Jeremiah Bancroft’s Diary
HALIFAX, November 30, 2009– Transcripts from a diary kept by a young American soldier fighting for the British, is giving historians a new twist on the deportation of Acadians from the Maritimes in the 18th century.
In 1755, 30-year-old Jeremiah Bancroft signed up for one year as a militiaman with the British military.
He kept an almost-daily diary of his service, which took him from Boston to Beausejour, N.B., and later to Grand Pre, N.S., where he participated in the deportation of Acadians.
A transcript of the diary was found by historical archeologist Jonathan Fowler and was publicly displayed Thursday at Saint Mary’s University by Fowler and Earle Lockerby, an expert on the deportation.
The deportation forced the French Acadian population from Nova Scotia after they refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the British.
Bancroft was a junior officer to Lt.-Col. John Winslow, whose own diary provides much of what is known about the deportation, which displaced about 7,000 Acadians in 1755 to Britain, Louisiana and France.
The diary also fills in historical gaps at Grand Pre from mid-November to the end of December, when Winslow left Grand Pre for Halifax.
Neil LeBlanc, Canadian consul general to New England and former Nova Scotia cabinet minister responsible for Acadian affairs, described Bancroft as a level-headed man who believed in God and the betterment of man.
“At the same time he was not a regular militiaman so he looked at things perhaps differently,” said LeBlanc, who is also a prominent Acadian.
Bancroft’s account of the time differs from the diary kept by Winslow. Bancroft was lower down the chain of command and had no reputation at stake, said Fowler, who teaches at Saint Mary’s.
“By and large, the kind of humanity that emerges with respect to the New England or Anglo-American experience is one of organized chaos,” said Fowler.
He called the British soldiers in Bancroft’s account “weekend warriors” who were not good at following orders. Fowler bases his description on passages depicting violence, desertions, thefts and insubordination in the unit.
Fowler first discovered the typed transcripts, transcribed in 1925, at the Nova Scotia Archives in the mid-1990s. Bancroft’s original diary hasn’t been found.
In the transcript, which Fowler and his students have studied for 10 years, Bancroft expresses fear, fatigue, pride, happiness and inner conflict.
Fowler said Bancroft’s writing helps to humanize the events of the deportation.
Within the Acadian and British camps, he said, the transcript allows its readers to “detect the individual and often varying motives and interests … that we’ve regarded as more or less uniform.”
In one passage, Bancroft describes the reactions by Acadian men who learn that they’re losing land and cattle, and the guilt he feels in his role as enforcer.
His writing is often ungrammatical and plagued with spelling mistakes, but the feelings he conveys are clear, such as a passage dated Sept. 5, 1755, when Bancroft writes, “Seing themselves so Decoyed the shame and confusion of face together with Anger so altered their countenense that it cant be expressd.”
The transcript increases our understanding by reporting Acadian reaction to the deportation, said Lockerby, who became aware of the diary in 2007 after visiting a former colleague who was an descendant of Bancroft’s.
Images that are portrayed in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline” of Acadians going to ships in unison and following orders are debunked in Bancroft’s diary, he said.
Bancroft’s witness account tells of a shooting and of escapes by Acadians, including one by two men fleeing a church, which was not previously known.
The widely adopted and idyllic images of the poem are misleading, said Lockerby, adding that it was written almost 100 years after the deportation by a poet who is not believed to have visited the province.
Lockerby said Acadia was a real place with real people, who had an opportunity to fight back, and they did.
Nov. 26, 2009
A Soldier’s Story: A new view of the Deportation
Historian Earle Lockerby and Saint Mary’s University archeology professor Jonathan Fowler examine a period uniform following a public presentation detailing their work on a soldier’s diary written during the time of the Acadian Deportation.
For more than a decade Jonathan Fowler and his team has been digging in the fields around Grand-Pré looking for artifacts of pre-Deportation Acadian life.
The Saint Mary’s archeologist has recovered some notable clues in the form of pottery and glassware, but ironically one of his biggest discoveries to date may have come while sorting through drawers just a few blocks from his office.
While doing work at the Nova Scotia archives, he came across the transcript of a diary written by Jeremiah Bancroft, a Massachusetts born soldier, who was on the front line of the Deportation of the Acadians from Grand-Pré. The entries covered only a dozen pages, but Fowler and his research partner, Earle Lockerby, immediately recognized they offered up a view of the Grand Dérangement that had never before appeared in print.
At a meeting at Saint Mary’s University today, the pair explained the diary’s significance and read passages that described the burning of Acadian villages and the placing of the French inhabitants on ship.
“It has a very rudimentary style, but the entries provide us a view of events told from lower down the chain of command. That’s something we haven’t seen before,” said Professor Fowler.
Jeremiah Bancroft was born in Reading Massachusetts and in 1755 he was an ensign in Captain Phineas Osgood’s Company. He was present at the capture of Fort Beauséjour and then later participated in the Deportation of the Acadians around Grand-Pré.
The whereabouts of Bancroft’s original diary are unknown; it may not still exist. The 1925 transcript on display today was created at the hand of Judge William B Stevens, a Massachusetts historian with an interest in military matters.