Our Acadian Heritage

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Population Growth Becomes A Worry To The British

One of the things Governor Richard Phillips found in his second and last visit to the Acadian province was that the population was growing rapidly. Back in London, he told the Duke of Newcastle that the Acadians were "a formidable body and like Noah's progeny spreading themselves over the face of the Province."

Lawrence Armstrong, whom Phillips left behind to govern Acadia, called the "French Neutrals" "a very ungovernable people and growing very numberous (sic)."

There were between 4,000 and 5,000 Acadians in 1730, more than double the population of 1710.

According to figures compiled by Charles Mahaffie, "Parish registers show that women began having young children in their early twenties and continued until their forties. The 295 couples who were married at Annapolis Royal between 1702 and 1730 had, on the average 6.75 children."

The Acadian population increased so rapidly that the old farms could no longer hold everyone. In 1732, Governor Phillips estimated the population at 800 families. A census of 1737 found 7,598 Acadians in Nova Scotia.

>That made the British nervous. They still had it in the back of their minds that, one day, they would get rid of the French-speaking Acadians. But the more Acadians there were, the more difficult that would be. The other problem was that all of the Acadians were simply taking up too much space - and they were still hard headed.

In 1732, Armstrong reported that "the French continue as disobedient to the Government as ever, both in respect to what concerns the public, for they despise all orders...and obstruct everything proposed for his Majesty's service." When Armstrong tried to build a fort at Grand Pré, he was run off by the Indians, who said he may have conquered Port Royal, but he had not conquered the Minas Basin.

Also, the British would have liked to see a bit more of the Puritan work ethic instilled in the Acadians.

Armstrong called them "perfidious, headstrong, obstinate, and as conceited a crew as any in the world." Phillips thought them "a proud, lazy, obstinate and untractable people, unskilled in the methods of Agriculture, not (willing to be) led...into a better way of thinking." He said, "They raise...both corn and cattle on marsh lands that wants no clearing, but they have not in almost a century cleared the quantity of 300 acres of woodland."

Captain Paul Mascerene, who had studied the idea of removing the Acadians, found them "very little industrious, their lands not improved as might be expected, they living in a manner from hand to mouth, and provided they have a good field of Cabbages and Bread enough for their families with what fodder is sufficient for their cattle they seldom look for much further improvement."

Another officer wrote that they "raised their provision with the least labor of any people upon earth."

Even then, in Mahaffie's view, the Acadians were different from most other people. "They were peasants," he says, "but they neither lived nor acted the part. They had learned how to get by without the dawn-to-dark toil that was the God-given lot of common people the world over, and circumstances had let them build their society in an under-governed, neglected corner of the world, where they were never burdened by taxes, never subject to the heavy hand of a seigneur, never liable to forced labor or military service. The British paid them for the work they did and for whatever food and firewood they delivered. Their religion was secured by the Treaty of Utrecht, their land by Queen Anne's letter to Francis Nicholson, their neutrality by the promises of the British governors - and except for religion, land, and neutrality, and big families, there was very little that Acadians thought important."

In 1740, the acting governor in Acadia wrote to the Board of Trade in London, "The increase of the Acadians calls for some fresh instructions how to dispose of them. They have divided and subdivided among their children the lands they were in possession of....They applied for new grants which the Governor Phillips and Armstrong did not think themselves authorized to favor them with, as His Majesty's instruction... prescribed the grant of unappropriated lands to Protestant subjects only....If they are debarred from new possessions, they must live here miserably and consequently be troublesome, or else, they will possess themselves of new tracts contrary to orders, or they must be made to withdraw to the neighboring French colonies....The French of Cape Breton will naturally watch all opportunities of disturbing the peace of this Province, especially at this juncture, in case of war with France, and if occasion of disgust is given to those people here, they would soon distress the garrison if not taking the fort which is in a very ruinous condition."

The Acadians support of the French fort of Louisbourg at Cape Breton was a particular worry to the British.

As Mahaffie points out, "Some of (the Acadians) lived at or near Annapolis Royal, where they could see British guns and hear the English language, but most were far from British influence and authority. The settlements at the Minas Basin held about half the population. The Isthmus of Chignecto, even father from Annapolis Royal and the Union Jack, was home to another fourth. Via Baie Verte, only a few miles across the isthmus from Beaubassin, it was easy for the Chignecto settlers to trade with (Cape Breton) and thus reinforce their ties with France, and the people of the Minas communities also had ready access to (Cape Breton) - by trail through the woods from Cobequid to Baie Verte, or via even closer Tatamagouche Bay. Through those harbors Acadians sent the cattle, sheep, and grain that helped keep Louisbourg alive. Through them came back the goods, money, and influence that kept the Acadians French."