New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Acadian Exiles – Unwelcome in Pennsylvania

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From the blog at

The Acadians, or Neutral French, were expelled from Nova Scotia and distributed to other British colonies all along the east coast. One of these groups was landed in Pennsylvania, and the following account of them was written by Philip H. Smith in Acadia, a Lost Chapter in American History (Pawling, N.Y., 1884). I have made only minor edits to Smith’s writing. The quotations are all as-found, including what would otherwise be unacceptable language regarding the French, Natives, Catholics and others.

Acadians at Annapolis Royal from Wikipedia

By Samuel Scott, 1751, the earliest known image of Acadians


The Acadian Exiles – Unwelcome in Pennsylvania

On the 19th and 20th of November, 1755, three vessels appeared in the Delaware, and dropped anchor below Philadelphia. They were the Hannah, the Three Friends, and the Swan—the same vessels that, over two months before, had received their living cargoes at the Port Royal landing in the Basin of Annapolis. One of them, say the newspapers of the day, came up to town but was immediately ordered back. Governor Morris, it seems, was thrown into a terrible alarm, and on the day the first cargo of them arrived, he wrote to Governor Shirley [of Massachusetts]:

“Two vessels are arrived here with upwards of three hundred Neutral French from Nova Scotia, whom [N.S.] Governor Lawrence has sent to remain in this Province, and I am at a very great loss to know what to do with them. The people here, as there is no military force of any kind, are very uneasy at the thought of having a number of enemies scattered in the very bowels of the country, who may go off from time to time with intelligence, and join their countrymen now employed against us, or foment some intestine commotion in conjunction with the Irish and German Catholics, in this and the neighboring Province. I, therefore, must beg your particular instructions in what manner I may best dispose of these people, as I am desirous of doing any thing that may contribute to his Majesty’s service. I have, in the meantime, put a guard out of the recruiting parties now in town, on board of each vessel, and ordered these Neutrals to be supplied with provisions, which must be at the expense of the Crown, as I have no Provincial money in my hands; for this service I have prevailed on Capt. Morris, who is recruiting here for Colonel Dunbar’s regiment, to postpone sending off his recruits till I could hear from you upon the head, which I hope to do by the return of the post.”

Governor Morris found at least one man who shared his misgivings touching this untoward visit of the exiles. This was Jonathan Belcher, Chief Magistrate of New Jersey, father of Jonathan Belcher, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, and member of the Council of that Province, who had, by his stern opinion, that they were rebels and recusants, fixed the doom of that people. The elder Belcher writes Morris as follows:

“I am truly surprised how it could ever enter the thoughts of those who had the ordering of the French Neutrals, or rather traitors and rebels to the Crown of Great Britain, to direct any of them into these Provinces, where we have already too great a number of foreigners for our own good and safety. I think they should have been transported directly to old France, and I entirely coincide with your honor that these people would readily join with the Irish Papists, &c., to the ruin and destruction of the King’s Colonies, and should any attempt to land here [Elizabethtown], I should think, in duty to the King and to his good people under my care, to do all in my power to crush an attempt.”

The bitter struggle between Protestantism and Romanism, which had convulsed the Old World, and deluged it with the most noble blood of the time; the numerous and sanguinary wars between the Georges and the Louis in Europe, and which were shared by their respective colonies in America; and finally, the actual association of French Papists and savages on the frontiers of the English settlements, and who were at this time advancing in victorious array within three hundred miles of Philadelphia, had so affected the minds of the Protestant English colonists, that they looked upon Indians and French Papists alike, with a feeling of horror. A gentleman of Philadelphia gave but a mild expression of the public sentiment when he wrote,—

“May God be pleased to give us success against all our copper-colored cannibals and French savages, equally cruel and perfidious in their natures.”

A short time before the arrival of the exiles, the following was published in the Philadelphia papers, under date of Halifax:

“A few days since, three Frenchmen were taken up and imprisoned on suspicion of having poisoned some wells in this neighborhood. They are not tried yet, and it’s imagined if they are convicted thereof, they will have but a few hours to live after they are once condemned.”

The manifest hatred and prejudgment exhibited in this brief paragraph, while it argues the poor fellows stood but a poor chance whether guilty or innocent, as plainly shows the condition of public sentiment at that time. Were it not that these accounts are fully substantiated by incontrovertible evidence, they could scarcely be credited.

It appears more incredible: and unaccountable still from the fact that a complete reversion of public sentiment in this particular occurred in less than a quarter of a century. Washington had scarcely appeared in the Revolutionary camp at Boston, when he found preparations being made for burning the Pope in effigy. His memorable order of November 5th had the effect of putting an end to the custom of “insulting the religion” of brethren and co-workers. When the French fleet arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, to aid the cause of the colonists, the Legislature made all haste to repeal a law on her statute-book forbidding a Roman Catholic to put foot upon her soil under pain of death. At Boston, a funeral procession traversed the streets, with a crucifix at its head and priests solemnly chanting; while the selectmen of Puritan Boston joined in the ceremony, giving this public mark of respect to the faith of their allies.

On the 24th of November, Governor Morris made the arrival of the Neutrals the subject of a special message to the Assembly, informing them he did not think it safe to permit them to land; but that a contagious disease having broken out on board ship, some of them were sent on shore on Province Island. In the minutes of the Assembly of that Province, the following entry is made:

“Antony Benezet, attending without, was called in and informed the House that he had, at the request of some of the members, visited the French Neutrals now on board sundry vessels in the river, near the city, and found that they were in great need of blankets, shirts, stockings, and other necessaries; and he then withdrew, (whereupon) Resolved, That this House will allow such reasonable expenses as the said Benezet may be put to in furnishing the Neutral French now in the Province.”

Thus we have no less evidence than a Legislative record, that the poor exiles of Nova Scotia were suffering for the necessaries of life; that their continued close confinement had caused an alarming disease to break out on their vessels, demanding their instant removal, but that the Governor of the Province was afraid to let them land! We append a list of names from a subscription paper circulated in Philadelphia for their relief, showing how dangerous a people they were to be let loose on the town. The list runs thus:

“Widow Landry, blind and sickly; her daughter Bonny, blind; Widow Coprit, has a cancer in her breast; Widow Seville, always sickly; Ann LeBlanc, old and sickly; Widow LeBlanc, foolish and sickly; the two youngest orphan children of Philip Melangon; three orphan children of Paul Bujauld, the eldest sickly, a boy foolish, and a girl with an infirmity in her mouth; Baptist Galerm’s foolish child; Joseph Vincent, in a consumption; Widow Gautram, sickly, with a young child; Joseph Benoit, old and sickly; Peter Brassay, has a rupture; Peter Vincent, himself and wife sickly—three children, one blind, one very young, &c.”

Thus we have evidence of the intensity of their sufferings on shipboard; and, notwithstanding the charitable attentions shown them after their arrival in Philadelphia, the statement is made that more than one half of their number died in a few weeks.

But the meagre records of those early times show there was another influence at work, which was to ameliorate the condition of the exile. We refer to hereditary national sympathies, which were strong enough to assert themselves in spite of the rancor of religious animosity, and work in the cause of humanity. There were then, in Quaker garb, living in Philadelphia, men of the French race who, though Huguenots, still felt kindly to Frenchmen like themselves. The Benezets and LeFevers, of Philadelphia, came from the same soil as did the Galerms and LeBlancs of Grand Pre; and we may add, the Quaker Huguenots of Philadelphia, by their acts toward their exiled brethren, did not in the least tarnish the reputation of the followers of William Penn for Christian charity and unostentatious benevolence. The Acadians, in their first memorial to the Assembly, were constrained to say—

“Blessed be God that it was our lot to be sent to Pennsylvania, where our wants have been relieved, and we have, in every respect, been treated with Christian benevolence and charity.”

The Assembly was specially convoked early in February, 1756, and on the 11th, attention was directed to the Neutrals by a petition from one of their number, Jean Baptiste Galerm. This document contained a statement of the causes which led to their exile, an expression of gratitude for the kindness shown them, and a protestation of a passive loyalty (no one had a right to expect more) to the British Crown. It contained no prayer for specific assistance. A bill was passed for the relief, or, as its rather ambiguous title expressed it, for dispersing the inhabitants through the counties, which became a law on the 5th of March. By the provisions of this act the Acadians were to be distributed throughout the Province, in order “to give them an opportunity of exercising their own labor and industry.” They were to be provided for at the public expense, while nothing like a separation of families was hinted at.

The French Neutrals exhibited what had been termed a species of contumacy [refusal to comply with authority], though they claimed they were only asserting their just rights, which contributed not a little to their sufferings. They thought that by refusing to work they would force their recognition as prisoners of war and, as such, be entitled to be exchanged or sent back to France. This attempt failed in the object the Acadians had in view, and made the duty of kindness and protection on the part of their benefactors not an easy one. Many were unwilling to help themselves. They were offered land, and implements to cultivate, and cows to stock it with; but these they refused to accept, as they could by no means agree to settle there.

One cannot read the Acadians’ memorials without being moved by their passionate longings.

“We humbly pray,” say they to the Assembly, “that you would extend your goodness so far as to give us leave to depart from hence, or be pleased to send us to our nation, or anywhere to join our country people; but if you cannot grant us these favors, we desire that provision may be made for our subsistence so long as we are detained here. If this, our humble request, should be refused, and our wives and children be suffered to perish before our eyes, how grievous will this be!—had we not better have died in our native land?”

On the meeting of the Assembly in October, 1756, there is a sad revelation on its records of the sufferings of these poor people,—made, too, not by them, but by one of the Commissioners appointed to take care of them. Disease and death had been busy among their number. Many had died of smallpox; and but for the offices of a kindly charity, many more would have perished miserably. The overseers of the rural townships refused to receive them—they were literally the dependants of the Quaker City. The prejudice entertained at that day against those of another religion, prevented the employment of such of the Neutrals as were willing to work; and the petition says:

“Many of them have had neither bread nor meat for many weeks together, and been necessitated to pilfer and steal for the support of life.”

The Acadian farmers, who, a short year ago, were surrounded with plenty, were becoming mendicant pilferers in the streets of Philadelphia. Who can contemplate the contrast unmoved?

This appeal resulted in the passage of an Act for binding out and settling such of the Inhabitants of Nova Scotia as are under age, and for maintaining the old, sick, and maimed, at the charge of the Province. It was of this measure—the compulsory binding out of the children to learn trades—that the exiles most loudly complained, and the most elaborate remonstrance that is to be found on the records, was induced by this law. The key-note of this appeal, was as before, a prayer for deliverance from captivity;—a prayer that was destined to be answered by the death-angel alone.

In the spring of 1757, Pennsylvania was honored by the presence of the new Commander-in-Chief, the Earl of Loudon. His was the first coronet that ever shone on this distant and simple land. Doubtless there were festivities and rejoicings when he came; but all this while the poor Neutrals were pining away in misery—not the less real because self-inflicted. Say the legislative records,—the authorities were instructed by the assembly to act for their relief, “so as to prevent their perishing from want.”

This Lord Loudon remained only a few days in Philadelphia, yet long enough to show by his acts that his high position did not prevent his partaking of the bigotry of the period, and to exercise his elevated function in office in heaping a new indignity on the Neutrals. He found it necessary to ascertain the exact number of Roman Catholics in the Province, so that the terrible danger from this source might be provided against. The following answer, returned to Loudon by the priest, is found among the Colonial Records:

“Honored Sir:— I send you the number of Roman Catholics in this town, and of those whom I visit in the country. Mr. Schnieder is not in town to give an account of the Germans, but I have heard him often say that the whole number of Roman Catholics, English, Irish, and Germans, including men, women and children, does not exceed two thousand. I remain,

“Robert Hardy”

The sad remnant of the French Neutrals did not seem worth counting!

In the Colonial Records of 1757, is a sheriff’s warrant, issued by the Governor, at the request of Lord Loudon, directing the arrest of Charles Le Blanc, Jean Baptiste Galerm, Philip Melangon, Paul Bujauld and Jean Landy, as suspicious and evil-minded persons, who have uttered menacing speeches against his Majesty and his liege subjects. They are to be apprehended and committed to jail.

The following extract of a letter from Lord Loudon to William Pitt, is sufficiently curious and characteristic to sound strange at the present time; and there is something in it which looks more like the delivery of this people into slavery than anything else that Pennsylvania annals afford:

“25th April, 1757

“Sir:— When I was at Pennsylvania, I found that the French Neutrals there had been very mutinous, and had threatened to leave the women and children and go over to join the French in the back country; they sent me a memorial in French setting forth their grievances. I returned it and said I could receive no memorial from the King’s subjects but in English, on which they had a general meeting at which they determined they would give no memorial but in French, and as I am informed they came to this resolution from looking on themselves entirely as French subjects.

“Captain Cotterell, who is Secretary for the Province of Nova Scotia, and is in the country for the recovery of his health, found among those Neutrals one who had been a Spie of Cornwall is and afterwards of Governor Lawrence, who he tells me had behaved well both in giving accounts of what these people were doing and in bringing them intelligence of the situation and strength of the French forts, and in particular of Beausejour; by this man I learnt there were five principal leading men among them who stir up all the disturbance these people make in Pennsylvania, and who persuade them to go and join the enemy, and who prevent them from submitting to any regulation made in the country, or to allow their children to be put to work.

“On finding this to be the case, I thought it necessary for me to prevent, as far as I possibly could, such a junction to the enemy: on which I secured these five ringleaders and put them on board Captain Talkingham’s ship, in order to his carrying them to England, to be disposed of as his Majesty’s servants shall think proper; but I must inform you that if they are turned loose they will directly return and continue to raise all the disturbance in their power, therefore it appears to me that the safest way of keeping them would be to employ them as sailors on board ships of war.


“The Right Hon. William Pitt.”

On the strength of a report (the truth of which he took no legal pains to ascertain) that they caused all the disturbance, and had, moreover, committed the indignity of memorializing Loudon in French, he thought the circumstance sufficient to warrant their condemnation, unheard, to a prison on board ships of war. It is quite possible that the men thus exiled—whose fate is not known—may have been the leaders, the speakers, and the writers for the exiles; for, after they were sent away, there is no record of any further remonstrance on the part of the French Neutrals. They dwindled away in uncomplaining misery—pensioners on charity. They are seldom referred to in public documents.

The following is among the records of the Assembly, under date of February, 1761:

“We, the committee appointed to examine into the state of the French Neutrals … do report—

“That the late extraordinary expenses charged by the overseers of the poor, have been occasioned by the general sickness which prevailed amongst them, in common with other inhabitants, during the last fall and part of the winter; this, added to the ordinary expenses of supporting the indigent widows, orphans, aged and decrepid persons, have greatly enlarged the accounts of this year. They have likewise a number of children, who by the late acts of the Assembly, ought to have been bound out to service, but their parents have always opposed the execution of these laws, on account of their religion; many of these children, when in health, require no assistance from the public; but in time of sickness, from the poverty of their parents, become objects of charity, and must perish without it.

“Your committe called together a number of their chief men, and acquainting them with the dissatisfaction of the House on finding the public expense so much increased by their opposition to those laws, which were framed with regard to them, and tending immediately to their ease and benefit, and assured them that, unless they could propose a method more agreeable to themselves for lightening the public burden, their children would be taken from them, and placed in such families as could maintain them, and some effectual method taken to prevent the ill effects of idleness in their young people.

“They answered, with appearance of great concern, they were very sorry to find themselves so expensive to the good people of this Province; reminded us of the late general sickness as the principal cause of it, which they hoped might not occur again during their continuance here; that in expectation of lessening this expense, and of obtaining some restitution for the loss of their estates, they had petitioned the King of Great Britain, and humbly remonstrated to his Majesty the state of their peculiar sufferings, and as the Governor had been so kind as to transmit and recommend their said petition and remonstrance, they doubted not but the King would be so, where he so gracious as to grant a part of their country, sufficient for their families to settle on flatter themselves they should enjoy more health, and, free from the apprehension of their children being educated in families whose religious sentiments are so different from theirs. In the meantime they pray the indulgence of the government in suffering them to retain their children, as they find, by experience, that those few who are in Protestant families, soon become estranged and alienated from their parents; and, though anxious to return to Nova Scotia, they beg to be sent to old France, or anywhere, rather than part with their children: and they promise to incite and encourage all their young people, to be industrious in acquiring a competency for their own and their parents’ subsistence, that they may not give occasion for complaints hereafter. How far they may succeed in this, or their application to the crown, is very uncertain. We are of opinion that nothing short of putting in execution the law, which directs the Overseers of the Poor to bind out their children, will so effectually lessen this expense, unless the Governor, with the concurrence of the Commander-in-Chief of the King’s forces, shall think fit to comply with their request and transport them out of this Province.

“Nevertheless, your Committee being moved with compassion for these unhappy people, do recommend them to the consideration of the House, as we hope that no great inconvenience can arise from the continuance of the public charity towards them for a few months longer; and think it just to observe, that there are amongst them numbers of industrious laboring men, who have been, during the late scarcity of laborers, of great service in the neighborhood of the city.”

The application to the Crown referred to in the above, met with no response from the British authorities. When the agent of the Province of Massachusetts represented to Grenville, the British Minister, that his most Christian Majesty, looking upon the Acadians as of the number of those who had been his most faithful subjects, had signified his willingness to order transports for conveying them to France from the British Provinces, Grenville immediately replied, “That cannot be—that is contrary to our acts of navigation. How can the French Court send ships to our colonies?” Louis XV, touched by the appeals sent him by the Neutrals transported to Louisiana, made overtures in vain, through his ministers to those of Great Britain, to be permitted to send his ships to convey them to France.

One more record, and one only, is to be found in the Assembly Journal of Pennsylvania, and that one tells a sad tale. It is dated January 4th, 1766:

“A petition from John Hill, of the city of Philadelphia, joiner, was presented to the house and read, setting forth that the petitioner has been employed from time to time to provide coffins for the French Neutrals who have died in and about this city, and has had his accounts regularly allowed and paid by the Government until lately; that he is informed by the gentlemen commissioners, who used to pay him, that they have no public money in their hands for the payments of such debts; that he has made sixteen coffins since their last settlement, without any countermand of his former order; he therefore prays the House to make such provisions for his materials and labor in the premises as to them shall seem meet. Ordered to lie on the table.”

With this coffin-maker’s memorial, so suggestive of the terrible sufferings and mournful end of the French exiles, the authentic history of this people in Pennsylvania ends. One writer stated that “for a long time the remnant of the Neutrals occupied a row of frame huts on the north side of Pine Street, between Fifth and Sixth; and these ruined houses, known as the Neutral Huts, are remembered distinctly by persons now living.” What at last became of these poor creatures, is not easy to determine; their very names have perished from among men! It appears from the official records that there was expended for the relief of the exiles by the Pennsylvania legislators a sum not less than $25,000, exclusive of the amount donated by private benefaction—always liberal in Philadelphia.

What a strange contrast does this sad story bear to the next visit of the French to Philadelphia, when they came as welcome auxiliaries! Though less than a score of years had passed, French soldiers and French priests went about the streets, no longer regarded with fear and distrust, and then, we trust, they walked across the Potters’ Field, and looked at the moldering remains of the Neutral Huts, and traced out the crumbling mounds marking the graves of their once happy, but now sadly lamented countrymen, the exiled Acadians!

Written by johnwood1946

November 14, 2018 at 8:25 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Hi John

    In reading this piece, during the first 1/4 or so, I was struck by similarity of action for action, word for word, of today’s US Republicans regarding immigrants. Trump said they were killers and such coming across the border. One of fox news brain trusts talked about all the diseases they bring with them. There was talk of them trying to take over the country. Put them on a boat and send the home, although everyone that crossed the border walked there, but, that the mentality of trumps base.

    The further on I read it became familiar to me and ail of a sudden I just blurted out, OMG, the start of the Republican party. Full of hate. Anyway, there’s more, but WTH. Doesn’t matter now, but, the similarity between 1755 and 2018 is rather staggering.

    Carroll Cameron

    November 27, 2018 at 4:38 PM

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