Beaubassin: On the Edge of Empires

On the Edge of Empires

Disputed Territories

                                                                                                                               Beaubassin was an Acadian village founded in 1671 and located on the Bay of Fundy. This was a contested area that was a major struggle between British and French authorities. The Acadians and Mi’kmaq who lived in this region were greatly impacted by this imperial struggle, despite demonstrating neutrality, as these authorities attempted to gain control over the territory and its people. Due to the existing strong relationship between the Acadians and the Mi’kmaq and the lives that they continued to build for themselves in Beaubassin, it was difficult for British and French authorities to directly control them. This area remained contested and resulted in a war that allowed the British to capture Port Royal, the capital of Acadia, in 1710. In the subsequent peace treaty, The Treaty of Utrecht, all the mainland Acadian settlements such as Beaubassin were placed under British control. It was difficult for the treaty to establish concrete boundaries in Nova Scotia because it divided Beaubassin, and the inhabitants had a different understanding of what these boundaries implied. On the map, the Bourgeois family may have had family and friends on opposite sides of the border lines, but their everyday life and interactions would have remained the same, as the inhabitants were not greatly influenced by these imperial lines. Additionally, while the Treaty of Utrecht did not place Beaubassin under direct British rule, it did allow Acadians to legally trade with New England, as they had been illegally trading prior to the treaty in 1713. The Bourgeois family likely maintained their trade of agricultural surplus with France and other French settlements through the use of a major road, guarded by French forts, which connected Beaubassin to Bay Verte.

     In the midst of British and French ongoing conflict, the Mi’kmaq were being pulled in multiple directions. Depending on their location and intentions, the Mi’kmaq communities had to individually decide who they would align themselves with. The Peace and Friendship treaties throughout the 1700s demonstrated the independence of the Mi’kmaq, as these treaties were signed by the British and Mi’kmaq representatives in hopes to co-exist peacefully on the land. While these treaties did not result in a full period of peace, they did bring each side into the negotiations and allowed for temporary peace. In many of these treaties, the Mi’kmaq were promised hunting and fishing rights on the land, as they firmly believed that they still controlled Mi’kma’ki (Nova Scotia). However, the British quickly claimed complete autonomy over Nova Scotia and refused to allow the Mi’kmaq the freedoms that they had promised them because it conflicted with British expansion.

    Despite the growing presence of the British in Nova Scotia, the French maintained control over the recently constructed Fortress of Louisbourg, a main trading port located on the North East coast of Ile Royale (Cape Breton Island). When the British briefly captured Louisbourg in 1745, this greatly affected French military presence in Nova Scotia. Controlling the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Fortress of Louisbourg gave the British access to a large portion of New France for trade and military purposes. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, signed in 1748, returned Louisbourg to the French which allowed them to regain control of this key trading post and military position. 

     During these conflicts, the Bourgeois family, along with other Acadians, wanted to maintain neutrality which increased tensions. French and British authorities wanted the Acadians to pledge an Oath of Allegiance to demonstrate their commitment to the respective monarchies, but the majority of them refused. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle impacted the Bourgeois family and the inhabitants of Beaubassin because this continual change in power influenced their ability to use Louisbourg as one of their trading posts. The Bourgeois family likely travelled along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but these times of conflict influenced the trading routes that they took as some were more dangerous than others. 

    After the British authorities were required to return Louisbourg back to the French, they established the city of Halifax in 1749 to maintain their hold in Nova Scotia. With their control of Annapolis Royal and the construction of Halifax, the British had near complete control over all naval traffic in the Bay of Fundy. The establishment of Halifax impacted the ability for the Bourgeois family and other Acadians to travel to trading posts outside of the Bay of Fundy, as the British created a naval barricade. The Acadians neutrality in French and British conflict was further tested when British authorities demanded that they take an Oath of Allegiance and show their support to Britain. The Bourgeois family likely refused to take the oath, as most Acadians did, and instead insisted that they were independent Acadians who wanted to remain neutral in the ongoing French and British conflict. Despite their frustrations, the British did not punish the Acadians for refusing.

The Acadians Attempt to Remain Neutral

     While not formally confronting the Acadians about their refusal to swear an Oath of Allegiance to Britain, the British authorities remained concerned about the independence shown by the Acadians in Beaubassin and their relationship with the neighbouring Mi’kmaq. British troops were sent to capture Beaubassin and ‘erase’ any French fortifications in the area. However, before they arrived, the Acadians and some Mi’kmaq allies burnt the village in a final bid to ensure the British did not take it for themselves. Most of the village was up in flames when British troops arrived and they were unable to set up a camp without fear of being targeted by French soldiers, Acadians, and the Mi'kmaq.

     Beaubassin's position at the centre of disputed territory caused the area to become militarised as French and British authorities continued fighting over it. In 1750, the British built Fort Lawrence which overlooked Beaubassin, and the French followed suit the following year with Fort Beausejour. With the construction of these forts, the Bourgeois family, like many Acadian families, found themselves in the midst of conflict, as there was a growing military presence in Beaubassin. Wanting to defeat the French and have control over Nova Scotia, British officials captured Fort Beausejour in June of 1755 with the assistance of Thomas Pichon, a French traitor and spy for the British. With financial incentives, British officials convinced Pichon to feed the French false information which minimized their defence tactics and made them more vulnerable. 

If you would like to learn more about Thomas Pichon, click here. 

     The British now had a large foothold within Nova Scotia because of their control over Fort Lawrence, Fort Beausejour, Halifax, and Annapolis Royal. Meanwhile, the French only had a hold on the Fortress of Louisbourg. Despite the rising pressures, many Acadians, and likely the Bourgeois family, still refused to pledge an Oath of Allegiance to Great Britain which caused British authorities to view the Acadians as disobedient French subjects, leading to their expulsion in the fall of 1755. This event was tragic and terrifying for Acadians because they were forced to leave their homes, separated from their families, threatened by British soldiers, and shipped off to unfamiliar and unwelcoming places. Most Acadians were sent to foreign places, such as South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Georgia, but some managed to escape to the nearby settlements of Quebec and Isle St-Jean (modern-day PEI). The Bourgeois family may have been one of the families forced out of their home, loaded onto a ship, and exposed to cramped, disease ridden, and unsanitary conditions. Those Acadians who had originally fled to Isle St-Jean were rounded up and expelled to France three years later, when Louisbourg fell to the British. As many as two thousand died in shipwrecks and from disease in that event. 

     With the families of Beaubassin deported, the Acadian village of Beaubassin had crumbled, wiped out by the continuous fight for control over present-day Maritime Canada. The expulsion of the Acadians marked the end of Beaubassin after a successful 84 years.

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