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ACADIAN SPIRIT: The Legacy of Philippe d'Entremont
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The Acadian Expulsion

In 1755 the Acadians were torn from their homeland during the Great Expulsion. It followed a long history of exile. Eighty years before, the Dutch had moved in on the village of Pubnico that Philippe Muise d'Entremont had founded, motivating him to uproot and move to Port Royal.

Many European powers had tried to settle parts of North America. Many of these colonizers had been enemies in Europe. In particular, the bitter rivalry between the French and the English colonizers was a crucial factor in the fate of Acadia. The colony had been passed back and forth from English to French control many times in its history. Finally, after the war of the Spanish Succession and the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Acadia rested in the hands of the English(1).

England didn't initially make great efforts to establish a presence in Acadia. But it did demand of its conquered subjects that they take oath of unconditional loyalty. The Acadians agreed only to an oath of neutrality, promising that if war broke out they would not take up arms against either France or Britain. Initially, the Acadian position was accepted. But it was a sticky point(2).

In 1730, Governor Richard Phillips is said to have given verbal agreement to this semi-allegiance. But he has also been accused of not having informed the authorities of the compromise. Over the following decades several governors would, without success, demand that the growing Acadian population take the oath of allegiance to the British Crown. They had made these demands with the support of the British government in London, which felt that the Acadians must, at some time, be forced to decide where they stood(3).

That time came in the summer of 1755. The British were planning a major offensive in North America, intending to strike at major French positions on the unsettled border between the rival empires. Amid this colonial strife the Acadians stood their ground. What went on outside their colony was of no concern to them, they said. They had always been neutral, and neutral they would remain(4).

Unfortunately, the Acadians' promise of neutrality came under suspicion. The British attack on the French started at Fort Beausejour, under the leadership of Governor Lawrence. The Fort fell easily to the British and nearly two hundred Acadians were found within the walls of the Fort when it surrendered. The Acadians protested, insisting that they had been forced to bear arms against their will. For some British officials their presence was proof of treachery and deceit against their self-claimed oath of neutrality(5).

With this ammunition Governor Lawrence issued the Acadians an ultimatum: the Acadians had no choice but to swear an oath of loyalty to the Crown. Refusal would mean expulsion from the colony. The Acadians, as always, were undaunted. Previous governors had made similar threats of expulsion, but nothing had happened. What reason was there to believe that this time would be any different?

The Acadians were offered the chance to take the oath this last time. They refused. The Halifax government moved quickly to deport them. The roundup of Acadians began at Fort Beausejour, which had been renamed Fort Cumberland. The Acadians were told that their lands, goods, and chattels were to be forfeited to the Crown. And they were held prisoners until ships arrived for their deportation.

Deportation was heart-rending; the shoreline filled with the sorrowful sounds of Acadians praying, crying and singing. Altogether, an estimated 6,000 Acadians were deported in the fall of 1755. The expulsion continued over the next eight years as small groups of Acadians were captured or gave themselves up to follow family and friends into exile. In the end, almost three-quarters of the Acadian population of 15,000 had been victims of the Expulsion. Many families had been separated without any trace, never again to be reunited(6).

The decision to expel the Acadians was part of Lawrence's military strategy for the defense of his colony. The plan had been devised in Halifax and was unknown to the British government in London until it was far too late to issue any response. Lawrence's intention was to scatter the Acadians among Britain's Thirteen Colonies along the Atlantic Coast. In such small numbers, and immersed among an English speaking population, the Acadians would surely be absorbed(7).

Not all Acadians were prepared to give up so easily. Some resisted deportation and fled into the woods with their families. Those who were relocated arrived bewildered, impoverished and destitute. Most ended up in the area of Louisiana, never to return to Acadia. But many clung to the hope of one day returning to the land that had purged them, and almost immediately began the long journey back to Acadia(8).

In 1764, the Acadians were officially given permission to resettle in Nova Scotia. The war was over and France had given up her empire in North America. The Acadians were no longer considered a threat to the security of the British colony(9).

With this, the descendants of Philippe Muise d'Entremont made their way back to the family village of Pubnico. Like many of the 1,500 Acadians who returned, the d'Entremont's probably found new settlers on their land and had to choose a new place to start over. Although much had changed for the Acadians since 1755, what remained the same was their determination and perseverance to survive as a people, with a distinct identity and heritage, language and culture.

Endnotes:

1,2,3,6,7,8,9 - The Acadians
by Barry Moody (Grolier Limited, Toronto, 1981.

4,5 - Life in Acadia
by Rosemary Neering and Stan Garrod (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Toronto, 1976).


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