“It is clear that the history of the deportation of the Acadians has not yet been either fully or truthfully described,” Henry Yould Hind wrote in 1889. “It is a heartrending story when the details are gathered and fitted together.”
This statement can be found on page 49 of Hind’s book on the old burying ground at Windsor. In a previous column, I wrote that while the book was mostly religious in content, there are many interesting historical foot-notes. Throughout the book, for example, Hind gives us asides on the plight of the Acadians, broadly hinting they were dealt with unfairly and treated inhumanely.
Scouring old records, Hind found an official return indicating that between 1761 and as late as March 1764, between 343 and 400 Acadians were held prisoner at Fort Edward, “The marvel of this report,” Hind wrote “appears to lie in the fact that on February 10th, 1763, a definite treaty of peace between Great Britain and France was signed at Paris.”
The question that first comes to mind is why so many Acadians remained in the province years after the expulsion. Hind provides an answer to this question, casting what he calls a “melancholy commentary on the actions of our predecessors.”
During the expulsion, many Acadians in the Windsor area escaped into the surrounding countryside, allying with the Micmacs and constantly harassing the New England settlers who had taken over their land. “Each year their strength was increased,” Hind said, “from those who stealthily returned from the New England or southern provinces, or by refugees who had fled to the woods from the devastated region about Grand Pre, the rivers Canard and Habitant.”
After several unsettled years, the Acadian escapees who hadn’t been hunted down were forced to surrender to the garrison at Fort Edward. “Those of the Acadians who were not killed were kept as prisoners when taken, many of them voluntarily surrendering in order to escape starvation,” Hind notes.
Once the Acadian problem was solved and most of the escapees were in custody, there appeared to be no reason other than revenge to hold hundreds of Acadians prisoner at Fort Edward. For a time, Hind says, there were actually more Acadian prisoners at Fort Edward in 1763 than there were “immigrant settlers in west Falmouth.”
Why were the Acadians held when peace existed between Great Britain and France? Oddly enough, the answer may lie with the condition of the dyked land surrounding the new settlements and a clue is provided by Hind.
“It must not be forgotten,” he wrote, “that during the year 1759, the year preceding the first settlement of Falmouth, a storm of very unusual character broke down the dykes and submerged the whole of the valuable dyked lands which has contributed to make the district…a populous Acadian colony.”
In a nutshell, the new settlers couldn’t cope with the dyke problem, but at Fort Edward there was not only captive manpower but expertise at dyke building. History does not tell us whether the Acadians went willingly or were forced into repairing the dykes but they did, at Windsor, Falmouth and later at Grand Pre and Canard.