THE “GENERAL RETURN” OF 1767 (February 20/04)

In a paper read before the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1888, D. Allison called it one of the “most important documents” ever prepared on the history of early Nova Scotia. The document he referred to is the “General Return of the Several Townships in the province.” In effect, this was a form of census and its value lies in it being prepared in 1767, just over a decade after the expulsion of the Acadians and less than a decade after the arrival of the Planters.

The years immediately following the expulsion of the Acadians was “one of the most formative epochs” in Nova Scotia history, Allison writes. The survey or general return for this period is important, he says, for the light it shed on those years, supplying “valuable information respecting the (Planters)” and “some light on the interesting question of Acadian repatriation.”

Students of early Nova Scotia history will find that the General Return contradicts historians such as Haliburton and Murdoch. At least this is what Allison implies. Apparently, the General Return was lost in government archives for a long period and was unknown to Haliburton and Murdoch when they wrote their histories of Nova Scotia – Haliburton in 1829 and Murdoch before 1895. Some of the statistics compiled in the return also contradict Acadian population numbers at the time of the expulsion.

According to the General Return, for example, the Acadians on the eve of expulsion “in the territories now comprising Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island certainly did not exceed 10,000.” Allison said that some authorities placed the number even lower than 10,000. He quotes other sources giving higher numbers but casts doubt on them, in summary concluding that the entire Acadian population in 1755 numbered 9,000.

In contrast, current websites on the Acadian people give various population figures, one at 15,000 at the expulsion of which 12,000 were deported; another website said the Acadian population exceeded 10,000 of which just over 8,000 were deported. A Nova Scotia government publication on provincial history gives the number of Acadians deported as 6,000.

Oddly, another website sponsored by the provincial government says that by 1764 some 23,000 expelled Acadians had returned to Nova Scotia. Where did all the Acadians come from you may ask, since none of the figures quoted above re the expulsion came close to this number. Also, in Haliburton’s Nova Scotia history the entire population of the province, including Acadians, was estimated to be 19,120 in 1772.

In his report, Allison says that 12 years after the expulsion the Acadian population was estimated to be less than a thousand. The census of 1881 found this number reaching nearly 29,000; but, says Allison, this figure is “considerably too large (since) they include several thousands of French extraction, but not of Acadian descent.”

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