THE CHARLES MELANSON STORY
Primary source of information is Research Bulletin #250, “The Melanson Settlement (1664-1755) published by Canadian Minister of Environment. R61-9/250E ISSN: 0228-1228
Note: The name Melancon had several spellings. Charles signed Mellanson, and the bulletin uses Melanson throughout, so we will use that spelling.
Charles Melanson, age 14, and his parents arrived in Acadia from England in 1657. His father, Pierre Laverdure, was a Huguenot who moved to England from France before 1632. His mother, Priscilla, was English, a fact that is well accepted by historians, although generations of die hard descendants, who will not admit an ounce of English blood continue to insist that she was Scottish. The family, which included at least two other children, Pierre and Jean, sailed fro England on the “Satisfaction”
with Thomas Temple, the newly appointed governor of Acadia.
The family is thought to have settled originally on the St. John River. Then in 1667, when Acadia was returned to France by the Treaty of Breda, Charles’ parents and brother Jean moved to Boston. Charles and Pierre remained in Acadia. Charles has renounced Protestantism in 1664 and married Marie Dugas, daughter of Port Royal armourer, Abraham Dugas and Marguerite Doucet. Following their marriage, they probably settled on the land which we now know as the Melanson Settlement in the Port Royal area. Although no concession has been found, a British document of
1734 states that this land was granted originally to Charles Melanson and “honest” Marie Dugas.
By 1671, the Melansons were major landholders at Port Royal. The first census taken that year listed 20 arpents of workable land, not all under cultivation, 40 head of cattle and 6 sheep. Charles was described as a “laboureur” and the family had 4 daughters at the time. In total, 5 sons and 9 daughters were born between about 1664 and 1693. The eldest, Marie, was brought up in Boston by her grandmother strengthening Charles’ ties with that colony. Of the other children, 8 established households in the Melanson Settlement where they remained for their adult lives.
One daughter settled elsewhere in the Port Royal area, one settled in Beaubassin, and one apparently died.
Charles Melanson and Marie Dugas had these children (birth dates are
approximate): Marie (1668-1754) (married David Basset); Marguerite (1666-1685); Anne (1668-1754) (married 1st Jacques Saint-Etienne de La Tour, 2nd Alexandre
(Robichaud); Cecille (1670- ?) (married 1st Abraham Boudrot, 2nd Jean Antoine (Belliveau); Isabel (Elizabeth) (1673- ?) (married Michel Bourg); Charles (1675-1757) (married Anne Bourg); Magdeleine (1677- ?) (married Jean Belliveau); Marie (1684- ?) (married Jean Sire); Pierre (1685-1725) (married Anne Granger); Ambroise (1685-1756) (married 1st Francoise Bourg, 2nd Marguerite Comeaux); Claude (1688-1737) (married Marguerite Babinot); Jean (1690-1760) (married Madeleine Petitot); Marguerite (1693- ?) (married Jean Baptiste Landry).
The Melanson Settlement expanded to 4 families during the late 1690’s. Cecille Melanson may have been with first child to form a separate household within the family community when she married Abraham Boudrot, an Acadian ship Captain/trader. Another daughter, Anne, returned to Port Royal from Cape Sable with her children after the death of her husband Jacques Saint Etienne De La Tour. Apparently accompanying Anne was Jean Roy dit La Liberte and his Indian wife, Marie Aubois. The 1698 census groups these 3 families with Charles and Marie Melanson. At that time, the Melansons were still major landholders with 35 arpents of land and one of the largest orchards (76 trees). Abraham Boudrot and Cecille Melanson own 3 arpents, but the other two newly arrived couples held none. 39 head of cattle, 23 sheep and 19 pigs belonged to the 4 families. There were 21 children in all, seven of them in the Charles Melanson household. A series of deaths and marriages changed the composition of the settlement of the next decade. Charles died about 1700, leaving Marie Dugas to survive him by almost four decades, until her death in 1737 at the age of about 91. When Abraham Boudrot died, his widow remarried and apparently left the settlement. The widow De La Tour (Anne) stayed on, marrying Alexandre Robichaud and beginning a second family. Another daughter, Magdeleine, married Jean Belliveau, and settled in the family compound, remaining there with her children after her husband was killed during a British assault on the fort at Port Royal
Charles and Ambroise seem to have been the first Melanson sons to marry and bring their brides to the flourishing family settlement on the north shore of the Annapolis River.
The 5 households and gardens of the Melanson Settlement appear on the 1708 map which provides the first definite evidence of who was living in the settlement. The households were identified as: “mme la Ramee” (Marie Dugas, La Ramee having been part of Charles Melanson’s name); “le Belliveau” (Magdeleine Melanson, Jean having died in 1707); “Melanson” (probably Charles, the eldest son); “Alexandre Robicheau” (Anne’s 2nd husband); and “la Liberte” (Jean Roy). Ambroise Melanson, who had
married in 1705, was probably also living in the settlement. He likely owned the unidentified house beside his mother’s on the next map of the settlement, drawn in 1710.
The 1707 census showed 17 arpents under cultivation, 75 cattle, 48 pigs, and 106 sheep. In 1714, a year after the Treaty of Utrecht ceded Acadia to Great Britain, the settlement apparently reached its maximum size – nine households with 16 adults and 25 children. The Melanson sons headed five households, a Melanson daughter (the widow Belliveau) headed another, while Alexandre Robichard, Marie Dugas (the widow of Melanson) and Jean Roy headed the other 3. Expansion seems to have ended with the marriage of the last child in 1714.
With the end of the French regime, it becomes difficult to trace the history of the settlement because there were no censuses after the 1714 and no maps or documents showing where people lived. Like most Acadians, the Melansons and Roys chose to live under British rule rather than move to Isle Royal (Cape Breton Island). In 1720, Alexandre Robichaud was one of the deputies elected to represent the Acadians in their dealings with
the new government at Annapolis Royal; in 1745, the youngest Melanson
son, Jean, was also a deputy.
The British sometimes extended “Pointe de Chesne” or “Pointe aux Chesne”, the name of the point on the other side of Saint Charles Marsh, to the Melanson Settlement. In 1733, the settlement was described as: “The land belonging to the Melansons of the village formerly called Pointe de Chesne, but now by the name of Oaktown.
In 1734, on a listing of seigneurial rents owed to the British crown, the settlement was identified as “No. 21 Plantation”, owned by Charles Melanson and his brothers, reflecting the British orientation to male landholding. Interestingly, the British government had to acquire title to seigneurial rights in Acadia through a former resident of the Melanson Settlement, Agathe Sainte Etienne De La Tour, Anne Melanson’s daughter by her first marriage.
In 1725, there were 8 buildings in the settlement. They were probably occupied by the same families who had been there in 1714, with the exception of Claude Melanson, who had moved closer to the fort. A circa 1733 map shows seven structures, while an updated 1753 version indicates either six or seven buildings. We do not know the names of the occupants, but at this point, we can assume that they were the Melanson and Roy families.
The families of Charles, Ambroise, Jean and Magdeleine Melanson and Marie Aubois (Jean Roy’s widow), probably were living in the settlement at the time of deportation. By 1755, Jean Roy and the adults in the other households listed together at the beginning of the British period had died. It is not known whether any of the surviving families had relocated or any other people such as the Melanson grandchildren had joined the family settlement.
ARCHAEOLOGY — During the summer of 1984, Environment Canada – Parks and the Nova Scotia Museum under took a joint project to assess the archaeological evidence of Acadian settlements along the Annapolis River.
The Museum’s team surveyed all potential sites, and the Parks team tested them, finding only two that produced material dating to the Acadian occupation, both of them comprising what is now known as the Melanson Settlement. The richness of the find led to further excavations. The Melanson Settlement is located on the north shore of the Annapolis River, 6.5 kilometers from Annapolis Royal (formerly Port Royal). It was situated on a point of high ground on the edge of an upland overlooking a salt marsh and the river. To the east was the large marsh of Saint Charles, dyked and drained for cultivation. To the west was another marsh, and beyond that the site of the De Monts Habitation, built in 1605 and destroyed in 1613. (Incidentally, the story of the massive land reclamation the Acadians accomplished through dyking and tide-flow control is a fascinating one).
The remainder of the Bulletin deals with the technical description of the excavations and the identifiable features. The most numerous were cellar ruins, most about one meter deep, but one more extensive suggesting a full basement rather than just a storage pit or rough cellar. Other prominent features were a series of small circular mounds with well defined borders suggesting substantial footings. Windmills, dovecotes, outbuildings, pigsties, outdoor ovens an well covers are all round buildings found on farms of this period in France. Windmills are well documented in Acadia.
During 1984 and 1985, one of the foundations was fully excavated, along with extensive portions of its adjacent yard. Among the artifacts discovered were a French billion coin from the 1650’s, kitchen earthenware pottery manufactured in France and in New England, a brass domed button, iron scissors, glass beads, fragments of tankards and mugs produced in Germany of salt-glazed stoneware, lead window cames, a small iron hand-axe, a lead bale seal, a fragment from a slip-dipped, salt glazed mug made in England, and an amphora-shaped earthenware storage jug
from the western Mediterranean.
Interestingly, none of the excavations yielded any material that suggests that the site was used as a domestic settlement after the deportation in 1755. On the basis of this evidence it is assumed that most, if not all, of the features identified date to the period of the Acadian occupation of the area. Also, comparison of the area with historical maps, particularly those dated 1707, 1710, and 1725, allows us to assign family names to some of the cellar ruin features. Further excavation on some ruins revealed cycles of demolition and rebuilding, one showing evidence of 3 separate structures during the settlement’s life. The earliest structure was a “piquet” or vertical post building, which was eventually demolished, and a timber frame “charpente” house built, with many interesting features ultimately identified. This building was destroyed by fire and, although it is only speculative as to how or when, it served to preserve much of the archaeological debris since the inhabitants rebuilt the new house over the debris which was covered by clay from the collapsed flue. The final house was also demolished and removed from the site and no further effort was made to rebuild. Since no late 18th century materials have been found on the site, it seems likely that it occurred no later than the 1755 deportation of the Acadians.
The deportation of the Acadians marked the end of almost a century of occupation of the Melanson site. In December, 1755, approximately 1660 Acadians from the Port Royal area were placed aboard vessels bound for Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Among the Acadians who escaped deportation were Charles and Ambroise Melanson. Though elderly, the fled to Quebec where they died.
Jean Melanson and his family ended up in France with a group of Acadians from Cape Sable, while the fate of the widow Roy and Magdeleine Melanson is unknown.
If Governor Lawrence’s orders were fully executed, all buildings in the Melanson Settlement would have been destroyed in 1755. Capt. John Knox described the melancholy result as he saw it coming up the river in 1757. “On each side we see the ruins of habitations and extensive orchards well planted with apple and pear trees bending under the weight of their fruit.”
Though much is known about Acadian history, particularly with regard to the political and military struggle between the French and the British empires, we know little about many aspects of the lives of the Acadians themselves, their houses and farmsteads, their material culture and wealth, even the organization and development of their small settlements.
The Melanson Settlement, because it is well documented and offers extensive archaeological remains, has the potential to add much to our understanding of Acadia and the Acadians.
Note: Any visit to Acadia should certainly include a visit to the “Habitation”, an authentic reproduction of De Mont’s and Champlain’s outpost, built to Champlain’s original plans. The Melanson Settlement is actually within walking distance or a very short drive. Excavations continue as funds are made available. The dyking and flood control systems inaugurated by the Acadians here and at Grand Pre created extremely fertile soil over the years. As hard-working, peace-loving people, they give us much to admire, which admiration only increases when you know how they returned to their beloved country to find their farms confiscated and occupied and restricted to fairly untillable coastal enclaves, with an adaptability that we all could emulate. turned to the sea for their livelihood and survived, maintaining their language and culture, yet assimilating themselves into the existing society peacefully and bi-lingually.
I am grateful to Joe Crochet who provided the above-noted information for the “In Search of Our Acadian Roots” CD-ROM (now available in Windows Version).