Our Acadian Heritage

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Codfish On The Beaches Bring Trade Tensions

In 1678, Jacques de Chambly was replaced as governor by Michel Leneuf de La Valliere de Beaubassin, a native of Acadia. During his administration, new Acadian settlements began to grow, partly because of new arrivals from France, but mostly because the Acadians had big families and the old settlements were getting a bit crowded.

Besides that, according to Charles Mahaffie, "A pioneer spirit moved them, though never very far. They were careful to limit their migrations to places washed by the familiar tides of the Bay of Fundy, and they began at the Isthmus of Chignecto, which ties the Nova Scotia Peninsula to the mainland at the top of the bay."

The first to move to that area was Jacques Bourgeois, a surgeon and farmer. In 1672, he led his own and five other families to the place that he called Beaubassin. In 1686, the census showed 127 Acadians living there.

In 1682, Pierre Melanson and Pierre Terriot moved to Grand Pr which means "big meadow." In later years, their settlement would be made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as the place from which Evangeline began her wanderings.

From Grand Pré, Acadians spread up the nearby Avon River to a place they called Pisiquid, now Windsor, and then to Cobequid, now Truro, at the end of the Minas Basin. This rich and lush area would eventually become the center of the Acadian population.

"It was not just the ample marshland that lured Acadians to Chignecto and Minas," according to Mahaffie. "In those relatively obscure places, they were less likely to attract attention. They preferred shadows to the glare of official light on their trade with the New Englanders who sailed their sloops and ketches every year to the far nooks and crannies of the Bay of Fundy. They probably hoped, too, that isolation would spare them the curse of war."

That was not to be. At first, there were simple trade squabbles. Just as at the very beginning, codfish were a big part of the problem.

"Newfoundland's Grand Bank is bigger," Mahaffie reports, "but for New England's 17th century fishermen, the Acadian banks were where money could be made quickly and conveniently. Codfish ran there 10 months of the year, and the ice-free coves and harbors of the Maine and Nova Scotia coasts are close by Boston, Salem, Marblehead, and Gloucester. Year after year, men of those and other ports made the short voyage and dried their catches on French territory treating Acadia as an extension of New England."

The French government wanted a piece of the action. Governor La Valliere and Governor Frontenac of Quebec negotiated a compromise: The French would allow the New Englanders to use Acadia's beaches, but they had to buy a license to do it. Officials in France didn't like the deal. A new company was formed there to claim and develop French fishing rights off Acadia's shores. Company men built a base at Chedabucto Bay in 1683.

Trouble started almost immediately. Under La Valliere's deal, New Englanders had been licensed to fish the waters and dry their cod ashore. The new company men did not recognize the licenses and La Valliere tried to intervene. The company men had him replaced by a new governor, Francois Marie Perrot, who took office in 1685, and in Mahaffie's estimation, "demonstrated that if the fortunes of France were to be saved, he was not the man to do it."

He had been governor of Montreal and was demoted to the Acadia post because of his illegal trading with New England. When he got to Acadia, he continued to do business with his old trading partners in New England, rather than the company formed in France.

Perrot's affinity for trade with New England lessened tensions between the English and French colonies, but also continued a dangerous trend. New Englanders began to think even more seriously about how much simpler things would be if only Acadia belonged to them.