The deportation and dispersion of the French Neutrals from their Acadian homes at Grandpre, on the peninsula that projects into Minas Basin, Nova Scotia, was one of the most pitiful incidents in the French and Indian war, known as the American phase of the Seven Years' War. The region is familiar to Americans, through the epic of the poet Longfellow, as the Land of Evangeline. The district around Minas Basin was settled in the early years of the seventeenth century by immigrants from La Rochelle, Saintonge, and Poitou. During the wars between France and England the Acadians, as a Nova Scotian historian relates, "were strongly patriotic, and took up arms in the cause of their native land. Intensely devoted to the Roman Catholic Church, and considering these wars as in the nature of crusades, they fought valiantly and well. But when Nova Scotia was finally ceded to Great Britain (in 1713) their position became very awkward and painful. Many of them refused to take the oath of allegiance, and for others a modified formula was framed. Emissaries of the French power at Louisburg and Quebec circulated among them and maintained their loyalty to France at a fever heat, while their priests pursued the same policy and kept up the hostility to the conquerors. The British provincial government was located at Annapolis, and though its laws were mild and clement, it could not command respect on account of its physical weakness. Under these circumstances hundreds of Acadians joined the French armies during every war between the two powers, and proved dangerous foemen on account of their knowledge of the region. British settlers were unwilling to locate among these people on account of their racial hostility, and the fairest lands of the province were thus held by an alien and hostile population.
The expulsion and exile of the French Neutrals from their homes in Acadia - the region now included in the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick - are one of the saddest episodes in history. The occasion for their removal and dispersion was the alleged charge that they secretly took sides with their French compatriots against the English in every struggle on this continent between the two nations, each seeking supreme dominion in the New World, and were thus a constant menace to the English colonists on the seaboard. The trouble at this period was complicated by disputed boundary lines, the whole interior of the continent being claimed by France, while the English were shut in between the mountain ranges of the Alleghanies and the sea. But the English colonies would not be hemmed in either by nature or by France. Their hardy sons sought adventure and gain in the Far West, while not a few for this purpose pushed their way to the St. Lawrence and the Lakes by the water-ways and woodland valleys of the continent. The French, resenting this intrusion, began to erect a series of forts to mark the boundaries of their possessions and conserve the inland fur trade.
Already, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the first scene in the opening drama had been enacted at Louisburg. This stronghold in Cape Breton, which guarded the marine highway to New France, had surrendered in 1745 to the forces of England and her colonial levies on the Atlantic. French pride was hurt at this disaster and the loss of the important naval station in the gulf. To recover the lost prestige, Count de la Galissoniere was sent as governor to Canada. This nobleman's extravagant assumptions of the extent of the territorial possessions of New France, however, offended the English colonists and roused the jealousy of many of the Indian tribes. Nor was this feeling allayed when France, by the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, recovered Louisburg, and when her boundary commissioners claimed all the country north of the Bay of Fundy as not having been ceded to England by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), the inevitable result followed; hostilities between the two nations were precipitated in the valley of the Ohio by the persistent encroachment of the English.
English successes in other parts of the continent in some measure atoned for Braddock's defeat. Beausejour fell before an expeditionary force sent out from Massachusetts, while Dieskau was routed and made a prisoner near Lake George by Colonel (afterward Sir William) Johnson, in command of the colonial militia and a band of Mohawk warriors.
The command of the expedition against Beausejour, in the Acadian isthmus, to which the French still laid claim, had been given to Colonel Moncton, who, in the spring of 1755, sailed from Boston with forty-one vessels and two thousand men. Ill-manned by a few hundred refugees and a small body of soldiers it soon capitulated and was renamed Fort Cumberland. The Acadian peasants, on the beautiful shores of the Bay of Fundy, Canadian historians tell us, "were a simple, virtuous, and prosperous community," though other writers give them less favorable character, speaking of them as turbulent, aggressive, and meddlesome. With remarkable industry they had reclaimed from the sea by dikes many thousand of fertile acres, which produced abundant crops of grain and orchard fruits; and on the sea meadows at one time grazed as many as sixty thousand head of cattle. The simple wants of the peasants were supplied by domestic manufacture or by importations from Louisburg. So great was their attachment to the government and institutions of their fatherland that during the aggressions of the English after the conquest of the region a great part of the population - some ten thousand in number, it is said, though the figures are disputed - abandoned their homes and migrated to that portion of Acadia still claimed by the French, while others removed to Cape Breton or to Canada. About seven thousand still remained in the peninsula of Nova Scotia, but they claimed a political neutrality, resolutely refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the alien conquerors. They were accused of intriguing with their countrymen at Louisburg, with resisting the English authority, and with inciting, and even leading, the Indians to ravage the English settlements.
The cruel Micmacs needed little instigation. They swooped down on the little town of Dartmouth, opposite Halifax, and within gunshot of its forts, and reaped a rich harvest of scalps and booty. The English prisoners they sometimes sold at Louisburg for arms and ammunition. The Governor asserted that pure compassion was the motive of this traffic, in order to rescue the captives from massacre. He demanded, however, an excessive ransom for their liberation. The Indians were sometimes, indeed generally, it was asserted, led in these murderous raids by French commanders. These violations of neutrality, however, were chiefly the work of a few turbulent spirits. The mass of the Acadian peasants seem to have been a peaceful and inoffensive people, although they naturally sympathized with their countrymen, and rejoiced at the victory of Du Quesne, and sorrowed at the defeat of Lake George. They were, nevertheless, declared rebels and outlaws, and a council at Halifax, confounding the innocent with the guilty, decreed the expulsion of the entire French population.
The decision was promptly given effect. Ships soon appeared before the principal settlement in the Bay of Fundy. All the male inhabitants over ten years of age were summoned to hear the King's command. At Grandpre four hundred assembled in the village church, when the British officer read from the altar the decree of their exile. Resistance was impossible; armed soldiers guarded the door, and the men were imprisoned. They were marched at the bayonet's point, amid the wailings of their relatives, on board the transports. The women and children were shipped in other vessels. Families were scattered; husbands and wives separated - many never to meet again. Hundreds of comfortable homesteads and well-filled barns were ruthlessly given to the flames. A number, variously estimated at from three to seven thousand, were dispersed along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Georgia. Twelve hundred were carried to South Carolina. A few planted a New Acadia among their countrymen in Louisiana. Some sought to return to their blackened hearths, coasting in open boats along the shore. These were relentlessly intercepted when possible, and sent back into hopeless exile. An imperishable interest has been imparted to this sad story by Longfellow's beautiful poem Evangeline, which describes the sorrows and sufferings of some of the inhabitants of the little village of Grandpre.
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Source: NAC/ANC, Elgin-Grey Papers