Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2005

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


Chapter VI

The Ancient Boundaries



Map of the Acadian boundary dispute as discussed by the

French and the British in the 1750's


[This text was written by Arthur G. DOUGHTY and published in 1916. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

By the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle the question of the limits of Acadia had been referred to a commission of arbitration, and each of the powers had agreed to attempt no settlement on the debatable ground until such time as the decision of the commissioners should be made known. Each, however, continued to watch jealously over its own interests. The English persisted in their claim that the ancient boundaries included all the country north of the Bay of Fundy to the St Lawrence, and Cornwallis was directed to see to it that no subjects of the French king settled within these boundaries. The French, on the other hand, steadily asserted their ownership in all land north of a line drawn from Baie Verte to Chignecto Bay. The disputants, though openly at peace, glowered at each other. Hardly had Cornwallis brought his colonists ashore at Halifax, when La Galissoniere, the acting-governor of Canada, sent Boishebert, with a detachment of twenty men, to the river St John, to assert the French claim to that district; and when La Galissonière went to France as a commissioner in the boundary dispute, his successor, La Jonquière, dispatched a force under the Chevalier de la Corne to occupy the isthmus of Chignecto.


About the same time the Indians went on the war-path, apparently at the instigation of the French. Des Herbiers, the governor of Ile Royale, when dispatching the Abbé Le Loutre to the savages with the usual presents, had added blankets and a supply of powder and ball, clearly intended to aid them should they be disposed to attack the English settlements. Indians from the river St John joined the Micmacs and opened hostilities by seizing an English vessel at Canso and taking twenty prisoners. The prisoners were liberated by Des Herbiers; but the Micmacs, their blood up, assembled at Chignecto, near La Corne's post, and declared war on the English. The Council at Halifax promptly raised several companies for defence, and offered a reward of 10 pounds for the capture of an Indian, dead or alive. Cornwallis complained bitterly to Louisbourg that Le Loutre was stirring up trouble; but Des Herbiers disingenuously disclaimed all responsibility for the abbe. The Indians, he said, were merely allies, not French subjects, and Le Loutre acted under the direction of the governor of Canada. He promised also that if any Frenchman molested the English, he should be punished, a promise which, as subsequent events showed, he had no intention of keeping.


In November 1749 a party of one hundred and fifty Indians captured a company of engineers at Grand Pré, where the English had just built a fort. Le Loutre, however, ransomed the prisoners and sent them to Louisbourg. The Indians, emboldened by their success, then issued a proclamation in the name of the king of France and their Indian allies calling upon the Acadians to arm, under pain of death for disobedience. On learning that eleven Acadians obeyed this summons, Cornwallis sent Captain Goreham of the Rangers to arrest them. The rebels, however, made good their escape, thanks to the Indians; and Goreham could only make prisoners of some of their children, whom he brought before the governor. The children declared that their parents had not been free agents, and produced in evidence one of the threatening orders of the Indians. In any case, of course, the children were in no way responsible, and were therefore sent home; and the governor described Goreham as 'no officer at all.'


When spring came Cornwallis took steps to stop the incursions of the savages and at the same time to check the emigration of the Acadians. He sent detachments to build and occupy fortified posts at Grand Pré, at Pisiquid, and at other places. He ordered Major Lawrence to sail up the Bay of Fundy with four hundred settlers for Beaubassin, the Acadian village at the head of Chignecto Bay. For the time being, however, this undertaking did not prosper. On arriving, Lawrence encountered a band of Micmacs, which Le Loutre had posted at the dikes to resist the disembarkation. Some fighting ensued before Lawrence succeeded in leading ashore a body of troops. The motive of the turbulent abbe was to preserve the Acadians from the contaminating presence of heretics and enemies of his master, the French king. And, when he saw that he could not prevent the English from making a lodgment in the village, he went forward with his Micmacs and set it on fire, thus forcing the Acadian inhabitants to cross to the French camp at Beausejour, some two miles off. Here La Corne had set up his standard to mark the boundary of New France, beyond which he dared the British to advance at their peril. At a conference which was arranged between Lawrence and La Corne, La Corne said that the governor of Canada, La Jonquiere, had directed him to take possession of the country to the north, 'or at least he was to keep it and must defend it till the boundaries between the two Crowns should be settled’. (1) Moreover, if Lawrence should try to effect a settlement, La Corne would oppose it to the last. And as Lawrence's forces were quite inadequate to cope with La Corne's, it only remained for Lawrence to return to Halifax with his troops and settlers.

Meanwhile Boishébert stood guard for the governor of Quebec at the mouth of the river St John. In the previous year, when he had arrived there, Cornwallis had sent an officer to protest against what he considered an encroachment; but Boishébert had answered simply that he was commissioned to hold the place for his royal master without attempting a settlement until the boundary dispute should be adjusted. Now, in July 1750, Captain Cobb of the York, cruising in the Bay of Fundy, sighted a French sloop near the mouth of the St John, and opened fire. The French captain immediately lowered his boats and landed a party of sailors, apparently with the intention of coming to a conference. Cobb followed his example. Presently Boishébert came forward under a flag of truce and demanded Cobb's authority for the act of war in territory claimed by the French. Cobb produced his commission and handed it to Boishébert. Keeping the document in his possession, Boishébert ordered Cobb to bring his vessel under the stern of the French sloop, and sent French officers to board Cobb's ship and see the order carried out. The sailors on the York, however, held the Frenchmen as hostages for the safe return of their captain. After some parleying Cobb was allowed to return to his vessel, and the Frenchmen were released. Boishébert, however, refused to return the captain's commission. Cobb thereupon boarded the French sloop, seized five of the crew, and sailed away.


So the game went on. A month later the British sloop Trial, at Baie Verte, captured a French sloop of seventy tons which was engaged in carrying arms and supplies to Le Loutre's Indians. On board were four deserters from the British and a number of Acadians. Among the papers found on the Acadians were letters addressed to their friends in Quebec and others from Le Loutre and officers of Fort St John and of Port La Joie in Ile St Jean. From one of these letters we obtain a glimpse of the conditions of the Acadians:


I shall tell you that I was settled in Acadia. I have four small children. I lived contented on my land. But that did not last long, for we were compelled to leave all our property and flee from under the domination of the English. The King undertakes to transport us and support us under the expectation of news from France. If Acadia is not restored to France I hope to take my little family and bring it to Canada. I beg you to let me know the state of things in that country. I assure you that we are in poor condition, for we are like the Indians in the woods. (2)

By other documents taken it was shown that supplies from Quebec were frequently passing to the Indians, and that the dispatches addressed to Cornwallis were intercepted and forwarded to the governor of Quebec. (3)


These papers revealed to Cornwallis the peril which menaced him. But, having been reinforced by the arrival from Newfoundland of three hundred men of Lascelles's regiment, he resolved to occupy Chignecto, which Lawrence had been forced to abandon in April. Accordingly Lawrence again set out, this time with about seven hundred men. In mid-September his ships appeared off the burnt village of Beaubassin. Again the landing was opposed by a band of Indians and about thirty Acadians entrenched on the shore. These, after some fighting and losses, were beaten off; and the English troops landed and proceeded to construct a fort, named by them Fort Lawrence, and to erect barracks for the winter. La Corne, from his fort at Beauséjour, where he had his troops and a body of Acadians, addressed a note to Lawrence, proposing a meeting in a boat in the middle of the river. Lawrence replied that he had no business with La Corne, and that La Corne could come to him if he had anything to communicate. Acts of violence followed. It was not long before a scouting party under the command of Captain Bartelot was surrounded by a band of Indians and Acadians. (4) Forty-five of the party were killed, and Bartelot and eight men were taken prisoners. A few weeks later there was an act of treachery which greatly embittered the British soldiers. This was the murder of Captain Howe, one of the British officers, by some of Le Loutre's Micmacs. It was stated that Le Loutre was personally implicated in the crime, but there appears not the slightest foundation for this charge. One morning in October Howe saw an Indian carrying a flag of truce on the opposite side of the Missaguash river, which lay between Fort Lawrence and Fort Beauséjour. Howe, who had often held converse with the savages, went forward to meet the Indian, and the two soon became engaged in conversation. Suddenly the Indian lowered his flag, a body of savages concealed behind a dike opened fire, and Howe fell, mortally wounded. In the work of bringing the dying officer into the fort ten of his company also fell.


Meanwhile an event occurred which seemed likely to promote more cordial relations between the French and the English. Early in October Des Herbiers returned to Halifax thirty-seven prisoners, including six women, who had been captured by the Indians but ransomed and sent to Louisbourg by the Abbé Le Loutre. It is difficult to reconcile the conduct of the meddlesome missionary on this occasion with what we know of his character. He was possessed of an inveterate hatred of the English and all their works; yet he was capable of an act of humanity towards them. After all, it may be that generosity was not foreign to the nature of this fanatical French patriot. Cornwallis was grateful, and cheerfully refunded the amount of the ransom. (5)


But the harmony existing between Des Herbiers and Cornwallis was of short duration. In the same month the British sloop Albany, commanded by Captain Rous, fell on the French brigantine St François, Captain Vergor, on the southern coast. Vergor, who was carrying stores and ammunition to Louisbourg, ran up his colours, but after a fight of three hours he was forced by Rous to surrender. The captive ship was taken to Halifax and there condemned as a prize, the cargo being considered contraband of war. La Jonquière addressed a peremptory letter to Cornwallis, demanding whether he was acting under orders in seizing a French vessel in French territory. He likewise instructed Des Herbiers to seize ships of the enemy; and as a result four prizes were sold by the Admiralty Court at Louisbourg.


Open hostilities soon became the order of the day. During the winter a party of Canadians and Indians and Acadians disguised as Indians assembled near Fort Lawrence. They succeeded in killing two men, and continued to fire on the British position for two days. But, as the garrison remained within the shelter of the walls, the attackers grew weary of wasting ammunition and withdrew to harry the settlement at Halifax. According to the French accounts, these savages killed thirty persons on the outskirts of Halifax in the spring of 1751, and Cornwallis reported that four inhabitants and six soldiers had been taken prisoners. Then in June three hundred British troops from Fort Lawrence invaded the French territory to attempt a surprise. They were discovered, however, and St Ours, who had succeeded La Corne, brought out his forces and drove them back to Fort Lawrence. A month later the British made another attack and destroyed a dike, flooding the lands of the Acadians in its neighbourhood.


And during all this time England and France were theoretically at peace. Their commissioners sat in Paris, La Galissonière on one side, Shirley on the other, piling up mountains of argument as to the 'ancient boundaries' of Acadia. All to no purpose; for neither nation could afford to recede from its position. It was a question for the last argument of kings. Meanwhile the officials in the colonies anxiously waited for the decision; and the poor Acadians, torn between the hostile camps, and many of them now homeless, waited too.


(1) Canadian Archives Report, 1905, Appendix N, vol. ii, p. 321.


(2) A. Doucet to Mde Langedo of Quebec,  August 5, 1750.


(3) Cornwallis to Bedford, August 19, 1750.


(4) La Vallière, one of the French officers on the spot, says that the Indians and Acadians were encouraged by Le Loutre during this attack. – Journal of the Sieur de la Vallière.


(5) Des Herbiers to Cornwallis, October 2, 1750. – Public Archives, Canada. Nova Scotia A, vol. xxxix, p. 13.

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Source: Arthur G. DOUGHTY, The Acadian Exiles. A Chronicle of the Land of Evangeline, Toronto, Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1916, 178p., pp. 71-82.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College