| The Acadians were among the
first Europeans to settle in North America--before the settlement at
Jamestown, before the Mayflower, before most of the
settlements that we read about in the history books.
Their exile from Nova Scotia,
wanderings throughout the world, and eventual settlement in Louisiana
form the formative cultural memory of the Cajuns of
Acadiana and of the adoptive culture of many others who have come here
City Editor Jim Bradshaw
tells the story of that history, dispersion, and settlement in this special
edition in The Daily Advertiser.
THE FIRST ACADIANS
Modern historians have pretty well shot down the idea
that Frenchmen were the first white men to set foot
in America, and that one of them led the way for Columbus.
But it could have happened.
According to the discredited story, a French navigator
from Dieppe named Cousin was sailing off the coast
of Africa in 1488, four years before Columbus' voyage,
when he was forced westward by winds and tides
until he reached an unknown shore. On board the ship
was a mutinous seaman named Pinzon who, after
the voyage, was thrown out of the French Navy. Pinzon
went to Spain, met Columbus, told him of his
discovery, and sailed with him in 1492.
There is not much evidence to make us think the story
is true, but who knows? We do know of other
instances when ships were blown far to the west and onto
There is, however, good evidence that the first Europeans
to establish a permanent settlement in North
America were Frenchmen. They were our ancestral Acadians.
And they, like many of us, were fishermen.
We think that Norman, Breton, and Basque fishermen were
fishing Newfoundland's Grand Banks as early
as 1497. After John and Sebastian Cabot explored the
area in that year, they swore that cod were so
plentiful that the vast schools sometimes halted the
progress of their ships. There was no need for hook line
or bait. It was enough to dip them up with baskets, they
The first reliable records of any French ship on the Grand
Banks are those of Jean Denys of Honfleur, who
fished there in 1504, and of Thomas Aubert of Dieppe,
who was there two years later. In 1507 a Norman
fisherman returned to Rouen with an extra cargo of seven
savages, mostly likely Beathunk Indians. We
know of an early Breton fishing voyage by La Jacquette
of Dahouet because of a shipboard brawl. The
master, Guillaume Dobel, alleged that the ship was carrying
too much sail. He called the skipper, a man
named Picart, an idiot, and the quartermaster, named
Garrouche, a veall, apparently a serious insult.
Garrouche dropped the tiller, roared up to the quarterdeck,
and collected himself a punch in the jaw from
Dobel--who then drew a knife and chased him overboard.
The crew tried to rescue Garrouche, but he
drowned. Dobel made the best restitution he could to
the widow. He married her.
The early fishermen who visited the Grand Banks made two
trips each year. The first was in late January or
early February, and braving winter westerlies in the
North Atlantic, they returned to France as soon as their
holds were full. They sailed again in April or May and
went home in September.
At first, these fishermen cleaned the cod aboard ship
and stored them between thick layers of salt. But it
was not long before they found that cod could be sun-dried
on land, and that cured cod tasted better and
was easier to store. The fishermen began to go ashore
each summer, to build makeshift villages for
themselves and drying stands for their fish. By 1519,
the French, the Portuguese, and the English had set up
depots on Newfoundland, on the Acadian peninsula on Cape
Breton Island, and on the St. Lawrence
Salt fish became big business, and they were sold wholesale
in France by the thousands. In 1616 Michel
Le Bail of Breton sold more than 17,000 codfish to local
merchants at Rouen. By 1529 the Normans were
shipping Newfoundland codfish to England. On just one
day in 1542, no fewer than 60 ships departed
from Rouen alone for the Grand Bank. In 1578 there were
250 French vessels there, and 200 from other
But, except for the temporary villages, the French made
no attempt at settlement. For one thing, they were
being kept busy with wars on the continent.
Jacques Cartier, lured by Indian tales of gold and of
a Northwest Passage to the riches of Cathay, made
voyages to the Canadian wilds in 1534 and 1535 and attempted
a short-lived settlement. But a bitter winter
and equally bitter Indians ended that. The Sieur de Robeval
tried to revive that colony, but met even less
success. Then official France got itself involved in
another war and forgot about North America for awhile.
But the fishermen kept coming.
By the middle 1500s, the fishermen, still drying their
cod ashore, had begun trading with the Indians for a
rich harvest of furs. The furs found a ready market back
home and official interest in the New World
picked up in direct relation to the value of the fur
and fish trade.
It was in the spring, April 7, 1604, that Pierre de Gua,
Sieur de Monts, set off with Samuel Champlain and
a tiny fleet to sail around the southern tip of the Acadian
peninsula. He discovered the Annapolis Valley,
charted the Bay of Fundy, and, on miniscule Saint Croix
island, near the mouth of the river that today
divides New Brunswick from Maine, put down a colony of
Listen to historian Francis Parkman describe the place:
The rock-fenced islet was covered
with cedars, and when the tide was out the shoals were
dark with the swash of sea-weed
... (Here), in their leisure moments, the Frenchmen, we
are told, amused themselves
with detaching the limpets from the stones, as a savory
addition to their fare. But
there was little leisure at St. Croix. Soldiers, sailors and
artisans betook themselves to
their task. Before the winter closed in, the northern end of
the island was covered with
buildings, surrounding a square, where a solitary tree had
been left standing. On the right
was a spacious home, well built, and surmounted by one
of those enormous roofs characteristic
of the time. This was the lodging of DeMonts.
Behind it, and near the water,
was a long, covered gallery, for labor or amusement in
foul weather. Champlain and
the Sieur d'Orville ... built a house for themselves nearly
opposite that of DeMonts; and
the remainder of the square was occupied by storehouses,
a magazine, workshops, lodgings
for gentlemen and artisans, and a barrack for the
soldiers, the whole enclosed
with a palisade. Adjacent there was an attempt at a garden
... but nothing would grow in
the sandy soil. There was a cemetery, too, and a small rustic
chapel on a projecting point
In the summertime, the island was very pretty and cozy.
But winter there was something entirely different.
Vegetables would not grow in the sandy soil, even in summer,
so the colonists had to plant their garden and
sow their wheat on the mainland. Their spring went dry,
so fresh water had to be brought from the mainland
as well. So also with firewood.
The first snow fell on October 6. By December 3 ice floes
began to cut off the Frenchmen from the
mainland garden, woodlots and water. A bitter wind blew
constantly from the northeast, making it
impossible to keep warm. Food froze hard, then rotted.
Scurvy began to take its toll.
Thirty-five of the 79 men were dead by the following spring,
when DeMonts decided to move his colony
across the Bay of Fundy to a place he named Port Royal.
It would become one of the first permanent
settlements in North America.
All of the buildings on Saint Croix Island were taken
down and freighted, plank by plank, across the Bay of
Fundy. There, at a place later named Lower Grenville,
the same materials were used to build a single
habitation in the form of a hollow square.
This time, the habitation was well sited, fronting on
the Annapolis Basin, its back protected from winter
Northers by a range of 500 foot hills.
The Acadians had settled in to stay, and that was a first.
As another historian, J.A. Doyle, put it:
For the first time there was
to be seen in America a colony of Europeans, not a mere band
of adventurers or explorers,
but a settled community subsisting by their own labor.
These colonists would call the place L'Acadie, a name
derived from the work of the ancient Virgil, who
gave it to an idyllic--if imaginary--land inhabited by
simple, virtuous people. The name had been
popularized in the 1400s in a novel by Jacopo Sanazzaro,
which opens with a tribute to a grove of
"uncommon and extreme beauty" in a place called Arcadia.
There is another theory about the name--that it was derived
from the Micmac Indian word quoddy or
cadie, which meant "fertile" or "beautiful landscape."
But folks who believe Micmacs on the land over an
ancient Greek's imagination have no romance in their
Most of the Sainte-Croix community was rebuilt at Port
Royal. A new kitchen anchored one corner of the
habitation. There were lodgings for sailors and for the
few workmen who had survived the winter just past.
There were separate apartments for the colony's leaders,
a salle d'armes for the soldiers, and two
platforms facing the water for mounting ships' cannons.
The habitation fronted on the well-protected Annapolis
Basin, its back faced a range of hills 500 to 700
feet high, giving protection from winter northers.
In this quiet valley, fed by nine rivers, the settlers
became more confident that this time they would be able
They also found the friendship of Membertou, the local
Indian chief. He allowed himself to be baptized,
became a trusted friend to the Frenchmen, and saw to
it that they would not starve.
When all of the buildings were in place, the Sieur de
Monts sailed in the fall for France, to find more
backing and to bring souvenirs to the king (including
a live caribou, a live moose calf, and bright bird
feathers). He also brought back a shipload of furs--something
much more intriguing to the court than salt
As an example of how the Frenchmen made themselves at
home in this cozy valley, Samuel Champlain
created a little garden near the habitation, complete
with a gazebo, where he could go to relax. He made a
fresh-water pond for live trout and, on the harbor's
edge, he created a "little reservoir" of salt water to keep
sea perch and rock cod alive.
"We often went here, " he would write, "to pass time,
and it seemed to please the little birds of the
neighborhood; for they assembled there in great numbers
and made such a pleasant warbling and twittering,
of which I have never heard the like."
The winter of 1605-1606 was not as severe as the preceding
one. Snow fell first on December 20. Scurvy
took its toll. Twelve of the 45 men died--including the
first black man known to have come to New France.
His name was Mathiueu de Costa or d'Acosta. He had been
to Acadie before in a Portuguese ship and
had learned the Micmac language. A Rouen merchant had
kidnaped him in Portugal or the East Indies and
sold or lent him to de Monts as an interpreter.
But things were better despite the hardships. Membertou's
men brought meat and the French had enough
wheat to make bread. Only the wine gave out.
Champlain makes it clear in his journals that conditions
were much easier. They seemed to have plenty of
food, and even dined together like veritable gourmets,
in the Ordre de Bons Temps(Order of Good
Cheer), which Champlain created. In the Order, each man
was chief steward for the day and was expected
to fill the table with the finest fare he could come
up with. As a result, the long refectory table in the Great
Hall at Port Royal always had fresh fish and a variety
of game, even rich desserts.
On January 14, 1606, all hands had a picnic in the open
air. Pretty soon, trout and smelt began running up
the brooks. Kitchen gardens were prepared in March for
May planting. A water-powered grist mill was
built on the little river hat flows into the Annapolis
But even so, in 1605, the colony had barely begun. European
cultivation of the land had not yet started,
and even after a much milder winter, the spring of 1606
still brought a steady watch for ships from France.
The pioneers still needed more people and new materials
if their settlement was to become more than just a
tiny trading center.
And, still, too, the colony's leaders were not entirely
certain that this was the place that would be their
Neither, apparently, was the French court.
On Ascension Day, May 24, 1607, a sail appeared before
Port Royal. The ship bore a messenger who
brought bad news. De Monts' monopoly had been revoked.
River fur traders had complained to the king.
De Monts' domain, that ran from what is today Philadelphia
to Newfoundland, would be opened up to all
De Monts gave up. His colony had begun to show promise.
But now, merchants and shipbuilders from
Dieppe and La Rochelle had succeeded in having his rights
to Acadie annulled. He left what rights and
properties he continued to hold to Jean de Biencourt,
Sieur de Poutrincourt, a nobleman from Picardy who
was a substantial investor in the colony and had come
there with the first expedition.
Poutrincourt moved quickly. He sailed to France in August
1607 to find new financial backers.
It would take two years after which he returned with his
two sons, Charles de Biencourt and Jacques de
Salazar, as well as Father Jesse Fleche, Louis Hebert,
Claude de la Tour de Saint-Etienne and the
17-year-old son of the governor of Dieppe--the governor
having helped to finance this new expedition.
Poutrincourt also brought 23 colonists.
On July 28, 1610, Poutrincourt sent his son, Biencourt,
back to France to find more supplies for the
expanding colony--a mission that would become more difficult
by the day.
Religious rivalries in France-- as eventually, did all
European rivalries--would now spill into North America.
The Jesuits had gained the king's ear, and they wanted
a piece of the Acadian action.
The king decided to send two Jesuit missionaries, Fathers
Ennemond Masse and Pierre Biard, back with
Biencourt. Protestant merchants in Dieppe who had financed
Poutrincourt vigorously opposed the Jesuits.
Instead of providing more credit and more supplies, they
pulled out--and called in the loans they had
Poutrincourt was a good Catholic, but he did not want
the Jesuits in the colony, either. The order was
Spanish in origin and in policy, and he suspected they
had more on their minds than saving Micmac souls.
But the Jesuits had the ear of the king and were influential
in his court. Poutrincourt would have no choice.
The intrigue reached well beyond his resources to command.
Neither de Monts nor Poutrincourt had demanded a particular
religious belief from the people they had
dealt with. The Edict of Nantes, which King Henry IV
had proclaimed in 1598, had established religious
tolerance--or at least its appearance in France. This
did not mean unity, but only a "separate but equal"
doctrine between Protestants and Catholics.
There was still a major division between Protestant and
Catholic in France, a division that tangled politics
as well as worship. Neither Protestant nor Catholic were
completely happy with the way things were.
Poutrincourt found himself caught in the middle. He had
to deal with the Protestant merchants of the
Atlantic seaports, but he also had to deal with the Catholic
The assassination of Henry IV in 1610 made things worse.
Henry's widow, Maria de Medici, turned to the
Jesuits for support. Through her, they would work their
Young Charles de Biencourt, caught in this business-religious-political
tug-of-war while his family waited
for supplies, turned in desperation to Antoinette de
Pons, Marquess of Guercheville, who had influence at
the court. She paid off the Huguenots and bought their
Acadian rights, which she promptly turned over to
the Jesuits Masse and Biard. In addition to their religious
influence, the two would now become
Poutrincourt's business partners.
On January 26, 1611, Biencourt finally raised anchor in
Dieppe aboard the Grace de Dieu, bound for
Acadie. His mother, Jeanne de Salazar, was also aboard
ship, and would so become one of the first
European women to travel to North America. The Poutrincourts,
Fathers Masse and Biard, and 36 men
spent four months at sea, buffeted by the ice and winds
of a winter in the North Atlantic.
But the real storm came when they landed in Acadie. It
became immediately clear that there would be a
conflict of interest and of authority between the Poutrincourts
and the Jesuits.
Poutrincourt decided to return to France, hoping that
he might make a new agreement with Madame de
Guercheville. She would not be swayed. She stuck by her
Jesuit confessors--who were fighting ever more
bitterly with Poutrincourt's sons even as he bargained
with the Marquess. When she heard this news, she
decided to withdraw her support entirely from the Port
Royal colony and to start one of her own.
For the entire year of 1612, Port Royal was without assistance
of any kind from France. It survived, but
Then on May 12, 1613, Le Fleur de May, a ship equipped
by Madame de Guercheville, sailed into the
Port Royal harbor. The bad news was that the ship made
off with everything that it could carry, "even the
church ornaments given by the Queen." The good news was
that it also carried away Fathers Baird and
Port Royal was left to fend for itself. The Jesuits and
Le Fleur de May headed for a place then called
Mont-Deserts de Pentagoet (today it is Penobscot, Maine),
there to found a new colony which was called
It was an idea that the settlers in Port Royal.could live
with, even if it meant a struggle. But British
neighbors, who by this time had settled in Virginia,
had another view of the matter. And that would set off a
struggle of a different sort.
If rivalries in court were not enough, the Acadian colony
would soon be beset by rivalries closer to home.
The Atlantic Seaboard was about to become more crowded.
In 1608 the French would establish Quebec.
The Pilgrims would land at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Six
years later the Dutch would put down in a place
now known as Manhattan.
Settlement of what was to become the United States and
Canada would continue to pick up speed: John
Winthrop founded Boston in 1630; Samuel Champlain set
up Trois-Rivieres, Canada, in 1634. South
Carolina would be settled in 1663. William Penn established
Pennsylvania in 1681.
The Spanish still claimed much of North America, but the
Atlantic Seaboard was being preempted by
Spanish power had declined rapidly after 1550. Her armies
were defeated by the French, and a revolt by
the Netherlands--secretly aided by England--had drained
Spain of strength. By the late 1500s, English "sea
dogs" such as John Hawkins and Francis Drake were seizing
Spanish ships wherever they met them.
Queen Elizabeth sent the plunder to the Tower of London,
to be "restored to King Philip III." Needless to
say, it never got back to Spain, and the Queen herself
went down to the Thames to knight Drake on the
deck of his ship. He had made the first English voyage
around the world (1557 to 1580) and had returned
laden to the gunwales with spoils taken from Spanish
The raids, of course, angered Spanish King Philip, and
he was made angrier by the execution of Mary,
Queen of Scots, Elizabeth's Catholic rival for the English
throne. He assembled a massive fleet of ships and
sent them to overthrow Elizabeth, take her island and
restore Catholicism there. But the Spanish Armada
was defeated, some say by luck, some say by skill, some
say by the chance happenings of a storm. Indeed,
the ships that managed to escape British guns were driven
ashore and broken up by a terrific storm.
The defeat of the armada successfully defended the British
isles, but it did more: It opened the seas to
British shipping, and North America to British colonization.
Until then, England hadn't made much of an attempt at
colonization. It was busy building a strong state at
home--and, besides, there was more profit in letting
the Spanish do the work, than plundering the treasure
fleet. Still, the queen had given a charter to Sir Humphrey
Gilbert in 1578, giving him the right to "inhabit
and possess all remote and heathen lands not in the actual
possession of any Christian princes. Gilbert was
lost at sea after an abortive attempt to found a colony
on the coast of Newfoundland.
His half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, inherited the charter.
In 1585 he sent more than 100 men under
Captain Ralph Lane to Roanoke Island, off the coast of
North Carolina. Raleigh named the land Virginia,
after the virgin queen, but--reminiscent of the French
at Fort Caroline--Lane's adventurers started hunting
for gold instead of settling down to work. They quarreled
among themselves and with the Indians, and
finally sailed home after only a year.
After a second failure Raleigh sponsored a third voyage
in 1587, and, against his orders, the settlers landed
at the same place. Virginia Dare was born there, the
first American-born child of English parents. But that
was apparently the end of the good news. What became
of this lost colony on Roanoke Island is still a
mystery. A relief expedition in 1591 found the island
After James I came to the English thrown, Raleigh was
accused of plotting against the king, and was
eventually executed. But Raleigh's investors decided
to try again at colonizing North America. There were
two groups of interested merchants, one in Plymouth and
one in London. In 1606 the London group
received a charter from the king, giving them the exclusive
right to colonize between the 34th and 38th
parallels (roughly between today's Charleston, South
Carolina, and Washington, D.C.). They intended to
found a trading post.
Now, in the spring of 1607, as the French were recalling
de Monts, three small ships, the Goodspeed,
Discovery, and Sarah Constant, carrying 120 men sailed
into Chesapeake Bay and up the James River.
The colonists ran into big trouble from the moment they
landed and began to build Jamestown.
Though beautiful to look at, the site was low and swampy.
It was surrounded by thick woods which were
hard to clear for cultivation, and it was threatened
by hostile Indians under Chief Powhatan. The settlers
could barely feed themselves, and the promoters in London
complicated things by demanding a quick
return on their investment.
When the men in Jamestown should have been growing food,
they were required to hunt for gold and pile
up lumber, tar, pitch and iron ore for outgoing vessels.
Inbound ships brought new colonists, but not enough
supplies. Leadership in the colony was divided among
the members of a council, who quarreled constantly.
Finally Captain John Smith took charge. He may have turned
things around, but was seriously burned and
returned to England for treatment.
Jamestown was saved when its promoters created the Virginia
Company, selling stock to anyone willing to
hazard money, and giving tools and equipment to planters
willing to migrate. The company began to build
an agricultural economy as well as a trading post.
With these better beginnings, a new charter was granted
in 1609 and the boundaries of Virginia were
redefined to include 400 miles along the Atlantic Coast.
The English said this included Penobscot, Maine.
The French had been in Penobscot little more than a month
when Samuel Argall, "admiral of Virginia,"
sailed into the place with a fleet from Jamestown (by
now a thriving settlement with several thousand
colonists). Argall had been in the area before, in 1610,
when his ship was driven there by a storm. But this
time he was here by design.
He had instructions from the Virginia Company to make
certain that no Frenchmen were encroaching on
the Company's lands. It was an assignment he took quickly.
When he had been this way before, he'd seen no signs of
any Frenchmen. He didn't think he'd find any this
time, and looked on the expedition as a fishing trip.
He was surprised, indeed, to sight the new little colony
on Mount Desert, but he was true to his orders. He
was to prevent French colonization, and he did. He put
the torch to the colony, killed anyone who resisted,
took a handful of prisoners back to Virginia on a captured
French ship, and set Father Masse and 15
others adrift in an open boat (from which they would
be rescued by fishermen).
Argall's success encouraged Thomas Dale, governor of Virginia.
He decided to rid the entire Atlantic Coast
of the French. In October 1613, while Charles de Blencourt
was in the interior trading with the Micmac
Indians, and while the settlers were fending fields five
or six miles up the Annapolis Valley, Argall's fleet
struck Port Royal. He burned the settlement and made
off with cattle and whatever provisions he found.
Biencourt and his colonists immediately began building
temporary shelters, working against time as winter
drew near, storing artichokes and other native roots
and vegetables. Hunting, never a sport, became a
battle of survival as quarters and sides of moose and
deer were put aside. Luckily for the settlers, Argall
had not found a flour mill farther up the Annapolis.
Fortunately, too, the Micmacs shared what they could.
The Argall raids were the first clash in what would become
a long struggle between France and England
over who would control the Atlantic Seaboard, although
nothing much came of it at the time. The two
countries were then technically at peace, so they exchanged
stern diplomatic notes and clucked across the
English Channel at each other. The upshot: The English
gave back the French ship they'd taken but refused
to make restitution for loss of life and property.
Pourtrincourt would return to France to seek, once again,
the supplies he would need to rebuild his colony.
He would find a France torn worse than ever by religious
strife. It would be the death of him. He never
returned to Acadie.
His son, Charles de Biencourt took up the struggle to
carry on what his father had started. He and his
colonists had no further connections with France except
through contact with the Norman, Breton and
Basque fishermen who had been plying the Atlantic and
the Gulf of St. Lawrence for centuries.
Biencourt set up a series of observation posts along the
coast and used them to signal ships when he had
furs to trade in exchange for ammunition and other provisions.
In 1616 he was able to ship some 25,000
pelts back to France from trading posts at Port Royal,
Cape Sable, Penobscot and the St. John River.
Port Royal thus became temporarily more of a trading post
than an agricultural colony. Cut off from
investment capital in France, Biencourt and his lieutenant
Charles de la Tour, found that their tiny band of
about 20 men could eke out a living in Acadie.
Claude de la Tour, Charles' father, went back to France
to try to recruit new colonists for the Acadian
colony. But in 1619, before de la Tour could return,
the Virginians sent Samuel Argall on yet another raid
against the French. He burned Saint-Sauveur, then sailed
for Saint Croix Island, where he once again
burned all of the buildings and destroyed the fort.
At Port Royal he found the fort undefended, since the
Acadians were working in the fields a few miles
away. The smoke of their burning houses and fort gave
the first warning that strangers were nearby. Along
with their buildings, they lost all of their provisions.
But, once again they began to rebuild.
Biencourt died in 1624 at the age of 31. Charles de la
Tour, then 27, took over Biencourt's estate as
Seigneur at Port Royal by claiming that Biencourt had
bequeathed it to him--a claim that would later be
disputed. But, for now, la Tour moved the colonies' headquarters
to Cape Sable on the Atlantic Coast, so
that it would be more accessible to the fishing craft
that were their primary link to Europe and to trade
From there, he and his band of coureurs de bois (woods
runners), as they would come to be called,
continued to eke out what existence they could.
Ever since John Cabot and his son had sailed on Columbus'
heels to North America, the English had laid
vague claims to the land of Acadie and most of the Atlantic
Coast. Now, in 1620, James I took advantage
of the civil war in France to decree that Massachusetts,
where the Pilgrims had just landed, included not
only Acadie, but all of Canada.
James I was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and succeeded
to the throne in England on the death of
Elizabeth in 1603. He had already won for himself a reputation
as "the wisest fool in Christendom." When
he ascended the British throne he brought with him a
train of Scotsmen as eager as he was to escape the
poverty of Scotland.
One of them was William Alexander of Menstrie, who was
tutor to Prince Henry, the oldest of the King's
children. William was a poet, and this endeared him to
the king, who thought that he, too, had a way with
But Alexander wanted to do more with his life than write
poetry. He wanted to lord over lands of his own.
And the best chance he had for that was in North America.
It was largely at Alexander's urging that King
James decided to claim the Canadian lands.
On Sept. 10, 1620, King James granted Acadie and Canada
to Alexander. The poet was given the
authority to "erect cities, appoint fairs, hold courts,
grant lands and coin money." All Alexander had to do
was to find the wherewithal to take possession of the
lands the king had granted him. The way to do it, he
decided, was to divide the spoils with men who already
A new order was created, the Knights Baronet of Nova Scotia--New
Scotland. Any man of property who
would settle in North America, or who would put 150 sterling
pounds into the pot, would get his title and a
grant of land six miles by three. He would also have
the right to wear "an orange tawny ribbon from which
shall hang pendant in an escutcheon argent a saltire
azure with the arms of Scotland."
Nothing much came of this immediately, except the settling
of small groups here and there around the Bay
of Fundy and the creation of much ill feeling between
the newcomers and the French at Port Royal. But,
after the death of King James, and with the beginning
of yet another war with France (Protestant vs.
Catholic, what else?), Alexander began to take the enterprise
a bit more seriously. He enlisted merchants
and financiers in London into the Company of Merchant
Adventurers to take control of the Canadian lands.
As a part of the war effort, the merchant company raised
60,000 pounds to equip an expedition against the
French in Canada. Three ships set out early in 1628 under
the command of David, Lewis and Thomas
Kirke, the sons of Gervase Kirke, who was a member of
Sailing into Gaspe Bay, the Kirke brothers surprised French
Admiral Roquemont and an armada that had
been sent to reinforce Quebec. His four convoy ships
and 20 transports were crammed with men, women
and children, soldiers, mechanics and priests who had
been sent by a newly formed Company of One
Hundred Associates to provision and people the new Quebec
colony. But Roquemont's heavily laden ships
had been forced into the bay by heavy storms. Now, as
the Kirke brothers approached, the French could
not maneuver in the tight spaces. Most of their guns
were lashed below decks. Roquemont had not
expected a fight and wasn't ready for one. They were
The Kirkes burned some of the transports and took the
rest to Newfoundland and then to England--taking
the spoils of Victory, and a host of prominent prisoners
with them. More importantly, they had cleared the
way for the occupation of Quebec. Without the provisions
Roquemont was to deliver, the French there had
no choice but to surrender.
When a company of British officers and men came ashore
to take possession of the city in August 1629
they found no food there except for one tub filled with
potatoes and roots.
The Kirke expedition also cleared the way for William
Alexander to begin anew his settlement attempt. In
1628 he sent 100 men and women to settle in Acadie near
Port Royal. They built Charlesfort, also known
as Scotch Fort, five miles from the French colony.
The Acadians gave one last try.
Charles de la Tour and his coureurs de bois hid themselves
in the woods while Charles' father, Claude de
la Tour, tried to get to France to ask for help. But
Claude was captured by the Kirkes and taken to
London--where he decided to try to make the best out
of a bad deal.
Claude somehow managed to finagle British baronetcies
for himself and his son, and since Charles had
already been commissioned Lieutenant-General of Acadie
by the French king, they would--Claude
reckoned--be okay no matter who ended up in charge. And
The Treaty of Saint Gemain-en-Laye in 1632 would give
the Acadian colony back to France, but later in
the century, when the French would once again lose Acadie
to the British, Charles de la Tour would be
recognized as its legal governor.
When Acadie was returned to France in 1632 under the Treaty
of Saint Gemain-en-Laye, Cardinal
Armand Jean du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, had come to
power in France. He would prove himself one of
the ablest of French statesmen. He would hold strong
influence over King Louis XIII, and would, in fact,
be the actual ruler of France for more than 18 years.
Richelieu saw the coming struggle for supremacy in North
America, and saw that France would have to
strengthen its colonies there if it was going to compete
with the growing British strength. He immediately
organized a trading company for Quebec and one of Acadie,
sending his cousin, Isaac de Razilly to North
America as lieutenant governor of all New France and
Governor of Acadia.
In July 1632 Razilly sailed from France aboard the Esperance
a Dieu. With him were two transports
carrying 300 people, livestock, seeds, tool, arms--everything
needed to establish and maintain a
community. He would begin the first true steps toward
permanent settlement of the Acadian colony.
After landing at La Have on September 8, Razilly took
possession of Port Royal and then took the fort at
Penobscot by force. Scottish families still in Port Royal
were sent back to England. He annoyed the English
in doing so, and he also annoyed Charles de la Tour,
who thought that he should have been lieutenant
governor, and who also wanted to protect the valuable
fur trade he'd established.
Razilly found a compromise with la Tour. Razilly would
settle his people at La Have, on Nova Scotia's
south shore. La Tour and his men would continue their
fur trading from their main outpost at Cape Sable.
Razilly also gave la Tour the Seigneurie de Jemseg, a
rich hunting and fishing area along the St. John River
in New Brunswick.
Razilly brought with him two lieutenants. Charles de Menou
de Charnisay, Sieur d'Aulnay, was placed in
charge of settling the new emigres on the land and getting
them started in farming. Nicolas Denys,
meanwhile, was to begin building up the Acadian fisheries,
the fur trade and an export lumber trade with
These men would have a large hand in putting down the
first truly permanent beginnings of the Acadiana
colony. But they would do so in the face of conflict,
both from within the French ranks, and from their
In 1633 English traders from Massachusetts set up a post
at Machias, on the coast of Maine, to trade with
the Indians there. La Tour, afraid that the competition
would hurt his Jemseg profits, attacked the English.
He killed two guards, captured three others, and brought
them and a passel of captured furs and provisions
to Cape Sable.
The English in Boston called la Tour's attack piracy and
decided to do something about it. In 1634, a
Boston merchant named Allerton who owned an interest
in the Machias post, sailed to Acadie to reclaim
the booty and bring back la Tour's prisoners. La Tour
answered that Machias was now French territory
and that he had acted in the name of France. At the same
time, albeit coincidentally, Razilly told New
England authorities to limit their trading with the Indians
to the mouth of the Kennebec River, near today's
It was apparent that the Frenchmen meant to stay this
time, and the La Have colony made real progress
under Razilly. But Razilly died in 1635, and d'Aulnay,
who succeeded him, decided to shift the focus of the
settlement from trade to farming. He moved the bulk of
his settlers to Port Royal, where there was more
tillable land, and more importantly, he began to bring
the first families to Acadie. By 1640 he made Port
Royal once again the centerpiece of French Acadie.
By 1650, there were more than 300 settlers in Acadie--50
or so families and about 60 single men, and
another handful of settlers would continue to arrive
along with a few shipwrecked sailors. But the flood of
settlers had begun to dwindle, because both the French
government and French merchants were beginning
to lose interest in Acadie. France wasn't interested
in farmers. Fur traders sent home the profits, and
Quebec by now had become the center of the fur trade.
And, besides, the French government by now had
also become deeply involved in its own internal problems.
In 1643, a four-year-old boy had become King Louis XIV
of France. Although he would later be a very
powerful king, the war with the nobility that would make
him so was now draining the royal treasury. There
was no money left for Acadie. It would have to make do
as best it could.
The 1640s were also tumultuous years within the colony.
Two groups began to fight for control of the
declining Acadian fur trade. Charles de la Tour continued
to claim ownership of much of Acadie, and his
claim was recognized by the government in France. But
that same government also recognized the rights of
the Company of New France, now headed by d'Aulnay. The
two interests were inevitably to collide.
The fight began in earnest in 1630, when la Tour expropriated
a ship that d'Aulny had sent to Penobscot.
The next year, la Tour tried to surprise Port Royal with
two warships, but d'Aulnay captured him and his
The fighting brought things to a head, and in 1641, the
French Court revoked la Tour's commission, called
him to Paris (though he would never go), and named d'Aulnay
La Tour defied the royal decree, and, in February 1642,
d'Aulnay was ordered to take him by force and
bring him to France.
La Tour barricaded himself in his fort at Jemseg and sent
agents to seek an alliance with the English in
Massachusetts. The Boston merchants turned him down at
first. La Tour kept trying, and finally made a
Here is an account attested to by eight Capuchin priests
on October 20, 1643:
After harassing d'Aulnay for
seven years, the English of Grande Baie (Plymouth),
accompanying la Tour, mounted
an assault on Port Royal with four ships and two armed
frigates on August 6, 1643,
wounded seven men, killed three others and took one captive.
They killed a quantity of livestock
and took a ship loaded with furs, powder and food.
The priests told the French Court that "of the 18,000
livres worth of furs stolen in Port Royal, the
Bostonians kept two-thirds, and la Tour one-third." They
sought help for d'Aulnay so that he may carry out
his generous plan against the enemies of the true religion
and in particular against the Sieur de la Tour, a
very evil Frenchman who attends Protestant services when
he is in Grande Baie."
On March 6, 1644, the French government declared la Tour
an outlaw. But he still refused to give in.
Instead, he sent his wife, Francoise-Marie Jacquelin,
to plead his case before the king's ministers, and to
fetch badly needed supplies.
In early 1645, la Tour himself went to Boston to seek
aid, leaving his wife in command of the fort at
Jemseg. D'Aulnay decided that this would be the time
to strike. He arrived at the fort on April 13, 1645,
with 200 men.
There was a murderous fight. D'Aulnay lost 13 men in the
three-day fight, but captured the fort. Then he
forced Madame la Tour, with a rope around her neck, to
watch while her men were hanged. She died in
prison three weeks later. La Tour, escaping the battle,
roved for a time as a privateer in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, then took refuge in Quebec.
D'Aulnay would not live long enough to enjoy the spoils
of his victory. He was drowned in 1650 when he
fell (some say he was pushed) from his canoe.
D'Aulnay's death left the Acadian colony with little direction
and virtually no help from France. They turned
to the soil, and to New England. The fertile Annapolis
Basin gave them crops enough to feed themselves,
with some left over for trade with the thousands of settlers
now pouring into Massachusetts. For once, the
French and the English needed each other.
The influx of Puritans into New England had caused a food
shortage there, new colonists were coming in
quicker than the crops did. By the 1640s, enterprising
Yankee traders had begun to send ships to Acadie
to buy cattle and garden crops. The trade, of course,
was completely illegal, but hunger was a lot closer to
the doorstep than were either the French or the British
The trade brought a measure of independence to the Frenchmen
in Acadie. Farming, along with some
fishing and hunting, gave them a good livelihood. They
were finding that they could survive in the New
World through their own effort, despite the neglect of
official France. And there was another important
realization: They were beginning to think of themselves
as a distinct people. They were still allied to France,
but they were now something more. They were the settlers
of Acadie. They had become Acadians.
I have a mind's-eye vision of Jean Gaudet as a crusty,
old Frenchman, sunburnt, with dark, work-hardened
hands, capable of doing what had to be done to wrest
a simple life from the soil. He was probably an
independent old cuss. He was 61 years old in 1636, when
he and his brother, Aubin, migrated to L'Acadie,
traveling to a colony still far from a certain thing.
Settlement in North America was still a new and risky
venture. The British colony at Jamestown was less
than 30 years old. The Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth
but 16 years before. It would be 40 years before
Marquette and Joliette would explore the Mississippi
Valley, nearly 50 before LaSalle would plant his
cross at the river's mouth and claim Louisiana for France.
George Washington would not be born for more
than 100 years.
Jean Gaudet had come to clear forest into farmland, build
dikes to reclaim tidal marshes, hew timbers for
his home and keep a family fed while he was doing it.
He would farm his Annapolis Basin lands for more
than 30 years, dying at the age of 97. He was one of
my first ancestors in North America, and there was a
lot of history packed into his lifetime.
Jean Gaudet and his second wife, Nicole Colleson, were
among the first families settled in Acadie. Until
now, the French who had come to North America, except
for the wives of one or two officials, were
mostly contract workers who were employed in the fisheries
or fur trade, and who returned to France once
their stint was done.
Jean Gaudet was one of the first Frenchmen who would come
to Acadie to stay. Three
children--Francoise, Denis and Marie--came with him.
Another, Jean, was probably born in the New
Jean Gaudet was a farmer, and he and others who came at
the time brought skills and crafts useful in
building and running a colony. Germain Doucet, another
of my ancestors to arrive about this time, was
commandant at Port Royal under d'Aulnay. Another, Antoine
Bourg, was royal notary and syndic (justice
of the peace). Others, such as Rene Landry, Jean Terriot
and Francois Gauterot were probably farmers.
Guillaume Blanchard was a fisherman.
By 1650 there were some 50 families in Acadie. They would
establish farms and families and live a life
described in 1638 by Nicolas Denys, who wrote, "there
are plenty of clams, whelks, mussels, and other
mollusks and an abundance of lobsters ... some of which
have a claw so large it will hold a pint of wine."
He mentions swordfish "as large as a cow," and writes
of huge flocks of wild pigeons flying over his camp.
He says he was kept awake by the noise from flocks of
geese and ducks nearby.
Historian Rameau de SaintPere, drawing from accounts by
an early priest of the colony, Ignace de Senlis,
On Sunday, the Acadian farmers
emerged from the folds of this charming valley, some in
canoes, others on horseback,
their wives and daughters riding behind, while long lines of
Micmac, brightly painted and
with colorful ornaments, mingled with them. Around the
church grounds, d'Aulnay had
developed extensive green areas, which were called les
champs commune, where the arrivals
tethered their mounts and left their belongings. After
the service, the colonists relaxed
on the champs commune, discussing crops, hunting,
progress of clearing the land,
the work undertaken by the Siegneur, a thousand and one
topics about their private lives
and gossiping the way it is done in all French countries.
D'Aulnay himself often mingled with them ... recounting
adventures of his travels into the interior Indian
country. Many old-timers ... added their bit to the conversation,
while the more venerable sages of the
Micmacs often solemnly joined in the conversation. It
was an auspicious occasion to find out how each
family was making out. The banker naturally encouraged
new marriages and ways to establish new homes
on new farms, because one of the dominating desires was
to increase the number of homes.
The Acadians were left to themselves, with little guidance
or support from France, and they liked it that
way. The colony was once again growing in peace and prosperity
when European intrigue again interrupted
In 1651, when King Charles and Oliver Cromwell were battling
for control of England, Parliament passed
a Navigation Act, requiring that goods from Asia, Africa
and America be carried to England only on
English ships. The act was aimed chiefly at the Dutch,
who were supporting the King in his feud with the
Parliament. The British and the Dutch went to war over
the issue and France (allied with the Dutch) was
soon drawn into it.
So it was in 1654 that an English force from Boston headed
to Acadie with orders from Cromwell to clear
the French from the place. The British commander, Robert
Sedgwick, had easy work. He quickly subdued
the lightly defended Acadian lands, but instead of clearing
the Frenchmen out, left the colony in control of a
local council headed by Guillaume Trahan.
Little changed in everyday life during the council's administration.
The Acadians farmed their lands. There
was no flood of new British settlers to disrupt their
lives. In fact, the years of British rule passed very quietly
until, in 1667, the Treaty of Breda once again returned
the colony to France.
But two important things had happened. The first was that
the 16 years of benign English neglect had
strengthened the Acadians' sense of independence. They
discovered that they could get along quite well,
thank you, with little help from the outside. The other
thing was that the British began to think that maybe,
next time, they ought to keep this place for themselves--and
ship those papist Frenchmen someplace else.
In all, we believe that some 10,000 immigrants traveled
to Canada--not all of them to Acadie--during the
French regime (1604 to 1713) and that between 5,000 and
6,000 of them arrived before the year 1700.
More than half of those who came from France before 1700
were from the old provinces of Poitou and
Aunio--from towns such as Rochefort, la Rochelle, Ile
Oleron, and Chatelleraut.
But progress was interrupted by regular raids from British
freebooters who preyed upon Acadie almost at
will. There were only about 400 people listed on the
census of 1671, the first taken in Acadie, yet
three-fourths of the Acadians alive today can trace their
roots to these folks.
Rameu de Saint-Pere tells us about the life they lived:
Port Royal consisted (c.1700)
of a rough fort formed by earthworks topped by a large
wooden palisade. The church
and some houses surrounded it. Most of the farmers were
spread out around the countryside,
and each settler lived on his own land.
The homes were built of squared
logs or of heavy beams planted in the soil with the
interstices sealed with moss
and clay. Chimneys were formed with poles and hardened
clay. The roof was covered with
rushes, bark, even sod at times. Wood being in abundant
supply, the houses were easy
to build, and if disaster struck, just as easily abandoned
and lost without much regret,
an important consideration because the frequent incursions
of the English led to a certain
indifference and they therefore endeavored to leave
nothing of value to the enemy.
When the latter appeared in force,
the settlers fled to the woods without worrying about
what was left behind. Their
small herds of cattle were used to the woods, and belongings
were easily moved; a few iron
pots, arms, tools and packages of clothing. Those with too
many belongings buried some
of them and carried the rest. But all knew the trails to safe
retreats in the heavily wooded
valleys only a gunshot away but impenetrable to everyone
save themselves and their friends,
the Micmacs of the interior.
In 1701, when England and France went back to war, the
backwash once again hit the American colonies.
Jacques de Brouillan, then governor of Acadie, tried
in vain to negotiate neutrality with the Americans. The
English in Massachusetts had other ideas. They struck
first at Penobscot, but were driven back. Acadians
and some of their Indian allies retaliated, hitting village
after village as far south as Portland, Maine. At the
same time, troops from New France attacked New England
striking at Deerfield, Connecticut, where 200
British were killed or made prisoner during a night raid
in February, 1704.
In May 1704 three English warships, four transports and
36 other ships, loaded with 1,300 men, headed
for Acadie under the command of Colonel Church, who had
successfully raided the Beaubassin area in
1696. He had orders from Governor Dudley of Massachusetts
to burn every house in Acadie, smash all of
the dikes protecting the recovered lands, and to haul
off everything and everyone he could.
Church took Penobscot easily and killed or imprisoned
everyone there. He then moved to Passamoquoddy
Bay, at the mouth of the Saint-Croix River, and looted
and destroyed what was there. He arrived at Port
Royal on July 2, 1704, but had to retreat three days
later because of the stiff Acadian resistance. He did
burn a number of homes and take 30 prisoners.
At Grand Pre, the Acadians fled into the woods, after
smashing their dikes, making it impossible for Church
to unload his troops. At Beaubassin, English troops went
ashore during a heavy fog on July 28. They
burned about 20 houses and killed all of the livestock
they found, but soon returned to New England.
The English struck again at Port Royal on June 6, 1707.
After a ten-day siege the British commander,
Colonel Marsh, ordered his men back to their ships, leaving
behind about 100 dead and as many
wounded. He withdrew to Portland, Maine where Governor
Dudley sent him reinforcements. On August
20, 1707, some 2,000 men and about 20 ships stood off
Port Royal, this time under the command of
The Acadians were warned of the approaching fleet by friendly
Indians and had dug in for defense. The
English withdrew after a 16-day siege and heavy losses--going
home to an angry reception. (Some of the
people of Boston were so upset they wanted to hang the
expedition leaders. )
But the English controlled the seas, and Acadie was cut
off from vital food and supplies, and from help
from France. It was only a matter of time. The Acadians
were finally forced to submit. In 1713 the Treaty
of Utrecht ended the War of Spanish Succession in Europe.
It ceded Acadie and Newfoundland to
England once and for all.
Acadie would now become Nova Scotia. But the Acadians
would not become Nova Scotians.
THE OATH REFUSED
Almost from the beginning of their regime (in 1713), the
British governors of Acadie faced a dilemma. They
needed the Acadians and their expertise, but they also
mistrusted their loyalty. The English solution was to
try to force the Acadians to take an oath of allegiance
to Great Britain. Most Acadians steadfastly refused.
The oath would become the nominal bone of contention
that would, in the next generation, finally bring their
exile. The fact that the Acadians owned some of the richest
farmland on the Eastern seaboard, and that the
English lusted for it, didn't help matters much, either.
The Acadians had good reason to refuse the oath. They
feared it would require them to give up the
independence they'd begun to enjoy, and that it might
one day force them to fight against France. Also, they
didn't want to make promises to a government that they
hoped might not be around that long. (Their fathers
had lived for awhile under the British, but had seen
the colony eventually returned to France.) And, most of
all, they knew that, at least for now, they held the
upper hand. There were more Acadians than British in
the Annapolis Basin, and the British needed the Acadians
to feed their tiny garrison.
The Treaty of Utrecht that ceded Acadie to England had
given the Acadians certain rights and options. It
provided, for example, that "in the pursuance of this
treaty (the Acadians) may have liberty to remove
themselves within a year to any other place as they shall
think fit, with all their moveable effects. But those
who are willing to remain here, and to be subjects of
the Kingdom of Great Britain are to enjoy the free
exercise of their religion according to the usage of
the Church of Rome as far as the laws of Great Britain
allow the same."
Queen Anne later agreed to relieve the Acadians from any
time limit for moving. On June 23, 1713, she
wrote to her governor in Acadie:
Whereas our good brother, the
Most Christian King (of France) hath at our desire,
released from imprisonment ...
such of his subjects as were detained on account of their
... Protestant religion; we,
being willing to show ... how kind we take his compliance
herein, have therefore thought
fit ... to ... permit such of them as have any lands or
tenements in the places under
our Government in Acadia and Newfoundland ... and are
willing to continue our subjects,
to retain and enjoy their said lands and tenements
without molestation, as fully
and freely as our other subjects do ... or to sell the same, if
they shall rather choose to
Thus, the Acadians who decided to stay were guaranteed
freedom of religion and equal rights with other
British subjects. Those who planned to leave thought
they could do so at any time they wanted to. But now
the struggle began for their hearts and minds, and warm
In January 1714 Pastour de Costebellow, the last French
governor of Newfoundland, became the first
governor of Cape Breton (Ile Royale) which was still
French and built the historic fort of Louisbourg. He
immediately tried to convince the Acadians that they
should migrate there. The English, meanwhile, wanted
to keep the Acadians in Nova Scotia, at least for awhile
Lt. Gov. Samuel Vetch wrote to his British superiors on
November 243, 1714:
One hundred of the Acadians who
were born upon this continent, and are perfectly at
home in the woods, can march
upon snowshoes and understand the use of birch canoes,
are of more value and service
than five times their number of raw men newly arrived from
So their skill in the fishery,
as well as the cultivating of the soil must make at once of
Cape Breton the most powerful
colony the French have in America, and to the greatest
danger and damage to all the
British colonies as well as the universal trade of Great
Later he wrote to the Board of Trade in London:
... the removal of (the Acadians)
and their cattle to Cape Breton would be a great
addition to that new colony,
so it would wholly ruin Nova Scotia unless supplied by a
British colony, which could
not be done in several years, so that the Acadians with their
stocks of cattle remaining here
is very much for the advantage of the Crown.
Most Acadians didn't want to move, anyway. These had been
their lands for generations--and Cape
Breton, though French, offered them little. A delegation
visited there during the summer of 1713. The
On the whole, the island there
is no land fit for the maintenance of our families, since
there is (sic) no grass lands
large enough to feed our cattle which is our principal means
of livelihood ... To leave our
homes and cleared lands for new uncultivated land which
must be cleared without help
nor credit would expose our families to perishing by famine.
Some young Acadians moved to New Brunswick, which they
regarded as French soil, but most of the
established families decided to stay put on the farms
and homesteads they had worked long and hard to
Efforts to require an oath of allegiance from these families
began in earnest after Queen Anne died in 1714,
and colonial officials took advantage of King George's
accession to require sworn fealty to the new ruler.
The Acadians of Grand Pre and Beaubassin refused to take
the oath, period. They argued that France and
England were still arguing over boundaries, and whether
their lands had been ceded under the treaty. They
said they could take no oath until the issue was decided.
That argument could not be made at Port Royal, however,
and 36 Acadians signed a provisional oath on
January 13, 1716, to "be faithful and maintain a true
allegiance to His Majesty King George, as long as I
shall be in Acadia or Nova Scotia and that I shall be
permitted to withdraw wheresoever I shall think fit
with all my moveable goods and effects, when I shall
think fit, without any one ... to hinder me."
In November 1717 the provincial administrator, Capt. John
Doucett, made another attempt to force an
oath from the Acadians. Representatives of Grand Pre,
Pisiquid, Cobequid and Beaubassin, knowing the
British didn't have the manpower needed, said they'd
sign if they got protection from the Indians. They
argued that the Indians, afraid they would lose hunting
and fishing grounds, were sworn enemies of the
English. The Acadians claimed that taking the oath would
be the same as making a pact with the Indians'
worst enemy, and the Indians would retaliate.
"For the present," the Acadians said, "we can only answer
that we shall be ready to carry into effect the
demand proposed to us as soon as His Majesty shall have
done us the favor of providing some means of
sheltering us from the Indians, who are always ready
to do all kinds of mischief ... (since) we cannot take
the oath demanded without exposing ourselves to have
our throats cut in our houses at any time, which they
have already threatened to do."
In March 1718, Doucett threatened to cut off Acadian trade
and fishing rights if they didn't sign. The
Acadians appealed to Gov. Richard Phillipps, who did
what any good bureaucrat would do. He ordered a
Capt. Paul Mascarne reported that the Acadians still had
Phillips over a barrel. If the Acadians were forced
from their lands, the English garrison would be isolated
and without a regular source of food. On leaving,
the Acadians could destroy the dikes protecting their
farms, damaging the land for years. The Indians
would destroy what the Acadians didn't and would become
much more dangerous than before. Finally, the
Acadians would become a powerful military force against
the English colonies once they settled in French
Phillipps wrote to London:
... the Acadians cannot be let
go now at least. Their departure, if they went to ... Cape
Breton, would render our neighbors
too powerful. We need them to erect fortifications
and to provision our forts till
the English are powerful enough to go on ...
London wrote back:
As to the Acadians of Nova Scotia
... we are apprehensive they will never become good
subjects to His Majesty ...
We are of opinion they ought to be removed as soon as the
forces which we have proposed
to be sent to you shall arrive in your Province. But ... you
are not to attempt their removal
without His Majesty's positive order ... you will do well in
the meantime to continue the
same prudent and cautious conduct towards them...
The English wanted the Acadians out, but weren't strong
enough to force the issue - not yet.
ANOTHER OATH REFUSED
The War of Austrian Succession, which erupted in 1740,
was fought over whether a fat lady named Maria
Theresa would inherit the Hapsburg Empire in Europe.
It had nothing to do with Acadie, except that the
French jumped in on one side of the war and the British
jumped in on the other. Whenever that happened,
the Acadians seemed sure to get caught in the middle.
It came at a time when things in the Cajun homeland were
settling down some, perhaps settling down too
During the 1720s there had been two incidents that deepened
the animosity between the Acadians and the
English, but the next decade brought relative peace and
prosperity. Then things began to fall apart.
On March 24,1724, during an English attack against an
Abernaki village on the coast of Maine, missionary
priest Sebastian Rasle was shot by the English at the
door of his church, scalped, and his body mutilated.
That did nothing for Acadian spirits. At about the same
time, 50 Micmac Indians, friends of the French,
surprised the English garrison at Annapolis Royal, killing
two soldiers and seriously wounding a dozen
more. That irked the English, who claimed the Acadians
had incited the Indian raid. The Brits burned many
of the Acadians' homes and sent their priests away.
In the fall of 1726 Major Lawrence Armstrong became provincial
administrator, and was determined to
force the Acadians to take the oath of allegiance. Once
again they refused to take it unless it contained a
clause that they would not be forced to fight against
the French. Armstrong agreed to insert the clause, and
did--in the margin of the French translation, only. But
he sent the English version, without the clause, to
Finally, in 1730 Governor Phillips got what he and the
British Crown wanted. He reported that all Acadians
"of all parishes" had taken the conditional oath. He
had finally promised not only that they would not have
to fight against the French and the Indians, but also
that they could maintain their Catholic faith. The
Acadians, in return, promised not to fight against the
The Acadians became known in London and in New England
as "French Neutrals," and were themselves
convinced that their neutral status had been officially
granted to them by Governor Phillips. Besides, they
were promised freedom of religion and their lands would
not be taken from them.
There would be some exceptions, but the Acadian population
as a whole would respect the pledge. They
were happy, gave up the idea of abandoning their farms,
and began to do what Cajuns do: multiply.
The Acadian population increased so rapidly that the old
farms could no longer hold them all. In 1732,
Governor Phillips estimated the population at 800 families,
double what it had been ten years earlier. A
census in 1737 found 7,598 Acadians in Nova Scotia. And
that presented a new problem.
In 1740, the year France and England went back to war
the acting governor wrote to London:
The increase of the Acadians
calls for some fresh instructions how to dispose of them.
They have divided and subdivided
amongst their children the lands they were in
possession of ... They applied
for new grants which the Governor Phillips and Armstrong
did not think themselves authorized
to favor them with, as His Majesty's instruction ...
prescribed the grant of unappropriated
lands to Protestant subjects only ... if they are
debarred from new possessions,
they must live here miserably and consequently be
troublesome, or else, they will
possess themselves of new tracts contrary to orders, or they
must be made to withdraw to
the neighboring French colony.
The French of Cape Breton will
naturally watch all opportunities of disturbing the peace
of this Province, especially
at this juncture, in case of war with France; and, if occasion
of disgust was given to these
people here, they would soon distress the garrison if not
taking the fort which is in
a very ruinous condition.
The Acadians had pledged not to bear arms, either for
France or against England, but in Nova Scotia, they
still had the numbers and that bothered the English,
especially Gov. William Shirley of Massachusetts. In
1746 he wrote that "the enemy will soon find a way to
wrest Acadia from us if we do not remove the most
dangerous French inhabitants and replace them with English
families." A month later he added, "The
Province of Nova Scotia will never be out of danger so
long as the French inhabitants are tolerated under
the present mode of submission." On a visit to England
he laid a plan before British authorities to bring
6,000 families to Nova Scotia over a ten-year period:
two thousand from the British Isles, two thousand
from New England, and two thousand retired soldiers.
His plan was followed up in 1749 when Edward Cornwallis,
replacing Phillips as governor, arrived at
Halifax with 2,500 settlers, including 1,100 women and
children. Cornwallis immediately issued orders for
armories to be built at Grand Pre, Bale Verte, Whiteland,
and La Heve, all with enough troops to man
them. At the same time, he gave the Acadians three months
to take an unconditional oath, and he required
that they have special authorization to ship grain, livestock,
or other products to any foreign colony.
Cornwallis' proclamation upset the Acadians. Three delegates
from Grand Pre, Jean and Philipe Melanson
and Claude LeBlanc, went to see the governor to say that
the new oath was different than the one
Governor Phillips had accepted in 1730. Besides, for
almost a generation the Acadians had thought the
question of allegiance had been settle.
Cornwallis held to his demand.
In September 1749 another delegation, this time people
from Annapolis Royal, Grand Pre, Beaubassin,
Pisiquid, Cobequid, and Chopoudy, appeared before Cornwallis
They brought a petition, with more than
1,000 signatures, declaring that they had signed oaths
on the condition that they could not be conscripted
The petition added: "The inhabitants in general, sir,
have resolved not to take the oath which your
Excellency requires of us. But, if your Excellency will
grant us our old oath, which was given by Governor
Phillips, with an exemption from taking arms, we will
accept it. If your Excellency is not disposed to grant
us what we take the liberty of asking, we are resolved
every one of us to leave the country."
Cornwallis said Phillips had exceeded his authority, and
that the Acadians must swear without condition.
Then he went on building strategic military posts that
would isolate the Acadians and block communications
with the French in Quebec or their troublesome neighbors
The English ministers who negotiated the Treaty of Utrecht
in 1713 had not been very wise. True they had
gained Acadie but it was an Acadie with ill-defined and
disputed boundaries and one that--whatever its
boundaries--was difficult to defend. But worse, the British
in giving Cape Breton Island to the French,
destroyed the military value of their hold on the Annapolis
King Louis of France saw that Cape Breton guarded the
Saint Lawrence. That's why, beginning in 1720,
he'd built and fortified Louisbourg, against the inevitable
day when war would flare afresh and France
would recover Acadie. Louisbourg became a harbor so well
defended and a privateering refuge so secure
that it was called the strongest fort in America. It
was also called a danger to New England.
Military historian Fairfax Downey described it this way:
Guardian of the approaches to
the St. Lawrence River, gateway to the heart of French
Canada, Louisbourg also stood
sentinel over the immensely valuable cod fisheries of the
Banks. Mean (?) hailed it as
another Gibraltar and as a worthy successor to Dunkirk ...
As Dunkirk had been "a pistol
held at England's head," so the guns of Louisbourg
menaced the lifelines of the
New England colonies.
So, when border warfare erupted gain in North America,
the colonists of Massachusetts decided that
Louisbourg was too strong and too dangerous to be left
in French hands.
Governor William Shirley invited colonists from as far
south as Pennsylvania to join an expedition against
Acadie, but only New Englanders showed up. William Pepperell
of Kittery, Maine, a merchant and
lumberman with practically no military experience, was
named commander. He brought 90 ships and 4,200
men to Louisbourg on the morning of April 28, 1735. But
even these would not be enough without a little
luck and the combination of French folly and British
Bad weather delayed the British, and the delay took away
the element of surprise. But even when the
French knew that the attack was coming, Jean Frederic
Phelippeaux, Comte de Maurepas, France's
Minister of Marine, doubted that the fort was seriously
threatened. He delayed sending vital naval aid that
might have made the difference when battle was joined.
And Downey reports: "High also on the list of fortune's
gifts to the enemy was the gross incompetence of
Governor (DuPont) du Chambron, in whose hands rested
the safety of Louisbourg."
As the attack loomed, his garrison was in mutiny over
lack of pay and poor provisions. He was outmanned
even if the garrison would fight, and--despite all--he
turned down reinforcements from Quebec (which
instead were used in an unsuccessful attack on Annapolis.
Even as the British sailed into sight and prepared to
land troops the Governor and his key lieutenants were
dancing the night away at a ball at du Chambron's palace.
The Governor counted on the protection of powerful batteries
that commanded the entrance to Louisbourg.
And the British respected them as well. They knew that
to enter Louisbourg basin would have been suicide.
Not even the British warships that had joined the colonists
would attempt it.
To the east of the town itself was a small strait, barely
a half-mile wide, and commanded by the Island
Battery, mounted on a rocky island. Directly ahead of
the entrance was the Grand Battery. Ships
attempting to force the harbor would be raked port and
forward. So General Pepperell decided to put his
troops ashore at Flat Point, three miles west of the
Du Chambon sent 120 men to block him. Although Du Chambon
had 560 regulars and 1,400 militia he did
not send a larger force because he could not rely on
untrained draftees or soldiers ready to mutiny. So
Captain Louis Morpain led his handful of trusted defenders
to Flat Point. They dug in, awaiting the English
rowing towards them.
But, suddenly, the English veered away, as though they
would not risk the surf boiling over Flat Point's
rocky coast. Captain Morpain relaxed--until he saw the
trick. More English boats had been lowered and
were rowing hard for Fresh Water Cove, two miles to the
Morpain got there too late. The English were already ashore,
and ore boats came bobbing through the surf.
General Pepperell soon had a firm beachhead. Louisbourg
had been flanked. Now it was only a matter of
time until she fell.
News of the fall of the Great Fortress reached Boston
at one o'clock on the morning of July 3,
1745. Clanging bells and booming cannon awoke the town
and, long before dawn, townsfolk had begun a
day-long celebration that would spread across New England
with the good news.
The English immediately began transporting the Cape Breton
population to Brest, France.
Pierre Lewis Allain was apparently among them. He died
at Brest that year, one of the earliest Acadians to
be departed. His widow, Marguerite LeBlanc apparently
remained in Acadie and eventually turned up as a
refugee at St. Pierre de Miquelon with many of her children
in 1766 after the wholesale exile of the Acadian
people a decade earlier.
The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 ended the War of
Austrian Succession, and, much to New
England's dismay and disgust, Louisbourg was returned
to the French. The treaty commissioners could still
not agree on a definitive boundary for Nova Scotia, and,
in 1749, the governor of Canada sent troops to
protect French claims in Beaubassin, Baie Verte and at
the mouth of the St. John River. Indians, allied with
the French attacked British outposts regularly. There
was bound to be more fighting.
In fact, Louisbourg would be retaken by the British in
1758. But by then, the die would be cast in Acadie.
With the fall of Louisbourg the first time, the Acadians,
bound to peace by their oath, but reading the
handwriting on the wall, had begun to leave their ancestral
lands. Thousands went to Prince Edward Island,
others to southeastern New Brunswick. Some few may have
traveled to Louisiana. They would be the first
of many to come.
From the time of the settling of Acadie, and well before,
France and Great Britain were either at war, just
ending a war, or getting ready to fight each other once
again. So there is no surprise that the Treaty of
Aix-la-Chapelle solved next to nothing. It gave the two
rivals a breathing spell, and brought a shaky peace
to the New World, but, whichever tongue they spoke, the
American colonists knew that peace wouldn't
last. There was too much at stake.
France claimed all of North America from the Alleghenies
to the Rockies, from Florida and Mexico to the
North Pole. She held the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi--and
controlled these waterways from
Montreal to New Orleans.
The English, meanwhile, were penned behind the Alleghenies,
and France wanted to keep them there. If
they spread west, they would cut New France in two, dividing
Louisiana from Canada. To prevent this, the
French began to seal off the passes to the west--and
the English began to push harder to get through them.
The result was constant skirmishing that led eventually
to the French and Indian War. And the tensions
grew in Acadie as elsewhere.
By now the Acadians had been refusing to take an unconditional
oath for nearly 50 years. They wanted
assurances that they would have freedom of religion,
and that they would not be forced to fight against
France or against their cousins in Canada and Cape Breton.
The English had accepted the conditional oath,
and the Acadian status as French Neutrals was recognized
in Britain, in the English colonies in America,
and in Nova Scotia and Canada.
But now things began to change. The Acadians who stayed
in Nova Scotia believed they could be loyal
British subjects while staying neutral. They thought
the British would recognize their good faith. They
wanted to be left alone, to live in peace on their farms,
according to the guarantees they'd received.
But they were nervous. One-third of the Acadian population,
about 6,000 people, had left Nova Scotia by
1752, taking refuge in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island
and other French territories. But they soon
found out that that wasn't the best idea. At first, these
refugees had been more-or-less supplied with food
and clothing from Quebec and Louisbourg, but in October
1753 a missionary would write, "Many are in
such a state that they cannot work in winter, having
nothing to cover themselves against the cold day or
Those who stayed on the old lands fared better, for awhile.
In August 1752, Governor Cornwallis returned
to England and was replaced by Captain Peregrine Hopson,
a much more moderate man. The Acadians
saw a glimmer of hope. But Hopson got sick and had to
resign after only 15 months in office. He was
replaced by Charles Lawrence, a man both hated and feared
by the Acadians. It turned out they had good
Not only was Lawrence influenced by politics, he was influenced
by greed. Just as the Acadian populations
had begun to swell, so had the populations in New England.
These English colonies needed a place to
grow. And there were no better lands to grow than those
In the beginning of June 1755, British troops were ordered
to seize the arms of the Acadians in the Grand
Pre area. The soldiers pretended to be on a fishing trip.
Instead of sleeping in barns, as they usually did,
they went two-by-two into the Acadians' houses. At midnight,
each pair, quietly and without resistance,
gathered all the arms and ammunition in each house. The
weapons were shipped to Fort Edwards. A few
days later, Acadians living in other areas of Nova Scotia
were ordered to turn in their weapons or be
treated as rebels. Their boats were also confiscated.
On June 10 the Acadians sent a protest to Governor Lawrence:
We hope that your Excellency
will be pleased to restore to us the same liberty that we
enjoyed formerly, in giving
us the use of our canoes, either to transport our provisions
from one river to another, or
for the purpose or fishing, thereby providing for our
Moreover, our guns ... (are)
absolutely necessary to us, either to defend our cattle which
are attacked by wild beasts,
or for protection of our children and ourselves ...
Besides, the arms which have
been taken away from us are but a feeble guarantee of our
fidelity. It is not the gun
which an inhabitant possesses that will induce him to revolt, not
the privation of the same gun
that will make him more faithful; but his conscience alone
must induce him to maintain
his oath ...
Lawrence found the petition "arrogant and insidious."
He hauled in 15 of the men who had signed it and
tried to force them to swear allegiance immediately.
They said they needed time to think about it and
discuss it among themselves. Lawrence gave them the time,
The governor and his advisors, thought the Acadians' refusal
to take an unconditional oath meant that they
intended to fight with the French and the Canadians against
the English--and they knew that war was about
to break out again. Bloody raids by the French and Indians
and French piracy out of Louisbourg made
them even more nervous. Adding to it all, constant war
and bickering had fueled a growing hatred for
anyone of French blood and Catholic faith.
But still the Acadians refused to take the unconditional
oath. The people of Annapolis Royal met on July
16,1755 and those of Grand Pre, Pisiquid and Cobequid
on July 22, to draft an answer to Governor
We, and our fathers, having taken
an oath of Fidelity which was approved many times, in
the name of the British King
... and under the privileges of which we remained faithful
and subject to His British Majesty
... will never commit the inconstancy of taking an oath
which changes so much the conditions
and privileges in which our Sovereign and our
fathers places us in the past...
They said they had no intention at fighting aghast the
British and asked Governor Lawrence to free the 15
delegates still being held in jail in Halifax harbor.
Lawrence rejected all. The Acadians were told they would
no longer be considered British subjects, "but
as subjects of the King of France, and as such they must
be hereafter treated."
In July 1755, Col. John Winslow, one of the British officers
in Nova Scotia, wrote this in his journal:
We are now hatching the noble
and great project of banishing the French Neutrals from
this province; they have ever
been our secret enemies and have encouraged the Indians
to cut our throats. If we can
accomplish this expulsion, it will have been one of the
greatest deeds the English in
America have ever achieved; for, among other
considerations, the part of
the country which they occupy is one of the best soils in the
world, and, in the event, we
might place some good farmers on their homesteads.
In fact, Governor Lawrence had been planning the Acadian
deportation for some time. He had broached
the idea in London at least by 1754. Early in 1755 he
had asked Judge Morris, the provincial surveyor, to
prepare a report on how to go about it. Governor Shirley
of Massachusetts had promised enough ships to
carry away the 7,000 Acadians still in Nova Scotia.
(Of an approximate population of 18,000 Acadians, about
6,000 had left Nova Scotia between 1749 and
1752. Many more fled after 1752, and were continuing
to flee even on the eve of their exile.)
On July 31, 1755, Lawrence sent instructions to Colonel
Moncton commanding officer in the Beausejour
The ... Acadians of the District
of Annapolis Royal, Mines and Pisiquid have ... refused to
take the oath of allegiance
... and it is ... determined that they shall be removed out of the
country as soon as possible
For this purpose, orders are
given for a sufficient number of transports to be sent up
(Chignecto Bay) ... for taking
them on board, by whom you will receive particular
instructions as to the manner
of their being disposed of, the place of their destination,
and every other thing necessary
for that purpose.
In the meantime it will be necessary
to keep this measure as secret as possible to prevent
their attempting to escape and
to carry off their cattle. In order to effect this, you will
endeavor to fall upon some strategy
to get the men, both young and old--especially the
heads of families--into your
power, and detain them till the transports should arrive, so as
they may be ready to be shipped
off; for, when this is done, it is not much to be feared
that the women and children
will attempt to go away and carry off the cattle.
As their whole stock of cattle
and corn forfeited to the crown by their rebellion must be
secured and applied toward a
reimbursement of the expense the Government will have
incurred in transporting them
out of the country, care must be taken that nobody make
any bargain for purchasing them
under any color or pretext whatsoever; if they do the
sale will be void, for the inhabitants
have now no property in their name, nor will they be
allowed to carry away the least
thing save their ready money and household furniture ...
On August 9, the Acadians of the Chignecto Isthmus were
ordered to meet at Fort Cumberland, to hear
"the reading of orders of His Excellency, the Governor."
Suspicious, they refused to go. The meeting was postponed
to the next day. Then, some 400 Acadians
went to the fort after being assured that the gathering
was only about "arrangement of the Governor of
Halifax for the conservation of their farms."
Every Acadian who attended was taken prisoner.
Detachments of soldiers then went through the countryside
to arrest the rest of the population. But most of
the Acadians hid in the woods, and, in fact, nearly two-thirds
of the area residents escaped immediate
deportation. But those who went to Fort Cumberland and
had been taken prisoner were placed on ships to
be sent into exile.
"One hundred and forty women threw themselves hopelessly
and blindly onto the English ships to rejoin
their husbands," wrote the parish priest, Father LeGuerne.
Winslow, in charge of the Grand Pre region, called the
Acadians together there on September 5. His
proclamation ordered all men and boys over the age of
ten to gather in the church to hear "His Majesty's
intentions." Those who didn't show up would forfeit their
goods, cattle and real estate.
Four hundred and eighteen men gathered at the church.
They were apprehensive. The British now held the
upper hand, and the Acadians knew it.
When all of the men were in the church, the doors were
closed and locked. The men were placed under
arrest and told that their lands and goods were no longer
theirs. They and their families were to be put
aboard ships and sent elsewhere.
"They were greatly struck," Winslow wrote in his journal,
"although I believe they did not imagine that they
were actually to be removed. Thus ended the memorable
5th of September, a day of great fatigue and
The transports arrived at Grand Pre on September 10. Winslow
... the inhabitants, sadly and
with great sorrow, abandoned their homes. The women, in
great distress, carried their
newborn or their youngest children in their arms. Others
pulled carts with their household
effects and crippled parents. It was a scene of
confusion, despair and desolation...
Winslow did make an attempt to keep families together,
but he didn't have enough ships. Women were
loaded onto ships other than the ones that carried their
husbands and children. Entire families, believing that
they were separating for only a few days, would be so
widely dispersed that they would never meet again.
When all was done, some 7,000 Acadians had been gathered
up, sent from their homes aboard 24
crowded ships, and scattered along the Atlantic Seaboard
and elsewhere. Some 2,000 Acadians would go
to Massachusetts, 700 Acadians to Connecticut, more than
300 to New York, 500 to Pennsylvania, nearly
a thousand to Maryland, 400 or more to Georgia, another
thousand to the Carolinas.
Their tragedy fell just short of genocide. Lord Jeffrey
Amherst, one of the British commanders (who got a
college named in his honor) was all for it. In a letter
to a Col. Bouqet, he urged: "You will do well to try to
spread smallpox by means of blankets and by every other
means which might help exterminate that
Twelve hundred Acadians reached Virginia in the fall of
1755, but were not allowed off the ships. Nobody
had told the Virginians that the Acadians were coming.
They had no room for them. Particularly after
smallpox did infect the ships. Finally, these Acadians
were sent to England in the beginning of 1756, and
imprisoned there. Many of them died in prison. Some would
one day make it to France, but these would
fare little better. They were foreigners there, too.
Their families had been in North America for 150 years.
Their ways, customs, even speech, were already far different
than that of the motherland.
Some historians believe that a number of the Acadians
deported to Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia
reached Louisiana in 1756. We know, for example, that
the Acadians who were sent to South Carolina
had no difficulty in getting permission to leave. A number
of those sent to other American colonies headed
for the Mississippi. Others escaped from the Virginia
transports before they were sent on to England.
We know that scores of Acadian exiles from New York and
some of the New England colonies headed
for the West Indies. But the tropical climate did not
agree with them, and they soon considered the move to
And what would happen to their old lands in Acadie?
In 1758, after the capture of Louisbourg, a proclamation
by the Nova Scotia government appeared in the
Boston Gazette, offering free land grants in the once-Acadian
province. A second proclamation, in 1759,
described the wonderful attractions of the land and offered
liberal terms to settlers.
In April 1759, a five-man committee was sent from Connecticut
to "spy out the land." They met with
Governor Lawrence and his council at Halifax and were
assured that the lands were all that they had been
advertised to be. Even more, ships from Nova Scotia would
be put at their service to transport the im
migrants, their stock, and their furniture.
To help them decide, the council sent them to visit the
lands along the Bay of Fundy. By the time they
arrived in the Minas Basin, the orchards were budding,
dikes growing green and rich uplands were waiting
for the plow. Compared to the rocky soil of New England,
the fertile valley was very attractive.
Completely sold on the proposition, the agents agreed
to settle one township at Minas and another one at
Canard (today Horton and Cornwallis, respectively).
On May 21, 1760, a fleet of 22 ships set sail for the
new Promised Land. The New England planters
planted their feet on the soil of Acadie on June 4, 1760,
five years after the Acadian dispersion.
An old ballad, Puritan Planters tells the tale:
Five years in desolation the
Acadia land had lain.
Five golden Harvest Moons had
wood the fallow fields in vain.
Five times the winter snows
had slept and summer sunsets smile
On lonely clumps of willow and
fruit trees growing wild.
There was silence in the forest
and along the Minas shore
And not a habitation from Canard
But many a blackened rafter
and many a broken wall
Told the story of Acadia's prosperity
But the simple Norman peasant
folk shall fill the land no more,
For the vessels from Connecticut
anchored by the shore.
And many a patient Puritan,
his mind with Scripture stored,
Rejoices he has found at last
his "garden of the Lord. "
ST. JACQUES DE CABHANNOCER
The arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana can be dated
from the settlement of Salvador Mouton, his nephew,
Jean Diogene Mouton, and their families. They are believed
to be the first to reach here in the mass
migration that would eventually bring two-thirds of the
survivors of the Acadian exodus to Louisiana.
The Moutons left old Acadie in 1754 during the year of
turmoil before the deportation. Salvador's son,
Jean, was founder of Lafayette. It is for him that St.
John Cathedral is named. Another descendant,
Alexandre Mouton, would become the state's first Acadian
governor (also the first elected as a Democrat
and the first to be selected by popular vote rather than
chosen by the legislature). Over the years the
Moutons would become both widespread and influential.
One family historian counts 6,000 Moutons who
still carry the family name, and another 6,000 who are
married into other families.
These first Acadian settlers came to Louisiana by foot
and by raft, directly from Canada, walking along the
Great Lakes to the upper reaches of the Mississippi,
then hiking and rafting down to Louisiana. They
settled on the west bank of the Mississippi in what is
today St. James Parish, near the home of Mathias
Frederick, a German who was probably the first white
settler of the region.
Other Acadian families followed the Moutons to St. James
in the years after the dispersion: Bergeron,
Saunier, LeBlanc, Bourgeois, Guilbeau, Poirier, Roy,
Guidry, Cormier, Martin. Louis Pierre Arceneaux
would not be far behind. We know him better by another
name. He would become the Gabriel in
Longfellow's epic, Evangeline.
By 1770 the Acadians outnumbered everyone else. The St.
James militia roster of that year lists 104
names. All but ten are Acadian.
The settlement they formed became known as St. Jacques
de Cabahannocer (St. James of Cabonocey),
for a church built there by a man named Jacques Cantrelle.
He was not Acadian. He'd come to Louisiana
directly from France, but the little church named for
him would be remembered as the first church of the
Cajuns in Louisiana.
Cantrelle had first settled in the Natchez country north
of Baton Rouge. But in 1729 an Indian uprising had
all but wiped out the settlement. Cantrelle escaped by
hiding in his corn shed. His wife was killed when he
left her hiding in the woods while he returned to their
cabin to fetch a few possessions. He was one of only
20 survivors of the massacre.
He resettled at Kenner, near New Orleans, married a second
bride there, then moved to New Orleans in
1736 -becoming prominent in social and civic affairs.
He stayed in the city until 1763, when he and his
son-in-law, Nicholas Verret, moved to plantations they
had been building in St. James. Cantrelle named his
plantation Cabahannocer, from the name given a nearby
stream by the Choctaw Indians. It means "clearing
where the ducks lands."
At Cabahannocer, Cantrelle developed an indigo plantation
and prospered. He became commandant of the
past, made friends with the Indians, welcomed the Acadians,
and built a dynasty and a church, in which he
was eventually buried.
Huge sugar and cotton plantations would one day turn this
stretch of Mississippi River bank opened by the
Fredericks and Cantrelles and Moutons into a prosperous
part of what would be called "the Golden Coast
of Louisiana," the richest stretch of real estate in
antebellum North America.
At first, however, it would be known as The Acadian Coast,
where the Cajuns began new lives in a much
It was on September 28,1766, that an English ship arrived
in New Orleans from Maryland, carrying 224
Acadians, including 150 women and children. They were
penniless, starving, and scared. Ulloa immediately
gave them what aid he could.
He would write:
Since these people arrived consumed
in wretchedness and in the greatest possible need,
through the orders of the French
General (Aubry) and mine they were helped immediately
with fresh bread and biscuits
which had been prepared for the first needy ones who might
arrive. I ordered that an ox
and a calf, which I had sent for up river for my own
consumption and that of those
who are with me, be given to them. This was done on the
same night that they encountered
the launch which was transporting them, and the pilot
assured me that immediately
upon receiving these animals they slaughtered them and ate
the meat raw.
Ulloa had given this aid on his own authority. He didn't
know what the position of official Spain might be.
On September 29, 1766, he sent a letter to his superiors
in Spain, asking for instructions:
The arrival of these people,
together with those of the same kind who were already in the
colony and others who might
come, is a very great problem for me and for anyone else
who might govern because from
the moment they arrive it is necessary to spend money on
them in providing the necessities
of life and to continue to do so until they have a way to
subsist by themselves, which
takes at least two years.
In order for them to establish
themselves it is necessary to provide them with arms and
ammunition, tools and everything
else. It is necessary to give widows and orphans
everything and to provide them
all a surgeon, medicines, and special diets, since shortly
after their arrival and in the
first two years they become ill a great deal and a high
number of them die...
On the one hand, one is moved
by charity and the obligations of hospitality, for if one
fails to help them they will
without doubt perish; and on the other hand one is pressed by
the obligation not to use funds
for purposes which are not determined by royal decision.
Spain recognized the value of the Acadian settlers. She
needed warm bodies to populate the Louisiana
colony. The Acadians knew how to build dikes to hold
back the Mississippi River and how to reclaim
lowlands. They could help feed a growing New Orleans
with their produce and fish.
The exiles were also good soldiers, as they had shown
"against the British as well as the type of warfare
conducted against the Indians." Such citizens were important
to Ulloa, "in this colony which must always
depend upon the settlers for its defense."
Ulloa sent the Acadians to present-day St. James Parish
and up the river to its intersection with Bayou
Manchac, where they built a fort and a town called St.
Gabriel de Manchac. The town remains today. The
Willowglen electrical generating station marks the site
of the old fort.
In addition to land, each Acadian family was given six
hens, one rooster, one cow and calf, corn,
gunpowder, bullets and a musket.
Ulloa's successors would broaden Spanish defenses against
the British and others by placing settlements
along important Mississippi River distributaries, and
using Acadians to populate them. The Acadian emigres
would be sent down Bayou Manchac to Galveztown (abandoned
in the 1800s) and to French Settlement
(still a thriving community). He placed another settlement
at Lafourche des Chetimachas--Indian lands at
the fork of Bayou Lafourche and the Mississippi River
today's Donaldsonville. Another new settlement was
established down Bayou Lafourche at Valenzuela now Plattenville.
From these places the Acadians would spread up and down
the Mississippi River, along Bayou Manchac
to the Amite River, down Bayou Lafourche, southwest from
Donaldsonville. The area would become
known as The Acadian Coast. It would become one of the
ironies of our history that more
French-speaking settlers would come to Louisiana during
the 40 years of Spanish rule than during the entire
period of French control.
If you follow the Mississippi River through Iberville
Parish, due south of Baton Rouge, you will come to a
tortuous series of bends and twists that send the river
curling back and forth upon itself. The town of St.
Gabriel sits on the east bank of the river at the center
of the second bend. Here you will find the oldest
church still standing in Louisiana, Saint Gabriel d'Iberville,
built by the Acadians in 1769.
The men who built it were named Babin, Blanchard, Breaux,
Chaisson, Cloatre, Hebert, Landry, LeBlanc,
Melanson, Richard, Rivet, Trahan. Most of them had come
to Louisiana the year before, 1768, after giving
up hope of being repatriated to their farms in old Acadie.
Another of them was named Pierre Allain. He
was my grandfather's grandmother's greatgrandfather.
This is his tale.
At the time of the dispersion in 1755, thousands of Acadians
were sent to English colonies up and down
the Atlantic Seaboard, to Massachusetts, to Connecticut,
New York, Pennsylvania, to North and South
Carolina and Georgia. Pierre Allain and most of the others
who built the Saint Gabriel Church were among
the thousand sent to Maryland.
In November 1755, The Annapolis Gazette reported
Last Sunday, the last of four
vessels arrived from Nova Scotia; this brings their number to
more than 900 in 15 days. Since
these poor people were stripped of their farms and sent
here indigent and naked for
some political reason, Christian charity, the only sentiment
common to humanity, is called
upon from all to come to help, each according to his means
these human beings so worthy
of our compassion.
The call went largely unheeded, because the Acadians had
arrived in a Maryland inflamed by fear of the
French, who had begun jockeying for supremacy in the
Ohio River Valley in 1749. French dominance
there threatened Maryland's security. Maryland wanted
Frenchmen out of the region, not new ones brought
Animosity toward the French had grown worse during a wave
of paranoia that swept Maryland following
Gen. Edward Braddock's defeat by outnumbered French forces
at the Battle of the Wilderness on July 9,
1755, and by Indian raids on the British frontier that
followed that defeat.
The Acadians were exiled just as the paranoia peaked.
Of the 1,600 inhabitants of Grand Pre in old Acadie, 420
were sent to Maryland aboard the ships
Elizabeth and Leopard in September 1755. Another 493
Acadians from the village of Pisiquit came there
aboard two other ships, the Dolphin and the Ranger, in
late November and early December 1755.
Because of overcrowding and winter storms that had delayed
the ships at Boston, provisions were
Jonas Green, editor of the Annapolis paper, lamented:
While they have lain in this
Port, the Town has been at considerable charge in supporting
them, as they appear very needy,
and quite exhausted in Provisions; and it cannot be
expected that the charge or
Burden of maintaining such a Multitude can be supported by
the inhabitants of Annapolis
... it will be necessary soon to disperse them to different
parts of the Province.
Dispersed they were. Some of the Acadians immediately
fled into the nearby forests, hoping to make their
way back to Canada. Most of these were never heard from
again. Others were taken into private homes,
then helped to build homes of their own in "French Town,"
a suburb of Baltimore. Still others spread out
into Newton, Georgetown, Snowhill, Princess Ann, Portabaco,
Lower and Upper Mariborough,
Annapolis, Belisle and Oxford. Some hired onto ship and
headed for the French West Indies.
When no public aid materialized, the Acadians were forced
to rely on the charity of their neighbors.
Maryland's Catholic minority did what it could, but the
exiles were at the mercy of the less friendly
Protestant majority. There was more need than help. Some
Acadians were able to do what little work they
could find, and gradually improved their lot--though
never rising out of poverty. Many debilitated by age,
illness or malnutrition, were driven to begging in the
Writing to his son on January 9, 1759, Charles Carroll
reported the exiles had been reduced to a "state of
... Misery, Poverty, and Rags."
After the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the
Acadians in the various English colonies sent
petitions and a census to the French ambassador in London
begging the French government to try to send
them back to Canada. According to their census of 1763
there were 1,043 Acadians left in Massachusetts
666 in Connecticut 383 in Pennsylvania, 280 in south
Carolina, 249 in New York, 185 in Georgia, 802 in
Maryland. Still in Acadie were 694 at Halifax, plus 87
on the St. John River.
The British government said it would allow the Acadians
to leave for any French possession within 18
months of the treaty ratification but many of them could
not scrape up the money to go. A good number of
the exiles remained in Maryland. Nearly 20 years after
the dispersion, in 1871, a Father Robin wrote of a
flourishing Acadian colony in Baltimore:
They still conserve the French
language and remain very attached to all that belonged to
the country of their ancestors,
especially their religion. I could not help but congratulate
them on their piety and recall
the virtues of their ancestors. I thus reminded them of
memories too dear to be mentioned,
and as a result they broke into tears ...
But most of the Acadians eventually left Maryland for
Louisiana, many of them traveling an overland route
to the Tennessee River, and then floating down it to
the Mississippi. Pierre Allain and his family went by
sea, taking 78 days to sail from Baltimore to New Orleans.
A document signed by Julian Alvarez at New Orleans on
July 27 1767, gives a list of the Acadian arrivals.
A note at the end reports that "during the 78-day voyage
... from the Port of Baltimore ... Armand Hebert,
Head of Family and Marie Landry died. Olivier Babin and
Marguerite Hernandez were born."
Less than a month later the new arrivals were on their
way to new homes in the wilderness, departing New
Orleans on Aug. 8.
On Jan. 14, 1767, Joseph de Onieta, commandant at Saint
Gabriel, had reported on conditions there:
The savages of different nations
come here very frequently, and are very bothersome and
importune; so much so, that
every time they come for a talk, and after having given them
their present, they bother us
for food and cloth. We try to dissuade them and tell them that
we do not have all the necessities
... Their reply is that they are hungry, they are naked,
there is no harvest, and finally
that this is their land, sprinkling in a few bad sounding
phrases in French.
These incidents happen when they
have already been to the English (which they
ordinarily do) and get here
full of brandy. And as they are drunk on this liquor, they
become agitated and ask for
everything they can think of with haughtiness and a tone of
arrogance, as if we were their
tributaries. But we try to mitigate and calm with polite and
wise words, putting them off
to another day and time ...
Land was distributed to Pierre Allain and his fellow travelers
by Oct. 15, 1767, when Onieta sent a list to
New Orleans, containing the names of 49 heads of families
and their grants. On Oct. 20 he sent another
On the fifteenth at two in the
afternoon all of the Acadian Heads of Family were
established on their respective
lands, with a twelve yard space between each of them for
the road ... All of this has
been carried out with much difficulty ... for I confess to you that
more than four times I emerged
from the mash looking like a clown ... covered with mud
from head to foot because of
big mud puddles we found on shore. But thank God we have
finally managed to put them
all in place and they are now clearing the land in order to
Between lots 26 and 27 we have
marked off one arpent so that they may build a chapel.
More Acadians would come to Louisiana from Maryland, though
sometimes by circuitous routes.
A group of 100, mostly Acadians, left Maryland on Jan.
5, 1769, aboard the English schooner La Bretona.
The passengers sighted the coast of Louisiana on Feb.
21, but easterly winds drove them more than 40
miles across the northern Gulf to the coast of Texas.
According to one account, "after having been reduced to
the greatest distress for want of provisions, their
whole stock being exhausted for some time, having subsisted
on the rats, cats and even all the shoes and
leather on the vessel, they ran into Bernard's Bay and
landed at the mouth of Rio de la Norte or Rio
Grande, in the kingdom or province of New Mexico, instead
of Mississippi. Happening to discover a horse
immediately after their coming on shore, they killed
him for food."
The schooner and passengers were seized by Spaniards in
early April and the travelers were taken to a fort
at San Antonio. They were held there until Sept. 11,
when they were taken overland to Natchitoches.
From there they traveled by canoe down the Red River
and the Mississippi, arriving in new Orleans on
The Acadians who settled on the Mississippi built no mansions,
but their rich riverlands provided an
abundant harvest, a good, if simple life, and, for some,
relative prosperity. Contemporary records make
Pierre Allain "a farmer." But his son, "Simon, had acquired
enough wealth to be called the more respectable
"planter" in the census of his day.
Simon's sister, Marguerite, widow of Pierre Landry, would
hold land at the intersection of Bayou
Lafourche and the Mississippi River when New Orleans
banker William Donaldson started buying and
subdividing land there in 1805, Marguerite Allain's was
the first lot he would buy, for $12,000 in gold. The
place is called Donaldsonville today.
THE ODYSSEY OF PIERRE VINCENT
Pierre Vincent Sr. was just seven years old in the autumn
of 1755, so he was not among the 418 men and
boys who were gathered at the church at Grand Pre in
old Acadie that Sept. 5. The order from the British
governors of Nova Scotia instructed that "both old and
young men, as well as the lads of ten years of age
... attend the church at Grand Pre, on Friday, the 5th
instant, at three o'clock in the afternoon, that we may
import to them what we are ordered to communicate to
them..." But Pierre and his family were about to
begin the forced journey that would bring them from Nova
Scotia to Louisiana, a journey that would not be
completed until he was well into maturity.
Pierre, his father (Joseph Vincent), his mother (Marguerite
Bodard), and his sister (Maria) were placed
aboard a ship to be sent to the British colony in Virginia.
But the British authorities up East had not told the
Virginians that the Acadians were coming. The Virginians
refused to allow the exiles into the colony. When
smallpox began to run rampant through the ships detained
in Williamsburg harbor, the Acadian fate was
sealed. The ships, their captive cargo lessened by hundreds
killed in the epidemic, finally sailed for England.
Joseph Vincent died there, in a prison in Southampton,
before the British and French finally found an
accord that would allow repatriation of the Acadians
to French soil. Pierre, his mother and his sister were
sent to France, but they found things little better there.
In the decade following Le Grand Derangement, more than
3,000 exiled Acadians sought refuge in
France, but, after generations of separation from Europe
and European ways, the Acadians were foreigners
in France, just as they had been in England.
Out of step and out of time with French feudal society,
trapped by poverty in the slums of the Atlantic
ports, the Acadians faced a bleak future. Unable to compete
for jobs and unwilling to renounce their
traditional independence for denigrating peasant work
in the countryside, the Acadians found themselves on
the royal dole. The native Frenchmen, already overburdened
by taxes, soon resented the exiles they were
forced to support.
France was not the Promised Land. Living conditions for
the Acadians were wretched from the outset.
Once they had been crowded aboard ships and ferried across
the English Channel to Moriaix and St. Malo
in May and June of 1763 after eight years in England--the
Acadians were housed in barracks where
smallpox, once again, claimed hundreds of lives.
The French officials were equally at a loss over what
to do with this influx of foreigners as were the Anglos
in the Atlantic colonies of North America. It was probably
only natural that the Acadians would become
pawns in French imperial schemes.
With the end of the Seven Years' War--the English-French
feud that had finally brought about the Acadian
exile--Etienne Francois, due de Choiseul, the French
Minister of Foreign Affairs, wanted to revitalize what
remained of the French empire. He saw the Acadians as
potential colonists to be sent to the French
Caribbean and elsewhere. In late 1763 he began a propaganda
campaign designed to entice the displaced
Acadians to the jungles of Cayenne (French Guiana) on
the north coast of South America. Several hundred
were lured there by descriptions of a tropical paradise.
Almost all of them fell prey to the heat and humidity.
With the collapse of the Cayenne colony, Abbe Louis Joseph
LeLoutre, the former vicar general in Acadie,
proposed an Acadian colony on Belle Isle en Mer, a windswept,
rocky island off the coast of Brittany.
Colonization began in early August 1765 with Acadian
families from Moriaix and St. Malo.
The Acadians could grow nothing in stone, and many died
on Belle Isle en Mer--including Pierre's mother.
The colony was plagued with drought, crop failure, livestock
epidemics and high taxes. Unable to pay the
taxes or to get an extension from provincial officials,
the Acadians were forced to abandon their homes
once again. The Belle Isle colony collapsed in 1772.
The families were moved back to the maritime ports
of France. Again, they failed to find acceptance among
the native population. They sank deeper into
The disillusioned Acadians grasped at every opportunity
to leave France for any foreign country or colony
that might offer a chance to be reunited with their fellows,
for their agrarian lifestyle to be rebuilt. In late
1763 and 1764 hundreds sought refuge in the Falkland
Islands off the coast of Argentina. Most of these
soon returned, penniless, to France.
Then, just as the idea of moving from France seemed to
be dying, there came a new hope. In September
1766, Jean Baptists Semer, who had settled in the Attakapas
District of Louisiana (as the region around St.
Martinville was known), wrote to his father in France
and described the "benefits extended by ...
Louisiana's newly installed Spanish administration to
him and to all of his comrades."
Word of Louisiana's apparently thriving Acadian community
spread rapidly. The Acadians in France asked
to be sent to Louisiana. The government said it would
cost too much.
The Acadians were trapped in France. Many worked small,
poor plots on large estates, hoping to
sharecrop their way to land of their own. In the cities
they were regarded as parasites, since few had skills
Then there was a plan to settle 2,000 of them on 15,000
unworked arpents owned by the Marquis de
Perusse des Cars. It was pitiful land. There was no fresh
water. The crops failed. By mid-1776, fewer than
200 Acadians remained on the sterile land. Most of them
moved to Rouen, Caen, La Rochelle, Bordeaux,
Next, came a plan to place the exiles on Corsica. Then,
with the hope that the American Revolution might
oust the British from Canada, there was a plan to send
the exiles back there. But still, in the back of the
Acadian minds there was Louisiana, where kin and neighbor
had found homes.
Finally in 1783, Henri de Peyroux de la Coudreniere, a
Frenchman who'd made and lost a fortune in
Louisiana, provided the catalyst to bring the Acadians
back to North America. He would rebuild his
fortune through commissions paid by the Spanish, who
were seeking Louisiana settlers.
Though Peyroux had married an Acadian, he was viewed as
a Frenchman, suspected by the Acadians. To
gain credibility among the exiles in France, Peyroux
launched his resettlement program through an Acadian
intermediary, Oliver Terrio, a Nantes cobbler whom he
contacted under the pretext of having Mme.
Peyroux's shoes fixed.
The Acadians were still suspicious. A petition was circulated
among them at Nantes, Morlaix, Rennes, St.
Malo, Caen, and Cherbourg, asking the king for permission
to emigrate. It drew only five signatures.
But Peyroux and Terrio propagandized and persevered.
On Sunday, May 10,1785, 30 years after the Acadian exile,
and after involved negotiations with the
Spanish, the first group, 156 Acadians, left King and
France for Louisiana. By the end of the year, seven
ships had carried more than 1,500 Acadians, Pierre Vincent
among them, to a Louisiana that though
Spanish in title, was still French in flavor and name.
Pierre Vincent was aboard the third ship, Le Beaumont,
when it sailed up the Mississippi River on Aug. 19,
He would settle on lands at the intersection of the Vermilion
River and Bayou Que de Tortue, near what
today is the town of Milton, almost dead center of what
today we call Acadiana. He'd finally found home.
During the Atlantic crossing, Pierre met Agnes Broussard,
widow of Pierre Potier. They were married on
Jan. 12, 1788, but she died soon afterwards. On April
20, 1790, he married again, to Catherine Galman,
widow of Benoit Hararave. They would have nine children,
one of them being Pierre Vincent Jr.
Pierre Vincent Jr. would marry Sarah Celeste (Sally) Ryan,
the daughter of Jacob Ryan, Sr. Ryan had
migrated from Georgia to the region around Perry's Bridge
in Vermilion Parish, but, in 1817 moved to
Calcasieu Parish. One of his sons, Isaac, moved also
to Calcasieu, where, we are told, he met up with Jim
Bowie. It was perhaps an unfortunate meeting. Isaac Ryan's
name can be found among those who followed
Bowie to the Alamo and died there with him
Pierre Vincent Jr. and Sally Ryan also moved to Calcasieu.
They were among the first 10 settlers in those
parts (if you don't count the Indians, which few people
do). They were probably among the first five. They
would leave their mark.
The main thoroughfare through Lake Charles is named Ryan
Street, after Jacob Ryan Jr., who opened a
sawmill on the lakefront, claimed the land around it,
then sold it by the 100-foot rope length through what is
now the city's downtown. (The story goes that, if you
wanted to buy land from him, you'd find him rocking
on his front porch, with a coil of rope alongside his
chair. "I want to buy some land," you'd say. Measure it
off," he'd say, and throw you the rope. )
Pierre Vincent Jr. and Sally Ryan settled across the river
from Lake Charles and reared 10 children at a
homesite still known as Vincent Settlement.
Before all was said and done the Ryans (along with some
others) had up and founded a town. The
Vincents stayed on the farm and raised cattle and children.
Many Acadians fled into hiding during those fall and winter
months of 1755, when the British were rounding
up their neighbors to send them into exile. Considerable
numbers fleeing in small groups, escaped to what
they thought to be French territory in today's New Brunswick.
It wasn't until late in 1758, three years after Le Grand
Derangement, that the English finally succeeded in
burning the last of the Acadian villages, along the upper
Petitcodiac River (in New Brunswick near today's
Moncton). Yet they still met with resistance. Many Acadians
stayed in the area, hiding in the woods, living
off the land, and harassing the English whenever and
however they could.
One of their leaders was Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard,
a militia captain and resistance leader who built an
almost legendary reputation as a sharp-shooter and guerrilla
He was called Beausoleil because he was one of the first
to settle the little village of the name (now
Boundary Creek, New Brunswick). Another variation is
that his beautiful sunny smile earned him that
His father, Jean Francois Broussard, had come from La
Rochelle, France, in the spring of 1661 aboard the
ship L'Oranger. In Port Royal, 10 years later, Jean Francois
married Catherine Richard, daughter of
Michel Richard and Madeline Blanchard. They had 10 children:
Marie (1682), Madeline (1683), Pierre
(1684), Catherine (1686), Francois (1690) Elizabeth (1693)
Claude (1697) Joseph (1702), Aiexandre
(1703), and Jean Baptiste (1705).
Jean Francois left Port Royal in 1698 and settled for
a time at Chipoudy. He returned to Port Royal a few
years later, but his two sons, Joseph and Alexandre,
stayed on the Petitcodiac, marrying sisters from
Chipody (Agnes and Marguerite Thibodeaux). Joseph Broussard
and Agnes Thibodeaux also had 10
children: Jean Gregoire (1726), Joseph (1727), Victor
(1728) Raphael (1733), Isabelle (1735), Timothe
(1741), Francois (1742), Claude (1748), Francoise (1752)
and Armand (1754).
(It is this Armand Broussard's house that has been restored
and now stands at Vermillionville, the historic
attraction at Lafayette. )
After the dispersion, guerrillas led by Beausoleil Broussard
successfully fought the British to a stand-still
along the Petitcodiac River until 1758. According to
one account, his resistance was so effective that British
troops at nearby Fort Cumberland were afraid to leave
its wars. Broussard matched his success on land
with piratical raids on coastal shipping.
But wits and gumption can carry you only so far. Despite
the resistance, the British methodically cleared old
Acadie, laying waste as they went, leaving the land bare.
The final Acadian enclave at Louisbourg fell in
1759. Quebec fell to the British soon after and all of
Canada with it. The refugees lost hope; there was no
place to go.
On Nov. 16, 1759, faced with the prospect of starvation
and a fast-approaching Canadian winter Joseph,
his brother, Alexandre, and Jean Basque and Simon Martin
delivered a petition to the British at Fort
Cumberland, giving up the fight. Jean and Michel Bourg
led another group of starving Acadians to the fort a
few days later. All of them were sent to Halifax, where
they were held until the end of hostilities in 1763.
They were not deported, most likely, because there was
no shipping available, and because, by now, there
was no place to send them--the other English colonies
had their fill of Acadians.
Instead, Broussard and his followers were put to work
building and maintaining the dikes the Acadians had
built to reclaim tidal lands.
When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, some 1,700
Acadian prisoners remained in Nova Scotia.
There were rumors that they might be sent back to France,
but these were only rumors. Then there was
talk of being sent to Quebec, but the Acadians who had
already fled there had found rough going.
Broussard and his cohorts formed their own plan. They
would sail to Santo Domingo, then to the mouth of
the Mississippi River, then upriver to the Illinois country.
In late November or early December 1764, Joseph Broussard
chartered a schooner and set sail with his
family and 6,00 other Acadians for Santo Domingo. Tropical
heat and epidemic quickly took a heavy toll
among them, however, and no more than 200 survivors arrived
in Louisiana in February 1765, too weary
to go on to Illinois.
The Louisiana governor said he would try to place Broussard
and his followers on the right bank of the
Mississippi "as close to (New Orleans) as possible."
But the site selected flooded frequently, and was
covered with dense hardwood forest. The Acadians would
have to build levees and clear the land before
even thinking about becoming self-sufficient and feeding
themselves. It would take too long and be too
Some of Broussard's band would settle upriver at St. James,
but most of them would cross the Atchafalaya
Basin to the Atytakapas country--by then a developing
post to which several Creole families had recently
migrated from Fort Toulouse and Mobile (which had been
ceded by the French to the English by the
Treaty of 1763.)
There were only a few white men in the region then. The
Poste des Attakapas (as St. Martinville was first
called), had been opened some years before as part of
a French plan to form a chain of forts to "protect
the northern and eastern district bordered, neighbored
and enclosed by Louisiana." In addition to forts in
the northern reaches of the province, the French planned
military stations at "Opelousas, Attakapas, and
along the frontier of Old Mexico."
The Poste des Attakapas, when the Acadianas got there,
consisted of a small church, shabby barracks for
the handful of soldiers garrisoned there, and a small
store where the scattered settlers of the neighborhood
The treeless Attakapas prairies could be settled quickly
and their broad grasslands already supported huge
herds of wild cattle. The governor needed beef to feed
the growing population in New Orleans, and he
needed a place to put the Acadians, who had experienced
raising cattle. It seemed a natural.
At this time, Jean Antoine Bernard d'Hauterive, a retired
military officer, held extensive lands on the east
side of Bayou Teche. Broussard and his band would settle
on lands nearby, making a living by
"sharecropping" cattle for d'Hauterive.
In April 1765 Joseph and Alexandre Broussard were among
the Acadian representatives who signed a
compact with d'Hauterive, under which he would provide
each Acadian family with five cows with calves
and one bull for each of six consecutive years. At the
end of six years, the Acadians were to return "the
same number of cows and calves of the same age and kind,
that they received initially, the remaining cattle
and their increase surviving at the time (to) be divided
equally between (the) Acadians and (d'Hauterive)."
At about the same time, Joseph Broussard was commissioned
a captain in the Louisiana militia, because of
the "honorable testimonials which the Marquis de Vaudreuil
and other Governors General of Canada have
accorded him in consideration of his wounds and of the
courage he has given proof of in different affairs
against the enemies of his majesty." He was also named
"Commandant of the Acadians, who have come
with him...to settle on the land of the Acutapas (Attakapas)."
The Acadians were led to the Attakapas country by Louis
Andry, the royal surveyor and a veteran military
engineer, and were granted lands along Bayou Teche and
the Vermillion River.
According to his instructions, Andry was to work with
Broussard to lay out a village and establish a
commons around it, then to distribute lands beyond the
commons to the Acadians in parcels sized
according to the size of their families.
The government wanted the Acadians to live in the village
and cultivate the outlying lands. But the Acadians
decided otherwise and settled themselves on widely separated
lands. The oldest of the Acadian
communities west of the Atchafalaya was probably at Fausse
Pointe (Loreauville today), established by
June 1765. Later, ascending the Teche to the large westward
bend above Parks, they founded La Pointe
de Repos. But many La Pointe settlers moved away when
an epidemic, most likely yellow fever, began
there in early summer. Other refugees settled at Cote
Gelee (the area between today's Pilette and
Broussard). Others migrated to La Manque near today's
Breaux Bridge. From these places they would
migrate steadily westward.
Joseph Broussard settled at a place named Camp Beausoleil,
near the present town of Broussard, but did
not live to see his Acadian followers firmly settled.
He died on Sept. 5, 1765, during an epidemic that
swept the countryside. His brother, Alexandre, had died
13 days earlier.