|Madawaska Historical Society
History of the Madawaska Territory
Part 3. Acadia and New France
Journey of the French Acadian:
In 1548 the mapmaker Gastaldi was the first to label as "Acadia" the lands jutting out of the North American mainland into the
North Atlantic Ocean. Why this land was called "Acadia" is a subject to debate. Some feel it was a reference to the European
utopian ideal of Arcadia. Others feel it was a reference to the Mi’kmaq word "cadie" meaning ‘prosperous place’. Some feel it
is a combination of the two, a ‘patois’ of languages that the Acadians would later become famous for.
The first serious European attempt at colonization in North America came in 1604, when King Louis of France granted a ten-
year monopoly on all fishing and fur trading in the region to Pierre Duguay, Sieur de Monts. DuGuay gathered a group of
notable men to join him in the new world, including Samuel Champlain, Jean de Biencourt, and Louis Hebert. The group tried
first to settle on St. Croix Island of the coast of present day Maine, but the cold weather, the unsheltered nature of the isle, and
possible threat from Natives on the mainland caused the outpost to be abandoned in 1605. Also, many of the first settlers had
died of scurvy. Despite Champlain's wish they they go further south into what is now the Cape Cod area, DuGuay removed the
group to a protected bay on the western side of what is now the Nova Scotian peninsula. They named their new outpost "Port
Royal", built a habitation and settled 40 men on the shores. This was seven years before the English settlement at
Jamestown, Virginia and fourteen years before the Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.
The land chosen by DuGuay was already populated by the Algonquin natives who called their band the L’nu’k, meaning
"Human beings". They would be first called by the French the Souriquois- "people of the sea"- later the ‘Tarrantines’, and later
still they would become known by the name we know them as today- the Mi’kmaq- "our kin". The Mi’kmaq had been in contact
with Basque fishermen off the shores of the Maritimes since the early 1500s. By the time Port Royal was founded, the
Mi’kmaq had been acquiring European goods and learning to sail the small swift European fishing vessels the Basque used.
One of the first French colonial contacts with local natives came upon their meeting one of these Basque boats, sailed by
Mi’kmaq who had adorned their sail with a large painted moose. The Mi’kmaq would later use this sea faring experience and
prove to be able fighters on the sea in the wars against the British.
The natives settled in to a valued highly trade relationship with the Frenchmen, and guarded it closely, as the tools and
weapons of Europe gave them an advantage over any rival Native groups. Mapaultek, Grand Sagamore of the L’nu’k- who later,
to further appease the French, became baptized as Henri Membertou- so relished the idea of the French among them that
when the colony was temporarily abandoned in 1606, he pledged to guard it for his French friends until they returned. DuGuay
and Champlain at this point removed their efforts at colonization from Acadia to Quebec. When the French returned under the
command of de Biencourt, they were astonished to find their buildings and any effects they left exactly as they were when
they departed. Similarly, throughout the history of the two peoples, the Mi’kmaq would never betray their relationship to the
Acadians. Mapaultek also led his people into a succesful war (Tarrantine War, 1607-1615) against some Western Abenaki
tribes who were attempting to gain inroads to the French trade.
The French called the Mi’kmaq and the rest of the local natives "les Sauvages", but never felt the same disdain for them as
the British did. They eventually became close allies to almost all of the Algonquin tribes, but their ties to the Eastern-most
natives were especially close. There were no French women in the earliest colony, and relations with native women were
common. Indeed, the majority of early French traders married native women and lived out the remainder of their lives among
the tribal bands. Even after French women arrived at the settlement, some of the Frenchmen chose native women for wives.
The children of the earlier settlers, whether having a ‘Sauvage’ or a European as a mother, grew up among the natives. They
could speak the natives’ languages and knew how to live in the native manner- dressing in furs and skins, making and using
birchbark canoes, snow-shoeing, hunting moose and caribou, and salmon fishing at night by torchlight. This relationship, and
the tendency of the Frenchmen not to disturb Native hunting grounds with their farming settlements, created a very different
frontier experience for them than the English, who found themselves attacked by and at war with the Natives almost
Within a few years, De Biencourt’s small colony began to show signs of success. The English colonies in New England
recognized such a permanent French presence nearby as a threat and set about to remove it. They first attacked in 1613,
burning much of Port Royal in a pre-cursor of many future attempts to capture or destroy Acadia over the next 150 years.
Disenchanted, Biencourt abandoned the colony, leaving his son in command with Claude and Charles LaTour. The younger
LaTour was eventually granted the title govenor of Acadia. Not inclined to colonize, the French who remained solely worked
the fur trade, and with no support or supply from France, and soon became absorbed into the Native tribes and lifestyles, living
just as nomadically as the Natives. They found a French merchant to take their peltrys, and soon were involved in a profitable
By 1629 the English had founded a Scots colony at the abandoned Port Royal, and while it was fairly unsuccessful, the French
took the attempt as a sign of an aggressive English colonial policy. Cardinal Richelieu committed France to building up the
colonies of Quebec and Acadia. In 1632 he assigned high ranking naval officer (and his cousin) Isaac de Razilly to go to Acadia
with 100 hand picked men to establish a new colony. Richelieu named Razilly Govenor of Acadia, despite the fact that Charles
LaTour already had that title. Upon arriving in Acadia with his credentials, Razilly allowed Charles LaTour to remain in his
operations on the St. John River, if only to maintain the goodwill of the Natives. He also removed the Scots at Port Royal and
sent his Second, Charles de Menou d'Aulnay to route any English he found trading on the coast of Maine.
Razilly died suddenly in 1636, and d’Aulnay was named his successor. D'Aulnay decided to rebuild the settlement at Port
Royal. He recruited the best farmers from his own holdings in the Loire Valley and settled them on tracts of land on what was
known as the ‘Great Meadow." Many of these farmers brought their families, and the first successful farming colony was
established. The little colony was soon thriving, with a prosperous fur trade, fertile fisheries, and productive dyke protected
salt fields for farming.
It would be these tidal marshlands that would make the Acadians prosperous and in turn, valuable. The Acadians brought by d’
Aulnay were mostly from the Normandy and Bretagne areas of France, and many already had experience with the dyke
systems of the Vendée. In a process that reversed the Salt Mining process of the French Coast, they built dykes to keep the
salt water out, leaving highly fertile fields of silt from the ocean ripe for planting. The Acadians became the only North
American pioneers to successfully farm below sea level. The methods used by the Acadians were so successful that those
farmers who followed them on the lands did not change their methods until machines took the places of men in the 1950's.
The Acadians proved to be hardworking by nature. An official from the French fortress of Louisburg wrote after visiting them
that the Acadians were "born smiths, joiners, coopers, carpenters and builders. They themselves make the cloths and fabrics
in which they are dressed." Men worked the fields from spring to harvest then cut timber for firewood and shelter in the
winter. Men also tended the livestock and built and repaired the dykes. At planting and harvest women would join the men in
the fields, but otherwise ran the dairy, cooked and sewed, and tended the gardens and the fruit orchards.
The population of the Acadians boomed over the century and a half they were in Acadia. This was mostly due to a high birth
rate and a low infant mortality rate. There were so many children that a visitor from France remarked that "The swarming of
brats is a sight to behold". The adults tended to live longer than their European counterparts and even other colonists in North
America. Both of these traits of Acadian society were in direct consequence of both their fertile farmland and their relative
isolation. Their diet was rich and diverse, and they suffered little exposure to the epidemic diseases that often ravaged ports
of call. Being on friendly relations with all the natives of the area, they never found their settlements under the constant threat
that their Quebecois counterparts endured from the Iroquois and Mohawk. Many in Acadia felt that had truly found the Arcadia
of legend, a true utopia.
Unfortunately, the strife felt by the colonists existed between rival factions of Frenchmen. D’Aulnay never accepted LaTour’s
position in Acadia, and rather than consolidate their positions in anticipation of future wars with the English, the two seemed
content to struggle amongst themselves over trade monopolies in the area. The government of France for its part had become
engrossed in the Thirty Year’s War, and, with its treasury sapped of funds, did very little to supply Acadia, either with goods or
with new colonists.
Meanwhile, the British continually strengthened themselves in New England. New colonists came over, and by 1640 the
Population of New England was five times larger than all the French colonies. Soon New England fishermen and traders
arrived in Acadian waters, and there seemed to be little French officials could-or would-do to stop them. Lacking supply from
the motherland, the Acadians began a robust if illegal trade with the English colonies, which governors of Acadia allowed as
long as tribute was paid. The English brought essential commodities that Acadian farmers could not make themselves-
gunpowder and firearms, spices, molasses, tools and cooking pots. They were also much more accommodating in what they
would take in trade. The French corporate traders usually only wanted furs and fish. The English would take the Acadian's
grain, cattle, and lumber.
Despite any good feeling between the Acadians and English colonists, England and France continued to struggle in North
America. During King William's War, in 1654, the English again attacked and seized Acadia from the French. Rather than
remove the Acadians, the English thought it prudent to leave them where they were, as long as they would take an oath not to
bear arms against the English nation. The English were very mild in their treatment of the Acadians, allowing them self-
governance in local matters and strengthening the bonds formed by trade with New England.
Acadia was now in Massachusetts' commercial orbit, and would remain there even during the restoration of French authority.
This was the point at which the Acadians themselves began expanding their range of colonization, as those involved in the
illegal trade with New England sought to move away from the prying eyes of the French officials who had returned to Port
Royal. The new hamlets of Beaubassin, Grand Pre, and Shepoudy sprung up and attracted many young Acadians away from
Port Royal. Acadian society, already distanced from France by its close affiliation with the Natives and by a degree of neglect
from the motherland, would now begin to develop a distinct culture, even different from their colonial brethren in French
Quebec. They distrusted government officials, having been left to their own devices by the French and attacked numerous
times by the English. When this distrust combined with the either colonial governments’ inability to project power into the
area, the result was what one French official called "a troublesome republicanism". The Acadians often simply ignored any
imposed rules or laws and went about their business as they felt best suited them. The Acadians had ceased thinking of
themselves as French, or even as French colonists and had begun to think of themselves as Acadian.
Between 1670 and 1710 the colony was passed back and forth between the two powers, first returning to France, and then
being captured once again by the English. In 1713 the French Empire ceded Acadia to England again through the Treaty of
Utrecht, and they would never again regain the colony. As if to cement the victory, Port Royal was renamed Annapolis Royal
after Queen Anne.
Through all this time, the Acadians struggled to remain neutral in the colonial conflicts. The colony was flourishing, if only on
an individual level, and the Acadians saw that taking one side or the other would certainly bring them hardship. They felt only a
vague affiliation with the French authorities and many would not rise and fight for them in the struggle. Several times an
invading French force whose commander thought of himself as liberator found no one among the populace to side with him,
and at least once they were told to go away.
The Acadians also certainly did not wish to have to side with the English against their Mi’kmaq and Maliseet friends and
relatives. Their new English masters continually switched policy on how to gain the Acadians’ allegiance. They demanded
from the Acadians an unconditional oath of allegiance, which the Acadians refused unless it contained an exemption from
military service. Periods of mild treatment to win them over were usually followed by periods of threats of violence and
dispossession. The Acadians remained stubborn, however, and would only agree to oaths that contained conditions of
neutrality. Finally, in 1730, an exasperated Governor Phillips extracted the oath from the Acadians that his majesty’s
government was demanding. He neglected to report, however, to the English authorities back home that he had allowed the
Acadians their concession. He had given it to them orally, and never put it down on paper. The Acadians immediately had
papers drawn up and notarized. Now they felt they had done their part and would be loyal subjects to the English, albeit ones
who would not serve in the Royal Military. They would refer back to this pledge each time new Govenors would demand from
them the unconditional oath.
The English government remained content to leave the Acadians as they were, if simply for fear of having the colony
abandoned and its farms rendered useless. They also feared the Acadians would leave to the other colonies of New France,
strengthening French power and creating a group bent on revenge. The leaders of New England, however, held a different
view. The Colonies remained in intermittent war against the local natives. Violent raids from Wabanaki warriors and even
Canadian militia on English territory grew more frequent, and prevented the English from settling and seizing the areas north
and east of the Saco River. The English colonials began to feel that these raids would not be able to take place unless the
Acadians were providing succor to the raiding parties. Bubbling under the surface of all this tension was a continued desire
by the English to have for their own protestant subjects the fertile farmlands of Acadia.
In July of 1749 Edward Cornwallis was named governor of Nova Scotia- as the English were now calling Acadia- and when he
arrived in the province he had with him 2,500 new English settlers. He also carried orders to issue a proclamation in the name
of King George giving the Acadians three months to swear the unconditional oath to the King or forfeit the rights to their
properties. The Acadians clung to the oath they had swore in 1730, and threatened to leave the colony if pushed. Past
experience had taught them that the English did not wish them to go. Unfortunately, times had changed, and where there once
was a lack of English to move in to the area and assume the cultivation of the land, the fact that Cornwallis had brought with
him such a large number of new immigrants should have told the Acadians a different wind was beginning to blow. Cornwallis
was succeeded as governor by Charles Lawrence, an aggressive adherent to the idea of Acadian removal. He was bolstered
in his belief by Govenor Shirley of Massachusetts.
By 1754 the British Empire set into motion a plan to seize all of Canada away from France. The first blow came at Fort
Dusquense, in Northern New York, but the French roundly defeated the English forces and seized from the leading English
General Braddock papers which exposed the plan for conquering Canada, which included a further plan to reduce the
Acadians from Nova Scotia.
Despite the defeat at Dusquense, Lawrence and Shirley carried out a successful attack on Fort Beausajour in New
Brunswick. The French Abbé Jean Louis LeLoutre, at the head of a band of Mi’kmaq guerrillas loyal to him, had been cajoling
and threatening many of the Acadians for years to abandon what they had in Nova Scotia and come back to the French on the
North side of the Missaguash River. At the point of an English occupation of the Acadian village of Beaubassin in 1750, he had
even burnt the village to the ground. Left with nothing, many of the inhabitants did what LeLoutre wished and went to Fort
Beausajour. Others on the pennisula, sensing growing intolerance amongst the English Govenors, had also gone to
Beausajour. Here they lived in miserable conditions in refugee settlements around the fort. After the battle, there were found
among the surrendering forces over 300 Acadians in arms. Although the Acadians claimed they were forced to fight under the
threat of death, Lawrence and Shirley took this as a confirmation of their belief of how the Acadians would act in any future
conflict. Plans to remove the Acadians permantly from Nova Scotia were accelerated.
To prevent the Acadians from fleeing over to the French colonies and bolster the French forces, most everyone was kept in
the dark of the plans. The deportation ships would scatter the Acadians amongst the colonies, in order to keep them weak
and unable to join with other French. So secret was the plan that none of the 13 American colonial govenors, save Shirley in
Massachusetts, knew that Acadians would soon arrive on their shores.
The first of the Acadians to be imprisoned were those of the Chignecto Isthmus. Long felt by the English to be the most
intransigent, many of the Acadians here were more closely allied to the Maliseets and Mi’kmaw than the residents of
Annapolis, and had for years fought alongside the natives against the British. Most of the men here had also taken part in the
defense of Ft. Beausajour. Lawrence ordered Monkton to send word to the Acadians that the English wished to meet them to
discuss the restoration of their lands. The general population was suspicious, however, and most fled to the woods upon
hearing the proclamation. The few who showed up were summarily arrested and imprisoned. Lawrence then called the
Acadian men of Grand Pré, ages 11 and above, to a meeting at the local church. Here, the English officials demanded again an
unconditional oath of allegiance. The Acadians again refused, but unlike in the past, this time the deportation ships were
waiting. On July 22, 1755, the orders to remove the Acadian population of the Province as rebels against the crown were
given. The process was repeated in Annapolis Royal (Port Royal) and subsequently in all Acadian hamlets within reach of
Here the story assumes its poetic tragedy, formed in the consciousness of all by the American poet Longfellow. The men of
the colony were disarmed. Families were rounded up and placed on ships hired from the colonies (despite the legend, families
were mostly sent on ships together). Behind them, as they left, their homes and farms were burned. No one left the harbors
knowing what their destination was. Due to the incredible amount of secrecy, when they did arrive on the shores of the
numerous colonies colonial officials were taken by surprise. Very little was available for provisioning the refugees. The
Acadians often demanded treatment as prisoners of war but were ignored. Many thousands- especially the old and children-
died of hunger and disease. Colonial officials had no idea what to do with those who survived. Virginia refused to accept any of
the refugees and sent them into prison in England. A few colonial governments- such as South Carolina- issued travel
passports to the Acadians simply to get rid of them. Most of these Acadians immediately attempted to go back to Acadia.
Others tried to settle in to the colonies’ port cities, often forming enclaves in the city slums. Others went so far as to walk
thousands of miles across inland routes and woodlands to try to get back to Acadia or Canada. Many Acadians captured in
subsequent raids on the Chignecto and up the St. John River were ignominiously returned to Acadian farmlands by the British.
It seems the English farmers who assumed control of the rich salt marsh fields knew very little about dykes or dykelands. The
Acadians were brought in to work as ‘prisoner’ labor, to ensure the survival of the farms and to teach the English farmers. It
was a terrible indignity to be forced to labor on your former land, for someone else’s benefit.
The deportations continued as official English policy for the next eight years. When the English seized Ile. Royale (Cape
Breton) and Ile. St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) the same fate befell the Acadians living there. It must have seemed to the
Acadians who were not captured that they were constantly on the run. Many tried to flee to Quebec. A few escaped the British
and attempted to settle North of the Acadian peninsula, on the southern banks of the St. John River.
The image of the Acadian people etched into the psyche of the North American by Longfellow’s Evangeline is of a defeated
people, dejected, downtrodden. The shock and surprise of the deportations, the horror of ethnic cleansing, the break-up of
families, the forced removal from home and hearth scarred deep into their souls. And while we may recognize that the fate of
Evangeline may have been the fate of many of the Acadians, we must also realize that such was not the fate of all Acadians.
Many of the Acadians not settled around Grand Pré and Port Royal- those of the Chignecto, the St. John River, and in the far
North- would escape deportation. British power was not so easily projected in those areas, and many Acadians joined with
bands of Native warriors and fought back against their oppressors. Others aided refugees fleeing north from the Nova Scotia
Peninsula. Refugees would suffer from terrible want of food and shelter and from the incessant strikes of English and New
England Rangers attempting to dislodge or arrest them. And while many were captured and deported, many also escaped.
The Acadian tactic was often to flee further up local rivers until the English troops taxed their supplies or met the bands of
Acadian, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq fighters who would harass and attack them. These fighters would prove to be a formidable
force, even defeating the vaunted Rangers in the Battle of French Lake on the Oromoncto River.
At the time of the Derangement, the Acadians who would develop the guerrilla bands had already organized with and fought
alongside Mi’kmaq and Maliseet warriors. Led by Joseph "Beausoleil" Brossard, they had been active in fighting the English
for years, both during the War of Austrian Succession- when they had slaughtered New England immigrants to the Grand Pré
area- and in the wars of the Mi’kmaq against the English. The Brossard family and their compatriots were considered very
dangerous by the English, and after the battle for Ft. Beausajour had been captured and imprisoned. Locked inside the fort,
they managed a magnificent escape, digging a tunnel with their eating utensils. This group of Acadians remained in the
Chignecto area with the Natives, lurking outside Fort Lawrence, harassing the Fort and killing any Englishman who left the
safety of the walls. The English were never able to defeat the guerrillas, and many of the Soldiers and their officers became so
fearful that operations in the area nearly ceased.
Acadians farther East appealed for help to the young Canadian militia officer Charles DeChamps de Boishebert, who
assembled his militia, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq soldiers on the St. John River and joined with many Acadians in the Chipoudy
area. This group would also conduct a somewhat successful guerrilla war against the English, moving stealthily through the
woods, evading and striking the more unwieldy English Army.
With the fall of the French fortress of Louisbourg, and later the fall of Quebec in 1759, the Acadian guerrillas recognized that
French aid and supply was gone, and they brought their resistance to an end. Two hundred Acadian fighters and their Maliseet
allies appealed to Col. Monkton for amnesty in exchange for surrender. Monkton signed papers granting these men passage
back to their homes on the St. John River. However, when they reported to Fort Fredrick, Govenor Lawrence had them
arrested and sent them to Halifax as prisoners of war. Another 700 Acadians came out of the woods to accept a British
promise of amnesty, but were also imprisoned. When the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years War in 1763 and left the
English entirely in control of all of Canada and most of the Maritimes, the future pioneers of the Madawaska Territory were
either prisoners of the British, were hiding in the forest, or had fled to Quebec.
The treaty ending the hostilities technically left the Acadians free to settle anywhere they wished. But their homeland had
been occupied, their villages destroyed. Many who had been exiled to the colonies had gone to Louisiana, Quebec or even
returned to France. Those who remained in the Canadian Maritimes began to seek new places to settle. Many moved to the
coasts of Southwest Nova Scotia, the North Shore of Prince Edward Island, and up the St. John River to St. Anne, the area now
The Acadians who had fled to Quebec found their French-Canadian cousins also contending with the struggles of a conquered
people, and unable to offer much in assistance. Many Acadians eventually opted to return to the St. John area. Some brought
new Quebecois spouses with them. Travelling by way of Kamourouska and then down the St. John, they were the first
Acadians to pass through the Madawaska Territory. They would eventually settle just a short distance from the mouth of the
River, at St.Anne, Springhill, French Village, and Kingsclear. In 1768 they were joined by some 800 Acadians who had walked
overland through the Northern Forest from Massachusetts. Now, with all of Canada in the hands of the British, the Acadians
relented and took the unconditional oath of allegiance to the English Crown. They remained on their new farms, in relative
prosperity, until the end of the American War of Independence.
Ultimately, the "Grand Derangement", as the Acadians called it, could not destroy the Acadian people. They refused
assimilation into English society. The years spent searching and finding lost family members only solidified the bonds they
had, as victims of a horrific attempt at ethnic cleansing. The Acadians resettled here and there, always seeming able to find
one another, form communities and survive. The experience reaffirmed their unique identity to such a degree that although
scattered across North America, Acadians consider themselves a nation, with their own adopted flag and national anthem,
language and literature, their own heroes and mythologies.
|Natives watch the French come ashore
Courtesy of the New York Public Library
(click to enlarge)
|The French Habitation at Port Royal.
From the Terriau Family Website.
(click to enlarge)
|Mi'kmaq baptized by French at Port Royal
Courtesy of the New York Public Library
(click to enlarge)
|Acadian Guerrilla about
1755- 1760. By Derick
Fitzjames. c. Canadian
Department of Defense.
(click to enlarge)
|Colonel Winslow reads the
expulsion order. Courtesy of the
New York Public Library.
(click to enlarge)
|Acadians quarrantined upon their arrival in
Philadelphia. By Robert Dafford.
(click to enlarge)
|Embarkation of the Acadians by Emile
Bayard. Courtesy of the New York Public
(click to enlarge)
|Acadians work the salt marsh fields, by
(click to enlarge)
|Acadian family enjoys "Rappie Pie" as part
of their healthful, diverse diet.
By Nelson Surrette.
(click to enlarge)
|Acadians sign the 1730 Oath of Allegiance
by Nelson Surette.
(click to enlarge)
|The Return by Nelson Surrette.
(click to enlarge)