The Expulsion

The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low. … And he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle, and the fruit of thy land, until thou be destroyed.

—Deuteronomy 28:43

A search party found the corpse beneath a clump of bushes. The man had died in agony. Dark blood oozed from his mouth; his fingers remained “clenched full of sand.”

His name was André Boudin dit Blondain, and along with three fellow soldiers at Fort Beauséjour, an outpost on New France’s contested frontier with Nova Scotia, he had made a terrible mistake. A day earlier, on May 15, 1754, they had cooked a pot of soup. Along with some salt pork, they added a “great quantity” of greens and a few carrots. After eating, Guillaume Besse dit Languedoc left the fort and returned to his work tending the hospital’s garden, but soon collapsed in “violent convulsions.” Back inside, Etienne Leroy dit Vadeboncoeur and François Visan dit Sansoucy suddenly found themselves “racked with vomiting, making the most violent efforts to purge what they had eaten.” For his part, Blondain had vanished into a network of grassy trails to the northeast of the fort. He had only moments to live.

Panicked officers sent for the commandant’s secretary, Thomas Pichon. Having briefly studied medicine in France before embarking on a checkered military career in Germany and North America, Pichon was the soldiers’ best hope. At the hospital, he gave Languedoc an “antidote,” but seeing the unmistakable “symptoms of death,” Pichon left him and hurried inside Fort Beauséjour to find the others. Frantic, he administered tartar emetic to induce still more vomiting, followed by doses of Venice treacle, a round of cassia-infused enemas, and milk.

Miraculously (if messily), Vadeboncoeur and Sansoucy felt much better the next morning, just in time to see the body of their friend Blondain, who had collapsed several hundred yards down the path to the little French redoubt at Pont à Buot, carried into the fort. Pichon conducted a “scrupulous” autopsy. He discovered “grayish white” pus in Blondain’s bladder, gas in his intestines, and bits of “undigested root” in his stomach. He had no idea what had done the damage. But the omens in Blondain’s gut, plus the fact that a few spilled drops of the soup had nearly killed the fort’s two dogs, convinced Pichon that he needed to find out fast.


Fort Beauséjour (left) and Fort Lawrence (bottom) on the contested Chignecto Isthmus. Vue du fort de Beauséjour, 1750. Courtesy of the McCord Museum, Montreal.

He sought out the surgeon at Fort Lawrence, a British garrison located just two miles to the east across the Missaguash River, a tidal stream that had become the de facto border between New France and Nova Scotia. Although the two forts bristled at each other, trips across the Missaguash were hardly uncommon. In 1753, a French officer had complained that inter-imperial traffic made Fort Lawrence “as frequented as the tomb of Mahomet at Mecca.”1 Pichon and the British surgeon arranged a meeting, compared notes, and came to a reassuring conclusion: Blondain and his friends had mistaken a species of poisonous hemlock for parsley. Convinced that Fort Beauséjour’s food supply was in no danger, Pichon went home.2

Over the next year, however, he crossed the Missaguash to Fort Lawrence more and more often. Feeling unappreciated at Fort Beauséjour and reasoning that “we are born men before becoming English or French,” Pichon began committing treason.3 He relayed maps, letters, and reports to the British while trying to sow dissatisfaction among the Acadians whose homes and fields lay near Fort Beauséjour, and whose support was essential to its survival. Finally, in May and June 1755, a force of British regulars and Massachusetts volunteers capitalized on Pichon’s information, laying siege to the fort from a rise a few hundred yards to its northeast. Part of a multipronged British attack on French strongholds throughout the North American backcountry, the strike against Fort Beauséjour succeeded. On June 15, after a well-placed bomb destroyed a casemate, killing three French soldiers and one British prisoner inside the fort, the commandant capitulated.

As the Anglo-Americans swept inside, they discovered that a number of Acadians (the “more warlike” of the area’s inhabitants, according to Pichon) had borne arms against the British during the siege.4 In the days that followed, the victors waffled on what to do next. Biding their time, the British set the Acadians to work repairing Fort Beauséjour’s ramparts even as they whisked Pichon away to begin his new life as Thomas Tyrrell, a bona fide subject of George II.5 Within weeks, Nova Scotia’s provincial leaders issued a stunning response. In light of the “treachery” at Fort Beauséjour, they launched a plan to deport all fifteen thousand Acadians from the shores of the Bay of Fundy. A year after the death of Andre Boudin dit Blondain, the grand dérangement had begun.

How had it come to this?

Coerced migration, of course, was nothing new in 1755. Richard Philipps, provincial governor of Nova Scotia during the 1720s, mused about an expulsion in his day but was brought up short by a worrisome prospect: that Acadians might depart like “the jews march’d out of Egypt, not only with their owne effects and what they can borrow, but will first distroy the Country.”6

Less ancient examples abounded as well. The native Irish, Native Americans, and Highland Scots had been victimized by British or Anglo-American campaigns to uproot, resituate, or just plain get rid of ill-behaved minorities.7 The British, of course, were not the only aggressors. In the sixteenth century, thousands of indigenous people in Spanish Peru had been thrust into the reducciones, vast, mission-centered settlements designed to speed assimilation, Christianization, and the extraction of labor and tribute.8Notoriously, Louis XIV engineered the exile of his kingdom’s two hundred thousand Huguenots in 1685, scattering French Protestants throughout the Atlantic world.9 These episodes—and smaller ones, including the repeated “evacuations” of civilians in contested places such as Newfoundland and the Caribbean island of Saint Christopher—were all set against the incessant hum of the slave trade, which moved twelve million captive Africans to the Americas.10 What happened to the Acadians was no aberration. They had been jerked violently back into the mainstream of lived experience in a harsh New World.

The assault on the Bay of Fundy’s villages was hardly predestined; rather, it evolved out of choices made by people such as Thomas Pichon. His betrayal was among the last in a long line of acts that led to those brutal months in 1755. Those responsible for the Acadian expulsion are now reviled: Charles Lawrence, the lieutenant governor whose council issued the order to disperse the Acadians “among His Majesty’s colonys”; Charles Morris, a surveyor who in 1753 wrote a plan for the removal; John Winslow of Marshfield, Massachusetts, and Robert Monckton of Yorkshire, England, the army officers who executed Morris’s plan; William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts during the 1740s and 1750s, who told anyone within earshot that “the Province of Nova Scotia will never be out of danger, whilst the French Inhabitants are suffer’d to remain.”11

Perhaps, though, we might step back from the search for scapegoats to take a harder look at the place where the expulsion of 1755 really began. In the 1750s, the Chignecto Isthmus was a true friction point between the French and British empires in North America. There were, of course, others. Pushing south from Montréal past Lake Champlain, a line of French forts ran into a line of British forts running north from Albany to Lake George, while from the Cherokee towns of South Carolina to the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania subjects and allies of the two powers jockeyed for trade, territory, and influence.12

Nowhere, however, was imperial rivalry so intimate as Chignecto. Separated by a thin strip of no-man’s-land and the muddy Missaguash, men from Fort Beauséjour and Fort Lawrence could see, smell, and hail one another with ease. Brook Watson, a one-legged teenager serving as a secretary at Fort Lawrence, recalled the cold day when seventy head of British cattle made a break for the “greener herbage” on the French side of the river. Watson “stript” and “plunged into the stream,” but his wooden leg sank so deep in a mud bank that he got out only by “drawing himself … on his belly.” After shooing sixty cows toward Fort Lawrence, the half-naked Briton was interrupted by a French officer “whose compassion for a most deplorable object” led him to pilot Watson back across the Missaguash on his own boat.13 Not all meetings ended so happily, but the unique proximity of empires on the isthmus bred a unique familiarity.14

It also bred changes in Chignecto’s human and physical geography. Had Thomas Pichon taken the time to look as he raced, antidotes in hand, into Fort Beauséjour in May 1754, he surely would have noticed them. A few years earlier, the outpost had been built on a plateau described by Louis-Thomas Jacau de Fiedmont, a Nova Scotia–born French engineer: “The height … falls almost 100 feet in a gentle slope on four sides of the fort: opposite the fifth, the ground rises gradually, almost 2 feet in every 200 yards, until the greatest elevation is reached at a distance of 900 yards from the fort.”15 From the top, Pichon would have seen the village of Beauséjour below. It was unimpressive. Founded at the same time as the fort, it consisted of the unfinished walls of a passable chapel, some livestock “without shelter,” and the “wretched hovels” of a few dozen Acadians.16


At times there were Indians, too, mostly Mi’kmaq from Shubenacadie, the site of an old Catholic mission in Nova Scotia’s interior, but also Abenaki and Maliseet delegations from the Saint John River and beyond. “According to custom,” the French gave them presents of guns, powder, and supplies, but “privation” in the village often forced officers to turn the visitors away.17

On a clear day, Pichon might have looked west to the rivières au Lac, Tantramar, and Memramcook, which emptied into the Bay of Fundy from the north. Here new dikes crisscrossed the waterways, guarding the farms of clannish Acadian settlements such as Pré des Richards and Pré des Bourgs against ruinous saltwater. In the other direction, past Fort Lawrence to the east, sat the village of Beaubassin. Once home to more than two hundred, it was now a charred ruin. Beyond Beaubassin, on the rivières Laplanche, Nappan, Macann, and Hébert, dikes were in disrepair, leaving the farms behind them to flood. Had Pichon’s vision been unnaturally sharp, he could have turned north, looking beyond the mainland settlement of Gaspereau and across the Cumberland Strait to Ile Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island). Hundreds of Acadians lived there in makeshift camps and tumbledown huts, battling field mice and rocky soil to live, as a squatter named Augustin Doucet put it, “like savages in the woods.”18 From on high or up close, the scenery flashing before Pichon’s eyes was half formed, raw.

That rawness was the result of a peculiar kind of imperial competition. At stake, simply enough, was food. The lands farmed by Nova Scotia’s fifteen thousand Acadians, wrote more than one eighteenth-century observer, had the potential to act as a kind of “granary,” enriching and empowering whoever controlled them. For both the French and British empires, securing the fruits of Acadian agriculture, and preventing the enemy from doing so, became the highest priority.

In the early 1750s, the French muscled as many Acadians as they could (Pichon guessed three thousand “refugees” in all) west of the Missaguash or onto Ile Saint-Jean. They were to create replicas of their farming communities in Nova Scotia, strengthening Louis XV’s claim to a vital frontier and putting calories in the bellies of men such as André Boudin dit Blondain and the native Americans who fought alongside them. The British, however, saw Chignecto as a valve in need of shutting. They cajoled, threatened, and blocked, knowing that an Acadian exodus would augment French power and detract from their own. It was a vicious competition, and in 1755 it would transform all of Nova Scotia, just as it had Chignecto.

For Thomas Pichon, Chignecto was a place of opportunity, reinvention, and self-fashioning. With the British (his “liberators”) near, he switched sides on his own, rattling off justifications ranging from his English ancestry to French attempts on his life to a favorable comparison with Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (who, after “a light injury” from his Roman countrymen, sacked the city “at the head of an army of enemies, with death and desolation in his heart”).19 But for the Acadians, such freedom of self-definition proved elusive. The logic of imperialism pigeonholed them as laborers suited for agriculture and nothing more. In 1755, that image would prove the Acadians’ undoing.

Nova Scotia, of course, had not always been Acadian country. The province’s indigenous inhabitants, the Mi’kmaq, had lived there for centuries. They spent summers in coastal villages and winters in smaller groups, hunting protein-rich game (including seals, bears, moose, caribou, and beaver) across the uplands of what would become the Canadian Maritimes.20

The first accounts of the Mi’kmaq date to July 1534, when Jacques Cartier came across two “fleets” totaling “forty or fifty canoes” in Chaleur Bay off present-day New Brunswick. Eager for “iron wares,” the Mi’kmaq first offered strips of seal meat, but ended up stark naked after trading away their clothes.21 By the time the Rouen fur trader Etienne Bellenger visited Acadia in 1583, the Mi’kmaq had learned well how to deal with Europeans. As Bellenger told Richard Hakluyt, then a secretary to England’s ambassador to France, the Mi’kmaq cut quite a figure. “They weare their hayre hanging downe long before and behynde as long as their Navells,” he remembered, revealing that “they go all naked saving for their privates which they cover with an Apron of some Beastes skynn.” They were experts in intercultural commerce. In exchange for metal goods, the Mi’kmaq offered Bellenger “hides reddie dressed upon both sides bigger than an Oxe,” along with deer, seal, marten, and otter skins, enough beaver pelts to make six hundred hats, and foot-long chunks of venison—any explorer’s wish list. But Bellenger also lost two of his men and a small boat in the Bay of Fundy to a group of “cruell and subtill” Mi’kmaq, prompting him to warn others of his “follye in trusting the salvadges to farr.”22

The Mi’kmaq would remain one of the more stable indigenous societies in North America, experiencing no great collapse like the mound builders of the Southeast and no cyclical wars like those that devastated the Iroquoian and Algonquian peoples of the Saint Lawrence Valley.23 While they lived and migrated as clans, the Mi’kmaq also retained an overarching political structure called the Sante Mawi’omi, which translates to “Grand Council” or “Holy Gathering.” Legendarily founded hundreds of years earlier in response to Iroquois raids from the east, the council brought together the “captains” of seven Mi’kmaq districts for talks on “peace and war, treaties of friendship, and treaties for the common good.”24 Although the Holy Gathering was transformed by the European presence in Acadia, it endured into the eighteenth century. During the winter of 1728, the French governor of Ile Royale fretted over “a considerable gathering of Indians … for which I have not been able to discover the reason.”25 Numerically strong and politically sophisticated, the Mi’kmaq proved willing participants in colonial economies while remaining blasé about the colonizers. Pierre Biard, a French Jesuit who did his best to minister to the Mi’kmaq in 1611, complained that “they think they are better, more valiant and more ingenious” than any European.26

Frenchmen began arriving in numbers in 1604, three years before the foundation of Jamestown and sixteen before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. Henry IV of France granted the first charter for “the country of Acadia, Canada and other lands of New France” to Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts, a Protestant nobleman who promised to transport sixty colonists across the Atlantic, solidify “the friendship already begun” with the Mi’kmaq, teach the “savages” Christian principles, and quash English claims to the region, all “while taking nothing from the coffers of His Majesty.”27 This was mostly puffery. De Monts wanted to get rich quick through minerals or, more likely, beaver pelts. In the summer of 1605, de Monts and his navigator, Samuel de Champlain, sailed into the Bay of Fundy, through the Digby Gut, and up the rivière Dauphin, where de Monts began mapping out a settlement called Port Royal.

Hugging what Champlain called “one of the finest harbors I have seen on all these coasts,” Port Royal also sat near a Mi’kmaq village. Ruled by an incongruously bearded sagamore named Membertou (translation: “the game cock who commands many”), the Mi’kmaq sustained the French during those first difficult winters, supplying food in exchange for weapons and tools. For their part, de Monts and Champlain grew enamored of the Saint Lawrence Valley even as independent fishermen, French merchants, and the venerable Hatters’ Corporation of Paris began aligning against de Monts’s crown-granted monopoly over the fur trade with the Mi’kmaq.28 Henry IV abruptly revoked the charter in 1607, prompting de Monts to send Champlain to claim the future site of Québec. Guarded against European enemies by several hundred miles of the Saint Lawrence River, which flowed from Québec through the western heartland of the fur trade and, many believed, right on to Asia, this would become the focal point of French imperialism in North America for the next century. At three years old, Acadia had become an orphan.

For the next generation, Port Royal was controlled by Jean de Biencourt, sieur de Poutrincourt, and his son, Charles de Biencourt de Saint-Just. Poutrincourt had been one of de Monts’s partners on the 1604 voyage, and maintained a dogged determination to turn Port Royal into an agricultural colony. Alongside the naturalist Marc Lescarbot, he thrilled at the “rye … as tall as the tallest man” grown in the outpost’s gardens (seeking funds at court, he would later present some of that rye, along with four other species of grain and a few geese, to a bemused Henry IV).29 The Poutrincourt dynasty never realized its goal. Father and son fought with Jesuits and their powerful French patrons, struggled in vain to lure migrants to Port Royal, and suffered a devastating 1613 assault by English freebooters from Jamestown. On a return trip to France in 1615, Poutrincourt was killed while battling an anti-monarchical uprising near his Champagne estates. In Acadia, his son died in 1624, leaving Port Royal’s handful of French transients in limbo.

The English crown seized the moment. In 1621, James I had granted a charter for “Nova Scotia” to an idiosyncratic Scots courtier named William Alexander. Eight years later, Alexander’s son landed near Port Royal (then abandoned by Acadia’s remaining French traders, who had taken up a new post at Port Loméron on the peninsula’s western tip), with seventy of his countrymen in tow. Their colony barely survived the winter. In spite of a good reception from the Mi’kmaq and some successful agricultural experiments, a skirmish with the French sealed the fate of “New Scotland.” In 1632 the French ship Saint-Jean hauled forty-two defeated Scots to England. That same year, the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye returned Acadia to France—but the English claim would endure in memory.30

In 1636, after a failed attempt to establish an outpost for fishermen and fur traders at La Hève on the Atlantic coast, the French turned again toward Port Royal. The prime mover in all of this was Charles de Menou d’Aulnay de Charnizay. D’Aulnay had come to Acadia in 1632 as an agent of his cousin Isaac de Razilly, a naval officer charged with overseeing the “restitution of Port Royal in Acadia … which has been usurped by the Scots and English.”31 Both Louis XIII and the Compagnie des Cents-Associés, a royally sanctioned company whose investors claimed control over trade and settlement throughout France’s North American possessions, signed off on Razilly’s appointment. For reasons that remain unclear, they granted similar powers to Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour, a veteran of the Poutrincourt era who maintained a base at the mouth of the Saint John River, across the Bay of Fundy from Port Royal.32 At first the rival officials got on well. Razilly spent most of his time at La Hève, while de la Tour minded his fur-trading business with the Maliseets. But when Razilly died suddenly in 1635, d’Aulnay asserted himself as the sole authority over all of Acadia, igniting a feud that would last for more than a decade.

The principal episodes border on the tragicomic. After a brief détente in the late 1630s, d’Aulnay blockaded de la Tour’s fort on the Saint John in 1642. The latter responded by escaping to Boston. Scraping up capital from Puritans interested in the fur trade, de la Tour recruited three hundred Massachusetts volunteers who routed d’Aulnay, chased his ships back to Port Royal, and sacked the surrounding countryside. While de la Tour visited Boston to court more Protestant backers, d’Aulnay struck back at the Saint John River settlement in 1645. Left behind to hold down the fort, de la Tour’s wife, Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, the daughter of a prominent Huguenot merchant, surrendered. D’Aulnay spared her life (although she died a few weeks later, seemingly of natural causes) but forced one of de la Tour’s men to execute every last soldier in her husband’s garrison. De la Tour skulked between Massachusetts and an awkward exile in Québec.

Five years later, on May 24, 1650, d’Aulnay’s canoe capsized in the tidal basin near Port Royal. “Strange currents” pulled on his body with such force that the swim to shore took ninety minutes. D’Aulnay died after dragging himself onto the bank.33 De la Tour then exacted his final revenge. In 1653, he married d’Aulnay’s pragmatic widow, Jeanne Motin de Reux, for “the peace and tranquility of the country.”34 Together they laid plans to bring Acadia, then a collection of rudimentary forts and villages dotting the Bay of Fundy from Port Royal in the east to Pentagouet on Maine’s Penobscot River, under one rule.35

In political terms, d’Aulnay’s life had been a failure. But his attempts to bring de la Tour to heel led directly to the first permanent settlement of French farmers in Acadia. D’Aulnay was a man on the make, and he knew that the fur trade was the fastest route to riches in North America. That meant leaving the fishy isolation of La Hève for Port Royal, where he could stick close to Membertou’s Mi’kmaq descendants and compete with de la Tour for trade among the Maliseet, whose hunting parties ranged up the Penobscot all the way to the Saint Lawrence River.

As his long run of names suggests, d’Aulnay was also a member of the French nobility. He looked on Port Royal as a distant annex of his family’s estates near Loudun, south of the Loire River in the province of Poitou. The peasants who worked d’Aulnay’s land had given the family both riches and prestige. By the 1630s, however, d’Aulnay’s holdings, like those of his neighbors, were mired in uncertainty. Religious warfare had decimated the kingdom’s economy during the last quarter of the sixteenth century, leaving many nobles “scraping by in their homes” or, as one observer worried, “giving themselves to base commerce … buying and selling wheat, wine, salt and other things.”36 Recovery came slow to Poitou as political discontent accelerated. As late as 1622, Louis XIII led an army into the province, putting down armed Protestants accused of instigating “disorders, insolent acts, and rebellions … against his authority.”37 Nobles and tenants struggled to remain profitable, while rising taxes often forced those peasants who had owned their own lands to sell on the cheap.38

On d’Aulnay’s estates, which encompassed La Chaussée, Martaizé, and several other villages south of Loudun, the result seems to have been a glut of dispossessed men and women looking for a fresh start. On his visits home during the late 1630s and early 1640s, d’Aulnay began telling them about Acadia. Along with a few peasants culled from Razilly’s estates in Anjou, about twenty families from La Chaussée and Martaizé—with names such as Bourg, Gaudet, Leblanc, and Thibodeau—determined to make new homes in Port Royal.39

D’Aulnay’s needs and those of his tenants converged nicely. But there was more to the settlement of Port Royal than good fortune. It had to do with tides. From the Gulf of Maine, the Bay of Fundy slices deep into Nova Scotia’s igneous bedrock, terminating in twin heads 150 miles to the northeast. Narrowing on the surface and shallowing underwater, the bay acts like a funnel, producing the highest tidal variations on earth. Moving at speeds of up to eight knots, four cubic miles of water rush into and out of the Bay of Fundy during each twelve-hour cycle.40 The sea rises and falls as much as fifty feet in some spots, spilling saltwater across miles of coastal flatland.

Early on, the tides were notable mainly as a nuisance to navigators. Poutrincourt discovered as much in 1607, when his canoe was prevented from reaching Port Royal by “the tide (which runs swiftly here)” and then wrenched “toward the coast, with its high rocks and cliffs.”41 A similar fate befell Jacques de Meulles. After a shipwreck, the intendant of New France spent the winter of 1685–86 marooned at the northernmost end of the Bay of Fundy, in the tiny Acadian settlement of Beaubassin. When de Meulles finally attempted to sail to Port Royal in April, his twelve-ton sloop eased out of the Missaguash into the bay but was blown onto “a point of clayey land which one could hardly see at that time.” The tide, which had been so high that it “overflowed into the meadows,” began to ebb. In an hour or two, the ship was “balanced, half of it being in the air,” leaving de Meulles and his crew teetering three stories above the water’s surface “as if we had been put there on purpose.” The water’s return saved the high-centered Frenchmen, but the Bay of Fundy would continue to bedevil European sailors for years to come.42

The sea’s rise and fall did, however, yield some benefits. Tidal waters scour the bay’s floor with incredible force twice daily, dumping tons of nutrient-rich red silt onto marshlands along the rivers and streams that empty into the bay. Although gentlemen such as Poutrincourt never knew what to make of these overgrown swamps (he ordered fields tilled on the uplands east of Port Royal, where, as a modern geographer puts it, “the most that can be hoped … is a good forest”), others saw creative possibilities.43 Before decamping for Québec, Champlain laid out a few “gardens” near Port Royal, placing “a little sluice-way towards the shore, in order to draw off the water when I wished.”44 In effect, he was experimenting with land reclamation through diking, using an earthen wall to keep the rising sea out but including within it a mechanism that allowed him to drain fresh water from the field at low tide.

Champlain knew this process well. He came from the French town of Brouage near La Rochelle, site of an enormous dike separating solid ground from the Marais de Brouage, a massive swamp studded with evaporative salt pans.45 Dikes like this one, some built by Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries as early as the eleventh century, littered the waterways of Poitou, Anjou, Saintonge, Aunis, and Brittany. Many were destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War and the religious conflicts of the late sixteenth century, prompting local reconstruction efforts that spread knowledge of diking techniques and technologies among generations of Poitevin workers.46 In 1599, Henry IV launched a centralized campaign to reclaim the marshes, but political reversals and renewed fighting between Catholics and Protestants stalled new projects until the late 1630s, when a royally chartered company waded into the Marais Poitevin, a vast area of swamps at the mouths of the Lay, Sèvre, and Vendée rivers. More than fifteen thousand hectares would be diked and drained there over the following twenty-five years, a run of activity that revived medieval methods while refining new ones.47

D’Aulnay seems to have been steeped in these diking traditions. Nicolas Denys, who arrived in Acadia with Isaac de Razilly in 1632, would later describe Port Royal’s hinterland as a “great extent of meadows which the sea used to cover, and which the Sieur d’Aulnay had drained.”48 Three days before d’Aulnay’s death, his parish priest watched him return by canoe from the marshes, “soaked with rain and mud-stained up to his belt and elbows” after a difficult day “planting stakes, tracing lines, and marking off with cords another plot of land to be drained.”49 Perhaps more to the point, many of the original settlers of Acadia, natives of villages surrounding the Marais Poitevin, possessed some understanding of the reclamation of tidal marshland—or, at the very least, they did not reject the idea out of hand, as Poutrincourt and many other Frenchmen did. As a modern marine biologist writes, the first Acadians’ exposure to western France’s engineered marshes became a “source of [their] conviction that equipped only with an ox, a tiny spade, and a pitchfork, they could exclude the world’s highest tides” from the Bay of Fundy’s shorelines.50

Together, d’Aulnay and his recruits spent the 1640s and 1650s launching an audacious adaptation of European technology to an American environment. Along the streams that flowed into the rivière Dauphin near Port Royal, colonists worked in teams. They first planted a foundation of rough-hewn timbers, brush, and sod across the stream’s mouth, packing in gaps with impermeable clay. Within this waterproof base, Acadians embedded the all-important sluice. In light of the effort and expense of milling lumber, this often consisted of one or more hollowed-out logs—pipes, essentially. In smaller, family-built dikes, these sluices might be less than twenty feet long and ten inches in diameter. Bigger jobs required multiple logs forty-five feet long and three feet across.51On the end pointing toward the bay, workers attached a hinged clapper valve sometimes called an esseau, or plank, that allowed for freshwater drainage but snapped shut when the salty tide rose.52

The dike was then built on top of this foundation. Its walls were made of unusual material. Marc Lescarbot noticed it during the winter of 1606. While making charcoal, an enterprising blacksmith hacked several blocks of sod out of a marsh near Port Royal to cover some smoldering timbers. Examining the empty pit, Lescarbot discovered that the marsh’s floor consisted of “two feet of earth which was not earth, but grasses mixed with silt, which have been heaped upon each other annually since the beginning of the world, without ever having been cut.”53 Stretching over hundreds of acres, carpets of this distinctive sod had been formed by the unchecked growth of Spartina patens and Juncus gerardi, two hardy, salt-tolerant marine grasses.54 Their wiry root systems penetrated deep into the soil of the tidal marshes, creating an underground matrix that trapped dirt, clay, sediments, and plant matter.

Using sharp diking spades imported from western France, Acadians took to the marshes, harvesting rectangular blocks, or gazons, measuring four by ten inches at the surface and a foot in depth. Their durability stunned observers. Isaac Deschamps, a Swiss migrant to eighteenth-century Nova Scotia, marveled at these grasses “whose roots were so sewn as to keep the Sods almost Solid.” Even today, when the clay and sediment is blasted out of a sod block with a power hose, the framing roots retain their shape.55Arranging the sods like bricks, Acadians built smooth-faced dike walls up to ten feet high, then packed the structure’s center with brush, clay, and more “odd” sods. Likely referencing abotamentum, the medieval Latin term for dike, and its various iterations in the dialects of western France, the Acadians called their creations aboiteaux.56

Perfected in the marshes near Port Royal, the Acadians’ aboiteaux migrated up the Bay of Fundy as the seventeenth century progressed. Guided by Jacques Bourgeois, a would-be fur trader and cattle rancher who had served as d’Aulnay’s surgeon, a handful of families headed for Beaubassin on the Chignecto Isthmus in the early 1670s. In 1676, after the governor-general of New France granted a tract of land to a minor Canadian official, Michel Leneuf de la Vallière, the area became a destination for Acadian migrants searching for farms beyond Port Royal. Making ends meet on the isthmus was hardly easy. In the late 1680s, the bishop of Québec reported that the earliest settlers had been “reduced to living on hay” before catching on to fishing—doubtless with the help of the Mi’kmaq—and protecting the marshes with “dikes they constructed with much labor and expense.”57 Working on the rivières Missaguash, au Lac, Tantramar, Memramcook, and Petitcodiac, the first Beaubassin colonists drained hundreds of acres within a generation.

The same process transformed the southern shoreline of the Minas Basin, where small rivers emptied into the Bay of Fundy about seventy miles northeast of Port Royal. Several Acadian families including Landrys, Thériots, and Melansons made their way to Minas in the 1680s. Centered on a village called Grand Pré (“Great Meadow”), their settlements extended the Acadians’ mastery of the tides. Aboiteaux went up fast. To guard Grand Pré against the rivière Gaspereau and the bay itself, Acadians eventually built seventeen and a half miles of dikes equipped with more than thirty sluices. Smaller-scale projects littered the area’s other waterways, making Minas, in the words of one French visitor, the prime destination for “all of the young people from Port Royal.”58Although under constant threat from burrowing muskrats, storms, and tidal surges linked to the eighteen-year Saros astronomical cycle, the aboiteaux of Minas were built to last.59 In 1960, when authorities reinforced the modern Wickwire dike on the western shore of Grand Pré, local farmers insisted on retaining a hand-built Acadian aboiteau as a two-hundred-year-old insurance policy.60

Contemporaries, though, found much to criticize about the Acadians’ methods. After conducting a census of Acadia in 1687 and 1688, the sieur de Gargas advised Louis XIV to “force the inhabitants to clear the higher ground.” By his lights, the practice of “building levees in the marshes” produced bad grain and needless risks. Better, Gargas thought, to bear the “initial difficulty” of clearing the forested uplands and graze “an enormous number” of cattle in the marshes.61 Joseph Robineau de Villebon, Louis XIV’s commandant in Acadia during the last decade of the seventeenth century, likewise fretted over what dike building meant for the little colony’s culture. Drained sixty years earlier, the marshes around Port Royal were, he admitted in 1699, “very productive, yielding each year a quantity of … wheat, rye, peas, and oats, not only for the maintenance of families living there but for sale and transportation to other parts of the country.” But the ease with which Acadians constructed aboiteaux, Villebon wrote, made the settlers lazy. “If the people were as industrious as the Canadians,” he complained, “they would in a short space of time be very well off, but the majority work only when it is absolutely necessary.” As anyone knew, uplands were “more reliable” than marshes. Villebon speculated that the hard work of clearance might turn easygoing Acadians into profitable colonists—and if not, he advised ceding the high ground to new migrants or discharged soldiers from France.62

This, of course, was nonsense. Marshland settlers from Port Royal to Beaubassin knew by experiment and observation what modern science has confirmed: the upland soils of the Acadian peninsula have been losing nutrients since the glaciers began receding ten thousand years ago, while the Bay of Fundy’s flats are replenished daily by silt-rich tides.63 Whatever political leaders thought of them, these reclaimed lands proved fertile enough to fuel extraordinary demographic expansion. From d’Aulnay’s original core of families from Martaizé, La Chaussée, and the Angevin countryside, the population of Acadia grew to nearly fifteen hundred by the end of the seventeenth century. Minas was then on the cusp of outstripping Port Royal, with nearly five hundred inhabitants. Beyond these two major hubs, a few dozen Acadians congregated near Beaubassin, along with smaller groups composed of French settlers, Mi’kmaq bands, and their mixed-race children at various places on the Atlantic coast.64

Often cast in Edenic terms (“This land could be a land of plenty,” wrote one late seventeenth-century tourist, “if it only had a champagne vineyard”), the Acadians’ bayside villages, like all similar-sized European settlements in the New World, had good and bad points.65 Acadians ate well, aged gracefully, and managed to integrate most French, Irish, English, and even Basque migrants into their little societies with admirable equanimity. But the colony’s borderland unpredictability produced its share of rough edges. In 1685, a cleric rambling through the “coasts of Acadia” marveled at discovering “eighty-year-old men who remain unconfirmed.”66 In Beaubassin, the hardy few who heard mass did so in a rudimentary shelter with walls of “cob encased in stone,” their heads shielded from the elements by “a roof made only of straw.” Worse, complained the bishop of Québec in 1688, the village cemetery sat at some distance from the church, forcing grief-stricken villagers to “carry the bodies across a river for burial.”67

Life lived close to the bone fostered cooperation, especially when it came to the construction of aboiteaux. It also made Acadians acquisitive. Indeed, much of the profit from the meadows in Port Royal, Minas, and Beaubassin went toward imported provisions and manufactured goods, especially those on offer from New Englanders. This illicit trade began in earnest in 1654, when an English fleet commanded by Boston militia officer Robert Sedgwick was diverted from New Amsterdam, its original target, by news of an Anglo-Dutch peace treaty. Not one to let men and matériel go to waste, Sedgwick attacked Acadia for the purpose, he wrote, of extending Boston’s “tradinge and fishinge.” He waged successful campaigns against de la Tour’s garrison on the Saint John River and, across the bay, Port Royal.68 Until 1670, when Charles II gave Acadia back to France in exchange for a handful of Caribbean islands, England ruled the Bay of Fundy. That rule never amounted to much. Appointed governor of “Acadie, commonly called Nova Scotia,” by Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Temple spent most of his time and energy asserting his personal rights to the fur trade.69

The English interregnum fostered commercial links between Massachusetts and the Bay of Fundy. Those links made for strange bedfellows. The aging Charles-Etienne de la Tour and his wife, Jeanne Motin, for example, retired in 1656 to Port Royal, living together in the fine house d’Aulnay and Motin had once shared. Over the next few years, the couple imported “6 looking glasses,” cutlery, nails, shot, pots, pans, children’s shoes, combs, vinegar, oil, wine, and rum from Joshua Scottow, a prominent Boston merchant.70 Later in life, Scottow would rail against “the Beads, Crucifixes, Masses and Processions” of the Bay Colony’s “Popish and Pagan Neighbors,” casting all French settlers in North America as followers of “IGNE NATE [sic] hell-born LOYOLA.”71 Tough talk, but theological harangues did not stop Boston Protestants and Acadian Catholics from engaging in a freewheeling commerce that would persist for decades, surviving wars, régime changes, and mutual religious bigotry.

The flow of goods and produce up and down the Bay of Fundy made new people as well as new fortunes. In the last quarter of the seventeenth century, a little cadre of Bostonians and Acadians laid the groundwork for a transnational, bilingual, cosmopolitan community that would bind the two colonies even as imperial tensions rose. John Nelson and Jacques Bourgeois were among the first to establish such a friendship. Nelson was Thomas Temple’s nephew, and after arriving in Boston in 1670 as a precocious sixteen-year-old he dove headlong into his uncle’s Acadian trade. Gamely learning French and Algonquian, Nelson struck deals with the gnarled Bourgeois, who built lumber and flour mills in Beaubassin with Nelson’s money. Describing this clandestine commerce as “pretty considerable,” one observer lamented the near-constant presence of “three or four boats from Boston” in Acadia’s waters. Settlers such as Bourgeois, he noted, sold “furs they purchased from the savages” for “little necessities” (an understatement he later amended, tellingly, to “all supplies”).72 Both Bourgeois and Nelson profited from their intercultural experience. Nelson, who grew rich enough to marry into the family of Massachusetts governor William Stoughton, became well known as an expert on Acadian affairs before turning thirty, while Bourgeois served as an interpreter whenever English-speakers showed up in Port Royal, where he still kept valuable property.73

By the end of the seventeenth century, then, the settlers of Port Royal, Minas, and Beaubassin had profitably planted themselves on the narrow ribbon of fertile marshland hugging the Bay of Fundy. Although very much a part of the French Empire, Acadia functioned as an off shoot of the Massachusetts economy. During the 1670s, even governor Hector d’Andigné de Grandfontaine sent for “a New England carpenter to build a few little boats.” With relatively few goods making their way from France or Canada, ordinary Acadians too dealt with Bostonians as a matter of course.74 Although Acadian incomes were almost all modest, social divisions and cliquish behavior tempered frontier egalitarianism. In Port Royal, for example, four prominent families—Boudrot, Bourg, Dugas, and Melanson—intermarried with astonishing frequency, preserving their wealth by excluding all but the best-heeled outsiders.75

The people of Acadia, Mi’kmaq natives and European colonists alike, enjoyed an enviable security relative to others in the slender, violent “contact zone” on the Atlantic coast. Their position inspired confidence. “This earth that you tread on,” one Mi’kmaq “captain” explained to a French official, “is ours, and nothing can ever force us to abandon it.”76 The Acadians probably thought likewise.

Beginning in the late 1680s, things changed in Acadia. It was a great moment of imperial consolidation and conflict, and like Boston, New York, Québec, and Montréal, the Bay of Fundy was caught up in a long run of invasions, treaty making, and power grabbing. In a sense, Acadians were well equipped to ride out the storm. Literally and figuratively, the dikes held. The ground, however, was shifting beneath their foundations—and the Acadians’ feet.

Consider, for example, the story of Claude Petitpas and his family. Born in 1663, Claude was a true child of Acadia. As his father toiled unhappily as Port Royal’s court clerk, Claude haunted the creeks and footpaths along the rivière Dauphin. He grew up in a settlement distinguished by “the debauchery of most of the inhabitants, who have few scruples about living à la sauvage,” or in the Indian way.77 Writing in 1686, this critic might have been talking about Claude, for in that year he married a Mi’kmaw woman named Marie-Thérèse and moved with her to Musquodoboit on Acadia’s Atlantic coast.

The couple had seven children before Marie-Thérèse died early in the eighteenth century. The rowdy Petitpas clan spoke Mí’kmawísimk and French, and even picked up English from Massachusetts fishermen who stopped to trade. Over time, Claude became attached to the New Englanders. In 1713, a French captain was forced by a notary in Plaisance (Newfoundland) to pay 800 livres for “a boat belonging to the sieur Petitpas that I burned in the harbor at Musquodoboit.”78 Whether this incident was a symptom or a cause of Claude’s political mood swing is hard to say. In any case, his behavior became more aggressive in its wake. Four years later, he lent his new schooner to the commander of an Anglo-American expedition against French fishermen at Canso on the northeastern tip of the Acadian peninsula.79 In 1719, Claude went to Boston. Joseph de Monbeton de Brouillan de Saint-Ovide, governor of Ile Royale, claimed that Massachusetts officials “gave [Claude] a payment of 2,000 livres to draw to them the Indians that are attached to us.”80 Saint-Ovide reacted quickly. He visited Mi’kmaq allies who “appeared angry with how little regard the King pays them,” and who had received Petitpas a few months earlier. The governor promised presents of powder, lead, and cloth. Although the Mi’kmaq left “happy enough” and showed no signs of heeding the “propositions Petitpas had made,” Saint-Ovide recommended sending scouts to capture the Acadian renegade “and his children.”81

Those children soon drew the lion’s share of interest. The youngest, Isidore, had been born in 1703. At seventeen years old, he got an unexpected offer. In recognition of Claude’s “tender regard … to sundry English captives,” the Massachusetts House of Representatives proposed to bring Isidore to Boston, where he would be housed, fed, and trained as a minister at Harvard.82 The New Englanders hoped that a converted, educated Isidore, who already “spoke Mi’kmaq better than any interpreter,” might “win over the Mi’kmaq nation and make them change religion.”83 The teenager took the bait. But after almost three years in Massachusetts, Isidore vanished. Saint-Ovide later claimed to have “found a way to remove the young man from among the English.” Whatever happened, it landed Isidore in Québec, where New France’s Catholic bishop “told him that he would be placed in the seminary, where he could study and become a priest.” The young Acadian would have none of it. He told the bishop that he “wished only to learn to sail.” Fearful that Isidore might “become even more dangerous than his father” if allowed to return home to Musquodoboit, the marquis de Vaudreuil and Michel Bégon, New France’s governor-general and intendant, came up with a solution. In the fall of 1722, they coaxed Isidore onto the deck of the Chameau and shipped him to Rochefort in western France.84

Not quite twenty, Isidore received his second scholarship, this time to study with a “master of hydrography” at the great home base of the French navy. Informed of the situation, the duc d’Orléans, Louis XV’s hard-drinking regent, ordered the intendant at Rochefort to buy Isidore’s books, lodge him gratis, and give him 50 livres per month for food while ensuring “that he does not escape to an English vessel.” It was a good arrangement, but Isidore balked. “He is rebellious,” observed one official, “and appears displeased to have been sent to France.”85 After Isidore completed stints as an apprentice pilot aboard the Héros and the Français in 1723, the character traits that had scuttled his church careers resurfaced. Rochefort’s intendant, François de le Chaussaye de Beauharnois, did not mince words: “He is a bad subject who will not devote himself to anything … women and wine have ruined him … he is so enraged when drunk as to be capable of some dirty trick.” Exasperated, Beauharnois sent Isidore to Martinique as a soldier.86 Either en route or upon arrival, the young Acadian vanished for the last time.

Isidore’s fate, however, haunted his family. In 1728, Saint-Ovide got wind of a Mi’kmaq faction “corrupted by two young people, sons of a certain Petitpas … who are much more English than French.” He captured the pair (almost certainly Isidore’s older brothers Paul and Joseph) and deposited them with a ship’s captain “so that he can hand them over to M. de Beauharnois, intendant at Rochefort.” Saint-Ovide petitioned the minister of the Marine to “give orders that these two young people never again appear in this country.” He cited a helpful precedent. “About ten years ago,” he noted, “one of their brothers was also sent to France, for more or less the same reason.”87

The fate of the Petitpas family foreshadowed the forces that would pull thousands of Acadians down Isidore’s path to exile. Chief among them was jealousy at the highest levels of imperial government. Bilingual and at ease among the Mi’kmaq, Isidore was a hot commodity among the British and French in the 1720s. That interest, however, masked a dark truth: that the extraordinary measures taken to secure Acadian loyalty would be matched by extraordinary measures designed to keep Acadians from embracing the other side. Isidore’s exiles came about not because he was unwanted but because he was wanted a little too much. But as the imperatives of empire shifted, go-betweens like Isidore (especially those with Isidore’s habits) came to be seen as passé, inefficient, and even dangerous. With colonial populations booming and economies integrating to the south and west, the gaze (alternately flattering and devastating) of men in power would be fixed on the marshland farms along the Bay of Fundy.

The stage for both Isidore’s theatrics and the drama of 1755, of course, was set by the British takeover of Acadia. That conquest proceeded in fits and starts. In 1690, the first real expedition against Acadia in four decades left Boston for Port Royal, where the French governor, Louis-Alexandre des Friches de Meneval, quickly capitulated. Led by Maine frontiersman William Phips, the attackers harbored two motives. Some aimed to smash Port Royal as revenge for French involvement in Iroquois and Abenaki raids on the New England backcountry, while others hoped to cement old trade partnerships with Acadians by bringing them into the English fold for good. Phips did neither. After dismantling Port Royal’s fort and raiding the surrounding farms, he left. One week later, a new French governor arrived.88

Subsequent New England campaigns against Acadia came about in the same way and produced similar results. Emboldened by the overt anti-Catholicism of William and Mary’s régime and provoked by French privateers (and, in 1704, an infamous French-Mohawk raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts), authorities staged hit-and-run attacks on Chignecto and Minas.89 Finally, in 1710, the Tory government in London sponsored an expedition to conquer the colony once and for all. After a brief skirmish, Samuel Vetch, a Scots adventurer who had spent the last decade in New England, took possession of Port Royal in October, renaming the little settlement Annapolis Royal in honor of the British queen. Nearly three years later, the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of the Spanish Succession, and confirmed Great Britain’s right to what ministers called “all Nova Scotia or l’Acadie, comprehended within its antient boundaries.”90

In one sense, the British seizure of Acadia changed very little. The garrison at Annapolis Royal was underfunded from the beginning and represented no real military threat to outlying settlements at Minas, at Chignecto, and on the Atlantic coast. In 1720, the province’s governor called his administration a “mock Government” whose “authority never yet extended beyond Cannon reach” of the fort.91 For their part, the Mi’kmaq rejected the idea that a treaty between the monarchs of Great Britain and France had any relevance to them. “I have my land that I gave to no one and will never give,” one sagamore told a delegation from Massachusetts in 1713. “I know the limits and when someone wishes to live there, he will pay.”92

In Port Royal, too, trouble beset the conquering administration early on. In 1710, for example, the “principal inhabitants” of Port Royal asked Canadian officials to help them flee, complaining that Vetch “looks on us as mere Negroes.”93 A mass migration looked like a possibility. No fewer than 328 heads of family signed declarations of their intent to migrate “to Ile Royale or other lands under French control” in 1714.94 In time, affairs under the British settled into a via media between ethnic separatism and political integration. Many Port Royal residents sold their land to British officers or traders and decamped for the countryside, leaving the rest to lament the “Decay and Ruine” of the town’s “Empty Uninhabited houses.”95 Marie-Madeleine Maisonnat and Agathe de Saint-Etienne de la Tour, daughters of prominent Port Royal families, stayed home and married Britons, but few followed their example.96 Although Vetch made no secret of his desire to deport the Acadians, and some Acadians, as “good and true subjects of His Most Christian Majesty,” refused to take an oath of allegiance to the British monarch, the colonists’ flight from Nova Scotia grew less likely.97 The Acadians had simply invested too much in their lands on the Bay of Fundy to abandon them. The British in turn valued Acadian subjects as buffers against the still-powerful Mi’kmaq. It was an unsatisfying stalemate, but one that promised a measure of stability.


As New England goods began again to flow up the Bay of Fundy and into the Acadians’ villages, Nova Scotia became, as Acadia had been, an economic periphery of Massachusetts at the ragged edge of an expanding empire. Officials at Annapolis Royal dealt gingerly with the Mi’kmaq, blustered at the Acadians’ priests, and worked to “gett [the Acadians] over by degrees,” subtly adjusting the loyalty oath to absolve them from bearing arms against the French.98 In the absence of a legislative assembly, the garrison used elected deputies from Minas, Chignecto, and Annapolis Royal to smooth relations with their Acadian subjects. The quality of those relations ebbed and flowed, usually in relation to British dealings with the Mi’kmaq. In 1723, with the British and Mi’kmaq engaged in outright war, Port Royal merchant Prudent Robichaud was accused by two witnesses of visiting some “Enemy Indians” with “a Bagg and Bottle.” Robichaud got off with a warning, but in 1725 a similar incident landed him “in Irons and in Prison amongst the Indians … in Order to terrify the other Inhabitants from Clandestine Practices.”99 The rough-and-tumble climate was not so different from the French régime, which had its share of problems with natives, clerics, and village ne’er-do-wells.

But as Isidore Petitpas would have testified, the visionary plans spawned by the conquest of Acadia had, in fact, changed everything. Touring the villages of Minas as a crown surveyor in 1720, Paul Mascarene put British aspirations as succinctly as anyone could: “This place,” he marveled, “might be made the Granary not only of this Province, but of the neighbouring Governments.”100 Even as the idea of commercial empire swept across the Anglo-American world, smart administrators knew that while the “Galloping Consumption” of British-made goods by colonial subjects turned the system’s gears, food supplied the consumers’ energy.101 To Mascarene, a descendant of French Huguenots who made his home in Massachusetts, Nova Scotia’s diked fields augured a massive inflow of grain to New England. Although Mascarene and others might have preferred to import British or German Protestants, new colonists were not forthcoming. The Tory régime in London hoped to manage the conquest of Acadia (and the empire as a whole) on the cheap, and Nova Scotia would have been a tough sell for migrants with land available in better-known places. That meant not just tolerating the Acadian presence but safeguarding it. With “Vast Conveniencys” at stake, Britons knew that “if the French remain in this country, it will tend toward its improvement.”102 As Thomas Pichon later put it, “If the inhabitants left, [the British] could not stay.”103

Annapolis Royal’s officers, then, governed the province via compromises that they hoped would entangle Acadians in a web of British legalities while steering their produce toward a hungry empire. They accepted the Acadians’ declarations of political neutrality (after 1730, many even began calling them the “neutral French”) and made only half-baked efforts to force the inhabitants of Minas and Chignecto to swear full loyalty to George II on his ascent to the throne in 1727. The British were more aggressive about keeping the Acadians’ grain, cattle, and fish from turning up in French markets and mouths instead of British ones. In 1720, Governor Richard Philipps ordered the construction of a storehouse at Annapolis Royal to receive grain “above the supply of each person’s family that hath such grain to sell,” reserving the surplus for the garrison and “the Indians inhabiting this province who are friends.”104 The funds intended for the storehouse never materialized, while in 1731 a similar project near Grand Pré ended when a group of dagger-wielding Mi’kmaq confronted Acadian René Leblanc and a group of Anglo-American workers, calling them “Dogs and Villains” with “no business There.”105 Subtler British methods of encouraging Acadian productivity proved more effective.

In 1735, for example, the residents of Pisiquid, a hamlet on the southern shores of the Minas Basin, found themselves in a fight with Lawrence Armstrong. A lieutenant governor who would later slash himself to death with his own sword in a fit of despondency, Armstrong had picked up tales of crumbling dikes. He threatened to hold Pisiquid’s Acadians responsible for “double the charges of all Dammage & Expense” if British authorities had to repair them, further ordering a crew of “Ancient” inhabitants to inspect theaboiteaux annually.106 The next spring, Armstrong extended both the order and the punishments to all of Nova Scotia.107 Nor were authorities afraid to nitpick. When, in 1737, Ambroise Breaux complained that brothers Joseph and Alexandre Broussard had neglected some co-owned marshes along the Chipoudy River, Armstrong ordered the shirkers to maintain the dikes or forfeit their property rights.108 In Annapolis Royal, Philipps harangued Acadians who owned land abutting the garrison in 1724, explaining to “those who … would Not Undertake to Repair their Said Marshes” that unless fresh-cut gazons found their way into breached dike walls, they belonged to the British crown.109

While making decisions aimed at “keeping on the stock of cattle, and the lands tilled,” the governor and council also established themselves as arbiters of Acadian land disputes.110 They did so by charging a pittance for civil litigation. More than 130 suits—most involving two Acadian litigants—came before the council between 1731 and 1736 (his mental state deteriorating, Armstrong feared being drowned in a flood of “frivolous and undigested Complaints”).111 Among them was the case of Alexandre le Borgne, the self-styled “sieur de Belile.” Le Borgne had taken an oath of loyalty to the British, in exchange for which the council had given him leave to cut hay and firewood on a plot of “the King’s Land” near his Grand Pré home. One day as he exercised the new privilege, his neighbor Charles Richard appeared, spewed insults, and took the hay for himself, “showing the least Regard to the Authority Granted.”112 Summoned to Annapolis Royal to “Show Cause for so much Insolence,” Richard arrived with a little girl. Angelique Dugas produced a document signed by her father, who, the pair claimed, had purchased the land in question from Charles de La Tour before the British conquest. The council declared the document void, citing evidence that Richard had “Abandon’d the Province And Retired with his family into the Dominions of France.” They ordered him to supply le Borgne with eight loads of hay.113

The point of all this, then, was to make Acadians dependent on British institutions while narrowing their economic options to exclude everything but the orderly cultivation and transport of grain along the Bay of Fundy. Thus the smuggling “of Live Cattle & Considerable Quantitys of other provisions” from the pastures of Chignecto to French settlements became a signal offense.114 So did piracy, which had become something of a tradition among the Mi’kmaq. In 1726, Jean-Baptiste Jedre dit Laverdure and four other Mi’kmaq were hanged in Boston for “Piratically and Feloniously” plundering the sloop Tryal in the Cumberland Strait.115 After that episode, the British tried to ensure that no links persisted between Indians like Jedre and their Acadian neighbors. When “Ten or Eleven Indians armed with Guns, Hatchets, & Knives” forced their way aboard Stephen Jones’s sloop Friends’ Adventure near Pisiquid in June 1737, Annapolis Royal seized the opportunity. Jones told the governor that after “threatening to knock his brains out or something to that purpose,” the Mi’kmaq made off with £1,500 in goods and beached the ship. The captain walked into the village, where he begged Pisiquid’s parish priest, Louis Maufils, and “twenty of the inhabitants” to help him find the culprits. They went along, but “seemed … to joke and trifle with the Indians” they met on the way. The Provincial Council ordered Acadian deputies from Minas to explain “why they suffered the foresaid robbery to be committed” and to demand restitution from the guilty Mi’kmaq, “otherwise they will be liable themselves to make good [Jones’s] loss.”116 Laying aside the nomadic, militaristic, and illicit ways of the Mi’kmaq (and those of old relics such as the Petitpas family), Nova Scotia’s Acadians were best off cultivating their gardens.

The French thought so too. The takeover of Acadia, compounded by the loss of the settlement at Plaisance in Newfoundland in the Treaty of Utrecht, turned France’s attention toward Ile Royale and Ile Saint-Jean, the kingdom’s two remaining possessions near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River and the fisheries of the Grand Banks. By 1719, the French began to build the fortress of Louisbourg near Ile Royale’s finest Atlantic harbor. But before that project got under way, officials pressured Acadian farmers. Ile Royale’s first governor, Philippe de Pastour de Costebelle, told Nova Scotia’s remaining “missionaries” to detail for Acadians the “peril” of life among the British, “who will treat [you] as slaves even if [you] change religion.”117 Drawing aboiteau-builders to Louisbourg, however, proved a nonstarter. Although Costebelle described Acadians as “absolutely determined to come over,” the absence of tidal marshes and abundance of rocky soil turned them off. Only a few fishermen emigrated after 1713.118 Although disappointed, officials never lost sight of their designs on the Acadians: “The important thing,” wrote Jacques L’Hermitte, an engineer on Ile Royale, “is that they should leave Acadia.”119

For Ile Saint-Jean, perhaps. According to its boosters, the island had every natural advantage. There were “pine trees to make masts … boards and beams,” a fishery that netted “450 quintals per vessel” (a haul “never before seen in Newfoundland or Louisbourg”), “caribou as big as deer” in the forests, and “ground proper to grow all kinds of grain.” So said Robert-David Gotteville de Belile, agent of the comte de Saint-Pierre, in 1721. The crown had given Ile Saint-Jean to Saint-Pierre in 1719 on the condition that he plant a colony, and Gotteville reported that migrants arrived “every day from Acadia.”120 He exaggerated. Families came from the Bay of Fundy in an intermittent trickle, gathering at Port-laJoie, Tracadie, and Trois Rivières. Still, hope endured. “In my opinion,” wrote Saint-Ovide in 1725, “this is the only place that will draw the inhabitants of Acadia.”121 “The soil is perfectly good,” noted the career navy man, and he hired Félix Pain, once a parish priest in Nova Scotia, to help “attract Acadians to this island.”122Those who bought Pain’s pitch (something like two hundred by 1728) struggled mightily. “I saw with regret the damage done to the wheat of these miserable settlers by some kind of Rat,” wrote Saint-Ovide after a visit in 1728. “I do not know how they will survive the winter.”123 And yet the island conjured visions. It could be, wrote a later administrator, unwittingly echoing Paul Mascarene, “the granary of Louisbourg,” an Acadian-farmed provisioner for the hub of France’s Atlantic empire.124

Still, Acadian migration remained a tough sell for the French well into the 1740s. Aside from the superiority of the Bay of Fundy marshes to lands on Ile Saint-Jean or Ile Royale, many Acadians could truthfully describe the British government at Annapolis Royal as “gentle and peaceful.”125 To be sure, there were tense moments, most of which involved confrontations between truculent garrison officers and equally truculent priests from France. But with their status as “neutrals” well established and, after 1740, the pragmatic, French-speaking Mascarene installed as lieutenant governor (no pushover, but a man who could amicably debate “the doctrine of the reformed Churches” with learned French missionaries), Acadians had few compelling reasons to pack up.126

The War of the Austrian Succession (King George’s War in the British colonies), however, triggered important changes to British policy in Nova Scotia, which in turn pushed the French to press harder on the Acadians. In the summer of 1744, just weeks after authorities in Louisbourg learned of France’s declaration of war on Great Britain, they instructed the abbé Jean-Louis le Loutre, then a missionary at Shubenacadie, to organize a Mi’kmaq assault on Annapolis Royal. The fort was, in Mascarene’s words, “a patch’d up unfinished place … little better than a heap of rubbish,” commanded by a dozen officers “not above two or three who ever had seen a gun fir’d in anger.” But with timely help from a warship from Boston, Mascarene fended off le Loutre and the Mi’kmaq in June and a much larger force of French troops, Mi’kmaq and Maliseet warriors, and a few Acadian recruits in August.127

After celebrating these improbable victories, Mascarene started thinking about the behavior of local Acadians. When the Mi’kmaq departed in June, Acadians had offered up “building materials and fresh provisions with more chearfulness than formerly”—not out of kindness, he now believed, but in the expectation that the British would quickly surrender the now-repaired fort to the French during the next assault. Mascarene also noted that Annapolis Royal’s Acadians had “frequented the Enemies Quarters at their Mass, prayers, dancing and all other ordinary occasions” and, after the French forces departed, had gouged the garrison for food and wood.128 As one of the first to see the value of Acadian farms to the emerging British Empire, Mascarene was stung by the events of 1744. The idea of losing the agricultural bounty he himself had helped foster was almost too much to bear. In 1745, he advised that the Acadians be driven from “the Province of NOVA SCOTIA and replac’d by good Protestant subjects.”129

That prospect edged closer to reality as King George’s War came to Louisbourg. Designed according to the principles of the great military engineer Sébastien le Prestre, marquis de Vauban, the fortress on Ile Royale appeared impregnable. Its inhabitants “did not fear all the World,” as one observer put it.130 But Louisbourg’s bravado masked its dependence on goods from Massachusetts and food from the Bay of Fundy. So when, in the spring of 1745, four thousand men and one hundred ships from Boston besieged and blockaded the fortress for seven weeks, the French capitulation was understandable, but still a real feat. As one pamphleteer wrote, the New Englanders “said, They could take it, and they would take it, and (to the Surprize and Wonder of all the World) they did take it!”131 In 1748, however, the conquerors’ elation turned to exasperation as British negotiators returned Louisbourg, along with the whole of Ile Royale (known to the British as Cape Breton Island) to the French. In modern terms, the concession became a public relations fiasco, and not just in Massachusetts. “France will avail herself more by our restoring Cape Breton,” roared one English critic, than if “left in Possession of all the Territories … acquired on the continent.”132

To counteract Louisbourg, the British founded the town and naval base of Halifax in 1749, planting an initial cohort of three thousand colonists on Chebucto Bay, not far from Isidore Petitpas’s old home at Musquodoboit. The crown’s choice of Edward Cornwallis to head up the Halifax project and become the new governor of Nova Scotia signaled geopolitical seriousness. Cornwallis had earned his military stripes during the bloody repression of rebelling Scots Highlanders a few years earlier and had no qualms about playing similarly rough with the French. He indicated as much upon meeting Mascarene, explaining to the francophone ex-governor that he was “too old and crazy” to be of much use in the new, Halifax-centered province.133

Beyond reorienting the geography of empire on the Atlantic coast, Halifax had another, double-edged function: to reduce British dependence on Acadian agriculture while simultaneously diminishing the Acadians’ ability to ship their agricultural surplus anywhere except outposts of the British Empire. Both were tall orders. Touted by boosters for its “natural Richness,” the soil of Halifax turned out to be unforgiving, acidic, and thin. As late as 1762, a visitor reported that there was not “one Family in the town nor in the parts Circumjacent that subsist[ed] by Husbandry.”134 Accounts of rural plenty (“Lobsters … as thick as stones in Cheapside” and “Rum at 3s. a gallon,” blared the Boston Gazette) faded as Halifax’s inhabitants (“The worst scoundrels of each nation / Whores, rogues & thieves, the dregs and skum of vice,” according to one anonymous poet) settled into the eastward-looking routines of a resource-poor naval station.135 Measured by the alarm it produced among French authorities, Halifax’s new régime was much more successful at limiting the flow of Acadian grain and cattle toward Louisbourg. Already in 1749 Louis XV’s ministers were fretting over Cornwallis’s “very severe prohibitions against [the Acadians] furnishing … livestock or anything else” to Ile Royale.136

Gilles Hocquart and Charles de la Boische, marquis de Beauharnois, the intendant and governor-general of New France, had mapped out a response to these sorts of events in Nova Scotia long before Cornwallis’s arrival. Acadians, they argued in 1745, wanted to become subjects of France. The proof was in their Bay of Fundy homes: “wretched wooden boxes, without conveniences, and without ornaments.” This squalor (fabricated, of course, by Hocquart and Beauharnois, who knew almost nothing about the Acadians’ standard of living) was rooted not in poverty but in the Acadians’ practice of hoarding the French specie they received in Louisbourg while trading provisions. “What object can they have” in stinting themselves, the two leaders guessed, “except to secure for themselves a resource” for the day when Louis XV’s money would be their currency once again? Best to speed the arrival of that day by offering Acadians free land on Ile Saint-Jean, the produce of which might be shipped to Louisbourg without any interference; if they balked, “all difficulties would be overcome by the employment of threats and force.”137

For “threats and force,” the French turned again to the abbé le Loutre. He was in an aggressive mood. After the failed 1744 assault on Annapolis Royal, le Loutre had returned to France. His ship was captured during its return voyage to Louisbourg in 1746, leaving the Spiritan missionary to survive in British prisons, where he took the name Rosanvern to conceal his true identity. Back in Nova Scotia in 1749, le Loutre received orders to head not for his old mission at Shubenacadie in the interior but to Pointe Beauséjour on the Chignecto Isthmus, carrying with him a mandate to “attract as many Acadian families as possible, and profit from the disgust … that English operations cannot help but cause among them.”138 According to his enemy Thomas Pichon, le Loutre held a week-long series of interviews at Beauséjour with Acadians from as far off as Annapolis Royal, compiling a detailed list of “fathers of families, children, and even livestock” in each of the Bay of Fundy settlements and sending it, along with a request for “ships to transport all of these inhabitants,” to Versailles. That winter, he traveled through Beaubassin, Pisiquid, and Minas, proclaiming to Acadians that if they “stayed on their lands, the English would do to them what they did to the Irish, making them slaves and depriving them of … all spiritual succor.”139

Le Loutre’s tactics worked, but not fast enough to suit him. In Annapolis Royal, Mascarene reported that Acadians along the rivière Dauphin “are wavering buttdare not separate themselves from the herd,” which, for the time being, seemed to be staying in Nova Scotia.140 During the spring of 1750, le Loutre and his allies flexed their muscles. A group of Mi’kmaq accosted and beat René Leblanc, the pro-British notary from Minas who had butted heads with the Mi’kmaq over the Grand Pré grain magazine back in 1731. For good measure, le Loutre sent René’s son Simon to Québec as a “messenger,” only to have him jailed upon arrival.141

Far from the reach of Halifax’s authority, residents of Beaubassin endured even worse. In April, a flotilla of British ships commanded by lieutenant governor Charles Lawrence made its way up the Bay of Fundy to arrest le Loutre as a “public Incendiary.” Ironically, given the language of their instructions, they found Beaubassin engulfed in flames. After the British disembarked near the smoldering buildings, “two peasants” scrambled up a dike just to their west and waved a white flag. They did not want a truce. Rather, the Acadians explained, they had been “order’d to plant the Flag on that spot as being the Boundary of the French King’s Territories.” Surveying the panorama, the British saw that the dike was “lined with Indians from the sea on one end to a thick wood that flanked it on the other,” and that le Loutre, a small detachment of Canadian troops, and Beaubassin’s entire population were arrayed behind the Mi’kmaq, trudging for Point Beauséjour.142 Unable to stop them, Lawrence and his men clawed their way to a spot to the east of the Missaguash, where they laid the foundations of Fort Lawrence. To Louis XV, the British ambassador protested that the Acadians “declare openly their abhorrence of these proceedings; but … Loutre threaten[s] them with a general massacre of the Indians.” The French claimed Acadian complicity, declaring reports of le Loutre’s wrongdoing “exaggerated.”143

The burning of Beaubassin was demographic engineering at its purest. While the rival crowns argued over who owned the mainland west of Chignecto, the French took pains to turn hard-won Acadian labor to their advantage.144 The exodus across the Missaguash to Pointe Beauséjour seemed to open a floodgate. Of the 2,223 inhabitants of Ile Saint-Jean counted by the sieur de la Roque in 1752, 1,300 had arrived between 1749 and 1751, with 862 in 1750 alone. Scrambling to organize the migrants, military leaders from Port-la-Joie in the south to Trois-Rivières in the east banned fishing, forcing Acadians to clear and farm the land. They meant business, as Marie Boudrot discovered. The “very poor” widow of Pierre Richard and mother of six lived on land granted to her “verbally” in 1750 by Claude-Elisabeth Denys de Bonnaventure, the commandant of Ile Saint-Jean. In time, however, Bonnaventure noted that Boudrot’s family had made “no improvements,” and so reclaimed the plot in 1752.145

At Pointe Beauséjour, Acadian workmen set to re-creating their homeland. They toiled on the ramparts of what would become Fort Beauséjour, framed houses for French officers, and began building aboiteaux and drying marshes below. The goal was rustic self-sufficiency: a kind of inland Louisbourg fed by Acadian farmers settled on the tidal inlets west of the Missaguash. French officials worked hard to give the impression of permanence. Le Loutre sent for a collection of “ornaments, sacred vases, … candle-sticks, incense burners, lamps, altar decorations, with boxes and bales of books of devotion of every variety.” To house his curios, he attracted “a number of people from Minas and Port Royal” to help construct “a magnificent church with aisles, planned like the Cathedral of Quebec, and differing little in grandeur.” While that church rose behind Fort Beauséjour, le Loutre organized and supervised the construction of “a remarkable dyke … which would provide an area of land more than sufficient for 100 barrels of seed.” Versailles gave the priest 50,000 livres to complete the project, which was to have arched across the rivière Aulac, drying the massive Tantramar marshes. Although a “terrible tide” broke through the half-built sluices sometime after 1753, the dike—which le Loutre saw as a “necessity … in order to be able to settle all the French people who were living near the English forts”—was nearing completion by the summer of 1755.146

Le Loutre described these goings-on in biblical terms salted with self-satisfaction. The “esteem, veneration and respect in which he was held” by the Acadian transplants of Chignecto, he claimed, stemmed from his devotion to “the work of Joseph (in Egypt).”147After interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, that ancient prophet had “gathered corn as the sand of the sea” during seven plentiful years along the Nile, forcing “all countries” to buy grain from Egypt’s storehouses when seven years of famine hit—an evocative statement of France’s imperial intentions in Nova Scotia’s borderlands.148 No less partial to biblical imagery (he nicknamed le Loutre “Moses” for his role in the exodus from Beaubassin), Thomas Pichon saw firsthand how the French drive for food weighed on Acadians. It was a drive he understood well, even before his arrival at Fort Beauséjour in 1753. Two years earlier, Pichon had helped review a proposal to move Acadians from Ile Saint-Jean to the shores of Lake Bras d’Or in the interior of Ile Royale, where heads of family could expect free land and a ban on “hunting for pelts,” a pursuit that threatened to spoil relations with the Mi’kmaq and “distract inhabitants from work that would be more lucrative to them and more advantageous for the colony.”149 The plan never came to fruition, but Pichon, in his way, continued to mull over France’s displacement of Acadians.


A British depiction of Chignecto on the eve of the grand dérangement. Thomas Jeffreys, A Large and Particular Plan of Shegnekto Bay (1755). Courtesy of the Museum of New Brunswick, Saint John.

Upon reaching Fort Beauséjour, Pichon began to act as a conduit, communicating France’s agrarian designs to the Acadians and relaying Acadian concerns back to French administrators. In February 1754, Pichon wrote to Ange de Menneville, marquis Duquesne, governor-general of New France, attaching four “requests” from local Acadians. In exchange for labor and loyalty, they demanded “provisions for three years,” another state-subsidized dike near Fort Beauséjour to allow for the culture of hay, tools with which to “clear the land … and build houses,” and furniture and clothing. He told Duquesne to grant their wishes, as “the English continue to use any means to try to bring them back to their old homes, where from the first year they would be sure to harvest more than they needed to subsist.” Many Acadians had considered such a move until, as Pichon recounted, he assured them that they would “never have Missionaries” and that Louis XV “would abandon them to their sorry lot with no hope of rescue.”150

Pichon could be stern, but he also gave voice to the Acadians’ emerging sense of inhabiting an imperial marketplace for labor. To Antoine-Louis Rouillé, Louis XV’s secretary of state for the marine, he painted an afflicting picture. The Acadians’ fields near Fort Beauséjour lay fallow, Pichon reported, plowmen and dike builders “having been … continually in arms to prevent the English from descending upon them, pillaging them or making other efforts even more dangerous to the interests of the State.” Six thousand head of cattle had perished “before their eyes,” as service to the government allowed them time to “mow, dry, and profit from only a portion of their hay.” Worse, an oppressively small salt ration had prevented them from preserving beef from their dead animals. Impoverishment put Acadians and French administrators in a bind. As Pichon wrote, “The promises made to them by the Crown … are today put to a harsh test, especially in light of the flattering offers that the English have made them.” Without food, supplies, and money, “it will be impossible to retain them, and … equally useless to inspire … those still under English domination to leave the interior of Acadia.” If the right cards were not played, Pichon warned, France would lose these “11 to 12,000 subjects … necessary to establish and people” a key front in the long-simmering conflict with Great Britain.151

Pichon’s turn of phrase—“11 to 12,000 subjects”—expressed the very notion that would lead to the Acadians’ expulsion. By his lights, all Acadians were implicated in French efforts to create agricultural communities in Chignecto and Ile Saint-Jean. Like his counterparts in Halifax, Pichon believed that in the end, every last Acadian cultivator would need to live on one side of the Missaguash or the other, their diked marshes either provisioning the French and their Mi’kmaq allies or sustaining the British to the south. No exceptions, no neutrality, no middle ground. For the Acadians, as for André Boudin dit Blondain, the food that animated Europe’s empires had become poison.

* * *

The endgame was brutally straightforward.

In late 1754, on the heels of a French victory over the young George Washington at Fort Necessity in southwestern Pennsylvania, the British laid plans to strike at forts in the Ohio Valley, northern New York, and the Chignecto Isthmus. Even more aggressive ideas cropped up in the provincial council in Halifax. After the departures of Cornwallis, who left in October 1752, and his successor, Peregrine Hopson, who lasted only a year due to eye disease, Charles Lawrence assumed control of the government in 1753. Immediately he hired Charles Morris, a Massachusetts-born surveyor, to plan the removal of the Acadians.152 Morris, whose career as a soldier and geographer had made him familiar with the ins and outs of riverine agriculture on the Bay of Fundy, grasped the rationale as well as anyone: so long as Acadians controlled “the chief granary of the country [and] all water communication,” Nova Scotia would never be secure. Based on his own experience in Chignecto, Lawrence believed that the French would alwayssiphon away Acadian hands, crops, and cattle. Given that reality, he was determined to follow Morris’s plan to “destroy all these settlements by burning down all their houses, cutting their dykes, and destroying all the grain growing.” Once the devastation was complete, the Acadians would be “transported they know not wither.”153

As part of the coordinated British campaign against the French, Massachusetts governor William Shirley (who had, back in 1744, fantasized about torching Chignecto, ripping the clapper valves from the Acadians’ aboiteaux, and ruining the “Granary of those Parts … from which the French … receiv’d Seasonable Supplies of Fresh Provisions”) issued orders in January 1755 to raise a regiment for the attack on Fort Beauséjour.154 Under the command of John Winslow, an old-stock New Englander with an impressive military pedigree, two thousand young men left the docks and fields of Massachusetts for the Bay of Fundy in May, meeting up with nearly three hundred British regulars led by Robert Monckton. With help from Pichon’s intelligence, the Anglo-Americans blasted across the Missaguash on June 4 and began digging trenches opposite the fort. After ten days and a lucky mortar shot, it was over. Busy with the mop-up minutiae of the capitulation, the threat of Mi’kmaq retaliation, and the search for le Loutre (who, after escaping via the fort’s back entrance, was caught at sea and spent the next eight years jailed on the island of Jersey), Winslow and Monckton received word from Lawrence in late July. Since Chignecto Acadians had defended Fort Beauséjour, and since the deputies from Minas and Annapolis Royal continued to waffle over taking an oath of allegiance, he wrote, “the whole people … shall be removed out of the Country as soon as possible.”155

It was no half-baked campaign. With Shirley, Lawrence helped plan the attack on Fort Beauséjour, almost certainly viewing it as a chance to put Morris’s plan into action across Nova Scotia. Although the process of arresting and deporting civilians seemed a “heavy burthen” to Winslow and his compatriots, they proceeded with vicious efficiency. At Grand Pré, Winslow lured disarmed Acadian men into their parish church under false pretenses. After informing them of his “Melancholly” duty, the New Englander barred the doors and turned the Acadians’ holy place into a holding pen, coercing the village’s women and children into feeding imprisoned husbands and fathers with the fruits of one last dikeland harvest.

From Annapolis Royal to Pisiquid, similar ruses netted scores of Acadians. When ruses failed, muscle prevailed. Captain Abijah Willard, for example, stormed into tiny Tatamagouche on the northern shore of Chignecto in August of 1755, capturing the men while leaving their terrified families behind. Marching back toward Fort Beauséjour, shackled prisoners in tow, Willard stopped at the home of a nameless Acadian couple. The husband, he reported, treated him “very hansom,” while the wife “Toock on very much att [the] Defecultys” of her countrymen.156 By November, a flotilla of twenty-two repurposed merchant ships had arrived, half from Halifax and half from the Boston firm of Apthorp and Hancock. As winter settled over Nova Scotia, seven thousand Acadians were crammed inside, where they could only imagine their villages and farms, secured by the enduring aboiteaux, receding into the distance.

To be sure, there were glitches. On the “Stormy Dark Night” of October 1, 1755, eighty-six Acadians “dugg under ye wall” at Fort Lawrence “& Got Clear undiscovered by ye Centery,” while in December two hundred captives from Annapolis Royal subdued the crew of the Maryland-bound Pembroke, sailed to the mouth of the St. John River, and escaped to Québec after burning the vessel and handing the sailors over to the startled commander of a French detachment.157 In all, seven thousand Acadians managed to elude this first Anglo-American sweep through Nova Scotia. Three thousand headed for Ile St. Jean, while the rest fled overland into Canada or hid in the woods.

In the main, however, the expulsion of the Acadians unfolded as one of the smoothest, most successful applications of power in the history of the British Empire. Michel Chartier de Lotbinière, marquis de Lotbinière, admitted as much in 1756. As the engineer toiled to build Fort Carillon near the rapids-laced junction of Lake Champlain and Lake George in present-day upstate New York, he explained to officials at Versailles that the “English have deprived us of a great advantage by removing the French families” of Nova Scotia. Should the king ever contemplate retaking the province, he lamented, “we would have to make new settlements” without Acadian labor and expertise. And that, Lotbinière knew, was impossible.158

Acadians, however, experienced the events of 1755 without Lawrence’s sense of overarching strategy or Lotbinière’s expansive vision of geopolitics. Instead, they saw the grand dérangement’s beginning as they had seen forty previous years of settlement, migration, and resettlement—dimly, through a thousand separate pinholes, perceiving only fleeting elements of the whole. To take the measure of what they endured, then, is to be wrenched through disjointed snapshots of confusion, anguish, and weary resolve.

One such snapshot comes courtesy of Josiah Gorham, a British ranger charged in 1758 with “extirpating and destroying the French & their Effects” at Cape Sable, an out-of-the-way Acadian settlement on Nova Scotia’s southeastern shore. When he arrived that fall, Gorham found fields “all manur’d and full of potatoes and other Vegetables,” but no Acadians. After three weeks of fruitless searching, he stumbled upon “a Village in the Midst of the Woods,” the makeshift home of sixty Acadians and their priest, the abbé Jean-Baptiste de Gay Desenclaves. After squeezing what intelligence he could from them, Gorham cast about for other Acadian “safe places,” finding one whose residents had left “in a precipitate Manner, leaving a letter on a Pole with a red flag importing their Determination not to surrender” without assurances of safety. Frustrated, Gorham started lighting fires. He burned the Acadians’ “dwelling houses” and barns, as well as “sixty thousand head of Cabbages, Potatoes, and other Vegetables” and “innumerable” cattle—enough, he marveled, to feed more than “ten times the Number of People” who lived there.159

Far from the Acadians’ Bay of Fundy heartland, Gorham’s arson conveyed the twisted outcome of the imperial contest for calories in Nova Scotia. Still, the notion of Acadians as imperial agriculturalists died hard. In 1757, even as the Seven Years’ War turned sour for the French, the abbé de l’Isle-Dieu confidently declared that Ile Saint-Jean would soon become a “land of wheat” if only the “new Acadians” who had flocked to Louis XV’s standards were properly motivated.160 It was a sensibility born of desperation, and as the Acadians came to understand, it would follow them—stalk them—to the ends of the earth.

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