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The British in Acadia

Almost from the first England had advanced claims, slender though they were, to the ownership of Acadia. And very early, as we have seen, the colony had been subjected to the scourge of English attacks.

Argall's expedition had been little more than a buccaneering exploit and an earnest of what was to come. Nor did any permanent result, other than the substitution of the name Nova Scotia for Acadia, flow from Sir William Alexander's enterprise. Alexander, afterwards Lord Stirling, was a Scottish courtier in the entourage of James I, from whom he obtained in 1621 a grant of the province of New Scotland or Nova Scotia. A year later he sent out a small body of farm hands and one artisan, a blacksmith, to establish a colony. The expedition miscarried; and another in the next year shared a similar fate. A larger company of Scots, however, as already mentioned, settled at Port Royal in 1627 and erected a fort, known as Scots Fort, on the site of the original settlement of De Monts. This colony, with some reinforcements from Scotland, stood its ground until the country was ceded to France in 1632. On the arrival of Razilly in that year most of the Scottish settlers went home, and the few who remained were soon merged in the French population.

For twenty-two years after this Acadia remained French, under the feudal sway of its overlords, Razilly, Charnisay, La Tour, and Nicolas Denys, the historian of Acadia.1 But in 1654 the fleet of Robert Sedgwick suddenly appeared off Port Royal and compelled its surrender in the name of Oliver Cromwell. Then for thirteen years Acadia was nominally English. Sir Thomas Temple, the governor during this period, tried to induce English-speaking people to settle in the province, but with small success. England's hold of Acadia was, in fact, not very firm. The son of Emmanuel Le Borgne, who claimed the whole country by right of a judgment he had obtained in the French courts against Charnisay, apparently found little difficulty in turning the English garrison out of the fort at La Heve, leaving his unfortunate victims without means of return to New England, or of subsistence; but in such destitution that they were forced 'to live upon grass and to wade in the water for lobsters to keep them alive.' Some amusing correspondence followed between France and England. The French ambassador in London complained of the depredations committed in the house of a certain Monsieur de la Heve. The English government, better informed about Acadia, replied that it knew of no violence committed in the house of M. de la Heve. 'Neither is there any such man in the land, but there is a place so called, which Temple purchased for eight thousand pounds from La Tour, where he built a house. But one M. le Borny, two or three years since, by force took it, so that the violence was on Le Borny's part.' The strife was ended, however, as already mentioned, by the Treaty of Breda in 1667, in the return of Acadia to France in exchange for the islands in the West Indies of St Christopher, Antigua, and Montserrat.

Nearly a quarter of a century passed. France and England were at peace and Acadia enjoyed freedom from foreign attack. But the accession of William of Orange to the throne of England heralded the outbreak of another Anglo-French war. The month of May 1690 saw Sir William Phips with a New England fleet and an army of over a thousand men off Port Royal, demanding its surrender. Menneval, the French governor, yielded his fortress on the understanding that he and the garrison should be transported to French soil. Phips, however, after pillaging the place, desecrating the church, hoisting the English flag, and obliging the inhabitants to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, carried off his prisoners to Boston. He was bent on the capture of Quebec in the same year and had no mind to make the necessary arrangements to hold Acadia. Hardly had he departed when a relief expedition from France, under the command of Menneval's brother Villebon, sailed into Port Royal. But as Villebon had no sufficient force to reoccupy the fort, he pulled down the English flag, replaced it by that of France, and proceeded to the river St John. After a conference with the Indians there he went to Quebec, and was present with Frontenac in October when Phips appeared with his summons to surrender.2 Villebon then went to France. A year later he returned as governor of Acadia and took up his quarters at Fort Jemseg, about fifty miles up the St John river. Here he organized war-parties of Indians to harry the English settlements; and the struggle continued, with raid and counter-raid, until 1697, when the Treaty of Ryswick halted the war between the two crowns.

The formal peace, however, was not for long. In 1702 Queen Anne declared war against France and Spain. And before peace returned the final capture of Acadia had been effected. It was no fault of Subercase, the French officer who in 1706 came to Port Royal as governor, that the fortunes of war went against him. In 1707 he beat off two violent attacks of the English; and if sufficient means had been placed at his disposal, he might have retained the colony for France. But the ministry at Versailles, pressed on all sides, had no money to spare for the succor of Acadia. Subercase set forth with clearness the resources of the colony, and urged strong reasons in favor of its development. In 1708 a hundred soldiers came to his aid; but as no funds for their maintenance came with them, they became a burden. The garrison was reduced almost to starvation; and Subercase was forced to replenish his stores by the capture of pirate vessels. The last letter he wrote home was filled with anguish over the impending fate of Port Royal. His despair was not without cause. In the spring of 1710 Queen Anne placed Colonel Francis Nicholson, one of her leading colonial officers, in command of the troops intended for the recovery of Nova Scotia. An army of about fifteen hundred soldiers was raised in New England, and a British fleet gathered in Boston Harbor. On October 5 (New Style) this expedition arrived before Port Royal. The troops landed and laid siege once more to the much-harassed capital of Acadia. The result was a foregone conclusion. Five days later preliminary proposals were exchanged between Nicholson and Subercase. The starving inhabitants petitioned Subercase to give up. He held out, however, till the cannonade of the enemy told him that he must soon yield to force. He then sent an officer to Nicholson to propose the terms of capitulation. It was agreed that the garrison should march out with the honors of war and be transported to France in English ships, and that the inhabitants within three miles of the fort should 'remain upon their estates, with their corn, cattle, and furniture, during two years, in case they are not desirous to go before, they taking the oath of allegiance and fidelity to Her Sacred Majesty of Great Britain.' Then to the roll of the drum, and with all the honors of war, the French troops marched out and the New Englanders marched in. The British flag was raised, and, in honor of the queen of England, Port Royal was named Annapolis Royal. A banquet was held in the fortress to celebrate the event, and the French officers and their ladies were invited to it to drink the health of Queen Anne, while cannon on the bastions and cannon on the ramparts thundered forth a royal salute.

The celebration over, Subercase sent an envoy to Quebec, to inform Vaudreuil, the governor of New France, of the fall of Port Royal, and then embarked with his soldiers for France. A few days later Nicholson took away most of his troops and repaired to Boston, leaving a garrison of four hundred and fifty men and officers under the command of Colonel Samuel Vetch to hold the newly-won post until peace should return and Her Majesty's pleasure concerning it be made known.

As far as he was able, Vetch set up military rule at Annapolis Royal. He administered the oath of allegiance to the inhabitants of the banlieue--within three miles of the fort--according to the capitulation, and established a court to try their disputes. Many and grave difficulties faced the new governor and his officers. The Indians were hostile, and, quite naturally in the state of war which prevailed, emissaries of the French strove to keep the Acadians unfriendly to their English masters. Moreover, Vetch was badly in want of money. The soldiers had no proper clothing for the winter; they had not been paid for their services; the fort stood in need of repair; and the military chest was empty. He could get no assistance from Boston or London, and his only resource seemed to be to levy on the inhabitants in the old-fashioned way of conquerors. The Acadians pleaded poverty, but Vetch sent out armed men to enforce his order, and succeeded in collecting at least a part of the tribute he demanded, not only from the inhabitants round the fort over whom he had authority, but also from the settlers of Minas and Chignecto, who were not included in the capitulation.

The first winter passed, in some discomfort and privation, but without any serious mishap to the English soldiers. With the month of June, however, there came a disaster. The Acadians had been directed to cut timber for the repair of the fort and deliver it at Annapolis. They had complied for a time and had then quit work, fearing, as they said, attacks from the Indian allies of the French, who threatened to kill them if they aided the enemy. Thereupon Vetch ordered an officer to take seventy-five men and go up the river to the place where the timber was being felled and 'inform the people that if they would bring it down they would receive every imaginable protection,' but if they were averse or delayed to do so he was to 'threaten them with severity.' 'And let the soldiers make a show of killing their hogs,' the order ran, 'but do not kill any, and let them kill some fowls, but pay for them before you come away.' Armed with this somewhat peculiar military order, the troops set out. But as they ascended the river they were waylaid by a war-party of French and Indians, and within an hour every man of the seventy-five English was either killed or taken captive.

Soon after this tragic affair Vetch went to Boston to take a hand in an invasion of Canada which was planned for that summer. This invasion was to take place by both sea and land simultaneously. Vetch joined the fleet of Sir Hovenden Walker, consisting of some sixty vessels which sailed from Boston in July. Meanwhile Colonel Nicholson stood near Lake Champlain, with a force of several thousand colonial troops and Six Nation Indians, in readiness to advance on Canada to co-operate with the fleet. But the fleet never got within striking distance. Not far above the island of Anticosti some of the ships ran aground and were wrecked with a loss of nearly a thousand men; and the commander gave up the undertaking and bore away for England. When news of this mishap reached Nicholson he retreated and disbanded his men. But, though the ambitious enterprise ended ingloriously, it was not wholly fruitless, for it kept the French of Quebec on guard at home; while but for this menace they would probably have sent a war-party in force to drive the English out of Acadia.

The situation of the English at Annapolis was indeed critical. Their numbers had been greatly reduced by disease and raids and the men were in a sorry plight for lack of provisions and clothing. Vetch could obtain neither men nor money from England or the colonies. Help, however, of a sort did come in the summer of 1712. This was in the form of a band of Six Nation Indians, allies of the English, from the colony of New York.3 These savages pitched their habitations not far from the fort, and thereafter the garrison suffered less from the Micmac and Abnaki allies of the French.

The Acadians were in revolt; and as long as they cherished the belief that their countrymen would recover Acadia, all attempts to secure their allegiance to Queen Anne proved unavailing. At length, in April 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht set at rest the question of the ownership of the country. Cape Breton, Ile St Jean (Prince Edward Island), and other islands in the Gulf were left in the hands of the French. But Newfoundland and 'all Nova Scotia or Acadia, with its ancient boundaries, as also the city of Port Royal, now called Annapolis Royal,' passed to the British crown.


1 He wrote The Description and Natural History of the Coasts of North America. An edition, translated and edited, with a memoir of the author, by W. F. Ganong, will be found in the publications of the Champlain Society (Toronto, 1908).
2 See The Fighting Governor in this Series, chap. vii.
3 Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, vol. iv, p. 41.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Acadian Exiles, A Chronicle of the Land of Evangeline, 1915

 

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