A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia. TOC
Part 6 -- The Deportation of the Acadians TOC
Ch. 9 --
"Winslow's Arrival At Grand Pré."

A Short History of Minas:
The Bay of Fundy splits itself against a rock like a carrot piercing itself into ill-cultivated ground; the rock in this case is Cape Chignecto, which sends the fast rising tides of water of the bay of Fundy left and right of the Cobequid Mountains. The cleavage of the Fundy results in two separate bodies of tidal water; the one continuing northeast as the true extension of the larger bay, the Bay of Fundy; and the other which fits its way, twice a day, through a pincered channel and into Minas Basin which runs directly east. (See map.) The northeast extension of the Bay of Fundy is known as Chignecto Bay, and, it, splits itself again on Cape Maringouin into two smaller tidal basins, Shepody Bay and Cumberland Basin (which in the days under review was known as Beaubassin). The eastern extension of the Bay of Fundy is known as Minas Basin; it is isoscelar like with its base to the west and its apex to the east; its sides run fifty miles or so, and its base is twenty. It was on the south-western shoulder of Minas Basin that the greatest Acadian population was to occur: below the sheltering highland of Blomidon, areas flooded by their respective rivers: Pereaux, Habitant, Canard, St. Antoine (Cornwallis, these days) and the Gaspereau. This area was populated by the Acadians for a very good reason. They contain flood plains which have been silted up by the high tides of the Fundy system for centuries, and centuries. No back breaking clearing of the land was much required and the soil with a minimum of toil yielded its produce in great abundance, year after year. These are the legendary Acadian lands which we simply know as Minas.

As to who determined that the area should be named Minas is a question not answered by our histories. What we do know, is, that Minas was a name struck because it was thought, by the earlier French explorers, that there existed on the shores of Minas Basin sought-after metals and that mines existed in these southern parts of Acadia.1 The area was first explored by Poutrincourt during August of 1612. To these early French explorers, it was, no doubt, virgin territory, though there had to be communities of Micmac who occupied the key fishing places at the mouths of the rivers flowing into the basin.

The territory is located between two rivers, at the delta formed between the St. Antoine and the Gaspereau and upon which we now focus: the fabled, Grand Pré. Grand Pré was first settled in 1680. Two of the founders, "proceeding independently of each other,"2 were Pierre Theriault and Pierre Melanson. Soon the inner southern banks of the Minas Basin, up its creeks, away from easy access by English vessels, were to be found the families headed by Jean Theriault, Martin Aucoin, Philippe Pinet, and Francois Lapierre.3

Just within a few years of it first being settled an important event was to occur at Minas, for that matter, for all of Acadia. A pastoral visit was paid during the years, 1685-6, by Jacques de Meules, the Intendant at Canada who was traveling together with the bishop.4 The principal historical significance of this event is that Meules caused a census to be conducted. The result showed that the total population of Acadia, in the year 1686, was only 885 persons, of which, 592 were at Port Royal, 127 at Beaubassin, and but 57 at Minas.5 I quote from an earlier part of this history:

"Prior to 1686 there was not much of a settlement to be found at Minas, this because of the uncertainty of title. As is the case today, no one is interested in settling in and improving lands if there is a risk of being displaced by another with a better right to title. Two influential Acadians, Bellisle (LeBorgne) and Beaubassin (Michael Leneuf de la Valliè), were at odds with one another, both asserting seigniorial rights to the lands at Minas. Thus, there was to be found only 57 people at Minas (1686 census); none at Pisiquid (Windsor) or Cobequid (Truro). Hitherto, this land dispute held development back. Intendant Meules, being on site, brought the dispute to an end by giving the nod to Belleisle, who was then to be the seignior at both Port Royal and Minas; there was, therefore and thereafter, to be a significant transfer of population from Port Royal to the Minas area. So, too, at this time, 1689, Cobiquid (present day Truro) Matthieu Martin (b.1636), a life long bachelor, having received one of the few signeuries ever given out in old Acadia, planted a settlement on the River Wecobequitk (Cobequid, the present day Truro)." (See Part 2, Chapter 2 of this history.)
The population at Minas was to immediately pick up, such that by 1689 it was to be 164, compared to that of 57 reported in 1686. This growth was at the expense of Port Royal6 which went from 592 to 461. There was to be an impressive growth of the population in the Minas area (excluding Cobequid) through the next twenty years such that by 1707, at 577, it had the largest number of Acadians of all the Acadian areas (see table). England and France were at peace (one of their longest stretches). Acadia was English territory so the French had no direct say in Acadian affairs, and, as for the English, well -- they had but a small garrison at Annapolis Royal. Thus being bothered little by authority (the great unlearned lesson) the Acadians prospered for most of the first half of the 18th century with family and church taking precedence over all matters. Their loving ways led naturally to large families. During the years, 1710 to 1750, the Acadian population ballooned out: it went from 1500 to 10,000. And while exact numbers for the Minas area are not available, we might guess that on the eve of the deportation, in 1755, there had to be around 3,000 Acadians in the western parts of the Minas Basin area.7

Winslow's Arrival at Grand Pré:
It was on August 16th that an English detachment of soldiers under
Colonel John Winslow, consisting of 313 men and officers8, departed Chignecto. They had been embarked on three sailing vessels: the sloop, York; the schooner, Grayhound; and the schooner, Warren. They were under Governor Lawrence's orders to set up camp in the Minas area; and there, to carry out their mission: by fair means or foul.9 Their task: to bring the Acadians together and ready them for their removal out of the province.

The sail down from Chignecto was to cover a distance of approximately a hundred miles. And even if the tides and the winds could be worked to advantage the trip would normally exceed a day. They came to anchor and laid over on the night of the 17th. On August the 18th the three vessels "stood up the River Piziquid to Fort Piziquid at which we arrived at eleven o'clock in the forenoon."10 Winslow and certain of his officers would have disembarked, but I imagine the men for the most part would have stayed aboard the vessels until it was determined how they should be disposed. As Winslow proceeded along the shore and up the hill to Fort Edward, he was to perceive that things at Piziquid presented a "fine pleasant situation."11 Acting under Cornwallis' orders, Fort Edward had been built by Lawrence during the summer of 1750 and doubtlessly was expanded and improved upon in the course of the following five years such that it was much more than the block house which we may yet see there today.

At Fort Edward, Winslow "waited on Capt Murray and dined with him & the gents."12 It was during this time that Winslow was given Lawrence's letter of instructions which Murray was holding for him.13 In this letter Winslow reads that the inhabitants were to be kept in the dark. "Suffer as little as possible any communication between the inhabitants and the soldiers and between the former and Mr. Mauger's people.14 And above all things keep from their knowledge the news relating to General Braddock."15 Further, Winslow is to learn that Lawrence desires that Winslow is to quarter his troops at Mines around the church at Grand Pré.

Winslow was not to spend much time at Piziquid, though long enough to exchange pleasantries with Captain Murray and to start a letter to Governor Lawrence. In this letter, Winslow explained that he had but eight days of provisions which neither included butter nor molasses for brewing and that he would trust to Lawrence's "fatherly care for our future supply, which I hope will come seasonably." Further, he suggests that more of his men be sent to him from Chignecto so that he might be able to better carry out the job that is before him. "One thing I would just hint that is that the body of the regiment is and may be encamped under the cannon of the garrison at Chignecto and that the party with me are in open country have neither cannon nor any protection ..." Specifically he thinks that "the whole or part Gorham's Rangers could be spared for our assistance," as they are familiar with the country in and around Minas, and, Winslow and his New Englanders were not.16

On the next day, the 19th, we would have seen Winslow and his detachment, on the first tide, slip over to Grand Pré, but a dozen miles from Fort Edward. He entered the River Gaspereau and landed his forces. Winslow and his men were in anticipation that "it is likely shall soon have our hands full of disagreeable business to remove people from their ancient habitations." He took up his quarters "between the Church and the Chapel yard, having the priest house17 for my own accommodation and the church for a place of arms."18 On the 21st, we see from his diary, where he "gave orders for picketing in our encampment."19 This he had intended to do the moment he had arrived, "a line of pickets from the church to the church yard."20

One of the first things Winslow was to do upon his arrival at Grand Pré on the 19th, was to break out his writing material. He added to the letter to Governor Lawrence which he had started the day before at Fort Edward, he writes: "Arrived at Grand Pré and have viewed the situation and pleased with the place proposed by your excellency for our reception (viz., the church). Shall secure the party; run a line of pickets ..."21 A second letter was then written up and directed to Captain Handfield at Annapolis Royal.22 In this letter, Winslow explains that while he has received powder and ball from Captain Murray at Fort Edward, he is in need of flints as his men have only those that are in their flintlocks. "Should be glad you would by Capt Adams send me 600 that are good and I will either replace them, or send an order to discharge your store of them, I am etc."23 Then a third piece of paper parchment is drawn out, upon which, Winslow writes out the first of his orders to the local inhabitants:

"To: The Deputies & Principal Inhabitants Of The Several Districts Of Grand Pré River Habitants River Aux Canard.
You are hereby required to appear at my headquatres of incampment at the mass house at Grand Pere at nine of ye clock tomorrow morning.
Hereof fail not, on your peril.
Given under my hand at Grand Pré, the 19th of August, 1755."
24
The following day, on the 20th, "several deputies & principals met as was yesterday directed." Winslow simply explained that he was sent "to take command of the place." He further explained that he had little in the way of provisions but he expected to receive "supplies by water." In the meantime he would like to be supplied by them. "They agreed & said that they would collect means together so as to furnish me at Saturday & continue to grant me supplies til such time as I was otherways relieved." Further, we see from Winslow's journal, where, on his second day, on the 20th, he "marked out the ground for our encampment." Winslow and his staff then moved into certain of the enclosed houses near the Acadian church, making the whole of the complex their headquarters.

On the 21st, as mentioned, Winslow "gave orders for picketing in our encampment to prevent our being surprised & broke ground on the southerly side next to the plain of Grand Pré. Worked very briskly. All hands employed, some fetching pickets, others in digging, clearing away rubbish, etc. Patrol: Johnson."25

So, Winslow's objective of setting up a camp at the centre of one of the major Acadian communities, Grand Pré, was, by the 21st of August, well under way.26 When Winslow arrived at Grand Pré in 1755 it consisted of a cluster of rustic wooden homes on rising ground south of a flat plain which the Acadians had captured from the sea through the use of dykes. These Acadians, all related to one degree or another, farmed this rich plain that stretched away to the north, towards another rise which was once an island. The Acadians had built and expanded upon dykes leading away from the mainland to each end of the island. Their homes were not on this plain, I repeat, but on the rising lands (thus to be free of potential floods) to the south and north of it. In the background, beyond the dykes, beyond the ensconced green, east and west, will be seen, at low tide, masses of red mud which cover the long shores everywhere in the Fundy system. Beyond again, to the north and east, is the blue of the Minas Basin water; and beyond that, to the north is Cape Blomidon, its red cliffs pincering off the western extremity of Minas basin; and then as one's eyes scan to the northeast, well over the blue waters and very much in the distance, a line of hills marking the Cobequid range which shelters and closes in the fifty mile long northern shore line of the Minas Basin.

Grand Pré is a flat delta extended by manmade dykes. To the west of it is the mouth of the Riviere St. Antoine (renamed by the English the Cornwallis River). To the east of it is the mouth of the Gaspereau River. These two rivers arise in the west and flood out into the Minas Basin. At low tide the rivers discharge themselves right out into the capturing basin. On the high tide, the world's highest tide (20 feet plus), the sea water of the Minas Basin reverse matters and run up the rivers for a number of miles with considerable force, at first; a most strange occurrence for those who first lay their eyes on these wonderful rivers of Minas Basin. Of the two river systems, the St. Antoine (Cornwallis) is larger than the Gaspereau, both in length and breath. While running pretty much parallel, and but only a few miles from one another, the St. Antoine and the Gaspereau flow along two distinct river valleys being separated by a rise of high ground. If one travels up the Rivière-des-Mines, as the St. Antoine (Cornwallis) was alternately called by the original French inhabitants, one will be traveling along the central core of the larger valley which today we label the Annapolis Valley. Going east on easy ground, within twenty miles, the St. Antoine peters out and a few miles beyond that one picks up the head waters of the Annapolis River (which in the earlier days was called by the French La Riviere Du Dauphin) which flows west and empties at the western end of the Annapolis Valley where at its mouth is the old capital of Acadia, Port Royal, renamed Annapolis Royal by the English on its capture in 1710. (See map no. 2 to no. 1.) The valley is but five to seven miles wide, and runs northeast a distance of sixty miles connecting up Annapolis Royal in the west to Grand Pré in the east; and, all along one will see lands which are among the most fertile in all of north-eastern America. The highland to the north-west, is known as the North Mountains, a range which blocks the cold north winds and which hides the ocean waters of the Fundy Bay lying beyond. This northern range abruptly comes to an end at a spectacular bluff, Cape Blomidon. Below it, the series of rivers to which we previously referred: the Pereaux, the Habitant, the Canard, the St. Antoine and the Gaspereau: on the banks of them all, would have been found Acadian Inhabitants. And between the last two, the St. Antoine and the Gaspereau, is found Grand Pré: the spring from which the spiritual soul of all Acadians come. In August of 1755 it was a place where the English colonel, John Winslow, commanded his men to erect their tents and surround themselves with pickets and from which place went out English orders for the inhabitants of these rivers to gather together, as, there was to be an important message to be read to them.


[NEXT: Pt. 6, Ch. 10 - "Preparations at Grand Pré."]

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