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Lightly Defended Settlements Fall Again To The English

In Europe, it was called the War of the League of Augsburg. In North America, it was called King William's War. In Acadia, under either name, it meant trouble.

The next European war that entangled Acadia started when the ruler of Holland, William of Orange, deposed King James II of England. James had been sympathetic to Catholic France, which was again officially persecuting Protestants under the reign of Louis XIV. William was the leader of the Protestant factions of Europe.

When William of Orange took the crown in England, partly by force and partly with the connivance of the ruling class, the unpopular King James fled to France and enlisted Louis' aid.

That pitted England against France again, and that was all that was needed for New England to once again lay claim to Acadia. There were other factors involved in North America: Tensions had been mounting between New Englanders and the Abenaki Indians as Europeans claimed Indian grazing land, took over Indian fishing places, and pushed Indian settlements farther into the hinderland. The tensions came to a head when several Indians, who had killed a few stray cattle, were rounded up and taken to prison in Boston.

The Indians began to raid outlying places in New England. In the summer of 1689, they sacked Dover, New Hampshire, and continued guerrilla attacks elsewhere. The following year, Louis de Baude, Comte de Frontenac, the governor of Quebec, allied himself with the Indians to destroy Schenactady, New York, Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, and Falmouth, Maine.

New England retaliated by sending invaders to Acadia under the command of Sir William Phips of Boston. He found little resistance. By then, according to the account of historian Rameau de Saint Pere, the Acadians had become reconciled to regular English raids.

Saint Pere wrote, "Port Royal consisted of a rough wooded fort, formed by earthworks topped by a large wooden palisade. The church and some houses surrounded it. Most of the farmers were spread out around the countryside, and each settler lived on his own land.

"The homes were built of squared logs or heavy beams planted in the soil with the interstices sealed with moss and clay. Chimneys were formed with poles and hardened clay. The roof was covered with rushes, bark, even sod at times. Wood being in abundant supply, the houses were easily built, and if disaster struck, just as easily abandoned and lost without much regret, an important consideration because the frequent incursions of the English led to a certain indifference and they therefore endeavored to leave nothing of value to the enemy.

"When the latter appeared in force," the historian continued, "the settlers fled to the woods without worrying about what was left behind. Their small herds of cattle were used to the woods, and belongings were easily moved; a few iron pots, arms, tools, and packages of clothing. Those with too many belongings buried some of them and carried the rest. But all knew the trails to safe retreats in the heavily wooded valleys only a gunshot away but impenetrable to everyone save themselves and their friends, the Micmacs of the interior."

Phips' fleet sailed into the Annapolis Basin on May 19, 1690, and sent ashore a demand for Port Royal's surrender. Louis Alexandre des Freches de Meneval had just replaced Michel La Valliere as governor. He counted his men and he counted Phips' men. After extracting a promise that Phips would leave Port Royal alone, the governor handed over his sword.

Unfortunately, Phips was not a man of his word. Even though he had promised to leave alone private property and the church, his men "cut down the cross, rifled the Church, pulled down the high altar, braking their (sic) Images, and brought out plunder...into (English trader John) Nelson's storehouse," according to Phips' account of his expedition.

Phips selected a local council to govern in Meneval's place, requiring its members to "prevent all prophane- ness (sic), Sabbeth breaking, Cursing, Swearing, Drunkenness, or Thieving, and all other Wichedness." He said the Acadians could continue to practice their Catholic faith, but he rounded up as many men of the colony as he could find to take an oath of allegiance to the English crown.

According to Phips' journal, they swore amid "great Acclamations and Rejoicings" to "bear true Faith and Allegiance to Their Most Excellent Majesties William and Mary of England, Scotland, France and Ireland King and Queen: so help you God in our Lord Jesus Christ!"

The oath of allegiance would become a source of conflict between Acadians and New Englanders in years to come. This time, the Acadians swore it because they thought it was the quickest way to send Phips packing back to New England.

It worked. Phips sailed back to a hero's reception in Boston, taking Meneval with him. Phips was promptly sent out again to try his hand at taking Quebec from the French, something which proved a great deal harder to do than the capture of the little Port Royal garrison.

The New Englanders also elected their own governor for Acadia, a man from Maine named Edward Tyng. He sailed to Port Royal in the fall of 1691. The people there assured him that the Indians would attack him, and they assured him that they would stand by and watch while it happened. He immediately set sail for home but, with incredible bad luck, was captured by one of the few French ships in the neighborhood, was sent to France and died in prison there.

Meanwhile, Joseph Robineau de Villebon, who had been an officer under Meneval, established a guerrilla force at a fort far up the Saint John River and directed Frenchmen and Indians in a series of hit-and-run attacks against the English settlements.

The New Englanders retaliated by sending an old Indian fighter, Colonel Benjamin Church, to destroy the lightly defended Acadian settlements at Beaubassin. When it was done, he reported that the Acadians there "were much troubled to see their Cattel (sic), Sheep, Hogs and Dogs lying dead about their houses, chop'd and hacke'd (sic) with Hatches (sic)."

On his way home, he tried to attack Villebon's stronghold on the Saint John, but the place was too well defended.

The Treaty of Ryswick was signed in September 1697, ending the fighting in Europe, and restoring to French King Louis XIV the "countries, islands, forts, and colonies" that were French before the war.

Acadia was French again. Old arguments with the New Englanders over trade and fishing rights were renewed almost immediately. The New Englanders grew stronger in their conviction that something had to be done about these Frenchmen who just wouldn't go away.

Besides, they thought, it was so much easier to make a living in Acadia, where the tidal marshes, once drained, provided pastures without rocks and fertile fields that were easily tilled.

A poet from Paris named Diereville visited the Acadian colony in the late 1690s and described the lifestyle in a book of prose in poetry. He said in part:

Yet ever in the Habitation content
With his abode; he only for
His living works, and no one speaks
To him of Taxes or of Tithes, nor are
There any payments to be made at all.
Each one in peace beneath a rustic roof,
Empties his Bread box and his Cask;
And, in the Winter, keeps himself quite warm
Without a farthing spend on Wood; where else
Could such advantages be found?
Men cause themselves no great fatigue
By labor in this Land; as they have
No other intrigues, they beget
Abundant offspring by their Wives,
...they are free
To populate the World; which is
Moreover that which they do best.