WHITEWASHING THE EXPULSION (May 23/16)

By “Royal instruction” to the Governor of Nova Scotia, the King of England declared that the French settlers (Acadians) would have peaceful possession of their land, provided they take the oath of allegiance to the Crown.

Ignoring the legalese, the “therefores,” “whereins” and the occasional “whereas,” this reference to the Acadian oath comes from an Act passed in 1759 by the Governor, Council and Assembly of Nova Scotia. The purpose of the Act appears to be manifold; but its main aim, eliminating any attempts by the Acadians to regain possession of land taken during the expulsion, was the main reason it was proclaimed.

At the same time, in the text of the Act, an obvious move was made to whitewash and excuse the expulsion of the Acadians. Hence the reference in the Act to the oath the Acadians were required to take.

The reason for proclaiming the 1759 Act is simply this: the Governor of Nova Scotia wanted to assure potential New England settlers that no legal actions by the Acadians to reclaim their land would be considered by the courts. In 1759 the province was ready and willing to receive thousands of settlers from New England and many concessions had been made – huge land grants and free transportation among them. The 1759 Act – an Act “for the quieting of possessions to the Protestant grantees of the lands formerly occupied by the French inhabitants, and for preventing vexations actions relating to the same” – was one more concession and an important one.

To further assure New Englanders contemplating settling here the Act proclaimed that “some doubts have arisen among the persons intending to settle the land concerning the title to said lands.” However, the Act concluded, the former French inhabitants “have not, nor ever had any legal right to the land” given to them by Crown of Great Britain and action to recover said lands will henceforth never be considered by the courts.

Baldly stated in the Act was the disputable claim that Nova Scotia had always belonged to the Crown of England, “both by priority of discovery, by ancient possession,” and by treaties between England and France. The ownership of Nova Scotia by priority of discovery and by ancient possession is nonsense. However, the treaty “concluded at Utrecht” with the French in 1713 did yield up the entire province to the Crown of Great Britain.

Another purpose of the 1759 Act was to explain why the expulsion took place; to whitewash the expulsion, in other words. According to the terms of the 1713 treaty, reads the Act, the Acadians were given 12 months to swear allegiance to the British Crown. That they did not and instead “began from time to time …. to aid and assist and support and join with His Majesty’s enemies,” justified their removal from the province.

This is an odd document. On one hand it is the Governor of Nova Scotia proclaiming an Act making it impossible for dispossessed Acadians to use legal means to regain land they once farmed. On the other hand it’s a history rewrite, a slanted, erroneous one at that, and an out-and-out smearing of the Acadians.

Also odd is that in all the documents and articles I’ve read on the Planters and Acadians, no mention is made of this Act. Maybe I somehow missed it along the way.

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