In the first decade of the 18th Century, France and England were at it again. Although the population of Quebec was but a fraction of the Thirteen Colonies, the French were repeatedly victorious over the English-Americans. This was in the main a consequence of the Canadien soldier being so experienced in frontier warfare. Yet, I believe the decisive advantage for the Canadiens was their relationship with the indigenous peoples. Through the course of the fur trade the French had intermarried with the natives and penetrated further into the continent's frontier than the English. This enabled the French to create a system of military alliances stretching from the Ohio Valley southward to the Gulf of Mexico. Further, English speaking peoples not French had been continually pushing Indian nations westward, i.e. Shawnee, etc. so it did not take much to convince an indigenous person to resist the Americans. Moreover, the success of the French during the Queen Anne's War period was due in part to the unexpected neutrality of the Five Nations.
Iberville was an experienced fighter and frontiersman. In his early twenties, he had taken part in the famed raids of de Troyes against English trading posts on James Bay. He was a patriot and a profiteer. Government officials in New France quickly saw the potential of Pierre d'Iberville and he was given the responsibility of attacking the English who tenaciously clung to their forts on Hudson Bay.
While Iberville had been pushing the English out of the Hudson region, English from the territory of Maine had been raiding Acadia. Moreover, he was angered upon learning of the massacre of French settlers at Lachine. Enthusiastically he followed Frontenac's command to attack Schenectady, Maine. D'Iberville destroyed Schenectady (see Schenectady Massacre) and then headed off to kill more English people in Newfoundland.
In 1694, Newfoundland boasted both French and English settlements. The French were on the west side across from the eastern shore of Labrador. The English were located across the island on the far north-eastern side. At the time, it was believed that both settlements were secure from any kind of overland attack. If you wanted to attack (it was believed) you would have to approach from the sea. And the English had prepared for such an eventuality by arming their settlements with cannons trained on the ocean approaches.
Iberville was a complex man—he was as ambitious and self-seeking as he was patriotic. And he was not the type of guy to back down from a challenge. The challenge before him: how could he travel over the rocky, snowy, inhospitable wilderness of the interior of Newfoundland to kill some English settlers? The killing part was easy (he had lots of practice). The traveling overland part was what, at least initially, gave him the most difficulty. But remember this guy was a Canadien. He had plenty of experience with winter. And he had a secret weapon that the colonists of Newfoundland had never seen before: snow shoes.
Iberville acquired enough snow shoes to equip a force of 200 Canadiens and Natives. The well-equipped expedition walked around the interior of Newfoundland killing and pillaging the English (in that order). In total d'Iberville and his men destroyed 36 settlements, killed about 200 settlers, and took 700 people prisoner. The English prisoners were carted off to prison ships never to return to Newfoundland. And because d'Iberville had such a sense of style, he sent all the scalps of the dead back to Governor Frontenac as war trophies. But he couldn't celebrate his victory in Newfoundland for long, though. During his murderous rampage, the English had retaken their forts on the Hudson and James Bay. He had to return and set the English straight.
In 1697, Iberville sailed his flagship the Pelican into Hudson Bay. Although starting his journey with a fleet of ships, he found himself alone. The fleet broke up earlier because of a heavy fog that morning. Despite the set back, he was confident that his force would re-assemble before the planned assault upon Fort York (York Factory). Sure enough three other ships appeared on the horizon. As the ships approached, Iberville realized that they were English warships—the Hampshire (a powerful Royal Navy frigate) and two armed merchantmen ships of the Hudson's Bay Company.
The battle continued for another four hours. Iberville and the British exchanged crippling blows. The English should have easily won the skirmish. Eventually Iberville sank the English frigate and then turned his full attention to the smaller merchantmen ships. One of the two remaining English ships surrendered immediately while the other fled. The Pelican was in no shape to pursue the escaping vessel. Instead, Iberville's crew bailed out as his ship sank. Not too long thereafter the other French ships arrived. He then headed towards his original objective of York Factory and took it with relative ease.
Iberville's military exploits would not end here. He would go on to harass the English in the Caribbean for more several years. He would also be responsible for establishing the first French colonies in what is now Louisiana and Alabama. Because of Iberville's efforts France could lay claim to the entire north-south expanse of North America—from the Hudson Bay down to the Mississippi delta.
The Iroquois remained neutral during the French-English skirmishes not because they suddenly came to love Quebec. On the contrary, they still despised the French and memory of Frontenac's invasion of the Seneca homeland was still fresh in their minds. However, an outbreak of smallpox accomplished what no French army could: a Five Nations devastated by disease called for a stop to the war.
In 1701, the French hosted a peace conference at Montreal. Delegates from the forty or so First Nations that had been major players in the last 100 years of warfare were invited. A treaty was signed between them on August 4th. The celebration was short-lived. An epidemic of influenza broke out in New France killing more than 10 per cent of the population.
Shortly after peace was made with the Five Nations, New France became embroiled in yet another major war with the Thirteen Colonies. In the first stage of the war, the French launched a series of attacks against New England. In response, New England sent an army to knock out Acadia.
Colonel Benjamin Church led the English-American army against the Acadians in 1704. Church was essentially a mixture of Pavarotti and Hitler: he was a huge and sadistic man with a great deal of experience with murder. You did not want to surrender to this guy. He prided himself on being hard and had a well-earned reputation for brutality. He even recounted with pride in his journal how he had killed family pets: "[Dear Journal], When the Acadians returned [from hiding] they were troubled to see their cattle, sheep, hogs, and dogs lying dead about their houses, chopped and hacked to death with hatchets." This guy was psychotic. Can you say double Y chromosome (XYY)?
When Church's attack came, the Acadian governor asked France for help. Predictably, none came. Acadia had always been viewed as a sort of buffer-zone for the main colony of Quebec. Acadia surrendered. Once British rule was established, Acadia's name was permanently changed to Annapolis Royal in honor of Queen Anne.
The English governor tried to force the Acadians to pay the expense of supporting the occupying troops. Though a good idea in theory, the reality was that the governor couldn't collect any taxes. There wasn't any money available to collect. The war had left the Acadians in abject poverty. As it became obvious they weren't going to be getting paid, American troops began deserting and returned home.
The English experience in Acadia was made even more difficult because of raids launched by the Mi'kmaq First Nation. The raids became so irritating that the British brought in a contingent of Iroquois mercenaries to fix the situation; it took the Iroquois about a year to bring the Mi'kmaq under control. The reputation of the Mohawk alone was enough to convince the Mi'kmaq to be nice neighbors.
Although the war in North America had for the most part gone well for the French, the war in Europe had not. The Treaty of Utrecht was signed on April 11, 1713. According to the treaty, Louis XIV had to give the Hudson Bay region back to the English. In addition, France agreed to surrender "all of Acadia comprised in its ancient limit." The English interpreted the word all quite literally. They believed that France had given up the entire region of modern day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The French, however, were creative in their interpretation of the treaty's terms. They insisted they had only agreed to give up the settlement of Port Royal. Despite the ambiguity and legal mumbo-jumbo, the Utrecht agreement led to three decades of relative peace and prosperity.
The Treaty of Utrecht resulted in a significant reduction of French territory in North America. The French undertook the construction of Fort Louisbourg on Ile Royal (Cape Breton Island) to consolidate and secure their access to the cod fish off the Grand Banks. The fort took twenty-five years to complete and was the largest military installation in all of North America.
The purposes for the construction of Fort Louisbourg were as follows:
Louisbourg was as expensive as it was imposing. The new French King Louis XV complained about the expense: "Are the streets being paved with gold over there? I fully expect to awake one morning in my Palace at Versailles and see the walls of the Louisbourg fortress rising [above] the horizon." From the outset Louisbourg was the source of great controversy. The fort's strategic position was an annoyance to the Thirteen Colonies. Bostonians felt the most threatened by the installation and were determined to destroy it.
By 1750 AD the combined population of New France and Acadia was about 52,000. Farming was the main economic activity for both colonies. Farmers in either colony did not actually own the land they farmed. Instead, rich land owners called seigneurs rented the land to the farmers. Thus, the government of New France was essentially feudalistic. Feudalism had died in the early 1500s in England. The English were far more progressive than the French, and unlike the French, encouraged private ownership of land.
Despite the golden age that the Acadians were experiencing, they were still a conquered people. In fact, after Colonel Church had taken the colony the British had decreed that the Acadians would be deported. Therefore, in the first few years of occupation the Acadians expected to be expelled at any time. Louis XV had even encouraged the Acadians to settle at Fort Louisbourg. Yet few Acadians actually moved to Ile Royal. They were farmers not fishermen.
As time passed, the British recognized the economic importance of the French presence in Acadia. Without the French, who would farm the fields and feed the English settlers? And without the French presence, what would stop the Mi'kmaq from massacring the English settlers like what had taken place at Lachine or Schenectady? And most importantly, if the Acadians would have been permitted to settle in Louisbourg it would've become the strongest French colony on the continent.
So if the Acadians couldn't be deported or allowed to leave voluntarily, the Acadians would have to swear an oath of loyalty. Sounds simple but you'll see just how difficult it was to accomplish.
In 1713, the population of Acadia was approximately 1,800. The people were predominantly Catholic and they were farmers. The English king, George I, was neither. George I demanded that the Acadians swear allegiance to him. In reality, the Acadians were being asked to do more than just swear loyalty—they were also being asked to renounce their connections to the French king and the pope in Rome.
Perhaps the French could have been convinced to break ties with Louis XV; but the request to sever all ties to Rome was completely unacceptable. Bishops were appointed directly from Rome. If the connection to Rome were severed, who would appoint a new bishop (and by extension who would appoint new priests) for the colony? The Acadians were a religious and pastoral people. The Pope was the head of their religious life. To renounce the Pope would be tantamount to renouncing their faith in God. Therefore, the English had to content themselves with the status-quo. Moreover, the oath might not have even been necessary anyways. There was still an outside chance the Acadians were going to be expelled.
Truthfully, the English were in no position to force the French to take the oath in 1713. I say this for three simple reasons:
By 1718 it had become clear to both the English and French that there was not going to be any expulsion order. The colony had proven itself too valuable to disrupt. Therefore, the English again demanded the Acadians take an oath of allegiance to George I. For their part the Acadians approached the English governor with the following petition: “Today it appears that we are being forced either to take the oath of allegiance or to leave the country. We are unable to do either. We are determined never to take the oath because we are the good and true subjects of the Very Christian King [of France], and we cannot give this up, without appropriate conditions, which were promised by the Court of France and were always refused by the Court of England. As our current position is very difficult, we beg you to honor us with your generous counsel."
The Acadians got away without having to sign the oath, again.
For the next ten years life in Acadia went on without any major interruptions. However, the English had not forgotten about the unwillingness of the Acadians to take the oath. What the British had failed to recognize was that colonials—French or English—could not be expected to simply do as they were told. A unique political culture stressing individualism and compromise had developed in North America. In Europe, people tended to be more unquestioningly accepting of authority. In North America, people were pre-occupied with concepts like justice, equality, and fair treatment. The English finally recognized this fact when they approached the Acadians in 1730 with a more palatable conditional oath. Compared to previous versions the conditional oath had four important alterations:
Two versions of the oath were produced—one French and the other English. The English version apparently did not contain any reference to the compromises listed above. The French version, however, did. I'm not too sure what the English were up to here: did they think they could fool the French into speaking an oath in English? Not very likely. Then why? I am inclined to think the English version was useful for propaganda purposes, e.g. It was published for the benefit of the Thirteen Colonies. Protestant Americans would not have been pleased with Catholics receiving freedom of religion within a British colony. American reaction to future acts of government passed by the British, i.e. The Royal Proclamation (1763) and the Quebec Act (1774), etc. would seem to justify the English being worried about an American over-reaction to religious freedom being granted to Catholics in 1730.
The Acadians spoke the French version of the oath. Their loyalty was assured and they became known as the "Acadian Neutrals." In 1745, when the English attacked Fort Louisbourg the French of Annapolis Royal remained loyal to England.
Although King George's War began in 1740, the only battle of significance was the English-American siege of Louisbourg in 1745. The fortress proved not to be as formidable and imposing as previously thought; it fell after only 46 days of siege. During the siege of Louisbourg, the Mi'kmaq busied themselves killing English settlers along the frontier. The Mi'kmaq were encouraged by Father la Loutre the "warrior priest." For obvious reasons la Loutre was a very unpopular man with the English authorities. I believe the governor referred to him as a "good-for-nothing scoundrel."
(I wonder: did the governor kiss his mother with that mouth? Such language...)
La Loutre lived among the Mi'kmaq and converted many of them to Catholicism. Like the Jesuits had done 100 years before, la Loutre learned the Mi'kmaq language and culture. In some respects, he viewed himself as a sort of "Moses of the Mi'kmaq." As a Christian figure, the priest was a strange contradiction: he loved the Mi'kmaq and wanted them to be free but he condoned and even encouraged murder. He is reputed to have paid Mi'kmaq hunters for English scalps (the French were at it again with the scalping thing). The English put a bounty on la Loutre's head. He was captured but not executed. Instead, the priest was sent to France where he received a hero's welcome. To tell you the truth the whole scalping theme in this unit has me wondering whether or not I ever want to visit either Quebec or France.
In 1748, the fort was returned to the French to preserve the peace in Europe. The Americans were not very pleased by this.