In my previous post I discussed how the name Acadia came into existence, being the corruption of the name Arcadia given by Verrazzano in 1524 to a large area of land in what is now Virginia. The name never went away and when the Dutch and the English colonised the New England coast in the following centuries, it simply seemed to move northeast until finally it stopped moving in what is now Nova Scotia. There are a couple of maps in the Sixteenth Century that show Arcadia but by the beginning Seventeenth Century Arcadia becomes modified into various derivations such as Cadie. By 1613 Champlain calls it Cadye in his map that illustrated the world he was now aware of and which would soon be the home of French settlers who remarkably quickly were to be called “Acadians.”
Strangely, in his 1632 map Champlain does not mention Cadye at all and everything is part of La Nouvelle France. In 1688 when Franquelin, the first official cartographer of New France produced his beautiful and grand map of North America, Acadie is now a well-established territory as you can see in this detail.
I attach this pdf of the entire map made available in this scan by the Library of Congress.
By the beginning of the Eighteenth Century the French are absolutely certain of the geography of New France. More than any other map produced at the time the 1702 Carte de L’Acadie produced by Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin asserts more strongly than ever before the territorial extent of Acadia. It encompasses all of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and even a part of Quebec! For the first time ever, I believe, we have a map actually called Acadie. This would not happen again until Bellin, in 1744 when relations with the English were heating up on who actually owned Acadia and what its actual boundaries were, would produce a beautiful little engraved map of L’Acadie. Most people, including a French scholar (Boucher p. 12/24) think Bellin was the first to represent Acadia thus, but they are wrong.
The map is huge and full of detail about a landscape that is almost completely fantastical because settlement in Acadia was concentrated in the reclaimed marsh areas of the Bay of Fundy. Louisbourg is yet to be founded and Ile Saint Jean is still 18 years away from becoming a colony. There was almost no knowledge of topography because of lack of inland exploration and various accounts by travellers, which were very rare.
1702 – Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin, Carte de L’Acadie contenant Tous les Ports, Havres, Sondes & Mouillages qui sont le long de ses côtes; Les Bois, Montagnes, Lacs & Marais qui sont dans la profondeur de ses Terres & touttes les Rivierres qui en descendent. Avec une partie de la Colonie Francoise du Canada au dessus & au dessus de Quebec sur les bords du Fleuve de St. Laurent 1702. Bibliotheque nationale, Paris.
Ile Saint Jean is still officially unsettled, the home of the Mi’kmaq tribes who had been living there for several thousand years.
It is like in other maps of the time, a series of squiggles in a vaguely crescent-shaped outline. In another 18 years this would change and a better outline of the Island would be produced to assist in the planning of colonisation.
Knowledge of Acadia as a specific region, now located in Nova Scotia, spread to other European nations and in this detail from the unique manuscript map produced the next year in 1689 by the Basque explorer Detcheverry and now in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the entrance to the Bay of Fundy is clearly labelled “la cadie.” You can see the entire map in my earlier post, “Discovery and First Contact by Europeans.”
There is another map from a year later by Guillaume Del’Isle that is considered one of the finest maps of New France and the Arctic regions produced in the Seventeenth Century. Here is the detail of Acadia, which is only a tiny portion of the map. I also attach a pdf of the whole map for your pleasure. The original is big, about 65 x 50 centimetres.
You can see the dotted line that was considered to be the boundary of Acadia at the highest levels at that time.
THE FORTUNES OF ACADIA
The fortunes of Acadia would wax and wane in the 150 years of its existence as both France and England took turns administering the territory as it changed hands. I see no point in writing a summary of these troubled times when there are several accounts on the net that do it better than I could. Here are a couple of them.
The history of Acadia seems to be a constant struggle between the French and English to control the territory. This interesting site identifies all these confrontations and gives specific details of the encounters. It leaves you wondering how the French settlers who settled that colony ever managed to survive, let alone perform vast civil engineering projects of reclaiming salt marsh and turning it into highly productive agriculture and pasture land. These Acadians, as these French people soon came to be called, prospered wonderfully.
The Extent of Settlement in Acadia
Here is a map – and I can’t locate its source at the moment – that shows the principal areas of settlement in Acadia. Not shown are minor settlements in New Brunswick, aside from the village of Beausejour in the Isthmus of Chignecto across from Beaubassin and the Missaguash River that eventually formed the border between the two provinces.
The study of Acadia today is very complicated and filled with various tensions and differing points of view that are the product of the Acadian Renaissance that began in the late Nineteenth Century. At that time the descendants of those who had survived deportation and returned to the region, set about to re-establish their language, culture and identity in a British Colonial world. This renaissance has been intensifying for well over a hundred years and Acadians today are intensely proud of their heritage and identity and celebrate it endlessly in every imaginable fashion.
This can bring about confusion for those who want to study the subject of Acadia. The Acadians of today, even though they are blood descendants of the original settlers of Acadia, are vastly different from those skilled people who transformed landscape and grew prosperous and proud as a result of it.
There are two Acadias, in my opinion, the one of circa 1605-1755 located in what is now Nova Scotia. That is history. The other Acadia, which in 2019 celebrated its first World Congress, is a fabricated romantic dream born in 1884. It has a life of its own in contemporary times and little connection with the first Acadia, except, of course, through genealogy. Its identity seems to be inspired by the poem Evangeline by the American poet Longfellow, and its symbols of what it calls nationhood – flag, anthem, motto and mascot – are in no way connected with the original Acadia. That is fantasy. The historian trying to keep the two apart often sails onto dangerous shoals.
I prefer to study the Acadia that came to an end with the deportations and the people who transformed perhaps 40,000 acres of Bay of Fundy tidal marshes in highly productive land. For that, we need to study geography, and the best book on the subject is still the one written in 1968 by Andrew Hill Clark called Acadia – The Geography of Early Nova Scotia to 1760.
It is a big book that dispassionately discusses the land and how it was exploited from aboriginal times to the times of the Deportations. It is full of maps, charts, statistics and other data that are essential to understanding what happened in those troubled 150 years of Acadia’s existence.
Another book, much less weighty, and full of clarity and charm is this book by Joan Dawson, published in 1988. If you read it, you will never be afraid of old maps again and you will learn a great deal about how the Acadians lived.
The major Acadian settlements all were victims of the Bay of Fundy tides which were normally about 40 feet high and at times, even higher. The drama of these tides can be seen in this photo I took of a small inlet in Cumberland Basin at low tide.
To keep out the sea it was necessary to build huge sea walls called aboiteaux, such as this one below Fort Beausejour.
The reclaimed land had to be “rinsed” of its salt content by allowing the rain to wash it into small drainage canals that went under the great dykes and into the sea.
They were simple but clever devices with a flap valve that allowed the drainage ditches to empty at low tide, but which locked shut against baffles when the tide came in again. This diagram was the best I could find on the net and is courtesy of Kirill Borisenko, 2012 on Wikipedia.
The essence of Acadia, and the Acadians, and their greatest glory, was to reclaim from the sea thousands of acres of mudflats, made incredibly rich of millennia of alluvial deposits full of organic matter. In the past, most of us believed that the French settlers in Acadia had somehow learned how to build dykes to keep out the sea from the Dutch and brought this technology to Acadia. However this view is being changed by the realisation that there were massive reclamation projects all around the port of La Rochelle and elsewhere in Poitou (Butzer, p 460). This map from Butzer’s article illustrates the extent of this work.
We now have a new image of French colonists in Acadia who had all the skills necessary to reclaim Bay of Fundy salt marshes in a decentralised pattern. These civil engineering projects are almost beyond belief, considering the small numbers of people involved in creating them. And this was done during more than a century of extreme political instability.
All the land you see in this aerial photograph I took in September of 1975 in the vicinity of Fort Beausejour was reclaimed from the sea and formed the basis of the wealth of that region.
A splendid book by J. Sherman Bleakney, published in 2004 and called Sods, Soils, and Spades: The Acadians at Grand Pré and Their Dykeland Legacy, is wonderfully illustrated and explains in detail all the things that were involved in creating these productive dykelands.
This map from the internet, with no visible source that I could find, shows where in the Maritimes the Acadians built aboiteaux.
For quite some time it has been believed that the Acadians on the Island built dykes in the Tryon area, and I myself believe I found evidence of dyke-building in the vicinity of North Enmore near Big Barachois in Prince County. I took these pictures circa 1985. You can see the dykes clearly, and where they are eroding at the base, part of the complicated cribwork that held these structures together is clearly visible.
How did the Acadians live?
The Acadians had an intimate relationship with the soil, not only in their vast agricultural projects in the reclaimed salt marshes, but in the intimacy of their homesteads, of which I will have more to say in my next blog post. However, now is an excellent moment to bring to your attention this short book by John Erskine who, for many years served informally as provincial archaeologist in Nova Scotia. You can read or download the book pdf on the left column of this blog page.
Erskine published the book privately in mimeograph format in 1975. Working from a photocopy of that I digitised the text and reformatted it, producing an exact copy of the contents of this extremely rare book.
The most exciting part of this book is where Erskine, whose knowledge of Acadian topography in Nova Scotia was remarkable, walks the Acadian countryside and, by the flowers, herbs, fruit trees and shrubs that have survived in the landscape, is able to recreate exactly the environment the Acadians created for themselves in the area around their houses and outbuildings. It is exciting and provides the most intimate view of these old Acadians than one can see anywhere.
The Face of Acadia
What did the Acadians look like? We know so much about them yet we have no reliable contemporary pictures of them. There were two major schools of painting in late Seventeenth Century France. One was classical, with Poussin as its greatest exponent; the other was realist, inspired by the early Baroque Italian artist Caravaggio (1571-1610) who favoured deep shadow and models selected from the lower classes. One of his followers in France was Louis Le Nain (circa 1593-1648), who, with his brothers, who were also artists, loved to paint French peasants and working class people. I could show you a number of paintings by this artist that capture what I believe to be the true face of Acadia – those who emigrated to New France for a new life – but for the moment I will share only one – and a couple of details – dating from the mid-1600s and in the Louvre. You can easily hear the silence, broken only by the boy’s plaintive tune played on his wooden flute, and you can smell that freshly-baked bread being cut by the father. The small glass of red wine held by the mother is the most intense accent in the composition.
More than any other painting produced in the period of Acadia I think this captures the spirit and the faces of those who reclaimed the marshes from the sea and grew their favourite plants, brought from France, around their cottages, and still to be seen in the landscape.
THE END OF ACADIA
If you want to pinpoint and experience the moment Acadia died as a colony, you need to go to Fort Beausejour and stand on top of the bastion facing Fort Lawrence and the point on the opposite bank of the Missaguash River near where the modern bridge unites New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. On this spot, around 9 AM on June 15, a canon fired a bomb that exploded on a casemate, a part of the fort covered by reinforced earthworks, killing a British officer being held hostage and the French officers who were with him. Most of the French soldiers at the fort were reluctant to fight any longer, and the Acadians who were compelled to be there as auxiliary troops asked that the fighting cease. There was much coming and going and the British demanded capitulation. This happened at 7 PM, on the following day, June 16. This was the end of Acadia.
It was also the beginning of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), the first global war ever, that was fought in Europe, America, India and at sea. It led to the Treaty of Paris (1763) when France ceded its North American possessions to Britain, thus leading to the British Colonial Period, from which a hundred years later, Canada emerged as a nation, and just over a hundred years later, a bicultural nation.
My several posts on Arcadia/Acadia have been based on maps, which are the source of names and territorial concepts. Acadia may have ceased to exist in June of 1755 but the French map-making industry, which had enjoyed a golden age for nearly 200 years, from 1594-1789 continued to produce exceptional maps. Energised by Royal patronage, advances in geography, surveying, commerce and colonial expansion the map industry, centered in Paris, collected together data from exploration, astronomy and science to produce beautiful maps filled with up-to-date data.
One of the last cries of mapmaking in Acadia was this small map from my collection produced by Nicolas Bellin in 1757. It shows Acadia optimistically with reduced borders indicated by a dotted line that had also been used by others. The deportation from Ile Saint-Jean would take place the next year.
Canada now extends through most of Nova Scotia, leaving only the south shore for a much-reduced Acadia. But this was a dream, definitively put to rest by the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
Britain now controlled New France completely. It was merciful to Quebec, giving it freedom of religion and allowing it to keep its legal system, but it completely destroyed Acadia by a process that can only be called, in todays language, ethnic cleansing. It is an outrage that will never be forgotten.
In the years following the fall of New France there were amazing developments in surveying that allowed mapmakers to represent the contours of nations more accurately than ever before. This was due to the progress made in being able to measure longitude with an accuracy never before achieved, mostly because of advances in astronomy, which was now beginning to measure celestial distances with new accuracy. Indeed it was the English who produced what I believe to be the first accurate outline of a territorial entity, and that was Samuel Holland’s great manuscript map of the Island of Saint John, completed in 1765.
British mapmakers and entrepreneurs capitalised on this new and accurate cartography and Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to the King, was among the first to produce a folio size engraved map of the Island in 1775. In the same year, he produced a large map of the eastern conquered regions of New France with as many corrections as could be included. However, only Saint John’s Island shows the results of the new surveying. Energetic surveyong projects all over the new English territories would soon rectify that. Of course Acadia has long disappeared and Nova Scotia now stretches from Quebec, across what would one day be New Brunswick and down to the Atlantic. Here is a detail from Jeffery’s map, which is followed by a pdf file so that you can appreciate it in greater detail.
It is the beginning of a new era.
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