MELANSON – AN ACADIAN MYSTERY (August 13/99)

I’ve always believed that Melanson in the Gaspereau Valley is one of the few place-names of Acadian origin remaining in this area.

The eminent scholar and historian, the late Dr. Watson Kirkconnell, confirm this. In his study of Kings County place-names Kirkconnell writes that Melanson is one of four surviving that is Acadian, the others being Grand Pre, Gaspereau and Pereau. ‘Melanson, (a hamlet named after the founder of Grand Pre) was on the present site of Wallbrook,” Kirkconnell says.

Melanson’s Acadian origin appears to be confirmed by John Frederic Herbin in his Grand Pre history. “We have the names of all the villages, as they were known to the Acadians,” Herbin writes, going on to list Melanson as one of them with a population of 52 in 1755; Melanson, along with Grand Pre, was one of the principal Acadian villages, Herbin says.

Herbin mentions the surname of Melanson frequently. One Peter Melanson is selected by the Acadians as their representative in negotiations with New England. Melanson is mentioned as one of the families living in Minas in a 1714 census conducted by the French. Jessemin Phillipe Melanson is one of the signees of a petition presented to the British Governor of Acadia in 1715. Melanson is also among the families listed in a census at Port Royal in 1671.

Herbin further tells us that the Melansons held a position of prestige with the Acadians. Herbin writes that “among the settlers (at Acadia) was Pierre Melanson, called La Verdure, aged 54, born in 1632.” Pierre Melanson came from Port Royal where he was “Captain Commandant of the King” and a teacher.

There are other mentions of the Melanson surname throughout Herbin’s history, all of which appear to establish it as solidly Acadian in origin. However, this may not be the case; as I’ve intimated in the heading of this column, there is a bit of mystery about the presence of Melansons in the Acadian settlements. Melanson, Herbin says in a tantalizing line, “is the only name traceable to (the) Scottish period of rule, forming today a numerous family.”

Herbin refers to the brief period in Nova Scotia history when Sir William Alexander attempted to establish a colony of Scottish settlers at Port Royal. This attempt failed and history books tell us the Scottish colonists dispersed when Nova Scotia was restored to France. One history book summed up the failed colony with, “The Scots at Port Royal disappeared from the scene in some unknown fashion. They had undoubtedly been reduced by disease and Indian hostility, and it is possible that the survivors drifted away to the English colonies or returned home when, in 1632, the new French governor received the surrender of Acadie to France.”

Did some of the Scottish settlers remain to live under French rule? Herbins allusion to Melanson being traceable to the Scottish period would make it seem so. Recently I came across another reference that also suggests this possibility. In a 1927 publication, New England Outpost (Acadia before the Conquest of Canada) John Brebner writes that “there is a persistent legend that some of them (the Scottish settlers from the Alexander period) were absorbed in intermarriage with the French. This is supported by the survival of Gallicized Scottish names like Mellanson, Kuessy (Kessie), Pesselet (Paisley) and Pitre.” Brebner adds that the Acadian historian, Rameau, “discusses the question and decides in favor of Mellanson only.”

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