Grand-Pré, Acadia, Minas, and Evangeline, are names which are all synomymous when we speak of the history of Nova Scotia - this place once known as Acadia.. this land now known as The Land of Evangeline.
Unfortunately, all of these names evoke sad memories reminding us of the banishment of a race of people from the land they were the first to settle. This place called Acadie was untamed and all wilderness when the first Acadian settlers arrived from France. It was not long before the male settlers if unmarried found themselves a bride, raised families and worked hard to harness the land and sea to provide for their families. Acadians lived and died here for nearly 150 years.
A poet, on the one hand, has woven into undying verse the story of the last chapter of Grand-Pré. A soldier, on the other hand, has put on record in a journal the facts and details that make up the last days of the Acadian occupation of this same place.
The one is a poetic creation based some historical facts. It was meant to draw attention and to inspire a people still searching for its identity many years after the Great Deportation . The other is the journal of a commander who had an unpleasant duty to perform. No matter what has been written in any form, it is left to the imagination of the reader, researcher or historian to complete the picture of the grief and misery which became the lot of this banished and wandering people. Bits and pieces of research available are gathered on this web site so as to help piece together the history which relates to our Acadian ancestors.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's beautiful poem Evangeline speaks of the constancy of the love of a young woman who soon to be wed hears that her beloved is now a prisoner in the Church and will be banished from this land. This poem, created out of the larger chapter of a people's history, has made sacred the ground of Grand-Pré for apart from the beauty of the poem, and the romantic glamour it throws over the land of Evangeline, the pages of Acadian story make unique and strange facts of history. The struggle for supremacy between the greatest of the Latin and the Teutonic races, whose national rivalry and antipathy so often made Europe a battlefield, also caused England and France to continue their struggles for supremacy and perpetuated their hatred in the New World.
With this as a background, we can follow the growth of Acadia from the arrival of the first settlers in 1605 through 150 years to the deportation in 1755 when the final chapter is written for Grand-Pré and the Acadians are taken from their homes, their lands abandoned, their homes, barns and other buildings burned to the ground making it impossible for them to return to this place.
Since Evangeline was published in 1847, because the responsibility of the deportation rested with the British government, much has been done to hide the facts and moreover attempts were made to show that the Acadians themselves were to blame what happened to them and that they were a threat to the governing body of the land.
The portion of Acadia about Grand-Pré was known earlier in history as Mines or Minas. Still today it is noted for its rich land and the loveliness of its farms and orchards. In my travel throughout Nova Scotia, no land is greener than that of this Annapolis Valley. It is no wonder that our ancestors left Port-Royal to cultivate farm lands in this area. Any visitor to this area cannot but be impressed with the beauty of the land!
In John Frederic Herbin's book The History of Grand-Pré, he says:
Wolfville, only 3 miles away, is the centre about which cluster the points of beauty, and from which radiate the lines of road which communicate with them. Directly in front lies the blue stretch of Minas Basin. The distant purple hills of Cumberland are cut off and relieved on the west by the bold and clearly defined shape of Cape Blomidon. Numerous large and beautiful streams empty their waters into the Basin, which in turn flows into the Bay of Fundy. Cape Blomidon terminates the range of mountains which lies on the north side of the Annapolis Valley. The eastern extremity of this valley is the Canard and Habitant of the Acadians, now named Cornwallis, (I believe it has yet been renamed since) and the broad fields of the Grand-Pré (meaning large meadow).
Acadia - Minas - the Mik'maw ~ 1504-1911
As early as the year 1504 the coast waters of Nova Scotia became known to French fishermen and traders of Bretagne and Normandy. During that century several attempts were made to colonize the country, but not for a hundred years was a permanent settlement established in Acadia.
The frequent use of the word Cadie or Acadie by the Indians led to the adoption of that name for the country inhabited by them. Many geographical names were still in use early in this century in the province of New Brunswick. There was Shubenacadie, Tracadie, Chicabenacadie,, etc.. The Malicites of New Brunswick pronounced the word Quoddy, and so likewide, it can be found in places named Passamaquoddy, Noodiquoddy,etc.
Acadia, or Acadie, as it was known in its earlier history, formed a part of the French dominion in America called New France. Acadia embraced Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and a large part of the State of Maine.
Minas, Manis, Menis, as it has been called from time to time, was named by the French Les Mines, and referred to the south shore of Minas Basin, from which the name came. Mines, later Minas, owed its name to the fact that veins of pure copper had been found at Cape D'Or, also named Cape-des-Mines. Thus was derived the names Minas Basin; Minas, the region; Minas, the French settlement south of Minas River (the Cornwallis River). Minas would have included all of the shores or land bordering on the Gaspereau, Cornwallis, Canard, Habitant and Pereau rivers. That would have included those places known as Avonport, Hortonville, Grand-Pré, Wolfeville, Port Williams, New Minas, Kentville, Starr's Point, Upper and Lower Canard, Cornwallis and Pereau. The French settlement at Piziquid (Windsor) was for a time included in Minas.
Various points in Acadia had been settled by the French before these beautiful lands sloping to the waters of Minas Basin became the scene of colonization. Yet report of its wonderful richness, its seclusion and beauty, had made Minas known a century before it received a permanent settlement. The Grand-Pré - the great prairie - and the broad sheet of basin receiving into its bosom a hundred streams, fine stretches of forest, the vast acres of marshlands, bold bluffs and undulating hills lay like a garden, the favorite haunt of Micmac Indians and the retreat of an occassional pirate or corsair, until the beginning of its history about 1675.
The aborigines of Acadia were called by the French, Souriquois, and in the 18th and 19th centuries they were known as Micmacs. When the French first came they numbered about 3,000. The Micmacs came originally from the southwest and took possession of Acadia, driving the Kwedecks - Iroquois - towards the St. Lawrence and established the Restigouche as the northern boundary of the Micmac territory. They permitted the Malicites, who were once a part of the Abenaki nation, to secure the St. John without opposition, reserving a village site at the mouth of the river. The Micmacs were of the Algonquin family of Indians.
When the French came to Acadia they found that the Indians had a name for every sea, basin, lake, river, brook, hill and land in the country. It had been home to the Micmacs for centuries and they knew every part of it. Their language was beautiful and poetic. In time the French gave beautiful and suggestive names to many parts of the country. Many of these were changed to English names when the land was lost to the British. The Micmacs were an honest and intelligent race, and always maintained their friendship for the French. Much of our history was influenced by these natives. Harsh and aggressive treatment never won their friendship.
Occassional visits of the French to Minas revealed to them the rich land that existed in this country; and later, when Port-Royal had grown too large to furnish the youth with land, these virgin fields became settled.
Here the rivers were unobstructed by dyke or whatever else. The red tides rose and fell, (color of the earth), flooding the marshes and mixing with the crystal waters of the many mountain streams. Only the coarse salt grass moved in the flow of the sea where now stretch out the broad hay meadows of Minas Basin. No horses or cattle grazed on the slopes. No sheep fed in pasture or clearing. No smoke but of Micmac camp or bark wigwam rose in the air. No church spire pointed to heaven and told of the Son of God. Over the whole extent of the waters no ship spoke of man's industry and of a people's commerce. Here waited a rich heritage ready to reward toil and peace, a very haven of refuge. But through what a fire of persecution and tears was it to be brought about! By what tyranny and injustice! Through what bloodshed and what devastation of homes and families was the foundation of this nation's greatness laid!
NOTE OF INTEREST: The Micmac language has been preserved in a dictionary of more than forty thousand words, and a large amount of valuable linguistic material and Micmac mythological lore has been preserved by the late Silas Tertius Rand, who labored among the Micmacs for more than forty years.
Port-Royal ~ 1604-1710
In 1604 Pierre de Guast, Sieur de Monts, a native of Saintonge, a nobleman of the court of Henry IV of France, came to Acadia to found a colony. He was given the monopoly of the fur trade to reward him for this work. With De Monts were Champlain Poutrincourt and Pontgrave, names well known in connection with the history of New France.
In 1604 De Monts sailed up la Baie Française - Bay of Fundy (the word fundy is derived from fond, the end, or top, of the bay) - on an exploring expedition. He visited the mines of pure copper at Cape D'Or (Golden Cape), also called Cap-des-Mines. These mines were undoubtedly known to the Indians, for among their remains found on the shores of the Basin, pieces of copper were sometimes found.
De Monts sailed into the Basin to Partridge Island, where the captain of one of the ships found a large specimen of amethyst. The stone was broken in two pieces, and De Monts received one of them. On their return to France the specimens were cut and mounted in beautiful settings, and presented to the king and queen.
Looking for a suitable place to settle, De Monts was not favorably impressed with the stern appearance of the rocky cliffs of Blomidon and the north shores. He missed the rich lands just a few miles further south. He continued along the north shore of the Bay of Fundy - Baie Française.
The establishement of Port-Royal began the friendly relations between the Indians and the French that would continue for many years. Among other things, a profitable trade in beaver and other furs sprung up.
In 1606, Poutrincourt and Champlain, while coasting in a small boat on the north side of Minas Basin, found a cross, very old, and entirely covered with moss, and thoroughly rotted. This discovery was evidence to prove that the Basin had been visited by Christian people, and also led to the conclusion that trades must have visited Minas before the settlement of this country.
The history of La Cadie or L'Acadie, began with the founding of Port-royal, now Annapolis, in 1605, a grant of that portion of it having been made to Poutrincourt by De Monts. With the French noblesse were Catholic and Protestant clergymen, laborers and artisans. The company spent the winter on an island in the mouth of the River St-Croix which De Monts chose for his headquarters. After a terrible winter, half of the party was dead from scurvy. The survivors returned to Port-Royal and thus the settlement was established. In 1607, De Monts, and the colonists abandoned Acadia. In 1610, another party arrived under the leadership of Poutrincourt. Jamestown in Virginia, settled in 1607, was growing rapidly. Samuel Argall, from that place, destroyed Port-Royal in 1612 but a few of the French colonists remained in the country among the Indians.(Today, the Habitat at the original site of Port-Royal Fort may be visited.)
For the next ten years there was little mention of Acadia. The fur trade still went on and the fishing industry increased. The French continued to live here and forts were built on the St. John River and on Cape Sable.
In 1621, James I, gave Acadia to Sir William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Stirling, and the country received the name it was ultimately to retain, Nova Scotia. To aid in the enterprise of an annual fishing expedition the Order of Nova Scotia Baronets was established.
NOTE: Origin of the First Coat of Arms of Nova Scotia: The Order of Baronets of Nova Scotia was established on the principle that they should assist the plantation of the province at their own expense. Charles I, in 1625, conferred on each knight a space of land three miles wide and six miles long in New Scotland. The complete number of knights was to be 150. The insignia of the Order to be the arms of Nova Scotia, Argent, "the ancient arms of our said ancient kingdom of Scotland," on a blue cross, commonly called, a saltier azure, to be supported by the unicorn on the right side, and a savage on the left; and for the crest, a laurel branch and a thistle proceeding out of an armed hand, and a naked (sword?) conjoined, with the motto: Munit hae et altera vincit.
Melanson is the only name traceable to this Scotch period of rule.
The peace of St-Germain-en-Laye, in 1632, gave Nova Scotia to France, when effort was made with success to establish colonies in the country. a company was formed having for its commander Isaac de Razilly, his kinsman, d'Aulnay de Charnisay, and Nicholas Denys de la Ronde. At this time 300 persons were brought to Acadia. Charnisay, between 1639 and 1649, brought out others; and under Charles Étienne de la Tour, in 1651, others were settled. From these the Acadians of the Maritime Provinces of Canada descend, numbering today in the millions. La Tour is probably the only name dating from the arrival in 1605 of De Monts and Poutrincourt. Of the 300 who came in 1632, there were perhaps twenty families. Others married young women who were brought from France later.
With Razilly came three Capuchin friars, who took charge of the Acadian missions. Records of marriages, births/baptisms and deaths/burials were always kept by these spiritual directors but many have been lost so that it is not always possible to find from what parishes in France the first Acadian families came.
In 1636, dykes began to be used to keep the salt tides of the ocean from flooding the marshes. Agriculture rose in importance as the Acadians brought more and more of this rich land into cultivation. They became skillful in the care of the dyke-protected meadows. In all parts of New France, seigneuries, large tracts of land, had been granted to members and friends of the governing body of the country, the Hundred Associates. Their engagement was simply to settle the country, protect the settlers, and to support the missions.
The rivalry of two seigneurs in Acadia, La Tour and d'Aulnay, with one living at the mouth of the rivière St-Jean (St. John River), the other at his fortified trading post on the Penobscot, resulted in open war, which continued until 1645, when during the absence of La Tour, d'Aulnay captured Fort La Tour, but without avail, against a superior force; and the lady was compelled to witness the execution of her courageous followers. It is said she died of grief because of this cruel act. D'Aulnay died in 1650, and La Tour became governor as well as lieutenant for the king in Acadia - in addition to this, he married the widow of his late rival.
In 1654, a force from Boston, under Major Sedgewick, took Port-Royal and Fort La Tour, while the question of the boundary between Acadia and New England was in dispute. La Tour at once transferred his allegiance to England. Acadia was restored to France in 1667, but it was 1670 before the representative of France took possession. This country now became a part of New France, a province of the mother country, and was government directly from Parish. After all the sacrifice of time and money, the population of Acadia as at this date about 400. Port-Royal had the most of this number.
It was from this place, about 1675 that the few first Acadians moved to Minas, and gave date to the beginning of history at Grand-Pré. It was just a few decades when this section of the country became the most flourishing in Acadia.
After the coming of Grandfontaine, the population of the country doubled in sixteen years, and during that time agriculture prospered. A great deal of trade was carried on illegally by New Englanders.
In 1689, France and England began a war which continued until 1713. Acadia was again captured, the fort at Port-Royal, now Annapolis, unable to withstand the attack. Acadia was retaken in 1690. In 1710, a garrison of less than 300 men at Port-Royal capitulated to a New England force, and Acadia passed out of the hands of the French for the last time. The place was named Annapolis, in honor of the British queen.
Source: The History of Grand-Pré By John Frederic Herbin Originally written about 1900 is now in its fourth edition. I have taken the liberty of modernizing the text to today's English where I could.
Please remember when reading this text how long ago it was written. Though it is accurate, new information found during this century has expanded what was known in 1900.
John-Frédéric Herbin 1860-1923 purchased the land he believed was the site of St-Charles-des-Mines Church in Grand-Pré. This had also been the site of the cemetery where the Acadians had been buried.
John-Frédéric Herbin had a dream that this land would one day be an historic site where all that happened in September of 1755 would be forever remembered. He turned the land over to the Dominion Railroad which of course belonged to the government. The railroad ran close to this land as it still does today. John-Frédéric Herbin's dream was realized and today the Memorial Church of Grand-Pré stands there as a tribute to our more than 400 Acadian Ancestors who were imprisoned in the church for one month and then deported. It is a National Historic Site of Canadian Parks. Archeological digs have now been going on for a few years in hopes of locating where the original church was built s well as where the cemetery containing at least 400 Acadians existed.
Mr. Herbin's mother was an Acadian and he wanted her to always be remembered. In documents I have read, her name has never been mentioned. Recently, I came across a letter Mr. Herbin had written to Placide Gaudet citing his lineage. Though the letter does not state his father's name (easily found), he does say that his father had come from France to England and then to Halifax, Nova Scotia having been born in Cambrai, France. He was a watchmaker in Bedford, Nova Scotia.
John's father married Marie-Marguerite ROBICHAUD who was born at Meteghan on 20 July 1833. She was the daughter of Bonaventure and Osithe Comeau. What a fine tribute John-Frédéric left his Mother and her People as he once referred to the Acadian Ancestors.
© Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
Acadian & French-Canadian Ancestral Home
Acadian & French-Canadian Blog