As 1750 approached, tensions between the English and French reignited, and England began building up its military presence in the region. The English were also looking to bring thousands of English Protestant settlers to Nova Scotia. In response, a French Catholic priest, Abbé Jean-Louis Le Loutre, and a charismatic Acadian militia leader named Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil. Broussard, along with their Mi’kmaq allies, attacked English settlements and evacuated Beaubassin. They even burned down the village to deny supplies to the English.1
Finally, in 1755, the English executed plans to get rid of the Acadians once and for all and send them where they would present less of a threat. There were three main reasons for this. First, the Acadians vastly outnumbered Englishmen in Nova Scotia, and the British feared for their safety. But sending them out of Nova Scotia was not enough. To ensure they would not bolster French forces in the region, the Acadians would be sent to the English colonies where they could be defused and monitored. Second, nearly 2,600 English settlers had arrived in 1750, and they had been promised land – choice land occupied by Acadians. The third reason was anti-Catholic sentiment. One of the proponents of expulsion was the Protestant governor of colonial Massachusetts, William Shirley, an anti-French, anti-Catholic politician and military commander. His goal was to remove the “most obnoxious inhabitants of Nova Scotia” from their homeland and replace them with English Puritans.2
The Grand Dérangement
To launch the expulsion – better known as the Grand Dérangement – Nova Scotia Governor Charles Lawrence lured hundreds of Acadian men to port cities by telling them they would hear a decree about their lands. Instead, he arrested them, which in turn ensured their families would not flee to French territory.3 Confronted with such a harsh reality, many Acadians declared they would finally take the unconditional oath. But Lawrence told them it was too late. “[Y]our consent is but the offspring of fear…you can no longer be looked upon otherwise than [as] popish recusants,” he said, using a phrase referring to Christians loyal to the pope.4 Lawrence also burned their villages and crops, along with the deeds to their farms and other documentation, to break the Acadians’ spirit of resistance and to leave nothing for the Acadians to try to defend.5
Thousands of Acadians escaped French-controlled areas, but those who did not fled deep into the Nova Scotia woods, where they were hunted down and arrested or killed. Others, facing exposure and starvation, surrendered. From 1755 through 1760, the English forcibly deported about 6,000 Acadians. They loaded them onto ships, often separating husbands from wives and parents from children.
Most ships set sail for the 13 American colonies, but some of the more rebellious Acadians were sent to internment camps in England, while others were shipped to France. A few of these ships sank before reaching their destinations. On other ships, there was not enough room in the cargo holds for everyone to lie down. Overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and bad food reduced passenger numbers by the hundreds, as ships sat at anchor for weeks either before setting sail or after reaching their destinations.6
Periot Evades the English
Somehow, Periot and hundreds of others from the Beaubassin area managed to avoid the English for several years. Historians believe Periot fled to an area known as Restigouche, near Baie des Chaleur, in present-day northern New Brunswick.7 Nearly 700 Acadians had sought refuge in New Brunswick, which was still nominally controlled by the French. As one historian put it, “These Acadians were the last to surrender, and thus were undoubtedly the most battle-hardened members of the Acadian resistance.”8 This group also included the militia leader Joseph Broussard and some of Periot’s Arseneau cousins. While in Restigouche, in 1761, at 26, Periot married Marie-Josèphe Godin dit Lincour, who was around 17.
The British eventually overran these New Brunswick exile communities. Isolated, abandoned by France and exhausted, the holdouts were finally captured in 1762 and sent to prison camps in Halifax, “where they remained for several months, sleeping in the open air, most of them with nothing for covers, their bits of rag having been taken from them when they were captured.”9 Pierre and Marie-Josèphe were among the prisoners.10 Also in 1762, Marie-Josèphe gave birth to their first child, Eusèbe. There is a strong chance he was born in a prison camp.11
For those who did not escape to French-controlled areas, as Periot had, the future was bleak. Not one of the American colonies wanted the ships holding the deportees to unload their human cargo. Virginia and New York refused to accept any Acadians. In the colonies that did allow them to land, the Acadians were treated harshly. Some were put in camps, where many died from smallpox and other diseases. Others were distributed among small villages and towns to reduce their chances of regrouping and causing trouble. Most were given just enough food to stay alive. In some colonies, the English forced the Acadians into indentured servitude and hired out their children as farm labor. One South Carolinian’s assessment of the Acadians probably represents that of many English colonists. “[T]hey are insolent rascals, [who] talk in a high strain, calling themselves Subjects of the French King, [claim] they were neutrals… They will not even…take the Oath of Allegiance; by this we may judge what a pernicious Gang they were in Nova Scotia.”12 We know they were not “a pernicious Gang” before they were arrested and deported, but “insolent” most certainly captures the attitude of those who had been abused at the hands of the English.
Foreshadowing the South’s treatment of former slaves and their descendants during the era of Jim Crow laws, some colonial officials arrested Acadian men without jobs and put them to work as forced labor. Many Acadians tried to escape and run for Canada, but only a few men who could survive alone in the wilderness made it back to French territory. One reason for their harsh treatment was the fear they stirred in the English colonists. Since 1754, England had been at war with France in the French and Indian War. And although the Acadians – with or without taking the oath – were subjects of the British Crown, they were perceived as French. Another reason was anti-Catholic sentiment. Puritans still led the American colonies, and to them the Acadians were “immoral Papists.”13
1. Dudley J. LeBlanc (1966). Acadian Miracle.
2. Carl Brasseaux (1991). Scattered to the Wind: Dispersal and Wanderings of the Acadians, 1755-1809.
4. Bona Arcenault (1966). History of the Acadians.
6. Carl Brasseaux (1991). Scattered to the Wind: Dispersal and Wanderings of the Acadians, 1755-1809.
7. Steven Cormier (2014). Appendices: Arceneaux, http://www.acadiansingray.com
8. Ronnie-Gilles LeBlanc (2013). Acadians in Halifax and on Georges Island, 1755-1764.
10. Stephen A. White, Dictionaire Genealogique des Familles Acadiennes, 1715-1780 (draft), Arseneau (via Karen Theriot Reader (2009). http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=katheriot&id=I2330).
11. Steven Cormier (2014). Appendices: Arceneaux, http://www.acadiansingray.com
12. Carl Brasseaux (1991). Scattered to the Wind: Dispersal and Wanderings of the Acadians, 1755-1809.