A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia. TOC
Part 6, 1755: TOC
Ch.02 - Fort Beausejour:
2a - "Disputed Territory"
2b - "Fort Beausejour, Its Disposition" &
2c - "The Prelude"

2a - Beyond The Isthmus: Disputed Territory:

The problem is traceable back to 1713 and the Treaty of Utrecht, when Louis the XIV, desperate to see that a French Prince take the Spanish throne, made a bad deal. France was to give away to England, three sections of her holdings in North America: Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, and Acadia. The twelfth article of the treaty provided that "all Nova Scotia, or Acadia, comprehended within its ancient boundaries, as also the City of Port Royal, now called Annapolis" was to be given over to the English. Lawyers know that a poor choice of words can get parties to an agreement into years of expensive and frustrating litigation. The words "ancient boundaries" as contained in the Treaty of Utrecht, were to cause the French and the English much difficulty. The English claimed, in their first position, that Acadia included all the territory east of a line from the mouth of the Kennebec to Quebec, including the whole south shore of the St. Lawrence, Gaspe, the Island of St. John, and Cape Breton.1 All the lands lying east of the St. Lawrence was a convenient and easily understood dividing line, but one that was hardly accepted by those, Frenchmen, who had a long and deep claim to the lands now claimed by the English. Their position was fully reflected in the Charlevoix report. Pierre Charlevoix was a Jesuit priest (clerics played political roles back in those days), who earlier in the century, gave his government a commissioned report in respect to the dispute that had arisen between France and England in respect to the southeastern boundaries of Quebec. Charlevoix, true to his French king, maintained that the English had only received peninsular Nova Scotia.

And, so it was, though a peace treaty had been entered into by each during the autumn of 1748, the French and English held a different view as to who "owned" the territory which these days we know as New Brunswick. The French said it was Canadian territory; the English said it was Acadian, and, as such, English territory. Each side was fully confident of its rights to occupy and control that land just north of the neck (isthmus) of peninsular Nova Scotia.

During the winter of 1748/1749, the French established a presence at the isthmus. This initial and small force was added to in the autumn of 1749 when a strong detachment of Canadians, regulars and Indians were sent down from Quebec with the express orders to prevent any Englishman coming onto the territory north of the Missaguash River at the Isthmus of Chignecto. It might be speculated2 that the construction of Fort Beausejour was commenced, at that time. Certainly, Pointe Beausejour, considering the immediate area, was the best place for a fort; it had been spotted as a good place just a year before by the British. Charles Morris, in 1749, was to report: "On this marsh also within a quarter of a mile of the basin is a fine hill or island in an oval form near sixty feet in height, more than a quarter of mile long, and about half that width, the foot of which this river passes by, on which a noble fortress might be erected for the protection of the country; the marshes surrounding it for a mile distance except toward the basin, would render it impregnable and large ships cannot approach within half a mile, and that only upon the top of high water, and in great danger by the rapidity of the tide and their grounding in two hours."3

While the English thought to build their fort at that position as was described by Charles Morris; they were too late; the French had beat them to the punch. Governor Cornwallis had sent Major Charles Lawrence and 400 troops up from the newly found English capital, Halifax, to establish themselves at Chignecto, in April of 1750 ("First Descent"). They were cowed by the French presence and returned from whence they came. In September of the same year (Lawrence's "Second Descent") the English were successful at installing themselves at the isthmus, and built for themselves a fort, just opposite Fort Beausejour, to the south of Missaguash River. Fort Lawrence, named after its builder, thus came into being. The English thus were to leave the French to hold the land they claimed; the French were to have their way, -- for now. The English, however, continued to maintain that the French were occupying English territory. An uneasy peace continued through the years 1750-1754 as each side peered at the other through their pickets across the Missaguash.

2b - Fort Beausejour: Its Disposition:

At such a position -- a hill, as the Englishman Charles Morris was to determine, "in an oval form near sixty feet in height, more than a quarter of a mile long, and about half that width" at the foot of which, to the south, was a river, and to west the sea -- "a noble fortress might be erected." In the fall of 1749, Chevalier la Corne doubtlessly had come to the same conclusion as to where the best location might be for a fort. His regulars and the Canadian militia soon set to work and the beginnings of Fort Beausejour on the northern bank of the Missaguash River came into being. In the spring of 1751 orders came from Quebec to expand and improve Fort Beausejour, and, to build another fort at the eastern end of the isthmus, at Baie Verte, about 15 to 20 miles away, it was to be the smaller of the two, Fort Gaspereau.4 In August of 1751, Fort Beausejour began to take on substantial proportions when Franquet, a French officer, an engineer, paid a visit to Fort Beausejour and "instructed St. Ours, the commander, as to the proper mode of making it defensible."5

Through its short lived existence under the French flag, the years 1750-55, Beausejour was one of those plague-spots of official corruption which dotted the whole surface of New France. The place was under the command of Duchambon de Vergor, "a dull man of no education, of stuttering speech, unpleasing countenance, and doubtful character."6 He owed his place to the notorious intendant Bigot.

2c -- The Prelude:

The French actions in the Ohio valley and at the Isthmus of Chignecto were to bring the colonial governors of New England together. The competition hitherto between them, kept them apart. The governors, especially those of the north, were to be of one mind: the French, for their incursions, were to be repelled and chastised. It was time to put an end to the French pretensions. Surely a population of 1.2 million English speaking people need not put up with the outlandish claims of 60 thousand Frenchmen. They had to be put in their place; no matter whether mother England could send help, or not. It was on April 14th, 1755, certain governors of the British colonies (Dinwiddle of Virginia; Dobbs, North Carolina; Morris, Pennsylvania; Sharpe, Maryland; Delancy, New York; and Shirley, Massachusetts) met at Alexandria on the Potomac (known in history as the Council at Alexandria).7 The French were to be attacked, notwithstanding that the two countries were at peace, at four points at once: the general (Braddock) and his regulars were to attack Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh); Shirley against Fort Niagara; Colonel William Johnson, Crown Point; and Colonel Monckton, Acadia.8

So, keeping within the scope of this history, I take up that expedition of 1755 which was to be under Colonel Robert Monckton, being but one (and as it turned out, the only successful one) of the four which had been authorized by the English royal governors at the Council at Alexandria. Notwithstanding that the two countries, France and England, at this time were at peace,9 Monckton received orders to attack and take Fort Beausejour. Though he was to have some "regulars" with him, the force was principally made up of two thousand colonial men, "provincials." These men were eventually mustered at Boston and were formed up in two battalions; one under John Winslow and the other under George Scott. These New Englanders were to be transported up the coast in "sloops and schooners," though there was to be some delay as they were obliged to wait for a shipment of muskets coming from England.10

The French could account for 1,400 fighting men on or near the isthmus, and another 250 on the St. John. Behind the walls of Fort Beausejour there were but 160 regulars supplemented by 300 hundred civilians, Acadians.11 By 1755, indeed by 1750, the Acadian population in and around Fort Beausejour mainly lived north of the Missaguash River away from the lands to the south, which, the French granted, was English territory. The principal settlement of the Acadians at the isthmus had been, historically, in this southern part: Beaubassin. During 1750, in anticipation of the arrival of English forces, the Acadians were forced out of their homes by an incendiary crowd of Indians led by Le Loutre. Seemingly every building, including the Acadian church,12 were torched in one grand conflagration. By 1755, there was not much to be seen south of Missaguash except Fort Lawrence which had grown over the five years of its existence.13 Seen around Fort Lawrence would have been a number of tightly drawn abodes of those who favoured the English cause, such as traders; few if any would have been Acadians. The Acadians, then, were on the "French side" of the isthmus, spread out along the banks of the Shepody, Petitcodiac and Memramcook rivers, rivers located northwest of the Missaguash. Further, at both of the French forts, Fort Beausejour and Fort Gaspereau, or rather clinging around their outsides would have been found all manner of abodes occupied by the sheltering Acadians, the balance of those who had once made their living to the south of the Missaguash and who now depended on the French at the fort for their subsistence.14 Further, too, would have been found numerous Indians (French allies) who were quite at home in their temporary skin and bark homes pitched around the French forts: fires smoking, dogs yapping, children alternatively crying and laughing: Indian women working at various projects such as chewing and sewing skins and stirring pots: Indian men sitting about with their white clay pipes, most silent while one of their number expounds on the bravery of one party or another, which in the past had gone to war or to hunt. Days and seasons past and the forts opposite one another on the Missaguash took on the look of permanent fixtures with the occupants of each not much bothered by the presence of the other across the muddy marsh stream as is the Missaguash.

After the parties took up their respective fortified positions at the Isthmus of Chignecto in 1750 no direct military conflict was to be observed between the French and the English in Acadia. Parties of men, from one side or the other, under the appropriate flags would sally forth from their fort and stride over the marsh towards the opposite fort with a definite purpose in mind. There were trades to be made.15 The trades would be worked out and included food, wood and other needed supplies. Men were often part of the trade. The Indians, who were at war with the English, would bring those that they had captured in their raids and be paid ransoms by the French, who in turn would recover their expenses by trading them back to the English at the isthmus. The times were long for the soldiers at the isthmus garrisons;16 one season would blend into the next; the years 1750 through to 1753 simply passed away, one much like the other. The year 1754 was much the same too. It was in August of that year that news was received at Fort Beausejour that a new governor, Drucour, had just arrived with his family at Louisbourg. In September, we see where Lawrence was expressing his concern that Acadian produce was going to the French at both Louisbourg and Beausejour; and, further, that there was free and uninterrupted trade between these two French strongholds in Acadia (via Baie Verte). The settlement at Halifax was, by 1754, five years old and was a well established and well fortified English position. There was also now an "English" establishment at Lunenburg, by then, 1754, one year old. During October of 1754, the first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia was appointed, Jonathan Belcher; so, too, during October, Charles Lawrence was officially sworn in as lieutenant-governor. At Fort Edward, located at Piziquid (the Windsor of today) Captain Alexander Murray reported that the local habitants had refused to bring in firewood and timber for fort repairs. It was determined that Abbe Daubin, their priest was behind this trouble. First summoned, and then arrested, Daubin and five Acadians are brought to Halifax under guard and sent back to Piziquid with orders to supply the required wood.17 That winter, 1754/55, Smallpox gets in among the population at Louisbourg and in the result unusually large numbers die. And, at Fort Beausejour, -- well, Dr. Webster writes:

"The winter of 1754-55 was quite peaceful in Acadia, and, at the Fort, there was no knowledge of any definite preparations being made against the French. It was known, of course, that the fortifications at Halifax were being rapidly advanced, that military activities were reported in New England and that merchant vessels were being collected in their ports, and, also, that a French ship with supplies and munitions from Louisbourg to the King's post at the mouth of the river St. John had been captured."18

[NEXT: Pt. 6, Ch. 3 - "Fort Beausejour: The Attack & The Aftermath."]

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