Acadians Pt. 1

April 11, 2017 — Leave a comment

So I recently have been doing some reading about some of my ancestors, the Acadians, inspired by some recent historical findings via family trees and DNA testing. I figured by documenting some of the key aspects of my reading I would better retain the information as well so I intend to periodically record some of the key people, places, and events I come across. No real format will be employed for this series as this is primarily for personal use however I do hope others find the information useful if not intriguing.

Pre-Settlement Acadia:

  • The province’s indigenous inhabitants, the Mi’kmaq, had lived there for centuries. They spent summers in coastal villages and winters in smaller groups, hunting protein-rich game (including seals, bears, moose, caribou, and beaver) across the uplands of what would become the Canadian Maritimes.
  • The first accounts of the Mi’kmaq date to July 1534, when Jacques Cartier came across two “fleets” totaling “forty or fifty canoes” in Chaleur Bay off present-day New Brunswick.
  • The Mi’kmaq learned to trade with the Europeans often trading food and furs for iron tools and weapons.
  • The Mi’kmaq retained an overarching political structure called the Sante Mawi’omi or Grand Council.
  • While the Mi’kmaq were eager to participate in the New World economy established by the Europeans they were not eager to partake in the political or religious aims.

First Settlements

  • Frenchmen began arriving in numbers in 1604, three years before the foundation of Jamestown and sixteen before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
  • Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts was granted the first charter by Henry IV of France in hopes of establishing relations with the Mi’kmaq, spread Christianity, and establish the area for the French crown from the British claims.
  • Port Royal was mapped out and chosen as the spot where de Monts would establish the settlement.
  • After surviving for 3 years de Monts saw his charter revoked by Henry IV. De Monts subsequently ventured west into Québec leaving Port Royal without an imperial ruler.
  • New command of the settlement of Port Royal was taken up by Jean de Biencourt, sieur de Poutrincourt, and his son, Charles de Biencourt de Saint-Just.
  • Poutrincourt had been one of de Monts’s partners on the 1604 voyage, and maintained a dogged determination to turn Port Royal into an agricultural colony.
  • The Poutrincourt dynasty never realized its goal. Father and son fought with Jesuits and their powerful French patrons, struggled in vain to lure migrants to Port Royal, and suffered a devastating 1613 assault by English marauders from Jamestown.
  • The elder Poutrincourt was killed while dealing with domestic anti-monarchical uprisings in his native France. The son died in 1624 back in Port Royal leaving the French Acadian settlement without leadership once more.

New Scotland

  • The English attempted to claim the territory by granting a charter in 1621 to the Scot William Alexander. In 1629 Alexander’s son and 70 Scots arrived at Port Royal now abandoned by the French who had moved south to Port Loméron.
  • The colony despite help from the French and Mi’kmaq barely survived the winter.
  • New Scotland ceased to exist after the French fought the Scots defeating them in 1632 and sent them packing back to England.
  • In 1632 the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye returned Acadia to France.

Acadian Civil War

  • Charles de Menou d’Aulnay de Charnizay. D’Aulnay came to Acadia in 1632 as an agent of his cousin Isaac de Razilly, a naval officer.
  • Razilly was placed in charge of Louis XIII interests involving trade and settlements under the French crown.
  • Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour was granted similar powers by the crown.
  • When Razilly suddenly died in 1635, d’Aulnay asserted himself as the sole ruler of Acadia.
  • This power struggle between d’Aulnay and la Tour erupted into a full blown civil war lasting over a decade known as guerre civile acadienne.
  • D’Aulnay successfully rebuffed an attack from la Tour and proceeded to blockade la Tour’s fort of St. John. La Tour escaped the blockade and was able to round up men from Boston to defend St. John and attack d’Aulnay at Port Royal once more. The attack was again rebuffed.
  • While la Tour was away in April 1645 d’Aulnay sieged  St. John once more ultimately defeating La Tour’s wife Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, who later died, and sending la Tours into exile in Québec.
  • Final revenge though was to be la Tour’s who ended up marrying d’Aulnay’s widow, Jeanne Motin de Reux, after he perished in a boating accident in May 24, 1650.
  • Due to d’Aulnay’s noble connections he was able to obtain more families interested in leaving war torn France behind for the new world. Such families include: Bourg, Gaudet, Leblanc, and Thibodeau.


  • The success of the Port Royal and settlements along the Bay of Fundy had much to do with the process of land reclamation by controlling the sea levels.
  • The areas where d’Aulnay and the new familes were from Poitou, Anjou, Saintonge, Aunis, and Brittany were known for their dikes and waterway controls in place to separate solid ground from the swamps back in France.
  • This technology would become the source for Acadian granary riches and why their land became so desirable.
  • Using sharp diking spades imported from western France, Acadians took to the marshes.
  • Working on the rivières Missaguash, au Lac, Tantramar, Memramcook, and Petitcodiac, the first Beaubassin colonists drained hundreds of acres within a generation.
  • Several Acadian families including Landrys, Thériots, and Melansons made their way to the Minas Basin in the 1680s about seventy miles northeast of Port Royal to establish the village of Grand Pré or Great Meadow.

Life in Acadia

  • The population of Acadia grew to nearly fifteen hundred by the end of the seventeenth century. Minas (where my family lived) was then on the cusp of outstripping Port Royal, with nearly five hundred inhabitants.
  • Acadians ate well, aged gracefully, and managed to integrate most French, Irish, English, and even Basque migrants into their little societies with admirable equanimity.
  • Much of the profit from the meadows in Port Royal, Minas, and Beaubassin went toward imported provisions and manufactured goods, especially those on offer from New Englanders.
  • The flow of goods and produce up and down the Bay of Fundy made new people as well as new fortunes. In the last quarter of the seventeenth century, a little cadre of Bostonians and Acadians laid the groundwork for a transnational, bilingual, cosmopolitan community that would bind the two colonies even as imperial tensions rose.
  • Although very much a part of the French Empire, Acadia functioned as an off shoot of the Massachusetts economy.

Changes in Acadia

  • At the close of the 17th century things began to change in the Acadian region both politically and imperially.
  • Emboldened by the overt anti-Catholicism of William and Mary’s régime and provoked by French privateers authorities staged hit-and-run attacks on Chignecto and Minas.
  • In 1710 Samuel Vetch took possession of Port Royal in October, renaming the little settlement Annapolis Royal in honor of the British queen.
  • Nearly three years later, the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of the Spanish Succession, and confirmed Great Britain’s right to what ministers called “all Nova Scotia or l’Acadie, comprehended within its antient boundaries.”
  • This power change didn’t represent any real change because militarily the colonies possessed no real threat and the Mi’kmaq did not bother with French vs British affairs.
  • The Acadians had simply invested too much in their lands on the Bay of Fundy to abandon them. The British in turn valued Acadian subjects as buffers against the still-powerful Mi’kmaq. It was an unsatisfying stalemate, but one that promised a measure of stability.
  • The British through subtle means enacted policies which were to make Acadians dependent on British institutions while narrowing their economic options to exclude everything but the orderly cultivation and transport of grain along the Bay of Fundy.
  • France decided to put its full attention on its other territorial claims of Ile Royale and Ile Saint-Jean. The fort of Louisbourg was built starting in 1719  and the French hoped the Acadians would consider relocating from their lands along the Bay.
  • But with the Acadian’s status being neutral after 1740, the Acadians had few compelling reasons to pack up.
  • The War of the Austrian Succession (King George’s War in the British colonies) was the ultimate trigger than precipitated the tensions in the Nova Scotia area.

Useful French:

  • Grand Dérangement- The expulsion of 15,000 Acadians from the coastal areas around the Bay of Fundy at the hands of the British starting in 1755
  • Rivière – River
  • Guerre Civile Acadienne- Acadian Civil War
  • Esseau- a plank that allows for freshwater drainage but snaps shut when the salty tide rises
  • Gazons- harvesting blocks in rectangular shapes
  • Aboiteaux – smooth-faced dike walls up to ten feet high, then packed the structure’s center with brush, clay, and more “odd” sods

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