Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Acadian Exiles
By George Bancroft (18001891)
[From History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent. The Authors Last Revision. 188285.]
THE CHIEF justice, Belcher, on whose opinion hung the fate of so many hundreds of innocent families, insisted that the French inhabitants were to be looked upon as confirmed rebels, who had now collectively and without exception become recusants. Besides, they still counted in their villages eight thousand souls, and the English not more than three thousand; they stood in the way of the progress of the settlement; by their non-compliance with the conditions of the treaty of Utrecht, they had forfeited their possessions to the crown; after the departure of the fleet and troops, the province would not be in a condition to drive them out. Such a juncture as the present might never occur; so he advised against receiving any of the French inhabitants to take the oath, and for the removal of all of them from the province.
That the cruelty might have no palliation, letters arrived, leaving no doubt that the shores of the Bay of Fundy were entirely in the possession of the British; and yet at a council, at which Vice-Admiral Boscawen and Rear-Admiral Mostyn were present by invitation, it was unanimously determined to send the French inhabitants out of the province; and, after mature consideration, it was further unanimously agreed that, to prevent their attempting to return and molest the settlers that were to be set down on their lands, it would be most proper to distribute them among the several colonies on the continent.
To hunt them into the net was impracticable; artifice was therefore resorted to. By a general proclamation, on one and the same day, the scarcely conscious victims, both old men and young men, as well as all the lads of ten years of age, were peremptorily ordered to assemble at their respective posts. On the appointed fifth of September they obeyed. At Grand Pré, for example, four hundred and eighteen unarmed men came together. They were marched into the church and its avenues were closed, when Winslow, the American commander, placed himself in their centre, and spoke:
You are convened together to manifest to you his majestys final resolution to the French inhabitants of this his province. Your lands and tenements, cattle of all kinds, and live stock of all sorts, are forfeited to the crown, and you yourselves are to be removed from this his province. I am, through his majestys goodness, directed to allow you liberty to carry off your money and household goods, as many as you can, without discommoding the vessels you go in. And he then declared them the kings prisoners. Their wives and families shared their lot; their sons, five hundred and twenty-seven in number; their daughters, five hundred and seventy-six; in the whole, women and babes and old men and children all included, nineteen hundred and twenty-three souls. The blow was sudden; they had left home but for the morning, and they never were to return. Their cattle were to stay unfed in the stalls, their fires to die out on their hearths. They had for that first day even no food for themselves or their children.
The tenth of September was the day for the embarkation of a part of the exiles. They were drawn up six deep; and the young men, one hundred and sixty-one in number, were ordered to march first on board the vessel. They could leave their farms and cottages, the shady rocks on which they had reclined, their herds, and their garners; but nature yearned within them, and they would not be separated from their parents. Yet of what avail was the frenzied despair of the unarmed youth? They had not one weapon; the bayonet drove them to obey; and they marched slowly and heavily from the chapel to the shore, between women and children, who, kneeling, prayed for blessings on their heads, they themselves weeping and praying and singing hymns. The seniors went next; the wives and children must wait till other transport vessels arrive. The delay had its horrors. The wretched people left behind were kept together near the sea, without proper food, or raiment, or shelter, till other ships came to take them away; and December, with its appalling cold, had struck the shivering, half-clad, broken-hearted sufferers, before the last of them were removed. The embarkation of the inhabitants goes on but slowly, wrote Monckton, from Fort Cumberland, near which he had burned three hamlets: the most part of the wives of the men we have prisoners are gone off with their children, in hopes I would not send off their husbands without them. Their hope was vain. Near Annapolis, a hundred heads of families fled to the woods, and a party was detached on the hunt to bring them in. Our soldiers hate them, wrote an officer on this occasion; and, if they can but find a pretext to kill them, they will. Did a prisoner seek to escape, he was shot down by the sentinel. Yet some fled to Quebec; more than three thousand had withdrawn to Miramachi and the region south of the Ristigouche; some found rest on the banks of the St. Johns and its branches; some found a lair in their native forests; some were charitably sheltered from the English in the wigwams of the savages. But seven thousand of these banished people were driven on board ships, and scattered among the English colonies, from New Hampshire to Georgia; one thousand and twenty to South Carolina alone. They were cast ashore without resources, hating the poor-house as a shelter for their offspring, and abhorring the thought of selling themselves as laborers. Households, too, were separated; the colonial newspapers contained advertisements of members of families seeking their companions, of sons anxious to reach and relieve their parents, of mothers moaning for their children.
The wanderers sighed for their native country; but, to prevent their return, their villages, from Annapolis to the isthmus, were laid waste. Their old homes were but ruins. In the district of Minas, for instance, two hundred and fifty of their houses, and more than as many barns, were consumed. The live stock which belonged to them, consisting of great numbers of horned cattle, hogs, sheep, and horses, were seized as spoils and disposed of by the English officials. A beautiful and fertile tract of country was reduced to a solitude. There was none left round the ashes of the cottages of the Acadians but the faithful watch-dog, vainly seeking the hands that fed him. Thickets of forest-trees choked their orchards; the ocean broke over their neglected dikes, and desolated their meadows.
Relentless misfortune pursued the exiles wherever they fled. Those sent to Georgia, drawn by a love for the spot where they were born, as strong as that of the captive Jews who wept by the rivers of Babylon for their own temple and land, escaped to sea in boats, and went coasting from harbor to harbor; but when they had reached New England, just as they would have set sail for their native fields, they were stopped by orders from Nova Scotia. Those who dwelt on the St. Johns were torn from their new homes. When Canada surrendered, hatred with its worst venom pursued the fifteen hundred who remained south of the Ristigouche. Once those who dwelt in Pennsylvania presented a humble petition to the earl of Loudoun, then the British commander-in-chief in America; and the cold-hearted peer, offended that the prayer was made in French, seized their five principal men, who in their own land had been persons of dignity and substance, and shipped them to England, with the request that they might be kept from ever again becoming troublesome by being consigned to service as common sailors on board ships-of-war. No doubt existed of the kings approbation. The lords of trade, more merciless than the savages and than the wilderness in winter, wished very much that every one of the Acadians should be driven out; and, when it seemed that the work was done, congratulated the king that the zealous endeavors of Lawrence had been crowned with an entire success. We did, said Edmund Burke, in my opinion, most inhumanly, and upon pretences that, in the eye of an honest man, are not worth a farthing, root out this poor, innocent, deserving people, whom our utter inability to govern, or to reconcile, gave us no sort of right to extirpate. I know not if the annals of the human race keep the record of sorrows so wantonly inflicted, so bitter, and so lasting, as fell upon the French inhabitants of Acadia. We have been true, they said of themselves, to our religion, and true to ourselves; yet nature appears to consider us only as the objects of public vengeance. The hand of the English official seemed under a spell with regard to them, and was never uplifted but to curse them.