Obstacles: The Intemperance of Weather and Empires
The first settlement of Acadia, in 1604, was under Commander Sieur de Monts. There were about 80 colonists and they called their new home le Sainte-Croix because it was located at the mouth of the St Croix River along the Bay of Fundy. There the settlers built shelters and prepared as best they could for the cold months ahead. But the French hadn't known what to expect and they were hopelessly ill-prepared. Food supplies dwindled, drinking water froze and firewood ran out. To add to their problems, 36 settlers were killed by the terrible disease of scurvy(3).
The next year, in 1605, the settlement was moved to the shores of Port Royal. A centre for fur trading activities was set up and an exchange with the Indians was begun. Settlers began to cultivate the land and built a grist mill. This time the Acadians were better prepared when the cold came, having stored enough necessities to last them through the winter. And they formed a social club--the first of its kind in North America-- to help pass the long winter nights. It was called l'Ordre de Bon Temps or the Order of Good Cheer(4).
France and Britain had been rivals for centuries. When both empires fixed their ambitions on colonizing North America, the existing tensions came with them and only increased. For the next hundred years the two countries were often at war, and their colonies had no choice but to follow along with them. On the French side no colony would be more drastically affected than Acadia(6).
Acadia was strategically positioned between New England to the south and New France to the north, which made life perilous for the settlers. The English saw Acadia as a barrier to their final conquest of all North America(7). In 1621 the English government claimed Acadia as its own and changed its name to Nova Scotia, "New Scotland"(8). In 1629 a Scottish settlement was set up on the shores of Port Royal and a fort was built on the ruins of the French habitation. Settlers loyal to the British Crown began to farm the land. But in 1632 Britain's King Charles I recognized French ownership of Acadia, and ordered the Scottish settlers home. The territory continued to change hands until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which ceded Acadia to England.
The strife for the Acadians, however, was far from over. With their history of divided loyalties, they now found themselves subjects of Britain. Wanting to remain a distinct entity unto themselves they refused to take the oath of allegiance to the British Crown and offered instead an oath of neutrality. They also promised never to take up arms against either the British or the French, who were still continually clashing as colonists.
The British colonists went along with the Acadian's oath of neutrality until 1755 when the Halifax government gave the Acadians an ultimatum. Either they declare their allegiance to Britain and take the oath or they would face deportation from the colony. The Acadians remained true to their conviction of neutrality, and the British to their threat of expulsion. An estimated 10,000 Acadians were torn from their land, stripped of their belongings, separated from family and friends and deported. Most ended up in Louisiana and never came back. Others had fled into the woods for their lives(9).
The political motivation of the Great Expulsion was obvious. By scattering the Acadians among Britain's Thirteen Colonies along the Atlantic coast and reducing them to small numbers, the Acadians would be immersed in English society and culture and forced to assimilate. They would no longer be a threat to Britain's colonial empire. But the Acadians had learned from history to be a tenacious people. Holding strong to the values of self-reliance and determination they fought to rekindle and preserve the Acadian legacy(10).
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