Way before they staked out their respective claims in North America, beginning in the early 17th century, as any reader of European history will know, France and England were long time enemies. Very old wounds were to break out as they jostled one another in the wilds of North America. The English claims were rooted in the discoveries of Cabot (1497); the French in Cartier (1534). A European hunger for fish and furs drove mariners and traders, of both countries, to the northern eastern shores of North America. Small wooden sailing vessels made their way out over the broad Atlantic in the spring of the year and with the early autumn westerlies returned to the docks of Europe, their holds filled with product: the ivory and hides of the walrus; the long horn of the narwhal, the down of eider ducks; the skins of the beaver, the otter, the fisher, the martin, the mink, the muskrat and the bear (brown, black and white); and, of course, bundles of dried fish and barrels of pickled fish. These early European venturers likely got on with one another, just as traders usually do. As a practical matter, however, no European settlement of North America was to take place for many, many years.
I have already told of the first settlement in Acadia. It was, putting aside the Spanish in Florida, in fact, the first permanent settlement of Europeans in all of North America. "The Founding of Port Royal" took place in 1605. The English made their way into Chesapeake Bay and up the Powhatatan River and there they founded Jamestown, "the first vital germ of English colonization on the continent." (See my chapter, on Early English Settlement.) And, so, the first two European pieces were set down on the political game board of North America: Port Royal and Jamestown. These first European communities had hardly a chance to jell when -- no matter that there existed practically 500 miles of wilderness between them -- the English were of the view that there were "rights" to be enforced. By 1613, the French had made three establishments in the greater area of Acadia: Mount Desert, St. Croix and Port Royal. Samuel Argall, with lawless violence, ransacked and plundered all three; and, so he thought, Acadia was to be "effectually blotted out." And, so it was, in Acadia, that the first shots in America were exchanged between these ancient European enemies, between the English and French. These bloody exchanges, -- of which Acadia was to have more than its share -- kept up for over a century and a half and continually shook the struggling communities of North America until accounts were permanently settled with the conclusion of The Seven Years War; and, the loss to France of her North American colonies in 1763.
These bloody exchanges, to which I have referred, have been dealt with in some detail in previous chapters (see, for example, Sir William Phips and The Taking of Port Royal in 1690). These exchanges, -- and, a reader of this history is bound to be struck by the fact -- those that were to take place on Acadian soil, were not so much between the English and the Acadians, as much as it was between the English and the French military sent down from Quebec. Acadia was a buffer, a territory which cushioned the English forces, which, in fact, were more desirous of getting at the real culprits, those that were ensconced, in this age of sail, because of geography and climate, -- at Quebec.1
Acadia, in its nearness to New England was to pay for the sins of Quebec. It is not that the Acadians were virtuous: they were not. Their allegiance was to the French king; outwardly, when the French troops were around; inwardly, when the English troops were around. But, at all times, the Acadians were interested in making their own way in the world; they were a people who devoted themselves to their church and to their farms. Good fortune had thrown them up onto some of the most fertile lands to be found in North America, and, they made the most of it. They established their farms on the ancient flood plains of the Bay of Fundy, or, as they knew it, Baie Francois. Like farmers everywhere they did not live close together in villages; there would be a farm here with more then one habitation to house the different generations of one branch of the family; another farm a mile or two away, and another beyond. In time, each of the river valleys of Acadia were to become loosely occupied as families worked the soil and raised their animals to sustain themselves. There were Acadian trading centres, ports of call, though only a very few. Port Royal was the most well known, in addition, there were more tightly packed communities to be found at the mouth of the Gaspereau River (Grand Pre) and at Beaubassin. Here, there would have been found Acadian traders and Acadian mariners; but not very many. These individuals had among them, as does any group, those who would take advantage of various situations as might come along. When the English were not in control, Port Royal became a harbourage to French cruisers and a place from which hostile Indians drew supplies. More generally, New Englanders were upset when they heard stories of English fishing boats being taken by French and Indian marauders off the coast of Acadia. Though New Englanders had better reasons to flatten Quebec (a most daunting military project), they were sufficient enough for the English to conquer Acadia.
Thus, an English force under Francis Nicholson sailed up the coast from Boston in 1710 and entered the basin, of what was then known as Port Royal, a French holding. Port Royal was captured and the English renamed it Annapolis Royal and that is what it is known as today. It was to be the only English post in all of Nova Scotia except for a small garrison that was to be found, at times, at Canso. No sooner the English took Port Royal, did they plan to deport the Acadians.2 We see in a Board of Trade report3, filed in 1721, where there was a recommendation to carry out a "survey of the location, trade, and structure of government" of each of the colonies from Nova Scotia to South Carolina, so as to have "a catalogue of the resources which those colonies could muster against the French." This report was commissioned because of a general concern which the English had of French expansion in North America. In this report, South Carolina, New York and Nova Scotia were identified as frontier colonies, and, Nova Scotia was to receive special attention. The Board wanted four regiments to be stationed in Nova Scotia; and, further, wanted the Acadians evicted and, in turn, to transport the English inhabitants of Newfoundland to occupy the agricultural lands of Acadia.
Thus the thought of getting rid of the Acadians was not new. It was a thought first expressed not too long after the capture of Port Royal; and, it was a thought that was expressed numerous times as the 18th century wore on. However, the government in England did not pursue the matter, not so much that they didn't have the heart to load people up on transports and replant them elsewhere -- it is just that they never saw to the business of providing the means, to do so. Acadia, or more particularly Annapolis Royal, was a very small and forgotten post and got very little in the way of support; despite the numerous pleas, over the years, from its commandants. The French inhabitants just a few miles beyond the walls of Fort Anne at Annapolis Royal and from there throughout all of Acadia, did pretty much as they pleased being bothered by no authority, English or French; and under that situation, I might add, prospered, -- if one might measure prosperity by population growth.
With the successes of the English in the taking of Louisbourg in 1745, serious thought was once again given to the job of clearing the Acadians out of Nova Scotia. Peter Warren was to raise the topic in a letter to the authorities just two days after Louisbourg had capitulated:
"We shall find great difficulty and expense in transporting the prisoners to France, agreeable to the capitulation. They insisted much upon going to Canada and letting as many of the peasants reside here as should desire it. As this is the key to all the French settlements on this continent, and to Canada in particular, which his Majesty may think proper to reduce to his obedience, we would by no means agree to it. We have an example of the ill consequence of the French being among us at Annapolis, and it is worthy of the ministry to consider whether those people should not be transplanted to some other colony, and have an equivalent in such manner as his Majesty shall think proper."4
And then again on July 4th, Warren wrote:
"... I believe we have near 5,000 yet we shall not be able to transport this fall. Many of the peasants have offered to take the oath of allegiance to his Majesty. As they will be useful in getting in wood and other necessaries for the garrison, the general and I propose to tender the oath to such as we can not transport. We are determined by no means to let them remain here longer than until vessels can be procured to transport them. We see the ill effects of a thing of this nature at Annapolis, and till the French are transported from thence, or till we have possession of Canada, the colony of Nova Scotia will be continually alarmed."5
So, it was with the capitulation of Louisbourg, in 1745, that a number of French peasants were distributed by the English amongst their colonies to the south, though, it would not appear many, and, mostly only those in and around Louisbourg. However, Warren was to write forebodingly, "that while such a number of French are suffered to remain in [Nova Scotia], with a very little mixture of English (if any at all) except the garrison, it will ever be a thorn in our side. ... by intermixing them in some of the remotest of our colonies from the French, a great advantage would thereby accrue to our country, and the expense of so many garrisons would be taken off. That of Annapolis Royal might be transplanted to strengthen this or Newfoundland, for it would be useless there."6
Warren continued with this theme, we see, in a letter to Newcastle written at Louisbourg on October 3rd, 1745. He, Warren, was advising how he was unable to immediately transport the inhabitants of Ile St Jean (about a 1,000) he expresses the hope to be able to do so the "next spring as we see ill consequences in Nova Scotia that attend keeping any of them in our territories. Indeed it would be a good thing if those now at Annapolis could be removed ..."7
Though there was to be some deportations immediately after the capture of Louisbourg and an intention to keep the programme going into the following year; it does not seem, from the record, any such further deportations were to take place until that fateful year of 1755. Indeed we see, in 1748, an alternate plan was considered, viz., to leave the French Acadians in place but to dilute their influence by bringing in English or Protestant settlers to be located in amongst the Acadians. That summer with The War of the Austrian Succession having come to an end with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Governor Shirley sent one of his lieutenants, Captain Morris, up from Boston to Nova Scotia to do a feasibility survey in respect this settlement. Captain Morris concluded in his report:
"Another advantage will arise, that the Protestants will be intermixt with the present Inhabitants, and consequently an Intercourse of Trade and Intermarriages, whereby in Time they will come to have one Common Interest & mutually send out Colonies to settle the Inland Countrys."8
Nothing was to come of Morris' plans. To work, it would have been necessary to swamp the Acadian lands with great quantities of English immigrants. While quite a number were caused to be brought over by the English during the years, 1749-52 (see "The Founding of Halifax" and "The Foreign Protestants") they were not of sufficient numbers, and, it was feared that if they were placed down among the Acadians, it would be them and not the Acadians that would be diluted. Besides, the English, in regards to their settlement plans, beginning in 1749, were thwarted by "The Indian Threat".
So, it was, that more than forty years were to pass and the English never were to have a sufficient presence in the province to effectively deal with the intransigency of the Acadians. During the first part of the 1750s the English finally started in on fortifying Nova Scotia. In July of 1755, with the capitulation of Fort Beausejour there were to be better than 2,000 troops laying about at Chignecto. With a full scale war about to break out, the English now had the means to finally, and once and for all, deal with these potential "fifth columnists": the Acadians.
[NEXT: Pt. 6, Ch. 6 - The Oath.]