In the summer of 1696, colonial leaders in Canada made a move that had a devastating effect on l’Acadie. Against the backdrop of another war been the French and English, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville (the founder of the French colony of Louisiana and older brother of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, a future colonial governor of Louisiana) led a force of 500 soldiers and Indian allies to attack an English settlement in Maine known as Pemaquid (later, Bristol, Maine). They captured its fort and killed three English soldiers.
The attack surprised and enraged New England, and Massachusetts’ revenge was harsh. Col. Benjamin Church from the Plymouth Colony led a nine-day raid with 400 soldiers and dozens of Iroquois warriors against the nearest French target – l’Acadie.1
When Church reached Beaubassin, Pierre’s friend Germain Bourgeois confronted him. Germain sought to de-escalate tensions by arguing that the Acadians were neutral, which was technically true. Church appeared satisfied and even returned to Germain’s house to drink. But eventually, the colonel came upon a bulletin celebrating the raid by New France against Pemaquid. It had been nailed to the door of the church, which the colonel promptly burned to the ground.2 Over several days, Church’s men laid waste to the village, killing villagers who had not escaped into the woods, burning homes and slaughtering livestock. Church looted so much from Beaubassin that he did not need to tap his ship’s supplies for days.3
Pierre, Germain and Their Families Captured
At some point after the attack, Church captured Pierre, Germain and their families. Gov. Villebon detailed their adventure in his journal:
[October 28, 1696] Germain Bourgeois and Arsenault arrived at the fort with their wives and children. They had been captured by the English at Beaubassin and left by them at the mouth of the river in a boat of mine which had been seized, with orders to return to Beaubassin and not to ascend the river to Fort Nashwaak.4
Referring to the brutality of the attack on Beaubassin, Villebon records in his journal that “Bourgeois and Arsenault declared that they had found more kindness among the Indians than among the English.”
Despite Col. Church’s admonition, Pierre and Germain did indeed return to Fort Nashwaak, where, as we know, they briefed Gov. Villebon.
Villebon mentions Pierre again in August 1697: “26th.—Germain Bourgeois arrived with Arsenault, both settlers of Beaubassin, on their way back from Cape Breton. I had sent the former there to await the King’s ships…”5
Pierre’s name appears again in 1699 in a letter between French government officials. The letter involves instructions to a French naval vessel: “As the frigate will pass between several ports in the region where the English…could track them down, it will be necessary to take aboard the pilots Arsonneau and Boudrot [Abraham Boudreau] who are the best,” presumably to guide them safely and secretly through l’Acadie’s waterways.6 What the French were doing that required them to avoid detection by British ships is unknown.
In the following years, Canada raided more New England colonies, again provoking reprisals against the Acadians. Finally, in 1710, English forces took control of Beaubassin and other parts l’Acadie, but not Canada.
Also in 1710, Pierre, at 64, died at Beaubassin.7 Whether he died of natural causes, fighting the English or in some other circumstance is unknown. His oldest children – Pierre and Abraham – were around 34 and 32. His youngest child was 8.
1. J.C. Webster (1934). Acadia at the end of the seventeenth century: Letters, journals and memoirs of Joseph Robineau de Villebon.
3.Dudley J. LeBlanc (1966). Acadian Miracle.
4. J.C. Webster (1934). Acadia at the end of the seventeenth century: Letters, journals and memoirs of Joseph Robineau de Villebon.
6. Paul Arsenault (2013). The True Story of Ancestor Pierre Arsenault in Acadia.
7. Denis J. Savard (2000). Dictionnaire généalogique des familles Arsenault.