Our Acadian Heritage

CSS3 Buttons by Css3Menu.com

A Scene Of Confusion, Despair And Desolation

In July 1755, Colonel John Winslow, the British officer in charge of the Grand Pré area of Nova Scotia, wrote this in his journal:

"We are now hatching the noble and great project of banishing the French Neutrals from this province; they have ever been our secret enemies and have encouraged the Indians to cut our throats. If we can accomplish this expulsion, it will have been one of the greatest deeds the English in America have achieved; for, among other considerations, the part of the country which they occupy is one of the best soils in the world, and, in the event, we might place some good farmers on their homesteads."

In fact, Governor Charles Lawrence had been planning the Acadian deportation for some time. He broached the idea in London at least by 1754. Early in 1755, he asked the provincial surveyor to prepare a report on how to go about it. Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts promised enough ships to carry away the 7,000 Acadians still in Nova Scotia.

On July 31, 1755, Lawrence sent instructions to Colonel Robert Moncton, commanding officer in the Beausejour region:

"The...Acadians of the District of Annapolis Royal, Mines and Pisiquid have...refused to take the oath of allegiance...and it is...determined that they shall be removed out of the country as soon as possible....For this purpose, orders are given for a sufficient number of transports to be sent up (Chignecto Bay)...for taking them on board, by whone (sic) you will receive particular instructions as to the manner of their being disposed of, the place of their deportation, and every other thing necessary for that purpose.

"In the meantime," Lawrence's instructions continued, "it will be necessary to keep this measure as secret as possible to prevent their attempting to escape and to carry off their cattle. In order to effect this, you will endeavor to fall upon some strategy to get the men, both young and old - especially the heads of families - into your power, and detain them till the transports should arrive, so as they may be ready to be shipped off, for, when this is done, it is not much to be feared that the women and children will attempt to go away and carry off the cattle.

"As their whole stock of cattle and corn forfeited to the crown by their rebellion must be secured and applied toward a reimbursement of the expense the Government will have incurred in transporting them out of the country, care must be taken that nobody make any bargain for purchasing them under any color or pretext whatsoever, if they do the sale will be void, for the inhabitants have now no property in their name, nor will they be allowed to carry away the least thing save their ready money and household furniture."

Similar orders were sent to Winslow, to Captain John Handfield, the commander of Annapolis Royal, and to Alexander Murray at Pisiquid. Lawrence also sent notice of his intentions to the Board of Trade in London. The board immediately responded that England and France had just concluded delicate negotiations, and that Britain had promised France that there was no intention to force the Acadians from Nova Scotia.

Sir Thomas Robinson, member of the Board of Trade, wrote to Lawrence, "It cannot be too much recommended to you to use the greatest Caution and Prudence in your conduct towards these Neutrals, and to assure such of them, as may be trusted, especially upon their taking the Oaths to his Majesty...that they may remain in the quiet Possession of Their Settlements under proper regulations."

Unfortunately, the deportation was over by the time this letter reached North America.

On August 9, 1755, The Acadians of the Chignecto Isthmus were ordered to meet at Fort Cumberland to hear "the reading of orders of His Excellency the Governor." They were suspicious of the order and refused to go. The meeting was postponed until the next day, when some 400 Acadians went to the fort after being assured that the gathering was only about "arrangements of the Governor of Halifax for the conservation of their farms."

Every Acadian who attended the meeting was taken prisoner.

Detachments of soldiers then went through the countryside to arrest the rest of the population. Most of the Acadians hid in the woods, and could not be found, and nearly two-thirds of the Acadians who lived in the region escaped immediate deportation. However, those who had been arrested at the fort were separated from their families and sent into exile.

"One hundred and forty women threw themselves hopeless and blindly onto the English ships to rejoin their husbands," wrote parish priest Father LeGuerne.

Winslow, who was in charge of the Grand Pré region, called the Acadians on September 5. His proclamation ordered all men and boys over the age of 10 to gather in the church to hear "His Majesty's intentions." Those who didn't show up would forfeit their land and cattle.

The 418 men who gathered at the church were apprehensive. The British now held the upper hand, and the Acadians knew it. When all of the men were inside the church, the doors were closed and locked. The men were placed under arrest and told that their lands and goods were no longer theirs. They and their families were going to be put onto ships and sent elsewhere.

Winslow read the command to them: "Your lands and tenements, cattle of all (kinds) and livestock of all sorts are forfeited to the Crown with all your other effects saving your money and household goods and you yourselves (will) be removed from this...Province. That it is preremotorily (sic) his Majesty's orders that the whole French inhabitants of these districts be removed, and I am through his Majesty's goodness directed to allow you liberty to carry of your money and household goods as many as you can without discomemoading (sic) the vessels you go in. I shall do everything in my power that all these goods be secured to you and that you are not molested in carrying of them...and also that whole families shall go in the same vessel, and make this remove which I am sensible must give you a great deal of trouble as easy as His Majesty's service will admit and hope that in which every part of the world you may fall you may be faithful subjects, a peasable (sic) and happy people."

"They were greatly stuck," Winslow wrote in his journal, "although I believe they did not imagine that they were actually to be removed. Thus ended the memorable 5th of September, a day of great fatigue and trouble."

The transport ships arrived at Grand Pré on September 10.

Winslow wrote: "The inhabitants, sadly and with great sorrow, abandoned their homes. The women, in great distress, carried their newborn or their youngest children in their arms. Others pulled carts with their household effects and crippled parents. It was a scene of confusion, despair, and desolation."

It took a month to load the first ships. Men were put aboard first, then women and children. Winslow issued sailing orders on October 13, and the ships departed within a few days, bound for Delaware and the Chesapeake Bay.

Unlike Colonel Moncton, Colonel Winslow did make an attempt to keep families together but he didn't have enough ships. Women were loaded onto ships other than the ones that carried their husbands and children. Entire families, believing that they were separating for only a few days, would be so widely dispersed that they would never meet again.