A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia. TOC
Part 6 -- The Deportation of the Acadians TOC
Ch. 18 --
"The Summation."

"We did, in my opinion most inhumanly, and upon pretences that in the eye of an honest man are not worth a farthing, root out this poor, innocent, deserving people, whom our utter inability to govern or to reconcile gave us no sort of right to extirpate."1 (Edmund Burke.)
Governor Lawrence received no instructions from England to deport the Acadian population out of the province of Nova Scotia. After the deed was done, and only after, was he to write his masters at London advising them, in a somewhat incidental manner, that he had taken steps to put the province in a more secure position. Lawrence reasoned that the removal of French inhabitants of Acadia
"... furnishes us with a large quantity of good land ready for immediate cultivation, renders it difficult for the Indians who cannot as formerly be supplied with provisions and intelligence, to make incursions upon our settlers, and I believe the French will not now be so sanguine in their hopes to possessing a province that they have hitherto looked upon as ready peopled for them the moment they would get the better of the English."2
And, the Lords Of Trade responded:
"Whitehall, March 25th, 1756.
We look upon a War between us and France to be inevitable, and from the best judgment we are able to form of the views and the designs of the enemy. We are inclined to believe a great part of their force will be exerted to distress and annoy us in North America.
We have laid that part of your letter which relates to the removal of the French Inhabitants, and the Steps you took in the Execution of this Measure, before His Majesty's Secretary of State; and as you represent it to have been indispensably necessary for the Security and Protection of the Province in the present critical situation of our affairs, We doubt not but that your Conduct herein will meet with His Majesty's Approbation."
On May 17th, 1756, England was to declare war on France on account of the attack upon Minorca, and, thereafter, there was no time for the English or French leaders to give even the merest thought to the ancient inhabitants of Acadia which had been flung on the eastern shores of English North America. The Seven Years War ensued which was ended in 1763 with the Treaty Of Paris. The French claims to North America, as a practical matter, were, by this war, utterly defeated.4 The reconstruction of what had been French territory then was to take all of the attentions of the English administrators. Within a dozen years the cauldron known as the thirteen colonies -- long had it been heating up -- boiled over: the English then had their hands full with the American Revolution. In the 1780s, Canada and Nova Scotia was to receive a flood of loyalists from the English colonies to the south. With all of these events, few people gave much thought to the trials and tribulations of the Acadians; and certainly no historian was to take up the subject (with the exception of Brown5) until many, many years had passed and all of the actors had long since retired from the stage.

The question: Are the British to be faulted for what they did to the Acadians? Let us accept that what occurred was cruel; it was, however, not unusual. It must be remembered that the French did to the English years earlier, when, 2,500 English persons were expelled from St. Kitts, an island in the Antilles group rich in tobacco and sugar. The possession of the island was taken by both the French and the English in 1626 and each took half. With the second Anglo-Dutch War spreading to North America both the French Governor and the English Governor plotted against one another with a view to taking St. Kitts over for their respective countries: the French won out. The event was the expulsion of the English from St. Kitts, which the French celebrated by the striking of a metal.6 Then there was the French treatment of the Huguenots, -- no, the French could not from their glass houses throw any stones at the English over the deportation of the Acadians; nor, from what I can see, did they ever attempt to do so.

It was a sad scene, one that is difficult to equal in all of history, but those that were inflicted with the cruel punishment of being ripped from their homes cannot be said to have been pure in respect to their dealings with the English. They had long traded with the enemy and some of them took up arms against the English. It seems plain that they aided and abetted the French soldiers and joined the Indians in their raids against the English.7 James Hannay, a most respected writer of Nova Scotian history, concluded "that very few people, who follow the story to the end, will be prepared to say that it was not a necessary measure of self preservation on the part of the English authorities in Nova Scotia."8

"Their neutrality, however, did not present them from aiding the French to the utmost of their power and throwing every possible embarrassment in the way of the English. It did not prevent many of them from joining with the Indians in attacks on the garrison at Annapolis and on other English fortified posts in Acadia. It did not prevent them from carrying their cattle and grain to Louisbourg, Beauséjour and the River St. John, instead of to Halifax and Annapolis, when England and France were at war. It did not prevent them from maintaining a constant correspondence with the enemies of England, or from acting the part of spies on the English, and keeping Vergor at Beauséjour informed of the exact state of their garrisons from time to time. It did not prevent them from being on friendly terms with the savages, who beset the English so closely that an English settler could scarcely venture beyond his barn, or an English soldier beyond musket shot of his fort for fear of being killed and scalped."9
The neutrality of the Acadians, was, it should be said, self proclaimed. However, by international law10 they had no right to such a claim. With France having given up their claims to Acadia by the terms of Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Acadians had no choice but to swear allegiance to the British crown, or leave. They were asked again and again to take the oath; but they were steadfast in their refusal. The criticism to be leveled at the English is that they should have acted by deporting those who did not swear allegiance at a much earlier stage, in 1715 or 1716. The English did not act; this because they never had sufficient forces in Nova Scotia to act; they had but only a small garrison of soldiers at Annapolis Royal. The Acadians ignored the English and got away with it for forty odd years.

Though the act against the Acadians in 1755 was swift and sure it was one that was contemplated for many years, the deportation of the Acadians having been first proposed in 1720. The history is clear, that up to 1755, the English treated the French inhabitants in Nova Scotia with tolerance. The English military, being as a practical matter the only English people in Nova Scotia up to 1749, depended on the Acadians for their food and fuel supplies. The official government policy was to pay for whatever they received from the Acadians at prices determined by the Acadians. The fact of the matter is, that through the 45 year period leading up to 1755, the English treated the French inhabitants in a manner that impressed the French military officers at Louisbourg to a considerable degree. Francis Parkman gave a contemporary view of just such a French officer, who, from Louisbourg was writing to the court at Versailles:

"The fear that the Acadians have of the Indians is the controlling motive which makes them side with the French. The English, having in view the conquest of Canada, wished to give the French of that colony, in their conduct towards the Acadians, a striking example of the mildness of their government. Without raising the fortune of any of the inhabitants, they have supplied them for more than thirty-five years with the necessaries of life, often on credit and with an excess of confidence, without troubling their debtors, without pressing them, without wishing to force them to pay. They have left them an appearance of liberty so excessive that they have not intervened in their disputes or even punished their crimes. They have allowed them to refuse with insolence certain moderate rents payable in grain and lawfully due. They have passed over in silence the contemptuous refusal of the Acadians to take titles from them for the new lands which they chose to occupy."11
The historians who tell of the 1755 deportation are generally consistent in not seriously faulting the English, though there are other slants.12 Professor Brebner, in his book, New England's Outpost, states the facts in less than a paragraph:
"... over six thousand peaceful farming people were by force and stratagem rounded up and hurriedly placed on transports and distributed from Massachusetts to South Carolina; of how others took refuge in the forests of what are now New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, or made their way to Quebec City, the Ohio Valley, and Louisiana; of how some of them who escaped the first seizure only to be made captives in the terrible guerilla campaign of the succeeding years were sent to France and England or allowed to join the French in St. Pierre and Miquelon or the West Indies; or of how many lost their lives from starvation, exposure, ship-wreck, and the hazards of war. It was a cruel, pitiless affair. Everything was subordinated to the determination to make the expulsion as thorough as possible."13
What brought about this "cruel and pitiless affair"? Brebner summed it up: "... a number of forces of enduring weight and consistently determined character were woven together through many years to bring about the Acadian tragedy. Neglect, expediency, ignorance, the rivalries of empires and religions, eagerness for economic advantage, inertia ..."14 The events of 1755 in Nova Scotia, as Brebner points out,15 provide an excellent illustration of how the impersonal relations of nations mixed in with geography create imponderable forces, which, in turn, put into motion colossal human consequences.

John Clarence Webster:

"These people loved their homes and their life in Acadia They learned too late that they had been mere pawns in the game of high politics directed from Quebec. Many of them had been cajoled and terrorized, mainly through the machinations of priests like Le Loutre, to sacrifice their homes and possessions for the nebulous promises of the French authorities, which were never realized, and which only precipitated the entire Acadian people into a morass of prolonged sorrows and miseries."16
In his paper read before the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1886, the year in which he was elected to its presidency, Sir. Adams G. Archibald said this:
"If there were cruelty in the sentence of deportation, surely the men of their own race and creed, who rendered that proceeding inevitable, are the persons to whom blame should attach. ...
But there cannot be a question that the Government and its subordinates were most anxious to do what had to be done, (which, at best, was admittedly a very painful necessity), with as much consideration and humanity as the case permitted.
One consolation we certainly derive from the perusal of the voluminous papers touching this subject to be found among our archives, and that is, the evidence they afford of the unceasing efforts of the British authorities, continued without intermission for the long period of forty years, to induce the Acadians to become good citizens and loyal subjects. ...
Instead, therefore, of imputing the calamity which befell these people, to the cruelty of the English authorities,we ought rather to charge it on the men who rendered it inevitable. The true authors of the tragic event, were the French Governors at Quebec and Louisbourg, and their agents, lay and clerical, in the Province. They created the necessity, the British only met it. They played with cruel skill on the ignorance, credulity and superstition, as well as on the generous affections, of the poor Acadians, and if that followed, which could not but follow, under such circumstances, surely they ought to bear the blame whose intrigues and instigations brought about a natural and inevitable result. The Acadians may therefore say with truth, that if they suffered calamity beyond the common lot of humanity, they owe it to men of their own race and creed-pretended friends, but real enemies."
In conclusion, it should be said that historically, as sad as an event as it is was, the deportation of the Acadians in 1755 was but a minor part in the great military operations of that year: at Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh), at Fort Niagara, at Crown Point, and Fort Beauséjour; and one that was hardly noticeable in the even greater military events that followed along and are summed up in the expression, The Seven Years War.

Any person who examines the removal of the Acadians during these years, and views the particulars in isolation and measures the effect by the standards of today will come to curse those who were responsible. What is required is a knowledge of the general situation which prevailed in the fifty years preceding this sorry event. The point needs to be clearly made: the English, though imminently practical people, were never known as cruel conquerors. They took great pains, and it is evident as one reads through all of the correspondence of the time, to treat the Acadians fairly. For example, there is the time that Vetch ordered his officers upon going into an Acadian village to not molest and not to kill any domestic animals. If soldiers needed food then a foul (versus an egg laying hen) might be killed, but, before the British soldiers left the community to continue on their rounds, the farmer was to be reimbursed. The English in their act of deporting the Acadians, though in the military balance of things considered to be a good idea, was an act which was to hurt Nova Scotia, a hurt that was to extend through many of the years which succeeded the event. The Acadian lands were of little use to the English without a people such as the Acadians to be on them and to be working them.

On April 10th, 1749, John Salusbury, who was with Lawrence when a company of English troops made their way through the Grand Pré area, wrote this in his journal:

"Every [British military] proceeding is extremely critical for the inhabitants [Acadian] are on the balance now either to go or stay, and that is of great consequence to us, for if they go they will greatly reinforce the French, which is the great design of leLoutre. If they stay, though they are not hearty in our interest, they are not actually against us -- which they must be if they quit the province and truly they are a great body of people."18
That the deportation of the Acadians came about because of an overly zealous military man who was at the time in charge, and who at the same time found himself quite unexpectedly with the means, surplus troops, so to carry out his will; well, -- as an explanation, this is just too simple. It is history's conclusion, that The Seven Years War was to have greater results on the history of the world and brought greater triumphs to England then any other war.19 No one knew this at the beginning of it, nor can anyone lay out the exact formula for such an English success. Anyone of us might point to an ingredient, many ingredients, and I shall attempt to do so in my next part; but one ingredient that will make the list for sure, is this: key military officers take precautions, which, a couple of hundred years later, as we sit in our comfortable arm chairs, we might describe as being cruel.


[NEXT: ACADIA: Part 7 - "The Second Siege of Louisbourg: 1758."]

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