A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 2, "The English Takeover: 1690-1712"TOC
Chapter 8, "Prelude to English Acadia (1709)."

Governor Brouillan died on September 22nd, 1705, at sea while returning to Acadia from France. Subercase, who had up to then been the French governor at Placentia, was appointed to take Brouillan's place. Subercase arrived at Port Royal during October of 1706. During that summer, Subercase attended to the first order of business, the building of a "bomb-proof powder magazine ... and a large building part of which was to be used as a chapel ..." Subercase wrote home: "The land is good and fertile, and produces everything that France does except olives. There is abundance of grain and an inexhaustible supply of wood of all sizes for building. ... The people here are excellent workmen with the axe and the adze."1 The activities continued in the following years: "During the whole summer of 1708 he [Subercase] thus employed two hundred and fifty extra hands, and greatly improved the defences of the place, finishing the barracks, erecting a bomb proof magazine, and building a chapel and quarters for some of the officers."2

This increased defence activity at Port Royal under the leadership of Subercase, incidently, seemed to have made the local Acadian population uneasy. The fear of further English attack, the call of the military for unpaid labour and disputes over property lines - a combination of all, I suggest - led a number of Acadians to head north-east up the valley. For instance, in 1708, Martin Benoist (at this point 65 years of age) and his son (27 years) of age together with other family members, struck out for the Minas Basin area, then onwards to Pisiguit, and then onwards to Cobequid; seemingly only stopping after a suitable and unoccupied track of land, sufficiently far enough from Port Royal, had been located.

Affirmation of Acadian fears was soon to be had. On the 28th April, 1709, Vetch and Nicholson entered Boston harbour in HMS Dragon, both ambitious with plans struck in England for an attack on Canada. Colonel Nicholson was to head the attack overland by way of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain. All of New England was thrown into a feverish pitch of activity as the news of the great plan was carried throughout New England. Men gathered at all points and waited for the promised ships and supplies. Months passed: spring turned into summer: summer passed. No ships? Where were the ships? On October, 11th a vessel arrived from England and the frustrated remnants of the gathered forces of New England heard the news: the expected ships, supplies and soldiers had been sent to Portugal instead. The governors of the English colonies then convened and resolved to immediately send Vetch and Nicholson back to England in order to revive the plans for an attack the following year.

The French "Sea Wolves":
Acadia, through its entire 150 years existence, between 1605 and 1755, was a continuing source of aggravation to the New Englanders. The incursions of the Indian raiding parties led by French officers with the resulting death and property damages were bad enough; but the shipping merchants of New England were upset on a separate count. Too many of their ocean cargoes coming over from Europe and up from the Caribbean were being taken on the high seas by French "sea wolves." "For certainly we are in a state of war with the pirates ... Those great rogues and enemies to all mankind ..."
3 This situation was aggravated in that the authorities in the English colonies had no legal power to deal with these pirates; after capture they had to be transported to England for trial. Governor Nicholson of Virginia sent 97 over, and, of them, only 26 in England were put to death.

The lack of support which France gave to her colonies drove the Acadians to support these French Privateers, these "sea-wolves." There were only three communities of any size in peninsular Nova Scotia at this time (c.1700) and these three contained most all of the population of Acadia, they were: Port Royal (Annapolis Royal), Les Mines (Grand Pré), and Beaubassin (Chignecto). All three of these places were havens for privateers (pirates to the English) who cruised down along the New England coast. The French authorities at Port Royal, due to France's neglect, were only too willing to make these sea-going desperadoes into patriots, and were only too willing to act as a fence and pay for the ill-begotten goods carried in the holds of these privateers. The three most famous French privateers at the time were Morpain, Castin, and Baptiste. In the year 1692, Baptiste is recorded to have taken nine vessels in six months. In 1694, Baptiste, in a big, bright fighting vessel, which he had brought back with him from a visit to France, took five prizes off the coast of New England. In 1695, another lesser known privateer, Francois Guion,4 took three vessels in June when their escorting frigate went up on "a rock south of Grand Manan." With the Treaty of Ryswick signed in 1702, privateering became less wide-spread. This lull, more a truce than a peace, lasted only to 1709. The French privateers who had been pent up and ready to go back to business, in 1709, sank 35 New England bound merchant ships!5 No wonder we see in the official correspondence of New England, "Port Royall, that Nest of Spoilers so near to us."6

Vicarious Atonement:
And, so we might see why the New Englanders were so intent on bringing Nova Scotia under the British flag (both in 1710 and in 1745). Whether the individuals composing the invading forces were driven by loyalty to the British flag or their relish for rapine, the political objective of the whole was to put a stop to the losses of New England both upon the sea and at the borders. The New Englanders were driven to take to their boats and sail up the coast and discourage the French by looting and burning Acadian villages; and hoping, in so doing, to put pressure on the real culprits at Quebec.
7

"When war-parties from Canada struck the English borders reprisal was difficult against those who had provoked it. Canada was made almost inaccessible by a hundred leagues of pathless forest, prowled by her Indian allies, who were sure to give the alarm of an approaching foe; while, on the other hand, the New Englanders could easily reach Acadia by their familiar element, the sea; and hence that unfortunate colony often made vicarious atonement for the sins of her northern sister. It was from French privateers and fishing-vessels on the Acadian seas that Massachusetts drew most of the prisoners whom she exchanged for her own people held captive in Canada."8 (Parkman.)
The French and English Systems:
The French and English upset one another -- and it was not just that they were ancient enemies; and it was not just because they spoke, to what was to one another, a language foreign: these two people were different just as much because they were governed differently. England and her colonies were to benefit from its enlightened ideas about government,
9 which, while still evolving, was essentially in place by 1700. On the other hand, throughout the entire time of our story (1700-1763) France was yet labouring under a political system that had not evolved much from medieval times,10 a system of privileges, a system to which the country stubbornly hung onto until overturned by a bloody revolution late in the 18th century, a time beyond that which is under review. Thus, the French inhabitants of North America did not have their democratic assemblies as did each of the English colonies. They received their direction from the king and his representatives, the governor and the intendant.11 New France was therefore run as if it were a province of France, and, like the provinces back home, things were run on feudal principles. In Canada, prior to 1763, absolutism and centralization were the principles on which government was conducted. Parkman treats the subject:
"The English colonies were separate, jealous of the Crown and of one another, and incapable as yet of acting in concert. Living by agriculture and trade, they could prosper within limited areas, and had no present need of spreading beyond the Alleghenies. Each of them was an aggregate of persons, busied with their own affairs, and giving little heed to matters which did not immediately concern them. Their rulers, whether chosen by themselves or appointed in England, could not compel them to become the instruments of enterprises in which the sacrifice was present and the advantage remote. The neglect in which the English court left them, though wholesome in most respects, made them unfit for aggressive action; for they had neither troops, commanders, political union, military organization, nor military habits.
...
In Canada all was different. Living by the fur trade, she needed free range and indefinite space. Her geographical position determined the nature of her pursuits; and her pursuits developed the roving and adventurous character of her people, who, living under a military rule, could be directed at will to such ends as their rulers saw fit. ... The rival colonies had two different laws of growth. The one increased by slow extension, rooting firmly as it spread; the other shot offshoots, with few or no roots, far out into the wilderness. It was the nature of French colonization to seize upon detached strategic points, and hold them by the bayonet, forming no agriculture basis, but attracting the Indians by trade, and holding them by conversion. A musket, a rosary, and a pack of beaverskins may serve to represent it, and in fact it consisted of little else."
12
In Canada all was different. Living by the fur trade, she needed free range and indefinite space. Her geographical position determined the nature of her pursuits; and her pursuits developed the roving and adventurous character of her people, who, living under a military rule, could be directed at will to such ends as their rulers saw fit. ... The rival colonies had two different laws of growth. The one increased by slow extension, rooting firmly as it spread; the other shot offshoots, with few or no roots, far out into the wilderness. It was the nature of French colonization to seize upon detached strategic points, and hold them by the bayonet, forming no agriculture basis, but attracting the Indians by trade, and holding them by conversion. A musket, a rosary, and a pack of beaverskins may serve to represent it, and in fact it consisted of little else.17

[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 9 - The Taking of Port Royal (1710):]

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