Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

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


History of Acadia


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

Acadia, an area on the Atlantic sea-board, settled by the French in 1604, and in dispute between France and England until 1763. During these years both countries ascribed to Acadia such boundaries as the exigencies of the moment demanded. Monts had been given a monopoly of the fur-trade between the fortieth and forty-sixth degrees of north latitude, but after Antoinette de Pons had purchased the claims of Monts, Louis XIII gave her a stretch of territory from the St. Lawrence to Florida. Occupancy to establish ownership was out of the question, and generally the territory of the present provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick was regarded as the boundary of Acadia.


The origin of the name Acadia is still debated. Father Pacifique claims that it comes from the Micmac name Algatig, meaning a "village" or "establishment". The termination -acadie, which is common in Micmac place-names, has been discussed by W. F. Ganong in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, vol. ix, pp. 376-448. The author claims that the name is derived from Arcadia. On Gastaldi's map of 1548 it is named Larcadie, and perhaps not without reason. When Cartier first encountered the ugly barren shore of Labrador he thought it must have been the land that God gave to Cain. Proceeding on his voyage, he became enchanted with the country, its vegetation, and its climate, more temperate than that of Spain. Champlain refers to the place as Arcadie in 1603. In Monts' commission we find La Cadie, and from that time the name is usually spelled Acadie.



The relations between Greenland and the Vatican, centuries before the discoveries of Columbus, point to a very early knowledge of Canada by the inhabitants of Greenland and Iceland. In early Norwegian maps Greenland is shown as a part of the mainland. Cabot probably touched the Acadian coast in 1497. Juan Alvarez appears to have reached the mainland in 1520, and Verrazano sailed along the coast in 1524; but the first satisfactory record is that of Jacques Cartier in 1534.



The patent of Monts in 1603 marked the beginning of settlement in Acadia. Under it Champlain and Monts chose a site in Passamaquoddy bay which proved unsatisfactory. In 1605 the little colony moved to the present Annapolis valley, which was named Port Royal. Among the members was Marc Lescarbot, a young lawyer of France, who wrote a metrical drama, The Theatre of Neptune, which was performed before the fort in 1606; thus winning for Canada the distinction of staging the first theatrical performance in North America.


The little colony was not allowed to develop in peace. In 1613 the Virginians swept down upon the coast, destroying the dwellings, and dispersing the habitants. A few of them under the leadership of Biencourt are said to have escaped to the woods and established themselves in the south-eastern part of the peninsula. With them was Charles de la Tour who on the death of Biencourt laid claim to the territory and continued the struggle on the part of France. In 1621 a serious attempt at colonization was made by the British. Acadia, now christened Nova Scotia, was granted to Sir William Alexander who after two unsuccessful efforts to gain a foothold induced the King to create an order of Baronets of Nova Scotia hoping thereby to put new heart into his enterprise and retrieve his heavy losses. Members of the order were expected to contribute liberally to the work of settlement. The rivalry between England and France, however, precluded success, and the scheme to unite the two interests by enrolling Charles de la Tour as a baronet of Nova Scotia failed when the French claimant refused to be bought. The sturdy band settled at Scots Fort fared badly, and Alexander's project suffered a final blow when by the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, in 1632, Charles I. ceded Port Royal and Quebec to the French in return for the unpaid dowry of Queen Henrietta Maria.


The return of Acadia to France was marked by renewed colonization activity under the direction of Richelieu and the Company of New France. At the end of four years three hundred people had been brought into the country.


On May 10, 1632 , Isaac de Razilly was appointed governor, and with him as lieutenant came Charles de Menou Sieur d'Aulnay Charnisay. On the death of Razilly, in 1636, a feudal war broke out between Charnisay and La Tour, who claimed control of Acadia. The first stage of the affair was brought to a close when Charnisay died in 1650.


La Tour then obtained a new patent from the King as governor and lieutenant-general of Acadia. Two years later he married Charnisay's widow, but peace could not be obtained by so simple an expedient. Charnisay and La Tour had incurred heavy expenses during the years of conflict, and in 1654 Charnisay's chief creditor, Emanuel Le Borgne, began a series of raids in the hope of recovering the debt. He failed, however, due to the English attack upon the colony, when La Tour himself was captured.


With Great Britain in control of the situation La Tour was released. The baronetcy of Nova Scotia, which he had scorned, now stood him in good stead, for he was permitted to return as governor. Under an agreement between Cromwell, Temple, and La Tour in 1656, Acadia was to be governed as far as possible by English law. Shortly afterwards, La Tour was succeeded by Temple, who thus became the first British governor of Acadia.


The restoration of the Stuarts to the throne of Britain brought Nova Scotia once more into the melting-pot of European politics. As the result of the foreign policy of Charles II, it was restored to France in spite of the protestations of Temple, who succeeded in delaying the surrender for two years. It was not until 1670 that Hubert de Grandfontaine took over the colony.


The return of Acadia to France was regarded with hostility, and notwithstanding the "True and Firm Peace and Neutrality" agreed upon by France and England in 1686, war broke out in 1689, and Phips swept down upon Acadia in 1690, captured Port Royal, and raided the coast settlements. Eager to rush on to Quebec, Phips neglected to secure sufficiently his conquest, and in 1691 Villebon was sent by Frontenac to protect the Acadian coast. French control of Acadia was recognized by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, which brought the war to a close. The easy victory of Phips should have warned Acadia to prepare for a greater war, which was inevitable.


France did little to strengthen the defences, and when the war of the Spanish succession broke out, Subercase, the French commander, found himself with few resources.

Port Royal resisted two colonial expeditions, in 1704 and in 1707, but fell before the combined British and colonial forces, which laid siege on July 15, 1710. The brilliant defence by Subercase, who held out until October, won the honours of war for the brave little garrison. With the surrender Acadia passed to the English, and became once more Nova Scotia. Even the old link with the early days of French rule was destroyed when Port Royal was named Annapolis Royal in honour of the British Queen.


The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 recognized the British conquest. France retained Cape Breton and Isle St. Jean, but ceded all Nova Scotia or Acadia "with its ancient limits". Just what those "ancient limits" were was the subject of bitter controversy for the next fifty years. Hitherto France had claimed that Acadia comprised the whole territory from the gulf of the St. Lawrence to the Kennebec river, or at least to beyond the Penobscot. Now she endeavoured to confine it within very narrow bounds. By building Fort Beauséjour on the Missagwask river, the French confined the English to the peninsula for forty years.


The outbreak of the War of the Austrian succession, in 1740, found France and England once more arrayed against each other. The struggle was vigorously prosecuted in the colonies, where it was known as King George's War. The Treaty of Aix La Chapelle, in 1748, failed to give exact geographical boundaries to Acadia, but commissioners were appointed to decide upon the limits of the territory. Both sides were adamant, so that by 1755 no progress had been made. Meanwhile the colonists became impatient, and English and French rivalry led to the French and Indian War (1754-64), when the British and colonial forces struck vigorously all along the line. This war, which had broken out in the colonies, was merged into the Seven Years War. The petty warfare which had been indulged in for so long now became a struggle for supremacy on the North American continent. The Treaty of Paris, in 1763, left Great Britain in possession of the field. There was no longer any necessity to define boundaries. Acadia had passed away for ever, and the whole area was known as Nova Scotia until 1784, when it was once more divided on the creation of the province of New Brunswick.


Bibliography. Many books have been written on Acadia; but the more im­portant are J. B. Brebner, New England's outpost: Acadia before the conquest of Canada (New York, 1927) ; Mary C. Leger, Abenakis missions (Chicago, 1928); B. Suite, L'Acadie française (Quebec, 1920); Edouard Richard, Acadie (2 vols., Quebec, 1916) ; A. G. Doughty, The Acadian exiles (Toronto, 1916) ; J. Hannay, History of Acadia (St. John, 1879) ; Rameau de St. Pierre, Une colonie féodale en Amérique: L'Acadie (Paris, 1877); and J. C. Webster, Acadia at the end of the seventeenth century (St. John, N.B., 1934). Several of the early books relating to Acadia have been re-printed by the Champlain Society : Nicolas Denys, The description and natural history of the coasts of North America (Acadia), tr. and ed. by W. F. Ganong (Toronto, 1908) ; C. Le Clercq, New relation of Gaspesia, tr. and ed. by W. F. Ganong (Toronto, 1910); M. Les­carbot, The history of New France, ed. by W. L. Grant (3 vols., Toronto, 1907-14); Dièreville, Relation of the voyage to Port Royal in Acadia, ed. by J. C. Webster (Toronto, 1934) ; and Samuel de Champlain, Works, ed. by H. P. Biggar (6 vols., Toronto, 1922-35).

Return to the main Acadian page

Source: Arthur G. DOUGHTY, "Acadia", in W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. I, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 398p., pp. 5-7.



© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College