“A GREAT AND NOBLE SCHEME” (September 4/18)

“An American exercise in ethnic cleansing” and the “tragic history of mass expulsion and dispersion of a people from their homeland.” Reviewers had this to say and much more in the same vein about John Mack Faragher’s A Great and Noble Scheme, a book about the events leading up to the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians and its aftermath.

Faragher’s book, which was published in 2005, is available in bookstores as well as the local library. I recommend it to anyone interested in a detailed, well-researched narrative on the Acadian expulsion. You won’t find a better history of the expulsion and the intricate machinations behind it, and you will find the Acadian story shocking and saddening. The book is well documented and the purpose of this column is to bring it to your attention. If you want to understand the Acadian story, this book is a must read.

With this said, rather than a detailed review of the book I’d like to point out a few interesting asides Faragher mentions in telling the Acadian story. On the infamous Cornwallis scalping proclamation, for example, Faragher notes that a precedent had been set in 1688 when Governor-General Frontenac of New France established the first bounty on scalps. Then, in 1696, the Massachusetts General Court offered a bounty of 50 pounds on the scalps of “native enemies” which included the Mi’kmaq. In 1704, following a “raid by Abenaki fighters and Canadian militia” on the New England town of Deerfield (in which the town was destroyed and more than half of its 291 residents killed or captured) the Governor of Massachusetts, Joseph Dudley, raised the bounty on native scalps to 100 pounds. Again, the Mi’kmaq were included in the bounty offer.

The title for the book is taken from a letter widely circulated for two months in New England newspapers, announcing the expulsion of the Acadians. Faragher said that on 9 August, 1755, an anonymous correspondent in Halifax wrote to Boston announcing the decision to remove the Acadians.   He quotes parts of the letter since it illustrates some of the sentiments prevalent the time regarding the Acadians. It also suggests that the purpose of the expulsion was that the land farmed for centuries by the Acadians was much coveted. Here’s the excerpt:

“We are now upon a great and noble scheme of sending the neutral French out of this Province, who have always been secret Enemies and have encouraged our Savages to cut our Throats. If we effect their Expulsion, it will be one of the greatest Things that ever the English did in America; for by all accounts, that part of the country they possess is as good Lands as any in the World. In case therefore we could get some good English farmers in their Room, this Province would abound with all kinds of Provisions.”

Samuel Vetch, the British governor at Annapolis Royal, was one of the engineers of the expulsion. Around 1709, Vetch wrote the British government, in effect stating that Great Britain should no longer tolerate the existence of the Acadians. “The greatest part of the inhabitants being removed from thence is absolutely necessary,” he argued, suggesting that the Acadians be shipped off to the West Indies. Vetch, writes Faragher, “has the distinction of being the first to propose cleansing the French inhabitants from L’Acadie and Canada.”

Charles Morris, for a time the Chief Justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, a man who would for over 32 years was the surveyor general of Nova Scotia, also played a major role in the expulsion. As Faragher points out, Morris prepared a detailed report in 1751on how to go about expelling the Acadians, a report eventually followed almost to the letter.

And we mustn’t forget Charles Lawrence, the Governor of Nova Scotia from 1753 to 1760. He is singled out as the architect of the expulsion and his shameful role in the affair is well detailed in Faragher’s book. Given that his actions – as well as those of Vetch and Morris – could be considered genocidal, it’s surprising there’s a town in the Annapolis Valley named in his honor.

Finally, another book I recommend is The Acadians, In Search of a Homeland, by James Laxer. Also available at the library, Laxer’s book covers aspects of the Acadian story that Faragher skips over; for example, the guerilla warfare carried out by the Acadians before and after the expulsion.

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