L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
The Acadian Exiles
[This text was written by Arthur G. Doughty and published in 1916. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]
THUS the Acadians passed from the land of their birth and from the scenes of their youth. Some were to wander as exiles in many lands for many years, separated from their children and from their kind, while others, more fortunate, were soon to regain their native soil.
Lawrence, in his instructions to the governors of the colonies to which he had sent the exiles, said that they were ‘to be received and disposed of in such a manner as may best answer our design of preventing their reunion' as a people. It was not intended to tear apart families and friends, but, owing to the scarcity of vessels and the inadequate arrangements for the deportation, there were many cruel separations. The deputies confined since July on George's Island, for example, were at the last moment transferred to Annapolis in order that they might accompany their families, but this was not effected, for the deputies themselves landed in North Carolina, while their wives and children were dispersed in other colonies. (1) One of the leading Acadians, and one who had loyally served the British, Réné Le Blanc, notary of Grand Pré, was landed with his wife and his two youngest children in New York, while his eighteen other children were scattered far and wide. (2) The real separation of families, however, began in the colonies. For example, four hundred persons were transported to Connecticut ; but before the whole number arrived an order went forth for their dispersion in fifty towns. Nineteen were allotted to Norwich, while three only were sent to Haddon. In some colonies only the first boats were allowed to disembark the exiles, and the masters of the others were forced to seek other ports.
The treatment of the exiles in the colonies varied according to circumstances. In some instances the younger men and women were bound out to service for periods varying from three to twelve weeks. In others they were left free to maintain themselves by their own efforts, the state to provide for such as were incapable, through age or infirmity, of performing manual labour. Hundreds of those who were placed under control escaped and wandered, footsore and half clad, from town to town in the hope of meeting their relatives or of finding means to return to their former homes. Little record has been preserved of the journeyings of these unfortunates or of the sufferings they endured.
About a third of the people deported from Nova Scotia in 1755 found their way to South Carolina, although that does not appear to have been the destination proposed for them by Lawrence. On November 6, 1755, the South Carolina Gazette announced that ‘the Baltimore Snow is expected from the Bay of Fundy with some French Neutrals on board to be distributed in the British colonies.' A fortnight later the first of these arrived, and in the course of a few weeks over a thousand had been landed at Charleston. Soon after, probably passed on by other colonies, a thousand more arrived. Alarmed by the presence of so many strangers, the authorities adopted measures to place them under restraint ; and in February 1756 two parties of the prisoners broke loose : thirty of them outdistanced their pursuers ; five or six, according to the Gazette, made their way to the plantation of a Mr Williams on the Santee, terrified the family, secured a quantity of clothing and firearms, broke open a box containing money, and headed across the Alleghanies, it was thought, for the French stronghold, Fort Duquesne, where Pittsburgh now stands. This conjecture is probable, since nine Acadians from Fort Duquesne arrived at the river St John some time later. In the interval the South Carolina legislature passed an act for the dispersion of four-fifths of the French Neutrals in various parishes at the public expense, the remaining fifth to be supported at Charleston by the vestry of St Phillips. On April 16 passports were given to one hundred and thirty persons to proceed to Virginia. Here they obtained the authority of the governor to return to Acadia, and they reached the river St John on June 16, 1756. Some time later the governor of South Carolina gave the remainder of the people permission to go where they pleased. Two old ships and a quantity of inferior provisions were placed at their disposal, and they sailed for Hampton, Virginia. In due course nine hundred of them landed in the district of the river St John, where they were employed by Vaudreuil, the governor of New France, in harrying the British. By the year 1763 only two hundred and eighty-three Acadians remained in South Carolina. One family of the name of Lanneau became Protestants and gave two ministers to the Presbyterian Church—the Rev. John Lanneau, who afterwards went as a missionary to Jerusalem, and the Rev. Basil Lanneau, who became Hebrew tutor in the Theological Seminary at Columbia.
Among the refugees who put out from Minas on October 13, 1755, were some four hundred and fifty destined for Philadelphia. The vessels touched Delaware on November 20, when it was discovered that there were several cases of smallpox on board, and the masters were ordered to leave the shore. They were not permitted to land at Philadelphia until the 10th of December. Many of the exiles died during the winter, and were buried in the cemetery of the poor which now forms a part of Washington Park, Philadelphia. The survivors were lodged in a poor quarter of the town, in ‘neutral huts,' as their mean dwellings were termed. When the plague-stricken people arrived, Philadelphia had scarcely recovered from the panic of a recent earthquake.
Moreover, there was a letter, said to have been written by Lawrence, dated at Halifax, August 6, and published in the Philadelphia Gazette on September 4, not calculated to place the destitute refugees in a favourable light. This is the substance of the letter : We are now forming the noble project of driving the French Neutrals out of this province. They have long been our secret enemies and have assisted the Indians. If we are able to accomplish their expulsion, it will be one of the great achievements of the English in America, for, among other considerations, the lands which they occupy are among the best in the country, and we can place good English farmers in their stead. A few days later another letter was published to the effect that three Acadians had been arrested charged with poisoning the wells in the vicinity of Halifax. Their trial, it was stated, had not yet taken place ; but if guilty they would have but a few hours to live.
Robert Hunter Morris, the governor at this time of Pennsylvania, wrote to Shirley of Massachusetts saying that, as he had not sufficient troops to enforce order, he feared that the Acadians would unite with the Irish and German Catholics in a conspiracy against the state. He also addressed the governor of New Jersey (3) to the same effect. The governor of New Jersey, in his reply, expressed surprise that those who planned to send the French Neutrals, or rather rebels and traitors to the British crown, had not realized that there were already too many strangers for the peace and security of the colonies : that they should have been sent to Old France. He was quite in accord with Morris in believing there was a danger of the people joining the Irish Papists in an attempt to ruin and destroy the king's colonies.
The Acadians had arrived at Philadelphia in a most deplorable condition. One of the Quakers who visited the boats while they were in quarantine reported that they were without shirts and socks and were sadly in need of bed-clothing. A petition to the governor, giving an account of their conduct in Acadia and of the treatment they had received, fell on deaf ears. An act was passed for their dispersion in the counties of Bucks, Lancaster, and Chester. The refugees, however, were not without friends. To several Quakers they were indebted for many acts of kindness and generosity.
Among those deported to Philadelphia was one of the Le Blanc family, a boy of seventeen, Charles Le Blanc. Early in life he engaged in commerce, and in the course of a long and successful career in Philadelphia amassed an enormous fortune, including large estates in the colonies and in Canada. After his death in 1816 there were many claimants to his estate, and the litigation over it is not yet ended.
The Acadians taken to New York were evidently as poor as their fellow-refugees at Philadelphia. An Act of July 6, 1756, recites that ‘a certain number have been received into this colony, poor, naked, and destitute of every convenience and support of life, and, to the end that they may not continue as they now really are, useless to His Majesty, to themselves, and a burthen to this colony, be it enacted . . . that the Justices of the Peace . . . be required and empowered to bind with respectable families such as are not arrived at the age of twenty-one years, for such a space of time as they may think proper.’ The justices were to make the most favourable contracts for them, and when their term of service expired, they were to be paid either in implements of trade, clothing, or other gratuity.
In the month of August 1756 one hundred and ten sturdy Acadian boys and girls made their appearance in New York. They had travelled all the way from Georgia in the hope of finding means to return to Acadia. Great was their disappointment when they were seized by the authorities and placed out to service. Later some of the parents straggled in, but they were dispersed immediately in Orange and Westchester counties, and some on Long Island, in charge of a constable. The New York Mercury of July 1757 reported that a number of the neutrals had been captured near Fort Edward while on their way to Crown Point. Between the arrival of the first detachment in New York and the month of August 1757 the colony was compelled to provide for large numbers who came in from distant places. To prevent any further escape the sheriffs were commanded to secure all the Acadians, except women and children, in the county gaol.
At a later date these unfortunates were put to a strange use. Sir Harry Moore, governor of the colony of New York (1765-69), had designs upon the French colony at Santo Domingo, in the West Indies, and desired plans of the town and its fortifications. So he entered into correspondence with the French Admiral, Count d'Estaing, offering to transport thither seventy Acadian families in order that they might live under the French flag. The count accepted the offer and issued a proclamation to the Acadians inviting them to Santo Domingo. Moore had arranged that John Hanson should conduct the exiles to their new home. Hanson, on arriving at the French colony, was to take a contract to build houses and make out the desired military plans while so engaged. He succeeded in transporting the Acadians, but failed in the real object of his mission. He was not allowed the liberty of building houses in Santo Domingo. The Acadians who went to the West Indies suffered greatly. The tropical climate proved disastrous to men and women who had been reared in the atmosphere of the Bay of Fundy. They crawled under trees and shrubs to escape the fierce rays of the sun. Numbers of them perished and life became a burden to the others.
Far different was the lot of the Acadians who were sent to Maryland. (4) There they were kindly received and found, no doubt, a happier lot than in any of the other colonies. Those landed at Baltimore were at first lodged in private houses and in a building belonging to a Mr Fotherall, where they had a little chapel. And it was not long before the frugal and industrious exiles were able to construct small but comfortable houses of their own on South Charles Street, giving to that quarter of the city the name of French Town. Many of them found employment on the waterside and in navigation. The old and infirm picked oakum.
Massachusetts at one time counted in the colony a thousand and forty of the exiles, but all these had not come direct on the ships from Nova Scotia. Many of them had wandered in from other colonies. The people of Massachusetts loved not Catholics and Frenchmen ; nevertheless, in some instances they received the refugees with especial kindness. At Worcester a small tract of land was set aside for the Acadians to cultivate, with permission to hunt deer at all seasons. The able-bodied men and women toiled in the fields as reapers, and added to their income in the evening by making wooden implements. The Acadians were truly primitive in their methods. ‘Although,' says a writer of the time, ‘they tilled the soil they kept no animals for labour. The young men drew their material for fencing with thongs of sinew, and they turned the earth with a spade. The slightest allusion to their native land drew forth tears and many of the aged died of a broken heart.'
As French Neutrals began to come into Boston from other towns, the selectmen of that city protested vigorously and passed the people on to outlying parishes, promising, however, to be responsible for their maintenance should they become a public charge. Several instances are recorded of children being sent to join their parents. A certain number were confined in the workhouse and in the provincial hospital. But on December 6, 1760, the authorities gave instructions for the hospital to be cleared to make room for the colonial troops who were returning home, many of them suffering from contagious diseases ; and the Acadians were forthwith turned out.
Although none of the Acadians appear to have been sent direct to Louisiana, large numbers of them found their way thither from various places, especially from Virginia, where they were not allowed to remain. Finding in Louisiana men speaking their own tongue, they felt a sense of security, and gradually settled down with a degree of contentment. There are to-day in various parishes of the state of Louisiana many thousand Acadian-Americans [Cajuns].
Of the Acadians who succeeded in escaping deportation and went into voluntary exile, many sought shelter in New Brunswick, on the rivers Petitcodiac, Memramcook, Buctouche, Richibucto, and Miramichi, and along Chaleur Bay. The largest of the settlements so formed was the one on the Miramichi, at Pierre Beaubair's seigneury, where the village of Nelson now stands. For several years these refugees in New Brunswick bravely struggled against hardship, disease, and starvation ; but in the late autumn of 1759 the several settlements sent deputies to Colonel Frye at Fort Cumberland, asking on what terms they would be received back to Nova Scotia. Frye took a number of them into the fort for the winter, and presented their case to Lawrence. It was decided to accept their submission and supply them with provisions. But when the people returned they were held as vassals ; and many of them afterwards were either sent out of the province to France or England, or left it voluntarily for St Pierre and Miquelon or the West Indies.
Other fugitives of 1755, fifteen hundred, according to one authority, (5) succeeded in reaching Quebec. Here their lot was a hard one. Bigot and his myrmidons plundered everybody, and the starving Acadians did not escape. They had managed to bring with them a little money and a few household treasures, of which they were soon robbed. For a time they were each allowed but four ounces of bread a day, and were reduced, it is said, to searching the gutters for food. To add to their miseries smallpox broke out among them and many perished from the disease. After Quebec surrendered and the victorious British army entered the gates, some two hundred of them, under the leadership of a priest, Father Coquart, who apparently had a passport from General Murray, marched through the wilderness to the headwaters of the St John and went down to Fort Frederick at the mouth of that river. Colonel Arbuthnot, the British commandant there, treated them generously. In 1761, however, many Acadians at the St John were seized and deported to Halifax, where they were held as prisoners of war, but were provided with rations and given ‘good wages for road-making.' (6) Of those who escaped this deportation, some established themselves on the Kennebecasis river and some went up the St John to St Anne's, now Fredericton. But even here the Acadians were not to have a permanent home. Twenty years later, when the war of the Revolution ended and land was needed for the king's disbanded soldiers, the lands of the Acadians were seized. Once more the unfortunate people sought new homes, and found them at last along the banks of Chaleur Bay and of the Madawaska, where thousands of their descendants now rudely cultivate the fields and live happy, contented lives.
The deportation did not bring peace to Nova Scotia. Acadians of New Brunswick and of those who had sought refuge in the forest fastnesses of the peninsula and Cape Breton joined with the Indians in guerilla warfare against the British ; and there was more killing of settlers and more destruction of property from Indian raids than ever before. Early in the month of January 1756 British rangers rounded up over two hundred Acadian prisoners at Annapolis, and put them on board a vessel bound for South Carolina. The prisoners, however, made themselves masters of the ship and sailed into the St John river in February. French privateers, manned by Acadians, haunted the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St Lawrence and carried off as prizes twelve British vessels. But in 1761 the British raided a settlement of the marauders on Chaleur Bay, and took three hundred and fifty prisoners to Halifax.
We have seen in a preceding chapter that from time to time numbers of Acadians voluntarily left their homes in Nova Scotia and went over to French soil. Many of these took up their abode in Ile St Jean at Port La Joie (Charlottetown), where they soon formed a prosperous settlement and were able to supply not only the fortress but the town of Louisbourg with provisions. Those who were not engaged in agricultural pursuits found profitable employment in the fisheries. There were also thriving settlements at Point Prince, St Peter, and Malpeque. It is computed that in 1755 there were at least four thousand Acadians in Ile St Jean. A much larger estimate is given by some historians. Now, on the fall of Louisbourg in 1758, some of the British transports which had brought out troops from Cork to Halifax were ordered to Ile St Jean to carry the Acadians and French to France. The largest of these transports was the Duke William ; another was named the Violet. Some of the Acadians made good their escape, but many were dragged on board the vessels. On the Duke William was a missionary priest, and before the vessels sailed he was called upon to perform numerous marriages, for the single men had learned that if they landed unmarried in France they would be forced to perform military service, for which they had no inclination. Nine transports sailed in consort, but were soon caught in a violent tempest and scattered. On December 10 the Duke William came upon the Violet in a sinking condition ; and notwithstanding all efforts at rescue, the Violet went down with nearly four hundred souls. Meanwhile the Duke William herself had sprung a leak. For a time she was kept afloat by empty casks in the hold, but presently it became evident that the ship was doomed. The long-boat was put out and filled to capacity. And scarcely had the boat cleared when an explosion occurred and the Duke William went down, taking three hundred persons to a watery grave. The long-boat finally reached Penzance with twenty-seven of the castaways. The other vessels probably found some French port. (7)
In Nova Scotia the Acadians were sorely needed. Even their bitter enemy, Jonathan Belcher, now lieutenant-governor, (8) wrote on June 18, 1761 : ‘By representations made to me from the new settlements in this province, it appears extremely necessary that the inhabitants should be assisted by the Acadians in repairing the dykes for the preservation and recovery of the marsh lands, particularly as on the progress of this work, in which the Acadians are the most skilful people in the country, the support and subsistence of several hundred of the inhabitants will depend.' (9) It seemed almost impossible to induce settlers to come to the province ; and those who did come seem to have been unable to follow the example of the former owners of the soil, for much of the land which had been reclaimed from the sea by the labour and ingenuity of the Acadian farmers was once more being swept by the ocean tides.
Yet, when the Acadians began to return to Nova Scotia in ever-increasing numbers, Belcher and the Halifax Council decided to banish them again. In 1762 five transports loaded with prisoners were sent to Massachusetts, but that colony wanted no more Acadians and sent them back. Belcher had some difficulty in explaining his action to thehome government. And the Lords of Trade did not scruple to censure him.
When the Treaty of Paris (February 1763) brought peace between France and England and put an end to French power in America, the Acadians could no longer be considered a menace, and there was no good political reason for keeping them out of Canada or Nova Scotia. Almost immediately those in exile began to seek new homes among people of their own race and religion. The first migration seems to have been from New England by the Lake Champlain route to the province of Quebec. There they settled at various places, notably L'Acadie, St Grégoire, Nicolet, Bécancour, St Jacques-l'Achigan, St Philippe, and Laprairie. In these communities hundreds of their descendants still live.
In 1766 the exiles in Massachusetts assembled in Boston and decided to return to their native land. All who were fit to travel, numbering about nine hundred men, women, and children, marched through the wilderness along the Atlantic coast and across New Brunswick to the isthmus of Chignecto. Many perished by the way, overcome by the burden and fatigue of a journey which lasted over four months. But at last the weary pilgrims approached their destination. And near the site of the present village of Coverdale in Albert county, New Brunswick, they were attracted to a small farmhouse by the crowing of a cock in the early dawn. To their unspeakable joy they found the house inhabited by a family of their own race. Here they halted for a few days, making inquiry concerning their old friends. Then they tramped on in different directions. Everywhere on the isthmus the scene was changed. The old familiar farm buildings had disappeared or were occupied by strangers of an alien tongue, and even the names of places were known no more. Some journeyed to Windsor and some to Annapolis, where they remained for a time. At length, on the western shores of the present counties of Digby and Yarmouth, they found a home, and there to-day live the descendants of these pilgrims. For miles their neat villages skirt the shores of the ocean and the banks of the streams. For a century and a half they have lived in peace, cultivating their salt-marsh lands and fresh-water meadows, preserving the simple manners, customs, and language of their ancestors. They form a community apart, a hermit community. But they are useful citizens, good farmers, hardy fishermen and sailors.
Both in Canada and in the United States are to be found many Acadians occupying exalted positions. The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, Joseph A. Breaux, is of Acadian descent. In Canada the Rt Rev. Edward Le Blanc, bishop of Acadia, the Hon. P. E. Le Blanc, lieutenant-governor of the province of Quebec, and the Hon. Pascal Poirier, senator, are Acadians, as are many other prominent men. And Isabella Labarre, who married Jean Fôret, of Beaubassin, was one of the maternal ancestors of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
Save in the Maritime Provinces, it is not possible to count the offspring of the original French settlers of Acadia who came out from France in the seventeenth century. It is estimated that there were at the time of the expulsion ten or eleven thousand under the British flag, and four or five thousand in Ile St Jean and elsewhere on French territory. About six thousand were deported, as we have seen, and scattered over the British colonies. Undoubtedly a great number of Americans of to-day are descendants of those exiles, but, except at the mouth of the Mississippi, they are merged in the general population and their identity is lost. Neither can we tell how many of those who found their way to Old France remained there permanently. For upwards of twenty years the French government was concerned in finding places for them. Some were settled on estates ; some were sent to Corsica ; others, as late as 1778, went to Louisiana. Nor can we estimate the number of Acadians in the province of Quebec, for no distinction has been made between them and the general French-Canadian population. For the Maritime Provinces, however, we have the count of the census of 1911. This shows 98,611 in New Brunswick, 51,746 in Nova Scotia, and 13,117 in Prince Edward Island, a total of 163,474 in the three provinces. The largest communities are those of Gloucester, Victoria, Madawaska, and Kent counties in New Brunswick, and of Digby and Yarmouth in Nova Scotia. Several thousand Acadians are counted in Cape Breton ; so, too, in Halifax and Cumberland counties. But in the county of Annapolis, where stands the site of the first settlement formed on the soil of Canada—the site of the ancient stronghold of Acadia—and which for many generations was the principal home of the Acadian people, only two or three hundred Acadians are to be found. to-day ; while, looking out over Minas Basin, the scene of so much sorrow and suffering, one solitary family keeps its lonely vigil in the village of Grand Pré.
(1) Nova Scotia Documents, p. 280. Calnek and Savary, History of the County of Annapolis, p. 124.
(2) Petition of the Acadians deported to Philadelphia. Printed in Richard, vol. ii, p. 371.
(3) Jonathan Belcher, governor of New Jersey and later of Massachusetts. He was the father of the chief justice of Nova Scotia.
(4) The Maryland Gazette, Annapolis, December 4, 1755, said : 'Sunday last [November 30] arrived here the last of the vessels from Nova Scotia with French Neutrals for this place, which makes four within this fortnight bringing upwards of nine hundred of them. As the poor people have been deprived of their settlements in Nova Scotia, and sent here for some political reason bare and destitute, Christian charity, nay, common humanity, calls on every one according to his ability to lend assistance and to help these objects of compassion.'
(5) Placide Gaudet, 'Acadian Genealogy and Notes,' Canadian Archives Report. 1905. vol. ii, part iii, Appendix A, p. xv.
(6) MacMechan in Canada and its Provinces, vol. xiii, p. 115.
(7) In 1763 there were 2370 Acadians in the maritime towns of France and 866 at various English ports. Many of these returned later to the land of their birth. See Canadian Archives Report, 1905, vol. ii, Appendix G, pp. 148 and 157.
(8) He succeeded Lawrence, who died in October 1760. Two documents in the Colonial Office Records raise more than a suspicion that Lawrence had been by no means an exemplary public servant. The first is a complaint made by Robert Sanderson, speaker of the first legislature of Nova Scotia, elected in 1758, respecting the grave misconduct of Lawrence in many stated particulars, including the release from gaol before trial of prisoners charged with burglary and other grave offences as well as the misapplication of public funds. The second is a letter from the Lords of Trade to Belcher laying down rules for his conduct as lieutenant-governor and referring to the many serious charges against his predecessor, some of which they regard as having substantial foundation, and none of which they express themselves as altogether rejecting. Consult, in the Public Archives, Canada, Nova Scotia A, vol. lxv.
(9) Nova Scotia Documents, p. 319.
Source: Arthur G. DOUGHTY, The Acadian Exiles. A Chronicle of the Land of Evangeline, Toronto, Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1916, 178p., pp. 138-161.
© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College