Acadians of the 18th Century had steadfast principles

Acadians of the 18th Century had steadfast principles

In the Spring of 1755, Governor Lawrence, who had just succeeded Cornwallis, asked the Acadians again to take the oath without reservation. The delegates, chosen by their respective towns to carry the message of refusal to take an oath to bear arms against the French, were put in jail. When the delegates offered to take the oath in their name, the Governor refused, by saying that it was too late and that an oath taken under such circumstances, was null and void.

The refusal to exempt the French from fighting against their own nationality was brutal, being altogether against the principal of civilized nations, and against the decisions taken afterwards by the successors of Governor Lawrence. During the American Revolutionary War, the pioneers from New England, who had come to settle on the farms left vacant by the Acadians, addressed a petition to Governor Wilmot in 1777, to be exempted from bearing arms against their friends and relatives. The petition read as follows: “For those of us who belong to New England, being invited into the Province by Governor Lawrence’s proclamation, it must be the greatest piece of cruelty and imposition to march into different parts, in arms against our friends and relations”. The petition asked the same privilege for the Acadians in Nova Scotia who had friends and relatives exiled in New England. The petition was granted.

A short time before the debacle of 1755, the missionary, Father Leloutre, asked many of the future founders of the Madawaska Settlement, to leave Nova Scotia to settle at Beausejour. Among them we find Jean CYR, Jean-Baptiste Cormier, Joseph Daigle, Simon Hebert, Joseph Theriault, Jean-Baptiste Thibodeau, Zacharie Ayotte, Joseph Ayotte, Joseph Mazerolle and one family by the name Potier.

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Early in the summer of 1755, Colonel Moncton landed an army of 2,000 men in front of the fort at Beausejour. On account of the cowardice of Vergor, commander at the fort, Moncton took the place without any opposition. In view of this easy success, Lawrence and Shirley (Governor of Boston) decided that the time had come for them to strike a blow. In order to avoid any armed resistance, they had already removed all firearms from the Acadians. Everything was wrought out in secrecy, but the alarm was somewhat general among the Acadians without their knowing any too well the plans of Governor Lawrence.

In the beginning of September, Winslow and Murray arrived in Grand-Pre. They summoned all the inhabitants of the place and surrounding towns, to assemble in the church to hear a message from His Majesty.

Not suspecting any treachery, the Acadians came in large number to Grand-Pre. The doors were locked as soon as all had entered the church. Winslow proclaimed to the stupefied Acadians that they were prisoners of the King and that their goods were confiscated to the profit of the Crown, and that they themselves would be deported to foreign lands. He advised them on the manner they should behave in the new country to which they were to be taken. At the point of bayonet, they were ushered to the boats which were waiting for them, and as the “Anchors Away”, Winslow and Murray proposed a toast to the Acadians for a happy cruise! The forewarned inhabitants of Beaubassin escaped. On the Isthmus, the English soldiers met a lively match. At Petitcodiac and Memramcook, many bloody skirmishes took place. At Shepody, many English soldiers were killed near the church. About 8,000 were taken into exile and were scattered along the Atlantic Coast from Boston to the Gulf of Mexico. Some ships went to France and England, others reached the Antilles, Bermuda and Corsica Island.

The deportation did not end with Grand-Pre. The inhabitants of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, were no less spared. Military expeditions were sent against the settlements of those areas, to complete the work of Lawrence and Shirley. The task of the St. John Valley was confided to Colonel Moncton. In this Valley, there were several groups of dwellings from St. John to Fredericton, the principal settlements being Grimrose (with a population of 350), Villerai, Jemseg, Robichaud, Belle-Isle, Nashwack and Springhill with a population of 250).

Moncton with his 12,000 Rangers had done his work so well that he left nothing but smoking ruins on his passage. The season was too far advanced for him to reach Fredericton, which he had intended to set on fire. Most of the inhabitants of those devastated areas, had taken flight to the forest or had taken refuge in Fredericton. Moncton therefore, returned to Halifax with a few captives. Fredericton was to have its turn!

In the winter of 1758, another regiment of Rangers under the command of Moses Hazen, was sent to put an end to the settlement of the St. John River. Hazen’s soldiers took Fredericton by surprise, set fire to the houses and massacred the inhabitants who refused to help spread the fire from dwelling to dwelling. Two women, Anastasie Bellefontaine wife of Eustace Pare, and the wife of her brother, Michel Bellefontaine, were massacred with their four children, for resisting the English soldiers. The Rangers took 23 prisoners. The fugitives went to Canada, or took their refuge in the forest.

The Acadians whom the English could not seize, were constantly harassed by the soldiers until the end of the war. Even at the end of the war, in the Spring of 1763, Lieutenant Studholme, commander of the 40th Regiment at Fort Howe now at St. John, by the order of the Governor of Nova Scotia, Belcher, ordered all the refugees of Springhill to evacuate the village and get out of the Province. Having learned that a hundred Acadians had settled at a short distance from Springhill, he ordered them out despite their promise to leave the next Spring.

At the end of 1763, the future founders of Madawaska were either political prisoners in New England; such families were: CYR, Cormier, Saindon, Bourgoin, Theriault, Thibodeau, Mazerolle; or they were refugees on the shores of the St. Lawrence from Quebec to Cacouna, such were: CYR, Cormier, Daigle, Hebert, Fournier and Mercure. The others had found a refuge in the forest.

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The Treaty of Paris in 1763, left England mistress of Canada, Acadia and Newfoundland. Some 60,000 Canadians and the once flourishing colony of the Acadians, came under British Rule. The Acadians took the oath of allegiance ‘without reservation’. Four years later, they were allowed to return to the land of their fathers. A group of 800 Acadians from Boston, undertook the crossing of the forest of Massachusetts and Maine, to come back to their native land which they had not seen since 1755. It was a long trek, an unbearable march, so much so that many died on the way. Another nationality had taken possession of their lands where their fathers lie buried. The English Loyalists, who had settled in the area, watched this caravan of Acadians pass by, Acadians who were not begging but were weeping as they had to move forward, on to some other place to the end of St. Mary’s Bay, where they settled and where they are prosperous today.

While Acadians were marching through the forests of Massachusetts, the refugees of the St. Lawrence were also on their way to the land of their fathers, by way of St. John River. During a sojourn in Kamouraska and vicinity, they met many relatives and friends. They therefore invited these, to go along with them to the fertile lands around Fredericton. In Fredericton, they noticed that another nationality had the farms they had left vacant a long time ago. The Acadians therefore, settled nearby at Springhill, At French Village and at Kingsclear, these three villages being eight, twelve and fifteen miles from Fredericton.

Another group of Acadians settled on the Kennebeccasis at a little distance from St. John, New Brunswick. It was a few years later, that the Reverend Father Joseph Mathurin Bourg, the only Catholic missionary allowed in the Maritimes by the Halifax government, came to visit them. He baptized children of six, eight and ten years of age, who had never seen a priest before.

The above noted is re-printed 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.