The Founding of an Acadian People

To fully understand the history of the founding of an Acadian People, it is important to recognize that pre-arrival of the Acadians, the peninsula of Nova Scotia was inhabited by a good number of aboriginal people known as the Mi’kmaq, an Algonquian people who were identified as the ‘Souriquois’ by the earliest explorers. The actual Mi’kmaq population at the time of the initial European contact is unclear. The early 16th century Jesuit missionary, Father Biard, estimated the number of Mi’kmaq in the peninsula, to range between 3,000 and 3,500 but many believe that this is a post-epidemic figure. In fact, estimates of Nova Scotia’s pre-epidemic population range from 4,500 to 50,000, but a figure of about 12,000, we estimate, is more consistent with current assumptions on the carrying capacity of the area, at the time.

Because the Mi’kmaq were not sedentary, it is difficult to accurately determine what their population was during various periods in the past. A number of French and British officials (and clerics), at various times, attempted to undertake censuses of the Indian populations, but how many individuals a census taker found at any one place, depended upon the time of year the census was taken. Indians also changed the locations of their villages from one year to the next. As a matter of fact, most of the early censuses do not even include Mi’kmaq… the first that did, was the 1708 census,

The first post-Treaty of Utrecht, estimate the Mi’kmaq population (in 1716) to be 260 families in the peninsula of Nova Scotia. In 1722, the population was reported as 838 persons (including children and spouses), and by 1739 it had increased slightly to 600 warriors. In 1748 it was reported by the French Missionary, Le Loutre, that there were 1,000 Mi’kmaq in peninsular Nova Scotia. In 1758 however, with the loss of the French inhabitants who had provided food, shelter and intelligence, and an increased British military presence, numbers declined dramatically as many Mi’kmaq crossed into French territory, or were starved out. As a matter of fact, a petition by Pierre Landry of Cape Sable, stated that there were only twelve Indians capable of bearing arms between Cape Sable and Lunenburg.

The basic sociopolitical structure in Mi’kmaq was the ‘bi-local extended family’, consisting of a leader, some of his married sons and daughters and their families, other relatives on the side of both the chief and his wife, and some unrelated individuals. A number of these families formed a summer village, and the population of these villages has been estimated at between 30 and 200 people, under the direction of a Sagamore, or Chief. There is no indication that the Sagamores had power over any band other than their own. As well, there is no indication that they were organized along tribal lines. Mi’kmaq chiefs however, seemed to possess more prestige and authority than was usual under band societies. During summer, Sagamores would gather to consult and a number of historical documents indicate that the Mi’kmaq territory of Nova Scotia was divided into seven districts, and that district chiefs would occasionally meet in grand council.

The Mi’kmaq people had no permanent settlements, but there were traditional and well-defined sites that they continued to occupy year after year, residing in longhouses of up to 20 or 30 people in each. In the Nova Scotia Peninsula, Mi’kmaq villages were often located at La Have, Port Medway, Port Rossignol (Shelburne), Ministiguesch (Port la Tour) and Ouimakagan (near Pubnico). The use and occupation of land by the Mi’kmaq went in yearly cycles. Small bands frequented the coasts in January for smelt, tomcod, seals and walrus. In February and March, however, the Mi’kmaq moved into the interior and became dependent upon the hunt for large games such as moose. This was the toughest time of the year as success in hunting was, to a large degree, dependent on the snow cover. Not enough snow and the games could not be tracked, or it could move too fast if it was located. An abnormal winter would cause a starving time. The rest of the year however, would produce more than enough to support life. By the end of March, the Mi’kmaq returned to the coasts to fish and gather wild plants. Some cultivation was also undertaken. As October approached, the villages broke into smaller units that went inland to hunt. This cycle however, became disrupted after European contact, when more emphasis was placed on the gathering of fur-bearing animals.

Between 1605 and 1632 there were three unsuccessful attempts to establish permanent settlements along the Annapolis Basin. These settlements were funded by French and Scottish merchants with the purposes of prospering from the fish and fur trade. All three were led by noblemen who agreed to establish permanent settlements in exchange for profits from fish and furs.

In 1603 Pierre Du Gua, Sieur de Monts, received a ten year monopoly from King Henry IV, After his first scurvy-plagued year on St. Croix River, in present-day New Brunswick, he relocated his small post to Port Royal. Du Monts had difficulty in keeping other Europeans from trading with the Indians and, as result, he could not satisfy his debts. In 1607 the King withdrew the monopoly and the settlement was abandoned. In 1608 the settlement was purchased by the Baron de Biencourt, who established a settlement at Port Royal two years later in order to trade for furs with the Indians. The settlement was plundered by Samuel Argall, a privateer from Virginia however, who destroyed the settlement in October 1613. Most of the survivors were transported back to France the following year, but a few, numbering 18-20 stayed behind led by Biencourt’s son, Jean de Biencourt and Charles de La Tour. In 1629 La Tour was appointed governor of Acadia. According to a report written around 1643 by an unnamed author:
“Biencourt courant pas les bois avec 18 ou 20 hommes se meslant aveckes
Suavages et vivant d’une vie libertine et infame comme bestes brute sans aucune
Exercise de Réligion nayant pas mesme le soin de faire de baptismer les enfants
procréez d’eux et de ces pauvres miserable femmes.”
In competition with the French, the King of Scotland granted Acadia to Sir William Alexander, under its new name of Nova Scotia. In 1629 a Scottish settlement was founded at Port Royal by Sir William, and 70 people were settled along the Annapolis Basin. Thirty settlers died the next winter, and most of the survivors returned to England in 1632, after the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (*) in which the British abandoned their attempts at colonization. Some of the Scottish settlers stayed behind, and married into French families. (*)Note: Treaty between England and France concluded March 29, 1632 at St. Germain-en-Laye in France. It returned New France, which had been captured by the English in 1628-1629, to Louis XIII.

The next settlement was led by a consortium of over 100 merchants and noblemen (Compagnie des Cent Associes) who received exclusive rights from the King of France to settle the territory and collect all resulting revenues. In 1632, Isaac de Razilly was appointed the Lieutenant Governor of New France, and some time later he embarked with three ships containing tradesmen and farmers. They arrived at the mouth of the La Have River in September of the same year. The population of the settlement fluctuated, with ‘engages’ (contract labourers) and tradesmen arriving through the summer and returning in winter. During the first winter, 200 people, mostly men, wintered at La Have, only 164 survived. Little contact appears to have been made with La Tour’s settlements at Cap Sable and on the St. John River, in present-day New Brunswick.

Razilly died in 1636 and those ‘engages’ who were still at La Have, perhaps 100 people, were moved across to the Bay of Fundy, to settle at Port Royal. Leadership of the colony was assumed by Razilly’s assistant, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay Charnisay, who viewed La Tour as a competitor. This ‘competition’ seriously hampered the development of the colony, as their dispute flared into open warfare, and Louis XIII and his ministers attempted to settle it, but only made matters worse when La Tour and d’Aulnay were each awarded territory which included the trading posts of the other. d’Aulnay, through his connection at the royal court, managed to gain the support of the King and his ministers and La Tour was banished in 1645. La Tour did not admit defeat though, and looked to New England for support. d’Aulnay on the other hand died in 1650, soon after his triumph, and La Tour returned to marry d’Aulnay’s widow and again became governor of the colony in 1651. His regime was short-lived, for Port Royal was then captured by the Englishman, Major Robert Sedgewick, in 1654. La Tour then pledged allegiance to the new regime, thus protecting his investments. After a few years, he retired and sold his fur trading rights to Sir Thomas Temple, who served as British governor of the colony, and La Tour’s partner.

The colony grew very slowly and between 1636 and 1654 the population of Port Royal is recorded as climbing from 100 to between 200 to 300 only. Furs were important, but most people engaged in farming the rich soil created by tidal currents and captured by ‘les aboiteaux’ (dykes). These lands were unusable until the Acadian dykes were built to stop tidal flows and the soil desalinized. This was a long and laborious process which usually took at least two years before the land could be farmed… but there was little other suitable land available in the area.

Records of 1668 indicate the presence of one PIERRE SIRE (my first ancestor). Two years after his arrival to the colony in 1670, when the population of Acadia was recorded as being 441 souls, PIERRE SIRE married a seventeen year old Marie BOURGEOIS and the couple started the line of CYRS which can be traced to our present-day CYRS. The first Port Royal Acadian census of 1671 lists PIERRE SIRE as owning eleven cattle and six sheep. His only son (in 1671) is listed in the census as being three months old.

The Treaty of Breda returned Acadia to the French Crown in 1667, but it was 1670 before Sir Thomas Temple could be persuaded to relinquish the colony. The first French governor after the treaty, Andigne de Grandfontaine, established his residence at Pentagoet , a fur trading post on the Penobscot River. This was destroyed by Dutch privateers in 1674 and authority was once more transferred to Port Royal. War continued to envelope the region between 1689 and 1726. Port Royal was captured by the British once again in 1690, and in 1691 the French authority was transferred to Nashwaak, 60 miles inland on the St. John River, where it remained until 1700. Although Port Royal returned to French control in 1691, the threat of New England was still present. In a report by M. Tibierge, an Agent of the Acadia Trading Company, dated September 30, 1695, it was stated that, “the settlers of Port Royal do almost no trade with the French of the St. John River because of their fear that, if the English learned of it, they would be burned out.” New Englanders attempted to capture Port Royal in 1707, but the two attempts launched that year, both ended in failure. The Governor of Acadia, Subercase, attempted to reorganize the colony’s defences, but he was unsuccessful. In 1710 troops from New England, led by Colonel Nicholson, captured Port Royal, and the conquest was recognized by the Treaty of Ultrecht in 1713.

Immigration to Acadia prior to 1713 was very modest. Except for the descendants of Charles La Tour’s first wife, it is improbable that any Acadians trace their ancestry to settlers in Acadia at the time of de Monts and the first settlement at Port Royal. Most Acadians are descendants of those who came with Razilly between 1632 and 1636, those brought by d’Aulnay between 1639 and 1649, those who came with La Tour when he returned in 1651 and, the small number (perhaps less than 100), who came between 1670 and 1700.