Founded in 1604, the French colony of Acadia was ceded to Great Britain in 1713. By the time the Anglo-French struggle for North America was finally resolved, the Acadians were among its visible and most tragic victims. During the period 1755-63, most of the Acadians were deported to the American Colonies, Great Britain, and France. In exile, the Acadians exhibited remarkable tenacity as they tried to return to Nova Scotia or else searched for new homelands.
The population of Acadia grew from around 400 in 1670 to nearly 900 in 1686, with settlement spreading from Port-Royal up the Bay of Fundy to Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay, and around Cape Chignecto to Beaubassin. The unique agricultural economy was based on cultivation of tidal marshlands reclaimed through an extensive system of dykes. In 1690, a Massachusetts expedition under William Phipps took Port-Royal in retaliation for attacks on New England by French troops from Canada. The Acadians were caught in the middle of a colonial power struggle in which they took little interest. After surviving a naval blockade in 1704 and two attacks in 1707, Port-Royal fell for the final time on 13 October 1710. A British garrison was installed and the town was renamed Annapolis Royal.
Many of the factors that contributed to the expulsion were evident during Acadia’s first years, foremost among them geography. Acadia was the eastern outpost and flank of the French and British empires in continental North America. When Samuel Argall destroyed the colony of Port-Royal in 1613, it marked the beginning of Anglo-French rivalry in the area. As the century progressed, New England took a growing interest in Acadia, drawn by trade opportunities and rich fishing grounds off its coast. After a naval force from new England destroyed Acadian settlements in 1654, the colony remained under nominal British control until it was restored to France in 1667.
In 1713, by the Treat of Utrecht, Acadia became a British possession, named Nova Scotia. France continued its presence in the region by retaining Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island) and Isle Saint Jean (Prince Edward Island). The treaty gave the Acadians the option of either moving or remaining on their land as British subjects. At first, the French tried to entice them to Isle Royale, but most Acadians were reluctant to leave their fertile lands. Also, the British hindered emigration by forbidding the Acadians to build boats or to sell their property and cattle. They realized that the Acadians could serve as a shield against the Micmac Indians and as a source of labour and sustenance for the garrison at Annapolis Royal. The French, after initially encouraging emigration, decided it was also to their advantage to leave the Acadians where they were, since they might prove useful allies in the event of war.
The Acadians refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the British crown unless the oath was qualified by recognition of their freedom of religion, their neutrality in case of war, and their right to emigrate. Governor Richard Philipps received qualified oaths in 1729-30, formally recognizing Acadian neutrality.
After Utrecht, the Acadians experienced three decades of peace. The population swelled from 2900 in 1714 to 8000 in 1739. The British presence was confined to the garrisons at Annapolis Royal and at Canso, shore base of the New England bank fishery. Life went on much as it always had, save for trade between the Acadians and the new fortress town of Louisbourg on Isle Royale.
By the 1740’s, New England’s traditional wariness of the Acadians was compounded by militant Protestantism and economic competition from Louisbourg in the fishery. Thus in 1745, during the War of the Austrian Succession, a force from New England defeated the French at Louisbourg and deported the inhabitants to France. France responded by sending out a naval armada under the Duc d’Anville in 1746 to reconquer Acadia and Louisbourg. However, d’Anville’s fleet was decimated by storms and disease while crossing the Atlantic, and the attempt was abandoned.
There was surprise and anger in New England in 1748 when the British returned Louisbourg to France by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. In the wake of the treaty, both Britain and France took steps to strengthen their positions in the region. To maintain the overland communications network between Canada and Isle Royale, and to keep the British at a safe distance from Canada, the French set out to solidify their claim to the disputed part of Nova Scotia north of the Missaguash River, ie. present-day New Brunswick. In 1749, Charles Deschamps de Boishébert was sent from Canada to fortify the mouth of the Saint John River, a key element of the communications network. This was followed by the dispatch of the Chevalier Louis de la Corne to the Isthmus of Chignecto, where in 1751 he established Forts Beauséjour and Gaspéreau. The Chignecto Acadians were then pressured into emigrating north of the Missaguash in order to strengthen France’s claim to New Brunswick.
The British reacted by founding a new capital at Halifax in 1749 as a counterbalance to Louisbourg. Governor Edward Cornwallis was also supposed to push British settlement north of the Missaguash, but plans to settle foreign Protestants on the isthmus were abandoned in the face of superior French military strength. Nevertheless, Major Charles Lawrence succeeded in erecting Fort Lawrence on the south bank of the Missaguash in 1750; the foreign Protestants ended up settling the strategically remote south shore community of Lunenburg.
With both sides stepping up their efforts to control Nova Scotia, the Acadians realized that change was afoot. To avoid trouble, some began emigrating to Isle Saint Jean. Cornwallis had tried to force them to take an unqualified oath, but relented when they threatened to leave Nova Scotia en masse. His successor, Peregrine Hopson, did not push the issue, and it seemed as though the Acadian neutrality would continue to be respected. However, when Hopson returned to England with health problems, his acting successor, Charles Lawrence (appointed lieutenant-governor in 1754) proposed drastic action to resolve the Acadian problem. A career soldier, Lawrence saw the Acadian problem strictly in military terms, especially in view of the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and France in the Ohio Valley. In August 1754, he informed his superiors in London, the Board of Trade and Plantations, that if the Acadians refused to take the oath, it would be better to remove them from Nova Scotia and replace them with British subjects.
Lawrence had an important ally in William Shirley, the Governor of Massachusetts. Both men considered Fort Beauséjour the key to the French presence in Nova Scotia. After General Edward Braddock, Commanded-in-Chief of British forces in North America, authorized the expedition, 2000 Provincial troops departed Boston on 19 May 1755. Reinforced by 250 British regulars, they commenced the attack on Beauséjour on 14 June. Two days later, the French surrendered.
The capture of Fort Beauséjour left Lawrence free to deal with the Acadians. On 3 July, he and his Council, which had a pronounced New England membership, met in Halifax to consider a petition from the Acadians of the Minas area, who objected to the confiscation of their boats and arms by Captain Alexander Murray of Fort Edward, near Pisiquid. Lawrence pressed the Acadian delegates to take an unqualified oath, which they refused to do when they reappeared before Council the next day. The delegates were imprisoned and new ones summoned from Minas and Annapolis Royal. During meetings with Council on 25 and 28 July, they likewise refused to swear an unqualified oath. Lawrence, his resolve hardened by the news of Braddock’s defeat in the Ohio Valley, ordered them into confinement, and with Council’s concurrence decided to disperse the Acadians among the American Colonies.
Lawrence entrusted responsibility for the deportation to Colonel Robert Monckton (Chignecto and Chepody), Lieutenant Colonel John Winslow (Minas, Pisiquid, and Cobequid), and Major John Handfield (Annapolis Royal). At Chignecto, Monckton made Fort Cumberland (formerly Fort Beauséjour) his base of operations. On 11 August, 400 adult male Acadians appeared there in answer to a summons and were taken prisoner. On the 28th, Captain Frye sailed from the fort for Chepody, Memramcook and Petitcodiac, stopping along the way to destroy Acadian property and crops. While putting the torch to a village on 4 September, Frye’s men were ambushed and forced to withdraw to Fort Cumberland. They had managed to take 23 prisoners, burn over 200 buildings and destroyed acres of wheat and flax. Another party under Captain Gilbert wreaked similar havoc at Baie Verte. The embarkation began in early September and on 13 October approximately 1100 Acadians departed aboard transports for South Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.
John Winslow arrived at Grand-Pré on 19 August and took up headquarters in the church. In answer to his summons, over 400 Acadian men and boys appeared before him there on 5 September. Winslow informed them of the purpose of his mission and declared them prisoners. Winslow was uneasy because the prisoners greatly outnumbered his troops, so when he learned of the attack on Frye’s party, he rounded up 230 men and placed them on five transports anchored in Minas Basin. The embarkation commenced on 8 October, and by 1 November over 1500 Acadians had been shipped to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. A second group of 600 left Grande-Pré on 13 December, while at Pisiquid Murray orchestrated the departure of over 1000 in late October.
At Annapolis Royal, matters proceeded somewhat slower because Handfield did not have enough men for the job. The deportation finally began in December after the arrival of reinforcements from Grand-Pré. Over 1600 Acadians were carried off to North and South Carolina, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
The deportation of over 6000 Acadians in the fall of 1755 was just the beginning. Many who escaped in 1755 (including the entire village of Cobequid) made their way to Isle Saint Jean or hid in northern New Brunswick where Boishébert organized a range of guerrilla activities. A large group of 1500 left Acadia for Canada. After the capture of Louisbourg in 1758, approximately 3500 Acadians were deported to France from Isle Saint Jean, a dependency of Isle Royale. Two of the transports sank en route, claiming 700 lives. About 600 Isle Saint Jean Acadians escaped in ships to northern New Brunswick, bringing the number of refugees there to over 1500.
Pockets of fugitive Acadians began surrendering after the fall of Quebec in 1759. Most were imprisoned and used as cheap labour by the British, although about 200 from Cape Sable and Saint John River were deported to France. The French capture of St. John’s, Newfoundland in June 1762 gave rise to another round of anti-Acadian sentiment, and in August about 1300 Acadians were shipped from Halifax to Boston. There they were rejected by the Massachusetts Assembly and were forced to return to Halifax. This was the last attempt to deport Acadians from Nova Scotia.
Between 1755 and 1763, over 10,000 Acadians, 75% of the entire population, were deported. Through the deportation, Lawrence, who died suddenly in 1760, succeeded in his primary goal. After the fall of Quebec, the last obstacle to British settlement in Nova Scotia was removed, and in the 1760s approximately 8000 New Englanders came to Nova Scotia, occupying the Acadian lands. The deportation of a conquered population was not unusual in the context of the times. The French inhabitants of Plaisance, Newfoundland were relocated to Isle Royale in 1713, and the inhabitants of Isle Royale to France in 1745 and again in 1758. In 1746, the Duc d’Anville had orders to deport Acadians who were not loyal to the French crown. But the deportation of the Acadians was unusual because so many were sent not to their motherland or to another French colony, but to British possessions. Also, the deportation occurred long after the actual conquest of Acadia.
The initial group in 1755 were dispersed among the American Colonies approximately as follows: Massachusetts-900; Connecticut-675; New York-200; Pennsylvania-700; Maryland-860; Virginia-1150; North Carolina-290; South Carolina-955; Georgia-320. Virginia refused to accept its complement and they were sent instead to England, where they remained until the end of the Seven Years War. The Acadians were not welcome in the colonies. Anti-Catholicism was rampant, as was hatred of the French in the wake of Braddock’s defeat of July 1755; the colonists were reluctant to assume the financial costs of supporting the Acadians; and in the southern colonies, there was fear that the Acadians would join forces with slaves in a general uprising. Antipathy towards the French persisted throughout the Seven Years War.
Many Acadians died before reaching the colonies because of overcrowding and filth on the transports, and their make-shift accommodations in the seaports were equally conducive to disease, especially smallpox. Eventually they were distributed among the parishes where they came under the supervision of the overseers of the poor. Some families had been broken up during the deportation, and this continued after their arrival in the colonies, where children were occasionally taken from their parents and bound out to well-to-do parishioners. In some of the colonies, the Acadians refused work on the grounds that they were prisoners of war. This perpetuated their poverty, ill health, and dependence on the state.
Photo courtesy of Madelaine Pearson
Unhappy in their new surroundings, the Acadians began a determined quest to return to Nova Scotia or else find new homelands. The governments of Georgia and South Carolina, anxious to be rid of the expense of supporting the Acadians, encouraged their departure by issuing them passes. In 1756, about 250 Acadians from the two colonies set out in small vessels to make their way up the coast to Nova Scotia. This prompted a circular from Lawrence urging his fellow governors to prevent the return of the Acadians. Most were captured in New York and Massachusetts, but 50 managed to reach the Saint John River in June. Many Acadians returned after the war when the British government eased the restrictions on Acadians settlement in Nova Scotia. Since their former property was occupied, they settled instead in the Saint John River valley and St. Mary’s Bay. Those who settled at Saint Anne (Fredericton) were later forced to move to the Madawaska River and Chaleur Bay after the arrival of the Loyalists.
Nova Scotia was only one of several destinations of Acadians in the American Colonies. A group of 90 exiles sailed from Massachusetts to Quebec in 1766, joining forces with the Acadians who had fled there from Nova Scotia after 1755. They settled near Quebec City and along the Nicolet and Richelieu Rivers. Another group of 116 Massachusetts Acadians sailed to St. Pierre and Miquelon in 1763. Many left via New York; 129 to Martinique in 1764, and 500 to Santo Domingo in 1765. Acadian exiles in the middle and southern colonies gravitated towards the former French colony of Louisiana, whose new Spanish rulers were sympathetic to Roman Catholics.
Next to the American Colonies, France itself received the largest number of exiles. The nearly 3500 there in 1763 included the deportees from Isle Royale, Isle Saint Jean, Cape Sable, and the Saint John River, as well as 750 who arrived from England that same year. One hundred of France’s Acadians moved to Saint Pierre and Miquelon in 1763, and in 1774 another group of over a hundred emigrated to Chaleur Bay. Over the course of 20 years, the French government made unsuccessful attempts to establish Acadians colonies in Brittany, Belle-Isle-en-Mer, Poitou, Corsica, French Guiana, Santo Domingo, and the Falkland Islands. Ordinary Frenchmen resented the Acadians because of their government pensions and land allotments. The Spanish government finally came to the rescue with an offer of land in Louisiana, and in 1785 nearly 1600 Acadians left for the Spanish colony.
Ironically, while some Acadians struggled to return to Nova Scotia, many who were still there decided to leave, preferring not to live any longer under British rule. In 1764, about 600 sailed for the French West Indies, eventually finding their way to Louisiana. Another group of over 200 settled in Louisiana in 1766. In 1765, 183 left Nova Scotia for Saint Pierre and Miquelon, joining their fellow exiles who had come earlier from Massachusetts and France.
The wanderings of Acadians of Saint Pierre and Miquelon had only just begun. The resources of the tiny archipelago could not support them all, and in 1767, at the insistence of the French government, 163 returned to Nova Scotia and 586 to France. The French government reversed its decision in 1768, and 322 Acadians from France went back to Saint Pierre and Miquelon. The entire population was deported to France in 1778 after France allied itself with the United States during the American Revolution. About 600 returned after 1783, to be deported to France yet again in 1794 because of the Napoleonic Wars. Over 600 exiles returned for the final time in 1815 and 1816, some having experienced five or six deportations during their lifetime.
By 1816, the Acadian migrations were over. Acadians did move after that date, but not because of forceful deportation. Rather, individuals and families moved in hopes of improving their economic conditions. Although the migrations left the Acadians scattered around the Atlantic rim, their sense of their own identity remained intact. Today, the five main concentrations of Acadian descendants are found in the Canadian maritime provinces, Quebec, Louisiana, New England, and France.
The above-noted is reproduced from “The Deportation of Acadians”, published by Parks Canada, 1986 and appears on the “Acadian-Cajun Family Trees” CD-ROM produced in 1999