Our Acadian Heritage

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The English Begin To Take Notice As Acadia Changes Hands

In 1651, when King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell were battling for control of England, Parliament passed a Navigation Act, requiring that goods from Asia, Africa, and America be carried to England only on English ships. The act was aimed chiefly at the Dutch, who were supporting the king in his feud with Parliament. War broke out over the issue, and France became an ally of the Dutch against the British.

That European conflict spilled over into North America in 1654, when an English force from Boston headed to Acadia with orders from Cromwell to clear the French from the place. At the head of the force was Robert Sedgwick, a major of the Massachusetts militia. Second in command was John Leverett, Sedgwick's son- in-law and a future governor of Massachusetts.

They sailed first into Saint John Harbor where, after three days of discussion, Charles de La Tour was forced to surrender his fort. Then they sailed across the Bay of Fundy to Port Royal, where Emmanuel LeBorgne was entrenched in the Acadian fort. LeBorgne had no stomach for fighting and gave up after a single skirmish, showing "lack of courage" according to a contemporary history written by Nicholas Denys even though he had "all kinds of munitions of war and provisions of which he had ample to hold out well rather than capitulate."

Sedgwick followed up his victories at Saint John and Port Royal by taking the Acadian forts at La Have and Penobscot Bay. He did not bother Denys, who was entrenched at St. Peter's on Cape Breton Island, probably because Denys was too far away and too likely to fight.

Under terms agreed to on August 16, 1654, Sedgwick left the Acadian colony in the control of a local council headed by Guillaume Trahan. According to Charles Mahaffie, "(The agreement) permitted the people to stay or go as they chose, and most of them chose to stay. It may indeed have occurred to them that new rulers might not be so bad. In the years since d'Aulnay's death, they had known no effective government, only a tangle of competing claims and quarreling claimants to their lands and loyalties. Their king had done nothing to protect Port Royal from annual plunder. They probably figured that Sedgwick and whoever came after him could not be much worse, so they stayed, hoping to adapt as best they could and wanting more than anything else to be left alone. For the most part they got their wish."

Indeed, little changed in everyday life during the council's administration. The Acadians farmed their lands. There was no new flood of British settlers to disrupt their lives. Indeed, the masters in control in Europe, Cromwell in England and Cardinal Jules Mazarin, who had succeeded Cardinal Richelieu as chief advisor to the king in France, were much more worried about affairs at home than overseas. At best, and as usual Acadia would be used as a pawn in the greater game of continental warfare. And whenever there was a chess game going on, Charles de La Tour was not far from the board. This time, he watched the game from England, where he had been sent after surrendering his fort in Saint John.

Cromwell had taken power in England by force and King Charles I had been beheaded. But, instead of making Cromwell more powerful, the king's death turned the monarch from tyrant to a martyr in the eye of many Englishman. Cromwell faced continued warfare from the backers of the late king, and Cromwell was afraid that France would become an ally of his enemies.

Mazarin had his own set of problems. King Louis XIV was only 5 years old when he inherited the throne in 1643. Mazarin and the queen mother, Anne of Austria, ruled in his name, but they were under almost constant rebellion or the threat of rebellion from nobles who wanted to take power in France much as the barons of England had done with Cromwell's succession.

Looking at their own self-interest, the two men negotiated the Treaty of Westminster, promising that neither country would come to the aid of rebels trying to take power. That settled things for a while in Europe, but left open to negotiation the status of the "three forts, namely Pentagoet, St. John, and Port Royal, very recently captured in America." Acadia would remain in England hands until the negotiations were over.

In fact, the negotiations never began. Neither country appointed anyone to negotiate and, in 1656, Cromwell decided to turn over Acadia to three men: Thomas Temple, an ambitious British aristocrat; William Crowne, a wealthy member of the Puritan Parliament that put Cromwell into power, and the wily Charles de La Tour, who laid claim to the land by reminding the England crown that, during the last spell of England control, he and his father had been made Knights Baronet of Nova Scotia. He apparently failed to remind them that he had not accepted the title and had refused to join with the England at the time.

The three men were named joint owners of "the country and territory called Acadia, and part of the country called New France." But part of the deal was that La Tour had to pay debts he ran up in Boston and to help pay for the garrisons that Robert Sedgwick left in Acadia after taking the forts there.

La Tour did not have the money to do that, so he almost immediately sold his interest to his other two parties and retired to his old homestead at Cape Sable, where he lived for another 10 years in comfortable retirement with his wife, Jeanne Motin.

Temple and Crowne held the territory jointly for a while, then Temple - with financing by an England merchant named Thomas Breedon - leased Crowne's half.

in 1658, Emmanuel LeBorgne, the French financier who tried to claim the land, sent his son, Alexandre LeBorgne de Belle-Isle, to try to reclaim La Have, but Temple ran him back to France with hardly a shot fired.

The monarchy was restored in England in 1660, and King Charles II began to make his own gifts of land to royalist backers. Temple, whose grants came from Charles' enemy, the Cromwells, rushed back to England when it appeared that he would lose his lands. He may have learned something from La Tour. Not only was his claim upheld by the king in 1662, Temple also wheedled a knighthood for himself.

In 1664, Britain went back to war with the Dutch. Once again, the French allied with the Dutch, and this time they fought Britain to a standstill. The settlement was made in 1667 by the Treaty of Breda. This time, King Charles traded lands in South America to the Dutch for clear title to the former New Netherlands, which he gave to his brother, James, the duke of York. New Amsterdam became New York. At the same time, France agreed to give back to England some islands in the Caribbean that had been taken during the war. In exchange, England gave back "the country which is called Acadia, situated in North America."

Acadia was French again. But, this time, things were different. English settlers in New England had been trading regularly with Acadia and had taken notice of its beauty and its fertility. They began to think that maybe, next time, they ought to ship those Papist Frenchmen someplace else and keep the pretty Annapolis Valley for themselves.

Given the regularity of wars in Europe between England and France, it was almost a certainty that there would be a next time.