L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
The Oath of Allegiance
[This text was written by Arthur G. DOUGHTY and was published in 1916. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]
We have now to follow a sequence of events leading up to the calamity to be narrated in a later chapter. By the Treaty of Utrecht the old king, Louis XIV, had obtained certain guarantees for his subjects in Acadia. It was provided that 'they may have liberty to remove themselves within a year to any other place with all their movable effects'; and that 'those who are willing to remain therein and to be subject to the kingdom of Britain are to enjoy the free exercise of their religion.' And these terms were confirmed by a warrant of Queen Anne addressed to Nicholson, under date of June 23, 1713. (1) The status of the Acadians under the treaty, reinforced by this warrant, seems to be sufficiently clear. If they wished to become British subjects, which of course implied taking the oath of allegiance, they were to enjoy all the privileges of citizenship, not accorded at that time to Catholics in Great Britain, as well as the free exercise of their religion. But if they preferred to remove to another country within a year, they were to have that liberty.
The French authorities were not slow to take advantage of this part of the treaty. In order to hold her position in the New World and assert her authority, France had transferred the garrison which she had formerly maintained at Placentia, Newfoundland, to Cape Breton. This island she had renamed Ile Royale, and here she was shortly to rear the great fortress of Louisbourg. It was to her interest to induce the Acadians to remove to this new centre of French influence. In March 1713, therefore, the French king intimated his wish that the Acadians should emigrate to Ile Royale; every inducement, indeed, must be offered them to settle there; though he cautioned his officers that if any of the Acadians had already taken the oath of allegiance to Great Britain, great care must be exercised to avoid scandal.
Many Acadians, then, on receiving attractive offers of land in Ile Royale, applied to the English authorities for permission to depart. The permission was not granted. It was first refused by Governor Vetch on the ground that he was retiring from office and was acting only in the absence of Colonel Nicholson, who had been recently appointed governor. The truth is that the English regarded with alarm the removal of practically the entire population from Nova Scotia. The governor of Ile Royale intervened, and sent agents to Annapolis Royal to make a formal demand on behalf of the Acadians, presenting in support of his demand the warrant of Queen Anne. The inhabitants, it was said, wished to leave Nova Scotia and settle in Ile Royale, and 'they expect ships to convey themselves and effects accordingly.' Nicholson, who had now arrived as governor, took the position that he must refer the question to England for the consideration of Her Majesty.
When the demand of the governor of Ile Royale reached England, Vetch was in London; and Vetch had financial interests in Nova Scotia. He at once appealed to the Lords of Trade, who in due course protested to the sovereign 'that this would strip Nova Scotia and greatly strengthen Cape Breton.' Time passed, however, and the government made no pronouncement on the question. Meanwhile Queen Anne had died. Matters drifted. The Acadians wished to leave, but were not allowed to employ British vessels. In despair they began to construct small boats on their own account, to carry their families and effects to Ile Royale. These boats, however, were seized by order of Nicholson, and the Acadians were explicitly forbidden to remove or to dispose of their possessions until a decision with regard to the question should arrive from England. In January 1715 the accession of George I was proclaimed throughout Acadia. But when the Acadians were required to swear allegiance to the new monarch, they proved obdurate. They agreed not to do anything against His Britannic Majesty as long as they remained in Acadia; but they refused to take the oath on the plea that they had already pledged their word to migrate to Ile Royale. John Doucette, who arrived in the colony in October 1717 as lieutenant-governor, was informed by the Acadians that 'the French inhabitants had never own'd His Majesty as Possessor of this His Continent of Nova Scotia and L'Acadie.' When Doucette presented a paper for them to sign, promising them the same protection and liberty as the rest of His Majesty's subjects in Acadia, they brought forward a document of their own, which evidently bore the marks of honest toil, since Doucette 'would have been glad to have sent' it to the secretary of state 'in a cleaner manner.' In it they declared, 'We shall be ready to carry into effect the demand proposed to us, as soon as His Majesty shall have done us the favour of providing some means of sheltering us from the savage tribes, who are always ready to do all kinds of mischief... In case other means cannot be found, we are ready to take an oath, that we will take up arms neither against His Britannic Majesty, nor against France, nor against any of their subjects or allies’. (2)
The attitude of both France and England towards the unfortunate Acadians was thoroughly selfish. The French at Louisbourg, after their first attempt to bring the Acadians to Ile Royale, relapsed into inaction. They still hoped doubtless that Acadia would be restored to France, and while they would have been glad to welcome the Acadians, they perceived the advantage of keeping them under French influence in British territory. In order to do this they had at their hand convenient means. The guarantee to the Acadians of the freedom of their religion had entailed the presence in Acadia of French priests not British subjects, who were paid by the French government and were under the direction of the bishop of Quebec. These priests were, of course, loyal to France and inimical to Great Britain. Another source of influence possessed by the French lay in their alliance with the Indian tribes, an alliance which the missionary priests helped to hold firm. The fear of an Indian attack was destined on more than one occasion to keep the Acadians loyal to France. On the other hand, the British, while loth to let the Acadians depart, did little to improve their lot. It was a period of great economy in English colonial administration. Walpole, in his desire to reduce taxation, devoted very little money to colonial development; and funds were doled out to the authorities at Annapolis in the most parsimonious manner. 'It is a pity,' wrote Newton, the collector of the customs at Annapolis and Canso, in 1719, that 'so fine a province as Nova Scotia should lie so long neglected. As for furs, feathers, and a fishery, we may challenge any province in America to produce the like, and beside that here is a good grainery; masting and naval stores might be provided hence. And was here a good establishment fixt our returns would be very advantageous to the Crown and Great Britain.' As it was, the British ministers were content to send out elaborate instructions for the preservation of forests, the encouragement of fisheries and the prevention of foreign trade, without providing either means for carrying out the schemes, or troops for the protection of the country.
Nothing further was done regarding the oath of allegiance until the arrival of Governor Philipps in 1720, when the Acadians were called upon to take the oath or leave the country within four months, taking with them only two sheep per family. This, it seems, was merely an attempt to intimidate the people into taking the oath, for when the Acadians, having no boats at their disposal, proposed to travel by land, and began to cut out a road for the passage of vehicles, they were stopped in the midst of their labours by order of the governor.
In a letter to England Philipps expressed the opinion that the Acadians, if left alone, would no doubt become contented British subjects, that their emigration at this time would be a distinct loss to the garrison, which was supplied by their labours. He added that the French were active in maintaining their influence over them. One potent factor in keeping them restless was the circulation of reports that the English would not much longer tolerate Catholicism. (3) The Lords of Trade took this letter into consideration, and in their reply of December 28, 1720, we find the proposal to remove the Acadians as a means of settling the problem. (4) This, however, was not the first mooting of the idea. During the same year Paul Mascarene, in A Description of Nova Scotia, had given two reasons for the expulsion of the inhabitants: first, that they were Roman Catholics, under the full control of French priests opposed to British interests; secondly, that they continually incited the Indians to do mischief or disturb English settlements. On the other hand, Mascarene discovered two motives for retaining them: first, in order that they might not strengthen the French establishments; secondly, that they might be employed in furnishing supplies for the garrison and in preparing fortifications until such time as the English were strong enough to do without them. (5)
It does not appear that either the English or the French government had any paternal affection for the poor Acadians; but each was fully conscious of the use to which they might be put.
In a letter to the Lords of Trade Philipps sums up the situation. 'The Acadians,' he says, 'decline to take the oath of allegiance on two grounds – that in General Nicholson's time they had signed an obligation to continue subjects of France and retire to Cape Breton, and that the Indians would cut their throats if they became Englishmen.'
He further suggests an 'oath of obliging the Acadians to live peaceably,' to take up arms against the Indians, but not against the French, to acknowledge the king's right to the country, to obey the government, and to hold their lands of the king by a new tenure, 'instead of holding them (as at present) from lords of manors who are now at Cape Breton, where at this day they pay their rent.’ (6)
There were signs that the situation was not entirely hopeless. The Acadians were not allowed to leave the country, or even to settle down to the enjoyment of their homes; they were employed in supplying the needs of the troops, or in strengthening the British fortifications; yet they seem to have patiently accepted the inevitable. The Indians committed acts of violence, but the Acadians remained peaceable. There was, too, a certain amount of intermarriage between Acadian girls and the British soldiers. In those early days of Nova Scotia, girls of a marriageable age were few and were much sought after. There was in Annapolis an old French gentlewoman 'whose daughters, granddaughters, and other relatives' had married British officers. These ladies soon acquired considerable influence and were allowed to do much as they pleased. The old gentlewoman, Marie Magdalen Maisonat, who had married Mr William Winniett, a leading merchant and one of the first British inhabitants of Annapolis, became all-powerful in the town, not only on account of her own estimable qualities, but also on account of the position held by her daughters and granddaughters. Soldiers arrested for breach of discipline often pleaded that they had been 'sent for to finish a job of work for Madame'; and this excuse was usually sufficient to secure an acquittal. If not, the old lady would on her own authority order the culprit's release, and 'no further enquiry was made into the matter.' One British officer, who had incurred her displeasure, was told that 'Me have rendered King Shorge more important service dan ever you did or peut-être ever shall, and dis is well known to peoples en autorité,' which may have been true if, as was asserted, she sometimes presided at councils of war in the fort. (7)
It was with the Indians, rather than with the Acadians, that the authorities had the greatest trouble. After several hostile acts had been committed, the governor determined to try the effect of the gentle art of persuasion. He sent to England an agent named Bannfield to purchase a large quantity of presents for the Indians. Bannfield was thoroughly dishonest, and appropriated two-thirds of the money to his own use, expending the remainder on the purchase of articles of 'exceeding bad quality.' A gorgeous entertainment was prepared for the savages, and the presents were given to them. The Indians took away the presents, but their missionaries had little difficulty in showing them the inferiority of the English gifts; and Philipps noted that they did not appear satisfied. 'They will take all we give them,' he wrote, 'and cut our throats next day.' At length the Indians boldly declared war against the British, an action which Philipps attributed to the scandalous conduct of the agent Bannfield. At the instigation of the French of Ile Royale, they kept up hostilities for two years and committed many barbarities. The Micmacs seized fishing smacks, and killed and scalped a number of English soldiers and fishermen. It was not until a more attractive supply of presents arrived, and were distributed among the chiefs, that they could be induced to make peace.
During the progress of the Indian war Governor Philipps had prudently refrained from discussing with the Acadians the question of the oath; but in 1726 Lawrence Armstrong, the lieutenant-governor, resolved to take up the matter again. In the district of Annapolis he had little trouble. The inhabitants there consented, after some discussion, to sign a declaration of allegiance, with a clause exempting them from the obligation of taking up arms. (8) But to deal with the Acadians of Minas and of Beaubassin on Chignecto Bay proved more difficult. Certain 'anti-monarchical traders' from Boston and evil-intentioned French inhabitants had represented in these districts that the governor had no authority in the land, and no power to administer oaths. No oath would these Acadians take but to their own Bon Roy de France. They promised, however, to pay all the rights and dues which the British demanded.
The death of George I in 1727, and the accession of George II, made it necessary for the Acadians to acknowledge the new monarch. This time the lieutenant-governor was determined to do the business in a thorough and comprehensive manner. He chartered a vessel at a cost of a hundred pounds, and commissioned Ensign Wroth to proceed from place to place at the head of a detachment of troops proclaiming the new king and obtaining the submission of the people. Wroth was eminently successful in proclaiming His Majesty; but he had less success in regard to the oath. Finding the Acadians obdurate, he promised them on his own authority freedom in the exercise of their religion, exemption from bearing arms, and liberty to withdraw from the province at any time. These 'unwarrantable concessions' Armstrong refused to ratify; and the Council immediately declared them null and void, although they resolved that 'the inhabitants... having signed and proclaimed His Majesty and thereby acknowledged his title and authority to and over this Province, shall have the liberties and privileges of English subjects.' (9) This was all the Acadians wished for.
The commission of Ensign Wroth did not extend to the district of Annapolis, which was dealt with by the Council. The deputies of the Acadians there were summoned to appear before the Council on September 6, 1727. But the inhabitants, instead of answering the summons, called a meeting on their own account and passed a resolution, signed by seventy-one of their people, which they forwarded to the Council. In this document they offered to take the oath on the conditions offered by Wroth. This the Council considered 'insolent and defiant,' and ordered the arrest of the deputies. On September 16 Charles Landry, Guillaume Bourgois, Abraham Bourg, and Francois Richard were brought before the Council, and, on refusing to take the oath except on the terms proposed by themselves, were committed to prison for contempt and disrespect to His Majesty. Next day the lieutenant-governor announced that 'they had been guilty of several enormous crimes in assembling the inhabitants in a riotous manner contrary to the orders of government both as to time and place and likewise in framing a rebellious paper.' It was then resolved: 'That Charles Landry, Guillaume Bourgois and Francis Richard, for their said offence, and likewise for refusing the oath of fidelity to His Majesty which was duly tendered them, be remanded to prison, laid in irons, and there remain until His Majesty's pleasure shall be made known concerning them, and that Abraham Bourg, in consideration of his great age, shall have leave to retire out of this His Majesty's Province, according to his desire and promise, by the first opportunity, leaving his effects behind him.’ (10)The rest of the inhabitants were to be debarred from fishing on the British coasts. It is difficult to reconcile the actions of the Council. The inhabitants who cheerfully subscribed to the oath, with the exceptions made by Ensign Wroth, were to be accorded the privileges of British subjects, while some of those who would have been glad to accept the same terms were laid in irons, and the others debarred from fishing, their main support.
Shortly after this Philipps was compelled to return to Nova Scotia in order to restore tranquillity; for his lieutenant Armstrong, a man of quick temper, had fallen foul of the French priests, especially the Abbé Breslay, whom he had caused to be handled somewhat roughly. Armstrong, seeking an alliance with the Abnakis, had been foiled by the French and had laid the blame at the door of the priest, demanding the keys of the church and causing the presbytery to be pillaged. In the end Breslay had escaped in fear of his life. It was his complaints, set forth in a memorial to the government, that had brought about Philipps's return. The Acadians, with whom Philipps was popular, welcomed him in a public manner; and Philipps took advantage of the occasion to approach them again on the subject of the oath. He restored the Abbé Breslay to his flock, promised the people freedom in religious matters, and assured them that they would not be required to take up arms. Then all the Acadians in the district of Annapolis subscribed to the following oath: I promise and swear on the faith of a Christian that I will be truly faithful and will submit myself to His Majesty King George the Second, whom I acknowledge as the lord and sovereign of Nova Scotia or Acadia. So help me God. In the spring of 1728 Philipps obtained also the submission of the inhabitants of the other districts, on similar terms; and even the Indians professed a willingness to submit. This was a triumph for the administration of Philipps, and laid at rest for a time the vexed question of the oath. The triumph was, however, more superficial than real, as we shall see by and by.
(1) 'Trusty and Well-beloved, We greet you Well! Whereas Our Good Brother the Most Christian King hath at Our desire released from imprisonment on board His Galleys, such of His subjects as were detained there on account of their professing the Protestant religion, We being willing to show by some mark of Our Favour towards His subjects how kindly we take His compliance therein, have therefore thought fit hereby to Signifie Our Will and Pleasure to you that you permit and allow such of them as have any lands or Tenements in the Places under your Government in Acadie and Newfoundland, that have been or are to be yielded to Us by Vertue of the late Treaty of Peace, and are Willing to Continue our Subjects to retain and Enjoy their said Lands and Tenements without any Lett or Molestation as fully and freely as other our Subjects do or may possess their Lands and Estates or to sell the same if they shall rather Chuse to remove elsewhere – And for so doing this shall be your Warrant, And so we bid you fare well. Given at our Court at Kensington the 23rd day of June 1713 in the Twelfth Year of our Reign.' – Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia A, vol. iv, p. 97.
(2) Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia A, vol. viii, p. 181 et seq.
(3) Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia A, vol. xi, p. 186.
(4) 'As to the French inhabitants of Nova Scotia, who appear so wavering in their inclinations, we are apprehensive they will never become good subjects to His Majesty whilst the French Governors and their Priests retain so great an influence over them, for which reason we are of opinion, that they ought to be removed so soon as the forces which we have proposed to be sent to you shall arrive in Nova Scotia for the protection and better settlement of your Province, but as you are not to attempt their removal without His Majesty's positive orders for that purpose, you will do well in the meanwhile to continue the same prudent and cautious conduct towards them, to endeavour to undeceive them concerning the exercise of their religion, which will doubtless be allowed them if it should be thought proper to let them stay where they are.' – Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia A, vol. xii, p. 210.
(5) A Description of Nova Scotia, by Paul Mascarene, transmitted to the Lords of Trade by Governor Philipps. – Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia A, vol. xii, p. 118.
(6) Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia A, vol. xii, p. 96.
(7) Knox, An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America, Edited, etc., by A. G. Doughty. Vol. i, pp. 94-6. (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1914.)
(8) This oath applied only to the inhabitants of the district of Annapolis.
(9) Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia B, vol. i, p. 177.
(10) Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia B, vol. i, p. 159.
Source: Arthur G. DOUGHTY, The Acadian Exiles. A Chronicle of the Land of Evangeline, Toronto, Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1916, 178p., pp. 28-46.
© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College