In 1603 a small group of French merchants formed
a company to which the King of France granted a monopoly
for all the fur trade in the Gulf of St Lawrence region.
As soon as winter broke, they left France on a three month crossing
to the new world. In early summer of 1604, their vessels approached the
southern end of Nova Scotia (this was called Acadia by the French) and established
a settlement on an island at the mouth of the St Croix River. Many
did not survive the tremendous chore of building homes and growing enough
food to endure the coming winter.
The first winter claimed many lives from
scurvy because food, good drinking water and shelter were scarce. In the
Spring of 1605 these settlers moved across the Bay of Fundy and established
a permanent community called Port Royal. Port Royal was the beginning
of Canadian Acadian history. The settlers built a mill and planted gardens
with the seeds and plants brought in from France. One must realize the
sacrifice these people made by saving these seeds and plant through the winter
Samuel de Champlain was the community's first
leader and he established "The Order of Good
Cheer". This was a way of life where everyone in the community worked
together as one big family (possibly the first "Canadian commune") and took turns at preparing the food. When it came to be your turn to
gather and prepare the food, you wore a golden chain.
Meals were eaten as one huge family and were accompanied
by song, stories and ceremony. In this way, the new
settlers practiced their heritage and handed down their homeland customs to
their children. This practice not only made for very efficient use of time and material but made the community very close knit with little
room for dissension.
The main purpose for making the ocean voyage, in
the first place, was to trap and export furs. Since Port
Royal was really not in the deep woods and not conducive
to the trapping of furs, Champlain went further inland. In 1608 he established
a settlement in what is today Quebec City. This location was not only
ideal for the "Rendezvous" that the trappers needed but was a good location for a strong defense because of the narrowing of the
river with its high bluffs.
In 1613, Port Royal was attacked by a raiding
party from Virginia and destroyed. Thus Port Royal passed
into the hands of the British. In 1621, a Scottish
nobleman reestablished Port Royal and changed the name from Acadia to
Nova Scotia, which meant New Scotland. The French regained the territory in
1632 and for the next three hundred and fifty years the Acadian French participated
in the establishment and expansion of Canadian history. Acadia switched
between French and British rule many times during the period following
In 1629 war broke out between the French and
English and this lasted until 1632. Every time France and
England went to war in Europe, the English in the American
colonies would send contingents of men to attack the Acadian population.
The peace minded Acadians endured many of these unprovoked attacks
from the English colonists. That explains the old adage that, "if you were a Catholic in Boston you could be shot without cause"
and the reverse was also true about non-Catholics in
Canada. Although carried off by the British, Champlain
returned to Quebec after peace had been restored and remained
there until his death in 1635. When Champlain returned to Quebec, he found
that the wars had decimated the population which now was only about one hundred. Neutral Acadians.
The Acadians had always resisted taking oaths of
allegiance to England and this made them known as the
"neutral French". Because many of them had taken this
oath, it made them unpopular with the French. So, these neutral peoples were
not thought of as a threat by either side but, at the same time, were not
considered loyal by either. It put the Acadians in the middle of the struggle
that developed. New France kept trying to instigate the Acadians and
the Indians against the English and the English were always fearful that the
Acadians would declare their loyalty to the French. Without the English government's
knowledge, the governor of Nova Scotia, Gabriel Dangeac, decided to
solve the problem by removing the Acadians from their homes and force them from the colony.
The expulsion of the Acadians began in the summer
of 1755. Troops marched into the villages and the people
were called to be told of their fate. They were asked to
assemble in the churches and other places of assembly on the ruse
that they were to receive special instruction. No weapons were allowed in
the churches and in the assembly halls so they were left outside. Once inside,
the villagers were unarmed and defenseless. Ships had been prepared and
hundreds were forced onto them without warning. Families were destroyed and
no attention was paid to whether one was loyal or not. The Acadians were scattered
from Salem Massachusetts to Savannah Georgia and to France and England.
There were about 7,000 Acadians deported by the order of Colonel Charles
Lawrence and between 1755 and 1762 several thousand more were deported
It is odd to find that such good records of the
numbers deported were kept.
1500 were deported to Virginia
450 were deported to Pennsylvania
2000 sent to Massachusetts
1027 bound for South Carolina but some departed
900 to Connecticut
250 to Maryland
450 to Georgia
No Acadians were deported from Acadia directly to
Louisiana. The old story of Evangeline which relates an
exile to New Orleans is fictional but based on facts of
the deportation. Any Acadians who ended up in Louisiana got there after
having been deported to the French Indies, France or England and then found
their way to New Orleans.
Upon their arrival at the ports where they were
"dumped" off, they quickly assembled in small
groups to attempt at recapturing their lives and regrouping
their families. They were not wanted by the people among which they
were deposited and they were forbidden to form large groups. This forced
them into small clusters among which an information pipeline was formed
to pass word along as to who was where and what was happening. This news
highway soon became highly developed with information being passed among the
colonies and by ship's sailors to other parts of the continent. It can be
said, with a high degree of reliability, that, from the day of deposit on strange shores, the Acadians continually attempted at regrouping
and going back to the homeland they had been exiled from.
By Spring of 1756 an underground highway leading
north (perhaps the model for the Negro underground
railroad during the American civil war) had been established
with Acadians skirting the coastline of the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland,
Delaware and New Jersey. Some were intercepted in New York and Massachusetts
where their goods and water craft were confiscated and they were
sent to the interior of those states. This did not dissuade them as they
continued to migrate North toward a homeland that no longer wanted them.
These activities resulted in the State of
Massachusetts passing a law which said that French
Neutrals living in large groups was a danger to the colony and,
when that happened, they were to be dispersed into small clusters among many
communities. A second law made it illegal for Acadians to cross the town
lines of the communities they were sent to which did not allow them to leave
those towns and therefore restricted their movements. Even these laws did
not discourage the constant attempts to go North.
By 1763 the King of France had been informed of
the fate that had been dealt to the Acadian population.
During the negotiations of the Treaty of Paris, the French
King claimed the Acadians as his loyal subjects. As a result, an announcement
was made that he would send boats to gather the Acadians and bring
them to France. The highly developed information highway spread this news
like lightning and this was the reason Acadians disregarded any laws restricting
their movement. They left their temporary homes and traveled toward
A group of Acadians, led by Jacques Vigneault,
hired a ship and departed from Boston and, on October 1,
1763, they landed on the shores of Miquelon Island. These
Acadians had the surnames of Vigneault, Hebert, Cyr, Cormier, Bourgeois,
Theriault and Leblanc. This group was followed by another with the
names of Arsenault, Bertrand, Blanchard, Boudreau, Bourgeois, Chiasson, Comeau
and Cormier. More groups followed carrying back the names of Beliveau,
Blanchard, Boudreau, Chiasson, Comeau, Deveau, Doucet, Lapierre, Bonnevie,
Brault, Bourg, Hebert, Gaudet, Gousman, Nuirat, Onel, Poirier, Damours,
Dugas, Landry, Gaudet, Gauthier, Guedry, Goguen, Guibault, Moise, Pitre,
Richard and Renaud dit Provencal.
All of this history of the Acadians should give
the reader the feeling of community and togetherness that
the Acadians developed. One does not miss something nearly
enough until one has suffered the loss of it. These terrible
ordeals and times that Acadians lived through forced them to suffer the
loss of family, family records, their heritage and homeland. The survivors
and all who finally came back to Acadia, and later settled further West
in Maine and New Brunswick, had an inbred instinct for family and closeness
of community never before shared by anyone. This can be seen even in
the 20th century in settlements in New Hampshire, Connecticut and other states.
One after another, families joined those who ventured to establish themselves
in other territories until, more often than not, the entire family was
again reunited at the new location.
This Acadian heritage is important as it plays
a great part in the lives of those who settled Van Buren,
Maine, Grand Falls, New Brunswick and the entire St John