St. John Valley Depicts Drama of Early Pioneering

As one comes to Maine for the first time, he cannot boast of having seen the State until he has seen Aroostook County, and one cannot state that he has seen the entire County, until he has seen the St. John Valley. Madawaska in the Valley, is the northmost town in the State of Maine.

The Valley really begins at the boundary line near Grand Falls New Brunswick [the Town where I was born], and the hills on either side of the St. John River become more pronounced as one proceeds northwest to Allagash Plantation in Maine. The River passes through Woodstock, Fredericton and St. John New Brunswick, but it is known as the St. John River only, and there is no real valley as we find here.

Coming from Grand Falls [Grand Sault] New Brunswick and crossing the boundary into Maine, the traveler passes through Hamlin, Van Buren, Grand Isle, Madawaska, Frenchville, Fort Kent, St. John, St. Francis and Allagash…and there is the end of the road! On the New Brunswick side, the traveler passes through St. Leonard, Siegas, St. Anne of Madawaska, Green River, St. Basil, Edmundston, St. Hilaire, Baker Brook, Clair, St. Francis Ledges and Connors. Here the end of the trail ends at Glacier Lake.

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The highway in New Brunswick follows the River; therefore, the traveler may see all the American towns, as he wends his way along the River on the New Brunswick side. Likewise, when the traveler uses the U.S. Highway, he may see all the towns on the New Brunswick side. There is not a dull moment for the traveler from Van Buren to Allagash, as the towns are not far apart. As one leaves a town, he sees on both sides of the highway houses rather close together, except on the stretch from St. Francis to Allagash, which is wooded area. However, in the Valley the traveler does not have to travel miles and miles on a road through the woods, or a highway bordering large farmlands where a sparsely populated area presents more scenic beauty than anything else, which tires the traveler after many hours of traveling. There is not enough contrast to keep his attention for long.

Anyone coming from Massachusetts through Kittery and Portland, has nearly four hundred miles to travel before he can reach Van Buren, through Caribou. Then he has to travel another seventy miles, before he can reach Allagash. If he wants to cross to Canada, he may do so at Van Buren, Madawaska and Fort Kent, as these three Valley towns have each an international bridge connection to Van Buren Maine, St. Leonard New Brunswick, Madawaska Maine, Edmundston New Brunswick, Fort Kent Maine and Clair New Brunswick.

The Madawaska Territory, so called, included all the present towns on both banks of the St. John River (Canada and the USA), as far west as Lake Temiscouata in the Province of Quebec, and practically all the present counties of Madawaska, York and Victoria in New Brunswick, and extended as far south as the Aroostook River in the northern Maine. This section was renowned for its hard pine trees, therefore New Brunswick and Maine vied for the complete possession of the entire territory until 1842, the year the permanent boundary was fixed.

The people of the Valley are descendants of the Acadians from the land of Evangeline, present Nova Scotia, except that Acadia included all the surrounding lands and was much larger than just Nova Scotia.

Acadia might be a contraction of ARcadia, a mountain district in ancient Greece which was famous for its simple, quiet and contended life. Any region of simple, quiet contentment is called ARcadia. Such was the Acadia of the Acadians.

Originally the Acadians came from Brittany, “La Bretagne”, in northern France, and the inhabitants of Brittany were Britons as much as the Britons of England. In fact, Great Britain is “La Grande Bretagne” as compared with simply “La Bretagne” in France.

Although the majority of the first settlers were Britons, there were also many Normans from Normandy in the north of France. They were the old Northmen, or Norsemen, descendants of the Vikings from the Scandinavian Peninsula. There is a relationship between the Normans of France and the Norsemen of Scandinavia, as well as between the Britons of England and the people of northern France.

The people of the St. John Valley are Britons and Normans at the same time. Inter-marriage and inter-relationship between Normans and Britons were such that it is hard today to say who are Normans and who are Britons. However, we know with certainty that the Valley people have inherited the qualities and faults of both groups, and as a consequence have developed a distinct nationality of people, the Acadians.

In 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, won a victory over Harold of England. The Normans ruled England from a period at the end of the last crusade to the Renaissance from 1100 to 1300. Norman French was the language used during the two hundred tears of occupation. As a consequence, the English language contains 70% of Latin words which come directly from the Latin, or indirectly through the French.

The Debacle, or “Le Grand Derangement”, took place in 1755. Acadia came under the rule of England in 1710, and the Dominion of Canada in 1760. The Acadians refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the King of England unconditionally, were treated as a stubborn people, a sort of riffraff to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. They were willing to pledge allegiance to England, but they were unwilling to take up arms against the Frenchmen in Cape Breton Island New Brunswick, and other French settlements in case of a war between England and France.

On a fateful day in 1755, the people were summoned to the church, by order of Governor Lawrence. Not suspecting any treachery, they went in, and the doors were locked at once. A proclamation was read to the effect that they were prisoners of the King and that they would be deported. All their lands were confiscated, and some of the houses and barns were set on fire. At the point of the bayonet, they were ushered to the boats which were waiting for them, to take them away and scatter them along the Atlantic Coast. Directions were given on the manner they should behave in the new country to which they were being taken. Husbands, wives and children were separated for fear some might venture to come back and settle nearby. They were put on different boats, some being taken to Boston, others to Louisiana, and still others to Bermuda. Those who were fortunate enough to be notified ahead of time fled to Fredericton, others went to the shores of the St. Lawrence. Little by little a new settlement was made near Fredericton, and the Acadians who had fled to the Province of Quebec and those who had been deported to Boston, rejoined them there.

In 1785, there was another wave of unrest. The English were pursuing the Acadians again. This time they came to the St. John River Valley and settled in what is now Madawaska Maine, and Edmundston New Brunswick. Other settlements were made in Van Buren (Maine) and St. Leonard (N.B.), Fort Kent (Maine) and Clair (N.B.). The first winter was hard and brought famine and sickness, and terribly decimated the population. The Acadians of the Valley suffered the same bitter trials, as did the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled in Massachusetts.

The entire territory about the Valley was called Madawaska, an Indian name which means the land of the Porcupine. The inhabitants did not belong to the United States, nor to Canada. They were simply Madawaskans!

Madawaska was rich in hard pines, which the United States and Canada coveted. It was difficult to settle on a boundary line to satisfy Maine and New Brunswick. Several surveys had been made by both parties concerned, but nothing was final. The United States argued that Madawaska belonged to Maine, whereas Canada maintained that it belonged to New Brunswick. The governors of Maine became interested in the people and the territory in northern Maine, as well as Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Beginning in 1830 there were debates, exchanges of letters and threats, when finally armies were mobilized, the old military road was built, the Aroostook Road going from Fort Kent, through Wallagrass and Eagle Lake, being part of that road. Great Britain claimed the whole St. John River, including both banks, and a great part of the territory as far south as Houlton (Maine). In 1839, the New Brunswick governor issued a proclamation which amounted to a declaration of war. However, not a shot was fired and a settlement was finally agreed by arbitration. The Aroostook bloodless war was at an end in 1842. The Blockhouse in Fort Kent, is a relic of that war.

Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton were the arbitrators. They made the St. John River the dividing line between Maine and New Brunswick, from Van Buren to St. Francis, and the St. Francis River the dividing line between the two at St. Francis. The treaty of 1842 is known as the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.

The people of the Valley are accused of speaking a dialect. It is Yankee French more than anything else. However, the educated class, and by this we mean those who studied French in school long enough to be well-versed in reading, literature, and grammar, speak very good French. Others speak a mixture of French and English, use bad grammar, as others do in their own language, and use old forms of the 17th century, the century of the French settlement in Canada.

The Acadians have inherited two great cultures from two great civilizations, England and France. They are proud of this dual nationality in culture. Though the people of the Valley dislike to be called Frenchmen, they prefer that than to be called Franco-Americans, a term foreign to them. The Franco-Americans are in Lewiston, Biddeford, Brunswick, Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, Providence, and in other French-speaking communities in the New England States. These are not Acadians; they are French Canadians from the Province of Quebec.

The people of the Valley anglicize the pronunciation of their names as much as they can. They are proud to be Americans, and as such they claim no other nationality. They are not French-Americans, they are not French-Canadians…they are Americans.

The above noted is reprinted with permission from the L.A. Violette family (May 3, 1979) to the Madawaska Historical Society, who subsequently granted similar permission to this author in 1995.