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. There were more Acadians than there were of British military forces, and the Acadians got away with it.
The British had conquered Acadia in 1710 as part of their continuing struggle with the French to dominate North America. They didn’t have much of a presence in the region, though, and 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 Gasparaeaux 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: Three regiments and New England Ranger units had arrived.
The six-year conflict was named Father Le Loutre’s War, after the French priest who led the Acadians and Micmacs in their resistance.
Acadians Refuse Loyalty Oath
Nova Scotia had been controlled by the British under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. The British, though, were mainly settled in western Nova Scotia in Annapolis Royal. The French controlled Acadia (today New Brunswick) and Cape Breton Island. The Catholic Acadians scattered throughout the region were ostensibly neutral. But they did not want to pledge allegiance to a Protestant monarch and forswear their loyalty to the pope.
In 1744, King George’s War broke out between the French and the British. Some Acadians were neutral, and some waged guerilla war against the British with their allies the Micmacs, who were also Catholic. By the war’s end in 1748, the British questioned the neutrality of the Acadians and their leader, the Catholic priest Father Jean-Louis Le Loutre.
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 Micmacs 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 responded to the British by building 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
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, which is 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.
Charles Lawrence was fed up with the Acadians’ resistance. Two weeks after the fall of Fort Beausejour, he 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 as many as 10,000 Acadians out of a population of 12,000 were rounded up, boarded onto ships and sent to the 13 British colonies in North America and to France. Several thousand died of disease, starvation and drowning.
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 he was captured by the British on the journey and imprisoned 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 2017.