THE ACADIAN TRAGEDY.
The loss of Acadia had been gall and wormwood to France. That she would soon seek to recover it was certain; and with the temper which her agents had infused into the population there could be no doubt that at the appearance of a French squadron in the Bay of Fundy the whole country would rise in arms. With Fort Beausejour on the border of the colony, the danger was redoubled; and hence the chief motive that had led Shirley and Lawrence to advise the seizure of that stronghold.
When Monckton and the Massachusetts men laid siege to it, Governor Lawrence thought the moment favorable for exacting from the Acadians the unqualified oath of allegiance which up to that time they had absolutely refused. The presence of a superior and victorious force would help, he thought, to bring them to reason. Lawrence had not the good-nature and conciliating temper which had marked his predecessors Cornwallis and Hopson. His energetic will was not apt to relent under the softer sentiments, and the behavior of the Acadians fast exhausting his patience. More than a year before, the Lords of Trade had instructed him that they had no right to their lands if they persisted in refusing the oath. Lawrence replied, enlarging on their obstinacy, treachery, and "ingratitude for the favor, indulgence, and protection they have at all times so undeservedly received from his Majesty's government," declaring at the same time that "while they remain without taking the oath, and have incendiary French priests among them, there are no hopes of their amendment," and that "it would be much better, if they refuse the oath, that they were away." "We were in hopes," again wrote the Lords of Trade, "that the lenity which had been shown to those people by indulging them in the free exercise of their religion and the quiet possession of their lands would by degrees have gained their friendship and assistance, and weaned their affections from the French; but we are sorry to find that this lenity has had so little effect, and that they still hold the same conduct." This conduct was that of an enemy in disguise, encamped in the heart of the province, leagued with its enemies without, and so numerous as to require as security against them a body of troops stronger than the authorities had at command; for the Massachusetts men were enlisted only for the campaign, and would go home at the end of it. The presence of this disaffected population was for the French commanders a continual inducement to invasion, and Lawrence could not cope at once with the attack from without and insurrection from within. Such are the reasons which explain and palliate measures too harsh to be wholly justified
Still, the Acadians would have remained safe and unmolested had they but consented to take the oath; and to the last Lawrence and his Council labored, in manifest good faith, to persuade them to do so. Early in June, about the time when the siege of Fort Beausejour was begun, the principal inhabitants of Grand Pre and other settlements about the Basin of Mines brought a memorial, signed with their crosses, to Captain Murray, the military commandant in their district, and desired him to send it to Governor Lawrence, to whom it was addressed. Murray reported that when they brought it to him they behaved with the greatest insolence, though just before they bad been unusually submissive. He thought that this change of demeanor was caused by a report which had lately got among them of a French fleet in the Bay of Fundy; for it had been observed that any rumor of an approaching French force always had a similar effect. The deputies who brought the memorial were sent with it to Halifax, where they laid it before the Governor and Council. It declared that the signers had kept the qualified oath they had taken, "in spite of the solicitations and dreadful threats of another power," and that they would continue to prove "an unshaken fidelity to his Majesty, provided that his Majesty shall allow us the same liberty that he has [hitherto] granted us." Their memorial then demanded, in terms highly offensive to the Council, that the guns, pistols, and other weapons which they had lately been required to give up should be returned to them. They were told in reply that they had been protested for many years in the enjoyment of their lands, though they had not complied with the terms on which the lands were granted; "that they had always been treated by the government with the greatest lenity and tenderness, had enjoyed more privileges than other English subjects, and had been indulged in the free exercise of their religion;" all which they acknowledged to be true. The Governor then told them that their con-duct had been undutiful and ungrateful; "that they had discovered a constant disposition to assist his Majesty's enemies and to distress his subjects; that they had not only furnished the enemy with provisions and ammunition, but had refused to supply the [English] inhabitants or government, and when they did supply them, have exacted three times the price for which they were sold other markets." The hope was then expressed that they would no longer obstruct the settlement of the province by siding the Indians to molest and kill English settlers; and they were rebuked for saying in their memorial that they would be faithful to the King only on certain conditions. The Governor added that they had some secret reason for demanding their weapons, and flattered themselves that French troops were at hand to support their Insolence. In conclusion, they were told that now was a good opportunity to prove their sincerity by taking the oath of allegiance, in the usual form, before the Council. They replied that they had not made up their minds on that point, and could do nothing till they bad consulted their constituents. Being reminded that the oath was personal to themselves, and that six years had already been given them to think about it, they asked leave to retire and confer together. This was granted, and at the end of an hour they came back with the same answer as before, whereupon they were allowed till ten o'clock on the next morning for a final decision.
At the appointed time the Council again met, and the deputies were brought in. They persisted stubbornly in the same refusal. "They were then informed," says the record, "that they could no longer look on them as subjects to his Britannic Majesty, but as subjects to the King of France, and as such they must be treated; and they were ordered to withdraw." A discussion followed in the Council. It was determined that the Acadians should be ordered to send new deputies to Halifax, who should answer for them, once for all, whether they would accept the oath or not; that such as refused it should not thereafter be permitted to take it; and "that effectual measures ought to be taken to remove all such recusants out of the province."
The deputies, being then called in and told the decision, became alarmed, and offered to swear allegiance in the terms required. The answer that it was too late; that as they had refused to take the oath under persuasion, they could not be trusted when they took it under compulsion. It remained to see whether the people at large would profit by their example.
I am determined," wrote Lawrence to the Lords of Trade, "to bring the inhabitants to compliance, or rid the province of such perfidious subjects." First in answer to the summons of the Council the deputies from Annapolis appeared, declaring that they had had always been faithful to the British crown, but flatly refusing the oath. They were told that, far from having been faithful subjects, they had always secretly aided the Indians, and that many of them had been in arms against the English; that the French were threatening the province; and that its affairs had reached a crisis when its inhabitants must either pledge themselves without equivocation to be true to the British crown, or else must leave the country. They all declared that they would lose their lands rather than take the oath. The Council urged them to consider the matter seriously, warning them that If they now persisted in refusal, no farther choice would be allowed them, and they were given till ten o'clock on the following Monday to make their final answer.
When that day came, another body of deputies had arrived from Grand Pre and other settlements of the Basin of Mines; and being called before the Council, both they and the former deputation absolutely refused to take the oath of allegiance. These two bodies represented nine-tenths of -the Acadian population within the peninsula. "Nothing," pursues the record of the Council, "now remained to be considered but what measures should be taken to send the inhabitants away, and where they should be sent to." If they were sent to Canada, Cape Breton, or neighboring islands, they would strengthen the enemy, and still threaten the province. It was therefore resolved to distribute them among the various English colonies and to hire vessels for the purpose with all dispatch.
The oath the refusal of which had brought such consequences was a simple pledge of fidelity and allegiance to King George II. and his successors. Many of them had already taken an oath of fidelity though with the omission of the word "allegiance," and, as they insisted, with a saving clause exempting them from bearing arms. The effect of this was that they did not regard themselves as British subjects, and claimed, falsely as regards most of them, the character of neutrals. It was to put an end to this anomalous state of things that the oath without reserve had been demanded of them. Their rejection of it, reiterated in full view of the consequences, is to be ascribed partly to a fixed belief that the English would not execute their threats, partly to ties of race and kin, but mainly to superstition. They feared to take part with heretics against the King of France, whose cause, as already stated, they had been taught to regard as one with the cause of God. They were constrained by the dread of perdition. "If the Acadians are miserable, remember that the priests are the cause of it,” writes the French officer Boishebert to the missionary Manach. The Council having come to a decision, Lawrence acquainted Monckton with the results, and ordered him to seize all the adult males in the neighborhood of Beausejour, and this he promptly did. It remains to observe hew the rest of the sentence was carried into effect.
Instructions were sent to Winslow to secure the inhabitants on or near the Basin of Mines and place them on board transports, which, he was told, would soon arrive from Boston. His orders were stringent: " If you find that fair means will not do with them, you must proceed by the most rigorous measures possible, not only In compelling them to embark, but in depriving those who shall escape of all means of shelter or support, by burning their houses and by destroying everything that may afford them the moans of subsistence in the country." Similar orders were given to Major Hanfield, the regular officer in command at Annapolis.