A Chapter in the Early History of Nova Scotia
A Paper Read by Miss Eliza Frame at the Entertainment At Shubenacadie, July 17th, in Aid of Auxiliary of the W. F. Missionary Society.
Nine years before the settlement of Halifax the Jesuit missionary society of Paris, founded in 1622, sent the Rev. Abbe Louis Joseph de Le Loutre to evangelize the savages of the Micmac tribe in Acadie. After some delay he arrived, and in 1745 we find him settled on the Shubenacadie river, less than a mile below the railway bridge. He came well supplied with money and all the appliances to make his mission a success. In our day of turnpike and rail, we can scarcely estimate how central this site was which he chose for his mass house. This river was then part of the great highway between Quebec and the Atlantic. We must bear in mind that 140 years ago it was an unbroken and an uninhabited forest from the estuary of the Avon unto the Straight of Northumberland; no smoke curled on the air, except from the wigwams of the roaming red men and a few French cabins built near the mouth of some river. One tide carried the light birch bark canoe from the Bay of Fundy to the Grand Lake; a narrow portage separated the waters; this crossed and the voyager launched his barque in the lake which had its outlet in the Atlantic.
To-night the river banks are odorous with the scent of clover and covered with a luxurious growth of tall grass; then they were covered with a heavy growth of tall hard wood trees, clumps of alder and tangled vines.
The Abbé Le Loutre’s first care was to build his chapel on a ridge of upland on the Hant’s side of the river, and surround it by a burial ground; then in the presence of the assembled Indians to consecrate them with all the pomp and ceremonies which he could command in this wilderness to awe the savage mind. Some remains of the chapel were to be seen at the beginning of this centenary, but the old burying ground, though long unused, is yet carefully preserved. A few sapling white birches mark the site of the mission buildings. Perhaps at that dale the lake now near the river was joined by a creek. A tradition lingers that the chapel bell is in this lake.
Here he opened his school and soon gathered a large floating population around him. The Abbe learned Micmac, while some of the Indians learned to speak French. Capt. Jean Baptiste Cope whose arrival in town from Shubenacadie in noticed in an early Halifax paper, spoke French fluently.
It must have been a most imposing sight to see scores of bark canoes filled with men, women and children, on a feast day, or a feast day for receiving presents, coming up on a high tide, disembarking, building their wigwams, lighting their fires, cooking their noontide meal, papooses crying and curs barking. Then all the men repairing to the council ground, sitting in a circle in solemn silence as the priest addressed them in their own tongue, (illegible) for their furs, and paid in gold for the human scalps, ghastly trophies, laid at his feet. Next, service in the chapel, where the babies were baptized, the women taught to tell their beads and make the sign of the cross, and the men were blessed and sent away with a crucifix and a scalping knife, while the women remained in camp to mend and make up the household goods.
Le Loutre had at his command two or three hundred fighting men. These sheep of which he was the shepherd were not a docile flock, and to manage them needed address, energy and money, with all of which the missionary was provided. He as Vicar General of Acadia had the spiritual oversight of the Acadians.
We of to-day are somewhat boastful of what we send to the distant mission fields. Here is an invoice of mission goods sent to Le Loutre as presents to his Indians:
Nine bales and two hhd. of clothing. Among these goods were swanskins, mamaget or mamaset, cadis, table clothes, white linen shirts, cloaks with gold or silver lace, ribbons, &c.
One hhd., contains: 12 laced cloaks for men, 5000 sewing needless, 200 awls, 200 gun screws, 200 battefeux, 30 lbs vermillion, 200 butcher knives, 12 children’s cloaks, 18 men’s cloaks.
100 guns, 60 lbs tow, 150 triggers, staples, etc.
One barrel containing 3000 gun flints.
80 quintals leaden shot.
30 quintals ball; 2000 lbs. of powder.
100 copper kettles, (illegible) green seal skins, 1 hhd. molasses 3 hhds. wine, salt, 72 quintals, bacon, 618 lbs. hogs lard, 16 vettes vrandy, 471 quintals flour.
An English vessel captured the sloop in Bay Verte, which was carrying these goods from Quebec for Le Loutre, and the poor Indian got none of them.
To quote Mr. Parkman, “Le Loutre was a man of boundless egotism, a violent spirit of domination, an intense hatred of the English, and a fanaticism that stopped at nothing. Towards the Acadians he was a despot and this simple and superatitious people, extremely susceptible to the influence of their priests, trembled before him. For years he was the most conspicuous person in the province, and more than any other man was answerable for the miseries that overwhelmed it.” “The evil that men do live after them.” Thus this mass house for years was the grand rallying point for plotting treason, arson and murder.
Here was prepared the plan for De Danville to make a grand descent on the New England settlements, but Le Loutre found the fleet disabled. In a storm, the proud Admiral in an unmarked grave, and hundreds of dying and dead men on the rocks at Chebucto Harbor.
Here the Abbe entertained De Vivier and planned the attack on Annapolis which did not succeed.
Here the order to the Acadian French sent by the Indians forbidding them from acting as couriers for the English or assisting them In anyway on pain of death, was written.
Here the young men who in dead of winter marched from Quebec in a few days, were fed and supplied with guides to Horton, where they murdered Noble and his sleeping men.
When the Indians surprised and murdered the settlers at Dartmouth they brought their scalps to the Shubenacadie.
He compelled the simple Acadians to leave their homes and go down this river to settle at Fort Beausejour.
He was preaching one Sabbath morning at Cobequid when an Indian brought him tidings at the English were building a fort on the Shubenacadie below the Stewiacke. His anger knew no bounds. He soon after left and went to the Missiquash. Here he was ready with his Micmacs, and Acadians to oppose the landing of Major Lawrence at Beaubassin in the spring of 1750. He remained there with his Micmacs until the surrender of Beausejour to the English. When the Fort was entered, Le Loutre was not to be found. He had escaped to Baie Verte, thence he made his way to Quebec, where he soon embarked for France, but the vessel in which he sailed was taken by an English privateer and he law in an English prison eight years. When and where he died is not known to history.
The Acadians on the Shubenacadie are but a memory. Le Loutre is gone, but the spirit of his Order remains.
The Indians are with us. Their fathers were a day’s journey from Halifax and a terror to everyone; their descendants live on their own lands, drive their own teams, and go with us in an hour to Halifax, a terror to no one.
By the old mass house burying ground the tide comes and goes as it did when Le Loutre and his swarthy flock came and went on its boson, and as it will come and go when we of another race, who tonight meet on the camping ground of the old mission to find funds to send to gospel of Jesus Christ to benighted souls in distant lands, shall be but a memory.