In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht officially award England the part of l’Acadie we know today as Nova Scotia, which became the new name of the colony. Other parts of l’Acadie remained in French hands. From then on, the Acadians were under increasing pressure to take an unconditional oath of allegiance to the British monarch.
The Acadians strongly but diplomatically objected. They believed accepting the oath would one day force them to take up arms against French soldiers – something they could not contemplate. Others worried the Protestant English would force them to give up their Catholic faith. Most refused the oath and stayed on their farms hoping for the best and enduring decades of repeated English threats and ultimatums. Technically, the penalty for refusing the oath was loss of property and deportation. But there were no English settlers to replace the Acadian colonists, and the English desperately needed the fruits of the Acadians’ labor. So the English forcibly kept the Acadians in Nova Scotia, all the while threatening to deport them for not swearing allegiance.1
Over the next 40 years, this uneasy détente continued. Some Acadians, including some Arseneaus, managed to escape to nearby French-controlled territories and start new settlements. The majority stayed, including Pierre’s second oldest son, Abraham, who is another of our forefathers. Abraham was born in 1678 in Beaubassin. At 23, in 1701, he married 17-year-old Jeanne Gaudet, and they had at least 18 children.2 Abraham stayed in Beaubassin and raised his family there.
On June 28, 1731, Abraham hosted a dinner guest who later wrote about his experience. A colonial official from Massachusetts, Robert Hale visited Nova Scotia on a trading mission. During his travels, he met Pierre’s oldest son, also named Pierre, and he dined with Pierre at Abraham’s house. These are some notes from his journal3, edited for clarity:
[June 28, 1731]. Wee had design’d now to go down to our Vessel, but the wind blowing very hard at S.W. wee were Oblig’d to quit our purpofe till next Highwater for ’tis impossible to go against the Tide. I went to see an Indian Trader named Pierre Asneau, who lately came from St. John’s in Canada, with Furs & Seal Skins…
Hale then writes about prices of goods, but does not mention Pierre again until dinnertime:
[Wee din’d with Mr Asneau at his Brother’s upon roast Mutton, & for Sauce a Sallet, mix’d with Bonyclabber4 Sweetned with Molasses. Just about Bed time wee were surpriz’d to see some of ye Family on their Knees paying their Devotions to ye Almighty, & others near them talking, & Smoaking &c. This they do all of them, mentally but not orally, every night & Morning, not altogether, but now one & then another, & sometimes 2 or 3 together, but not in Conjunction one with the other…
Hale goes on to describe general observations of Beaubassin:
The women here differ as much in their Cloathing, besides wearing of wooden Shoes, from those in New England as they do in Features & Complexion, which is dark eno’ by liuing [living] in the Smoak in ye Summer to defend themselves against ye Muskettoes, & in ye winter against ye Cold… They have but one Room in their Houses besides a Cockloft, Cellar, & Sometimes a Closet. Their Bedrooms are made something after the Manner of a Sailor’s Cabbin… They have not above 2 or 3 chairs in a house, & those wooden ones, bottom & all. I saw but 2 Muggs among all ye French & ye lip of one of them was broken down above 2 inches. When they treat you with strong drink they bring it in a large [basin] & give you a Porringer to dip it with… The Women’s Cloaths are good eno’ but they look as if they were pitched on with pitchforks, & very often their Stockings [socks] are down about their heels.
Abraham’s wife Jeanne died in her forties. In 1752, at 74, he married again, to a widow around his age. He died a few years later not far from Beaubassin, in Baie Verte.5
Two New Generations of Pierre
The next Arseneau in our line was Abraham and Jeanne’s fourth child, Pierre (Pierre 2), who was born sometime before 1707 in Beaubassin. Pierre 2 married 16-year-old Marie-Marguerite Hébert in 1728.6 Pierre 2 died in his thirties, but not before he and Marie-Marguerite had six children, the third of which was yet another Pierre (Pierre 3). He was born around 1735 in Beaubassin and is next in the line of descent for our branch of the Arseneaus. At some point in Pierre 3’s life, he adopted the “dit name” Periot.7
“Dit” is a French word meaning, in this context, “called.” To distinguish one branch of a family from another, many Acadians added descriptive names to their family names. Many dit names names were adopted during military service and often had a geographical origin. What “Periot” refers to is unknown, but perhaps he served in Acadie’s illegal resistance force. His dit name would have been helpful because there were other Arseneaus among Broussard’s militia.
1. Dudley J. LeBlanc (1966). Acadian Miracle.
2. Denis J. Savard (2000). Dictionnaire généalogique des familles Arsenault.
3. Robert Hale (1731). Journal of a voyage to Nova Scotia.
4. A curdled milk similar to either buttermilk or sour cream.
5. Paul Arsenault (2013). The True Story of Ancestor Pierre Arsenault in Acadia.
6. Stephen A. White, Dictionaire Genealogique des Familles Acadiennes, 1636-1714, p. 27, #11 (via Karen Theriot Reader (2009). AFC Database – Arseneau, rootsweb.ancestry.com).
7. Stephen A. White, Dictionaire Genealogique des Familles Acadiennes, 1715-1780 (draft) (via Karen Theriot Reader (2009). AFC Database – Arseneau, rootsweb.ancestry.com).
8. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (February, 1892), p 383 (via Shane Bernard).