ACADIANS, SCOTS, PLANTERS – OUR EARLY DAYS (June 18/04)

With its estuaries, high tides, its diverse shoreline, its tidal marshes, and its bogs barrens and varied agricultural land, Kings County is one interesting and unique place. The county is even more unusual when we consider how its uniqueness shaped its history.

Take the French colonisation of Nova Scotia, for example. The French came for the fur trade, the timber and the fishery but it was the agricultural potential that brought the colonists to what became known as Acadia. We have to admit – if we’re frank about it – that the success of the Acadian settlers eventually led to them being driven from the province. Right or wrong, I’m convinced that if the Annapolis Valley and other areas weren’t rich in natural resources, there would have been no expulsion and no Planters in Kings County.

The year 1604 is given as the time Nova Scotia was settled by the French. However, for a brief period roughly between 1628 and 1632, the English and the Scots were the dominant power in the province. Recognising the potential, Sir William Alexander persuaded the British government to grant him Nova Scotia. Alexander had a variety of fantastic schemes for colonising the province, most of which came to nothing. His major success was the founding in either 1628 or 1629 the short-lived Scottish settlement at Port Royal.

From Andrew Hill Clark’s 1968 book on the geography of early Nova Scotia, we learn what happened to Alexander’s settlement. Many of the Scottish colonists perished in the early years of the settlement, Clark writes, and the colony only lasted until 1632. The British holdings in Acadia were surrendered to the French in 1632 and the Scots left, some to New England, some to the south shore, and some returning to Great Britain. A few of the Scottish settlers remained at Port Royal and were assimilated by the Acadians; among them were the Melansons who later settled in Kings County.

Clark writes that the “real beginning of French settlement in Acadia” began in 1632 and up until that time it had been rather hit and miss as far as serious colonisation went. Clark paints a picture of French authorities more interested in fish, fur and lumber than in colonisation. Up to 1632 Clark says that except for Port Royal, “the evidence for agricultural settlement in this period can be summed up in a few words.”

I find it interesting that the “Frenchness” of Port Royal is believed to have been “diluted by some carryover of Scots” from Alexander’s colony. Clark gives several surnames believed to be of Scottish origin. “Acadian names so derived,” Clark writes, “include Peselet or Pesely (from Paisley), Pitre (from Peter or Peters), Caissy or Caisse (from Kessey or Casey), Colleson or Coleson, and Melanson.” In a footnote, Clark adds that Caisse may ultimately be of Irish origin.

While some historical scholars argue that none of the surnames mentioned above is Scottish in origin, Clark says it’s possible that they all are. However, Melanson is the only surname in this list that is definitely Scottish.

Anyway, true or not that there are Acadian Scots, I’m willing to bet that the touch of Scottish blood – and the possible tiny drop of Irish blood – in Acadian families is something you won’t hear much about during the upcoming celebrations at Grand Pre this summer.

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