Our Acadian Heritage

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Governor Phillips Rarely Appeared In Nova Scotia

Colonel Richard Phillips became Nova Scotia's governor in 1717. He would remain governor of the Acadian peninsula until 1749, when he was 88 years old. During those 32 years, he visited the province only twice, from late 1720 to early 1722 and from late 1729 to early 1731. He spent the rest of his time in London, sometimes reading the reports of his minions overseas.

The first of those minions was Captain John Doucett, who was sent to Nova Scotia in November 1717. One of his first actions was to make another attempt to force an oath of allegiance from the Acadians.

Residents of Grand Pré, Pisiquid, Cobequid, and Beaubassin, knowing the British did not have the manpower needed to grant their request, said they would sign only if the British promised to protect them from the Indians. The Acadians argued that the Indians were still sworn enemies of the British and that taking the oath would be the same as making a pact with the Indians' worst enemy.

"For the present," the Acadians said, "we can only answer that we shall be ready to carry into effect the demand proposed to us as soon as His Majesty shall have done us the favor of providing some means of sheltering us from the Indians, who are always ready to do all kinds of mischief...(since) we cannot take the oath demanded without exposing ourselves to have our throats cut in our houses at any time, which they have already threatened to do."

In March 1718, Doucett threatened to cut off Acadian trade and fishing rights if they didn't sign. The Acadians appealed to Governor Phillips, who did what any good bureaucrat would do. He ordered a study.

Captain Paul Mascarene, a French-born Huguenot who fled to England and became a career military officer there, conducted the study and reported that the Acadians still had Phillips over a barrel. If the Acadians were forced from their lands, the British garrison would be isolated and without a regular source of food. On leaving, the Acadians could destroy the dikes protecting their farms, damaging the land for years. The Indians would destroy what the Acadians didn't, and would become much more dangerous than before. Finally, the Acadians could become a powerful military force against the British colonies once they settled in French territory.

Phillips wrote to his superiors in London: "(The Acadians) cannot be let go now at least. Their departure, if they went to...Cape Breton, would render our neighbors too powerful. We need them to erect fortifications and to provision our forts till the English are powerful enough to go on."

The officials in London wrote back: "As to the Acadians of Nova Scotia,...we are apprehensive they will never become good subjects to His Majesty....We are of (the) opinion they ought to be removed as soon as the forces which we have proposed be sent to you shall arrive in your Province. But...you are not to attempt their removal without His Majesty's positive order...(and) will do well in the meantime to continue the same prudent and cautious conduct towards them."

The British wanted the Acadians out, but weren't strong enought to force the issue - yet.

During the 1720s, there were two incidents that deepened the animosity between the Acadians and the British.

On March 24, 1724, during an British attack against an Abernaki village on the coast of Maine, a French missionary priest, Sabastien Rasle, was shot at the door of his church, scalped, and his body mutilated. At about the same time, 50 Micmac Indians, friends of the French, surprised the British garrison at Annapolis Royal, killing two soldiers and seriously wounding a dozen more.

The British claimed the Acadians, and particularly the French priests, had incited the Indian raids. In retaliation, the English burned many Acadian homes and sent the priests away.

In the fall of 1726, Major Lawrence Armstrong became the provincial administrator. He, like his predecessors, were determined to force the Acadians to take the oath of allegiance. Once again, the Acadians refused to take it unless it contained a clause that they would not be forced to fight against the French. Armstrong agreed to insert the clause, and did - in the margin of the French translation only. There was no such clause in the English version that was sent to London.

Finally, in November 1739, Governor Phillips himself came to Acadia to get the oath of allegiance that his lieutenants had not been able to wrest from the Acadians. He reported the following September that all Acadians "of all parishes" had taken the oath, receiving "entire submission of all those so long obstinate people." He did it, he said, without "threats or compulsion, nor have I prostituted the King's honor in making a scandalous capitulation in his name."

The oath signed by the Acadians read, "Je Promets et Jure Sincerement en Foi de Chretien que Je serai entierement Fidele, et Obeirai Vraiment Sa Majeste Le Roy George le Second, qui je reconnais pour Le Souverain Seigneur de L'Acadie ou Nouvelle Ecosse. Ainsi Dieu me Soit en Aide." (I promise and swear sincerely as a Christian that I will be entirely faithful, and truly obey His Majesty King George II, who I acknowledge as Supreme Lord of Acadia or Nova Scotia. So help me God.)

But there were some conditions attached to the Acadian oaths that did not appear in the papers that were sent to London, but they were recorded in sworn affidavit made by two French priests of the area, Fathers Charles de la Goudalie and Noel Alexandre De Noinville, who certified that "His Excellency Richard Phillips...has promised to the inhabitants of (the Minas Basin) and other rivers dependent thereon, that he exempts them from bearing arms and fighting in wars against the French and the Indians, and that the said inhabitants have only accepted allegiance and promised never to take up arms in the event of war against the Kingdom of England and its Government."

The Acadians became known in London and in New England as "French Neutrals," and were themselves convinced that their neutral status had been officially granted to them by Governor Phillips. Besides, they were promised freedom of religion and their lands would not be taken from them.

There would be some exceptions, but the Acadian population generally respected the pledge. They were happy and prospering again. They gave up their idea of abandoning their farms and leaving their old homeland.

Unfortunately, the British still had other things in mind.