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The Acadians at Madawaska

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The Acadians at Madawaska

Last week’s blog dealt with the Acadians who, having escaped from the deportation of 1755, settled on the Saint John River and again avoided the destruction of Sainte Anne in 1759 — only to be dispossessed again with the arrival of the Loyalists following 1783.

Today’s blog is edited from Charles W. Collins’ The Acadians of Madawaska, Maine, Boston, 1902, and tells of the Madawaska settlements where they hoped to live unmolested.

The Junction of the Madawaska and St. John Rivers by Philip John Bainbrigge

From Library and Archives Canada via Virtual Gallery of Historic New Brunswick


The River Saint John, above Grand Falls, where it is checked by massive rock formations, spreads out and becomes much wider than it is below. For nearly 100 miles it flows between high banks which are densely wooded. Writers generally speak of the area as mountainous, though it is really just rather hilly. Low-lying meadows or intervales of great fertility create low stretches and plains extending inland. This is especially the case at Fort Kent, where the junction of the Fish River with the Saint John has formed alluvial soil. Hamblin, the Maine state land agent said in 1839: “Upon a glance at the public lands it will be seen that the fertile valley of the Saint John River extends through the whole breadth of the northern part of the State, and with the Aroostook valley includes above one-third part of our whole territory.”

The Acadian vanguard traversed this valley for some 30 miles before it halted on the south side of the river, two or three miles below the Madawaska and the present Edmundston. The French found here two Canadians keeping a trading house. These men were Pierre Lizotte and Pierre Duperré, both of whom would figure in political history of later years. A letter written in 1828, gives this account of them: In 1782, a Canadian boy, Pierre Lizotte, wandered away from home and lived for some months with the Maliseet Indians of the Saint John River. On his return home, he induced his half-brother, Pierre Duperré, to go back to the Madawaska region with him, and here in 1783 they set up a trading house, where the Acadians found them.

There is no record of the upper Saint John valley being occupied by whites prior to Lizotte’s coming. There had been some knowledge of it for a long time, however. It was indicated on a 1612 map by Champlain, and on another 1686 map which applied the name Madawaska to Lake Temiscouata. The name is from the Indian word Med-a-wes-kek, signifying porcupine place, or junction of rivers. This was softened by the French into Madoueska, and finally changed by the English to Madawaska.

There is evidence that the twenty families who arrived in the upper valley in 1784-85 did not settle there by accident. During the Revolution Gov. Haldimand utilized the Saint John as a postal route and, in a letter written to Gov. Parr in 1783, he states that the French wished to come to Quebec for the sake of their religion. He suggested that it would be a good plan to establish them at Grand Falls. Another letter written in 1787 mentions the repugnance expressed by the Acadians of being separated from New Brunswick. Later on it says: “I informed the people disposed to settle on the spots Mr. Finlay pointed out as most convenient for the establishment of post houses on the road. They in general were inclined to settle from the Falls up the Saint John as far as Madawaska.” All of this, together with the fact that lands were promised to the Acadians on leaving the lower Saint John, shows that the Acadian settlement was part of a plan by the English to colonize the area and to support a mail route.

Maine state documents deal with the Acadians of Madawaska. The two men who were best informed about this were Messrs. Deane and Davies, the American commissioners. They travelled through the district in 1828, and left their judgments on record. First, Mr. Deane: “The Acadians, or neutral French, whose ancestors had been settled at the head of the Bay of Fundy, or in that country now called Nova Scotia, and had been driven from thence and had established themselves at Saint Ann’s, now Fredericton, and in that region, being disturbed by the introduction of the refugees and the acts of the governor of New Brunswick, which dispossessed them of their farms, fled up the Saint John in search of places of residence out of the reach of British laws and oppression; 20 or more families moved and settled themselves on the Saint John, below the trading station, which Pierre Duperré had made a few years before. Here they continued in unmolested enjoyment of their property for some years.”

Next, Mr. Davies: “It may be proper to advert to the situation of a colony of French settlers which planted itself within our territory . . . Situated near the borders of the American territory, they appear to have preserved their neutral character and to have remained as a people by themselves, so far as they might be permitted by their position toward the province of New Brunswick. Without having any sympathy with the system established in that government, they have not been in a condition to oppose the exercise of any power that might be exerted over them.”

There is no evidence extant to prove that the State of Maine knew anything of the Madawaska settlement prior to 1817, when certain Kennebec men settled above them. The State of Maine claimed all the land as far up as the Saint Lawrence watershed, and the commissioners wished to prove that the settlement within this territory were effected without British cooperation — which was not correct.

New Brunswick also claimed the area, and also took actions to demonstrate possession. For example, Mr. Deane said: “Pierre Duperré being a man of some learning had great influence with neighbors and the British authorities of the province of New Brunswick, seeing his consequence in the settlement, began early to caress and flatter him. In the year 1790 they induced him to receive from them a grant of the land he possessed.” All of the Acadians were eventually induced to receive grants, “for which some paid 10 shillings and others nothing.”

In 1792, 24 heads of families acting for 31 families, the total number in the settlement, made a petition to the Archbishop of Quebec, asking permission to build a church. This petition is the only authentic document of an early date emanating from the people themselves. It shows quite conclusively the number in Madawaska at the time. Moreover, it shows that from the first the Canadian element had an important part in the settlement of this territory. The priest who drew up the petition (for the people could neither read nor write), took care to indicate in the margin beside each signature the nationality of the signer, and nearly half the signers were Canadians. The Acadian names are quite distinctive and can generally be easily known from the Canadian. The names, Ayotte, Souci, Gagne, Levassour, Denoye and Mazzerol, are Canadian; the rest Acadian. The full list of names on the 1792 petition was:

Click to enlarge

This petition was granted and the church, dedicated to St. Basil, was built on the north side of the river, some five miles below the Madawaska. The church archives, running back to 1792, show some other facts about the colony. The first recorded baptism in that year is of a Daigle, an Acadian; the next two, Soucy and Sanfacon, are both Canadian.

A letter by Mr. Deane has some information about the years following the church petition:

“A few families established themselves in 1807 a few miles above the mouth of the Madawaska River. They all lived in mutual good-fellowship, recognizing and practising the duties of morality and religion and governed solely by the laws of honor and common sense. They continued to live in this manner to as late a period as 1818, and the British had made no grant higher up the Saint John than those mentioned above, unless the transportation of the mail through to Canada and the granting of a commission to Pierre Duperre in 1798 as captain of militia, there being no military organization until 28 years afterwards, may be called acts of jurisdiction. In 1798 the River Saint Croix was determined, and its source ascertained under the treaty called Jay’s treaty. At this period terminated all acts and pretences of acts of jurisdiction in the Madawaska settlement by the British for a period of 20 years, and until it was discovered by them that Mars Hill was the northwest angle of New Brunswick.”

“About this time, 1790, another body of the descendants of the Acadians or neutral French, who had sought refuge on the Kennebecasis River, were there disturbed in their possessions and in like manner sought a refuge with their countrymen at Madawaska. After having residence at Madawaska some years they were induced, as their countrymen had been, to receive grants of the land they had taken into possession from the Governor of New Brunswick.”

For the names of the original grantees, refer to Notes on Madawaska, by W.O. Raymond:

“The grantees of Acadian origin on the New Brunswick side were Louis Mercure, Michel Mercure, Joseph Mercure, Alexis Cyr, Oliver Cyr, Marie Marguerite Daigle, Jean Baptist Daigle, Paul Cyr, Pierre Cyr, Alexandre Cyr, Jean Baptiste Thibodeau, Jr., Joseph Thibodeau, and Etienne Thibodeau. The grantees of Acadian origin on the American side of the river were Simon Hubert, Paul Potier, Jean Baptiste Mazerolle, .Jr., Francois Cyr, Jr., Joseph Daigle, Sr., Joseph Daigle, Jr., Jacques Cyr, Francois Cyr, Firmin Cyr, Sr., Jean Baptiste Cyr. Jr., Michel Cyr, Joseph Hebert, Antoine Cyr. Jean Martin, Joseph Cyr. Jr., Jean Baptiste Cyr. Sr., Firmin Cyr, Jr., Jean Thibodeau, Sr., and Joseph Mazerolle. In addition to these there are several grantees, whose descendants claim to be of Acadian origin, and say their ancestors came from the “lower country” (pays-bas): but I am not able to determine whether the following are undoubtedly of Acadian origin or not. viz.: Louis Saufacon, Mathurin Beaulieu, Joseph Ayotte, Zacharie Ayotte, Alexandre Ayotte.”

“Respecting the grantees who are undoubtedly of Canadian origin, those on the New Brunswick side of the river are Jean Tardiff, Jean Levasseur, Joseph Dumont (or Guimond) and Antoine Gagnier; and those on the American side, Joseph Sausier, Jean Marie Sausier, Jean Baptiste Founder, Joseph An Clair, Francois Albert, Pierre Lizotte, Augustin Dubé and Pierre Duperré.”

“The second grant, made in the year 1794 extended from Green River (with many vacancies) to a little below Grand River. Some six names that occur in the former grant are omitted from the enumeration that follows. Several of the settlers in this grant are known to have formerly lived at French Village, on the Kennebecasis. The names of those Acadians who settled on the east side of the Saint John are as follows: Olivier Thibodeau, Baptiste Thibodeau, Joseph Theriault, Joseph Theriault, Jr., Olivier Thibodeau, Jr., Jean Thibodeau, Firmin Thibodeau, Hilarion Cyr, and there seem to have been but two Canadians, viz.: Louis Ouellette and Joseph Souci. Those Acadians who settled on the American side, are as follows: Gregoire Thibodeau, Louis LeBlanc, Pierre Cormier, Alexis Cormier, Baptiste Cormier, Francois Cormier. Joseph Cyr, Jr., Firmin Cyr, Joseph Cyr, Francois Violette, Sr., and Augustin Violette; and there are three Canadians, viz.: Joseph Michaud, Baptiste Charette and Germain Soucie.”

It should be remembered that there was little or no question of boundary lines at the time these grants were made, least of all among these people whose only hope was to find somewhere a refuge where they could cultivate their fields and live in peace. Whether the authorities of the State of Maine knew of the establishment before 1817 or not, there is little doubt that the Acadians knew very little of the new republic, and what little they knew would not make them anxious to take residence within its borders. Their experience with New England men had been unpleasant. There was no one to tell them that the United States claimed this territory; they simply settled there thinking the land was open to settlers, and made no trouble. The whole history of the Boundary Dispute exhibits no direct evidence of any predilection on the part of the Acadians for any particular form of government whatever. They were self-governing and desired merely to be let alone. They saw no necessity of holding a town meeting and organizing political machinery. Things were regulated as they had been in Acadia. Mr. Davies, in his report of 1828, states their condition very well:

“Little occasion could be presented for the employment of criminal process among the relics of a primitive population represented as of a mild, industrious, frugal and pious character, desirous of finding a refuge under the patriarchal and spiritual power of their religion. It has been the custom for them to settle their civil affairs of every description, including their accidental disputes and differences by the aid of one or two arbiters or umpires associated with the Catholic priest, who is commonly a missionary from Canada.”

In 1820 the American census of the district was taken without British interference. It is not in its original form entirely; that is the different classes into which the census officials divide people of different ages have been summed up for each family head. But the names are given as the census agent took them down, often with a startling disregard for French orthography. Mr. Davies says of this census: “It amounted to over 1,100. The computation probably included a number of American settlers, who had come into the country not long before.” An inspection of the list will hardly warrant this statement, for with the exception of the name of Nathan Baker there is hardly a distinctively American or English name. Besides Baker’s name there is but one other which is familiar to English ears—Carney. It may be presumed that the census man knew how to spell English names, and the other names in the list are so atrociously misspelled that one is justified in assuming that they were foreign to his ears.

Click to enlarge

This census may be considered a fairly accurate survey of the families in this entire section at the time. There are 55 distinct family names for 1,171 souls; one of these names is stated to be merely a nickname for an older family branch. Only 11 of the family names in the 1820 census figure in the original grants of 1790 and 1794. Of the whole number 7 families constitute one-third of the population, and if the name Crock is identified with Cyr the list is reduced to 6. The Cyr family had 98 or 124 members according to the reckoning. Thibodeau 163, Daigle 34, Martin 56, Theriault 28, Violette 64. Some of the Canadian families had many members, e.g., Pelletier 58. Michael Serene counts in his household 23 persons. The only name recognizably American is that of Nathan Baker, who died soon afterward. His brother John married the widow.


At this point, Charles Collins’ description of Madawaska turns more and more to the times when the border dispute between Maine and New Brunswick became heated. This would repeat the earlier blog posts as follows:

  • Trouble at Madawaska, 1831
  • The Ashburton Treaty
  • The Disputed Territory Between New Brunswick and Maine
  • Things This Morning Really Wear the Aspect of War

Written by johnwood1946

November 4, 2020 at 7:15 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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