The defining moment in the history of the Acadian French in Atlantic Canada is, and always will be, their expulsion from Nova Scotia — an eviction and banishment that began in the autumn of 1755 and continued for several years thereafter.
The Acadians were the first European settlers in Nova Scotia, brought over from France in the years after 1632 to colonize what was then the French territory of Acadie, land which included modern-day peninsular Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. By 1713, when Acadie was ceded to the British and became Nova Scotia, the Acadians were long-settled and well-established. Scattered across the peninsula in a chain of loosely-connected agrarian communities, they claimed political neutrality and asked to be left alone on their farmlands, undisturbed.
Over time, their neutrality became increasingly problematic. Known as the 'Neutral French', they were Roman Catholic, occupied valuable and productive farmland, maintained a friendly relationship with the Mi'kmaq, and vastly outnumbered the British — who in turn were predominantly English-speaking Protestants congregated in small, isolated nodes of settlement, where nervous magistrates struggled to govern effectively. All of this at a time when religion, language and relations with the Mi'kmaq were indicators of larger national allegiances — and mattered significantly.
By 1754, Great Britain and France were at war in America and it was no longer deemed safe to have the Neutral French as the majority population in Nova Scotia; their continued presence was perceived as a threat which could not be satisfactorily contained. In June 1755 the British captured Fort Beauséjour, strategically located on the Isthmus of Chignecto at the head of the Bay of Fundy; as the next step in securing the safety of Nova Scotia, the Council at Halifax decided in July 1755 to deport the Neutral French.
Thus began the tragic chain of events which saw the rounding-up of the Acadians, the seizure and destruction of their homes, farms and livestock, their forcible banishment from Nova Scotia, and their fragmentation and dispersal along the eastern seaboard of North America, down into the Caribbean and across to Europe.
The resource developed in this Website presents documentation which began as primary records, written down at the time and preserved in the years afterwards; these documents provide a factual account of events leading up to the Expulsion, first-hand descriptions of the Expulsion itself, and additional relevant documents from the aftermath years. Taken together, these materials provide a critical mass of significant documentation – the largest and most complete online presentation of contemporaneous records relating to the Expulsion of the Acadians.
Since no written documents created by the Acadians themselves during this period are known to have survived, this Website relies instead on records created predominantly by the British — but including various pertinent French documents from earlier years. In an effort to balance the weight of official records created by government at Annapolis Royal and Halifax, the Website includes as well the private journal or record-book of Colonel John Winslow, commander of the New England troops overseeing the Expulsion.
Winslow was onsite throughout the summer and autumn of 1755, both at the Isthmus of Chignecto and at Grand-Pré; he was neither an impartial nor disinterested observer, but he was nevertheless concerned by what he had been ordered to do, what he participated in directly, and what he saw happening around him. His journal records day-to-day events with an obvious view to providing accountability; his voice is reliable.
Within the lifetime of those involved in carrying out the Expulsion, questions of responsibility and accountability began to circulate, accompanied by accusations of document suppression and destruction; the debate continues to this day. In an effort to place the various arguments and recriminations in appropriate context, this Website also provides the relevant portion of Brian Cuthbertson's definitive article, 'Thomas Beamish Akins: British North America's Pioneer Archivist,' published in 1977. Akins was Nova Scotia's Commissioner of Public Records from 1857 to 1891, and was directly involved in the nineteenth-century phase of the ongoing controversy.
The resources presented in this Website have been digitized from published versions of the original handwritten documents. First appearing in print nearly 150 years ago, these records are frequently discussed or cited in histories of the Expulsion, but have not been widely available for many years, so that examining and evaluating the documents on their own, as primary sources, has been difficult.
At the time these records were created, people viewed the world around them and expressed themselves very differently from the way we do today – and so the wording of the documents frequently seems biased or offensive to modern sensibilities. The role of the archivist, however, is not to write history or to interpret its evidence, but merely to make the records available. Their presentation here in digitized format, for a wide audience, will encourage fresh scrutiny and analysis; and will provide Acadian descendants everywhere with access to the defining event in their heritage and identity-formation.
Thanks are extended to Nova Scotia’s Office of Acadian Affairs for consultation and cooperation on this project; to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, for collaboration in digitizing material first published in the Society’s Collections, Volume II (1881), Volume III (1883) and Volume IV (1884); and to both Brian Cuthbertson and Acadiensis: Journal of the History of the Atlantic Region (Fredericton, NB) for permission to feature a large portion of the T.B. Akins article.