The Acadian Tragedy

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The Acadian Tragedy
Francis Parkman
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THE ACADIAN TRAGEDY. At the head of the Bay of Fundy, on the Isthmus that joins Nova Scotia, or the Acadian peninsula, to the mainland, stands a hill which once bore the name of Beausejour. On this hill, overlooking on one side ho great marsh of Missaguash, and on the other the still greater marsh of Tantramar, there stood, in the year 1755, a strong fortified work, the heavy earthen ramparts of which still remain. Over it floated the white flag of the Bourbons. Some two miles distant, across the marsh of Missaguash, was rising ground, drowned with the palisades and embankments of another fort, above which waved the cross of St. George. Fort Beausejour and Fort Lawrence were the advance guards of two rival nations, just then on the point of deadly conflict for ascendency to this continent, each hotly denying the claims of the other, and each with the sword half drawn to enforce its own. Diplomacy had failed. There was no resource but in the vast argument of kings. The two crowns were nominally at peace, but the British authorities of Nova Scotia had proof that the French were preparing to attack Fort Lawrence, rouse the Acadian population to revolt, and seize upon the whole or part of the province, which had been forty years under the British flag. Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts, and Lawrence, Governor of Nova Scotia, with the approval of the cabinet of London, had resolved to anticipate the blow by seizing upon Fort Beausejour. It was a part of the scheme of operation, audacious as it was compressive, by which the British and colonial authorities resolved this year to anticipate a declaration of war, and force back the French along the whole line of their alleged encroachments. Braddock was to attack Fort Duquesne on the Ohio, Johnson was to attack Crown Point on Lake Champlain, Shirley was to attack Fort Niagara, and Monckton was to attack Fort Beausejour. Monckton, a British officer had a small force of regular troops, but his chief reliance was on two thousand New England man, whom Shirley was to send from Boston under Colonel John Winslow. Winslow was sprung from the early Governors of Plymouth colony; but though well born, he was indifferently educated, which did not prevent him from being both popular and influential. He had strong military inclinations, had led a company of his own raising at the luckless attack on Carthagena, and on various other occasions had left his Marshfield farm to serve his country. The men enlisted readily at his call. They gathered at Boston early in April. The muster-rolls still preserve their names, vocations, birthplaces, and abode. Obadiah, Nehemiah, Jedediah, Jonathan, Ebenezer, Joshua, and the like Old Testament designations abound upon the list. They are set down as farmers, fishermen, shop-keepers, laborers, and handicraftsmen of various trades, including wigmakers, While the vessels that were to carry them lay at Long Wharf, the order vent forth on a Saturday afternoon: "The men will behave very orderly on the Sabbath day, and either stay on board their transports or else go to church, and not stroll up and down the streets." They sailed at last, anchored at the head of the bay, landed at Fort Lawrence, marched over the marsh to the hill of Beausejour, dug trenches, mounted a few small mortars, and began to bombard the fort. The defense was of the feeblest. The fleur-de-lis was towered, the British cross was raised in its stead and the place was christened anew under the name of Fort Cumberland. In it, along with the regular garrison, were found three hundred Acadians, self-styled neutrals, fighting against the power of whom most of them were legally the subjects. Now was begun a dismal tragedy, famous in prose and verse, yet ill understood, both in its causes and its events. The removal 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 from 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 winter, but chiefly employed in cultivating the meadows along the river Annapolis, or rich marshes reclaimed by dikes from the Bay of Fundy. The British government left them entirely free of taxation. They made clothing of flax or wool of their own raising, hats of similar materials, and shoes or moccasins of moose or seal skin. They bred cattle, sheep, hogs, and horses in abundance, and the valley of Annapolis, then as now, was known for the profusion and excellence of its apples. For drink they made cider or brewed spruce-beer. French officials describe their dwellings as wretched wooden boxes, without ornaments or conveniences, and scarcely supplied with the most necessary furniture. Two or more families often occupied the same house, and their way of life, though simple and virtuous, was by no means remarkable for cleanliness. Such as it was, contentment reigned among them, undisturbed by what modern America calls progress. Marriages were early, and population grew apace. This humble society had its disturbing elements, for, like the Canadians, they were a litigious race, and neighbors often quarreled about their boundaries. Nor were they without a bountiful share of jealousy, gossip, and backbiting to relieve the monotony of their lives; and every village had turbulent spirits, sometimes by fits, though rarely long, contumacious to the cure, the guide, councilor, and ruler of his flock. Enfeebled by hereditary 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 by France to 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 bad 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, bad 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 priests. This population had its chief centres in the valley of the river Annapolis, and at the Grand Pre, Cobequid, Pisiquid, and other settlements around the Basin of Mines, which forms one of the two heads of 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 former countrymen, the French. When war broke out again in 1745, many of them broke their oath, sometimes openly, sometimes in 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 population should take an oath of allegiance, without any reserve or restriction whatever. This they would have done if they had been let alone; but they were not let alone. Another war was plainly at hand, and France meditated the reconquest of Acadia. To this end the Acadians must be kept French at heart, and ready at 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. Before me are two large volumes of papers, about a thousand pages in all, copied from the archives of the Colonial Department at Paris. They relate to those French efforts to rouse the Acadians to revolt; and they consist of the journals, dispatches, reports, and letters of officers military, civil, and ecclesiastical, the Governor of Canada to a captain of bush-rangers, and from the Bishop of Quebec to the cure of Cobequid. They show, by the evidence of the actors themselves, the scope and methods of the machination, to which the King himself appears, in his languid way, as accessory. 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 aiming these apostles of revolt was Le Loutre, missionary to the Micmac Indians, and Vicar-General for Acadia under the Bishop of Quebec. His fanatical hatred of the English and the natural violence of his character impelled him to extremes which alarmed his employers, and drew upon him frequent exhortations to caution. He threatened the Acadians with excommunication if they obeyed the King of England. In connection 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. He drew on one occasion from a French official 1800 livres to pay his Indians for English scalps. With a reckless disregard of the welfare of the unhappy people under his charge, he spared no means to embroil them with the government under which, 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. TO BE CONTINUED.