New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Acadian Fugitives

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A depiction of the Expulsion of the Acadians, from Wikipedia

The Acadian Fugitives” article which follows was written by Placide P. Gaudet and appeared in The New Brunswick Magazine in the 1899. It is the story of an Acadian family who had escaped the Expulsion and had survived the winter of 1755-56 on a cold and lonely island. The story is a sentimental one, as it should be, since the head of the family was Pierre Belliveau, a great-great grandfather of Placide Gaudet.


The Acadian Fugitives

’Twas in December, 1755. The once prosperous and flourishing Acadian villages and hamlets in what are now Annapolis, Kings, Hants, Colchester and Cumberland counties, in Nova Scotia, were no more. An unmerciful soldiery had turned them into flames, and most of their inhabitants were transported on board of vessels to the four points of the compass.

In the depth of the forest could be found here and there small groups of Acadian families, who had escaped deportation by taking refuge in the woods. Others had fled to the St. John, Miramichi and Restigouche rivers, and even to Quebec. Some had crossed to Cape Breton and Isle St. Jean. A few from Annapolis River had reached Yarmouth County, whilst others had taken refuge on the shores of St. Mary’s Bay, where they remained during the winter of 1755-6.

In the beginning of the month of December a caravan of one hundred and twenty Acadians landed on the south of Belliveau’s Cove, Digby County, on a small island, which afterwards was called Ile-des-Piau (Piau’s Island—pronounced Peeo), in honor of the leader of these unfortunate fugitives. His name was Pierre Belliveau, but he was better known by the nickname of Piau, given him by his father when a little babe. He was born at Lower Granville, nearly opposite Goat Island, Annapolis County, in August, 1706, and was therefore forty-one years old at the time of the expulsion. Married on the 12th of January, 1728, to Jeanne Gaudet, he settled near Bridgetown, Annapolis County, and had by her nine children, of whom eight were daughters and one a son. The latter, called Joseph, was born on the 18th of December, 1747, and he died at Belliveau’s Village, on the eastern side of the Petitcodiac River, in the parish of Memramcook, N.B., on the first day of November, 1840, at the ripe old age of ninety-three years. He was the great grandfather of the writer, and one of the fugitives from Annapolis who wintered on the above named island.

Towards the end of August, on the arrival of the first vessels ordered from Boston to Port Royal to transport the Acadians, all the inhabitants residing above the fort on the Annapolis River took flight to the woods. A few days later many of them returned to their dwelling houses, and there remained until they were embarked, on the 4th day of December, on board of the transports.

But Pierre Belliveau and several of his neighbors thought it more prudent to abandon their homes and seek a temporary place of refuge, where they would be in safety from the pursuit of the soldiery. Accordingly they took with them as much of their effects as they could conveniently carry, crossed to the North Mountain, and went to Chute’s Cove, then called Anse de la Croix (Cross Cove). Here they had several fishing boats hidden, and they used them to ascend the bay, some twenty-four miles, till they reached a little port which afterwards was called French Cross, but is now known as Morden. It is situated on the Bay of Fundy shore, and lies seven miles from Kingston station, in a direct line. Here they remained until the 9th day of December, awaiting with great anxiety to learn what would be the fate of their compatriots who had returned to their homes in the beginning of September.

From their hiding place they noticed one day, about the middle of October, a fleet of ten ships, convoyed by an armed vessel, going down the bay. Did they dream that on board of these there was a human cargo of nine hundred and sixty Acadian prisoners from Beausejour district? There is no record to tell us. This fleet had sailed from Cumberland Basin, at the head of the Bay of Fundy, on the 13th of October, bound for Georgia, North and South Carolina. On the 21st of the same month another one, composed of thirteen vessels, convoyed by two frigates, left Minas Basin, bordering the home of Evangeline, with 2,697 of the inhabitants of that locality. Of these transports three had sailing orders for Philadelphia, one for Boston, four for Maryland and five for Virginia. These also, as they went down the bay, were noticed by Belliveau and his companions.

At last they got information through some Indians met by their watching party that the people of Annapolis had been shipped off on board two ships, three “snows” and one brigantine, convoyed by a Baltimore sloop of war. This fleet, with its sixteen hundred and sixty-four prisoners, sailed from Goat Island, at the head of Annapolis Basin, on Monday the 8th of December, at five o’clock in the morning, bound for Boston, South Carolina, New York and Connecticut.

Had Belliveau and his companions remained a few weeks longer in their hiding place, they would have seen other transports going down the bay with human cargoes. On the 6th of the same month one sailed from Minas Basin, bound for Virginia, with 150 prisoners. Two others, having on board 350 Acadians, left the same place on the 13th of the same month, one for Boston and the other for Connecticut. At last, on the 20th of December, two other vessels left Minas Basin with 230 prisoners. One was bound for Boston and the other for Virginia.

Summing up the above figures, we have a total of 6,031 Acadians of Annapolis, Kings, Hants, Colchester and Cumberland counties, who were shipped off in thirty-four vessels. But this is not all.

In the diary of John Thomas, a surgeon in Winslow’s expedition in 1755 against Fort Beausejour, we find on the 13th of October the following entry:

“Captain Rowse sailed this morning: (from Cumberland Basin) with the fleet, consisting of ten sails, under his command. They carried nine hundred and sixty French prisoners with them, bound for South Carolina and Georgia.”

Honorable Brook Watson, who at the time of the expulsion was a resident of Fort Lawrence, a short distance from Amherst, on the north-western border of Nova Scotia, speaking of the Acadians of Beaubassin and Beasejour districts, in a letter dated London, Eng., 1st of July, 1791, to Rev. Dr. Andrew Brown, says: “In 1755 I was a very humble instrument in sending eighteen hundred of these suffering mortals out of the province.” Here we have a difference of 840 as compared with the number given by Thomas. But as there is a blank in the latter’s diary during seven days, namely, the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th of November, it must be during this week that the second convoy of Acadian prisoners from the neighborhood of Beausejour sailed from Cumberland Basin. Adding these 840 to the 50 deputies sent off from George’s Island in Halifax Harbor to North Carolina, on board the sloop “Providence” in the beginning of October, to the 6,031 already mentioned, we have the grand total of 6,822 Acadians who were transported from the province of Nova Scotia. We are sure there was at least that number; and as several other deportations took place later on, we can in safety say 7,000, deducting even the number of those who took possession of the transports carrying them into exile.

About the 9th of December Belliveau and his companions left their hiding place at French Cross to seek a safer one. Fortunately they had a few fishing boats which had not been delivered to Major John Handheld, commanding officer at Annapolis Royal, though so ordered by a proclamation of the 12th of July preceding. They had hidden these small crafts at Chute’s Bay, as we have seen, and taken them afterwards to French Cross port. These were now very useful to them. Having embarked on board of them, they coasted the shore of the Bay of Fundy as far as the end of Digby Neck, and then entered, by Petit Passage, nearly opposite Ste. Anne College, at Church Point, into St. Mary’s Bay, which they ascended as far as the entrance of Belliveau’s Cove, five miles from Petit Passage. Here there was then a small island, and they decided to land and encamp on it for the rest of the winter. I believe it must have been in the evening of the 11th of December they arrived there. Thomas, in his diary, tells us that it snowed that night at Halifax, and in all probability it is what caused these poor fugitives to choose this lonely spot, for here there was an Indian camp, and they could take shelter in the wigwams of the children of the forest during that night.

I shall not endeavor to portray the sufferings and miseries they endured during the winter. They are easier to be conceived than to be described. One of their first cares was to build rough huts. This I know by family tradition.

I have already mentioned that Joseph, the young lad of eight years, and the only son of Pierre Belliveau, who wintered at Piau’s Island, died at Memramcook in 1840. He was twice married, and François, his youngest child by his second wife, was born on the 2nd of January, 1802. This François was possessed of a wonderful memory and a very bright intellect. I called on him in January, 1885, at his son’s house at Memramcook, to get information from him regarding his ancestors. I might add that he was a brother to my father’s mother, and therefore a grand uncle of mine. He related to me many sad things of the past, and it is from him I learned the exodus of his father and grandfather from Port Royal, their stay of several months at French Cross, on the Bay of Fundy shore, their removal to Grosses Coques River, as he called it, their departure from there in the spring of 1756 for New Brunswick, etc. He knew the most minute details of the whereabouts of this caravan of fugitives. He told me also that several deaths occurred among them on Piau’s Island, very soon after their arrival there.

I bade adieu to my dear grand uncle and a month later I was visiting the spot, on the shore of St. Mary’s Bay, where my great great grandfather, Pierre Belliveau, with his companions in misfortune, had remained during the winter of 1755-6. This was in February, 1885, and it was my first visit to Clare. The island I expected to find was no more. The narrow gully of nearly a mile long which separated this spot from the mainland had been partly filled in, and the island had become a part of Major Doucet’s Point. Its name was still known by the old folks, and I learned it was called Goulet-des-Chiens de Mer (Dogfish Gully). It stood at the end of a beautiful ridge, extending from the south side of Belliveau’s Cove towards the Grosses Coques Village, for a distance of a good mile and a half, alongside the shore of St. Mary’s Bay. This ridge or point, as it is now called, was in September, 1768, the cradle of Clare Settlement by Acadians. It is surrounded on the south and east sides by the Grosses Coques River. The Goulet-des-Chiens de Mer opened on the north, on the curve of the bay which forms Belliveau’s Cove, and ran almost in a straight line till it met the mouth of the Grosses Coques. Piau’s Island was between this gully and the shore of St. Mary’s Bay. It was about a quarter of a mile wide by a mile long. Formerly a dense forest of large firs and spruces covered this historical spot. But they have now all disappeared, excepting a few which remain, lonely and leafless.

Since the gully filled up, a large and beautiful point has been formed, called Major’s Point or Doucet’s Point, which includes the ridge above mentioned. The place where stood the island being level ground is now, in most parts, covered several feet deep with small round stones, washed thither during heavy storms and high tides. Towards the southerly part of it, however, there is a small spot to which the foaming and raging waves have refrained from carrying stones, because it stands on higher ground than the rest. When I first visited the spot, in 1885, there was nothing on it that would attract a stranger’s attention, save a few mounds and small decayed wooden crosses. This spot is the first burial ground of the Acadians on St. Mary’s Bay. Now a neat wooden fence, built in the autumn of 1889, encircles the last resting place of some of the unfortunate exiles of 1755. A large cedar cross with a suitable inscription on it was placed at the same time in the middle of this old cemetery, and also a little chapel, inside of which there is a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin, erected by the inhabitants of Belliveau’s Cove and St. Bernard, at the request of Rev. Father A.B. Parker, their then devoted and zealous parish priest, but now stationed at Hamilton Bermuda.

On visiting this ground, my heart throbbed with emotion and sorrow at the thought of what must have been the wants and sufferings of Pierre Belliveau and his companions in this solitary spot during the winter of 1755-6. Death made great havoc amongst them, and they were buried here. What a sad Christmas must they have passed! John Thomas tells us that it was a very cold day at Halifax, and that there was some snow on the ground. The poor Acadian fugitives from Port Royal, in their huts built in haste on Piau’s Island, must have suffered terribly from the inclemency of the season. There was no midnight Mass to attend that year. The joyful peal of the bell of St. Jean Baptiste’s church at Port Royal, which they were so accustomed to hear, resounded only in sad memory’s ear. They were some sixty miles from their former dwelling houses, which, as well as their church, all lay in ashes. The nearest priest to them was at East Pubnico, a distance of nearly eighty miles. This was the venerable and saintly Abbe Jean Baptiste Desenclaves. He had been their parish priest at Port Royal from June, 1742 until April 1754, when he removed to Pubnico. Their late pastor was Abbe Henri Daudin, who resided at Annapolis from the beginning of November, 1754, till he was arrested on Wednesday morning, the 6th of August, 1755, as he was concluding the Mass. He was then taken to Fort Edward, at Windsor, thence to Halifax with Abbes Chauvreul and Lemaire, where all three were confined till they were transported, at the end of October of the same year on board of Vice-Admiral Boscawen’s vessel, which landed them at Portsmouth, England, in the beginning of December. There they hired a small craft which took them to Saint Malo, where they arrived on the 8th of the same month, on the very day of the sailing of the fleet from Annapolis with its cargo of 1,664 Acadian prisoners.

What a terrible catastrophe had fallen on the Acadian people. Pastors and flocks were being tossed at the same time on the rolling waves of an angry sea. The members of families were separated and embarked on different transports. Their houses and churches were given to the flames. The inhabitants of the peninsula who had escaped deportation were wandering in the forest and shivering with cold and exposure, whilst the perpetrators of these misfortunes and miseries were rejoicing on this Christmas day over the result of their inhuman and cruel work. The heart-rending sufferings of the unfortunate Acadians were nothing to Lawrence and his associates. They thought the Acadian race was forever banished from Acadie. How greatly mistaken they were!

Sad indeed must have been Christmas day for Belliveau and his companions on Piau’s Island! No doubt they asked the Child of Bethlehem to give them strength and courage to overcome the ordeals through which they had to pass, and to bless them. Their hope was in God alone, and in Him they found the strength to battle in their struggle for life.

These unfortunate ones, poorly clad, sleeping on beds of fir twigs spread on bare ground for pillows, often covered with snow after stormy nights, destitute of proper aliment and starving, were often visited by the angel of death, which mercifully ended the sufferings of many. Thus they passed the bleak winter of 1755-6.

Spring came at last, and Pierre Belliveau and his companions bade adieu to the small island which had given them shelter, and embarked in their frail fishing boats to seek another place of refuge. I shall not follow them at this time, in their wanderings from place to place until at last, after thirteen years of indescribable want and hardship and endurance, they were allowed to settle on lands allotted to them. Nor shall I tell how Clare settlement was founded. This event occurred twelve years and a half after the departure of Belliveau and his party. For twenty years, from 1771 to 1791, the first settlers of Clare buried their dead alongside of those interred there during the winter of 1755-6, and thus Piau’s Island became the first Acadian burial ground in Digby County. Its name is now in oblivion, the island itself is no more, and it forms, as already said, a part of the picturesque landscape now called Major Doucet’s Point.

With Church Point this is the most historic spot in the whole municipality of Clare or French Town, as the Acadian settlements on the eastern shore of St. Mary’s Bay were formerly known by their English speaking neighbors. Before closing this sketch let us cast a parting glance on the old burial ground on Piau’s Island.

Here, on the 18th September, 1889, the 12th July, 1891, and the 4th September, 1892, services were held by Rev. Father Parker, and at each of these religious demonstrations Solemn High Mass was sung in open air in the presence of a great congregation from every part of the surrounding country. I had the pleasure of attending the last two of these ceremonies.

It was a beautiful and moving sight to see a crowd of about 3,000 persons assembled there piously praying and following the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. The singing with organ accompaniment was grand, and an eloquent sermon was delivered by Rev. Father Morin, of Ste. Anne College. The ground was adorned with flags. On each side of the gate the Union Jack and tri-color were waving, and on a pole spiked on the top of a leafless large spruce tree inside the cemetery the Acadian flag was hoisted. At the close of the Mass a solemn Libera was sung, and during this dirge the Acadian flag was lowered at half-mast. All the multitude were deeply moved at this sight. For my part I could not refrain from reviewing in my mind the leading features of the history of the Acadians since their expulsion, and comparing it with the scene before me. I thought of the once happy and joyful homes of those dwelling at Port Royal, Grand Pre, Riviere-des-Mines, Riviere-aux-Canards, Pisiquid, Cobequid, Pobomkou, Beaubassin, Beausejour, Baie Verte, Tintamarre, Memramcook, Petitcoudiac and Chipoudy, and how they were destroyed by the incendiary torch of an unmerciful soldiery. I thought of the stratagem used by Monckton at Beausejour to ensnare, on the 11th of August, 1755, the inhabitants of that district, and of the same infernal plan repeated some three weeks later, on the 5th of September, at Grand Pre and Pisiquid, by Winslow and Murray. All at once flashed to my mind the sad scenes of their embarkation on board the transports, when husband was separated from wife, son from father, daughter from mother, the lover from his betrothed, to be transported in different vessels to the four points of the compass. I could see in imagination the flight into the woods of those who escaped being taken prisoners. I could picture in my mind their heart-rending sufferings and wants in their hidden abodes, and the death roll amongst them from exposure and starvation. I could see the unceasing chase that the soldiery made on them. I could imagine the cruel agony of those on board of the transports, caused by the uncertainty of their fate. I could hear the bewailings of those struck by contagious diseases which had sprung up amongst them from over-crowded ships, and could almost hear the moanings of the dying. I could see about 1,300 of them perish from shipwreck during the voyage. I could see the transports’ arrival at ports of the English colonies, at some of which the authorities refused to receive the human cargoes, which were again sent off to be tossed upon an angry sea until some were landed on one of the islands of the Great and Little Antilles, while others were disembarked at Bristol, Liverpool, Southampton, Penryn and Falmouth, England, where, after a captivity of seven years, they were allowed to go to France, whence some of them returned to their beloved Acadie. I could see the landing of those who were permitted to be received in New England and in other provinces, now forming the United States, and could conceive the cold reception they met with, their wants, their miseries and the frightful havoc death was making in their ranks. I could follow the long journey of a large caravan of these unfortunate exiles returning to their native country from Massachusetts Bay, and the following narrative of this exodus, published in 1859, by the late Louis A. Surette, an Acadian, dwelling at Concord, Mass., came to mind:—

“In the spring of 1766 many set out for their beloved Acadia. This weary and lonely six months’ journey through wilderness, dreary swamps and barren wastes—extending as it did upwards of nine hundred miles through what is now Maine and New Brunswick, round the head of the Bay of Fundy, thence down along its southerly side for nearly two hundred miles—no pen can adequately describe. It is a well-known fact that young and tender children were carried alternately by father and mother the whole of this toilsome journey. Other children were born immediately after the arrival of their parents in Acadia. Who can describe the trials and sufferings of these mothers during the dreary days and nights of their pilgrimage, exposed alike to the scorching heat and the fury of the passing storm—hungry, thirsty and heartsick.”

Some of the pilgrims came afterwards to St. Mary’s Bay and many of them were interred in the burial ground where I stood on Piau’s Island. I thought also of the disappointment they met with in finding their former homes destroyed and their lands occupied by English-speaking people. All these things flashed to my mind one after another, and I could not help thinking also of the winter passed on this very spot by Belliveau and his companions.

* * * * * * *

The chant of the Libera being over, the Acadian flag was hoisted again to the top of the pole, and the crowd dispersed.

Placide P. Gaudet

Written by johnwood1946

March 23, 2016 at 9:23 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Very interesting read ….Will share … Thank you !

    Claudia Saint-Pierre

    March 24, 2016 at 4:38 AM

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