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History of Acadia and Ile Royale

The first Europeans to reach North America were probably the Icelandic colonists from Greenland, around 1,000 AD. A second wave of European exploration occurred between 1480 and 1540. The voyage to Newfoundland in 1497 of John Cabot laid the basis of England's claim to Canada; during the 1530's and 1540's, the French explorer, Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence River, claiming all the land for France. Thus, a conflict of land claims would set the stage for almost continuous warfare for the next 200 years.

The French government, motivated by visions of building an empire in the New World, decided to work through commercial monopolies, which they believed would foster colonization. The first of these monopolies was granted to Pierre du Gast, Sieur de Monts in 1603, who established Acadia in 1604. This area, south of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, included what is now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, parts of New Brunswick, and most of the state of Maine. Although the first settlers arrived in Acadia around 1604, they were unable to truly colonize the area for several decades. In 1605, the French built a fort, Port Royal, at the mouth of the Annapolis river in Nova Scotia, and this became the capital of Acadia.
Because of its geographical position, Acadia at once became involved in a long struggle between France and England for possession of the North American continent. In 1621, James I of England granted all Acadia to Scottish statesman, Sir William Alexander, who renamed it Nova Scotia. Time after time, Port Royal was conquered by the English forces and retaken by the French. The Acadians took no part in the wars, and lived in peace with the local Micmac Indians.
Early battles and exchange of ownership made continuous colonization a problem. Finally, a number of settlers arrived in the 1630's and 1640's. It is estimated that the core of the Acadian settlement consisted of about 50 families who arrived during these two decades. Although a few more colonists come over from France, most of the additional surnames in Acadia came from soldiers and French-Canadians from Quebec, who migrated to Port Royal and married Acadian brides. By 1668, a few dozen Acadian families had settled the beautiful Annapolis valley of Nova Scotia. Instead of clearing the forest, they built dikes on the low-lying land adjacent to the Bay of Fundy, and transformed the salt water marshes into rich meadows. By the 1670's and 1680's, villages had been formed at Beaubassin (Amherst, Nova Scotia), and Grand Pre. These three areas would be the major population centers of the region.
Despite their success as a culture, their homeland was in dispute for decades. The English and French fought for control of Acadia, until it was permanently turned over to England at the treaty of Utrech, in 1713 (after it had changed hands 11 times!). During the 40 years of English rule (1713-1755), the Acadians remained prosperous and their population grew. A sense of community and independence evolved as they worked together and created valuable farmlands, reclaimed from the Bay. Estimates of their population by the 1750's range from 11,000 to 19,000 people. 
The final struggle for North American supremacy began in 1754. At that time, England retained peninsular Nova Scotia, while France held the northern part of the province, Cape Breton Island (which it called Ile Royale). Acadian residents of French descent remained neutral, though their loyalty was still in question. When a number of Acadians were caught fighting with the French, the Lieutenant-Governor, Charles Lawrence demanded that the Acadians sign an oath of allegiance. Most refused to sign, and wished to remain neutral. In the fall of 1755, the Acadian residents were ordered to assemble at the church in Grand Pre, in order to hear the mandate from the King of England. 
"His Majesty's instructions and commands are, that your lands and tenements and cattle and livestock of all kinds are forfeited to the Crown, with all your other effects, except money and household goods, and that you yourselves are to be removed from this Province". 
The Acadians were dispersed, parents separated from children, and each other, and sent to the colonies along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to South Carolina, or across the Atlantic to Europe. In all, 6,000 to 8,000 Acadians were deported, while many of these unfortunate souls died in ships making the trans-Atlantic crossings, or en route to other destinations. A number of Acadians, however, escaped into the woods, and eventually, many found their way to Louisbourg on Ile Royale, and probably to Ile Madame.
Conditions in the Atlantic colonies and in England were miserable. Hundreds upon hundreds died from diseases and other conditions. They were confined to certain areas and not allowed to travel. Finding work was extremely difficult, and some were taken as indentured servants. The Protestant English-speaking colonists did not welcome the Catholic, French-speaking Acadians, and were openly hostile. 
In 1763, with the conclusion of the war, the Acadians were free to return home, though many who did found that their land was now occupied by the English. They were forced to settle in remote coastal regions of the province. Many Acadians in the colonies started making their way to Louisiana, and from 1765 to 1785, it is estimated that about 1,500 Acadians settled in Louisiana. For the Acadians who had been shipped to France, life was not much easier. Though they were of French descent, most did not really feel at home in France, and wanted to return to North America. Many had heard about their relatives in Louisiana and asked to join them in their new "homeland". With the help of Spain, about 1,600 Acadians traveled on 7 ships from France to Louisiana. Over the next 20 years, more than 3,000 more Acadians made the same journey.
Written by Charles A. Samson and George Rose, December 1997.


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