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CANNIFF, WILLIAM – Volume XIII (1901-1910)

d. 18 Oct. 1910 in Belleville, Ont.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

The Acadians (cont.)

Acadian strategy had been built up over nearly a century, had proven successful, and hence was confirmed after 1748 on the assumption that no major change in it was required to meet the circumstances of the day. During the 1660s, the time of Thomas Temple and William Crowne*, the Acadians had been made aware of plans for their deportation – which came to naught. Visitation by the English after 1671 resulted in oaths sworn to whoever held the English crown, as for example that to William and Mary, reported by Joseph Robinau* de Villebon to the Marquis de Chevry in 1690. From 1710 on, the Acadians were repeatedly threatened with deportation and were repeatedly requested to swear oaths they found unnecessarily restrictive. The oaths they did proffer were apparently accepted by British officials and they themselves were left unmolested on their lands. The arrival of Edward Cornwallis in 1749 as governor of the colony led, in Acadian eyes, to the customary conversation about an oath, the expected threat of deportation for non-compliance, their response of loyalty qualified by neutrality, and the expected result of acceptance by default – of being left in tranquillity. It is true that Halifax had been founded but to the Acadians it was a most unprepossessing town, where, in the words of a contemporary, one half of the population lived by selling rum to the rest. Certainly it was as nothing when compared to Louisbourg. The new immigrants gathered together at Lunenburg could be ignored with equal ease, since they tended to desert and join the French and those remaining in Nova Scotia showed little evidence of strength. Even though violence became more and more prominent in Acadian lives with the activities of Jean-Louis Le Loutre and his Indians, it was sporadic in nature and did not appear to dictate a major change of Acadian policy.

It is appropriate to emphasize that the Acadians, as a collectivity, did not waver during the 1740s from the policy they had evolved a generation earlier. A letter signed on 13 Oct. 1744 by the leaders of Minas, Rivière‑aux‑Canards (near Canard), Pisiquid, and the “neighbouring rivers” refused grain and meat to the French troops under François Du Pont Duvivier and then continued: “We are under a mild and peaceful government with which we have every reason to be content, we hope that you will not divide us from it and that you will do us the kindness of not plunging us into dire want.” One might argue the sincerity of this letter and whether or not it was more than a safeguard for villagers left to British mercies after Duvivier’s failure to capture Annapolis Royal. However, it was used by the defence during the investigations into the conduct of those officers charged with waging war incompetently against the British [see Michel de Gannes* de Falaise]. Such officers protested that the expedition could not have succeeded without Acadian aid and that not only was such aid not forthcoming but some of the priests, such as Jean-Baptiste de Gay* Desenclaves at Annapolis Royal and Claude-Jean-Baptiste Chauvreulx* at Pisiquid, openly discouraged the Acadians from contemplating any activity that would assist the French.

In the light of this evidence and of Mascarene’s reports to London, both during the hostilities of 1744 and in succeeding years, concerning the Acadians’ support for the British, the actions of men such as Joseph-Nicolas Gautier*, dit Bellair, and Joseph Leblanc, dit Le Maigre, become the actions of, at best, an unsuccessful minority. Even with French troops actually in Grand Pré, the villagers would not unequivocally join their cause. Whatever following Joseph Brossard*, dit Beausoleil, and the others had, it did not include the majority of the farmers and their families. The loyalties of the Acadians were akin to those of the people of Alsace-Lorraine, mixed and centred above all in a wish for life without war.

What the Acadians did not grasp until too late was the new importance placed upon their lands after 1748. At the discussions which followed the signing of the treaty of Aix-la‑Chapelle that year the British stated that the limits of Acadia or Nova Scotia were “the most important point to be Determin’d for settling the same Tranquillity in America as had been so happily established in Europe.” The colony had now become not merely a junction of two jurisdictions but a place for rival empires to confront one another. The inability of the Acadians to perceive the new importance of their territory was matched by their inability to recognize the difference in force and character of the men who became responsible for the government of the colony. Cornwallis, Peregrine Thomas Hopson*, and Charles Lawrence* were people of much different political capacities than Philipps, Armstrong, and Mascarene. Above all, the Acadians seem to have been unable to comprehend what government by Colonel Lawrence, who was experienced only as a soldier in the field, would demand in terms of diplomacy. For so long, part of Acadian experience had been the political ability of Mascarene, who believed in the art of the possible and could write of Acadian difficulties in 1744 with the following sense of sympathy: “The French Inhabitants as soon as the Indians withdrew from us brought us Provisions and continue to testifie their resolution to keep to their fidelity as long as we keep this Fort. Two Deputies arriv’d yesterday from Mainis, who have brot me a Paper containing an association sign’d by most of the Inhabitants of that place to prevent Cattle being transported to Louisbourg according to the Prohibition sent them from hence. The french Inhabitants are certainly in a very perillous Situation, those who pretend to be their Friends and old Masters having let loose a parcell of Banditti to plunder them, whilst on the other hand they see themselves threatened with ruin & Destruction, if they fail in their allegiance to the British Government.” Lawrence, on the other hand, looked upon the Acadian tradition of petition and remonstrance as “Presumption” and considered Acadian attempts to inform him of their attitude utterly unacceptable. Mascarene could regard the Acadians as a people of ordinary human complexity; Lawrence was unable to distinguish in them any distinctive features save a treasonable unwillingness to declare unequivocal loyalty, underlined by their French speech and Catholic beliefs, both traits naturally linking them with the enemy.

Guy Frégault*, in La guerre de La Conquête (1955), summarizes the deportation of the Acadians in 1755 as an act of war, essential for the proper colonization of Nova Scotia to render it a part of the British empire as that polity entered the final stages of the Anglo-French struggle for the domination of North America. It is tempting to set about the elaboration and refinement of this theory, but it is sufficient here to say that the deportation took place during a period of war and that it was defended by those who carried it out as a military operation, a necessity for the defence of the colony.

For the Acadians the events of the year 1755 itself provided undeniable evidence of a new firmness of purpose and commitment of resource on the part of the officials in Halifax. First to feel the impact of the policy were the inhabitants of the Minas area, requested in the spring of that year to surrender boats and guns to a force sent out by Captain Alexander Murray* at Fort Edward (Windsor). While complying with this request the inhabitants sent a petition on 10 June to Halifax arguing against it. Within the next seven days Fort Beauséjour (near Sackville, N.B.) was successfully attacked and captured by Robert Monckton, the French garrison under Louis Du Pont Duchambon de Vergor leaving on 17 June. Shortly thereafter the Acadians of the Chignecto Isthmus were required to bring in their arms, a demand with which the communities in question complied by the 25th of the month. Lieutenant Governor Lawrence and the members of the ruling Council of the colony were now sufficiently heartened by success to attempt to bring the Acadians, once and for all, to a declaration of unequivocal allegiance to British interests. War in America having begun, this decision seems reasonable enough.

The Council meeting of 3 July 1755 had as its business the discussion of the petition presented by the inhabitants of Minas. It provided the necessary opportunity for a demonstration to a significant part of the Acadian population of the rigour now intended. The minutes of this meeting were published first by Thomas Beamish Akins* in Acadia and Nova Scotia (1869). In the more than 200 works published since the middle of the 19th century about the deportation this meeting has been seen not merely as a decisive confrontation between the Acadians and the officials of the province but also as one revealing the essential nature of the conflict. Colonel Lawrence and the Council are presented as men secure in the knowledge of their own right, skilled in oratory, organized in policy, and speaking from a position of undoubted strength. The Acadians, on the other hand, are a “simple peasantry,” of a different order of sophistication if not of intelligence than their interlocutors, and, in Brebner’s words, “harshly questioned and inexcusably bullied” during the discussion.

There is no doubt that the meeting was crucial in the development of the events leading up to the deportation. What is in doubt is the interpretation of the meeting as a clash between the strong and organized and the weak and unprepared. The position of the lieutenant governor and Council was based upon fear, not strength and certitude. They knew just how weak the general British situation was, and they believed that the colony in which they lived was peopled primarily by inhabitants whose loyalty to British interests was still an open question. The Acadians pointed out that they had remained neutral in past hostilities and that no oath could bind unless the will to keep it was present. In other words, they argued confidently from a sense of their own undoubted, unquestionable ownership of the lands on which they lived, their sense of being in “their own, their native land,” and from a total disbelief in the reality of any deportation threat.

As the months went by, the Acadians became less confident, the colonial officials more so. The arrival in Halifax on 9 July 1755 of a naval squadron under the command of Vice‑Admiral Edward Boscawen* gave Nova Scotian officials a reinforcement of undoubted strength. Boscawen and his second-in-command, Rear‑Admiral Savage Mostyn, attended Council meetings, and by 18 July the lieutenant governor could write to his superiors in England that he was determined to obtain an unqualified oath of allegiance from the Acadians. The last days of the month saw the opposing sides reach the position most often attributed to them in its opening days: Lawrence and the Council arriving, with the support of the fleet, at a decisive policy to which they had become fully committed and which they had confidence they could implement; the Acadians, on the other hand, losing their sense of security and for the first time confused about the prospect of deportation. The final, written petitions of the Acadians, which reached the lieutenant governor and Council on 25 July, contained repetitions of their belief in their rectitude, that from Annapolis River expostulating: “We have unanimously consented to deliver up our fire arms to Mr [John Handfield*], our very worthy commander, although we have never had any desire to make use of them against his majesty’s government. We have therefore nothing to reproach ourselves with, either on that subject, or on the subject of the fidelity that we owe to His Majesty’s government.” Such an argument, however, was insufficient to convince their opponents of their reliability. The final meeting between Acadian and official on Monday morning, 28 July 1755, resulted in the unanimous decision by lieutenant governor and Council to distribute the Acadians “amongst the several Colonies on the Continent” and to hire “a sufficient Number of Vessels … with all possible Expedition for that purpose.”

The organization of the deportation over the next months was based on explicit instructions drawn up by the lieutenant governor. The meticulous specification by Colonel Lawrence of the amount of food to be provided on board ship for each Acadian has been seen by the French historian Émile Lauvrière, writing his history of the Acadians in the early 1920s, as the mark of total callousness: “Only a criminal soul,” he wrote, “could devise such a plot in all its details.” Brebner, however, writing in North America at much the same time, concluded from reading the same document that “Lawrence had attempted in the beginning to be very painstaking in preparation and, by contemporary standards, careful to provide adequate ship room for his victims, allotting two persons to a shipping ton, and allowing methodically for their provisioning from captured food-stuffs with necessary supplement from Halifax.” For the Acadians, however, whatever the motive the result was the same: the destruction of their society, the elimination of their communities, their exile to foreign lands.

The actual dimension of this catastrophe has been a matter of considerable debate but the work of A. H. Clark has helped to set the probable limits. He has shown that the Acadian population in 1755 could not have been less than 10,000 and was probably closer to 12,000. The majority of those exiled, numbering about 7,000, were sent away in 1755 and another 2,000–3,000 people were deported before the policy was officially abandoned. For once the lieutenant governor and Council of Nova Scotia had finally decided upon the deportation of the Acadians in 1755, it became a matter of policy, a decision to be carried to its logical conclusion. The rounding up of Acadians continued until 1762. The fall of Louisbourg in 1758 saw particularly vigorous measures. Some 700 Acadians from Île Saint-Jean were put on board the Duke William and the Violet, their destination England. Both ships sank in the English Channel, and there were but few survivors [see Jacques Girard].

In 1761 there was some chance that the policy might be brought to an end. Responding that year to a request from Jonathan Belcher, Lawrence’s successor as lieutenant governor, Major-General Jeffery Amherst denied the Nova Scotia government permission to send a number of Acadians into exile in Massachusetts without authority from London. However, news of Charles-Henri-Louis d’Arsac de Ternay’s capture of St John’s, Newfoundland, in June 1762 so aroused fears in Nova Scotia that Belcher was moved to ignore these instructions. On 18 August he sent transports with some hundred Acadians to Boston, from which port they were returned to Nova Scotia at the end of September. This abortive shipment marked the end of the official policy of deportation.

The actual terms of the peace concluded in 1763 were not seen in Nova Scotia as granting Acadians the legal right to settle there. This right was, however, granted the following year. Lieutenant Governor Montagu Wilmot* arrived to take charge of the colony in September 1763 to discover that a French Protestant, Jacques Robin, had plans to gather the remnants of the Acadians together. He had written to the leading persons among them, according to the report that Wilmot sent to London, “inviting them in the strongest terms from all quarters, wherever dispersed, to collect themselves at Mirimichi.” Wilmot pointed out to the authorities in London that such a plan would probably have dangerous consequences for the security of the province. On 16 July 1764 the Lords of Trade informed Wilmot that he should allow the Acadians to settle in Nova Scotia, provided they took the oath of allegiance.

Nine years after the transports had left with the first Acadians to be sent into exile there were yet Acadians in the colony, a nucleus for the development of a reconstituted Acadian society. Representatives of some 165 families came forward to take the oath, a community apparently of less than 1,000 spread throughout the colony. Uncounted were the Acadians who did not come forward, including those settled at Saint‑Basile on the upper Saint John River, those in the woods around the Miramichi, and scattered families in Cape Breton and St John’s Island (formerly Île Saint-Jean). Some 30 families were still in Halifax, and each of the following places reported in the neighbourhood of ten families: St Margaret’s Bay, Chester, Lunenburg, Dublin, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Barrington, Annapolis Royal, Montagu, Cornwallis, Horton (Wolfville region), Falmouth, and Newport. The oath exacted of the Acadians was in stern contrast to earlier oaths, with their implication of the right of neutrality. The new oath was explicit, lengthy, and altogether a message to the Acadians of how decisively their lives had changed. It read: “I do swear that I will bear faithfull and true Allegiance to His most Sacred Brittannick Majesty King George the Third and him will defend to the utmost of my power against all traitorous Conspiracies and all Attempts whatsoever against his person, Crown and Dignity. And I will do my utmost Endeavours to disclose or make known to His Majesty and his Successors, all Treason and traitorous Conspiracies, or any attempts whatever which I shall know to be against him or any of them. And these things I do plainly and sincerely promise and Swear, according to the express Words by me Spoken and according to the plain and Common Sense understanding of these same words, without any Equivocation, mental Evasion or secret Reservation whatsoever; And I do make this Acknowledgement and promise heartily, willingly and truly upon the true Faith of a Christian, So help me God.”

The ensuing years were to demonstrate how fundamentally the position of the Acadians had been altered. France no longer was a presence in the region, and at the same time the demography of what had been Acadia changed radically. The Acadians, once the predominant European inhabitants, were overwhelmed by other groups to whom were assigned the most favoured localities, including the ancient Acadian lands. Prior to 1764 New Englanders in large numbers had occupied the Annapolis valley and the Nova Scotian south shore. Before the American revolution, these newcomers were supplemented by settlement from Yorkshire in the Chignecto Isthmus and by the beginnings of the massive movement of Scots to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. The revolution and its aftermath brought a major influx of loyalists to Nova Scotia and to what became the loyalist province of New Brunswick. In the new political configuration of the second British empire, the Acadians were a minority in every colony, a minority moreover with no cultural and little religious affinity with the many groups of new settlers.

In these circumstances the political leverage the Acadians once possessed vanished utterly. Their difficulties were compounded by the grant of representative government to the several colonies of the region. In former times the Acadians had been able to bargain with the governor or with his appointed councillors; the emergence of legislative assemblies, beginning with Nova Scotia in 1758, meant the total exclusion of the Acadians from the ordinary political processes of all the colonies. Their Catholicism, their demographic weakness, and their unfamiliarity with the forms and procedures of British colonial rule barred them from office and from influence upon office-holders. Moreover, to assemblymen and councillors dedicated to the building of commercial, expansive, new societies the Acadians were a negligible quantity, ranking somewhere between Europeans and Indians. Their fate was symbolized by the summary ejection of Acadian families from fertile intervale land in New Brunswick; as Edward Winslow* put it in 1785, “a number of Frenchmen … have been most unjustly ousted from their land.” These families, and others like them, retreated or were shoved to the peripheral lands of the colonies, and to an existence isolated from the mainstream of colonial life.

But in spite of all that had happened and was happening to them, in the last decades of the 18th century the Acadians succeeded in reconstituting themselves as a distinct people. The nucleus of the new Acadian community was the minority that had evaded deportation. Some, the Acadian families in Annapolis Royal and Halifax, for example, had survived because they were useful, or simply because of the humane feelings of people in the vicinity. Neither the hewers of wood in Annapolis nor the inmates of charity hospitals in Halifax posed a threat; they were suffered to stay. Then there were the escapees, such as those who had been imprisoned in Fort Lawrence (near Amherst, N.S.) in late September 1755. Monckton recounted the story to John Winslow in October of that year: “Eighty-six men,” he wrote, “got away … by making a Hole under Ground from the Barrack through the South curtain, about thirty feet. It is worse,” he noted, “because they are all People whose Wives were not come in and of Chipoudi [Shepody], Pitcoudiack [Petitcodiac], and Memramcook.” This particular group moved north and later established themselves at Caraquet, spending the years between 1755 and the late 1760s as much hiding in the forests as attempting settlement. The third general category of Acadians who escaped exile were those who were actually embarked but who either captured the ship they were on and returned immediately or, once landed in the colony of exile, immediately obtained a vessel and sailed back. Still others, such as Alexis Landry, had managed to avoid capture altogether and had taken refuge in remote areas.

To these groups were added the returning Acadians, coming back from Quebec, from Massachusetts and other colonies as far south as Georgia, from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, as well as from across the Atlantic, from the Channel Islands and France. The final numbers of such Acadians were pitifully small, compared with the numbers who had sailed into exile. Exposure to diseases that had been practically unknown to them before 1755, smallpox, typhoid, yellow fever, accounted for at least a third of those deported. Perhaps another third made their way to Louisiana (either via South Carolina and Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola) or via Virginia, England, and France) and remained there permanently. The ordinary hazards of life, plus the harsh conditions of exile, also took their toll. Nevertheless, a significant number not only survived what the Acadians christened the great upheaval, “le grand dérangement,” but made their way back to Nova Scotia. Once arrived they found their old lands resettled and government restrictions placed upon where they might live. They could move north to where those who had remained were most firmly ensconced, to lands much less fertile and subject to harsher climates than their old properties. They could join the tiny enclaves of Acadians that remained on Cape Breton and St John’s islands. They could attach themselves to those communities within the peninsula of Nova Scotia that were in places newly set aside for them.

The most important of the last named was brought into being by government warrant in 1767: St Mary’s Bay, the township of Clare, now in Digby County. Its inhabitants had been collected together from all parts of the province, but particularly from the environs of Halifax. In 1768 the first of several groups from Massachusetts joined the growing settlement, although many of those who had been exiled to that colony went to Quebec rather than return to Nova Scotia [see Louis Robichaux]. During the next decade there was a steady stream of returning wanderers, among them Guillaume Jeanson, Pierre Le Blanc, and Pierre Doucet. In general, those who had gone to other British North American colonies joined settlements in Nova Scotia, those who had crossed the Atlantic settled along the coastline of what became New Brunswick in 1784 or joined villages in what would be Prince Edward Island after 1798, and those who had been in Quebec and some parts of northern Maine added themselves to the community of Saint-Basile. By 1771 the number of Acadian families reported within the peninsula, along the north shore of the Bay of Fundy, and on the Atlantic coast of New Brunswick was 193. By 1800 the Acadians of Nova Scotia alone numbered an astonishing 8,000. At this point the further increase of the Acadians within the Maritimes was due to the preponderance of births over deaths rather than to the return of exiles.

The re-establishment of the Acadians between 1764 and 1800 meant the organization of the Acadian people in a new context, their adaptation to a new environment, politically, socially, and economically. This necessity, together with the impact upon them of the experiences of the deportation, resulted in changes not only in their style of life but also in several of the characteristics which had distinguished them before the deportation. The most outstanding of such traits was their sense of themselves as a family. Kinship lines, the demands of relatives, were as important as ever to the Acadian people. But whereas before 1755 these had encouraged the expansion and development of the Acadian communities, after 1764 the Acadian family was the encircling, protective unit. Before and during the deportation the Acadians had shown a capacity to assimilate people of varying backgrounds, building into their society contributions from the English and the Indian as well as from many parts of France. After the deportation those who associated with them noted their desire to remain, as Moses Delesdernier* commented, in “almost an inviolate Separation from all other classes of People.”

In the same way, their attitude towards religion altered. Before 1755 their Catholic belief had been one feature of many in their mental landscape. After 1764 the reliance upon the institutions of Catholicism became more and more marked. This was partly because most of the Acadian villages were left without any civil authority, no magistrates being appointed for their governance, nor any form of municipal authority established. During the 17th century the governance of the Acadian settlements had evolved in an interplay between the authorities, English or French, and the inhabitants, the latter establishing internal controls through kinship ties. From 1710 until 1763 the system of sending delegates to the authorities in Annapolis Royal and in Halifax was part of the structure of Acadian life. But after 1763 those who ruled could afford to ignore the Acadians. The lack of validation of the Acadian community through endorsement from without was matched by a lack of cohesiveness within. The vast majority of settlements were but collections of survivors, brought together by chance rather than the intention to establish a new community, saddened by the absence of the loved and lost rather than invigorated by building new lives with chosen partners. To found Memramcook in the 17th century had been to set out as a group of young families, knowing that grandparents left behind were well established and confident that hard work would soon build a respectable community. To re-establish Memramcook after 1763 was to return with the bewildering experience of the deportation a constant memory, with little surety of entitlement to hold lands cleared, and with sorrows for relatives and friends lost. In this situation the priests came to exercise a much more central role in Acadian society, providing spiritual comfort to shattered families and organizing communities to settle internal disputes.

Abbé Jean-Mandé Sigogne*, for example, laid down rules of behaviour for his own community of St Mary’s Bay. A native of France, he had left his country as a result of the revolution and in 1799 came to Nova Scotia, a priest of 36 years of age. For the next 45 years Sigogne strove to improve the lives of his parishioners. Within a year of his arrival he had drawn up his “Articles for the regulation of life,” dealing not only with the conduct expected at mass but also with the best method of settling family disputes; by 1809 his precepts were followed throughout the Acadian settlements in Nova Scotia. In 1806 Sigogne was named a justice of the peace for Clare, a position which helped him both in his long struggle to provide his parishioners with schools and in his encouragement of Acadian commercial enterprises. His work was not an isolated matter. As the 19th century progressed, the work of the priests became central to the life of the Acadian communities, and Acadian culture was centred far more thoroughly in the tenets of Catholic institutions than it had been in the past.

Again, if one considers the economic life of the Acadians it is both linked to their past experience and greatly changed. Hunting, fishing, farming, trade, a little smuggling had been the pillars of an economy which had allowed the Acadians to sustain an extraordinary population growth and to believe themselves wealthy. Now their lives were bound up with much the same pursuits but to a very different result. The development of the lumbering industry in the Maritimes, the growth of an industrial and urban society, meant that the concentration of the Acadians upon their traditional occupations resulted in their poverty. Instead of being successful villagers, their lives most comfortable in comparison with the migratory Indians, the Acadians had become visibly less wealthy than most of their neighbours.

As the 18th century drew to a close, however, the most outstanding fact in the lives of the Acadians was the deportation itself, what they knew and believed it had destroyed, what experiences it had brought to them, what it implied for their future existence. As the years passed, the pre-1755 era seemed, especially in contrast to existing circumstances, to have been not Acadia but Arcadia, the closest thing possible to paradise on earth. All squabbles overlooked, all hardships forgotten, the time always summer, the light the late afternoon, the community never split by property disagreements or disturbed by accusations of witchcraft, pre-deportation had been the best of times. Further, partly because of the Acadians’ engulfment by a majority of English speaking peoples, partly because of the truth – that the majority of the Acadian population had indeed gone into exile without violent protest – it was now believed this paradise had been unjustly lost. The policy of neutrality which the Acadians had preserved until 1755 led them to create the myth of themselves as sinless victims, the British as somewhat stupid criminals. The Acadians came quickly to the conviction that they had done nothing to warrant their expulsion. During the 19th century the tradition of their Catholic belief emphasized the necessity of forgiving one’s enemies as well as the glories attendant upon suffering nobly the slings and arrows of the world. As a result, the Acadian myth of the deportation demanded some form of forgiveness of those who had so cruelly, so unjustly brought suffering upon them.

If paradise unjustly lost was one aspect of the Acadian reaction to the deportation, another, quite as important, was their shared experience of it. Dr Andrew Brown*, the Edinburgh preacher and physician who visited Nova Scotia at the close of the century and who brought together a considerable record of Acadian life in the 18th century, noted their habit of gathering in the evening to re-tell their experiences. He also recorded their talent for dramatic flair and mimicry, for comparing the attitudes and gestures of Protestant divines attempting their conversion in Massachusetts with like gestures of the Quaker citizens of Pennsylvania, also interested in converting them. Such practices would both unite the Acadians and place a considerable barrier between them and other groups. But what above all was produced by this exercise was a knowledge within the Acadians themselves of their capacity to endure.

Those who came back from South Carolina had been sent into exile on board ships, such as the Cornwallis, where more than half of those embarked died before they even reached their destination. Those who returned from Philadelphia had watched smallpox kill more than a third of the Acadians sent there. Those who came back from Massachusetts had known attempts to cope with the exiles that had involved separation of parent and child, the adults sent to farms and the young indentured as servants. Those who returned from across the Atlantic would relate the experiences of dealing with one set of officials after another and of finding it quite possible to correspond with one another across frontiers, even with the nations in question at war. Whatever else the deportation had brought to the Acadians it had also instilled into them a conviction of their own capacity for survival. It is a conviction that has not yet been proven false.


The Centre d’études acadiennes at the Université de Moncton is the logical place to begin a study of the Acadians, either through work at the centre itself or with the aid of the bibliographies of Acadian material which it has published. Developed during the late 1960s out of the Archives acadiennes, whose documents the university had inherited from the Collège Saint‑Joseph, the CÉA set about gathering all available documentation concerning the Acadian people, in the original where possible and by the appropriate means of copying where necessary. In 1975 it published the first volume of a proposed three-volume study entitled Inventaire général des sources documentaires sur les Acadiens (Moncton, N.‑B.). Subtitled Les sources premières, les archives, this volume not only describes those documents which the CÉA now possesses but also attempts to note material held elsewhere. Its organization is idiosyncratic but it serves to introduce the scholar to the richness of primary sources for Acadian history. In 1977 the second volume appeared, subtitled Bibliographie acadienne, liste des volumes, brochures et thèses concernant l’Acadie et les Acadiens des débuts à 1975. Once more, the organization needs a certain amount of study before its plan becomes apparent, but the volume is an invaluable introduction to the wealth of secondary source material on Acadian matters.

Among thematic studies, Brebner’s New England’s outpost is the clearest account in English of the political and diplomatic history of the Acadians until 1755. In French, the first volume of Robert Rumilly’s Histoire des Acadiens (2v., Montréal, 1955) recounts events lucidly. In 1968 Clark published his Acadia, an excellent work which presents with great detail the economic development of the Acadians during the years leading up to the deportation. N. [E. S.] Griffiths, The Acadians: creation of a people (Toronto, 1973), outlines the evolution of the Acadian identity. The study by the French scholar Geneviève Massignon, Les parlers français d’Acadie … (2v., Paris, [1962]), is an exhaustive examination of Acadian speech patterns and their roots. Its volumes not only explore the relationship between the dialects of France, Quebec, and Acadia but also give a well-organized analysis of the historical influences that shaped Acadian speech patterns. Antonine Maillet’s work, Rabelais et les traditions populaires en Acadie (Québec, 1971), examines the root of much Acadian folklore, and its introduction presents a powerful overview of the course of Acadian history through three centuries.

The religious history of the Acadians has yet to be written, although there are a number of works concerned with particular aspects of it. Nineteenth-century historians in particular produced works such as H.‑R. Casgrain’s Les sulpiciens et les prêtres des Missions-Étrangères en Acadie (1676–1762) (Québec, 1897), but there has as yet been no exhaustive work on the complex matter of religion. Acadian literature has been well documented, if not yet studied and analysed, in the work edited by Marguerite Maillet et al., entitled Anthologie de textes littéraires acadiens (Moncton, 1979).

What might be called the external relations of the Acadians, the society’s connections with New England and with Quebec, has been the focus of a number of doctoral dissertations now in the process of publication. That of Jean Daigle, “Nos amis les ennemis: relations commerciales de l’Acadie avec le Massachusetts, 1670–1711” (University of Maine, Orono, 1975), is centred upon the relations between Acadia and New England at the close of the 17th century; that of J. G. Reid, “Acadia, Maine and New Scotland: marginal colonies in the seventeenth century” (University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, 1976), is concerned with the earlier years of that century. G. A. Rawlyk’s Nova Scotia’s Massachusetts; a study of Massachusetts–Nova Scotia relations, 1630–1784 (Montreal and London, 1973) is a clear account of the major events in the period. There has not yet been a full examination of Quebec–Acadian relations, although [F.‑]E. Rameau de Saint-Père’s works, La France aux colonies: … Acadiens et canadiens (Paris, 1859) and Une colonie féodale en Amérique: l’Acadie (1604–1881) (2v., Paris et Montréal, 1889), are worth consulting on this subject.

It might be said that in many ways the deportation is the most important theme in Acadian history. By 1900 nearly 200 works had already been published about it. The intensity of the drama has been rendered best by Émile Lauvrière in La tragédie d’un peuple: histoire du peuple acadien, de ses origines à nos jours (3e éd., 2v., Paris, 1922). This account, written in florid language, makes the most thorough condemnation of the British. The work of Acadian historian Antoine Bernard, especially in his Le drame acadien depuis 1604 (Montréal, 1936), presents a less partisan view. In English the best short treatment is by A. G. Doughty, The Acadian exiles: a chronicle of the land of Evangeline (Toronto and Glasgow, 1920). The historiography of the deportation has been examined most recently by J.‑P. Hautecœur in L’Acadie du discours: pour une sociologie de la culture acadienne (Québec, 1975).



Dean of arts, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario.


N. E. S. Griffiths, “The Acadians, in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol.4. University of Toronto/Université Laval, 1980, http://admin.biographi.ca/en/special.php?project_id=49&p=27.


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