History of the
Madawaska Acadians

This is the forest primeval;
but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers --
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed...
Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pre.

-- Evangeline,
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

ACADIA -- The name was first used by explorer Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 for the Outer Banks area of North Carolina. In 1548, the mapmaker Gastaldi moved the designation north, to what is now Maine and Atlantic Canada. The colony of Acadia itself was founded in 1604, when the King of France granted a ten-year monopoly on all fishing and fur trading in the region to Pierre Duguay, Sieur de Monts.

The first settlement, on the unsheltered St. Croix (Dochet) Island, quickly proved inappropriate, and the colony, buildings and all, moved in 1605 to a location on the shore, Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, N.S.), in 1605. De Monts had had enough however, and returned to France. His proprietorship was revoked and the colony (with its seat officially at Port Royal) languished without leadership from 1607 to 1610, when its former governor, Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt, resumed control. Acadia was soon involved in the imperial struggle that would end -- in America -- with the French and Indian Wars.

Although destroyed in 1613 by English colonists under Samuel Argall, Port Royal was rebuilt, and the colony prospered with its fertile fisheries offshore, ample furs in the forests, and in particular, its very productive dyke-protected fields. Many of the settlers were from the Poitou region of France, where the dyking of the Vendee marshes had been carried out for centuries, so this was familiar work for them. Working together, the Acadians were able to build and maintain complex dykes (the tops of which doubled as roadways) and create productive farmland from salt water marshes that the British passed by as useless. The British prefered to cut down all the trees on a piece of land and farm it until it was barren, then find another plot of land. Ironically, the British looked upon the Acadians as lazy because of this efficiency, and disdainfully called them "Les Defrichheurs D’eau," "the movers of water."

But Acadia, located between the competing colonies of Quebec and New England, was at the center of international strife in the New World. In 1628/29, Sir William Alexander, with a colony of Scottish Calvinists, seized Port Royal, holding it until 1632, when the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye returned the area to France. With peace established between France and England, Cardinal Richelieu ordered Captain Isaac de Razilly to take possession of the colony. Razilly was named Lieutenant Governor of New France and with the help of his brother Claude, he recruited skilled workers -- artisans, journalists, soldiers -- and some families to strenghten the colony. They first settled at La Hève, where they stayed for four years before resettling at Port Royal in 1636.

In 1654, the British reoccupied Acadia. In 1670, the French regained control. In 1710 the British reclaimed the colony, changing its name to its modern designation of "Nova Scotia", and finally, in 1713, France ceded Acadia for good to Britain through the Treaty of Utrecht.

Through all this time, the actual colonists had struggled to remain neutral, regardless of who the "official" rulers of their territory was. In fact, the French settlements in Acadia essentially governed themselves and actually flourished in relative isolation for over 100 years. With the final British possession of all of Acadian Canada in 1713, the Acadians entered a 40 year period of uneasy relations with their new rulers, refusing to swear allegiance to the English King or to take up arms against their brethren in French Quebec. Their stubborn refusal to take sides earned them the title of French Neutrals. In 1755, their situation took a turn for the worse, as Le Grand Derangement began....

IN THE Acadian land, on the shores of the Basin of Minas,
Distant, secluded, still, the little village of Grand-Pre
Lay in the fruitful valley. Vast meadows stretched to the eastward,
Giving the village its name, and pasture to flocks without number.
Dikes, that the hands of the farmers had raised with labor incessant,
Shut out the turbulent tides....
There, in the midst of its farms, reposed the Acadian village.
Strongly built were the houses, with frames of oak and of chestnut,
Such as the peasants of Normandy built in the reign of the Henries...

-- Evangeline

On September 5, 1755, under the orders of Lieutenant Governor Lawrence, the British Governor of Acadia, the Acadian farmers of Nova Scotia were forcibly arrested and crowded onto English ships -- to be scattered throughout the British empire. Families were separated, possessions burned, and shipboard conditions were crowded and unhealthy. As many as half of the Acadians rounded up and put on these ships would die before reaching port.

But not all the Acadians were living in Nova Scotia. A number of families had already settled by the old Fort Latour, across the Bay of Fundy from their neighbors in Nova Scotia, up the St. John River (New Brunswick). The river had appeared on a map as early as 1604, when Champlain charted it as a member of De Monts' expedition. In 1631, LaTour built a fort at its mouth, which d'Aulnay Charnisay destroyed 10 years later as part of their internal maneuvering for control of Acadia. Charnisay then built another fort across the harbor, which the English eventually took.

The Malecite settlement on the river formed the original base for the Acadians. The Malecites were a very warlike people, much more so than the neighboring Micmacs, and they tended to work in league with the Native American tribes of Maine and Canada against the British colonists of New England. In fact, the name Malecite is derived from the Micmac term "Malesse'jik," meaning, "he speaks badly," because the Micmacs found the Maliseet language so difficult to understand. The Malecites, on the other hand, called themselves Wabannakai, or Men of the East, so it is not too much of a stretch to find them related to the Abanaki of Maine...

In 1701, the population of the St. John settlement was only about 50 people. In 1732, a larger group of Acadians, fleeing the British forces who had taken possession of Nova Scotia under the Treaty of Utrecht, settled in the area where Old Government House in Fredericton stands today, and called their community "Sainte-Anne des Pays-Bas (Ste. Anne's Point). A 1733 French census counted 83 people in 15 families. By 1755 and the Grand Derangement, approximately two thousand Acadians were scattered over several small villages along the river -- at Grimrose, Jemseg, Nashwack, Ecoupag, and Ste. Anne. Despite constant British harassment, the lower St. John Valley remained the only significant Acadian settlement in New Brunswick at the time.


In part, the community survived because of a combination of the resourcefulness of the Acadian settlers, their strong friendship with the local Native Americans, and the dashing presence of the French military leader Charles des Champs de Boishébert. In 1749, the French authorities at Quebec sent 30 men to the St. John River under Boishébert's leadership to take possession of the territory at its mouth and prevent the English from settling there. He maintained a fort near Grimrose, and many of the settlers (and refugees from other parts of Acadia) settled in the area under his protection.

An accomplished woodsman and sailor, Boishébert was a major thorn in the side of the British and he was involved in the only major success by the Acadians against the British. In 1755, the British transport Pembroke became the only Deportation ship ever captured by the Acadians, and this ship and its settlers remained in the St. John River community under Boishébert's protection.


General Monckton continued to raid the area, however, and eventually forced out Boishébert. As Monckton's Rangers raided and burned down the Acadian villages, they massacred a number of settlers they caught -- armed or unarmed. Ste-Anne was torched, and the surviving settlers fled to the forests once again, to live in hiding for the next eight years.

With the assistance of Boishébert and their local Malecite allies, the Acadians managed to survive. In 1761, it is reported that as many as 40 Acadians still lived in the area of Ste-Anne. Records show that two of those families are those of Joseph and François Martin.

The 1763 Treaty of Paris allowed many deportees to return to their homes, but on arrival they discovered that their old lands were now inhabited by English colonists, and Ste-Anne had become Fredericton. Determined to live in peace, they moved farther up the St. John valley to Ecoupag, the French Village, and Kennebeccassis.

Only along the shore of the mournful and misty Atlantic
Linger a few Acadian peasants, whose fathers from exile
Wandered back to their native land to die in its bosom...

-- Evangeline

The exile community here was fairly successful for a time. The Acadians cleared land and settled down, hoping to have their land grants approved by the British government, now that the war with France was over.

Some of the more experienced couriers de bois served as "express carriers" -- essentially mail carriers who kept open the lines of communication between Quebec and Halifax. As such, they were quite familiar with the waters of the upper St. John River, and the fertile valley on either side.

This knowledge would prove critical in the years ahead. In 1785, English Loyalists, fleeing American territory in the aftermath of the American Revolution, would forcibly evict the Acadians from their new homes. The government officials in Quebec and New Brunswick, despite earlier promises of protection, offered no redress. Some of the displaced families we know of are: Simon Joseph Daigle, Louis Mercure, Paul Mazerolle, Mathurin Mazerolle, François Hébert, François Godin, Jean Baptiste Daigle, Baptiste Viennaux, Louis Lejeune, Pierre Pinette, Joseph King (Roi), Alexis Thibodeau, the two Martin families, Pierre Mazerolle and Mathurin Gotreau. There is even a "Pierre Michaud" in residence, probably a Kamouraska courier de bois.

Louis Mercure and Simon Joseph Daigle, as experienced "express carriers", organized the 24 leading families, including the Martin, Cyr, Lizotte and Dubé families, to petition the government for permission to sell their lands for the promise of two hundred acres on the upper St. John River to the head of each family. Determined to live unaccosted, the families traveled up the St. John Valley, beyond Grand Falls -- where the British ships could not follow -- to the area called "the Madawaska", the Native American word for "the Land of the Porcupine..." More than half of the Acadian colony of the lower St. John would leave within the year for the Madawaska settlement. Others moved to Memramcook, Miramichi, Tracadie, Caraquet and Pisiquit.

Humbly Showith.

That your petitioners are descended from the early settlers of Acadia at the time it was under the dominion of France and have been educated in the Roman Catholic persuasion....

That your petitioners are encumbered with large families for whose settlement in life they look forward with much anxiety and it is their earnest wish to see them settled around them on lands of their own which they cannot expect in the part of the country where they now dwell....

That your petitioners are informed the government offers encouragement in lands to such person as shall settle high up the River St-John which your petitioners are desirous of doing...

That having always demeanered themselves since the cession of Acadia to Great Britain as faithful, peaceable, and industrious subjects and settlers, your petitioners humbly pray that lands proprotioned to the number of their families may be granted to them and their children at a place called the Madawaska, between the Seven Islands and the River de Vert (Green River) on the River St-John.

Your petitioners as in duty bound shall ever pray...


In June of 1785, upon setting foot on the banks of the St. John River at St. David, Maine (near the modern town of Madawaska), Joseph Daigle directed the erecting of a large wooden cross at their landing site -- this was the first Acadian Cross. The Acadian refugees had finally found a permanent home, after 30 years of persecution and flight. By 1790, the British would finally affirm the land claims for the Acadian families on the banks of the St. John.

By the time of their 1831 survey for the State of Maine, Deane and Kavanagh reported that "Almost all of [the Madawaska settlers] tan their own leather, make their own shoe-packs and Canada boots, and make also their implements of husbandry, which are of rude construction and poor. The females manufacture the wool and flax of the raw material, until it is made into garments to wear, or other articles for domestic use. They also manufacture large quantities of Sugar from the rock-maple. Many hunt in autumn. The men appear to live easy and work only a portion of the time, which must be attributed to the productiveness of the soil. The women appear in all the houses to be spinning, weaving, preparing the cloth, and making it up for use..."

There is a misconception that, because the Acadians had little formal education, they were only simple farmers without other skills. Actually, they were great improvisors and skilled craftsmen. It's interesting to look at the passenger lists of the Acadians who were shipped to Louisiana as a reference, since many of them listed an occupation for each head of family and adult child. The majority of Acadian males on these lists, the fathers, brothers and cousins of the Madawaska Acadians, listed their occupation as either sailor or carpenter.

The Acadians had to make due with what the local environment provided. Trade goods from the outside world were scarce and very expensive. With no blacksmith and little metal, they made their tools, boats and homes from wood and became expert carvers and joiners. The English looked down upon the Acadian settlers for having such simple needs, and considered their wooden homes and tools to be quite primitive. But the Acadian houses of the St. John valley were actually very sturdy and innovative in their construction. The Acadians from Ste-Anne had been, like Joseph Daigle, fishermen and boatbuilders, as well as farmers. So, using their woodworking skill, they built their houses using traditional "ship's knees" for support, and wooden walls of squared logs caulked like boats -- with a waterproof mixture of flax, unburnt lime, and buckwheat seed. Even the cross beams were cut slightly narrower at their ends, just like the sturdy boats they used to navigate the highway at their front door, the St. John River.


This is a composite of the three local flags of the Madawaska Republic -- the yellow Star of Mary of the 1884 Acadian flag, the porcupine and gold stars of the Madawaska Historical Society's 1985 bicentennial, and the eagle and red stars of John Baker's 1827 Aroostook Republic. It also manages to include the red, blue and white colors of both the French Tricolor and the US Stars and Stripes, and the red, gold and blue colors of the New Brunswick provincial flag.

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