Massachusetts

Acadians Refuse To Take a Loyalty Oath to the British King and Pay the Price

For nearly 40 years in the early 18th century, Acadian farmers in Canada refused orders to take an unconditional oath of loyalty to the British Crown. Since there were far more Acadians than British military forces, the Acadians got away with it.

Expulsion of the Acadians

Expulsion of the Acadians

The British had taken Acadia in 1710 as  part of their continuing struggle with the French to dominate North America. At the end of Queen Anne’s War, fought largely in Maine, Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, Britain won the southern part of Nova Scotia in the Treaty of Utrecht.

They didn’t have much of a presence in the region, though. The French had encroached by building two forts in what is now New Brunswick: Beausejour, in Aulac, and Gaspareaux, near Port Elgin.

But in June 1755, France’s Fort Beausejour fell to the British and Gaspareaux surrendered without a fight.  Shortly thereafter, acting Gov. Charles Lawrence ordered the Acadians to take the loyalty oath. This time, the British could back up their orders with force, because three regiments and New England Ranger units had arrived.

But the Acadians did not want to pledge allegiance to a Protestant monarch and forswear their loyalty to the pope.

Acadians Refuse Loyalty Oath

Father Jean-Louis Le Loutre

Father Jean-Louis Le Loutre

By 1755, decades of fighting with the French and Indians left the British fed up with Acadian intransigence. Dummer’s War followed Queen Anne’s War, and King George’s War followed in 1744.  The Catholic Acadians scattered throughout the region were ostensibly neutral during these conflicts.

But some waged guerilla war against the British with their allies, the Wabanaki and the Micmac people, who were also Catholic.

Halifax

In 1749, the British tried to tighten military control over Nova Scotia. They built forts in the most important Acadian communities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. They also provoked the Micmac people by founding the Protestant settlement of Halifax, a violation of their treaty with the Indians.

The founding of Halifax touched off Father Le Loutre’s War. Acadian and Micmac forces attacked Halifax in at least half of the 24 battles, raids and skirmishes of the conflict. The French also built their own forts, including Fort Beausejour on the border between Nova Scotia and Acadia.

Father Le Loutre was joined by an Acadian resistance fighter, Joseph Broussard, known as Beausoleil. In 1750, Le Loutre led many Acadians and Micmacs to new homes in unsettled regions controlled by the French: Chignecto, Prince Edward Isle and Cape Breton.  The British called him Moses.

The Final British Push

Map of Fort Beausejour and cathedral

Map of Fort Beausejour and cathedral

The British began their final push against the Acadians in Canada on June 4, 1755, when Lt. Col. Robert Monckton began to move toward Ft. Beausejour. He led 2,400 men: three British regiments and New England Ranger units led by Joseph Gorham of Yarmouth, Mass.

The 400 French, Acadian and Micmac men were no match for the combined British and New England forces that laid siege to the fort. A cathedral next to Fort Beausejour had just been finished a month before the British laid siege. Father Le Loutre ordered it burned so the British wouldn’t occupy it. He saved the cast-iron bell, still at the site of the fort, now a National Historic Site of Canada.

The fort surrendered on June 16. British troops moved on to force the other French forts in the region to capitulate.

Acadian Expulsion

Two weeks after the fall of Fort Beausejour, Lawrence ordered the forcible removal of the entire Acadian population from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and parts of what is now Maine. Estimates vary, but the British rounded up as many as 10,000 Acadians out of a population of 12,000. Then they boarded them onto ships and sent them to the 13 British colonies in North America and to France. Several thousand died of disease, starvation and drowning.

Charles Lawrence

The British seized their farms and livestock, pillaging and burning their homes to make sure they wouldn’t return.

Father Le Loutre escaped to Quebec and sailed to France, but the British captured him on the journey and imprisoned him for eight years. After his release, he tried to help Acadians deported to France. He died Sept. 30, 1772 in Nantes, France, leaving his worldly possessions to the expelled Acadians.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem about the expulsion of the Acadians, called Evangeline. Beausoleil led a group to settle in Louisiana. One of his descendants is a performing artist known as Beyonce.

This story was updated in 2020. 

19 Comments
To Top