Oaths of Acadian

Acadian Oaths

Many of the history books about Canada and Acadia, claim that the year 1710 marks the end of French rule in Acadia. This statement may be true from the point of view of treaties and geography. However, nothing could be further from the truth from a political and nationalistic view. France never paid more attention to Acadia than it did after the fall of Port Royal. In fact, immediately after the Treaty of Utrecht, France began plans to fortify Isle Royal (Cape Breton) where it constructed the fortress of Louisbourg at the cost of five million dollars. It became actively interested in colonizing Isle St-Jean (Prince Edward Island) and the territory north of the peninsula, or what today is New Brunswick and the adjacent Sate of Maine to the Kennebec River. France referred to these territories as French Acadia and considered English Acadia to be the Nova Scotia peninsula ceded to the English by the Treaty of Utrecht.

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The saying “Acadian to its former limits” was probably coined by a French official wanting to maintain France’s control over all the territory north of the French Bay. It certainly was France’s prerogative to define these limits, since France alone had colonized it.

Be that as it may, the English claimed all the territory occupied by the French in this region before the Treaty of Utrecht, except the Isle Royal and Isle St-Jean. France however, continued to occupy present day New Brunswick and half of the State of Maine. Consequently, the Acadians living north of French Bay (Fundy) refused categorically to take the oath of allegiance to the British crown, claiming they were in French territory. The Acadians of Nova Scotia however, did not refuse to take the oath once British domination in the area had been established. But they demanded not to be obligated to take up arms against the French nor the Indians, their former allies. Such an oath was taken in 1730 under Governor Philips, who then designated them as “French Neutrals”.

Once the Treaty of Utrecht was signed, the French Governors of Quebec and Louisbourg, undertook the effort of persuading those Acadians under English domination, to exercise their right under the terms of the treaty and leave Nova Scotia and establish themselves in French territory, either in Louisbourg, Isle St-Jean, or the settlements of the St. John River. This right was limited to one year from the date of the signing of the treaty. Some Acadians accepted the invitation against the wishes of the English governors who did all in their power to prevent a mass exodus.

The reluctance of the English Governors to let the Acadians leave, can be understood in the light of the governors’ need to man the garrison at Port Royal. England did not have colony north of Boston. Yet, the Acadians who remained on English territory, were in a difficult and delicate position. Their loyalty was suspect every time the French, the Canadians or the Indians tried to retake the lost Province. Acadians on the peninsula held a desire that, because Port Royal had so often changed hands between the French and English, they would once again live under the French flag. But never did they violate their oath. Never, from 1713 to the foundation of Halifax in 1749, can the Acadians be accused of any act of serious insubordination toward the British. They held to their oath in spite of some of the most humiliating and painful provocations from the Governors and the officers of the garrison.

A relative harmony existed until the foundation of Halifax. From 1730, the date when they took the conditional oath, the wise administration of a few unprejudiced governors created a climate indicating peace was possible. The colony prospered.

With the foundation on Halifax however, the trouble renewed. Governor Cornwallis ordered the Acadians to take the unconditional oath to His Majesty George II who had just ascended the British throne. France and England were on the verge of war and both sides were preparing themselves with feverish activity. Already, in Halifax plans were being made to expel the Acadians. Such an action had long been considered by the English Governors. By insisting on an unconditional oath, Cornwallis maintained that the one taken under Philips, was invalid. He claimed the governors did not have the right to exempt anyone from bearing arms against the enemies of England.

The Acadians answered that the oath they had taken, was enough. They stressed that the other governors had understood that their Acadian subjects were bound in conscience, by this oath. The fidelity with which they had fulfilled their promise thus far, demonstrated their good will. They considered the obligation to bear arms against their blood brothers, inhumane and therefore they would not take any oath other than the one already taken. The oath that was being demanded from the Acadians, was as follows:
I promise and swear on my Christian faith, that I will be faithful to obey His Majesty George II whom I recognize as the sovereign of Acadia or Nova Scotia. So help me God.
This oath of fidelity of allegiance, required of all British subjects, must not be confused with the infamous “Test Oath” required only of public officials, designated to keep Catholics of the United Kingdom, out of public office. It went as follows:
I (name) solemnly declare and sincerely believe in the presence of God that, in the Sacrament of the Passover of the Lord there is no transubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ during or after the Consecration done by a person, and that the veneration or adoration of the Virgin Mary or any other saint, and the sacrifice of the Mass according to the rites of the Roman Church, are superstition and idolatry.
Because Cornwallis was threatening to confiscate their property if they did not take the oath, the Acadians requested permission to leave the Province. The Governor, in suppliant tones, dissuaded them, adding that he considered them British subjects equal to all other Catholic subjects of His Majesty. He further added that if they emigrated, he would be obliged to confiscate all their belongings. The matter ended there and the oath was NOT taken.

In the Spring of 1755, Governor Lawrence, who had succeeded Cornwallis, again called on the Acadians to take the unconditional oath. The delegates selected by the residents of various localities, refused to take the oath that could require them to bear arms against the French. The delegates were put in prison. When the delegates offered to take the oath in their own name only, they were informed that it was too late and that an oath taken under these circumstances, would be null and void.

Even while these negotiations were going on, active preparations for the deportation, were under way by order of Governor Lawrence, who himself was negotiating with the delegates.

Refusing to exempt the Acadians from fighting against their blood brothers, was cruel and barbarous, contrary to the practice of civilized nations, and contrary to a decision rendered by one of Lawrence’s successors… Governor Wilmot in 1777 in an identical, yet less known, case.

Before the American Revolution, many New Englanders, by invitation of Governor Lawrence, had settled on lands vacated by the Acadians. The New Englanders refused to take up arms against their relatives and friends, the American revolutionaries. In a petition to Governor Wilmot, they requested exemption from military service in New England. “For those of us” they said, “who belong to New England, having been invited into this province by Governor Lawrence’s proclamation, it must be the greatest piece of cruelty and imposition to be subject to march in different parts, in arms against our friends and relatives.” The petition sought the same privilege for the Acadians of Nova Scotia because of their compatriots exiled in New England. The petition was granted. Thus we see that the refusal to take the oath, was merely an excuse for the English to use against the Acadians. The real motive, came from elsewhere.

A few years before the tragedy of 1755, at the insistence of the missionary Laloutre, many families had left Nova Scotia to settle at Beauséjour. Among them were Jean CYR, Jean-Baptiste Cormier, Joseph Daigle, Simon Hebert, Joseph Theriault, Jean-Baptiste Thibodeau, Zachary Ayotte, Joseph Mauzerolle and a family by the name of Potier.

In the early Summer of 1755, Colonel Monckton led an army of two thousand men to Fort Beauséjour. The fort fell with hardly any resistance, due mainly to the cowardice of its Commander, Vergor. He offered only the weakest resistance, even though he had the means to launch a victorious attack. History has castigated the contemptible timidity of the defenders by calling it the “velvet siege.”

Following such an easy victory, Governors Lawrence and Shirley (Governor of Massachusetts) believed that the time was ripe for more aggressive action. To avoid any armed opposition from the Acadians, all their weapons were confiscated. Although the greatest secrecy was employed by the British to avoid rousing suspicions, a general mood of alarm grew among the Acadians, even though they did not know the specifics of Lawrence’s plans.

In early September, Winslow and Murray arrived at Grand Pre. They summoned the inhabitants to the church, to hear a message from His Majesty. The Acadians, not suspecting treachery, came to the church in great numbers. Once in the church, the doors were closed and locked and Winslow read the following proclamation:

The Deportation Order Read at Grand Pré by Colonel John Winslow

Gentlemen:

I have received from his Excellency Governor Lawrence, the King’s Commission which I have in my hand and by whose orders you are convened together to Manifest to you his Majesty’s final resolution to the French inhabitants of this his Province of Nova Scotia who for almost half a century have had more indulgence granted them, than any of his subjects in any part of his Dominions. What use you have made of them you yourself best know.

The part of duty I am now upon is what though necessary is very disagreeable to my nature. make and temper, as I know it must be grievous to you who are of the same specie.

But it is not my business to animadvert, but to obey such orders as I receive and therefore without hesitation shall deliver you his Majesty’s orders and instructions viz.

That your lands and tenements, cattle of all kinds and livestock of all sorts are forfeited to the Crown with all other your effects saving your money and household goods and you yourselves to be removed from this his province.

Thus it is peremptorily his Majesty’s orders that the whole French inhabitants of these districts, be removed, and I am through his Majesty’s goodness, directed to allow you liberty to carry of your money and household goods as many as you can without discommoding the vessels you go in. I shall do everything in my power that all those goods be secured to you and that you are not molested in carrying them and also that whole families shall go in the same vessel [this promise was NOT honored in all respect] and make this remove which I am sensible must give you a great deal of trouble as easy as his Majesty’s service will admit and hope that in what every part of the world you may fall, you may be faithful subjects, a peaceable and happy people.

I must also inform you that it is his Majesty’s pleasure that you remain in security under the inspection and Direction of the troops that I have the Honour to command.

Re-print from “The History of Madawaska” with copyright permission from the Madawaska Historical Society.

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