Thursday, December 09, 2010

Acadians Die at Sea in 1758 Deportation

Acadians aboard the Duke William, Violet and Ruby
die at sea while being deported from Ile St-Jean in 1758

The American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743 in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin, is the oldest scholarly society in the United States. Among the Society’s holdings is Franklin’s newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, which he founded in 1728. Published until 1800, the Gazette is regarded as The New York Times of the 18th century.
During a visit to the Society, we had the opportunity to search for references to the Acadians in the Gazette. In an issue dated April 19, 1759, we found the following letter from "A.B." as an introduction to the extract he sent to the Gazette by William Nicholls, captain of the Duke William. It is his account the sinking of the Duke William, which at the time of its loss was carrying 400 Acadians - entire families - into exile from Ile St-Jean/Prince Edward Island to France in 1758. I believe its inclusion in the Gazette may be its earliest publication in North America.

Note: A.B. was Antoine Benezet. Mr. Benezet was a French Huguenot who became a Quaker oOnce settled in Philadelphia. Anthony Benezet was instrumental in helping the exiled Acadians from the moment of their arrival. Deploring what had happened to them and perhaps aligning himself with them since he too originated from France, he found them housing and clothing. He petitioned the Council for funds to take care of them. I have visited Pine Street where the "Acadian Huts" as they were called once stood.

April 19, 1759

To the Printers of the PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE

You will very much oblige some of your Reader, in giving a place in your Gazette to the inclosed Letter, wrote by the Master of the Duke William Transport, which it is hoped may have a Tendency to lessen, if not remove, the strong prejudices which prevail in the Minds of many with respect to those distressed People, known amongst us under the Name of French Neutrals; as they are in a great Measure the same Sort of People with those mentioned in this Letter; many of the Inhabitants of the Island of St. John having retired from Nova Scotia, especially at the breaking up of their Settlement, to that Island. And by Letters which our Neutrals lately received from Liverpool, they have an Account, that several of their Children and Relations perished on board the Duke William. It must be acknowledged, that the imprudent and self willed disposition which those unhappy People have repeatedly shewn amongst us, has justly rendered them obnoxious to those of this Province: Nevertheless, if, in a Spirit of Christian Charity, we will take the Pains to look into their Case, and fully consider it; especially the easy and plentiful Situation they formerly lived in, and the Straits and Difficulties to which they are now reduced, whereof the frequent Want of Health, so as often to disqualify them from Labour, is not the least; such will certainly be led to sympathise with them in their Distress; especially when it is considered, that what appears to us in them Imprudence and Self will, with respect to binding out their Children, arrises chiefly from a Want of Knowledge of Mankind, the Prejudices of Education, and their inviolable Attachment to their religious Persuasion; out of which they are taught to believe that there is not Salvation. In other Respects they are, especially the Old and Middle aged, generally a virtuous People; and that which appears Obstinacy in them, arises rather from a Stedfastness of Heart, which no worldly consideration will induce to forsake what they apprehend to be Truth; a Principle, which, tho' it requires Pity when, by the Force of Education, or Prejudice, it is fixed on the wrong Object, yet as it is noble in itself, so it strongly calls for Forbearance and Charity from every considerate Mind; And indeed, the Patience and Resignation to the Dispensations of Providence, which has appeared, in the Close of Life, in most all the grown Persons, who have died amongst us, is a plain Indication of their Fortitude of Mind, and of that Divine Support which the Almighty has favoured them with, in that most trying Hour. I remain, A. B.

Extract of a Letter from Capt. William Nicholls, of the Duke William Transport, Pensanze, (a Market Town of Cornwall, sit 8 Miles East of the Land's end, and 65 m. S.W. of Launceston) Dec. 16.
UNDER the greatest Affliction, I acquaint you. I have been obliged to leave the Duke William, with 300 French inhabitants on board, from the Island of St. John's, North America, to sink about 35 Leagues from the Land's end, Wednesday the 13th inst. about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and believe she could not keep above water till eight at night. We sailed from St. John's on the 5th of November, and on the 29th out ship sprung a leak, and in a short time had five feet of water in the hold, but having two spare pumps on board, and a great many hands to bail, in about 24 hours gained on her, and kept her in this situation about eight days. On the 9th, being more moderate, hoisted out the boats, and soddered the ship, by which means the leak stopped, so that we could keep her with one pump continually going, having hove everything off the decks, and out of the hold, we possibly could, to ease her, but on Monday the 11th, the leak broke out again, and notwithstanding the four pumps, and such a number of hands bailing from every hatchway, they could not keep her, so that by Wednesday morning about five o'clock her hold was full of water, and left off pumping, and hoisted out the boats with great difficulty, that in case any ships came in sight, we might save our lives: At nine in the morning we saw two ships steering towards us, which gave us great hoopes; we hoisted the signal of distress, and fired a great many guns, but they hoisted their ensigns, and kept away from us; we then cut away our mainmast, to shew them ore perfectly our distress, but they took no notice of us, going clear away. At eleven a Snow passed by, viewing our unhappy situation, and hearing our guns as plain as we could see their men on the decks, but he behaved as the other had done before, by running away from us. The French then gave over all hopes, and said, God had foresaken them, and they were resigned to death. As in the term of the Voyage under our misfortunes, they had behaved with the greatest intrepidity, so in their last moments they behaved with the greatest fortitude; for seein our attempts were frustrated, they came and embraced me saying, they were truly sensible that I, with all mh people, had done all in our power to save the ship, and their lives, but as I could be of no farther service to the, begged I would save my own life and my men. Taking their priest with me, whom I put into the boat before I went myself over the stern, there being so much sea the boats could not lie along side her, after we were in, the boats laid off the s hip about half an hour, when their cries, and waving us to be gone, almost broke our hearts. We then left them about four o'clock in the afternoon, being ourselves in a most unhappy situation, being persons in number, upwards of thirty leagues from the Land's End by our reckoning, and our whole provisions amounting to about either or nine pounds of bread, our provisions in the gun room being all expended, and the hold full of water, our mainmast cut away, could get nothing from thence. In this melancholy situation it pleased God to conudct us safe to this place.

On Tuesday captain Sugget, in the Violet, with 500 French on board, hoisted a signal of distress, his fore yard was gone in the sling, and his mizen mast cut away; I spoke to him the night before, he told me he could not keep her with his pumps, so I'm afraid he suffered likewise.

All I have to comfort myself under this misfortune is being sensible I did all in my power to save the s hip and lives, which the poor unhappy sufferers were truly sensible of, and which made themm so willing to let us go; if they had not, so great a superiority as 300 to 34, might easily have hindered us.

The Ruby Lost at Sea

For some time it was believed that a third ship deporting Acadians from St. John Island/Ile St-Jean had gone down at sea. I found the following in the Pennsylvania Gazette. There were 200 Acadians lost when the Ruby went down.

March 29, 1759
The Pennsylvania Gazette

The same Day Capt. Wright arrived here from Fyal, and brought Advice, that the Ruby Transport, William Kelly, Master, bound to St. Maloes, with 310 of the Inhabitants of the Island of St. John [Ile St-Jean] on board, sprung a Leak in a Gale of Wind, and being in great Distress, the Captain made the best of his Way for the Western Islands, and thought to have got to Fyal; but the Wind shifting, they were obliged to stand for the Island of Pico, where the Ship struck on the Rocks, and soon went to Pieces, when 200 of the French perished. They had no Advice at Fyal of Commodore Keppel putting into Madeira, nor of his receiving any Damage at Sea. 

When Louisbourg was captured by the British July 26, 1758, Ile St-Jean (Prince Edward Island) now had no choice but to capitulate. Thousands of Acadians had gone there seeking refuge since it was still a possession of France.

On September 8, 1758, those Acadians who were captured were deported to France or to England in 9 ships. One ship was battered by storms at sea and arrived at Boulogne-en-Mer, France with only 179 survivors on December 26, 1758. 

The ill-fated Violet and the Duke William sank on December 10, 1758 carrying at least 700 to their watery graves. Though it seems that there were serious attempts to save the Acadians being deported before both vessels sank, nontheless both went down to the bottom of the sea with more than 700 Acadians. A third ship, the Ruby, was also lost at sea leaving another 200 Acadians to the sea. The ship was headed for St-Malo, France and there were 310 Acadians onboard. Two hundred perished.

Some have claimed that those ships were unseaworthy. Stephen White disagrees with that and says "... that the two ships that sank were unseaworthy is highly questionable, because I believe that there is no evidence to that effect. Indeed, the Duke William had just crossed that Atlantic in the opposite direction, carrying troops, and it is highly unlikely that the British would have transported troops in vessels that were known to have been unseaworthy. Rather, the sinking of the Duke William and the Violet may more readily be attributed to bad timing. The North Atlantic is difficult to cross at certain times of the year, because of storms. According to an article by Earl Lockerby in the Cahiers de la Société historique acadienne (vol. XXXII [2001], pp. 4-39), the British had forborne from deporting the inhabitants of Île St-Jean in 1745 because doing so after the end of September was deemed to be too late in the year for the successful execution of such a project (p. 13). In 1758, however, they went ahead with the expulsion, even though it meant sending out transports much later than that. The Duke William and the Violet only left the coast of Cape Breton Island at the end of November. It did not really matter how "seaworthy" those ships were; they were being sent out into a sea that few ships at the time could be guaranteed to cross safely. Another thing I should point out is the fact that there were actually three ships lost in the expulsion of 1758. The third was the Ruby, which went aground in the Azores, with the loss of about two thirds of her passengers." 

Captain Nichols, was in command of the Duke William, and he objected to the authorities that it was impossible for his vessel, on account of its condition, of his arriving safe in Old France at that season of the year. Nevertheless, he was forced to receive the Acadians onboard and to proceed on his way to France.* 

They left the island in November. On account of the uncooperative wind, the fleet had to lay in the Gut of Canso till November 25, when, thanks to a strong gale from the Northwest, they were finally able to sail. After three days at sea, a storm came up during the night, with sleet and rain, the sea running "mountains high". After a couple of days of high seas and storms, the fleet was dispersed. 

After a couple of weeks separation, the Duke William and the Violet regrouped on December 10th. Captain Sugget, of the Violet, told Captain Nichols that his vessel was in a faltering condition, that it had taken on much water, that the pumps were blocked and that he was afraid of sinking before the break of day. There was a storm that would just not end! The Duke William got its three pumps to the ready. 

Early next morning at about 4a.m., the Duke William received a frightful pounding from the rough sea and began to take on water. When the captain saw how fast the ship was filling with water, he awoke the Acadians telling them the danger they were in and had them work the pumps. At day's first light, they saw that the Violet was in danger of going down. "It came on a most violent squall for ten minutes, and when it cleared up, they found, to their great and deep concern, that the poor unfortunate Violet, with near four hundred souls, was gone to the bottom". 

Meanwhile, everybody worked to save the Duke William. Hatches were opened but water continued to fill the ship as quickly as it was bailed or pumped out. Everything was done to save the ship. 

On the fourth day at approximately 6:00 a.m., the realization struck that the ship would sink and they would all perish. Father Girard, pastor, was with the Acadians. He was asked to tell and prepare his flock to meet their fate. After about a half an hour, he told them to prepare to meet their Eternal Judge and he gave them general absolution. 

Then came the awesome pronouncement of the captain, which "in his own judgement was right", according to his own words, by which he was "sending four hundred persons to eternity". 

Two lifeboats were lowered to the water and the captain and his crew embarked. The Acadians were left on the ship to die. "Seeing the priest lay his arms over the rails in great emotion, with all the apprehensions of death pointed in his countenance, the captain asked him if he were willing to take his chance with him. He replied, "yes". After giving a last benediction to his parishioners who were about to die, "he tucked up his canonical robes, and went into the boat". It seems that Father Girard has been criticized for not remaining with his parishioners on that ship. 

Captain Nichols does not tell us of those last moments but we can imagine the worse as the large transport broke up and the Acadians were thrown and sucked into the cold waters of the Atlantic. One Frenchman only went into the boat, on which his wife said: 'Will you thus leave your wife and children to perish without you!' Remorse touched him and he returned to share their fate". In the meantime four Acadians, two being married, threw overboard a small jolly-boat [A boat of medium size belonging to a ship.] along with two oars, and swam to it. Those four Acadians just had time to climb aboard their makeshift lifeboat.
The two lifeboats, with twenty-seven in one and nine in the other including Captain Nichols and Father Girard reached land close to Falmouth, England. Miraculously, the jolly-boat also reached England safely.
The fate of these Acadians was sad indeed! Be it by the sea, disease or epidemics, Acadians died in great numbers! More than half of the Acadians made prisoners on Prince Edward Island between 1758-1759 died on the way to British ports. Fortunately, before the British arrived at Ile St-Jean, French governor, Raymond de Villejoint had already sent between 700 to 800 Acadians to La Rochelle, France, and yet another group was sent off to Québec numbering about 1,000.

Pennsylania Gazette, March 9, 1759
Stephen A. White, Genealogist CEA U Moncton
Exerpts from article by Father Clarence d'Entremont
© Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
Acadian & French Canadian Ancestral Home


Heather Rojo said...

A very sad story. I'm glad you listed all the names in your blog post. Hopefully this will help someone with their genealogy search.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

Hi Heather -

Thank you for your post.

Yes, the effort to annihilate all of our ancestors is a sad time in our Acadian history but though it was hoped none of us would be here, our ancestors survived and we are here to tell the story.


Unknown said...

Hi Lucie

Where can I find the passenger list for the Duke William as I need it for some family research?