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Acadian Heartland

Records of the Deportation and Le Grand Dérangement, 1714-1768

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Within the lifetime of those involved in carrying out the Expulsion, questions of responsibility and accountability began to circulate, accompanied by accusations of document suppression and destruction; the debate continues to this day. In an effort to place the various arguments and recriminations in appropriate context, this Website also provides the relevant portion of Brian Cuthbertson's definitive article, 'Thomas Beamish Akins: British North America's Pioneer Archivist,' published in 1977. Akins was Nova Scotia's Commissioner of Public Records from 1857 to 1891, and was directly involved in the nineteenth-century phase of the ongoing controversy.

The article is useful in untangling some of the denser arguments built around the suppression of documents. For example, in the 1880s the Abbé H.-R. Casgrain reasoned that part of 'Judge Morris' Remarks concerning the Removal of the Acadians' had been deliberately deleted from a collection of records published by Akins; Casgrain supported his argument by printing the document in its entirety. Through a close textual reading of the transcripts, however, Cuthbertson demonstrates that the 'deletion' was instead an unfortunate transcription error caused by the scribe at the British Museum, who managed to mix up the pages of the various original documents as he copied them by hand.

B.C. Cuthbertson, "Thomas Beamish Akins: British North America's Pioneer Archivist," Acadiensis, VII, 1 (Autumn 1977), pp. 86-102; section featured here includes pp. 93-101 and is reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher.

Thomas Beamish Akins: British North America's Pioneer Archivist

/....In his reports Akins consistently recommended the publication of selected documents as was the custom in certain American states. His primary motivation was to make accessible to the general public documents of the "greatest interest and value" and in particular those relating to the

removal of the Acadian French from this country in 1755, – a subject which has of late occupied the attention of writers both in England and America, and on which much has lately appeared in condemnation of the course pursued by the government of the day. The papers...throw some additional light on this interesting subject, which has now become a matter of American history, and for the credit of the province, all papers that may in any way discover the motives, views and conduct of those engaged at the period in the settlement of the country, and which may tend to contradict or explain partial statements, or put in a new light, transactions hitherto considered harsh and cruel, should be given to the public.1

Although the Assembly Committee on the Record Commission supported the recommendation, not until 1865 did the Assembly agree "that one thousand copies of. . .a volume of five hundred octavo pages may be published, at an expense not exceeding the sum of $1,800".2 The Selections from the Public Documents of the Province of Nova Scotia, edited by Thomas B. Akins and published in 1869, was divided into five parts. The first two parts were papers relating to the Acadian French and their forcible removal. In his preface, Akins said that he had selected all documents in possession of the government that "could in any way throw light on the history and conduct of the French inhabitants of Nova Scotia" because "the necessity for their removal has not been clearly perceived and the motives which led to its enforcement have been often misunderstood". The third part contained papers relating to the French Encroachments in Nova Scotia 1749-1754 and the War in North America 1754-1761. Papers relating to the First Settlement of Halifax 1749-1756 and the First Establishment of a Representative Assembly in Nova Scotia 1755-1761 made up the last two parts. Francis Beamish compiled the index to the 742 pages of documents. The Selections was given a wide distribution, with copies to Libraries in the Maritimes, Oxford, Cambridge, the United States, and the British Museum.3

Akins, with many of his contemporaries, was sensitive to criticism of the Acadian deportation. One of his principal objectives in publishing the 1869 Selections was to correct misunderstandings about the deportation. In 1880-81, he obtained transcripts of Colonel John Winslow's Journal from the Massachusetts Historical Society and those from the Rev. Andrew Brown collection in the British Museum relating to the Acadians. The former was published in the Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1883 and 1884. These acquisitions increased interest in a debate which, by the late 1880s, was to result in Akins being accused of suppression and partiality in the selection of documents relating to Acadians in his Selections.

The literary debate in Nova Scotia began with publication of an extract from Abbé Raynal's A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlement and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies in a newspaper.4 Abbé Raynal portrayed the Acadians as living in perfect harmony with nature and themselves and he blamed the French priests and the "Jealousies of nations" as much as the English for the deportation. Although, supposedly, the extracts were inserted "for the information and entertainment of the inhabitants", two official participants in the deportation, Richard Bulkeley and Isaac Deschamps, took alarm and replied in the newspaper "with great ostentation". In the February 1790 issue of the Nova Scotia Magazine, the same (presumably) extract from Abbé Raynal's book was published. Bulkeley and Deschamps were as "displeased as if it had been a personal attack", and composed a reply which was printed in the April issue of the Nova Scotia Magazine. They argued that by 1755 "self preservation was necessarily to be consulted" and accused Abbé Raynal of obtaining information from a "French Acadian, who complains that he had been treated as a rebellious subject, and with such lenity as is not known under the government of France".5

In his An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia (1829), Haliburton used what sources he could locate in Halifax to give an account of the "removal of the neutrals" from Nova Scotia. He found "very remarkable that there [were] no traces of this important event, to be found among the records in the Secretary's office at Halifax". He could not discover whether the correspondence, orders, returns and memorials relating to the removal had been preserved, but he was able to obtain from Boston portions of Colonel Winslow's Journal. By suggesting that the "particulars of this affair seem to have been carefully concealed , although it is not now easy to assign the reason, unless the parties were, as in truth they might be, ashamed of the transaction",6 he gave credence to later charges of suppression of evidence. Nonetheless, although Haliburton was sympathetic to the Acadians, he argued that if the Acadians

had to lament that they were condemned unheard, that their accusers were also their judges, and that their sentence was disproportioned to their offence; they had also much reason to attribute their misfortunes to the intrigues of their countrymen in Canada, who seduced them from their allegiance to a Government which was disposed to extend to them its protection and regard, and instigated them to a rebellion, which it was easy to forsee would end in their ruin.7

Haliburton's account became the mainstay for future accounts and in particular for Longfellow's poem Evangeline, published in 1847,8 and E. Rameau's La France Aux Colonies: Etudes Sur Le Développement de la Race Française en Amérique: Acadiens et Canadiens, published in Paris in 1859. Rameau, who had access to the Paris Archives, considered the conduct of Louis XV's government towards the Acadians perfidious and was little concerned with English conduct.9 Akins, in his copy of Rameau's book, noted carefully his bibliography, presumably for ordering additions to his collection.10 Beamish Murdoch in his History of Nova Scotia or Acadie, relied primarily on the documents collected by Akins and made few judgements other than "While we see plainly that England could never really control this province while they [the Acadians] remained in it, all our feelings of humanity are affected by the removal itself, and still more by the severity of attendant circumstances".11 In contrast, Duncan Campbell, who also relied on the documents collected by Akins, for his Nova Scotia in its Historical, Mercantile and Industrial Relations, was prepared to debate the issue. He quoted Abbé Raynal extensively and believed, incorrectly, that Longfellow's Evangeline was based upon his book. After disputing the romantic ‘state of nature' view of the Acadians, he accepted that the removal was necessary for reasons of state but that they should have been sent to France.12

It was during the 1880s that literary debate became a public issue and Nova Scotians felt compelled to defend the removal. The renewed debate gained its initial impetus from the publication in 1884 of Francis Parkman's Montcalm and Wolfe, with a chapter on the "Removal of the Acadians". Parkman consulted a large amount of unpublished material, but for this chapter he relied extensively on Akins' Selections and Winslow's Journal.13 Parkman took the position that "New England humanitarianism, melting into sentimentality at a tale of woe, has been unjust to its own". He concluded that the agents of the French court had made "some act of force necessary" and "The Government of Louis XV began with making the Acadians its tools and ended with making them its victims".14 Then in 1886, Sir Adams Archibald, president of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, gave two papers on the deportation, with Akins present. He had no reservations as to where the blame should lie. The expulsion was a "painful necessity" consistent with the "maintenance of British power" and the "protection of the British inhabitants". The "true authors of the tragic event were the French Governors at Quebec and Louisbourg and their agents, lay and clerical, in the Province".15 There followed a letter to the editor debate in the Morning Herald, between Archbishop Cornelius O'Brien and Archibald over the moral issue in this "eminently the age of apologies".16 The Presbyterian Witness, of course, had to answer the Archbishop, which it did by supporting Archibald and taking the opportunity to accuse the Archbishop of "white washing" Vatican history in his After Weary Hours, published the previous year and completely unrelated to the deportation.17

In 1887, Abbé H. R. Casgrain, a professor at Laval University, published his Un Pèlerinage au pays d'Evangeline, in part a travel journal, but also a history of the Acadians. After spending the winter of 1887-88 in London examining the material at the Public Record Office and the British Museum, Casgrain had come to the conclusion that

Les Choix des Documents publiés à Halifax a été évidement fait en vue de justifier le gouvernement de la Nouvelle-Ecosse de la déportation des Acadiens. Pour cela on a éliminé systématiquement et laissé dans l'ombre les pièces les plus compromettantes, celles qui pouvaient le mieux établir les droits des Acadiens. Qu'on remarque bien que le compilateur [Akins] de ce volume n'a pas le droit de plaider ignorance, car il indique lui-même en plusieurs endroits qu'il a étudié les pièces officielles du Public Record Office, afin de les confronter avec celles d'Halifax.18

Casgrain made his charges in a paper given at the Royal Society of Canada in May 1888. He argued that the British, and particularly Halifax officialdom, had been perfidious and that Francis Parkman had attempted to wash away the sin (La tache) history had inflicted on his compatriots. "Il n'est pas de pire faute que celle de vouloir excuser ce qui n'est pas excusable". He further charged that the Nova Scotia Historical Society, in printing "Judge Morris' Remarks Concerning the Removal of the Acadians" in Volume II of its Collections, had garbled (a tronquée) it and without a shadow of a doubt (dans l'ombre) had left out all that was compromising.19 Casgrain's charges were immediately replied to by the Nova Scotian in good newspaper style: "Of course the aspersions on the historical integrity of the venerable Dr. Akins can only amuse the people of the province where his unblemished character is so well known".20

The year following the publication of Murdoch's History, Rameau arrived in Halifax, where Murdoch had obtained permission for him to consult the government archives. Whether Akins was following the very restrictive policy of the old State Paper Office as described by Brodhead, or was just being difficult, he would not allow Rameau to copy any documents nor even to sit down and he had him watched by clerks.21 Akins apparently did not meet Rameau and Murdoch acted as the intermediary. Rameau's aim in coming to Halifax was to obtain information for his Une Colonie Féodale en Amerique. The first volume covering the period 1604-1710 appeared in 1877 and in 1889 he published a two volume edition for the period 1604-1881. This was a scholarly and comprehensive study of the Acadians. He had consulted and made extensive reference to a wide range of published and unpublished documents and Casgrain had provided him with transcripts he had made in London. Rameau considered the deportation a crime and condemned Lawrence and "ses satellites".22 Akins in his Selections had put in an editorial note on the question of the oath of allegiance and had concluded that "no qualified oath of allegiance" had ever been given by a governor and authorized by the British government.23 Although Rameau challenged this interpretation, nowhere did he charge Akins with the suppression of evidence as Casgrain had done. He quoted Haliburton on the "Mystère des Archives d'Halifax" and argued that the absence of documentation from the end of August to the end of October 1755 was the result of Lawrence and others covering their speculation in Acadian cattle.24

The first literary reply to Casgrain's charges came from Professor H. Y. Hind in a paper to the Nova Scotia Historical Society on 10 December 1889. He considered these accusations a "matter of the highest importance in connection with the honour and credit of Nova Scotia and the Record Commissioner" and until the matter was cleared up "it was useless to talk of the history of this country as derived from Nova Scotia records".25 Hind disposed of the charge against the Society by correctly pointing out that the last paragraph of "Judge Morris' Remarks on Removal of the Acadians" belonged to another document and had been inserted by mistake.26 Hind also attacked Casgrain's use of evidence and challenged the thesis that the Acadians and their priests had been neutral. After his paper, the Society passed a resolution that it had "entire confidence in the integrity of Dr. Akins our excellent record commissioner. We know him to be incapable of suppressing or mutilating any public document, and we hereby declare the charges against him to be utterly unfounded".27

Casgrain's rejoinder came in a letter to the Morning Herald in April 1890, where, after renewing his charges against Akins, he affirmed that "the compiler himself makes so [sic] secret of the fact that he not only enjoyed the Facilities for studying the official documents in London, but took advantage of them? [sic]" to omit the most compromising documents.28 Casgrain assumed that Akins had been in London from a mistaken reading of the preface to the Selections, and because the volume of the Selections had been published under the authority of the Nova Scotia government, he suggested that there should be a "judicial enquiry into the subject". Akins replied in a letter a few days later.29 He pointed out that he had never been to London and therefore had been at the mercy of his copyists. A greater part of the documents that Casgrain claimed were deliberately omitted were "enclosures in despatches from the governors at Annapolis to England, which were never sent from Annapolis to Halifax" at the time the government was transferred in 1749. Akins simply did not know of their existence in 1869. Because of financial restraints on the size of the volume, he had made abstracts of a number of documents, but he pointed out that there were documents in his Selections that were favourable to the Acadians. In fact, the charges levelled at Akins were completely baseless, as Akins had published, mostly in their entirety, all the documents relating to the Acadians in his possession in 1869.30 As he located new sources of documents after 1869, he made arrangements for transcripts as his finances would allow.

Akins' explanation should have ended this rather heated debate over the Selections. However, writers after his death continued to charge Akins, if not with outright suppression of evidence, at least with partiality, in his selection of the documents. Edouard Richard in his Acadia: Missing Links of a Lost Chapter of American History, published in 1895, did not "hesitate to affirm that the documents have been selected with the greatest partiality, and with purpose, poorly disguised in the very preface, of getting together such papers as might justify the deportation of the Acadians".31 Arthur Doughty in his The Acadian Exiles published in 1916 considered the Selections "the most valuable" collection of relative documents but the "editor has taken many liberties with his texts".32 Doughty did not specify what liberties Akins had taken but presumably he was writing euphemistically of suppression of evidence. The latest writer to question the integrity of Akins has been Naomi Griffiths in her "The Acadian Deportation: A Study in Historiography and Nationalism". She charges that "It is quite certain this selection of documents by Akins is a most arbitrary one". But she provides no evidence other than Doughty's statement quoted above.33

Past and contemporary accusers of Akins have seemed unable to accept that Akins did select in 1869, as he stated in his preface, "all documents in possession of the government of this province that could in any way throw light on the history and conduct of the French inhabitants of Nova Scotia, from their first coming under British rule, until their final removal from the country". Akins was the first to realize that his selection was incomplete and made strenuous efforts to obtain transcripts of relevant documents as he became aware of them. It was Akins who provided the transcripts from the Andrew Brown collection of manuscripts for publication in 1881 by the Nova Scotia Historical Society. These included an annotation by Brown that he knew of "no act equally reprehensible as the Acadian removal, that can be laid to the charge of the French nation. In their colonies nothing was ever done that approaches it in cruelty and atrociousness".34 If Akins had wished to suppress these remarks, he could have done so, but he ensured their publication. As he made quite clear in his preface, Akins did not consider that the deportation was justified, but he did not deliberately suppress any evidence in his possession, then or later. ..../


1. Report of the Record Commissioner, Journals of the Legislative Assembly [hereafter JLA], 1859, app. 8, p. 67

2. Report of Committee on Record Commission, JLA, 1865, app. 49, p. 1

3. Distribution list is in Record Commission Book

4. The newspaper had not been located. The Rev. Andrew Brown has a note on the incident, and the reactions of Bulkeley and Deschamps given later are from his papers. See RG 1, Vol. 363,doc. 37, PANS.

5. Nova Scotia Magazine, April 1790, pp. 288-9

6. Haliburton, An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1829), vol. 1, p.196

7. Ibid, p. 198

8. See Father Alfred Landry. “The Historical Origin of the Poem Evangeline”, La SociétéHistorique Acadienne, vol. III, no. 3 (avril - juin, 1969), pp. 112-7.

9. For example, on p. 55 he declares that ‘la culpabilité de gouvernement français fut plus grande que celle des Anglais”.

10. As with many books in his Library, now in the PANS, Akins checked off the Nova Scotian documents mentioned for the later ordering of transcripts.

11. Beamish Murdoch, A History of Nova Scotia or Acadie (Halifax, 1865), vol. II, p. 298.

12. Duncan Campbell, Nova Scotia in its Historical, Mercantile and Industrial Relations (Montreal, 1873), p. 131

13. Mason Wade, The Journals of Francis Parkman (New York and London, 1947), vol. II, pp.547-8. Wade says the “modern view is that Parkman was led astray by insufficient and altered evidence”, p. 548 and this accepts Abbé H. R. Casgrain’s charges, which I argue in the following paragraphs are baseless.

14. Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (Boston, 1897 ed.). p. 284

15. Sir Adams G. Archibald, “The Expulsion of the Acadians, Part II”, Collections, vol. V, pp.94-5.

16. C. O’Brien, Archbishop of Halifax to Morning Herald, 6 November 1886.

17. Presbyterian Witness (Halifax), 13 November 1886.

18. L’Abbé H. R. Casgrain, "Eclairissements sur la question acadienne", Proceedings and Transactions of Royal Society of Canada for the year 1888, vol. VI, section 1, p. 24.

19. Ibid., p. 50 and fn.1, p. 48

20. Nova Scotian, 22 June 1889

21. For letters relating to Rameau’s visit, see MG 1, vol. 436, folder 5, PANS. It may be unwise to read too much into the difficulties Rameau had. Akins was away and the clerks may have been over zealous.

22. Rameau de Saint-Père, Une Colonie Féodale en Amerique: L’Acadie (1604-1881) (Paris,1889), vol. II, p. 175.

23. Selections, fn., pp. 263-6

24. Rameau de Saint-Père, Une Colonie Féodale en Amerique, vol. II, pp. 163-6

25. Report of Meeting in the Morning Herald, 11 December 1889.

26. What most likely happened is that Tobin, when transcribing for Akins in the British Museum, had gotten mixed up in his copying, as the incorrect paragraphs are the last paragraphsof the next paper in the series, also by Morris and entitled “Causes of the War in 1755". Casgrain should have noted this when using the originals in the British Museum and so should the Society before publishing an obvious non-sequence in text.

27. Minutes, Nova Scotia Historical Society, 10 December 1889, MG 20, vol. 211, PANS.

28. Morning Herald, 4 April 1890.

29. Ibid, 12 April 1890.

30. I have not checked all the documents in the Selections with the originals, but of thosechecked there are not mistakes nor has anyone else since their publication found any mistakes. When Akins did not include the whole document, he so noted and none of the deletions checkedseem to me to substantiate the charges. The deletions are mostly of wordy instructions. Themain charge against Akins was one of omission which has been interpreted by later writerswithout investigation as “partiality”, “suppression of evidence”, etc.

31. Edouard Richard, Acadia: Missing Links of a Lost Chapter in American History (Montreal,1895), p. 13

32. Arthur Doughty, The Acadian Exiles (Toronto, 1916), p. 167.

33. Naomi E. J. Griffiths, “The Acadian Deportation: A Study in Historiography and Nationalism” (unpublished M. A. Thesis, University of New Brunswick, 1957), p. 129.

34. Collections, vol. II, p. 150.