A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.
Part 2, "The English Takeover: 1690-1712"
Chapter 7, "The Last Years of French Port Royal."

On November 1, 1700, Charles II of Spain died. Philip, the Duke of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV and of Maria Teresa (daughter of Philip IV) succeeded to the Spanish throne as Philip V. With the opening of 1701, the Duke of Anjou entered Madrid to take the throne of an intact Spain and "Louis proudly boasted that henceforth there were no Pyrenees."1 England became more nervous than normal and wondered what the French empire would be up to next: in anticipation, the English fleet was increased to 30,000 men and the army to 10,000.

The powerful in England were conscious that a childless King William would soon be dead and the Stuart line at an end. A new act of succession was laid before the House which allowed for no king or queen unless he or she be in communion with the Church of England. It was at this time, incidentally, that the independence of the judiciary was to be secured: no judge should be removed from office save on an address from parliament to the crown. Further, two important principles were established; first, the king acts only through his ministers; and, second, that these ministers are responsible to parliament.2 In the meantime, Louis XIV's reign in France continued in its despotic fashion.

On the 21st of February, 1702, William III was to fall from his horse, a fall which would prove to be fatal to the frail and sick man; he was to die two weeks later. "During his reign (1688-1702) the National Debt was commenced, the Bank of England established, the modern system of finance established, ministerial responsibility recognized, the standing army transferred to the control of parliament, the liberty of the press secured, and the British constitution established on a firm basis."3

On March 8th, 1702, Queen Anne took the throne of England. How Anne found herself to be on the throne of England; and how she and the lives of the historical characters around her became intertwined, is one of history's most interesting stories; but, it cannot form part of mine.4


Acadia as the New Century Begins:

I now turn to Acadia and the developments there, as a new century got under way.

While Port Royal had been the seat of Acadian government pretty much from the beginning, its importance slipped from 1670 with the seat of government being at either Pentagoet (Castine, State of Maine) or from one of the forts on the St John.5 It was determined by the French authorities, at some point after its official handback, by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697), that Port Royal should once again be the capital of Acadia. In addition, with the death of Governor Villebon, in 1700, the French governor at Placentia, Newfoundland, Joseph de Brouillan, was ordered to take over at Port Royal.

In 1702, via Chibuctou and Grande Pré, Brouillan made his way to Port Royal.6 It was during this time that Broullian made his first observations of the Acadians. While he admired the prosperity of the French Acadian village he found at Grand Pré, he was bothered by their independent spirit, something that was to become the hallmark of the Acadians. "It seems to me," says Broullian in one of his reports back to France, "that these people live like true republicans, acknowledging neither royal authority nor courts of law."7

Port Royal, as Brouillan found it, consisted of a fort of sodded earthwork, and to the right looking west "was the Acadian village, consisting of seventy or eighty small houses of one story and an attic, built of planks, boards, or logs, simple and rude, but tolerable. It also had a small, new wooden church ... The ruling class, civil and military, formed a group apart, living in or near the fort, in complete independence of public opinion ..." The inhabitants had plenty of cattle, a lot of hemp, and it was gorged with beaver-skins; it lacked pots, scythes, sickles, knives, hatchets, kettles for the Indians, nor salt for themselves."8

Brouillan's immediate task was to rebuild the fortifications at Port Royal (mostly from materials coming from the French fort at St John which he had torn down and floated across the Bay of Fundy). His next task was to get the French inhabitants in the area back into a productive mode. Farming on these fertile lands was to continue, but, in addition, Brouillan was keen on getting the Acadians into the business of building boats and fishing fish (an industry that, due to his experiences at Placentia, Brouillan knew about). To get the inhabitants of Port Royal to work together, however, was to be a challenge, for, as Brouillan observed, they had a "detestable custom" of squabbling over any and all detail, for example, where to put the church and where to put the public market. Under Brouillan's directions the settlers were formed up into militia groups (to go along with the 200 French regular troops, or so, then stationed at Port Royal); further he saw to the building of a lime kiln, a mill, and ships were built.9 Most importantly the fortifications of Port Royal were rebuilt: and just in time, too, for shortly after the arrival of Brouillan another attack was made by the New Englanders, once again under Benjamin Church.


Scandal at Port Royal:

It was during 1701 that we see Simon-Pierre Denys de Bonaventure, the French naval officer, coming to Port Royal; he had been appointed by the authorities10 to be second in command under Governor Brouillan. And, so too we see how the lives of Louise Guyon and Bonaventure became entwined at Port Royal; a most interesting and romantic and true story. As it turned out, Bonaventure's sexual involvement with Guyon cost him his promotion as the Commander at Port Royal -- such were the mores of the time. The affairs of these French officers (not just Bonaventure, but Governor Brouillan, too; and his successor, Subercase) kept the French tongues at Port Royal and at Quebec a-wagging.


Butchery on the New England Frontier:

We had seen earlier where Benjamin Church, in 1696, had come up the coast and laid waste to the small Acadian settlements, causing much trouble. A one sided view would make out these New Englanders, such as Church, as nothing but a bunch of brigands intent on making life miserable for those they descended upon: and, indeed when these armed Englishmen arrived, life was made to be miserable for the Acadians; not only during the raids, but for the seasons thereafter, as the crops were torched and animals killed. The Acadians bore the brunt of the fury of the New Englanders' revenge throughout this historical period; and this due mainly to geography.

The New Englanders had a right to their revengeful feelings. The French and their Indian allies, throughout the period, looted and killed English settlers along the frontier as it then existed, in the wilds of current day Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusettes. These attacks were usually launched from Quebec, usually in the winter. (The French were much better with the help of their Indian allies, of traveling over mountains, over frozen lakes and down frozen rivers: the English never seem to get the knack of it.)

I Quote Francis Parkman:

"That morning, [August 10th, 1703] several parties of Indians had stolen out of the dismal woods behind the houses and farms of Wells, and approached different dwellings of the far-extended settlement at about the same time. They entered the cabin of Thomas Wells, where his wife lay in the pains of childbirth, and murdered her and her two small children. At the same time they killed Joseph Sayer, a neighbour of Wells, with all his family."11
This raid was only part of a larger combined attack up and down the New England border including a settlement at the falls at Saco, Spurwink, Cape Porpoise, Winter Harbor, Purpooduck Point (a spot near the present city of Portland) "... the Indians burst into the hamlet, butchered twenty-five women and children and carried off eight." The murders and burnings were to continue with little variety and little interruption during ten years.12
"Scarcely a hamlet of the Massachusetts and New Hampshire borders escaped a visit from the nimble enemy. Groton, Lancaster, Exeter, Dover, Kittery, Casco, Kingston, York, Berwick, Wells, Winter Harbour, Brookfield, Amesbury, Marlborough, were all more or less invested, usually by small scalping parties, hiding in the outskirts, waylaying stragglers, or shooting men at work in the fields, and disappearing as soon as their blow was struck. These swift and intangible persecutors found a far surer and more effectual means of annoyance than larger bodies. As all the warriors were converts of the Canadian missions, and as prisoners were an article of value, cases of torture were not very common; though, now and then, as at Exeter, they would roast some poor wretch alive, or bite off his fingers and sear the stumps with red-hot tobacco pipes."13

Colonel Benjamin Church's Raid on Acadia, 1704:

And so we see, in 1704, the forces of New England under Benjamin Church (now raised to the rank of Colonel) spending the spring and summer attacking and looting along the Acadian coasts. "He was furnished with a force of five hundred and fifty men, besides officers, and provided with fourteen transports, thirty-six whale boats and a shallop, and he was convoyed from Boston by three war vessels of forty-two, thirty-two and twelve guns respectively."14 It would appear, once again, that Beaubassin was the principal objective of the forces of Benjamin Church. The French at Port Royal, due to Bruillian's foresight, remaining safe behind the rebuilt earthen walls.


Colonel John March's Raid on Acadia, 1707:

During the summer of 1707, the English, led by Colonel John March, laid siege to Port Royal on two separate occasions.15 Both, as it turned out were abortive efforts. This was due mainly -- in comparison to so many other French Acadian commanders -- to the superior abilities of Governor Subercase who by then was in charge of Port Royal; supported, as is so often the case in successful military operations, by a measure of good fortune.

Between the two attacks of John March (the first in June16 and the second in August of 1707), Morpain ("a Privateer from San Domingo") had just happened to sail into Port Royal with two prizes in tow, one a slave-ship and the other ladened with foodstuffs including: 340 barrels of flour, bacon, ham, and butter.17 These supplies were a godsend and arrived just days before the English sailed into the Port Royal basin for the second time in 1707. The English had 22 ships, including two war ships (54 guns and the other, 45), 5 frigates (from 18 to 30 guns), 8 brigantines and 7 transports. The English landed their forces (1600 besides ships' crews) on August the 22nd. Subercase did not stay behind his walls, but aggressively went out and met the enemy with cannon at both the east and west sides of the Annapolis River (then known as Rivière Dauphin). During this fight the French had working for them a number of exceptionally brave fighters, including; the experienced governor, Subercase; the young Baron Castin; and another young French officer by the name of Antoine de Saillant. (De Saillant's life, as one of a 18th century soldier, makes for a sad and short story; the young officer married a local girl, Anne Mius de Poubomcou, just weeks before, on the 18th of July; he died of his battle wounds on September 8th, 1707.)

The New Englanders failed on their two attempts to subdue Port Royal in 1707, but the rest of the Acadian countryside, undefended as it was, from along the coast of Maine to the head of the Bay of Fundy, was ravished. I should add, however, the people of these districts were not butchered, as, so many were along the New England border.

So it is, with the bloody raids along the frontier borders, one might better understand why New Englanders organized seasonal counterattacks against the French. Quebec was the nest to be got at, however, getting sufficient forces before the walls at Quebec and sustaining them for the time required to lay siege was not within their means. For the seafarers of New England, the object of their attention was to be Acadia, simply because they could more easily get at Acadia. And while it might be argued that there is little evidence that the Frenchmen at Acadia initiated the raids at the border, Acadia did harbour pirates which preyed on New England shipping.


[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 8 - Prelude to English Acadia (1709):]

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