I have already spoken somewhat fully of the troubles with the Acadians, and made brief allusion to the crowning scene of their forcible removal, which ocurred this year. The unquenchable yearning of the French to recover their long-lost province was by no means lessened by their successes elsewhere. The strong fort of Beauséjour, that they had erected on the neck of the isthmus, in doubtful territory, but commanding the most troubled part of the English dominion of Nova Scotia, became a busy scene of intrigue and action. Nearly 2,000 men, French regulars and insurgent or outlawed Acadians, besides large bands of Indians, were gathered either inside or within hail of it; while at the far end of the province the great naval and military post of Louisbourg boded mischief no less dangerous. The recent English settlement of Halifax, now the capital of the province, and a few isolated forts containing each their handful of men, represented all the power available for resisting a French attack, and protecting the scanty English settlers from the constant raiding of Acadians and Micmacs.
Nova Scotia, so far as military occupation went, was now wholly in British hands. But tho rid of pressing danger from French forts and soldiers, it remained a seething hotbed of misery, treachery, and disorder. Its security was of vital importance to the British at this most crucial moment. For similar reasons its recovery was no less an object with the French. The small handful of British regulars, with the raw and scant militia of the infant Halifax, would be ridiculously inadequate as a protecting force; while the two Massachusetts regiments, in accordance with custom and necessity, were only enlisted for a season. A small force of French invaders, in the present temper of the Acadians, could count on their almost unanimous assistance. Hitherto any of these latter people who had abandoned their farms could return and make their peace without difficulty. Those who had remained at home could at any time insure the continued favor of the British Government by taking an unqualified oath of allegiance to King George, who had treated them with unbroken indulgence, and under whose rule most of them had been actually born. Yet never had these strange people been more generally hostile than now, and at no time, thanks to magnified reports of French successes, had they been so insolent. It is not surprizing that the patience of the British authorities at last gave out; and Lawrence,2 tho eminently a just man, was not quite so soft-hearted as some of his predecessors.
A certain number of exiles had petitioned for reinstatement, and received it on taking the full oath, but the mass yet awaited the test. Time prest, and none was lost. Shirley amid his own troubles on the far-off Mohawk was as strong as Lawrence for an ultimatum. The latter, after submitting the matter to his Council at Halifax, communicated his intentions to Monckton, Winslow and the other British officers. In every district it was then proclaimed that an unqualified oath of allegiance would be required from every inhabitant who had not already taken it. The appeal was responded to by deputations from the several districts, all making objections to the terms of the oath, chief among these being the liability to bear arms. Others made stipulations that the priests should be free from all supervision. Lawrence went so far as to promise them that, for the present at any rate, they should not be liable to military service. It was in vain that firmly and kindly he reminded them of the consistent indulgence shown them by the King of England, and explained how impossible it was that he should tolerate such a grudging return. But it was neither the King of England, nor the King of France, nor any question of race or patriotism, that these infatuated people had in their minds, but the fear of eternal damnation, which the Bishop of Quebec, through his all too zealous missioners, had struck deep into their unsophisticated souls, and the dread of Le Loutre's Micmac Indians.
"Then," at last said Lawrence, "you are no longer subjects of the King of England, but of the King of France. You will be treated as such, and removed from the country." At this they were staggered, and most of them relenting, profest a willingness to take the oath. "No," said Lawrence; "you have had your opportunity and rejected it. Such an oath as you would now take, and such loyalty as mere fear extorts from you, is worthless. We shall now have regard solely to the king's interests, and the consequences must rest on your own heads." I have here endeavored to condense what extended in fact over many interviews, much tedious going to and fro of deputations, and much consultation in the Acadian villages.
It was the middle of July when Lawrence and Winslow commenced that final step which made such a harrowing picture for the somewhat ill-instructed sympathies of half a dozen generations of Britons and Americans. The troops were divided into four or five bodies, and marched through the province to the chief centers of population, which were mostly on the western shore. The object in hand was kept a dead secret from all but the leading British officers. Winslow had command at Grandpré, and has kept a useful journal of the whole business. September the 5th was the day decided upon for action, when the officer of each district was to summon all its able-bodied men to come and hear the intentions of the king toward them. Accustomed to regard the rare bark of the British Government as infinitely worse than its still rarer bite, they came in a large proportion of their strength, and without a thought of the trap that was being laid for them, to hear what suggestions that benign shadow, the King of England, had to make for their future.
The parish church in most cases was the appointed rendezvous, and there the king's orders were read aloud to them by the officer in command. These were to the effect that all such Acadians as had not already taken the oath were to be shipt out of the country with their families; that their lands and stock, which at any time till now they could have saved by an oath of allegiance to a king "who had treated them with greater indulgence than any of his subjects in any part of his dominions," were forfeited to the Crown. Their money only, and such household goods as there might be room for in the ships, they were to be allowed to take.
The wretched Acadians were dumfounded at the nature of this announcement. Many refused to believe it. They were, however, prisoners, with only too much time before them for the terrible truth to sink into their minds. There was no escape, for outside the churches stood the New England soldiery, in their blue uniforms, with loaded muskets. The number of Acadians secured on this 5th of September varied in the several districts. Everywhere, however, it was supplemented by forays of the British troops, which became no easy matter when the direful news spread abroad. The transports for removing the emigrants were dilatory in their arrivals. Winslow and his brother officers chafed at the delay, for their small divided force was none too strong, and, moreover, as humane men, they heartily detested the job. No hint, however, comes down from any of them that, under the circumstances, there was any alternative, which is significant. There seems, indeed, to have been but one opinion as to its necessity. It is not for us to dwell here on the details of this melancholy deportation. All the women and children who so desired could go, and every care was made to keep together not only families, but so far as possible neighbors. Many did not believe the sentence would be actually carried out till the first detachments were marched on board ship at the bayonet's point. The whole wretched business occupied over two months. About six thousand in all were deported, while more than half that number were left behind in Acadia, to say nothing of as many more who had fled into French territory. Some of these became practically outlaws, and harassed the British till the close of the war. But their sting was drawn: the province rapidly became in the main British by race as well as by territory, hastened to this end by the fall of Louisbourg.
The hapless emigrants were distributed throughout the English colonies. That people so profoundly ignorant and bigoted as the Acadians did not flourish when pitchforked thus on to alien soil, is not surprizing. Nor is it more so by the same token that the British colonists upon whom they were unceremoniously precipitated, showed no alacrity to receive them. Their after wanderings, which were wide, and subsequent groupings, are of interest to the American ethnologist, but do not concern us here. It will be sufficient to say that, of all the communities upon whom they were cast, the uncompromising heretics of Massachusetts exhibited most practical charity, while it was the exiles who found their way to Quebec, to their coreligionists and their own countrymen, whose tools they had been, that fared the worst. It would be unprofitable to examine here to what extent this radical operation was justifiable. The reader must pass his own judgment on it. It will be well, however, to remember that the year was not 1900, but 1755; that the perpetrators of it, colonists and British officials, were confronted with what proved one of the most pregnant struggles in modern history, and were ill equipped for it; that they had treated these people with a consistent indulgence that had then no parallel under such circumstances; that the lives and fortunes of 4,000 peaceful English settlers on the Halifax side of the province were in daily jeopardy; and lastly, that a considerable number of the exiles themselves had their hands red with the blood of Englishmen, not killed in fair fight, but murdered in Indian fashion while peacefully pursuing their daily avocations on British soil.
11 From Bradley's "Fight with France for North America." By arrangement with the publishers, Constable & Co., of London. Longfellow's poem, "Evangeline," is founded on an incident in the deportation of the Acadians.
2The British officer in command in Nova Scotia.