children, husbands their wives, and lovers their affianced have been related. It is a sad, sad story of man's inhumanity to man.

Even in their bitter exile the Acadians were subjected to the hatred and cruelty of English officials. When LORD LOUDOUN was commander-in-chief in America, some of the Acadians settled in Pennsylvania ventured to address a respectful petition to him. Offended because the document was in the French language, the Earl seized five of the leading men who signed the petition, and who had been persons of wealth and distinction in Acadia, and sent them to England, with a request that, to prevent their being troublesome in the future, they should be consigned to hard service as common sailors in the royal navy. The King seems to have approved the measure; and the Lords of Trade, when the desolation of Acadia was made complete, congratulated the profligate monarch that the zeal of the governor of Nova Scotia, who had driven them away, had been " crowned with entire success." Exquisitely cruel was the treatment these poor people received at the hands of their conquerors. The method employed to legally dispossess the Acadians of their coveted lands was most disgraceful. They had taken the oath of allegiance, but refused to take an oath that they would bear arms against the French if required, and practically abjure their religion. Exemption from this had been solemnly promised them. The governor of Nova Scotia referred the matter to the chief-justice of the province as a technical question in law, whether one who refuses to take all required oaths could hold lands in the British dominions. The chief-justice decided against the Acadians, and it was determined to take their lands away from them and distribute them among the English colonists. The French government asked leave for the Acadians to take with them their effects and to settle where they chose. " No," replied their masters, " they are too useful subjects to be lost; we must enrich our colonies with them." Unfortunately for the poor people, some of their best men presented a petition to the governor at Halifax. He would not receive it, and demanded that they should immediately take the oaths required before the council. " We will do as our people may determine," they meekly replied, and asked permission to return home and consult them. The next day, perceiving the perilous position of their people, they offered to take the oaths. " By a law of the realm," said the governor, " Roman Catholics who have once refused to take the oaths cannot be permitted to do so afterwards, and are considered Popish recusants." They were cast into prison, and the chief-justice decided that all the French inhabitants--hundreds of innocent families who were ignorant of all these proceedings-were " rebels and Popish recusants," and stood in the way of " English interests " in the country, and that they had forfeited all their possessions to the crown. So their doom was sealed. See Longfellow's Evangeline.

 

 

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