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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian:Immigration Records by Patricia McGregor, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Acadia was also known as L'Acadie, Le Cadie.
Significant dates in Acadian History 1604-2004:
|1604||First colonization at Ile Ste Croix|
|1605||Establishment at Port Royal|
|1632||Isaac de Razilly arrives with 300 settlers|
|1713||Acadia ceded to England for the last time|
|1716||Founding of Louisbourg by the French|
|1749||Founding of Halifax by the English|
|1755||Expulsion of the Acadians|
|1758||Defeat of Louisbourg|
|1763||Some Acadians begin to return from exile|
|1864||Founding of Le Monitor - first French newspaper in L' Acadie|
|1887||Founding of L'Evangeline, an Acadian newspaper|
|1949||L'Evangeline becomes a daily newspaper|
|2004||400th anniversary celebration of Acadian settlement|
Map of Acadia
Deaveau, J. Alphonse.Two Beginnings, A Brief Acadian History. Lescarbot Press, 1980, pp 40-41.
The first settlement in Acadie was begun by Samuel de Champlain in 1604. Settlers from France continued to arrive over the next 100 years to areas in what are now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Acadians were often caught in the middle of the many power struggles between Britain and France.
Origin of the Name
The origin of the name Acadia is not certain. It may have come from Verazanno who explored the coastline from Georgia to Newfoundland for France. He called the region Arcadie because of the beautiful trees. Prior to the 17th century, Scandinavians, Basques, Bretons, Normands, Spanish and English had been fishing in the area, but the French were the first to establish permanent settlements. That first French attempt at settlement occurred in 1604. Sieur de Monts was given a monoploy for the fur trade in La Cadie and the title of Lt. General of land from the 40th to the 46th parallel in exchange for colonizing and exploring the territory, as well as converting the natives to Christianity. With the financial help of some wealthy French merchants, 120 skilled workers were recruited, two ships were chartered and an expedition set sail for Acadia in March of that year. Samuel de Champlain, Jean de Poutrincourt, two Catholic priests and a Protestant minister were also on board. They explored the east coast of Nova Scotia, went as far south as Cape Cod and then returned north and entered the Bay of Fundy, naming it La Baie Française. Across the bay on the mainland of what is now New Brunswick they discovered two rivers naming them Saint Jean and St. Croix. On an island in the St. Croix River they established a settlement, constructing 12 buildings. One of the ships returned to France with 40 of the men and a load of furs while the rest remained over the winter.
History of Acadia
That first winter was severe. The buildings were exposed to the north winds, drifting ice made access to the mainland impossible and there was no game to hunt to supplement their salt meat diet. Thirty-five of the 79 colonists died from the cold or scurvy. The settlement then moved across the bay to Port Royal. When De Monts’ fur trade monopoly was cancelled in 1607, lack of funds forced the settlers to return to France.
From 1607-1610, Acadia remained uninhabited by colonists. Champlain’s focus changed to the shores of St. Lawrence and the colony at Quebec. There were various attempts at settlement over the next 20 years but there was no long-term success. There are some indications that children were born during this period from unions between fur traders and native women. Louis Lasnier, originally from Dieppe, fathered a son with an Indian woman in 1620 and in 1623 Charles La Tour married an Indian woman and they had three daughters.
It is important to remember when thinking about the location of records that during this time the conflict between England and France was more often on than off. When the French colonies were established, Acadia consisted of present day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and a large part of the state of Maine. When Acadia was ceded to England in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht, the lands were restricted to the Nova Scotia peninsula. Prince Edward Island (Île Saint Jean) and Cape Breton Island (Île Royale) remained French colonies until 1758. Many English colonies were close to Acadia—and they were not interested in the growth of a French Catholic colony. Acadia was isolated from Quebec and even more from France. In 1627 Cardinal Richelieu created a company to protect French interests in New France. It consisted of 100 members and was called La Compagnie des Cent-Associés (The Company of One Hundred Associates). Louis XIII appointed Charles La Tour Governor of Acadie in 1631.
- “Charles II [of England], having concluded his marriage with princess Henrietta-Marie, sister of Louis XIII and (having) promised a dowry of 8,000,000 crowns which only a portion had been paid, was now in desperate need of funds. Negotiations between Charles and Richelieu were begun to settle the final payments. Crafty Richelieu proposed the return of Acadie to the French as settlement for the outstanding balance of the dowry. This effected the return of Nova Scotia by the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1632.” (Babineau 1984, 11)
Isaac de Razilly arrived in 1632 with 300 colonists. In 1636, another 78 passengers arrived. The passenger list for the Saint Jehan which left France for Acadia 1 April 1636 has survived and lists a number of families. A transcribed list of the passengers aboard the Saint Jehan is available at the following website
Port Royal grew from 40 in 1640 to over 1400 by 1737. Several censuses were taken between 1671 and 1737 and are available at the Nova Scotia archives, as are records of minutes of the Council of Annapolis Royal. Most of the inhabitants of the Port Royal area settled along the banks of the river. They chose not to participate in the military actions, but nonetheless, these actions and occupations delayed the progress of the colony.
Some of the settlers who arrived in the 1630s were ‘sauniers’ from Saintonge and Aunis. They knew how to exploit the salt marshes of the coastal areas of France. Others came from Poitou and brought with them the knowledge of draining marshes by dyking. Combining both methods these settlers devised the “aboiteau” method—reclaiming large areas of fertile soil from the tidal waters of the Annapolis Basin.
- Aboiteau “consisted of a levee made of tree trunks laid horizontally between other tree trunks driven vertically deep into the ground and covered with heavy clay soil. This levee was not across the mouth of the stream, but along the shore, and in order to permit the drainage of the land behind this dyke they constructed an “aboiteau” which acted as a valve which opened to let water drain out at low tide but closed when the tidal water in the river or stream rose against it. This description is taken from Diereville who lived at Port Royal in 1700 and left a vivid account of life there.” (Deveau 1980, 24)
Once the best lands in the Annapolis Valley were taken, the sons and grandsons of these colonists looked for land elsewhere which would support a dykeland economy. The area around the Minas Basin offered what they were looking for and this region became the hub of Acadian settlements in Nova Scotia.
The French government had neglected settlement of the island of Cape Breton until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 when it lost the mainland. After that loss they tried to attract as many Acadians as possible to settle there. France decided to build a fort (1717) at Louisbourg (which they had founded the year before) and develop the fishing industry. The population of Cape Breton increased from 700 in 1715 to 2,800 in 1723.
There were also a number of Acadian families who settled on the Île Saint Jean (Prince Edward Island) with an influx to the area occurring after 1749. The 1752 census records over 2,000 persons living there. By 1756 the population had increased to 4,400.
Britain, again in control of the Nova Scotia peninsula after the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1744-48), established the town of Halifax in 1749. It is at this point that the first real settlement of the area under British rule began; 2,500 settlers landed there in 1749 and the capital of Nova Scotia was moved from Annapolis Royal to Halifax. Before this the settled white population in the area was French. The British were concerned about the loyalties of the French communities, should hostilities between France and England begin again.
Deportation of Acadians
In 1750 the Acadian population was about 10,000. At this time the area was under the control of the British and the Lieutenant Governor, Charles Lawrence, was very concerned about where their allegiance would lie in the event of another war with France. Although the Acadians agreed to remain neutral and give an oath of allegiance to the Crown provided they be excluded from military service against the French, this was not good enough for Lawrence. He wanted a full oath including willingness to accept military service. In 1755 he gave instructions that all Acadians (men, women and children) be expelled and their property seized.
Although 250 years later this seems abhorrent to us, the expulsion of thousands of Acadians was still being justified as late as 1886 as can be seen from the following statement in a book created by the Canadian government for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition:
- "The cession of Acadia to England, by the French, rendered it necessary, as a precautionary measure, that numbers of the French Acadians should be deported from Nova Scotia and scattered in little communities from Maine to Louisiana.” (Carling 1886, 43)
Deportations continued throughout the Seven Years War. Thousands of Acadians were expelled.A Brief History of Acadie by René Babineau contains a list of surnames of Acadians at the time of exile (pp 25-26). Approximately 75% of those deported ended up in the American colonies or in prison in Halifax or London. In all, 6,000 Acadians were shipped to American colonies along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Georgia. In 1759 Lawrence, now promoted to Governor, invited 7,000 settlers from New England to take over the lands. Other Acadians were deported to England, detained for several years and then sent to France. These expulsions continued until 1763, with some going as far away as Louisiana where the Cajun culture developed. The rest hid in the woods in New Brunswick, or made their way to PEI or Quebec. However, 3 years after the expulsion on the mainland, the same happened on the Île St. Jean (PEI). Thirty-five hundred Acadians living there were shipped to France. The lack of enough ships left 30 families behind. These 30 families are the ancestors of most of the Acadian population on the island today. Many of those sent to France found they didn’t adjust well to the feudal system whereby peasants were bound to the soil. A large number of these decided to return to North America and settled in Louisiana, the last group leaving France in 1785.
The Acadians were treated as undesirable aliens in all of the 13 colonies except Maryland. They were not allowed to own land unless they gave up their religion and took an oath of allegiance.
At the end of the Seven Years War (1763), with Britain in control of most of North America, it was decided that it no longer was necessary to deport Acadians. Those who had avoided capture by the British and those who had been deported were allowed to return if they agreed to 2 conditions:
- they had to take the oath without restrictions
- they had to settle in small groups
Since their lands had been confiscated and in many cases given to other settlers, the Acadians returning had to establish themselves in other areas. After 1763, Acadians settled in the Bay of Chaleur area of New Brunswick and many of those who had been expelled returned to the area. Many settled in south-eastern New Brunswick; some went to Cape Breton (Île Royale) around Cheticamp; they formed the core population of the Magdalene Islands; and some left the 13 colonies and settled in Quebec. Some chose to remain in France and others stayed in Louisiana.
- “Thus by the end of the seventeenth century the Acadians were dispersed by choice and circumstance from Quebec to Louisiana in America and in many isolated pockets in France while still maintaining a strong foothold in their native Acadie. In spite of the dispersal, the culture which grew during their 150 years in old Acadie survived in the areas in which they now live.” (Deveau 1980, 74)
Acadian Record Repositories
There are a number of record repositories for Acadian records. Some of them are listed below:
Archives Nationales de France - Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (Fonds des colonies: jusqu’en 1815)
Archives Nationales de France - Haute-Normandie
University of Moncton - Centre d’études acadiennes (Centre of Acadian Studies)
Library and Archives Canada (Canadian Genealogy Centre-Acadians)
Another interesting website:
Cyndi’s List (click on “Acadian, Cajun and Creole”) This will provide you with links to many Acadian related websites.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Immigration Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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