The Pariahs

Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in nakedness, and in want of all things, and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee.

—Deuteronomy 28:48


Elisha Stoddard knew them well. As a selectman in Woodbury, a village near the Housatonic River in western Connecticut, he spent more time than he liked with the town poor and their microscopic entourages. Still, Stoddard encountered a case in the winter of 1756 that proved noteworthy. It involved “an old man of 76 years of age and upward” and his seven grandchildren. All were “of the Neutral French [Acadians] sent into this province by Governor Lawrence,” and had been hustled to Woodbury by the government in Hartford. They had suffered terribly. Malnourished and “full of vermin,” the children, five from one set of parents and two from another, had “by some way and means” been separated from both families early in the 1755 strike against the Acadians. Unwilling to keep the wretched cousins together, Stoddard “put the Children out” to joiners, farmers, and other masters in Woodbury. The youngsters, he reported, took quickly to English “modes,” “books,” and “business,” abandoning French for the language of their schoolmates. As the grandfather wasted away, Woodbury seemed to be on the cusp of subsuming its allotment of Acadians—until January 2, 1757, when four skeletal adults staggered into town and, with “great joy,” sought out their seven lost children, clutched them to their ruined bodies, and refused to let go.

“Naked and destitute … and withal having the itch, vermin, etc.,” the four strangers had completed a remarkable journey. As the Acadian father Paul Landry told Woodbury’s leaders, the two couples had arrived in Annapolis, Maryland, from Nova Scotia late in 1755. They spent the next year pestering officials for permission to search for their families, “but [were] denied till at length the Governor sent to them that he had heard their Children was in the Colony of Connecticut and gave them a pass.” The document, Landry explained, had been lost “in the fatigues of their journey,” which included ocean voyages to Martha’s Vineyard and New London, followed by eighty frigid miles overland to Woodbury.

But Landry’s “fatigues” were far from over. Although Stoddard provided a house and a few necessities for the new arrivals, he returned the children to their masters while awaiting orders from Hartford. Landry would not stand for it. He somehow spirited all seven children from their homes in Woodbury to his own shabby lodgings. Confronted there by local authorities, the frantic father “refused to let [the children] return … by any argument whatsoever.” Citing the parents’ “indigent Circumstances” and the crucial “business” of child labor, Woodbury’s selectmen separated the families “by force.” To Stoddard’s eye, this action turned “much to the joy of the children,” who soon resumed their “peaceable” routines of work and school.1 Days later, Stoddard shipped Paul Landry and his wife to nearby New Milford, a town whose leaders had not yet shared “the burden of supporting the French … nor tasted the Sweets of having to deal with any of said people.” In May of 1757, Landry wrote to Connecticut’s General Assembly asking that his children, now seven and five years old, be allowed to join him.2 The government’s response has not survived.

For Elisha Stoddard, Acadians proved doubly offensive. They not only served as hosts for vermin but were themselves parasites, sapping resources from Woodbury in a time of war. Stoddard’s actions, however, surely made his soul uneasy. Paul Landry, he later wrote, had undertaken the kidnappings “through zeal to [his] Religion.” Concerned for the souls of his own eight children, Stoddard knew the bonds of faith and family well.

His grandfather was Solomon Stoddard, the Puritan divine whose adoption of the liberalizing Half-Way Covenant rocked late seventeenth-century Boston’s ecclesiastical establishment. Solomon had been the stepfather-in-law of John Williams, a fellow “Minister of the Gospel” taken captive in the 1704 French and Indian raid on the western Massachusetts town of Deerfield. Williams recounted his wintertime march to Montréal, his sore trials among “so many Romish Ravenous Wolves,” and his bittersweet homecoming in a best-selling pamphlet entitled The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion.3 His seven-year-old daughter Eunice, however, remained in Canada, unredeemed despite many missions to bring her home. From the 1740s through the early 1750s, Eunice (now known as Marguerite A’ongote Gannenstenhawi, a combination of her Catholic and Mohawk names) visited New England several times with her Mohawk husband, François-Xavier Arosen. Their presence caused a sensation up and down the Connecticut River Valley, provoking sermons and prayers for Marguerite’s soul. Elisha Stoddard could easily have been in the “numerous Audience” that, in the summer of 1741, packed the meetinghouse in Mansfield, Connecticut, to gawk at their lost child Marguerite and her “Indian” children. In 1757, did Elisha think of Eunice’s fate and his family’s ordeal as Paul Landry scrambled to lay hold on his children in Woodbury?4

Apparently not—at least not in any way that made him particularly sympathetic. And there were more memories to brush aside. In the 1730s, Elisha’s cousin Jonathan Edwards had transformed their grandfather Solomon’s ministry in Northampton into a global concern, using print to spread fear of sin to the ends of the earth.5 Elisha was likely in attendance when, in 1750, Edwards stood at Solomon’s pulpit in Northampton and delivered a sermon entitled The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners. In it, he compared his self-satisfied generation of New Englanders to “filthy vermin feeding with delight upon rotten carrion.”6

Harsh words. Had they returned to Elisha’s mind as he watched tiny pests feast on Paul Landry’s blood or as he plucked Landry himself from Woodbury like a burrowing tick, they might have prompted some uncomfortable reflections about justice, hypocrisy, and who, in truth, was devouring whom.

All across the British Empire, Acadians such as Paul Landry and Britons such as Elisha Stoddard looked on each other through eyes jaundiced by theological suspicion, cultural bigotry, and wartime anxiety. Worse, the refugees and their hosts harbored very different mandates and motivations when it came to the practical side of the grand dérangement. Back in Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence had intended the expulsion of 1755 to shatter the links holding Acadian society together. In a letter to fellow provincial governors, Lawrence rejoiced that the deportees could not “easily collect themselves together again,” thus short-circuiting their ability “to do any Mischief.”7 Security likewise mattered to men like Elisha Stoddard. So did money. Uncertain as to who, ultimately, would pay for the Acadians’ upkeep, they attempted captivity on the cheap. This sort of penny-pinching took many forms. Often it placed obstacles in the path to what seemed to be the Acadians’ only goal: the reunification of families.

Out of malice, carelessness, and the complexity of a massive operation, British troops had separated dozens of Acadians from spouses, children, and other relatives in the fall of 1755. Upon the refugees’ arrival in British North America, many worked relentlessly to find their loved ones. Some, such as brothers Pierre and Michel Bastarache, escaped through thousands of miles of American backcountry, reaching their friends and family who had found refuge in Canada.8 Others used newspapers. The March 1, 1756, edition of the Boston Gazette, for example, sought the whereabouts of Alexis Breau, Joseph Vincent, and three other men whose wives had landed in Massachusetts, but who had themselves “been sent to some of His Majesty’s Colonies to the Southward.”9Others made do with the virtual communion of letters. In September of 1757, Joseph Leblanc wrote from Liverpool, England, to his brother Charles in Southampton. Joseph’s “dear wife” had “left this world to go to the other” after a long illness. “In tears,” he reminded Charles to say hello to his uncle Charles Richard, his aunt Marguerite Comeau, his friend Jean-Jacques Thériot, and “all the Neutral French in general.”10

Writing in the pained, phonetic French of an eighteenth-century peasant, Joseph Leblanc expressed an idea that now dominates most accounts, popular and scholarly, of the grand dérangement: that as they slowly reassembled their families, Acadians rebuilt and strengthened the ethnic community they had known back in Nova Scotia. Exile and absence instilled an even deeper “sense of communal solidarity,” prompting refugees everywhere to assert their “cultural integrity” in the face of powerful, corrosive forces arrayed against it.11 The story of the grand dérangement, then, is the story of the parental instinct that drew Paul Landry to Woodbury writ large. As one historian puts it, the Acadians’ shared identity, strengthening as it flexed against resistance applied by the British Empire, “allowed a considerable number of those sent into exile to endure as a community.”12


Focusing so much on the sameness of Acadian selves, however, risks giving short shrift to the diversity of their destinations. To be sure, the Acadians’ reception across the British Empire was shaped by certain commonalities—notably a shared, shrill strain of Anglo-American anti-Catholicism, but also a legal culture that placed a special premium on the humane treatment of war captives. The former was forged in eighteenth-century nation building, the latter in the psychological crucible of colonial warfare fought against (and, at times, with) Native Americans and other non-Europeans. Eager to define barbarism and then distance themselves from it, mid-eighteenth-century writers styled the care of prisoners “one of the Capital Laws of war among civiliz’d Nations,” the abandonment of which threatened to unleash “the scalping Knife,” “Cruelties of cool Blood,” and “every other Torture inflicted by the Savage,” leading to wars “carried on not by Men but by Monsters.”13 When it came to French captives during the Seven Years’ War, civility often battled xenophobia to a draw. In 1759, for example, Londoners collected 3,131 greatcoats, 2,034 waistcoats, 3,054 pairs of breeches, 6,146 shirts, 3,006 caps, 3,134 pairs of stockings, and 3,185 pairs of shoes for “Frenchmen, Prisoners of War and Naked.” Contributors included the “Grand Association of the Laudable Order of Antigallicans” and George Whitefield, a celebrity evangelist who, in 1756, had compared French Catholics to “ravenous Wolves pursuing the harmless and innocent … Protestant prey.”14 Colliding all across the British Empire, these two sentiments seemed to promise a similar, if not identical, reception for the first Acadian exiles.

But imperial uniformity was blunted by pervasive localism. For Anglo-Americans from Boston to Savannah, the expulsion triggered a refugee crisis unlike any they had ever seen. In Massachusetts, which would receive nearly two thousand refugees from Nova Scotia, the onset of another war between Great Britain and France spurred Anglo-Americans to revisit “the horrid Butcheries, and cruel Murders committed … by the Hands of savage Indians, instigated thereto by more than savage, Popish priests.”15 True, Acadians were neither Indians nor priests. But as “Cincinnatus” argued in the Boston Evening-Post, “Priests and Jesuits” had long enjoyed “free Access” to the “Neutral French (a mock Name),” making the Acadians “the chief Instruments … of alienating the Indians in all that Quarter.”16 Who could say what such people might do? In the Boston Gazette, “Z.P.” reasoned that since Catholicism guaranteed its adherents “an high Degree of Happiness, if they were to loose their Lives in the Execution of their Vilanies,” the Acadians were as likely as not to “blow up our Powder-House” or “[set] Fire to the Town.”17

At the same time, the Catholic Marylander Charles Carroll complained that the nine hundred Acadians sent to his province had been unjustly “Sacrificed to the security of Our Settlements” in Nova Scotia. “As Subjects,” he noted, “they were intitled to the Benefit of our laws and ought to have been tried and found Guilty before they could be punished.” Carroll offered to support fourteen Acadians on his own estate, but provincial leaders balked at the prospect of Catholic fraternizing; he later badgered Louis XV himself into sending 200 livres to Anselme Mangeant, a “poor Acadian” living on charity in Annapolis.18 For the victims of 1755, then, Anglo-America was less a single, hostile bloc than a patchwork of religious sensibilities, wartime anxieties, tight budgets, and divergent degrees of attachment to a distant metropolis.

In those first years after 1755, Acadian exiles in the British Empire did not retreat mechanically into ethnic solidarity. Instead, they made hard choices. To be sure, some, like Paul Landry, took superhuman steps to find their loved ones. Others, however, reacted to new circumstances the way Paul Landry’s children did. One need not accept Stoddard’s claim that these young Acadians felt “joy” at returning to their Anglo-American masters to believe that the sight of their parents, gone for eighteen months and disfigured by hunger and disease, would have been unsettling. The comfortable homes, shops, and schools of Woodbury must have seemed awfully secure. With political loyalty and hard labor as their only remaining assets, Acadian adults faced situations no less challenging. Separated from their families, they tried to engage with their captors. In Boston’s rural hinterland, Philadelphia’s Dock Ward, and below the bluffs of Savannah, arrangements with men like Stoddard were the order of the day. By any measure, such relationships in a British Empire at war yielded mixed results. But as the Acadians burst into the wider world after the Seven Years’ War, their capacity to work imaginatively for (and speak imaginatively to) power would serve them well.

In the southernmost provinces of British North America, power lay in the hands of men such as Henry Laurens. As a thousand Acadians surged toward his native South Carolina late in 1755, it seemed dangerously close to slipping from his grasp.

Then a thirty-one-year-old merchant in rice and slaves, the future president of the Continental Congress was suffering from man-made and natural reversals. War fears had reduced Charlestown’s thriving Atlantic trade to “a mighty low ebb” that fall, slashing the price of “the produce of this Country near 30 per cent” and turning planters miserly.19 Worse, a recent seizure of French slavers in the Caribbean had flooded Charlestown’s market with “prime Men,” sending chattel prices into free fall.20 And on November 1, 1755, an earthquake struck Lisbon, Portugal, flattening the city, killing ninety thousand people, and triggering a tsunami that hurled docked ships into collapsing neighborhoods and caused tidal disruptions as far away as Barbados.21 This “General Calamity” eliminated a key market for South Carolina rice, aggravating the “State of Uncertainty” that, as Laurens put it, “perplexes us not a Little in the Mercantile way.”22

Worst of all, Laurens simply felt alone. As he reported in April 1756, “nothing has reach’d us from England [since] the 1st or 2nd December.” He fretted over the equally ominous absence of West Indian or New York ships bearing English news. “We can’t forbear thinking,” Laurens wrote to a Liverpool associate, “that some thing Extraordinary must have happen’d on your side.”23 Charlestown seemed vulnerable—a vulnerability heightened by the fact that “Our Town swarms with French Newtrals which are a heavy Burthen upon us, & we see no prospect of being reliev’d from them in any reasonable time.”24

In both South Carolina and neighboring Georgia, the first moments of the grand dérangement coincided with events that tore at the fabric of the British Empire. Disbelief was a common reaction. Governor James Glen of South Carolina, for example, groped for an explanation upon learning that four transports packed with six hundred Acadians had arrived in Charlestown harbor on November 15, 1755, apparently destined to stay in his “frontier province.” He could only guess that Charles Lawrence, fingers cramped from signing documents in Nova Scotia’s chill, had left it to “some inferiour Officer to apportion the Quotas to be sent to the respective Governments.”25 Whatever the cause, the number of exiles headed for British North America’s deep South appeared to be out of proportion to their hosts’ resources.


Exiles in a slave society. “A View of Charles Town, the Capital of South Carolina in North America,” Scenographia Americana (1768). Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

With a permanent population of about five thousand, Charlestown was the largest Anglo-American town south of Philadelphia. But in the mid-1750s, half that number consisted of slaves who, at the peak of the shipping season, rubbed elbows with hundreds of transient sailors.26 The “no less than 400 french Papists” who arrived at Savannah in December of 1755 entered a glorified village still confined to the six squares laid out by James Oglethorpe in 1733. It measured 870 yards by 500 yards and housed a few hundred whites and several dozen slaves.27 Both towns boasted hinterlands, but as the Swiss colonizer John Tobler put it in 1753, “there is still much good land left but few settlers.”28 Seen from the American South, the Acadian expulsion looked much like an invasion of two “weak and defenceless” provinces.29

Beyond numbers, these Acadians seemed guilty by association. Most of those who landed in South Carolina and Georgia had been captured in Chignecto, including more than twenty shackled men accused of armed resistance at the siege of Fort Beauséjour.30The people of Charlestown already thought they knew much about them. In 1751, during a period of strained relations with the Cherokee, Governor Glen engaged in a common form of censorship, prohibiting the South Carolina Gazette from printing reports of disorder and violence in the province’s western borderlands.31 In response, the paper’s publisher, an opponent of Glen’s policies named Peter Timothy, filled space with stories from Nova Scotia. Some involved Mi’kmaq raids near Halifax. A May 13 report detailed an attack on the nearby settlement of Dartmouth in which a “large party of Indians” killed two British soldiers and “murder’d several men and women in their beds,” mutilating the corpses “in a surprizing manner.” A lone woman who stumbled into Halifax the next morning “with one breast cut off” lived to tell the tale. Within earshot of the Acadian settlement at Minas, a company of British rangers was ambushed by “40 of the enemy” who wounded several, including an officer “whose leg was so shatter’d, that it is since cut off.”32 Other stories came directly from Chignecto. South Carolinians learned in April that French-allied Indians there had “got two more scalps” while capturing a Boston sloop and burning it to the waterline; in June, French regulars and Mi’kmaq warriors struck Fort Lawrence in the dead of night, firing “some hundreds of shot at a sloop” docked in the Bay of Fundy.33

Unable to write about supposed Cherokee depredations against Britons, Timothy turned to the Mi’kmaq, but the Acadians were never far off stage. The Gazette made clear that the Indians used Acadian dikes as cover while on campaign, and in any case South Carolinians, like most Anglo-Americans, tended to see no difference between “French and Indian Demoniacks.”34 So, on November 26, 1755, when a delegation from the Commons House held an interview with a few Acadian “seniors” on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbor, they had no trouble reaching conclusions.35 In a report to the governor, the legislators railed against the exiles’ “inviolable attachment to the French Interest,” their “determined resolution to continue in the public exercise of the Roman Catholic Religion, under the conduct of Priests,” and their refusal “to take the Oath of Allegiance, or to fight against His Majesty’s Enemies” in Nova Scotia. Fair enough. The Acadians were represented by Alexandre Broussard dit Beausoleil, whose family was well known for close relations with the French and Mi’kmaq (South Carolina politicians referred to Alexandre as a “general of the Indians”) and who had fought the British tooth and nail at Chignecto.36

The Native American connections of men such as Alexandre Broussard dit Beausoleil took on an ominous cast in the southern provinces. As everyone knew, the borderlands of South Carolina and Georgia served as an Indian thoroughfare. The Six Nations Iroquois, who dominated diplomacy and warfare in the Ohio Valley from their stronghold in northern New York, had long regarded many southern Indians as natural rivals. Described, with creative license, as “a Sort of People that range several thousands of miles, making all Prey that they lay their Hands on,” the Iroquois made frequent forays into South Carolina during the early eighteenth century.37 A 1742 treaty between the Six Nations and the Cherokee only made for more backcountry traffic. Both groups turned on the Catawba of the South Carolina piedmont, launching raids from “inaccessible” Appalachian staging grounds.38 By 1751, the Catawba leader Hagler complained that “our Enemies are … thick about us,” forcing him to travel to New York to contract an embarrassing peace with the Six Nations.39 In the fall of 1755, even that agreement had collapsed. Iroquois warriors again “infested” the southern wilderness.40

This was bad enough. But what if the French managed to turn frontier chaos to their advantage? The prospect was real. In Savannah, fears centered on the town of Coweta (present-day Columbus, Georgia), home of the Lower Creek. Among the most sought-after allies in North America, the Lower Creek were also among the toughest to pin down. Their villages had long attracted Indian refugees and migrants, making them crazy quilts of Yamasee, Natchez, Shawnee, and Seminole subgroups whose agendas and allegiances often conflicted.41 Although both the Spanish and French had established outposts among them earlier in the eighteenth century, the Lower Creek had maintained strong economic ties with Savannah since the 1730s. But in 1752, the Georgia Trustees, heirs of Oglethorpe’s original vision of a refuge for Britain’s “worthy poor,” had ceded the colony to the crown. George II’s ministers lurched into the project of framing a royal government only to find that the Lower Creek wanted a new treaty to match it.

A diplomatic scrum ensued. From Fort Toulouse, a garrison eighty miles from Coweta near present-day Montgomery, Alabama, French agents made their way into Lower Creek territory. Already bound to the Choctaw, whose lands spanned what are now northern Mississippi and Alabama, the French imagined an Indian confederacy stretching from Louisiana to Coweta, the back door to the Anglo-American south. In April 1755, word reached Savannah that “the governor of New Orleans had sent for the [Lower Creek] Head men to meet him at Mobile this Spring, where … they would receive large presents.”42 In May, at a brandy-soaked conference at Fort Toulouse, the French made promises of cheap trade goods, prompting the Lower Creek leader Malatchi to threaten war against British settlers.43 “Dangerous consequences” were clear to Georgians. Losing the Lower Creek meant that “our only Barrier would be removed, and the numerous Nations of Indians in Amity with [the French] would pour in upon us.”44

South Carolina had it no better. While the Catawba seemed loyal enough (“As to the French,” wrote Hagler in October 1755, “they shall never have any of our Land until they have trod us under the Earth we now walk upon”), relations with the all-important Cherokee gave officials fits.45 Alongside the Lower Creek, the Cherokee were supposed to act as a bulwark against French and Indian invasions from the Ohio Valley. Elements within the two groups, however, were often at each other’s throats. In 1752, for example, on the heels of Lower Creek assaults on two Cherokee towns, the Upper Creek warrior Acorn Whistler, a onetime French ally, met twenty-six Cherokees while on a visit to Charlestown. After a friendly greeting on the outskirts of town (the Creek “pulled the Feathers off their own Heads and put them on the Heads of the Cherokees”), Acorn Whistler and his party suddenly opened fire. Four Cherokee men were killed, fumed Governor Glen, “at our very Doors.”46

Initially, encounters like this one cemented the South Carolina–Cherokee alliance. Officials in Charlestown served as mediators and suppliers, leading headmen such as the “old Man” Skiagunsta to instruct his neighbors to “be well with the English, for they cannot expect any Supply from any where else, nor can they live independent.”47 But by late 1755, Skiagunsta’s compatriots vacillated. Some simply favored “Peace with all Kings,” while others chafed at the inflow of dozens of British “traders, Pedlars, and Idle fellows” into Cherokee territory.48 On the one hand, fighting with French-leaning Creeks threatened to distract the Cherokees; on the other, Anglo-American undesirables (and the “Superior address” of French agents) promised to drive them off.49 Either way, South Carolinians envisioned terrible outcomes. “Thinly inhabited” and “weak by situation,” his province was, noted Glen, “the country that has reason to fear the force of France in case of any rupture.”50

By early 1755, then, all sorts of people were traveling through, settling in, or fighting over western lands in ways that threw off whatever precarious balance South Carolina and Georgia had struggled to establish. The French—who, at Fort Toulouse, Mobile, and elsewhere, “caressed in an extraordinary manner” native leaders who came to call—loomed as instigators and organizers.51 In October, warriors from Taheo and Chota captured ten French soldiers who claimed to have deserted from Fort Toulouse. The Cherokee “look[ed] on them as slaves,” but others portrayed them as “Spies sent by the French to see how the Rivers lye.” All of South Carolina grew “very uneasie on that Account.”52

So when those first one thousand Acadian exiles began arriving in Charlestown and Savannah from the east, they conjured up images of the west. Disorder on the coast portended more disorder in the backcountry. Just weeks after the Acadians’ arrival in South Carolina, one legislator cautioned that the exiles would surely “be active in their endeavors to tamper with our … Indians, and draw them … to the French interest.”53 Slaves posed another problem. Many wondered if “Romish” Acadians “of a turbulent and seditious Disposition,” bearing “Principles most pernicious to civil and social Liberty,” might find accomplices in African Catholic transplants.54 If allowed ashore in Charleston, would the exiles not spend their time goading slaves to “run away to Augustine [the town of Saint Augustine in Spanish Florida],” stealing “small Vessels” in anticipation of an invasion by “their Friends the French,” and generally “annoying the Province”?55

As South Carolinians were unwilling to risk Acadian starvation on Sullivan’s Island (or, more to the point, the prospect of hundreds of hungry French families clogging the gateway to Charlestown’s harbor), officials began to bring the exiles ashore in December, lodging them in barracks and laying plans to indenture the able-bodied or set them to work on the fortifications.56 Alexandre Broussard dit Beausoleil and his fellow Chignecto veterans quickly confirmed Anglo-American fears. Several parties ran away, seemingly bound for the western frontier. One reached the Santee River plantation of John Williams, “terrified his Wife very much, robbed the House of Fire Arms and Cloaths, and broke open a Box out of which they took some Money.” Thirty escaped entirely, but others were captured after being “track’d … into the River Swamp.”57 Many spent time in Charlestown’s workhouse, while Broussard and some of his friends found themselves in the town’s “Black Hole,” a dungeon “so small, that they can hardly stand upright in, much less lie down.”58 Although these men were, in the words of Governor Glen, “undoubtedly His Majesty’s Liege Subjects, and most of them his natural born Subjects,” their behavior revealed that the Acadians as a whole remained “audaciously, as well as unanimously” in the French camp.59 As a result, by early 1756, South Carolina’s Acadians were guarded “narrowly” by a “Detachment from our Militia, besides a hired Watch, and the Soldiers of the Independent Companies.”60

Charlestonians expected similar behavior from the nearly 350 Acadians who straggled into the harbor aboard the Hopson in January 1756. In the Commons House, legislators declared themselves “utterly averse” to “those distressed yet refractory People,” refusing to grant them food and water beyond March. Aboard the Hopson, Britons heard familiar rumblings. One hungry exile allegedly muttered that Acadians “would have Provisions by some means or other.” An interpreter overheard others anticipating that “by March next [their] own Countrymen would come and relieve [them].”61 Signs of an even broader conspiracy appeared. In January, several witnesses saw a French man “who pretended to be a deserter from New Orleans” making a detailed map of the city, taking careful account “of all the Houses in it.” All this, coupled with the mysterious arrival of “Three Frenchmen from the Colony of Georgia,” threw officials into a panic.62

As Governor Glen and others looked at the refugees aboard the Hopson, however, a different picture emerged. In a letter to the Commons House, Glen himself related his own visit with three who managed to call on him. They came from Annapolis Royal, a town “to which the French could not be so absurd as to pretend the least claim.” The ship’s passengers, he claimed, had “never abetted [the French] in any shape” and made it a custom to “give notice to the Commanders of our Troops when they discover’d any Party” of Britain’s enemies. Glen believed them. The Hopson’s commissary, who had done business in Nova Scotia, confirmed the exiles’ statements, even describing the case of a “Widow Woman, now on board … whose Husband was killed in an Engagement by the French, in the service of the Government.” In addition, Glen found that Hopson’s interpreter had abused his charges, calling the Acadians “Rascals, Rebels, Traitors [who] … deserved to be starv’d and hang’d.”63 Their fidelity to Britain made the Acadians of the Hopson “not Objects of … resentment, but … Objects of great Compassion.” Indeed, the governor wished that “we could get rid of most of the others, & receive these in their room.”64

Thrown into distressed provinces unannounced, Acadians took care to emphasize British subjecthood and, when it made sense, the distinctions that made some exiles dangerous and others harmless. In many cases, cash-strapped Anglo-Americans listened. In Georgia, for example, Governor John Reynolds got word of the Acadians’ arrival in Savannah at precisely the wrong moment. In early December 1755 he was at Augusta, nearly 150 hard miles northwest of Savannah, anticipating a meeting with a delegation of Creeks who, in exchange for presents, had promised to help settle “matters of great consequence to the Colony.” When a breathless messenger appeared with news of four hundred “French papists” docked at Savannah, Reynolds faced a hard decision. He hadalready spent ten days waiting for the Creeks, and feared that more time wasted would “give the Indians a very mean opinion” of his government. Reynolds packed up. Hedging his bets, he instructed William Little, a grizzled backcountry trader, to deliver his speeches and convince the Creeks that the “chief arguments” of the French—“that the English wanted nothing but their lands & then to make slaves of them”—were baseless. It was a decision Reynolds would come to regret. The Board of Trade later charged Little with pocketing a share of the presents, exposing Reynolds to accusations of bungling Georgia’s key diplomatic relationship. But, as the governor put it, the “extraordinary occurrence” of the Acadians’ appearance trumped even the Creeks.65

What Reynolds expected to find upon his return to Savannah is unclear, but it was probably not Jacques-Maurice Vigneau. Then in his mid-fifties, Vigneau had grown up and prospered in Beaubassin before le Loutre and the Mi’kmaq burned the town. A pilot and fisherman, he had served two masters with great success, hosting French troops during King George’s War and ferrying provisions to British-controlled Louisbourg when the fighting stopped.66 As Chignecto’s once-fluid boundaries hardened, he moved to Pointe Beauséjour with his neighbors, but always resented the heavy-handed French. In 1751, the governorgeneral of New France complained that some Acadians at Beauséjour, “notably a certain Jacob Maurice [Vigneau], wish to make themselves independent, and have refused to take an oath of allegiance to the King, our master.” Although declared “guilty of the utmost ingratitude” and threatened with expulsion if he refused to swear the oath to Louis XV and join the militia, Vigneau equivocated.67 By 1755, Vigneau picked a side. As far as military fortunes went, he chose well. “Jockey Morris is very good and takes a fatherly care of us,” exclaimed Thomas Speakman, a Massachusetts captain; another New Englander, John Thomas, reported that on the morning of July 8, 1755, he and fifty comrades “Refreshed our Selves at one Jacob M[aurice]’s house” on their march north from the conquered Fort Beauséjour.68 It must have been especially galling, then, when those same soldiers escorted Vigneau and his family aboard the Prince Frederick that fall.

Making his way south to Savannah with 280 fellow Acadians, Vigneau surely had some explaining to do. He evidently did it well, for when Reynolds began assessing the Acadians’ case in December 1755, the multilingual, Anglophilic Vigneau emerged as a spokesman. He got the governor’s attention by proclaiming that he had “always shown great regard for the English, by saving them from frequently being scalped” back in Nova Scotia. Together, the two men came up with a pragmatic if risky solution to their common problem. Eager to be rid of his expensive guests, Reynolds gave Vigneau’s “family” (which soon swelled to nearly one hundred Acadians) some old canoes, ten pounds of rice per person, and a pass out of Georgia. “Having no orders to receive or detain them or fund for their support,” Reynolds later wrote, “[I] judged it best to let them go as they were all Papists and consequently enemies to our Religion and Government.”69 Heading up the coast in the spring of 1756, Vigneau sweet-talked officials in both Carolinas and New York before the alert residents of Barnstable, Massachusetts, had the group arrested. This Acadian “family” had paddled a thousand miles but were still at least six hundred miles from their presumed destination. Vigneau spent the Seven Years’ War in and around Boston, badgering the provincial government to reimburse him for the canoe it had not let him keep.70


From one borderland colony to another. View of Cockspur Fort at the Entrance of the Savanna River in Georgia (1764). Courtesy of the British Library, London.

The story of Vigneau’s journey is spectacularly—and stereotypically—Acadian. Flexible in matters of loyalty, the members of his family were dogged in their attachment to one another, and desperate to get home. But theirs was not the only path. Indeed, even as Vigneau’s canoes headed northward, nearly two hundred Acadians found a clearing west of Savannah, built some rudimentary huts, and began to work. It was hardly easy, and the exiles were hardly welcome. In response to their habit of cutting down “Valuable Timber” that did not belong to them, Reynolds assented to a bill authorizing justices of the peace to “bind” Acadians to local landowners as unpaid laborers. The act might have been put into practice if not for the Board of Trade’s decision to remove Reynolds from power late in 1756, a decision motivated in part by his mishandling of the Creek conference that coincided with the Acadians’ arrival.71

His replacement, a gentlemanly scientist named Henry Ellis, exhibited a far more creative turn of mind. A well-connected Irish Protestant, Ellis had completed a voyage to Hudson’s Bay in 1747, later penning a best-selling account of Britain’s renewed search for the Northwest Passage. In 1750, he journeyed to the African coast aboard a Bristol slaver outfitted with a new ventilation system that reduced the need for sooty candles, kept guns from rusting, and safeguarded both “our cargo and lives.”72 An inveterate tinkerer, Ellis expected big things of small, reform-oriented activities; as he put it, the cumulative effect of “useful Discoveries” would produce “a new and profitable Commerce” for the British Empire while “quickening, improving, and enlarging many old Branches.”73 His drive to foster trade made Ellis more ecumenical than his predecessor, to the point of lamenting the “hard and forlorn Fate” of Savannah’s slaves while protecting their masters’ right to hire them out as artisans.74 Although his work in Georgia initially centered on securing the Creeks’ goodwill and energizing the province’s anemic defenses, the governor clung to a sense that, in the words of his key metropolitan backer and intellectual mentor, “every one should contribute according to his ability, that something may arise from the whole, of use in the improvement of our country.”75

Upon his arrival early in 1757, Ellis expressed sympathy and admiration for the Acadians. They were, he reported, “very useful to the Colony as they employ themselves in making Oars hand spikes & other implements for sea Craft.”76 In April, he visited the Acadian encampment outside of Savannah in person. “Very much affected to see such a Number of distressed People surrounded with large Families of helpless Infants,” Ellis suggested giving the refugees a bit of land. A garden, he claimed, “might enable them to obtain a more comfortable Support.”77 Eager to use the Acadians to further his ambitious vision of experimental agriculture, Ellis offered to supply “all manner of garden seeds,” perhaps including some of the exotica (olive and orange trees, rhubarb, Egyptian kale) provincial leaders had recently imported from around the globe.78 Although Ellis left his post in 1761, his sense of the Acadians’ utility stuck. That spring, when private parties bought the commons on which the refugees lived, legislators granted Acadians leave “to build and reside” next to the plot they were forced to vacate.79

In Virginia, any such détente between Britons and Acadians was short-circuited almost immediately. Again, the Acadians’ troubles started in the backcountry. In July 1755, a force of more than two thousand British regulars under General Edward Braddock had been routed by French and Indian fighters near Fort Duquesne, a French outpost at the site of present-day Pittsburgh. For Virginia’s governor, the combustible land speculator Robert Dinwiddie, Braddock’s defeat signaled a virtual British abandonment of the Ohio Valley to the French. This, by Dinwiddie’s lights, had triggered “really great Destruction among our back Settlers,” allowing France’s allies to become “Land Pyrates, watching and taking advantage of the … innocent People’s insecurity, breaking in upon them, robbing some, murdering others, and carrying away the young Women captives.”80 When, on the night of November 16, Dinwiddie received “an Express” from the port at Hampton detailing the sudden appearance of “two Sloops, with four more daily expected, with Neutrals from Nova Scotia,” he was enraged. It was, he wrote, “disagreeable … to have 1000 French imported, when many of the same Nation are committing the most cruel Barbarities on our Fellow Subjects in the back Country.”81

Expenses worried Dinwiddie as well. After negotiations, Virginia leaders agreed to support the Acadians out of the governor’s own household budget. The “Balance thereof,” confessed Dinwiddie, “is so small that I fear it will exhaust the whole.” Worse, the expensive guests forced Dinwiddie to make a “handsome Present of at least £500” to the seemingly impatient Catawba by drawing on his personal credit.82 Unlike Ellis in Georgia, Dinwiddie could see no redeeming value in Acadian labor. The “Neutral French,” he reported, “give a general Discontent to the People here, as they are bigotted Papists, lazy and of a contentious Behavior.” While settlers around Hampton grew troubled “in regard to [the Acadians’] religious Principles,” Dinwiddie himself became “as much alarmed for fear of debauching our Negroes.”83 By the spring of 1756, those fears had been realized. During the winter, the exiles had lived in boats in Hampton’s harbor, prevented from landing by order of the government. Dinwiddie claimed that many had spent their infrequent moments ashore “tampering with the Negroe Slaves, which, together with The Invasion of the French and Indians on our Frontiers, made our People extremely uneasy.”84

For Virginians, one thing was certain: “we can have but a very poor Prospect of their being either good Subjects or useful People.”85 Convinced, Dinwiddie took action. By the summer of 1756, none of the eleven hundred refugees sent to Virginia remained. Nearly a quarter had died of disease and malnutrition. As for the ailing, shipbound rump, the House of Burgesses voted in April to send them to Great Britain.86 Officials in the mother country expressed much “Displeasure and Disaprobation” as transports appeared in Liverpool, Falmouth, Penryn, Bristol, and Southampton.87 After smallpox decimated the refugees as they huddled in “warehouses” late in 1756, survivors began to receive a small allowance from the British treasury, slowly recovering after a full year of physical deprivation and mental anguish. Then they began to complain.

Repeatedly and earnestly, Acadians sent from Virginia to Great Britain used their status as subjects of the British Empire to barter for rights, privileges, and connection to the power of the imperial state. Indeed, exiles projected themselves as a community of aggrieved subjects, separated by good political judgment from their rebellious neighbors. Honoré Leblanc, for example, penned a letter to officials in London about his treatment in Liverpool. The father of eight had spent all of his money and sold all of his “linens and goods” to feed his family. Having been “pulled from atop” his possessions by order of His Majesty, Leblanc recounted “the zeal with which he had always carried himself to render service” to British troops during the 1755 campaign in Nova Scotia.88 Claude Pitré claimed to have “piloted a detachment” of British soldiers to a rendezvous thirty leagues from his home in Cobequid, receiving the promise of a safe return. Instead, the fifty-eight-year-old lived by himself in Liverpool, separated from his wife and children, for twenty-three long months. “The misery is all the more heart-rending,” he noted, “as it comes to me from the fidelity I had for His Britannic Majesty, in executing his orders.”89

England’s Acadians felt the limitations of their situation acutely. In Falmouth, brothers Baptiste and Olivier Daigre headed a group who petitioned for freedom of religion, alluding to practices allowed among Britain’s other imperial subjects. Sick and poor, they painted a pathetic tableau, lamenting that “young people with neither father nor mother … have not received the sacraments or heard the word of God for two years.” The Acadians of Falmouth did not demand to be released; rather, they asked to be “led to a place where we may, during our detention in England, practice the Catholic religion as we have in the past; or … as do (we believe) many of His Majesty’s subjects.” The Daigres bowed to Britain’s ability to move them. Rather than resist it, they hoped to harness that power for their own modest ends.

For Acadians and their hosts in the Anglo-American South, then, there was more than one way of coping with the grand dérangement. Framed by an imperial world at war, local factors—from intercultural politics to the interplay of personalities—determined their fate. While Vigneau’s “family” collaborated with the budget-minded Reynolds to escape from Georgia, most of Savannah’s Acadians lingered, molding themselves to fit the demands of a coastal economy and the opportunities of Ellis’s reformist government. In Maryland, Edward Lloyd surely looked on Virginia’s expulsion of its Acadians with envy: after an overseer of the poor deposited sixty exiles on his Wye River estate, he declared himself “liable to a great deal of Danger by their corrupting mine & other Negroe Slaves,” of which there were, in his neighborhood alone, “300 that may be call’d Roman Catholics.”90 For Henry Callister of Oxford, Maryland, however, the greater danger lay not in the Acadians’ “Papist principles” but in Marylanders’ forgetting “the seeds of charity in us” and neglecting the “principle of humanity.” With Acadians “now about me in tears,” Callister succeeded in finding “good houses” for most of Oxford’s Acadians by January 1756.91 Surveying new landscapes of Indians, slaves, and anxious Britons, the Acadians began, haltingly, to remake themselves in relation to the landscapes around them.

* * *

For five hundred Acadians captured in and around Grand Pré, that process began on Province Island, several miles below Philadelphia in the Delaware River. The sloops Hannah, Swan, and Three Friends reached the island in November 1755, dumping their passengers into its crowded “pest-house” on orders from Pennsylvania governor Robert Morris.

“At a very great loss to know what to do,” Morris wrote to nearly every British official he could think of. The Acadians were not “Neutrals,” replied Jonathan Belcher of New Jersey, but “rather Traitors & Rebels to the Crown of Great Britain.” Already burdened with “too great a number of Foreigners,” Pennsylvania risked “ruin” at their hands.92 For many in the provincial administration, Belcher triggered visions of the province’s “German and Irish Catholicks” making common cause with the exiles and spiriting intelligence to the “Savage Enemys” serving France on the western frontier. “If they were dangerous at Nova Scotia,” Morris wondered, “will they not be more so here?”93

The Quaker-dominated assembly, however, took a more moderate tack. On the recommendation of the abolitionist Anthony Benezet, who visited the Acadians on Province Island, its members demanded that the exiles be transferred to Philadelphia before the onset of winter, and that some provisions be sent in the interim. Fearful of an embarrassing humanitarian crisis, Morris bowed to their wishes. Although anti-Acadian sentiment still ran high (one pamphlet from the late 1740s had described them as “Frenchbigots” liable to “cut our own People’s throats whenever the Priest shall consecrate the Knife”), Morris seemed to soften as details of the expulsion came to light.94 Days after their landing in Philadelphia, he gave Joseph Munier and Simon Leblanc passports to Maryland, allowing the pair to search for their wives. Morris noted that both had been “recommended to me as good and worthy People … who have been in the Service of His Majesty.”95

Seizing on Morris’s act and the apparent goodwill of the assembly, the Acadians moved to establish themselves on firmer footing by recasting their history of political flexibility in rigid terms. On February 12, 1756, Jean-Baptiste Galerne, a former deputy from the village of Pisiquid, read a petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly. According to Galerne, the Acadians sent to Pennsylvania had done their utmost to remain subjects of the British king during a difficult period in Nova Scotia’s history. In fact, Galerne’s own ancestors had made a conscious decision in 1713 not to leave the province. As Richard Philipps took over Port Royal, they “chose rather to remain there, and become Subjects of Great Britain.” Their fidelity cost them dearly. During the 1740s, a war party of “500 French and Indians” passed Galerne’s home, intent on attacking Annapolis Royal and becoming “Masters of all Nova Scotia.” The inhabitants declined to aid and quarter the troops, forcing them to give up and return to Canada. Upon hearing of the foundation of Halifax in 1749, a group of hostile Mi’kmaq stormed through the author’s modest farm, demanding his aid in “Way-laying and destroying the English.” Six weeks passed before Galerne recovered from the beating he received upon refusing.


The Philadelphia waterfront as the Acadians knew it. An east prospect of the city of Philadelphia; taken by George Heap from the Jersey shore, under the direction of Nicholas Scull surveyor general of the Province of Pennsylvania (1765). Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In effect, Galerne split the Acadian population of Nova Scotia into two groups—those who had succumbed to French coercion and those who had not. The root cause of the expulsion, he believed, lay in the “Conduct of some of our People settled at Chignecto, at the bottom of the Bay of Fundi,” near Fort Beauséjour and the village of Beaubassin. Too distant from British settlements at Halifax and Annapolis Royal “to expect sufficient Assistance from the English,” these people were “obliged, as we believe, more through Compulsion and Fear than Inclination, to join with and assist the French.” The Acadians of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, had always loved Britain. They would, Galerne claimed, “inviolably keep the Oath of Fidelity that we have taken to his gracious Majesty King George,” biding time until the moment when, “acquainted with our Faithfulness and Sufferings,” their monarch would reward them.96

The Acadians did not simply wait on provincial bureaucracy. Later in 1756, an anonymous statement of the Pennsylvania exiles’ loyalty arrived in London for George II. The letter echoed many of Galerne’s sentiments, placing the blame for the deportation of 1755 even more squarely upon the Acadians of Chignecto. The innocence of those from Minas and Annapolis Royal was, by almost any measure, complete. Had not an “armed force” sacked “the house in which we kept our contracts, records, [and] deeds,” the letter claimed, inhabitants of these regions would already have been vindicated. Instead of documents, Acadians offered portraits of loyalty. These included the case of René LeBlanc, a notary captured “while actually traveling in your majesty’s service” who spent four years imprisoned by the French. Geography and political culture had long divided the inhabitants of Chignecto from Galerne’s blameless lot. In Nova Scotia, the two groups had been “separated from them by sixty miles of uncultivated land,” having “no other connexion with them, than what is usual with neighbours at such a distance.” Unlike these “neighbours,” Acadians in Minas and Annapolis Royal Acadians possessed a “fixed resolution” to Great Britain’s interest.97

These petitions did not work. Neither Galerne nor the nameless Acadian writing to George II stated a desired outcome. Whether that was a return trip to Nova Scotia or simply better treatment, the exiles did not receive it. Beginning in 1757, a more radical mood swept across Pennsylvania’s Acadian community. Although the goal of obtaining access to power remained unchanged, some Acadians pursued it by allying themselves with another group at the margins of Pennsylvania’s political culture. Although members of the Philadelphia Meeting had dominated the Provincial Assembly since the colony’s foundation, the influence of Quakers waned during the 1750s. Castigated as “inwardly spiritualized fanaticks and enthusiasts,” Quakers had become increasingly suspect for their refusal to take oaths, a conciliatory attitude toward Indians, and their opposition to British military action.98 Galled by the Friends’ refusal to “VEX THE MIDIANITES, AND SMITE THEM,” Protestant hawks used the popular press to question the Quakers’ allegiance.99 One opponent of Quakerism derided those who “(that like to Lanterns bear Their Light within them) will not swear; Like Mules who if they’ve not their Will / To keep their own pace, stand stock still.”100 Racked by internal tensions and besieged from without, many within the Society of Friends withdrew from government in 1756, encouraging adherents to concentrate on civic solutions to imperial problems.101

A failed merchant turned teacher and agitator, Anthony Benezet took an active interest in the Acadians’ plight within the context of an emerging Quaker critique of the British Empire. For Benezet, the Acadians were no abstraction. Beginning early in 1756, many exiles scraped by in cheap lodgings near Benezet’s home on Chestnut Street, a stone’s throw from Saint Joseph’s Chapel, Philadelphia’s lone Catholic church and the focal point of Acadian community in the city. From the beginning, he viewed the “neutral French” as ideological kin. For Benezet, the Acadian expulsion, no less than the enslavement of Africans, indicated the corruption of what had been a virtuous political system. He portrayed the imprisonment of innocents as a violation of “natural Justice” and evidence of “the Apostacy of these last Times,” noting the “open Wickedness,” “superficial Holyness,” and “Hardness of Heart” displayed by British officials.102 At the root of such measures was a thirst for war, profit, and territory. “The lust of dominion; the avarice of wealth; and the infamous ambition of … the conquerors and tyrants of mankind,” Benezet sermonized in 1759, had begun to dominate British imperial policy. “Heaven preserve Britain,” he prayed, “from these ‘earthly, sensual, devilish’ motives.”103

In early 1757, as economic conditions grew worse and the relationship between Acadians and Quakers deepened, some among the exiles did something counterintuitive. They began committing treason. “On the Behalf of the whole,” Alexis Thibaudeau laid before the Assembly the trials of “an unhappy People, who have never been guilty of any Transgression which might subject us to the Calamity we have been made to endure.” As the war took a toll on the rural economy, he explained, overseers of the poor in Philadelphia, and in nearby Bucks, Chester, and Lancaster counties, denied them provisions. Work as day laborers offered no relief. The “greatest Part” lacked physical strength, while others despaired that “the Labour of one … is not sufficient to feed and clothe a Wife and five or six Children.” They did not, however, want land. Indeed, Acadians had refused items designed to “offer us some Assistance towards procuring … a Living, such as Cows, Gardens, &c.” Thibaudeau explained why. Confessing that “we shall never fully consent to settle in this Province,” the refugees related a promise made to them at the hour of their expulsion. “In the Presence of his Majesty’s Council” at Annapolis Royal late in 1755, Governor Lawrence had told Acadian representatives that “he made us Prisoners even like … French Prisoners.” Based on a “solemn Promise” of a leader of the British Empire, Thibaudeau demanded “the same Privileges which French Prisoners have enjoyed,” namely, “leave to depart … to our Nation; or any where, to join our Country People.”104

Casting themselves as prisoners of war, the Acadians echoed Benezet’s stinging critique of Britain’s moral failure while creating a legal conundrum. Upon receiving a nearly identical petition a few days later, Governor William Denny refused it. As for the Acadians’ claim that “they were and ought to be treated as Prisoners of War and not as Subjects of the King of England,” Denny disagreed, but not until after some reflection. He reread Lawrence’s circular informing each province of the deportation, reviewed older documents on “proceedings respecting those Neutrals in Carolina and the other Governments,” and even dusted off a copy of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, paying close attention to the “Articles of the Cession and Surrender of Novia Scotia.”105 Although the Council declared itself “unanimously of Opinion that [the Acadians] were Subjects of Great Britain, and to be treated on that footing and no other,” doubts lingered. As a South Carolina official—one to whom the government of Pennsylvania likely made an appeal during deliberations on the Acadians—had stated some months earlier, “The case is new and difficult; there is no Precedent to lead, nor any Rule to govern us in this Matter.”106

A second group presented a memorial to the Assembly in February 1757. Bearing traces of Quaker rhetoric, it railed against a plan to apprentice Acadian children to local mechanics and farmers. “Though we read that God has reduced his People under the hardest captivity,” they wrote, the Israelites “in Egypt, under Pharaoh, and in Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar,” had endured nothing of the sort. The execution of this plan, Acadians held, would violate God’s laws, as well as infringe upon their “natural Rights.” The petitioners further hoped that a “merciful and good God” might “make Angels” of Pennsylvania’s leaders—more specifically, the Acadians had in mind the messenger who had appeared to “Hagar and Ishmael, when they were both driven out ofAbraham’sHouse.” Showing the exiled mother a well in the desert of Beersheba, the angel “thereby saved the Child’s life.”107

Eager to “join with our Nation in some Place,” Philadelphia’s Acadians demanded to know “whether we are Subjects, Prisoners, Slaves, or Freemen?” The first category was, to their minds, out of the question. “It appears to us unparalleled,” they wrote, “that hisBritannic Majesty should ever oppress his Subjects in the Manner we have been oppressed.” “Neither can we be called Slaves,” the Acadians continued, “because Christians have never made a Trade of such as believe in Jesus Christ.” In light of their restricted mobility and Britain’s attack on their homes in Nova Scotia, their status as “Freemen” was questionable at best. The exiles then “conclude[d] themselves Prisoners, for we must be something, or be reduced to a state of non-existence.”108 For sheer verve, it was a striking passage, just as Benezet, who almost certainly wrote it, hoped it might be.

Although Benezet had declared the Acadians French prisoners of war, rebuked the Assembly for its abandonment of Quaker principles, and taken a jab at slavery to boot, his assistance only hurt the exiles’ cause. When John Campbell, Earl of Loudon, George II’s commander in chief in North America, learned of the Acadians’ maneuvering, he was enraged. In the first place, Loudon believed that colonies such as Pennsylvania, with their parsimonious assemblies and “Eternal Negotiation[s],” could sustain a war against the French only under the guidance of metropolitans such as himself. Even then, their fractious political culture threatened imperial aims at every step.109 All distractions, especially those fomented by neutral Acadians and Quakers, were to be stamped out. Second, Loudon dismissed complex analyses of the Acadians’ subjecthood or legal status and judged them by one simple criterion: language. Late in 1756 or early in 1757, Loudon had received an Acadian petition written in French. He rejected it, declaring his intent to communicate with “the King’s subjects” in English only. According to Loudon, Philadelphia’s exiles held a “general meeting” in which they agreed to continue writing in French, an act of linguistic treachery that unmasked the Acadians as “entirely French subjects.” Suspicious, he “found among those neutrals one who has been a spy,” and gleaned the names of “five principal men” who seemed intent on engaging Acadians to join French forces in the backcountry and resisting attempts to put “their children out to work.”110 On March 21, 1757, Loudon confined Jean-Baptiste Galerne and four other Acadian men living in Philadelphia, Chester, Frankfort, and Darby, to the city jail on Walnut Street.111 Most of them were never heard from again.112

As British arms advanced and Quaker moralizing retreated, Pennsylvania’s exiles slipped, seemingly forgotten, into impoverished despair. Even as Loudon clamped down on Acadian petitioners, conditions deteriorated. After being pestered for firewood by an Acadian named Pierre Landry, one official lamented the Acadians’ “want of many of the Common necessaries of Life.” Neglected by local overseers of the poor, they would, he predicted, “perish in a manner that will reflect Disgrace upon any Christian Government” if leaders took no action.113 And yet Acadians made do. At the corner of Sixth and Pine in Philadelphia, four Acadian women—Nancy Baugis, Genevieve Vincent, Soulier Brasseaux, and Catherine Boudreau—“Kept Batchelors Hall all together.” Living in what came to be known as the “French Houses,” the women (neighborhood kids called them “nuns”) taught Acadian children the Catholic catechism and treated them, as former student Marie Trépagnier remembered, “very kindly.”114 For his part, Benezet engaged in transatlantic philanthropy on the Acadians’ behalf for the next dozen years, raising “thousands and thousands of francs” and, as late as 1779, hiring a lawyer to “plead” for Philadelphia’s seventy-eight remaining exiles at the court of Louis XVI.115

The Seven Years’ War energized forces in Pennsylvania society that threatened to tear the province’s Acadian exiles limb from limb. Pierre Landry, ostensibly writing for “all the Acadians … who are in Pennsylvania” at war’s end in 1763, asked the French crown to “withdraw us from slavery, where we have been since [the British] took the few possessions we once enjoyed.”116 But below the province’s stark dichotomies—Briton and Frenchman, Protestant and Catholic, good subject and worrisome traitor—the city of Philadelphia, with its bustling market in goods and faiths, played host to a political underworld where victims of empire, whether neutral Quaker or neutral French, could together find a measure of refuge.

No less than in Pennsylvania, the collision of religion and imperial politics shaped the Acadians’ reception in Massachusetts, the epicenter of the grand dérangement in the first years after 1755. For most of the Bay Colony’s inhabitants, responding to the appearance of a thousand Acadians that November was a matter of instinct. However friendly their commercial relations with Nova Scotia might have been, decades of war with the French and their Native American allies had produced a virulent, relentlessly public strain of anti-Catholicism. “Where o’er black deeds, the Crucifix display’d,” a widely reprinted poem went, “Fools think heaven purchas’d by the blood they shed.”117 In Massachusetts, religion trumped ethnicity or nationality. Even as Acadians limped off their transports, readers in Boston got word of still more victims “flying hither … naked of all worldly substance” after having been “artfully attacked, beset on every side, and ravaged from every quarter” in a distant homeland. These were the harried French Protestants of Languedoc, and Bostonians prepared “a spread of sympathy” for any such co-religionists who made it to their shores.118 The Acadians were not so lucky.


Boston during the Seven Years’ War. “A View of the City of Boston, Capital of New England,” Scenographia Americana (1768). Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

Late in 1755, provincial authorities distributed the exiles among ninety-eight towns, empowering overseers of the poor to “employ, bind out, or support” their charges as if they were simply poor Anglo-American inhabitants.119 In these provincial villages, the Acadians stared down an uncertain future. They were, in effect, the last link in a great chain of imperial self-exploitation. Local authorities expected to be reimbursed for Acadian expenses by the provincial government, which in turn expected reimbursement from Nova Scotia, which in turn hoped that Great Britain might pay, but whose leaders never pursued the matter with much vigor.120

Local anger resulted. In tiny Needham, for example, town counselors protested that “the number of French they had received was out of proportion.” Worse, one of the village’s thirteen Acadians had spirited himself to Philadelphia, returning with a destitute wife who now demanded support.121 Thomas Hancock, Boston’s most successful smuggler-merchant and a partner in the firm that had supplied the transports for the Acadian expulsion, went so far as to outfit “a vessell for the transportation to North Carolina” of several Acadian families in Boston. Crowded on board and launched toward the Atlantic in May 1756, the exiles overpowered the crew and “came ashore by force.” Hancock’s efforts to “compel them to go on board” again came to nothing.122 Isaac Jackson, Moses Craft, and Joseph Ward of Newton submitted a bill to the provincial government for, among other things, 206¾ pounds of pork, 166 quarts of milk, and “Ten Bushels of Indian meal,” all supplied to the town’s Acadians over a six-month period. Distributing these foodstuffs had been a hardship, to be sure, but doing nothing had not been an option. “There is but two of the thirteen persons that can do much to support themselves,” the selectmen explained, “eight of them being Children: and what they have Earnt, has bin laid out for wool and flax to Cloath themselves.”123

Newton’s predicament was a common one. For overseers of the poor, labor was the answer to their financial conundrum. But putting the Acadians to work proved tricky. Although monetized and integrated into the world of Atlantic commerce, the rural economies of Massachusetts retained a strong sense of the personal. Most households kept account books, recording exchanges of money, goods, and work among neighbors and friends. Debits and credits in these account books acted as the community’s contract with itself, ensuring that relationships among farmers and laborers weathered the rhythms of agricultural production and the ups and downs of global markets. While wage-earning hands had become more common in the decades before the Seven Years’ War, most Massachusetts farmers still lived and worked within a deeply rooted “network of economic interdependence.”124 Households with different resources exchanged them to their mutual benefit. Faced with a diversity of tasks, experienced husbands could, as one practitioner put it, “do this business cheaper by exchanging with each other, than by hiring help.”125

Simply plugging exiles into such complex systems proved impossible. They were often sickly, always indigent, and, as Catholics, under perpetual suspicion for their most basic behaviors. It was a commonplace in the New England countryside, for example, that the pope himself enjoined his followers to “observe no Faith, or Truth, or common Honesty with those whom they account Heretics,” making the “Breach of Oaths … no less with [Catholics] than a Vertue, or a necessary Duty.”126 In village worlds built on trust, Acadians looked like liars. Wage labor and piece work were the best alternatives, but these arrangements caused as many problems as they solved. The eighteen- and twenty-five-year-old daughters of Claude Bourgeois, for example, spent their days in Amesbury turning the scraps of wool the family had “managed to save” from their home in Annapolis Royal into clothing they could sell. Doing so apparently offended “ten or twelve” of the town’s inhabitants. In April 1756, the group burst into their home, tore the young women from their parents’ arms, and hauled them off. When Bourgeois found the girls and brought them home, the town cut off the family’s supply of food.127 After receiving no pay and scant food of “bad quality” for two weeks of work on the Hanover farm of John Bailey, brothers Charles and Nicolas Breau complained to authorities in Boston. A few days later, twenty men “of menacing dispositions” burst into their home, tied them up, placed their geriatric parents in a cart, and wheeled them off to an “unknown place.”128

Tension over work, wages, and reimbursement made violence a painful fact of life for exiles across Massachusetts. In the fall of 1756, after two months of work in Methuen, Laurence Mius received “three rods of old cloth … two pounds of dried cod and one pound of pork fat.” When he protested, Mius found himself pursued by an overseer of the poor “armed with a poker” who, although he did not make good on his promise to “kill him like a frog,” nevertheless dispensed a beating that caused the Acadian to “spit blood for the rest of the day.”129 Likewise, Augustin Hébert complained that a Watertown resident named Coniglot assaulted him “to the point that he could barely walk for two weeks.”130

Even when they avoided fights, Acadians could rarely escape the hardships of bad housing. Although he had “lived well” for months in Salem, François Mius despaired of his lot in Tewksbury. Sent there at the provincial government’s request in the summer of 1757, he now resided in “the worst house in the world.” Rotten timbers strained to support windowless walls, while “stones stacked to a height of about six feet with a hole in the roof” masqueraded as a chimney. Mius wrote to the legislature in Boston asking to return to Salem and promising that “his family … will provide for their needs by working, without much cost to the public.”131 In Wilmington, John Labardor’s seven children lived in a house “which has neither door nor roof.” When he complained of flooding in the home, a town counselor advised him to “build a boat and navigate in it.” “For the love of God,” Labardor pleaded with Governor Thomas Pownall to “stop the injustices” that buffeted his already ruined family.

After all, Labardor explained, he was a friend to the British, and always had been. While living on Ile Royale during the 1750s, he had escorted to safety a British vessel “that the savages had the intention of pillaging.” The Indians, doubtless French-allied Mi’kmaw warriors, repaid Labardor with deershot, three balls of which remained lodged in his back. In light of his devotion to British interests, “the thought of seeing oneself exposed to dying of misery … broke [Labardor’s] heart.”132 Stories like Labardor’s, forwarded to officials in the provincial government, seemed like the best defense against local offenses. When Jacques LeBlanc asked permission for his son, exiled to Maryland, to join him in Braintree, he told a similar tale. Years earlier in northern Nova Scotia, he had saved the life of an Englishman named Joseph Lugar. After a band of Mi’kmaq killed Lugar’s companions, LeBlanc gave “fifteen dollars for his ransom and completed this sum by giving up his coat.”133

For their part, Jacques Mireau and Joseph d’Entremont recalled experiences as fishermen on the southern tip of Nova Scotia, “a place far removed and separated from other settlements in Acadia.” Deaf to offers made to other Acadians by French officials, Mireau and d’Entremont had behaved as good Britons, “rescuing English fishermen and others of this nation, for which they have always held feelings of friendship.” Fearful of being transported to someplace where they might be forced to “cultivate the earth or to give themselves to other work they have never done,” they begged to stay near “fishing places” where they could foster ties with the “people they had known.”134 In Marshfield, a fifteen-year-old Acadian named Paul Michelle had the opposite problem. Forced by a cold-hearted town counselor to work on a fishing vessel in spite of persistent seasickness, the young man relied on his father to secure his release. Joseph Michelle recalled living “in good communication with the English” near Annapolis Royal, selling goods to British soldiers and their wives. Blaming the expulsion on “the bad conduct of the French who resided near Mines,” he had endured “a large part of their misfortunes without having committed the same faults.” His political fidelity, Michelle believed, earned his son the right to work on a farm as the family had always done.135

Loyalty made good copy, but Acadian labor ultimately paid the bills. Faced with starvation in Lancaster, a village on the western frontier, Belloni Melançon apprenticed a son to local artisan James Wilder to try to earn extra money. Wilder instead gave the boy “black and blue bruises on the arm,” rendering it unusable for a month. Others in town grew weary of the Acadians’ perceived freeloading and conspired to remove them. Evicting the Acadians from their house, local toughs tore Melançon’s crippled wife from bed and tossed her into a cart, aggravating injuries she had received back in 1755. The family asked to stay in Weymouth, a coastal town where Belloni’s skill as a fisherman might be useful.136 Concerns about such a move abounded. The government had already tried planting thirty-seven Acadians in the fishing village of Marblehead. Locals howled in protest. Near the water, exiles would have “greate opportunity of caballing together & forming designs” to “put themselves aboard a vessel or vesells … and make their escape in the night”—and worse, “in the Winter season there will be no imployment for them in this place,” leaving them to subsist “at the public charge.”137 Although a committee in Boston found Melançon’s accusations “without foundation,” the Provincial Council appreciated his efforts to make ends meet on his own. He received permission to fish, some firewood, and a rented house in Weymouth, all paid for by the government of Massachusetts.138

Although Acadians looked to British authority for redress, tensions over religion and labor could, on rare occasions, be mediated locally. One such case took place in Westborough, a village thirty miles from Boston, where Ebenezer Parkman spent his days ministering to the members of a tiny Congregationalist church. Harvard-educated, theologically conservative, and perpetually beset by intestinal distress, Parkman did not seem like a man who would take interest in the welfare of French-speaking Catholics consigned to his town. But for some reason, he did so. Perhaps, as one of his sermons suggested, he hoped that by “reproving and warning the Disobedient” while promoting “true Religion,” he might appease God and stave off the French onslaught in North America.139 Where others looked on Acadian exiles and saw the entering wedge of popery and a financial burden, Parkman may well have seen a cosmic opportunity.

Parkman’s relationship with the Acadians began on October 19, 1756. To that point, he had followed the unfolding war with trepidation, fearful that Westborough might once again be exposed to attacks by French-allied Indians. But after friends informed him that “a Family of Neutral French, as ye were called,” had been commended to the care of a neighbor, Parkman’s curiosity overwhelmed his fear. He wasted no time before paying a visit.140 At the home of a Mr. Bigelow, the minister met Simon Leblanc, once the proprietor of a handsome farm near Annapolis Royal, along with his wife and four children. Describing the patriarch as “about 55” and “Rheumatic,” Parkman noted with surprise that Simon was “a Roman Catholic, but is able to read.”141 Two more trips to see the “French Family” followed over the next few weeks, one of which netted Parkman a fine cup of tea.142 He then invited the family to dine at his home late in November. Simon became ill and declined, but wife Magdalene and daughter Mary came, pleasing the other guests by behaving “with decency.”143

Parkman then set to the task of dispensing “instruction about Religion.” In Simon’s cramped quarters that December, he reviewed the Acadian’s library. The books contained some disturbing information. In one volume, Parkman noted, the “Ten [Commandments] were very oddly disposed.” The second, banning the worship of idols, was gone, while the tenth, which prohibited the coveting of a neighbor’s wife and house, was split in two.144 To Parkman’s chagrin, Simon resisted all attempts to correct these abuses. After the minister “injoind” his counterpart “to mind those great matters,” Simon retorted that the French “did more about those things than ye English people here did.” The Acadian seemed particularly disturbed by the rowdy behavior of the teenagers in Parkman’s town. Calling them “wicked,” Simon would not “let his sons go much among them.” Although Parkman expressed “great Grief” at this “Obstruction in what I would fain do for them,” he continued to grope for common cause.145

It was hard going. In January 1757, Simon revealed to Parkman that “his sister Mary marryd an Englishman by whom she had a number of daughters.” The sister (really his half sister) was Marie-Madeleine Maisonnat, the daughter of a famous Acadian privateer named Pierre Maisonnat and Madeleine Bourg. That marriage had collapsed before Marie-Madeleine turned three in 1698, driving Bourg to marry Pierre Leblanc, a widower who would become Simon’s father. Later, Marie-Madeleine married William Winniett, a Londoner of French-Protestant ancestry who had migrated to Nova Scotia in 1710 and became a prominent merchant and member of the governor’s council at Annapolis Royal. Three of Marie-Madeleine and Winniett’s daughters had married Alexander Cosby, John Handfield, and Edward How, their father’s British associates in Nova Scotia’s provincial government. In a cruel twist, a reluctant Handfield had spearheaded the operation to deport the Acadians of Annapolis Royal in 1755, a dark bit of family history that Simon chose to keep from the dogged Parkman.146 With his past in mind, Simon confided in Parkman his nostalgia for the easygoing Annapolis Royal he had once known. There, he recalled, residents “never speak to one another about Religion, but are free … ye English to go to their own Church and the French to theirs.”

Thinking fast, Parkman said something stunning. “I told him,” he recorded, “that I wanted to know His Religion.” Simon “was profoundly still.” After what seemed to Parkman like a long moment of reflection, he offered the Acadian a copy of the Bible, expressing his hope that the two men might, as equals, learn something from each other. Simon took the book, and Parkman left. Six days later, the Leblanc family was moved from the drafty outbuildings of Bigelow’s farm to better lodgings in the town school, a step almost surely taken with Parkman’s blessing.147

Over the next fifteen months, the friendship between Protestant minister and Acadian exile deepened. The two visited often. Leblanc posed questions about fast days and the Quaker aversion to baptism, pausing to regale the minister with an account of “the fight at Grand Pré” from King George’s War in 1746. Parkman gave the exiles a French-language New Testament, a “Catechism & Confession of Faith of ye Reformed Churches in France,” and a history of French martyrs. Making good on his promise to learn about Catholicism, the minister “carry’d a Rosary, or long string of beads, for him to explain.”148 All of this was done, according to Parkman, to “manifest my true and hearty love to him.”149

The Seven Years’ War put that love to a severe test. The British war effort foundered in 1757, leaving Massachusetts grasping for answers. In August, the French captured Fort William Henry in northern New York and, according to the press, participated with Native Americans in a post-capitulation “massacre” that yielded five hundred captives for the Indians while leaving two hundred British soldiers and camp followers dead. In response, officials in Boston instructed sheriffs to “exercise the strictest surveillance” over the Acadians.150 In Westborough, neighbors recoiled at news of “French cruelty” in the Pennsylvania backcountry, praying hard for the success of British arms. Or most of them did. Parkman later confessed that he had “several times try’d to move my Billy from his purpose of going to war … but he remains fervent.” “He is also desirous of my gun,” the minister lamented. “I yield to please him.”151

Faced with uncertainty, some turned to God in strange ways. “Muffled in a frock,” one such “strange man” showed up at Parkman’s church on January 31, 1757, enjoined him to “give solemn warning” to the congregation from the second chapter of Joel, and left without giving his name. “A day of darkness and of gloominess … all faces shall gather blackness,” the scripture went. But hope emerged from the “great and very terrible” day of the Lord: “I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate.” Parkman’s journal did not mention the prophecy, ending the day on a practical note: “Amon Blanc [Simon’s son Armand] at dinner here.”152

As the Seven Years’ War threatened to tear Massachusetts apart, Parkman acted as a magnet, drawing Acadians and New Englanders together. But for all of Parkman’s desire to convert Simon Leblanc (“If I had any love to him I must!” the cleric exclaimed in the margin of his journal), labor effectively made the relationship. On April 18, 1757, Parkman reported that Armand Leblanc “worked for me, partly in ye Garden and partly tending the mason[ry].” The next day, Armand and his sister Mary worked alongside two locals named Deacon and Dunlap, while a chatty visit from Simon created “a far greater hindrance” to Parkman’s sabbath preparations. Summer saw more of the same. In May, the “French girls” delivered to Parkman “33 yards of cloth, which Magdalene has spun and wove for us,” after which Leblanc’s daughters stayed for dinner; in June, Parkman noted that Armand “and my two boys Alex and Breck [eleven and ten years old, respectively] hoe my corn.” One week later, Armand dug a well “to water the Cattle” at Parkman’s house; the next week, Armand arrived with “Stephen Robishow [Robichaud], son of Mr. Joseph Robishow of Uxbridge; he offers hims[elf] to be hir’d to reap today.” Parkman paid the exiles to “reap part of ye field behind ye meeting house.” But the minister only had so much to offer. In late August, he reported that Armand “comes no more to work for me, having leave from me to work where he can … for better wages than I can afford.”153

After the harvest of 1757, Westborough’s experiment in intercultural cooperation regressed toward the Massachusetts mean of standoffishness. For Parkman, there were a last few hopeful moments. In November, Jacques-Maurice Vigneau—he of the canoe journey up from Georgia—dined at his home while on a visit from Leominster. And on December 1, Parkman exulted that his discourse on Psalms 51:11 (“Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me”) was attended by Simon and his wife, marking the “first time that he has ever attended upon any of my sermons.”154

And then the Acadian-Yankee relationship ended. Parkman saw Simon at a funeral in September 1758 and welcomed his children Pierre and Magdalene, with Anne Robichaud and “Modesty Landry” from Acton in tow, to “meeting” on March 1, 1759.155 But no Acadian ever worked for Parkman again. Perhaps as the British war effort shrugged off early failures, capturing Louisbourg in 1758, Québec in 1759, and Montréal in 1760, the minister’s passion for “exhorting and stirring up others” to avoid devastation at the hands of “our merciless and malignant Foes” simply waned.156 Perhaps Acadians found “better wages” elsewhere. In any case, Parkman—the grandfather of Francis Parkman, whose 1892 masterpiece A Half Century of Conflict: France and England in North America painted Acadians as “ignorant of books,” an “unambitious peasantry” deficient in “activity and enterprise”—turned away from Simon’s soul, away from Armand’s toil, and toward his own God.157

What happened in Westborough was unusual. And yet the strange friendship of Ebenezer Parkman and Simon Leblanc was emblematic of the experience of those first seven thousand Acadian exiles. Across the British Empire, they were lumped in with French-allied Indians and would-be slave rebels, caught up in a Quaker campaign against British inhumanities, and, in New England, targeted for conversion by some and exploitation by others. Whatever their situation, Acadians wanted redress, and they had few compunctions about blaming other Acadians (those from Chignecto, usually) to get it. They also wanted family. Simon was no exception. He shielded his children from the debauchery of Congregationalist youth and hosted his oldest son, Joseph, and cousin Marien Gourdeau, exiled to Cambridge and Sherborn, as often as he could.158 Work, however, exerted its own pull. For the summer of 1757 at least, Parkman’s property drew Acadian girls with cloth and Acadian boys with muscle enough for ripening grain and half-dug wells. The minister’s wages connected Acadians to the people of Westborough, and to each other. Just days after Marie and Magdalene Leblanc sold homespun to Parkman’s wife, for example, Marie and her father went “on foot” to Cambridge, using the windfall to see “their friends down below.”159

The scale differed, but it was much the same elsewhere. The range of possibilities Acadians in exile saw—to stay or leave, gather or disperse—was, in large measure, a function of what sort of labor local and provincial authorities believed them capable of performing. Those authorities were unpredictable. Where John Reynolds ushered Jacques-Maurice Vigneau and his family from Georgia, Henry Ellis encouraged the “useful” exiles to stay, provisioning the coastal trade that drove Savannah’s economy. Where Robert Dinwiddie and James Glen saw no place for Acadians among the slaves of the southern lowcountry, Parkman put the Leblanc children on the job in Massachusetts. In Philadelphia, provincial politics pushed Acadians into an underworld populated by patrons and bosses who, like the exiles themselves, chafed at British arrogance. In those first few years of the grand dérangement, Acadian lives, like the environments in which they were lived, proved so variable as to defy easy generalization.

But as the Seven Years’ War came to a close with the dismemberment of the old French Empire, forces more powerful than frontier ministers or provincial governors trained their sights on the Acadians. At stake was nothing less than the construction of a new imperial world—a vast, baroque project whose need for work-roughened, able hands would, in many cases, bring disconnected exiles together. For the statesmen, economists, and military men in charge, those reunions, like the revolutionary new settlements that were to host them, seemed simple enough to engineer. Yet their execution rarely went according to plan.

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