L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
The Lawrence Regime
[This text was written by Arthur G. DOUGHTY and published in 1916. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]
THE policy both of France and of England towards the Acadians was based upon political expediency rather than upon any definite or well-conceived plan for the development of the country. The inhabitants, born to serve rather than to command, had honestly striven according to their light to maintain respect for constituted authority. But the state of unrest into which they were so frequently thrown had deprived them of all sense of security in their homes and had created among them a spirit of suspicion. Unable to reason, disinclined to rebel, they had settled down into a morose intractability, while their confidence in the generosity or even in the justice of their rulers gradually disappeared. Those who could have restored them to a normal condition of healthy citizenship saw fit to keep them in disquietude, holding over their heads the tomahawk of the Indian. England and France were nominally at peace. But each nation was only waiting for a favourable moment to strike a decisive blow, not merely for Acadia or any part of it, but for the mastery of the North American continent. With this object ever in the background, France, through her agents, strove to make the Acadians a thorn in Great Britain's side, while England hesitated to allow them to pass over to the ranks of her enemies. At the same time she was anxious that they should, by some visible sign, acknowledge her sovereignty. But to become a British subject it was necessary to take the oath of allegiance. Most of the Acadians had refused to take this oath without reservations. Great Britain should then have allowed them to depart or should have deported them. She had done neither. On the contrary, she had tried to keep them, had made concessions to them to remain, and had closed her eyes to violations of the law, until many of them had been, by various means, acknowledged as British subjects.
A Murray or a Dorchester would have humoured the people and would probably have kept them in allegiance. But this was an impossible task for Lawrence. He was unaccustomed to compromise. He kept before him the letter of the law, and believed that any deviation from it was fraught with danger. He entered upon his duties as administrator in the month of October 1753. Six weeks later he made a report on the condition of affairs in the province. This report contains one pregnant sentence. He is referring to the emigrant Acadians who had left their homes for French soil and were now wishing to come back, and he says: ‘But Your Lordships may be assured they will never have my consent to return until they comply [take the oath] without any reservation whatever.’ (1) This was the keynote of all Lawrence's subsequent action. The Acadians must take the oath without reserve, or leave the country. He does not appear to have given any consideration to the fact that for forty years the Lords of Trade had, for various motives, nursed the people, or that only two years before the Council at Halifax had declared the Acadians to be still entitled to the privileges accorded to them by the Treaty of Utrecht. To him the Acadians were as an enemy in the camp, and as such they were to be treated.
The Lords of Trade partly acquiesced in Lawrence's reasoning, yet they warned to be cautious. A year before they had announced that those who remained in the country were to be considered as holding good titles; but they now maintained that the inhabitants had ‘in fact no right, but upon condition of taking the oath of allegiance absolute and unqualified.’ Officials might be sent among them to inquire into their disputes, but ‘the more we consider the point, the more nice and difficult it appears to us; for, as on the one hand great caution ought to be used to avoid giving alarm and creating such a diffidence in their minds as might induce them to quit the province, and by their numbers add strength to the French settlements, so on the other hand we should be equally cautious of creating an improper and false confidence in them, that by a perseverance in refusing to take the oath of allegiance, they may gradually work out in their own way a right to their lands and to the benefit and protection of the law, which they are not entitled to but on that condition.’ (2)
After nine months’ tenure of office Lawrence had fully made up his mind as to his policy in dealing with the Acadians. On August 1, 1754, he addressed a letter to the Lords of Trade, to acquaint them with the measures which appeared to him to be ‘the most practicable and effectual for putting a stop to the many inconveniences we have long laboured under, from their obstinacy, treachery, partiality to their own countrymen, and their ingratitude for the favour, indulgence, and protection they have at all times so undeservedly received from His Majesty's Government. Your Lordships well know that they always affected a neutrality, and as it has been generally imagined here that the mildness of an English Government would by degrees have fixed them in their own interest, no violent measures have ever been taken with them. But I must observe to Your Lordships that this lenity has not had the least good effect; on the contrary, I believe they have at present laid aside all thoughts of taking the oaths voluntarily, and great numbers of them at present are gone to Beauséjour to work for the French, in order to dyke out the water at the settlement.’ (3) Lawrence explained that he had offered the Acadians work at Halifax, which they had refused to accept ; and that he had then issued a proclamation calling upon them ‘to return forthwith to their lands as they should answer the contrary at their peril.’ Moreover, ‘They have not for a long time brought anything to our markets, but on the other hand have carried everything to the French and Indians whom they have always assisted with provisions, quarters, and intelligence. And indeed while they remain without taking the oaths to His Majesty (which they never will do till they are forced) and have incendiary French priests among them there are no hopes of their amendment. As they possess the best and largest tracts of land in this province, it cannot be settled with any effect while they remain in this situation. And tho’ I would be very far from attempting such a step without Your Lordships' approbation, yet I cannot help being of opinion that it would be much better, if they refuse the oaths, that they were away. The only ill consequences that can attend their going would be their taking arms and joining with the Indians to distress our settlements, as they are numerous and our troops are much divided ; tho’ indeed I believe that a very large part of the inhabitants would submit to any terms rather than take up arms on either side; but that is only my conjecture, and not to be depended upon in so critical a circumstance. However, if Your Lordships should be of opinion that we are not sufficiently established to take so important a step, we could prevent any inconvenience by building a fort or a few blockhouses on Chibenacadie [Shubenacadie] river. It would hinder in a great measure their communication with the French.’
In order to prevent the Acadians from trading with the French, Lawrence issued a proclamation forbidding the exportation of corn from the province, imposing a penalty of fifty pounds for each offence, half of such sum to be paid to the informer. The exact purpose of the proclamation was explained in a circular. First, it was to prevent ‘the supplying of corn to the Indians and their abettors, who, residing on the north side of the Bay of Fundy, do commit hostilities upon His Majesty's subjects which they cannot so conveniently do, that supply being cut off.’ Secondly, it was for the better supply of the Halifax market, which had been obliged to supply itself from other colonies. The inhabitants were not asked to sell their corn to any particular person or at any fixed price; all that was insisted upon was their supplying the Halifax market before they should think of sending corn elsewhere. There was, of course, nothing objectionable in this proclamation. It was only a protective measure for the benefit of the whole colony, and did ‘not bind the French inhabitants more or less than the rest of His Majesty's subjects in the Province.’
Towards the Indians Lawrence adopted the same tone as towards the Acadians. The tribes at Cape Sable had for some time talked of peace, and an alliance with them was particularly to be encouraged. The French were becoming more of a menace, having strengthened their works at ‘Baye Verte and Beauséjour, between which places they lately have made a very fine road and continue to seduce our French inhabitants to go over to them.’ The message, however, which Lawrence sent to the Indians was hardly calculated to produce the desired results. ‘In short if the Indians,’ the message ran, ‘or he [Le Loutre] on their behalf, have anything to propose of this kind about which they are really in earnest, they very well know where and how to apply.’ (4)
The answer of the Indians was communicated by Le Loutre. They agreed to offer no insult to the English who kept to the highway, but they promised to treat as enemies all those who departed from it. If a durable peace was to be made, they demanded the cession to them of an exclusive territory suitable for hunting and fishing and for a mission. This territory was to extend from Baie Verte through Cobequid (Truro) to the Shubenacadie, along the south coast to the peninsula of Canso, and back to Baie Verte – an area comprising half of the province of Nova Scotia. Whether the Indians were serious in their application for this immense domain, we know not; probably it was an answer to the haughty note of Lawrence. Considering the demand of the Indians insolent, the Council at Halifax vouchsafed no reply to it; but the commandant of Fort Lawrence at Chignecto was instructed to inform the Indians ‘that if they have any serious thought of making peace ... they may repair to Halifax,’ where any reasonable proposal would be considered.
A case instructive of the new temper of the administration was that of the Abbé Daudin of Pisiquid. The Abbé had been suspected of stirring up trouble among the Indians, and Captain Murray of Fort Edward was requested to keep an eye on him. When the inhabitants refused to bring in wood for fuel and for the repair of the fort, as they had been ordered to do, and presented to Murray a statement signed by eighty-six of their people, declaring that their oath of fidelity did not require them to furnish the garrison with wood, Murray attributed their conduct to the influence of Daudin. Murray therefore receive instructions to repeat his orders, and to summon Daudin and five others to appear at Halifax under pain of arrest. When questioned by Murray, Daudin took the ground that the people, who were free, should have been contracted, and not treated as slaves; but he asserted that if Murray had consulted him instead of reporting to Lawrence, he could have brought the inhabitants to him in a submissive manner. When requested to repair to Halifax, Daudin pleaded illness; and his followers became insolent, and questioned Murray’s authority. Daudin and five others were immediately arrested and sent under escort to the capital.
At a special meeting of the Council held on the evening of october 2, 1754, Claude Brossart, Charles Le Blanc, Batiste Galerne, and Joseph Hébert were required to explain their refusal to obey the orders of Murray, and the following examination took place
Q. Why did you not comply with that order to bring in firewood ?
A. Some of them had wood and some had not, therefore they gave in the remonstrance to Captain Murray.
Q. Why was that not represented in the remonstrance, which contained an absolute refusal without setting forth any cause ?
A. They did not understand the contents of it.
Q. Was the proclamation ever published at the church and stuck up against the wall, and by whom ?
A. It was, and they believe by John Hébert.
Q. Was it put up with the wrong side uppermost ?
A. They heard that it was.
The inhabitants were never known to boast of a reckless facility in reading, even under normal conditions, and no doubt the grotesque appearance of the letters in the inverted document prompted the answer that ‘they did not understand the contents of it.’ Neither have we any evidence to prove that John Hébert contributed to their enlightenment by reading the document. The prisoners, however, were severely reprimanded by the Council, and were ordered under pain of military execution to bring in the firewood.
The Abbé Daudin, when brought before the Council, was questioned as to his position in the province. He replied that he served ‘only as a simple missionary to occupy himself in spiritual affairs; not in temporal.’ The abbé denied that he had made the statements attributed to him, and was allowed to prepare a paper which he termed his defence. The next day his defence was presented and read; but the Council considered that it did not contain anything ‘material towards his justification’ and ordered his removal from the province. A few weeks later, however, the inhabitants addressed a communication to Lawrence, asking for the reinstatement of the abbé. They expressed their submission to the government, promising to comply with the order regarding the supply of wood; and the Council, considering that the Acadians could not obtain another priest, relented and permitted the abbé to return to his duties.
It is noteworthy, however, that Lawrence's régime was not so rigorous as to prevent some of the Acadians who had abandoned their lands and emigrated to French territory from returning to Nova Scotia. In October 1754 six families, consisting of twenty-eight persons who had settled in Cage Breton, returned to Halifax in a destitute condition. They declared that they had been terrified by the threats of Le Loutre, and by the picture he had drawn of the fate that would befall them at the hands of the Indians if they remained under the domination of the English; that they had retired to Cape Breton, where they had remained ever since; but that the lands given them had been unproductive, and that they had been unable to support their families. They therefore wished to return to their former habitations. They cheerfully subscribed to the oath which was tendered them, and in consideration of their poverty twenty-four of them were allowed provisions during the winter, and the other four a week's provisions ‘to subsist them till they returned to their former habitations at Pisiquid.’ The Council considered that their return would have a good effect. Thus it came about that the pangs of hunger accomplished a result which threats and promises had failed to produce.
While Lawrence was formulating his policy with regard to the Acadians, events were at the same time rapidly moving towards a renewal of war between France and Great Britain in North America. Indeed, though as yet there had been no formal declaration, the American phase of the momentous Seven Years’ War had already begun. France had been dreaming of a colonial empire stretching from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico. She had asserted her ownership of the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi; and she had set before herself the object of confining the English colonies within limits as narrow as possible. In May 1754 Shirley, the governor of Massachusetts, had advised the home government that he had received intelligence from Halifax ‘that some of the rebel inhabitants of Chignecto, together with the Indians of the Peninsula and St John River, are through the influence of the French garrison at Beauséjour engaged in an enterprise to break up all the eastern settlements,’ and he pointed out that ‘if the advices are true, they will afford . . . one instance of the many mischievous consequences to the colonists of New England as well as to His Majesty’s Province of Nova Scotia which must proceed from the French of Canada having possessed themselves of the isthmus of the Peninsula and St John's river in the Bay of Fundy, and continuing their encroachments within His Majesty's territories.’ (5) To this communication the government had replied in July 1754 that it was the king’s wish that Shirley should co-operate with Lawrence in attacking the French forts in Nova Scotia.
The British, therefore, determined upon aggressive action. In December Shirley acknowledged having received certain proposals made by Lawrence ‘for driving the French of Canada out of Nova Scotia according to the scheme laid down in your letters to me and instructions to Colonel Monckton. I viewed this plan most justly calculated by Your Honour for His Majesty's Service with great pleasure and did not hesitate to send you the assistance you desir’d of me for carrying it into execution, as soon as I had perused it . . . . I came to a determination to co-operate with you in the most vigorous manner, for effecting the important service within your own Government, which Your Honour may depend upon my prosecuting to the utmost of my power.’ (6) In a letter to the Lords of Trade in January 1755, Lawrence expressed the opinion that ‘no measure I could take for the security of the Province would have the desired effect until the fort at Beauséjour and every French settlement on the north side of the Bay of Fundy was absolutely extirpated, having very good intelligence that the French had determined as soon as ever they had put the fortifications of Louisbourg into a tolerable condition to make themselves masters of the Bay of Fundy by taking our fort at Chignecto.’ (7)
In accordance with this Colonel Monckton was instructed to prepare for an expedition against Beauséjour and St John in the spring of 1755. He was given for the purpose a letter of unlimited credit on Boston; and every regiment in Nova Scotia was brought up to the strength of one thousand men. By May the expedition was ready. Monckton, with two thousand troops, embarked at Annapolis Royal, and by June 1 the expedition was at Chignecto. In the meantime Vergor, the French commandant at Beauséjour, had not been passive. He had strengthened his defences, had summoned the inhabitants of the surrounding districts to his help, had mounted cannon in a blockhouse defending the passage of the river, and had thrown up a strong breastwork of timber along the shore. On June 3 the British landed. They had little difficulty in driving the French from their entrenchments. The inhabitants had no heart in the work of defence; and the French, unable to make a stand, threw their cannon into the river and burned the blockhouse and other buildings. They then retired to the fort, together with about two hundred and twenty of the Acadians ; the rest of the Acadians threw away their arms and ammunition, asserting that they did not wish to be hanged. The British took up a position in the woods about a mile and a half from the fort; and on the 13th they succeeded in establishing a battery on a hill within easy range. The bombardment of the place, which began the next day, was at first ineffective ; and for a time the British were driven back. But, in the meantime, news reached the French that no reinforcements could be expected from Louisbourg; and such disaffection arose among the Acadians that they were forbidden by a council of war to deliberate together or to desert the fort under pain of being shot. When the British renewed the attack, however, the Acadians requested Vergor to capitulate ; and he feebly acquiesced. The British offered very favourable terms. So far as the Acadians were concerned, it was proposed that, since they had taken up arms under threat of death, they were to be pardoned and allowed to return to their homes and enjoy the free exercise of their religion. The soldiers of the garrison were sent as prisoners to Halifax.
After the fall of Beauséjour, which Monckton renamed Fort Cumberland, the British met with little further resistance. Fort Gaspéreau on Baie Verte, against which Monckton next proceeded, was evacuated by the commandant Villeray, who found himself unable to obtain the assistance of the Acadians. And the few Acadians at the river St John, when Captain Rous appeared, before the settlement with three ships, made an immediate submission. Rous destroyed the cannon, burned the fort, and retired with his troops up the river. The Indians of the St John, evidently impressed by the completeness of the British success and awed by their strong force, invited Rous to come ashore, and assured him of their friendliness.
Having removed the menace of the French forts, Lawrence was now able to deal more freely with the question of the Acadians. The opportunity for action was not long in presenting itself. In June the Acadians of Minas presented to Lawrence a petition couched in language not as tactful as it might have been. In this memorial they requested the restoration of some of their former privileges. They first assured the lieutenant-governor of their fidelity, which they had maintained in face of threats on the part of the French, and of their determination to remain loyal when in the enjoyment of former liberties. They asked to be allowed the use of their canoes, a privilege of which they were deprived on the pretext that they had been carrying provisions to the French at Beauséjour: Some refugees might have done so, but they had not. They used these canoes for fishing to maintain their families. By an order of June 4 they had been required to hand in their guns. Some of them had done so, but they needed them for protection against the wild beasts, which were more numerous since the Indians had left these parts. The possession of a gun did not induce them to rebel, neither did the withdrawal of the weapon render them more faithful. Loyalty was a matter of conscience. If they decided to remain faithful, they wished to know what were the lieutenant-governor's intentions towards them.
On receiving this memorial Lawrence ordered the deputies of the Acadians to remain in Halifax, on the ground that the paper was impertinent. Upon this the deputies presented another memorial, in which they disclaimed any intention of disrespect, and wished to be allowed a hearing in order to explain. The Council held a meeting; and the lieutenant-governor explained ‘that Captain Murray had informed him that for some time before the delivery of the first of the said memorials the French inhabitants in general had behaved with greater submission and obedience to the orders of Government than usual, and had already delivered to him a considerable number of their firearms; but that at the delivery of the said memorial they treated him with great indecency and insolence, which gave him strong suspicions that they had obtained some intelligence which we were then ignorant of, and which the lieutenant-governor conceived might most probably be a report that had been about that time spread amongst them of a French fleet being then in the Bay of Fundy.’ (8) The deputies were then brought in and told that if they had not submitted the second memorial they would have been punished for their presumption. ‘They were severely reprimanded for their audacity in subscribing and presenting so impertinent a paper, but in compassion to their weakness and ignorance of the nature of our constitution,’ the Council professed itself still ready to treat them with leniency, and ordered the memorial to be read paragraph by paragraph.
When the question of the oath came up for discussion, the deputies said they were ready to take it as they had done before. To this the Council replied that ‘His Majesty had disapproved of the manner of their taking the oath before’ and ‘that it was not consistent with his honour to make any conditions.’ The deputies were then allowed until the following morning to come to a resolution. On the next day they declared that they could not consent to take the oath in the form required without consulting others. They were then informed that as the taking of the oath was a personal act and as they had for themselves refused to take it as directed by law, and had therefore sufficiently evinced the sincerity of their unfriendliness towards the government, the Council could look upon them no longer as subjects of His Majesty, but must treat them hereafter as subjects of the king of France. They were ordered to withdraw. The Council then decided that with regard to the oath none of them should for the future be admitted to take it after having once refused to do so, but that effectual measures ought to be taken to remove all such recusants out of the province. The deputies, again being called in and informed of this resolution, offered to take the oath, but were informed that there was no reason to hope that ‘their proposed compliance proceeds from an honest mind and can be esteemed only the effect of compulsion and force, and is contrary to a clause in I Geo. II, c. 13, whereby persons who have once refused to take oaths cannot be afterwards permitted to take them, but are considered as Popish recusants.’ Therefore they could not be indulged with such permission. Later they were ordered into confinement.
On the 25th of July a memorial signed by over two hundred of the inhabitants of Annapolis Royal was laid before the Council. The memorialists said they had unanimously consented to deliver up their firearms, although they had never had any desire to use them against His Majesty's government. They declared that they had nothing to reproach themselves with, for they had always been loyal, and that several of them had risked their lives in order to give information regarding the enemy. They would abide by the old oath, but they could not take a new one. The deputies who had brought this memorial from Annapolis, on being called before the Council and asked what they had to say regarding the new oath, declared ‘that they could not take any other oath than what they had formerly taken.’ If it was the king's intention, they added, to force them out of the country, they hoped ‘that they should be allowed a convenient time for their departure.’ The Council warned them of the consequences of their refusal; and they were allowed until the following Monday to decide. Their final answer was polite, but obdurate:
Inasmuch as a report is in circulation among us, the French inhabitants of this province, that His Excellency the Governor demands of us an oath of obedience conformable, in some manner, to that of natural subjects of His Majesty King George the Second, and as, in consequence, we are morally certain that several of our inhabitants are detained and put to inconvenience at Halifax for that object; if the above are his intentions with respect to us, we all take the liberty of representing to His Excellency, and to all the inhabitants, that we and our fathers, having taken an oath of fidelity, which has been approved of several times in the name of the King, and under the privileges of which we have lived faithful and obedient, and protected by His Majesty the King of Great Britain, according to the letters and proclamation of His Excellency Governor Shirley, dated 16th of September 1746, and 21st of October 1747, we will never prove so fickle as to take an oath which changes, ever so little, the conditions and the privileges obtained for us by our sovereign and our fathers in the past.
And as we are well aware that the King, our master, loves and protects only constant, faithful, and free subjects, and as it is only by virtue of his kindness, and of the fidelity which we have always preserved towards His Majesty, that he has granted to us, and that he still continues to grant to us, the entire possession of our property and the free and public exercise of the Roman Catholic Religion, we desire to continue, to the utmost of our power, to be faithful and dutiful in the same manner that we were allowed to be by His Excellency Mr Richard Philipps.
Charity for our detained inhabitants, and their innocence, obliged us to beg Your Excellency, to allow yourself to be touched by their miseries, and to restore to them that liberty which we ask for them, with all possible submission and the most profound respect.
The inhabitants of Pisiquid presented a similar petition. They hoped that they would be listened to, and that the imprisoned deputies would be released. Another memorial was presented by the inhabitants of Minas. They refused to take a new oath; and thereupon their deputies were ordered to be imprisoned.
There was now, the Council considered; only one course left open for it to pursue. Nothing remained but to consider the means which should be taken to send the inhabitants out of the province, and distribute them among the several colonies on the continent.
‘I am determined,’ Lawrence had written, ‘to bring the inhabitants to a compliance, or rid the province of such perfidious subjects.’ (9) He was now about to fulfil his promise.
(9) Lawrence to Lords of Trade, July 18, 1755.
(1) Lawrence to Lords of Trade, December s, 1753.
(2) Lords of Trade to Lawrence, March 4, 1754.
(3) Lawrence to Lords of Trade, August 1, 1754.
(4) Nova Scotia Documents, p. 210.
(5) Nova Scotia Documents, p. 382. Shirley to Sir T. Robinson, May 23, 1754.
(6) Nova Scotia Documents, p. 389. Shirley says: ‘It is now near eleven at night and I have been writing hard since seven in the morning . . and can scarce hold the pen in my hand.’
(7) Lawrence to Lords of Trade, January 12, 1755.
(8) Minutes of Council, July 3, 1755.
(9) Lawrence to Lords of Trade, July 18, 1755.
Source: Arthur G. DOUGHTY, The Acadian Exiles. A Chronicle of the Land of Evangeline, Toronto, Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1916, 178p., pp. 88-113.
© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College