Page images




[The country now known as Nova Scotia, and called formerly Acadie by the French, was in the hands of the French and English by turns until the year 1713, when, by the Peace of Utrecht, it was ceded by France to Great Britain, and has ever since remained in the possession of the English. But in 1713 the inhabitants of the peninsula were mostly French farmers and fishermen, living about Minas Basin and on Annapolis River, and the English government exercised only a nominal control over them. It was not until 1749 that the English themselves began to make settlements in the country, and that year they laid the foundations of the town of Halifax. A jealousy soon sprang up between the English and French settlers, which was deepened by the great conflict which was impending between the two mother countries; for the treaty of peace at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, which confirmed the English title to Nova Scotia, was scarcely more than a truce between the two powers which had been struggling for ascendency since the beginning of the century. The French engaged in a long controversy with the English respecting the boundaries of Acadie, which had been defined by the treaties in somewhat general terms, and intrigues were carried on with the Indians, who were gen. erally in sympathy with the French, for the annoyance of the English settlers. The Acadians were allied to the French by blood and by religion, but they claimed to have the rights of neutrals, and that these rights had been granted to them by previous English officers of the crown. The one point of special dispute was the oath of allegiance demanded of the Acadians by the English. This they refused to take, except in a form modified to excuse them from bearing arms against the French. The demand was repeatedly made, and evaded with constant ingenuity and persistency. Most of the Acadians were probably simple-minded and peaceful people who desired only to live undisturbed upon their farms; but there were some restless spirits, especially among the young men, who compromised the reputation of the community, and all were very much under the influence of their priests, some of whom made no secret of their bitter hostility to the English, and of their determination to use every means to be rid of them.

As the English interests grew and the critical relations between the two countries approached open warfare, the question of how to deal with the Acadian problem became the commanding one of the colony. There were some who coveted the rich farms of the Acadians; there were some who were inspired by religious hatred ; but the prevailing spirit was one of fear for themselves from the near presence of a community which, calling itself neutral, might at any time offer a convenient ground for hostile attack. Yet to require these people to withdraw to Canada or Louisburg would be to strengthen the hands of the French, and make these neutrals determined enemies. The colony finally resolved, without consulting the home government, to remove the Acadians to other parts of North America, distributing them through the col. onies in such a way as to preclude any concert amongst the scattered families by which they should return to Acadia. To do this required quick and secret preparations. There were at the service of the English governor a number of New England troops, brought thither for the capture of the forts lying in the debatable land about the head of the Bay of Fundy. These were under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Winslow, of Massachusetts, a great-grandson of Governor Edward Winslow of Plymouth, and to this gentleman and Captain Alexander Murray was intrusted the task of removal. They were instructed to use stratagem, if possible, to bring together the various families, but to prevent any from escaping to the woods. On the 2d of September, 1755, Winslow issued a written order, addressed to the inhabitants of Grand-Pré, Minas, River Canard, etc., ancient as young men and lads,” a proclamation summoning all the males to attend him in the church at Grand-Pré on the 5th instant, to hear a communication which the governor had sent. As there had been negotiations respecting the oath of allegiance, and much discussion as to the withdrawal of the Acadians from the country, though none as to their removal and dispersal, it was understood that this was an important meeting, and upon the day named four hundred and eighteen men and boys assembled in the church. Winslow, attended by his officers and men caused a guard to be placed round the church, and then announced to the people his majesty's decision that they were to be removed with their families out of the country. The church became at once a guard-house, and all the prisoners were under strict surveillance. At the same time similar plans had been carried out at Pisiquid under Captain Murray, and less successfully at Chignecto. Meanwhile there were whispers of a rising among the prisoners, and although the transports which had been ordered from Boston had not yet arrived, it was determined to make use of the vessels which had conveyed the troops, and remove the men to these for safer keeping. This was done on the 10th of September, and the men remained on the vessels in the harbor until the arrival of the transports, when these were made use of, and about three thousand souls sent out of the country to North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massa. chusetts. In the haste and confusion of sending them off, a haste which was increased by the anxiety of the officers to be rid of the distasteful business, and a confusion which was greater from the difference of tongues,

as well

many families were separated, and some at least never came together again. The story of Evangeline is the story of such a separation. The removal of the Acadians was a blot upon the government of Nova Scotia and upon that of Great Britain, which never disowned the deed, although it was probably done without direct permission or command from England. It proved to be unnecessary, but it must also be remembered that to many men at that time the English power seemed trembling before France, and that the colony at Halifax regarded the act as one of self-preservation.

The authorities for a historical inquiry into this subject are best seen in a volume published by the government of Nova Scotia at Halifax in 1869, entitled, Selections from the Public Documents of the Province of Nova Scotia ; edited by Thomas B. Akins, D. C. L., Commissioner of Public Records ; and in a manuscript journal kept by Colonel Winslow, now in the cabinet of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. At the State House in Boston are two volumes of records, entitled French Neutrals, which contain voluminous papers relating to the treatment of the Acadians who were sent to Massachusetts. Probably the work used by the poet in writing Evangeline was An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia, by Thomas C. Haliburton, who is best known as the author of The Clock-Maker ; or Tho

« PreviousContinue »