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The Tide Begins To Turn Toward Acadian Expulsion

Charles Lawrence, the new governor of Nova Scotia, was not only politically ambitious, he was greedy, and the lands held by the Acadians were high on the list of the things he wanted.

Just as the Acadian population had begun to swell, so had the population in New England. Somebody needed someplace to grow. Unfortunately for the Acadians, they were not English and their lands were the lushest around.

Lawrence was all for getting rid of the Acadians. The Board of Trade in London was still not sure that it was the thing to do.

In March 1754, the Board sent this advice to the governor: "The more we consider (expulsion of the Acadians) the more nice and difficult it appears to us; for, as on the one hand great caution ought to be used to avoid giving any alarm, and creating such a difficulty in their minds as might induce them to quit the Province, and by their numbers add strength to the French settlements, so as on the other hand we should be equally cautious of creating an improper and false confidence in them, that by a perseverance in refusing to take the oath of allegiance they may gradually work out in their own way a right to their lands and to the benefit and protection of the law, which they are not entitled to but on that condition."

Lawrence wrote back that "I cannot help being of (the) opinion that it would be much better, if they refuse the oaths, that they (be sent) away." He began to tighten the noose around the recalcitrant "French neutrals."

In September 1754, Lawrence prohibited the Acadians from shipping grain out of the province. He said it was to ensure adequate supplies for the growing British town of Halifax. The Acadians knew it was to keep them away from other French speakers.

Shortly after that, when the farmers who lived near Pisiquid refused to cut wood for the nearby Fort Edward, their priest was arrested and sent to Halifax.

In the beginning of June 1755, British troops were ordered to seize the arms of the Acadians in the Grand Pré area. The soldiers pretended to be on a fishing trip. Instead of sleeping in barns, as they usually did when they marched through the Acadian settlements, they went two by two into the Acadian homes. At midnight, each pair, quietly and without resistance, gathered all the arms and ammunition in each house. The weapons were shipped to the British Fort Edward.

A few days later, Acadians living in other areas of Nova Scotia were told to turn in their weapons or be treated as rebels. Their boats were also confiscated.

On June 10, the Acadians sent a protest to Governor Lawrence: "We hope that your Excellency will be pleased to restore to us the same liberty that we enjoyed formerly, in giving us the use of our canoes, either to transport our provisions from one river to another, or for the purpose of fishing, thereby providing our livelihood. Moreover, our guns...(are) absolutely necessary to us, either to defend our cattle which are attacked by wild beasts or for protection of our children and ourselves....Besides, the arms which have been taken away from us are but a feeble guarantee of our fidelity. It is not the gun which an inhabitant possesses that will induce him to revolt, nor the privation of the same gun that will make him more faithful; but his conscience alone must induce him to maintain his oath."

Lawrence found the petition "arrogant and insidious." He hauled in the 15 men who had signed it and tried to force them to swear allegiance immediately. They said they needed time to think about it and discuss it among themselves. Lawrence gave them the time, in jail.

The governor and his advisors thought the Acadians' refusal to take an unconditional oath meant that they intended to fight with the French and Canadians against the English, and they knew that war was about to break out again. Bloody raids by the French and Indians and raids on British shipping by pirates from Louisbourg would inevitably lead to bigger things. Adding to the fire, the new fighting had again stirred Protestant New England's resentment toward anyone who was French and anyone who was Catholic.

Almost these same fears kept the Acadians from taking unconditional oaths. They thought that only their previous oath of neutrality could protect them in the fighting that was sure to come. They wanted to be farmers untouched by war, not fighters involved in the continuing guerrilla battles over which European government would control North America.

They were still Acadians, a people who held little allegiance to any foreign nation, who had received little from either England or France and held no great loyalty to either. They were sometimes French subjects, but Acadians first and foremost and had been for more than a century.

The Acadians of Annapolis Royal met on July 16, 1755. Those in Grand Pré, Pisiquid, and Cobequid met on July 22. They drafted a letter to Governor Lawrence.

They wrote: "We and our fathers having taken an oath of Fidelity which was approved many times, in the name of the British King...and under the privileges of which we remained faithful and subject to His British Majesty... will never commit the inconstancy of taking an oath which changes so much the conditions and privileges in which our Sovereign and our fathers placed us in the past."

They said they had no intention of fighting against the British and asked Lawrence to free the 15 delegates still being held in jail.

Lawrence rejected the letter, and called it treason. He told the Acadians that because of their refusal to take an unconditional oath they would no longer be considered British subjects. He said that they would be considered "as subjects of the King of France, and as such they must be hereafter treated."

He had an idea in mind. The Board of Trade didn't want to lose the Acadians as British subjects, or, more precisely, to allow them to join other settlements where they would again become French subjects. But the growing numbers of Acadians made them nervous, and New Englanders wanted the lands.

"What if," Lawrence thought, "we take their lands and move them away, but we scatter them in the Atlantic Seaboard?" That solution, he thought, would open the lands to New Englanders, remove the threat of Acadian numbers because they would be scattered, and keep them from reuniting with other Frenchmen because they would be in English colonies.

On July 28, 1755, he proposed the idea to his chief advisors: William Cotterell, secretary of the Nova Scotia province; a New England merchant, Benjamin Green; Judge Jonathan Belcher Jr.; a British settler named John Collier; and John Rous, a ship captain.

They thought it was a grand idea.