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The Expulsion Years - The Tree Uprooted

Confirming statistics for "generation 6" has proven to be very difficult. I am a little disappointed by that but not entirely surprised. There is no information for some and for others there is an endless supply of contradictory information. Some of it may never be sorted out.

"Generation 6" covers a very difficult period in history for the Acadian people... about 1750 to about 1800. These years were the "expulsion years". As much as the Acadian people wanted to remain neutral and distance themselves from the wars between England and France, it would ultimately be those same wars, on far distant shores, that would see the demise of this people.


A Good Start
It's true, life in early Acadie was not all a bed of roses. There were difficult times and life was hard work, but over all, the Acadian people did well. By 1755, Charles Lawrence had estimated the Acadian community as a whole held well in excess of 100,000 head of cattle, just for one example. Lawrence had reported that each family in the area of Minas Basin (Grand Pre - Mines) owned about 15 cattle, 15 hogs and 30 sheep, as well as other farm animals. It was no secret that he wanted to take possession of these assets for the benefit of the Bostonians.


The Tension Builds
Although the habitation at Port Royal had some success, it had been all but completely destroyed before 1615. A much more successful attempt to establish a settlement at Port Royal began in earnest in 1632. Not long after that, families spread out across the region establishing other communities at places like Beaubassin, Grand Pre, Chipoudy and Pisiguit. It was not long before the Acadian people were well established and began to flourish.

Repeated attacks by British from Boston during the late 1600's and early 1700's had no significant effect on the prosperity of the Acadian people in general. Even the 13 years of British occupation of Port Royal, La Heve and St. John - 1653 to 1667 - had not largely affected the success and prosperity of the Acadian people who had spread out and settled much of what is now Atlantic Canada and Maine.

For many Acadians, relative to the living conditions of the time, life was good. Although the British had often made the jealous claim the Acadians were too lazy to clear trees for farm land, the fact is, the Acadians were simply ahead of their time. Crops grown on the reclaimed marsh lands were far more successful as the soil was fertile and the coarse hay that naturally grew on the marshes was excellent feed for the livestock.

But life would not be so good for very long. Several major events did ultimately seal the fate of the Acadian people. The signs were there. Some saw it coming and headed for safer areas. But eventually, no part of Acadie would be safe from the ravages of the ethnic cleansing carried out by the British.


The Writing On The Wall
It was no secret anywhere in the areas settled by the Acadians that they were not well-liked by the British. Although none foresaw the magnitude of the cruelty they would be dealt out in the second half of the 1700's, there were milestones - events that foretold a troubled future. It was surely the hope and prayer of every Acadian that they could increase their numbers and become a stronger community and better able to ward off trouble. And undoubtedly, they thought that remaining neutral would keep the wars back in the mother land from reaching their shores. Nonetheless, there were signs.

Before 1615 Port Royal had been all but levelled by an English pirate named Samuel Argall. It would take until 1632 to rebuild in any significant way.

Repeated and unprovoked attacks came from time to time from Boston. To be fair, it was not one-sided. Although the Acadian farmers were a peace-loving people, there were French who had clearly come with military intentions on behalf of France and some of these, along with warring natives, had wreaked havoc among communities in the British colonies to the south.

France was not doing well in her war with England and that only served to encourage those in Boston who wished to undo the Acadians.

1654 - A fleet from Boston under Sedgewick occupied Port Royal, St. John and La Heve for 13 years - until the Treaty of Breda in 1667.

1690 - Port Royal was once again taken by William Phipps and remained under British authority until the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.

1710 - Port Royal was again taken by the British and would never recover.

1713 - With the Treaty of Utrecht, all of what is mainland Nova Scotia became British crown land. There would be no turning back. The best the Acadian people in that area could hope for was that somehow their neutrality would be seen by the British as not wanting to take side with France. Unfortunately, it was seen more as not wanting to take side with England.

Several attempts were made by The British government, especially under Queen Anne, who was sympathetic to the plight of the Acadian people, to win their loyalty, but still the Acadians were determined to pledge no allegiance to any crown. They would certainly not even consider signing any oath of allegiance while the boundaries were still being disputed.

1713 - The areas now known as Quebec, New Brunswick, Anticosti, Prince Edward Island, l'iles de la Madeleine, Cape Breton and St Pierre et Miquelon remained under French control.

1714 - Louisbourg was fortified in anticipation of more advances by the British.

1714 to 1740 - Initially, most attempts by other Acadians to lure those still living in British territories away to safer areas were unsuccessful because of the success they enjoyed on what was undoubtedly the most productive land anywhere on the continent. Also, they had seen British occupation of their lands come and go previously. As long as boundaries were still being disputed by England and France, they may have believed this occupation would end like the others and life would return to normal.

By 1740 the situation looked grim indeed. It was becoming quite apparent that things would not improve for them and far-sighted Acadians began to migrate mostly to Ile St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) and southern Ile Royale (Cape Breton). Some went to l'iles de la Madeleine, Anticosti and places north but not many.

1740 to 1749 - So many Acadians were migrating out of the British controlled area, the British began to try to secure their "escape route" in an attempt to keep them from leaving. It was certainly to the advantage of the British if the Acadians stayed and further developed the land. Also, a significant part of the problem was that the Acadians numbered well over 2,000 the British numbered less than 25% of that. The Acadians, although now prisoner/farmers in a very real sense, were producing the food the British needed to sustain their pressence. As much as the British wanted the end of the Acadians, they were very much stuck with the situation. Regardless of any other fact, the British clearly knew it was not to their advantage to have them freely leave the area.

1749 - Tensions had reached a peak. Halifax was established and heavily fortified. Now it was clear to all what the British were about. There was no longer any doubt that they intended to take all remaining French controlled lands on the continent.

1749 to 1754 - In spite of the British fortifications at Pisiquid and Beaubassin, and in spite of war ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, more than 3,000 Acadians had moved to Ile St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) by 1754. The British decided there was no point in holding back any longer and decided to once and for all rid the world of this Acadian people whom they so very much despised.

1755 - The rest is history, as they say. I doubt it would serve any use to recount it here. There are many great accounts of what happened in 1755 when the Acadians who could be rounded up were dispelled in 8 shoddy boats from Grand Pre, their livestock slaughtered, houses and other buildings burned to the ground.

Beyond 1755 - What many do not realize is that this expulsion was not a one-time event. Louisbourg fell to the British in the summer of 1758. This left the rest of the French controlled areas in what is now Atlantic Canada without protection and the hunt was on. Quebec was the only remaining French strong-hold and it was taken in 1759. The British mercilessly hunted down every last Acadian they could find. During the darkest of the expulsion years, to be found and murdered for the bounty on their scalps may well have been the better fate compared to what happened to those who lived under British law as prisoners or who died a slow death of starvation, hiding in the woods.


A Long, Slow Comeback
Capt. Holland reported in 1768, speaking of the few remaining Acadians from among the several thousand (estimated 4,500 to 5,000) who had inhabited Ile St. Jean only 13 years earlier, "They are about thirty families. They are treated as prisoners, on the same footing as those of Halifax. Their poverty is extreme, they live in small cabins in the woods, which also gives them their firewood. They live on fish that they catch in the summer and on small game which they kill: hare, partridge, lynx, otter, marten, and muskrat, their pressing hunger forcing them to refuse nothing."

Clearly the generation of Acadians born between 1750 and 1800 were born into a far different world than their parents had worked to provide for them. Hundreds disappeared at a time with hardly a trace. Most who survived the expulsion years lost everything they had. They were in a very real sense... a lost generation... a tree uprooted.

Eventually a quiet sort of detente prevailed but for the next 200 years, anyone of "French-Acadian" origin living in what was once Acadie, and unfortunate enough to live outside those few communities where Acadian culture was predominant, bore the burden of being looked down upon, passed over for jobs and being discriminated against in every conceivable manner.

When I think of the missing records... when I become discouraged and disappointed... I only need ponder these facts and having pondered, I am less discouraged and more amazed that we have any record of these people at all.


The Seeds Bear Fruit
It is a two-sided story, of course, and some Acadian people managed to come back and quite successfully set up good solid communities in a relatively short period of time. Wherever Acadian people could band together as a community and out-number their oppressors, they survived nicely and maintained their language and culture... albeit not as nicely as it had been for the Acadians of mainland Nova Scotia areas in early 1700's.

Among many success stories, two examples of the rebirth of the Acadian people are seen in Cheticamp, established in 1790, and Tignish established in 1799. In both communities the hardships seemed to only make them stronger. My mother (English) would sometimes jokingly tell my father that the only reason the French did so well living in Cheticamp was because no self-respecting Englishman would want to live in such a God-forsaken place. While it was given and taken in good fun, it was not without a certain element of poignant truth... maybe even more than any of us gave much thought at the time.

And so, the seeds of the tree uprooted took root in the fertile soil of determination and faith. And a people who had once been set on a course of extermination made a most remarkable comeback.

I've come back home so I could see,
the place where l'Acadie was born.
We're back... this is where we belong,
we'll never leave again!

from - "Spirit of Acadia" 2000 David Chiasson.