"Clear the whole country of bad subjects ... and disperse them among ... the colonies upon the continent of America. ... Collect them up by any means. ... Send them off to Philadelphia, New York, Connecticut and to Boston."Thus it was -- with this order of Governor Lawrence's, dated August 11th, 1755 -- an entire people were yanked off their lands like so many weeds; a consigned cargo, to be herded and prodded onto wooden sailing vessels. The fate of these people was then to be in the hands of ship captains for weeks, months in some instances; many were to die and slipped into watery graves; and those that survived were then placed in the hands of foreign governors who took them to be but a great nuisance and a great burden. How did it ever come to this! We have in our previous chapter, reviewed the forty-five year relationship of the French Acadians and their English masters. The deportation of the Acadians, while considered at times, was never to be a plan that was set. Even with the dawn of the new year, 1755, where we last left off: no such plan existed. Yet, before the year was out, the Acadians were banished from their ancestral lands; their homes and much of their possessions -- burnt; their livestock killed or only to die unattended during the ensuing winter.
Among the ambitious plans made by the English at the Council at Alexandria during April of 1755, none were to be found in respect to the removal of the Acadians. The Acadian deportation took place as an afterthought and as a result of orders taken at the local level. What was planned by the English royal governors at Alexandria was that there should be a pre-emptive strike against the French, notwithstanding that the two countries were at peace, at four different points in North America; to be carried out at the same time. The one that concerns us is that which was made by Colonel Robert Monckton against Fort Beausejour. What is very significant to the subsequent events of 1755 -- very significant, indeed -- is, not just that the English defeated the French and took their fort at Fort Beausejour but they managed to do so within a matter of a couple of weeks.
Governor Lawrence was not to directly involve himself in the attack on Fort Beausejour. At first, one will wonder why he didn't travel up to Chignecto and get in on the action? Lawrence, after all, was an English military officer, and, indeed, Monckton's superior. It was not unusual that a royal governor should lead troops into battle. Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, for example, was leading the companion attack, in 1755, against Fort Niagara; and, indeed, as we will see, Lawrence himself was with General Amherst during the Second Siege of Louisbourg, in 1758. While it might be expected that Lawrence was at Halifax so he could perfect his plans to deport the Acadians (I think not); the fact is that Halifax was an important place which was vulnerable to French attack. Further, some very important naval officers from England were calling by at Halifax, and, it was likely thought that they should receive the personal attention of the governor, himself. I refer to Admiral Boscawen, who, with his fleet of twenty-one ships of war, was cruising off the coast trying to nab French war ships. These English vessels and their officers and men were in and out of Halifax harbour throughout the spring and summer; indeed, at one point captured French men-of-war, the Alcide and the Lys, were brought into Halifax together with a sizable number of French prisoners.
Lawrence, by May 25th, would have been advised that the transports with the New England troops were about to leave Boston and that it would be but a matter of days before Monckton with his forces of about 2500 men would be at the gates of Fort Beausejour. Lawrence was fearful that fighting men from Acadia might head to the isthmus with a view to assisting the French. Thus we see, where, on May 25th, Lawrence wrote one of his key commanders, Captain Murray at Piziquid.
"I desire you would, at this time also, acquaint the Deputies that their Happiness and future welfare depends very much on their present behaviour, & that they may be assured, if any Inhabitant either old or Young should offer to go to Beausejour, or to take arms or induce others to commit any Act of Hostility upon the English, or to make any Declaration in favour of the French, they will be treated as Rebels, their Estates and Families undergo immediate Military Execution, and their persons if apprehended shall suffer the utmost Rigour of the Law, and every severity that I can inflict; and on the other Hand such Inhabitants as behave like English Subjects, shall enjoy English Liberty & Protection."1
Piziquid (see nos. 3 & 11 on map), being but 50 miles from it, was one of the closest Acadian communities to Halifax, which, since 1749, was the English seat of government in Nova Scotia. Fort Edward was located there, situated on a rise with a commanding view of the Piziquid Valley.2 Any significant movement of the French Acadians would likely be spotted from the ramparts at Fort Edward. Captain Alexander Murray, the forty year old Scot in charge at that time, kept a careful eye on the local population and was taking steps to enforce the governor's order. No food was to be moved about on account of the corn embargo.3 Further, he denied the Acadians the use of their boats, so necessary in those days for communication and for fishing. And further, he required the Acadians to hand in their arms, which, of course, the Acadians needed for their protection and the hunting of game.
These actions of Captain Murray were to cause consternation among the French inhabitants. Meetings were held which led to the preparation of a petition. The petition4 was addressed to Governor Lawrence, dated at Minas, June 10th, 1755, from all the inhabitants and signed by 25 of them. It was worded in a formal and respectful manner and requesting that they be restored to "the same liberty that we enjoyed formerly, giving us the use of our canoes, either to transport our provisions from one river to the other, or for the purpose of fishing; thereby providing for our livelihood." As for the guns: an order, according to this petition, had been posted at Fort Edward on June the 4th requiring that all guns be carried to the fort. The inhabitants explained that their guns are needed to protect their stock from wild animals. And that: "It is not the gun which an inhabitant possesses, that will induce him to revolt, nor the privation of the same gun that will make him more faithful; but his conscience alone must induce him to maintain his oath." These pleas, as were contained in the petition, and as were sent down to Halifax, were received by Lawrence at about the same time as the news that the French at Fort Beausejour had surrendered to Monckton.5 This news from the isthmus, pleasant as it was, undoubtedly surprised Lawrence: in such a speedy time -- was Monckton able to accomplish his objective! And, so, at just about this point, a few days before or a few days after, into Lawrence's hands comes this, this petition from the Acadians listing their grievances; it was but, as far as Lawrence was concerned, just another example of the presumptuousness of the Acadians.
Not much time was to lapse before Governor Lawrence sent a courier overland to Fort Edward. The message to Captain Murray was that he should round up the people who signed the petition and they should be sent to Halifax to see him, as he had a few words for them.6 At Piziquid, ten of the 25 signatories pleaded sickness, the other fifteen were packed off to Halifax. On July 3rd, Lawrence sat with his Council7 and the fifteen Acadian deputies were paraded before Council in their chambers at the Governor's House. I set out, next following, extracts from the minutes8 of that meeting:
"The Deputies were then called in and the Names of the Subscribers to the Memorial read
over, and such of them as were present, ordered to Answer to their Names, which they did
to the number of fifteen, the others being Sick, after which the Memorial itself was again
read, and they were severely reprimanded for their Audacity in Subscribing and Presenting
so impertinent a Paper, but in Compassion to their Weakness and Ignorance of the Nature
of our Constitution, especially in Matters of Government, and as the Memorialists had
presented a subsequent one, and had shewn an Appearance of Concern for their past
behaviour therein, and had then presented themselves before the Council with great
Submission and Repentance, The Council informed them they were still ready to treat them
So, the meeting adjourned and reconvened the following day, the 5th. The Acadian deputies were once again brought before the Council. Now that they had a night to sleep on it, -- had they changed their minds? No! "They declared they could not consent to take the oath in the form required without consulting the body."10 With this, the Council responded that it was these Acadians who stood before them that they addressed, and the oath was to be signed, then and there; and, if they did not do so, they could not be considered as British citizens; but rather considered as subjects of the King of France and would be treated as such. They were then ordered out of the room while Council considered what might be done. In a short space of time, while waiting in the halls, it dawned on the deputies that the bitter end had come; and, the English now had a prescription in mind for their refusals. The waiting deputies were ordered to return from the halls and paraded once again back into the Council Chambers. Hardly had they assembled in the room, when they (the deputies) declared they had changed their minds and would now sign an unconditional oath. Silence, -- it was, as if, they were not heard; then the spokesman, we might imagine, looked up from his desk, from his papers, plume in hand and after a pregnant pause, spoke:
That they had not only furnished the Enemy with Provisions and Ammunition, but had refused to supply the Inhabitants, or Government, with Provisions, and when they did Supply, they have exacted three times the Price for which they were sold at other Markets. That they had been indolent and Idle on their Lands, had neglected Husbandry, and the Cultivation of the Soil, and had been of no use to the Province either in Husbandry, Trade or Fishery, but had been rather an Obstruction to the King's Intentions in the Settlement. ... All His Majesty's Subjects are protected in the Enjoyment of every Liberty, while they continue Loyal and faithfull to the Crown, and when they become false and disloyal they forfeit that Protection. ...
That they wanted their Canoes for carrying Provisions to the Enemy, and not for their own use or the Fishery, That by a Law of this Province. All Persons are restrained from carrying Provisions from one Port to another, and every Vessel, Canoe or Bark found with Provisions is forfeited, and a Penalty is inflicted on the Owners. ...
That Guns are no part of their Goods, as they have no Right to keep Arms. By the Laws of England, All Roman Catholicks are restrained from having Arms, and they are Subject to Penalties if Arms are found in their Houses. ...
They were then informed that a very fair Opportunity now presented itself to them to Manifest the reality of their Obedience to the Government by immediately taking the Oath of Allegiance in the Common Form before the Council. Their Reply to this Proposal was, That they were not come prepared to resolve the Council on that head. They were then told that they very well knew for these Six Years past, the same thing had been often proposed to them and had been as often evaded...
They then desired to leave to retire to consult among themselves, which they were permitted to do, when after near an hour's Recess, They returned with the same Answer, That they could not consent to take the Oath as prescribed without consulting the General Body, but that they were ready to take it as they had done before.... the Council [could not] accept their taking the Oath in any other way than as all other His Majesty's Subjects were obliged by Law to do when called upon, and that it was now expected they should do so, which they still declining, they were allowed till the next Morning at Ten of the Clock to come to a Resolution."9
"... there was no reason to hope their proposed compliance proceeded from an honest mind, and could be esteemed only the effect of compulsion and force, and is contrary [to law]... whereby persons who have once refused to take the oaths cannot be afterwards permitted to take them, but are considered as Popish Recusants; therefore they would not now be indulged with such permission, and they were thereupon ordered into confinement."11
As to what occurred next is determinable from a despatch that Lawrence had sent off to The Lords of Trade. It is dated at Halifax, 18th July, 1755:
"... they [the deputies] were ordered to be kept prisoners at George's Island, where they were immediately conducted. They have since earnestly desired to be admitted to take the oath, but have not been admitted, nor will any answer be given them until we see how the rest of the inhabitants are disposed.
At this time, there was at Halifax, two admirals Edward Boscawen and Savage Mostyn. I referred earlier to the fact that Boscawen's fleet of twenty-one ships of war were then operating in the area. Letters13 (dated the 14th), with the approval of Council, had been delivered to both of the admirals, who were then, apparently, resting themselves at Halifax. Lawrence invited them to attend the meetings of Council in order to discuss the security of the province.14 The first Council meeting in which the admirals were in attendance was held on the 15th. It was at this meeting, as the minutes disclose, that a decision was taken to retain the 2,000 troops (militia from New England) then at the isthmus of Chignecto15 and that the transports "should be immediately discharged to avoid unnecessary expense." I might observe, that this last decision, to discharge the transport ships, is consistent with keeping the troops; it is not, however, consistent with any discussion to transport the Acadians. The Council and the admirals -- and, the minutes of the 15th reflect this -- were continuing to wait on word from the population, in general, whether they intended to take the oath, or not.
I have ordered new deputies to be elected, and sent hither immediately, and am determined to bring the Inhabitants to a compliance, or rid the province of such perfidious subjects."12
On Friday, the 25th, another meeting of Council was convened. In attendance, were the admirals, and, so too, was John Rous having just come in from rooting the French out at the St John. At this meeting (25th), yet another petition16 from the Acadians of the Annapolis River was presented. This time it was signed by 207 French Acadians. The Acadian deputies from the Annapolis River area had come to present the petition in person. The substance of their position, was, that while they would deliver up their guns, they were resolved not to take any kind of a new oath; and, that, "if it was the [English] king's intentions to force them to quit their lands, they hoped that they should be allowed a convenient time for their departure." Was this a bluff? It could have been: for there was now a forty year plus history where the Acadians independently (though always respectfully) determined that they would sign no absolute oath; and the British never were seen to force the issue. Or, were the Acadians genuinely ready to leave the fertile Acadian valleys that they had occupied for generations and cast themselves into an uncertain future? No matter what the Acadians thought of it, the British, this time around, intended to force their hand. I quote from the minutes of this meeting held on the 25th of July:
"They were then told that they must now resolve either to Take the Oath without any
Reserve or else to quit their Lands, for that Affairs were now at such a Crisis in America
that no delay could be admitted, that the French had obliged us to Take up Arms in our
Defence against their Encroachments, and it was unknown what Steps they might take
further, for which Reason if they (the Inhabitants) would not become Subjects to all Intents
and purposes, they could not be suffered to remain in the Country. Upon which they said
they were determined One and All, rather to quit their Lands than to Take any other Oath
than what they had done before. The Council then told them that they ought very seriously
to consider the Consequences of their Refusal, That if they once refused the Oath, they
would never after be permitted to Take it, but would infallibly loose their Possessions; That
the Council were unwilling to hurry them into a Determination upon an Affair of so much
Consequence to them, and therefore they should be allowed till next Monday at Ten of the
Clock in the forenoon to reconsider the matter and form their Resolution; when their final
Answer would be expected."17
Monday, July the 28th, 1755, arrived. This is a day to be remembered: by all Acadians, since, and for a long time yet to come. A number of them were now at Halifax. In addition to the deputies that had arrived earlier and who had assembled before Council the Friday just passed, there were those who had newly arrived, apparently over the weekend, from the Piziquid and Minas areas. (See map.) The original Piziquid and Minas deputies, as we have seen, had been imprisoned on July the 5th, and, from what I can see, were still waiting out their time on an island within easy view of Halifax. These Acadians, the cream of their communities, were there to speak for their people. Persistent, they were, as was reflected in two new petitions; one signed at Piziquid on July 22nd, by one hundred and three Acadian head-men; and, another, at Minas, signed by two hundred and three. Same message -- They would sign no new oath. "We will never prove so fickle as to take an oath which changes, ever so little, the conditions and the privileges obtained for us by our sovereigns and our fathers in the past."18
The rest and balance of the Acadian deputies were then sent off to George's Island; prisoners, all.19
The minds of the Council members had been made up. If they were to receive such refusals at this deadline meeting of July 28th, then they would transport the Acadians out of the province. They had earlier consulted with Jonathan Belcher, in his capacity as the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia (never mind, that, as a Councilor, he was in on the decision). He dutifully prepared a report (it was dated the very day, the 28th of July, 1755) one that the Council felt they needed to support the steps they were about to take. What was necessary, was to dress their decision up so it would appear less than the dastardly outrage that indeed it was. This judicial report, this judicial decision, recounted the history of the relationship of the Acadians and their English masters since the Treaty of Utrecht (1713); and concluded, as a matter of law, that in the interests of His Majesty, as Chief Justice Belcher was to advise, in his judgment, "that all the French inhabitants may be removed from the Province."20
[I should say, at this point, that no request was made of the Board of Trade (the principal colonial authority at London) for authority to deport the Acadians. It is not for me to speculate what the Board of Trade might have said of the plan if it had been set before them. Certainly after the event they gave it very little notice, mainly, I suppose, because in the succeeding years England was very busy fighting a war.21 Earlier, on March 4th of 1754, the Lords Of Trade did write Lawrence: "The more we consider this point the more nice and difficult it appears to us; for, as on the one hand great caution ought to be used to avoid giving any alarm, and creating such a diffidence in their minds as might induce them to quit the province, and by their numbers add strength to the French settlements, so on the other hand we should be equally cautious of creating an improper and false confidence in them, that by a perseverance in refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance, they may gradually work out in their own way a right to their lands, and to the benefit & protection of the law, which they are not entitled to but on that condition."22 To which, on August 1st, 1754, Lawrence replied: "They have not for a long time brought anything to our markets, but, on the other hand, have carried everything to the French and Indians, whom they have always assisted with provisions, quarters and intelligence; and, indeed, while they remain without taking the oath of allegiance (which they never will do till they are forced), and have incendiary French priests among them, there is no hope of their amendment. As they possess the best and largest tracts of land in the Province, it cannot be settled while they remain in this situation, and though I would be very far from attempting such a step without your lordships' approbation, yet I cannot help being of the opinion that it would be much better, if they refused the oath, that they were away."23]
In any event, it is clear, that the decision to deport the Acadians was one that was taken at the local level (Governor Lawrence and his Council). Even if he felt he had to clear the intended deportation with England -- there was no time for it in these days of sail. Here was an opportunity to be seized upon. The Acadians boldly refused to take an oath of loyalty. Nothing new. They had done this in the past; and, with no consequences. The difference this time, was that Lawrence had 2,000 troops who were but a couple of days away, who had been contracted at Boston for a year's service; and who now had not much to do since the capitulation of Fort Beausejour on June 16th, 1755.
The meeting of Council on July 28th was all but over when the Acadian men were led away as prisoners. After the clamour of the exited Acadians faded away, the Council then made their fateful decision and recorded it into the minutes:
"After mature Consideration, it was unanimously Agreed That, to prevent as much as
possible their Attempting to return and molest the Settlers that may be set down on their
Lands, it would be most proper to send them to be distributed amongst the several
Colonies on the Continent, and that a sufficient Number of Vessels should be hired with
all possible Expedition for that purpose."24
In a letter dated the 31st of July, Monckton was advised of the decision, and it continued:
"In the mean time, it will be necessary to keep this measure as secret as possible, as well
to prevent their attempting to escape, as to carry off their cattle &c.; and the better to effect this you will endeavour to fall upon some stratagem to get the men, both young and old
(especially the heads of families) into your power and detain them till the transports shall
arrive, so as that 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.
But least they should, it will not only be very proper to secure all their Shallops, Boats,
Canoes and every other vessel you can lay your hands upon; But also to send out parties
to all suspected roads and places from time to time, that they may be thereby intercepted.
As their whole stock of Cattle and Corn is forfeited to the Crown by their rebellion, and
must be secured & apply'd towards a reimbursement of the expense the government will
be at in transporting them out of the Country, care must be had that nobody make any
bargain for purchasing them under any colour or pretence whatever; if they do the sale will
be void, for the inhabitants have now (since the order in Council) no property in them, nor
will they be allowed to carry away the least thing but their ready money and household
Thus the wheels were set in motion; and, on August 11th, Lawrence gave directions to the commandants at the garrisons at Annapolis, Chignecto, Piziquid, Minas and Cobequid (see map), which directions included the following:
The officers commanding the Fort at Piziquid and the Garrison of Annapolis Royal have nearly the same orders in relation to the interior Inhabitants."25
"... you will give each of the masters their sailing orders in writing to proceed according to the above destination, and upon their arrival immediately to wait on the Governor or Commander-in-chief of the provinces to which they are bound with the said letters, and to make all possible despatch in debarking their passengers, and obtaining certificates thereof agreeable to the form aforesaid; and you will in these orders make it a particular injunction to the said masters to be as careful and watchful as possible during the whole course of the passage, to prevent the passengers making any attempt to seize upon the vessels, by allowing only a small number to be upon the decks at one time, and all other necessary precautions to prevent the bad consequences of such attempts; and that they be particularly careful that the inhabitants carry no arms, nor other offensive weapons on board with them at their embarkation, and also that they see the provisions regularly issued to the people agreeable to the allowance proportioned in Mr. George Saul's instructions.
You will use all the means necessary for collecting the people together, so as to get them on board. If you find that fair means will not do it with them, you must proceed by the most vigorous measures possible, not only in compelling them to embark, but in depriving those who escape of all means of shelter or support, by burning their houses and destroying everything that may afford them the means of subsistence in the country."26
[NEXT: Pt. 6, Ch. 8 - "Winslow's Departure for Grand Pre."]