A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia. TOC
Part 6 -- The Deportation of the Acadians TOC
Ch. 14 --
"The Deportation at Chignecto
And The Destruction of Cobequid."

In 1672, Frontenac granted a large piece of land to Michael Le Neuf sieur de La Valliere de Beaubassin (1640-1705, the elder). It was at a neck of land, the Isthmus of Chignecto, upon which hangs the almost island of Nova Scotia. It was to become known as the Beaubassin seigneury.1 In 1672, five families, having all come up from Port Royal, could be located there at the isthmus.2 The census of 1714 shows that there was 60 families.3 In 1750, Beaubassin consisted of 140 houses and its population was more than a thousand souls.4

The Acadians at Beaubassin, like most, throughout all of Acadia, were farmers making their living from the land.5 They lived pretty much undisturbed through the years except for the occasional English privateer who would arrive and cause havoc.6 There was no government intervention (either French or English); the people went about facing their own communal challenges and solving their own communal problems, usually through inter-family cooperation, and, where necessary, turning to an elder or two for a judgment. With the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), all of Acadia was to be a prize of war. Acadia then came under the command of the English governor located at Annapolis Royal, as Port Royal was then and thereafter to be known. But the territory was large, and, except for the inhabitants on their farms around the lower reaches of the Annapolis River, the presence of a small garrison of soldiers at Annapolis Royal made little difference to the average Acadian. Of the Acadian districts -- Annapolis Royal, Minas, Cobequid and Chignecto -- it was Chignecto that gave the most difficulty to the English; this, because it was the furthest from the English fort at Annapolis Royal.7

The years succeeding the Treaty of Utrecht through to 1744, consisting of thirty years of peace, were relatively uneventful in Acadia. The French population in Acadia increased and spread. The English presence in the province was pretty much restricted to their capital at Annapolis Royal, and, then, pretty much only within the confines of Fort Anne. The English took no steps to strengthen their position. There was to be, however, a relatively rapid change in the state of affairs, when, in Europe, the French and the English were to mutually declare war. The War of the Austrian Succession, or in the simpler American nomenclature, "King George's War," invited the combatants to make raids on their respective positions at Canso, Annapolis Royal and at Louisbourg. Except for those in the immediate vicinity of the fort at Annapolis Royal, and once at Grand Pré, these battles during these years, 1744-47, had little impact on the Acadian population, but the looming clouds must have bothered them greatly. These battles were brought to an end in 1748 when the English and the French courts came to terms. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed on October 18th, 1748. In Acadia things were to be status quo ante. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, to historians more of a truce than a treaty. Both the English and the French knew immediately they received word that hostilities were to cease, that there was to be another war: things were still unsettled. One of these things, especially as far as the French at Quebec were concerned, was the definition of the Acadian border. They did not dispute that Acadia, since 1713, was English territory; but they were of the view that Acadia, by its "ancient limits," did not go beyond the Isthmus of Chignecto; that, Acadia, was but just peninsular Nova Scotia and all the land to the north and west (which would include the present day state of Maine and the Province of New Brunswick) was part of Canada, was, French territory. Needless to say, the English were of a different view.

The intervening years between the two wars, 1748-56, were to be busy ones for both the English and the French soldiery. The English, after almost forty years of neglect, determined to fortify Nova Scotia. As for the French at Quebec, they decided to gate the English in, at the isthmus. At each end of the 12 mile long choke-point the French built two forts: Fort Beauséjour and Fort Gaspereau. These fortifications were well begun by 1750. The French authorities then obliged all of the French inhabitants in the area to move north in behind the line which the French had determined should be the Missaguash River. The principal place for the Acadians thereabouts had long been Beaubassin. This place, however, was south of the Missaguash. The French, to encourage the Acadians who must have been most reluctant to move off their lands and to relocate themselves to the north, resorted to a simple expedient: the French agent Le Loutre and his Indian friends torched the community (see, "The Burning of Beaubassin").

The English plans to fortify Nova Scotia, to which we have referred, included building a fort at the isthmus; however, the French had outmaneuvered them. In April of 1750, Lawrence, who was then under the orders of Governor Cornwallis, made his first descent but was obliged to retreat. In the fall of that year Lawrence made his second descent with a stronger force and established himself on the south bank of the Missaguash, there to build, pawn-like, Fort Lawrence. The English continued to deny that the French from Quebec had any right to establish themselves in the area, but the English were in no position to force the issue. For five years the English and the French stared at one another over their respective ramparts.

We are thus brought to the momentous events of 1755. The English colonial governors, at the Council at Alexandria (never mind that the two countries were then at "peace") determined to put the "presumptuous French" in their place by launching a number of preemptive attacks, from Ohio to Acadia, all at once. The initiative with which we are concerned is that which constituted an attack on Fort Beauséjour, one which, unlike the others carried out by the English in 1755, was entirely successful. Colonel Robert Monckton led a force of 2,500 men against the French soldiers at the isthmus. On June 16th, 1755, Fort Beauséjour was surrendered to the English, and, in the result, all the territory we now know as New Brunswick was to come under English control. On June 18th, Colonel John Winslow (at this point in time at the isthmus and under the command of Monckton) was sent with 500 men to take Fort Gaspereau situated 12 miles on the other side of the isthmus. Winslow and his men, by sunset, had finished their march and carried on right into the fort where the French commander was waiting to surrender his sword. The cleanup included transporting the French troops out of the area and up to Louisbourg.8 On June 30th, Captain Rous in three 20 gun ships and a sloop arrived off of the mouth of St John. Directly the French became aware of their presence, they "burst their cannon, blew up their magazine, and fled up river."

Though the Acadians played a role in the defense of Fort Beauséjour9, they were generally forgiven by the English, if, for no other reason then it was one of the terms of the capitulation. Within days of the end of the fighting, and "in consequence of the orders of the English general, a large number of the settlers came to-day, bringing their arms with them; these they laid down."10 They were allowed to return to their farms, and, I suppose they thought life would go on as usual. Likely too, Monckton and his officers thought they would not need to take any further steps in respect to the Acadians. Certainly they recognized the importance to the English troops to have some farmers in the area. On June 21st, five days after the fighting stopped, the Acadians were coming to the English camp, there to sell "eggs, milk, fowls and strawberries," and, as John Clarence Webster was to observe, "doubtless did a good business."11

And, that was it. The English had accomplished their objective of removing the French military from the Isthmus of Chignecto. This had been done so, in fine style; and, in short order. What remained, during the summer of 1755, was for them: to fill up the siege trenches, clean out the two captured French Forts and rebuild their defences. Assuming the Acadians returned to their farms and settled down -- and, it would appear, they did, just that -- there was not much to do but to sort out the numbers needed for three English garrisons (Fort Lawrence, Fort Beauséjour and Fort Gaspereau). Of the 2,500 English troops then at the isthmus; 2,200 or so had come up from Boston at the end of May for the specific purpose of attacking Fort Beauséjour. For the most part they were colonial militia-men and they all expected to return to their homes by the end of the season; until then, until the autumn of 1755, they were generally available for whatever duty Governor Lawrence at Halifax should assign. The Council at Halifax, on July 28th, came to a decision which would keep them all very busy for the next few months.

"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 [the French inhabitants of Nova Scotia] 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."12
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 furniture.
The offers commanding the Fort at Piziquid and the Garrison of Annapolis Royal have nearly the same orders in relation to the interior Inhabitants."
By his journal entry of August 5th, we see where Monckton received orders from Lawrence "in relation to the sending off the French Inhabitants."14 On the 10th, the "inhabitants of the neighboring villages mustered in considerable but not so many as expected; upon which they were ordered to tarry all night under the guns of the garrison ..." On the 11th, Monckton proclaimed at Fort Cumberland (as Fort Beauséjour was to be called) to "all officers and soldiers, all settlers, followers and retainers to the camp" that "all oxen, horses, cows, sheep, and all cattle what soever which were the property of the French inhabitants are become forfeited to his Majesty."15 Following, immediately after this, on the 11th of August, with very little ceremony, the gathered French Acadian men, 400 of them, were declared to be "rebels" and promptly locked up.16 (This was a pattern -- gather them up on false pretenses, then pounce -- that was to be followed by Winslow when he went over to Grand Pré at the end of the month.)

Within a couple of days of the Acadian men being locked up, Monckton's force was reduced by 313 men. Three vessels: the sloop, York; the schooner, Grayhound; and the schooner, Warren (with Winslow's detachment aboard) set sail on August the 16th for Grand Pré.17 This would still have left approximately 2,000 men under Monckton's command at the isthmus.18 After Winslow's departure, there would have been considerable movement as the English troops redistributed themselves nearer the forts.19 It seems, too, immediately Monckton had received his orders, he despatched squads of men to comb the countryside so to bring in more of the Acadian men; and, in the process torch any Acadian structure they should come upon.20 It was during the course of one of these forays, which purpose was to spread ruin and desolation in the Acadian lands at the isthmus, that the Acadians were to rear up and show their teeth.21

On August the 28th, Monckton despatched from Fort Cumberland a Major Frye with a party of 200 men. They boarded vessels "to go to Sheperday & take what French they could & burn their villages there & at Petcojak."22 It is doubtful that Major Frye was to see many Acadians as he and his troops first set about their business: the Acadians, so it was thought, had run off. That there were no Acadians about, meant for easy work. And, so, they started in and burnt 253 buildings. Instead of keeping his 200 men together, which he apparently had been counseled to do, Frye broke his forces down into smaller groups so as to more efficiently carry out the work at hand. One of these detached parties, while industrially going about their incendiary duties were surprised, when, about 300 French and Indians came bounding out of the nearby woods. They were led by a French officer, Boishébert. They came howling down upon their enemies with guns blazing. Frye's force, before gaining the safety of the transports, which were anchored just off the shore, was badly beaten and a sizable number of the English were "killed, wounded, or taken."23

In a letter dated September 5th, a New Englander, Major Jedediah Preble wrote his friend and colonel, John Winslow who then was at Grand Pré:

"It is with grief that I inform you that on the 2nd Inst. Majr Frye being at Shipodia where he was ordered to burn the buildings and bring of the women and children the number of which was only twenty-three which he had sent aboard and burned 253 buildings and had sent 50 men ashore to burn the mass house and some other buildings which was the last they had to do. When about 300 French and Indians came suddenly on them: killed Doctr March, shot Lievt Billings through the body and through the arm, and killed or took 22 an wounded six more. They retreated to the dykes and Major Frye landed with what men he could get on shore and made a stand. But their numbers being superior to ours were first to retreat."24
Overall, we can see, and as is represented by Major Frye's sad experience, the English were not very successful at bringing in the Acadians from the outlying areas. They did, however, as a result of their preemptive move on August 11th, have about 400 prisoners, Acadian men, locked up at both Fort Cumberland and Fort Lawrence. These were added to, as certainly the scouring English parties did bring in some additional prisoners.25 Basically, it was thought, and this was to generally turn out to be the case, if they had the fathers and the older sons, the families would not be far off and could be easily gathered up by the English soldiers when the time came to load up the transports. Unlike the experience at Grand Pré and Piziquid where there was to be a long delay waiting for the transports, at Chignecto, the transports arrived in good time; they had arrived on the 21st of August.26 (See The Transports of Chignecto.) The embarkation by September 10th had commenced.27 As the vessels were not to leave with their human cargo until October 13th,28 it seems, that a number of the Acadians were to be on the transports for weeks before they set sail. Though the vessels would act as reasonably good prisons, maintaining those aboard had to be troublesome. Supplies would have had to have been ferried out; and, the work and trouble would have been proportionate to the level of the on-board population.29

With the browning of the fields and with the hardwoods turning their summer greens in for their autumn colours, it was becoming plain that the English could not continue to wait, hoping that more Acadians might be brought in. In any event, as the ripening October days passed, the English were to calculate that they had more than enough Acadians to fill up the waiting transports. It was time to finish the job. The transports were to be victualed, wooded and watered; and, the Acadian families embarked. On October the 9th, the 24 gun frigate, Success, came into the basin at Chignecto. She had come up from Halifax; and, her captain, John Rous, was obliged by Governor Lawrence's orders to hurry the job along -- time was passing.30 With this impetus, we see that the pace must have quickened, for, we see, that on October the 11th, "The last party of French prisoners were sent on board the vessel in order to be sent out of the province."31 On October the 13th, John Thomas was to report, "Capt Rouse sailed this morning with the fleet consisting of 10 sail under his command. They carried nine hundred & sixty French prisoners with them bound to South Carolina & George."32

And thus it was done at the Isthmus of Chignecto. The population thereabouts was depleted. There were those that were sent off on the transports; and there were those (likely a greater number) which fled the area. Many of those which fled, did so up the north-eastern coast of present day New Brunswick. The winter of 1755/56 was to be a miserable winter as these Acadian families trekked through the wilderness. Farther and farther they went and farther again to make sure they were clear of the red coats; to camp out in the cold and to see the little ones and the old ones and the sick ones die on the frozen shores of the Miramachi. (For further, see my short biographical sketch on Boishébert, a person which all Acadians should revere.) In any event, by November of 1755, there were to be precious few Acadians to be found at the isthmus. The English had complete control of the area and three forts from which to command. Monckton picked the men that were to garrison these three forts; and then he and an undetermined number of his army were, through the cold winds and bare hardwoods, in November, to make their way to Halifax.33

The Destruction of Cobequid:

This note on Cobequid, is but a supplement to the material that I have already set out in connection with my treatment of the deportation at Grand Pré.

The seigneury of Cobequid34 covered a much wider territory which we, today, define as Truro. It stretched out to include Noel, Stewiacke, Tatamagouche and Five Islands. The Acadians were to first come to Cobequid, when, in 1689, Matthieu Martin35 came up from Port Royal and going to the far eastern extremity of Minas Basin planted a settlement on the banks of River Wecobequitk (Salmon River), near the present day Truro.36 Its population, as did most of the Acadian centres, had an impressive growth. It was, indeed, the last stop for many of the Acadians who were looking for good lands in the Minas area upon which to settle. For instance, there was the Benoist family, which, in 1708, came to Cobequid to settle. This was, as was usually the case, an extended family which made the move. There was 65 year old Martin Benoist, and his son of 27 years and his son's young family. They had all struck out from Port Royal for the Minas Basin area. Pisiquid was their first stop. But, it would appear, by then, by 1708, the best lands had already been claimed at Pisiquid; so, then, this family struck out for Cobequid. (See map.) By 1714, there was 22 families located in the Cobequid area.37 During the next six years a number of other families were to arrive, as, in 1720, there were 50 French families at Cobequid.38 By 1748, the count at Cobequid stood at 800 persons.39

It should be noted that Cobequid, though not as far away from the English fort at Annapolis Royal as were the French communities at Chignecto, was, nonetheless, in those days of slow travel, one of the more remote Acadian centres; and, as such, the Acadians of Cobequid were more independent then most. So, too, the Cobequid Acadians were close to an Indian mission located where the Stewiacke meets the Shubenacadie; and which had been run, for many years, by Le Loutre. The close proximity of Le Loutre and his native friends (the sworn allies of the French crown) meant that the Acadians of Cobequid dare not ever get too friendly with the English. We see, for example during January, 1750, at Cobequid, on the church steps, in the presence of their priests, Le Loutre, with Indians at his back, threatened death to any Acadian who should travel to trade with the English.40

In 1755, unlike the centres at Annapolis Royal, Grand Pré, Piziquid and Chignecto, there was no English force encamped at Cobequid. In order to carry out the deportation orders of Governor Lawrence, detachments were sent in from other commands. In August, Monckton sent two independent detachments overland from Chignecto. The one, consisting of 150 men under Captain Thomas Lewis; and the other, of 100 men under Abijah Willard. We know little of Captain Lewis' route and just exactly what he was to achieve in this particular excursion. Lewis was, however, to head up a second expedition in September which originated at Minas, one which we know more about, and to which I shall shortly refer. As for Willard's Cobequid expedition, we know more, as Willard kept a journal.41

Willard and his 100 men left Fort Cumberland on August the 6th. They had two French guides with them. Their route to Cobequid first started by going up the Maccan River. Heading due south and after a three day trip the men popped out on the shores of the Minas Basin, at a place which we now know as Moose River. On Sunday, August 10th, they came to the French village Portapique, where stands today an English village of the same name. They carried on through, "east about seven miles to the house of an old Frenchman, where the whole party was lodged and kindly supplied with milk and butter."42 By the next day, August 11th, they had made it to the parish church at Cobequid. At this church they were to meet one of the officers who was with the Lewis detachment. (Lewis' larger force had left Fort Cumberland a day before Willard's and apparently had taken the clockwise route -- along the shores of the Northumberland Strait to Tatamagouche and then overland to Cobequid following Villier's Route of 1747.) After resting awhile, during which time "the French brought in good beef and mutton," Lewis' group then made their way over the Cobequid range by going up the Chiganois (or possibly the North River) and then to take the French River down to Tatamagouche. On route they were to meet Captain Lewis, who, apparently had just been at Tatamagouche. At the meeting Lewis was to hand Willard "sealed orders" at which Willard expressed much surprise. He was commanded "to proceed and burn all the French houses on the way to Tatamagouche and on the Northumberland."43

Soon Willard was at Tatamagouche; and, this old French community and another by the name of Remsheg (known today as Wallace) were systematically destroyed. Frank Harris Patterson, a Supreme Court Judge and noted historian, was to write what next followed:

"About noon of August 16th, Captain Lewis returned from Remsheg where he had captured three families and burnt several houses. Willard with some of his men then crossed the Tatamagouche River and burnt twelve buildings, one of which was a store house filled with rum, molasses, sugar, wine and iron works. Here they also destroyed the Chapel. The men first took so much rum as they had bottles to carry, and then set fire to the buildings. They also destroyed all the vessels and canoes, including a sloop of seventy tons and a schooner of thirty tons, loaded with cattle, sheep and hogs for Louisbourg."44
Willard and his men burnt every French structure they came upon. He then drew his men up in a body and marched off forcing the French men to come with them. Their women, who willingly gave freshly baked bread to the arriving soldiers but a day or two ago, were "left lamenting bitterly" as their men were marched off, who knows -- if ever to be seen again? Left behind were their women and children; left behind to fend for themselves.45

By the 19th -- the Willard and Lewis detachments by then apparently having combined themselves into a force of approximately 250 men -- the New Englanders were back over the Cobequids. After crossing both the North and the Salmon Rivers, they proceeded to the eastern bank of the Shubenacadie River. Here, in this area, they came upon "several hamlets of French families" where Willard was to find "the finest of French farms" and "large orchards of apples." The English, acting under orders to bring in "only the deputies," proceeded to their houses, the location of which were presumably well known. Willard was "kindly treated" at each of these homes. He did not destroy anything in this area of Cobequid, his orders being only to destroy the villages found at Tatamagouche and Remsheg, -- this, so as "to prevent the shipping of the Acadian cattle and produce to Louisbourg."46 The Cobequid villages along the Minas Basin were not touched, for fear that any such act would serve to tip the Acadians of the English plans before their forces were fully in place at Piziquid and Grand Pré. The New Englanders then made their way back to the north shore of the basin and proceeded west and then cut north so to pick up the headwaters of the Maccan River. They arrived back at Fort Cumberland, traveling in different groups, on August the 25th and the 26th.

As for Captain Lewis: he was to come and pay another visit to Cobequid during the month of September. Whether he peeled off for Halifax mid-August when on the Shubenacadie River, but 40 miles from Halifax and on a well established water route (the Shubenacadie system), or whether he took a vessel from the isthmus after reporting in with Willard, I do not know. What we do know, is that on September 15th, a detachment under Captain Lewis was to arrive at Fort Edward (Piziquid) overland from Halifax. He had men with him and despatches for Captain Murray and for Colonel Winslow. Among these despatches were orders from Governor Lawrence at Halifax that a force be mounted to go to Cobequid and to ferry the Acadians found there to the embarkation points at either Grand Pré or Piziquid, and, to burn the place out upon leaving. This force was to be put together and made up from the existing forces then at Fort Edward and Grand Pré and that which had come up from Halifax with Captain Lewis. Lawrence emphasized the importance and the urgency of such a mission. Lewis, in Governor Lawrence's opinion, was the best officer to lead this force, he having been "lately there and being perfectly well acquainted with the situation."47

I deal with Captain Lewis' second expedition to Cobequid in that part of my work where I dealt with the deportation at Grand Pré. So, I need not say much more about it at this place; other than to say: not an Acadian at Cobequid, all those that Lewis had seen but a few weeks early, was to be found -- every village and every structure was empty. These Acadians had evidently caught wind of what had happened at Tatamagouche and Remsheg, or what at that time was happening at Piziquid and Grand Pré -- and, they fled. Though there is no record of it, it is safe to assume that these Acadians, one and all, during the last part of August or the first part of September, trekked bag and baggage over the well tread paths through the Cobequid range to come to Tatamagouche. And there, somehow, to find boats so as to get themselves to what was still then French territory, Ile St Jean -- these days, the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island. Though not finding any inhabitants, Lewis did achieve his secondary objective, and, from the 23rd to the 29th of September, "laid waste the country with fire."48

[NEXT: Pt. 6, Ch. 15 - "The Voyages."]

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