Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia




[This text was written by Arthur G. DOUGHTY and was publihed in 1948. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Acadians. The native tribes in Acadia encountered by Monts and Champlain were the Micmacs, Malecite, and Abnaki. The sagamore of the Micmacs, one Membertou, a man of a hundred summers, is described as "the most formidable savage within the memory of man." It is not probable that the colonists who accompanied Monts remained in the country, save Claude de la Tour and his son Charles. With these exceptions the founders of the race were the three hundred hommes d'élite brought over by Isaac de Razilly in 1632, and by D'Aulnay Charnisay between 1639 and 1649. With Razilly were three Capuchin friars, who no doubt kept registers of the births, marriages, and deaths of the early colonists, although these records have not been discovered. The persistent research of Placide Gaudet for a third of a century, with government aid, brought to light a wealth of genealogical material now deposited in the Public Archives. These documents should be consulted for the growth, location, dispersion and repatriation of the Acadians.


Of Razilly, Champlain wrote that he "possessed all the qualities of a good, a perfect sea-captain; prudent, wise, industrious". He planned for Acadia on a large scale, wished to bring out good settlers annually, and to maintain a fleet of twelve ships for the service of the colony. But later there were smaller men at the head of affairs, such as Perrot, who sold liquor by the half pint in his own house. The people for the most part were strong, healthy, virtuous, sincerely attached to their religion and their traditions. Content with the product of their labour and having few wants, they lived in perfect equality and with extreme frugality.


This no doubt fairly describes the people whilst under the feudal sway of the overlords Razilly, Charnisay, La Tour and Nicolas Denys, from 1632 to 1654. Then came Sedgwick, demanding and obtaining the surrender of the country in the name of Oliver Cromwell, and thirteen years of English rule followed. Under the Treaty of Breda (1667), Acadia was handed over to France in exchange for St. Christopher, Antigua and Montserrat. For the next quarter of a century England and France were at peace and the Acadians were active in the cultivation of the marshlands by the rivers and the sea, in building dikes to keep back the tides, in cutting timber for fuel and fencing and in hunting. The women spent their time in spinning and weaving; in fact, their mode of living was similar to that of the inhabitants of the province of Quebec .


In 1702 Queen Anne declared war against France and Spain, and before peace returned the final capture, of Acadia had been effected, although a stubborn resistance had been made by Subercase. By the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the sovereignty of Queen Anne was acknowledged and the status of the Acadians under the treaty made clear. If the Acadians wished to remain subjects of the Queen, which implied taking the oath of allegiance, they were to enjoy all the privileges of citizenship, also the free exercise of their religion, a privilege not accorded to British subjects; but if they preferred to remove to another country they were at liberty to do so within the period of one year. The failure of the English to enforce these conditions at the time proved disastrous later on. For years concessions were made to the Acadians until they believed they could remain on indefinitely without taking the oath of allegiance or being forced in any way to contribute to the defence of their country. The policy of France and England towards the Acadians was a selfish one. The French always looked for the return of Acadia, and the English required loyal defenders to maintain their own position.


From time to time, on the appointment of a new governor or commandant, the Acadian were requested to take the oath, but it was never enforced, because under various pretexts the inhabitants refused to take an unqualified oath of allegiance. Many of the families from the district of Piziquid emigrated to Ile St. Jean between 1749 and 1755 and escaped the general exodus. Some of them were transported from the Island to France, in 1758.


The method of dealing with these people seems to have been discreditable. The heads of families were cited to appear at Grand Pré to hear the King's orders. When there, they were told that orders had been given for their removal from the province, that their goods and property of all sorts were forfeited to the Crown, and that in the meantime they were the King's prisoners. The exact number of the Acadians at the time is uncertain. In July, 1755, Belcher, the chief justice, estimated that there were 8,000; others give 10,000. Over 1,000 were shipped to Virginia, without any previous advice to the governor, or without any funds for their maintenance. In Philadelphia the refugees arrived in a deplorable condition. A Quaker who visited the boats while in quarantine said that the people were without shirts or socks and were sadly in need of bed clothing. One Acadian, Charles Le Blanc, a boy of seventeen, made good. He engaged in business, amassed an enormous fortune, and owned large estates in the colonies and in Canada. In New York the condition of the people was even worse. There, nine months after the expulsion, one hundred and ten sturdy boys and girls made their appearance. They had travelled all the way from Georgia in the hope of finding means to return to Acadia, but were taken prisoners and placed in service. In St. Gabriel, Louisiana, there was a large settlement, but the Acadians here soon lost their identity. Some twenty-five years ago Chief Justice Breaux, of Acadian descent, told the writer that the people knew nothing of Acadia and could not be persuaded to take an interest in their ancestry. Many found their way to England, some to France, and others to Corsica. A large number settled in Baltimore, and were well cared for, but as the families were separated there was much distress, and the whole transaction forms a sad page in the history of Canada.


The responsibility for the expulsion is placed on Lawrence. Whether he had the authority of the home government has been disputed. In August, 1755, he had been instructed to be careful not to molest the Acadians, as the King had assured the French monarch in March that the people were good citizens. This document was not received in Halifax until December, when the affair was over. After the Treaty of 1763 numbers of the Acadians settled in Quebec and in the Maritimes. In 1764 the government invited the Acadians to return to Canada to enjoy all the privileges of citizenship on taking the usual oath of allegiance.


In the census of 1911 there were in:

New Brunswick               98,611

Nova Scotia                    51,746

Prince Edward Island       13,117



The Acadian population to-day [1935] is given as:

Prince Edward Island ..   12,962

Nova Scotia   ..............  56,629

New Brunswick   .......  136,999


Acadians are represented to-day in the Canadian House of Commons, in the Senate, and in all the professions. An Acadian distinguished as an orator, after serving as a minister of the Crown in Quebec, was appointed lieutenant-governor of the province.

Return to the main Acadian page

Source: Arthur G. DOUGHTY, "Acadians", in W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. I, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 398p., pp. 7-9.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College