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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Tragedy of Acadia

By Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780)

[From the Third and Final Volume of The History of Massachusetts. First printed in 1828.]

THE FRENCH forts at Beau Sejour, Bay Verte and the river St. John, in Nova Scotia, had been recovered. The state of that province was, notwithstanding, deemed very insecure, many thousand French inhabitants still continuing in it. They had been admitted by Lieutenant-Governor Armstrong after that province was reduced, in the reign of Queen Anne, to such a sort of oath as to consider themselves rather in a neutral state between England and France than in subjection to either, and from thence they took the name of French neutrals. Being all Roman Catholics and great bigots, and retaining the French language, they were better affected to France than to England. In civil matters they had been more indulged by the English than they would have been by the French, being in a manner free from taxes; and a great part of them were so sensible of it that they wished to avoid taking part on one side or the other. But the Indians, who were engaged on the part of the French, had constant intercourse with them, their houses being scattered, and where there were any number together to form a village, open to both French and Indians from Canada, without any sort of defence. And it was the general opinion that, if an attempt should be made by the French to recover the province of Nova Scotia, the whole body of the Acadians, some from inclination, others from compulsion, would join in the attempt.

The commander-in-chief of his majesty’s ships, then at Halifax, as well as the governor of the province, supposed that the principle of self-preservation would justify the removal of these Acadians; and it was determined to take them by surprise, and transport them all, men, women, and children, to the English colonies. A few days before the determination was executed, notice was given to the governors of the several colonies to prepare for their reception. Far the greatest part were accordingly seized by the king’s troops, which had remained in the province, and hurried on board small vessels prepared to receive them, with such part of their household goods as there was room for; the remainder, with their stock of cattle, the contents of their barns, their farm utensils, and all other movables, being left behind and never recovered nor any satisfaction made for them.

In several instances, the husbands who happened to be at a distance from home were put on board vessels bound to one of the English colonies, and their wives and children on board other vessels, bound to other colonies remote from the first. One of the most sensible of them, describing his case, said “it was the hardest which had happened since our Saviour was upon earth.”

About a thousand of them arrived in Boston, just in the beginning of winter, crowded almost to death. No provision was made in case government should refuse to take them under its care. As it happened, the assembly were sitting when they arrived; but several days were spent without any determination, and some aged and infirm persons, in danger of perishing, were received on shore in houses provided for them by private persons. At length, the assembly passed a resolve, that they should all be permitted to land, and that they should be sent to such towns as a committee appointed for that purpose should think fit; and a law of the province was passed to authorize justices of the peace, overseers of the poor, etc., to employ them in labor, bind them out to service, and in general provide for their support, in like manner as if they had been indigent inhabitants of the province.

Favor was shown to many elderly people among them, and to others who had been in circumstances superior to the rest, and they were allowed support without being held to labor. Many of them went through great hardships, but in general they were treated with humanity. They fared the better because the towns where they were sent were to be reimbursed out of the province treasury, and the assembly was made to believe that the province would be reimbursed by the crown; but this expectation failed. It was proposed to them to settle upon some of the unappropriated lands of the province, and to become British subjects, but they refused. They had a strong persuasion that the French King would never make peace with England unless they were restored to their estates. A gentleman who was much affected with their sufferings prepared a representation proper for them to make to the British government, to be signed by the chief of them in behalf of the rest, praying that they might either have leave to return to their estates or might receive a compensation; and he offered to put it into the hands of a proper person in England to solicit their cause. They received the proposal thankfully, took the representation to consider of, and, after some days, returned it without having signed it. They were afraid of losing the favor of France, if they should receive or solicit for compensation from England. Despair of the free exercise of their religion was another bar to every proposal tending to an establishment.

The people of New England had more just notions of toleration than their ancestors, and no exception was taken to their prayers in their families, in their own way, which, I believe, they practised in general, and sometimes they assembled several families together; but the people would upon no terms have consented to the public exercise of religious worship by Roman Catholic priests. A law remained unrepealed, though it is to be hoped it would never have been executed, which made it a capital offence in such persons to come within the province. It was suspected that some such were among them in disguise; but it is not probable that any ventured. One of the most noted families, when they were dissuaded from removing to Quebec, lest they should suffer more hardship from the French there than they had done from the English, acknowledged they expected it; but they had it not in their power since they left their country to confess and to be absolved of their sins, and the hazard of dying in such a state distressed them more than the fear of temporal sufferings.

(When these unhappy persons despaired of being restored to their own estates, they began to think of a removal to places where they might find priests of their own religion, and other inhabitants of their own language. Many hundreds went from the New England colonies to Hispaniola, where, in less than a year, by far the greatest part died. Others went to Canada, where they were considered as an inferior race of Frenchmen, and they were so neglected that some of them wrote to a gentleman in Boston, who had patronized them, that they wished to return. In 1763, Monsieur Bougainville carried several families of them, who had found their way to France, to the Malouines, or Falkland Islands, where they remained but a short time, being turned off by Mr. Byron. Bougainville says: “They are a laborious, intelligent set of men, who ought to be dear to France on account of the inviolate attachment they have shown as honest but unfortunate citizens.” Thus they were dispersed through the world, until they were in a manner extinct, the few which remained being mixed with other subjects in different parts of the French dominions.)