The eastern expedition of the French and Indian war moved. Three thousand men sailed from Boston on the 20th of May, 1755, under the command of General John Winslow, a great grandson of Edward Winslow of the May-Flower, and then major-general of the Massachusetts militia. They landed at near the head of the Bay of Fundy, where they were joined by Colonel Monckton and three hundred British regulars and a small train of artillery from a neighboring garrison. The French at Beau-Sejour and other military posts on the peninsula were ignorant of the hostile preparations of the two governments, until the appearance of this armament. Resistance would have been in vain. The peninsula became an easy prey to the English before the close of June. The French soldiers were sent to Louisburg, and the Acadians, who had been forced into the service, were granted an amnesty. But a sad fate awaited them.
The simple Acadians expected forbearance and went on cultivating their lands. They readily took an oath of allegiance, but could not pledge themselves to bear arms against their kindred in nation and religion. The English coveted their fertile lands, and made their refusal a pretext for possessing them. A technical question in law was raised, whether one who refuses to take all required oaths could hold lands in the British dominions. It was referred to the chief-justice of Nova Scotia, who decided against the Acadians; when it was determined to drive them out of the province and force them to settle in the English colonies. Not a word of suspicion reached the ears of the intended victims until the cruel plot was ripe for execution. The command went forth for their distribution among the English colonists. The French government asked for them the privilege of leaving their lands, taking with them their effects, and choosing for themselves their future home. "No," was the reply; "they are too useful subjects to be lost; we must enrich our colonies with them." A touching memorial to the council at Halifax was borne by a deputation of educated men, in which they asked for the restitution of the guns and canoes of the people for domestic use, and promising fidelity as the ransom for them. The document was read in an humble manner by the leading deputy, to the governor. That official treated it and its bearers with scorn. "It is highly arrogant, insidious and insulting," said Governor Lawrence. He charged them with intending to carry food to the enemy in their boats, and reminded them that a law of the British realm forbade all Roman Catholics having arms in the houses. He scolded the deputies without stint. "It is not the language of British subjects," he said, "to talk of terms with the crown, or capitulate about their fidelity and allegiance. What excuse can you make for your presumption in treating this government with such indignity as to expound to them the nature of fidelity? Manifest your obedience by immediately taking the oaths required, before the council." The deputies meekly replied: "We will do as our people may determine," and asked leave to return home and consult them.
On the following day they saw the peril of themselves and their people, and offered to take the oaths. "By a law of the realm," said the governor. "Roman Catholics who have once refused to take the oaths cannot be permitted to do so afterward, and are considered Popish recusants;" and as such they were cast into prison. The chief-justice insisted that all the French inhabitants--hundreds of innocent families--were rebels and Popish recusants; that they stood in the way of English interests in the country: that they had forfeited their possessions to the crown, and advised against the receiving of any of the French inhabitants to take the oath, and also the removing of all of them from the province.
Execution of the cruel measure recommended speedily followed the utterances of the opinion of the chief-justice. A general proclamation was issued ordering all the Acadians, "old men and young men, and lads ten years of age," to assemble at designated places, on the 5th of September, 1755. They obeyed. The proceedings at one place afford a fair picture of those at all others. At Grand Pre, four hundred and eighteen unarmed men were assembled. They were marched into the church, where they were addressed by Winslow, the Massachusetts militia general. He told them they had been called together to hear the decision of the King of England in regard to the French inhabitants of the province. "Your lands and tenements," he said, "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 majesty's 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." Then he said, "You are now the king's prisoners."
Consternation suddenly filled every household in Grand Pre. Nineteen hundred and twenty-three men, women and children were driven on board British vessels at the point of the bayonet, from Grand Pre alone. The men and boys assembled at the church, went first; the sisters, wives and daughters had to wait for other transports. They marched from the church to the water's edge, some in sullen despair, others with hands clasped and eyes uplifted, praying and weeping, and others singing hymns, while on each side of the sad procession was a row of women and children on their knees imploring blessings upon the heads of the dear ones.
The fate of the people of Grand Pre was the fate of all. The wrath of the English excited against the French for their long and cruel warfare upon the frontier settlements of New England, with their Indian allies, was poured out in full measure upon the heads of this innocent pastoral people, who had never voluntarily lifted sword nor spear nor firebrand to harm the English. Many, forewarned, tried to escape. A hundred families near Annapolis fled to the woods, where they were hunted by the troops like noxious wild beasts. Many were shot dead by watching sentinels. An English officer wrote in cool blood: "Our soldiers hate these French Catholics, and if they can find a pretext to kill them, they will." Some hid in the forests and among the rocks in remote parts of the peninsula; some found their way to Quebec, and many were sheltered from the English and fed in the wigwams of the so-called Indians. But seven thousand were borne away by English ships, and scattered among the English colonies. To prevent their return, their villages and rural homes in Nova Scotia were laid waste by flames, and their live-stock was used by English officials. A large, beautiful and fertile tract of country became a solitude and desolation-a precious offering upon the altar of greed, hatred, bigotry and fear.
The sufferings of the Acadians were acute in exile. Many families, separated at the outset by the cruel arrangements for their transportation, were never re-united, and the English colonial newspapers contained advertisements seeking information about parts of dismembered families. They were dropped along the shores of the colonies from the Penobscot to the Savannah without resources, and ignorant of the language of the people among whom they were cast excepting in South Carolina, where they received great kindness from the Huguenot families there. They abhorred the almshouse, and dreaded servitude in English families. They yearned for their native land with sadness as intense as that of the Hebrews on the borders of the rivers of Babylon; and many wandered through the forests to Louisiana and Canada-men, women and children-sheltered by bush-camps and partaking of the hospitalities of the Indians, that they might rest under French dominion. Some families actually went to sea in open boats, to find their way back to Acadie, and coasting along the shores to New England, were there met by orders from Nova Scotia to stop all returning fugitives.
Many touching stories are told of parents seeking and finding children; of children seeking and finding parents, and of the wanderings of lovers in search of each other, and of unexpected meetings. This portion of the history of these captive exiles lends beauty and pathos to many a page of Longfellow's Evangeline. When I was in Montreal, many years ago, the following well-authenticated story was told to me:
A beautiful maiden, daughter of a wealthy citizen of Grand Pre, was to be married in the church there, to a son of the local magistrate of that village, on the day when Winslow pronounced the doom of the colony. They were dressed for the nuptials that were to be celebrated immediately after the conference with the English officers, in the presence of the "old and young men and lads of ten years," there assembled. Alas! the young man was among the prisoners then made and doomed to perpetual exile. As he passed to the ship in the sorrowful procession, he kissed the kneeling, weeping, heart-broken maiden, and said hurriedly: "Adele, trust in God and all will be well!" He was landed at the city of New York, and made his way to the St. Lawrence, where he became a trader with the Indians. The maiden and her mother followed a fortnight later, and were also landed at New York. They accepted the hospitalities of a Huguenot family far up the Hudson River. Soon afterward a band of Mohawks, because of some affront, made a raid into the settlement, and the maiden was carried away captive by an old chief who led the band, into the deep wilderness of the Saeondaga.
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