THE WEALTH OF THE ACADIANS (August 9/02)

In 1953, as a requirement for the M.A. degree, James Stuart Martell prepared a detailed thesis on pre-Loyalist settlements around the Minas Basin. Mr. Martell noted in his paper that a brief look at the Acadians was necessary in order to have an idea of conditions around Minas Basin when the Planters arrived. Martell proceeded to do just that and the result is some interesting facts and statistics on the Acadians and the expulsion period.

Mr. Martell’s completed thesis of just over 300 pages was bound in hardcover and distributed in the library system. I’m currently reading a copy borrowed from the Kentville branch. From the thesis, here are some of the statistics and observations from the 25 pages Martell devotes to the Acadians.

I’ve always been fascinated by the various reports of Acadian mill sites in this area, assuming from what I’ve read in various papers and historical briefs that there were only a few in Kings County. However, giving his source as the journal of the officer who directed the expulsion, Lieut.-Colonel John Winslow, Martell writes that in the Minas district the Acadians had as many as 11 mills. Obviously, these would be mainly grist mills, some wind-driven, some powered by tidal waters, such as the mill believed to be located on the little partly tidal stream on Highway #1 between Kentville and New Minas.

Martell writes that statistics relating to the economic status of the Acadians are given by Winslow in his journal. Thus from Winslow via Martell’s excellent paper we are told that in the Minas area the livestock of the Acadians in 1755 consisted of “1296 bullocks, 1557 cows, 2181 young cattle, 8690 sheep, 4197 hogs, 493 horses, and 5007 horned cattle.”

We can see from this that the Acadians in this area appeared to be at least moderately affluent. This great wealth of livestock was apparently owned by some 255 families. The number of families in Minas is obtained from another statistic in Winslow’s journal, the number of dwellings destroyed at the time of the expulsion. Martell writes that the “buildings burnt by Winslow at Minas totalled 255 houses, 276 barns, 155 outhouses, 11 mills and one mass house.”

It seems odd that so much property was destroyed. The long range plan was to settle New Englanders in the areas occupied by the Acadians after the expulsion took place. This plan is hinted at by more than one historian and if it was in the works, one would think that the Acadian buildings would have been left untouched.

Martell tells us that the livestock of the Acadians was forfeited to the Crown and “according to the official audit, either used for victualling the troops in the expulsion areas or distributed among the settlers at Halifax.” One historical writer claims that Lunenburg County settlers also shared in the livestock and there was a great cattle drive from Minas to the South shore.

We learn from Martell’s paper that the Acadians of Minas had already begun construction of rough but passable roads when the expulsion took place. “It might be well to mention,” Martell writes, “that by the year 1755 paths in the forests had been made passable for overland transportation between Minas and Annapolis, Minas and Pisiquid (Windsor) and Pisiquid and the new British capital, Halifax.”

One interesting point made by Martell is that according to evidence, it can be concluded that many of the Acadians were not deported from Minas and Pisiquid “and a considerable number of them remained in the nearby forests even after the coming of the New Englanders.” While it may not have bee a “considerable number,” other historians mention that a few Acadians avoided deportation by hiding in the woods and some eventually returned to work the land they once owned.

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