The Acadians before their Removal

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The Acadians before their Removal
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[Harper's Magazine.] THE ACADIANS BEFORE THEIR REMOVAL. The removal of the Acadians was the result of influences that had been at work for forty years, and which had now mounted to a crisis. Abbe Reynal, who knew nothing of this people except hearsay, has drawn an ideal picture of them, which later writers have copied and embellished till Acadia has become Arcadia. The plain realities of their condition and fate are touching enough to need no such exaggeration. They were a simple and very ignorant peasantry, industrious and frugal, till evil days came to discourage them, living aloof from the world, with little of that spirit of adventure which marked their Canadian kindred; having few wants, and those of the rudest; fishing a little, and hunting in the winter, but chiefly employed in cultivating the meadows along the river Annapolis, or rich marches reclaimed by dikes from the tides of the Bay of Fundy. The British government left them entirely free of taxation. Marriages were early and population grew space. Nor were they without a bountiful share of jealousy, gossip and backbiting to relieve the monotony of their lives; and every village had its turbulent spirits, sometimes by fits, though rarely long, contumacious even to the cure, the guide, the counsellor and ruler of his flock. Enfeebled by hereditary and mental subjection, and too long kept in leading-strings to walk alone, they needed him, not for the next world only, but for this; and their submission, compounded of love and fear, was commonly without bounds. He was their true government; to him they gave a frank and full allegiance, and dared not disobey him if they would. Of knowledge he gave them nothing, but he taught them to be true to their wives and constant at confession and mass, to stand fast for the Church and King Louis and to resist heresy and King George; for, in one degree or another, the Acadian priest was always the agent of a double-headed foreign power, the Bishop of Quebec allied with the Governor of Canada. Nova Scotia, under the name of Acadia, had been ceded to France by the British crown in 1713. By the terms of the cession, its inhabitants were to retain the free exercise of the Roman Catholic religion. It was now more than forty years since they had become British subjects, and the greater part of the population had been born under the British flag. It is the testimony of the French themselves that the British rule had been an exceedingly mild one; that the colonial authorities, recognizing the value of a frugal and industrious population, had labored to reconcile them to a change of allegiance which, on the whole, was to their advantage; that no burdens were imposed on them; and that they had not been oppressed or molested in matters spiritual or temporal. The British on the peninsula were, in fact, too few to rule by force. Until the settlement at Halifax in 1749 they consisted only of a feeble garrison at Annapolis, with three or four others, yet feebler, scattered here and there over the country; and the Acadian population was left substantially to the government of its own priest. This population had its chief centres in the valley of the river Annapolis, and at Grand Pre, Cobequid, Pisiquid, and other settlements around the Basin of Mines, which forms one of the two heads at the Bay of Fundy. After the cession of the country the British authorities required the Acadians to take an oath of fidelity and obedience to their new sovereign. This, after a delay of many years, they did at last, with an understanding, as they alleged, that they should not be forced to bear arms against their former countrymen, the French. When war began again in 1745 many of them broke their oath, and sometimes openly, sometimes in the disguise of Indians, joined the French in attacks on British garrisons- while others acted as spies, or aided the enemy with information and provisions. When, in 1748, the war ended, the French officials prophesied some signal act of vengeance on the part of the British against the offending Acadians. On the contrary, they showed great forbearance, and only insisted that all the adult male population take an oath of allegiance, without any reserve or restriction whatever. This they would have done if they had been left alone; but they were not let alone. Another war was plainly at hand, and France meditated the re-conquest of Acadia. To this end the Acadians must be kept French at heart, and ready, at a signal given, to rise against the English. France had acknowledged them as British subjects, but this did not prevent the agents of Louis XV from seeking by incessant intrigue to stir them into bitter hostility against the British Government. The priests of Acadia were the chief agents employed. They taught their parishioners that fidelity to King Louis was inseparable from fidelity to God, and that to swear allegiance to the British crown would be eternal perdition. Foremost among these apostles of revolt was Le Loutre, missionary to the Micmac Indians, and Vicar-General for Canada under the Bishop of Quebec. In connexion with French officers across the line, he encouraged them to put on the disguise of Indians and join his Micmacs in pillaging and killing English settlers on the outskirts of Halifax when the two nations were at peace. But for him and his fellow-conspirators, they would have lived in peace and contentment. An entire heartlessness marked the dealings of the French authorities with the Acadians. They were treated as mere tools of policy, to be used, broken, and flung away.