Yarmouth Vanguard, August 21, 1990
Much has been said of the way that the Acadians lived before the Expulsion. Most of this has come down to us through tradition. In fact, what has been written in this regard is somewhat scanty. Longfellow, in his poem Evangeline, tells us in a few words what he knew of the “Acadie” of that era, that he calls the “home of the happy, of peace and contentment where dwelt together in love the simple Acadians (and where) the richest was poor, and the poorest lived in abundance.”
Among the written descriptions dating from that time, one of the best comes from a medical doctor, who was to be, for a number of years, a Representative in the Massachusetts House, and a Colonel. His name was Robert Hale, of Beverly, just north of Salem. Born in 1703, he graduated in 1721 at Harvard College. In 1731, he made a voyage to Nova Scotia in the schooner “Cupid,” of which he was co-owner and co-master. He consigned the journey in a journal with minute and very precise details, jotting down the occurrences of about every hour of the day, starting on Monday, June 7 (old style) up to the time he “arrived home on Wednesday 14 (of July) at 3 a.m.” He was accocmpanied by three others, one of whom was the pilot. They were bringing merchandise to Annapolis and to Chignecto, plus 106 gallons of rum.
After describing everything that he saw along the Maine coast and everything that happened up to Grand Manan, when they headed for Long Island, its lower end was sighted on Sunday, the 20th, at 3 a.m. They were to follow the coast up to Digby Gut, where they arrived at 1 p.m. that same afternoon. At 4 p.m. “an Indian came off in his canoe to us, with his squaw, 2 papouses and dog. He was wretchedly poor.” Two hours later, “2 Frenchmen came on board us, one of whom had wooden shoes on, the first that I ever saw,” writes Hale.
He then gives a very accurate description of Annapolis, but does not tell us anything about the Acadians there, except that, on his way, he saw here and there groups of 4 to 12 houses that he calls villages, they being of “French people, for no English live here, but near the Fort.” He adds: “I’m informed the French are settled also for 30 miles up the river.” He says that he saw also “a small beach where the French dry their fish, and upon it, a small cross, they being allowed the free exercise of their religion though Subjects of the King of Great Britain.”
While in Annapolis, “one of the Drummers at the Fort was buried, at whose interment–as is the custom–12 men fired three volleys.” June 22, “a soldier was whipped 20 Lashes for getting drunk.”
Wednesday, June 23, they left at 11 a.m. for Chignecto, i.e., “to Meskquesh, the Chief Village” (see sketch No. 58), where they arrived on Friday, the 25th, after navigating in waters “as thick as mud.” Here they were to fetch a load of coal, which “has been dug here this 30 years.” It did not take him long to realize that “there is abundance of mosquitoes here, so that in calm hot day, tis almost impossible to live, especially among the trees.” The wind being strong here, “the people build all their houses low, with large timber and sharp roofs not one house being 10 feet to the eaves.”
Sunday afternoon, the 27th, with his pilot, “being an interpreter, Hale left for “Worshcock,” that is Westcock, close to the mouth of the Tantramar River, two miles south of Sackville. They were well recieved; “the French entertained us with much civility and courtesy,” says Hale. This was his first contact with the Acadians of the region. They lodged that night in Meskquesh.
Next morning, Monday, June 28, he writes that at “5 a.m. I rose and after breakfast walked about to see the place. There are but about 15 or 20 houses or churches, one of which they hang out a flag morning and evening for prayers. To the other, the priest goes once a day only.” He then describes how the priest would go to give communion to the sick, dressed in his cassock or soutane, “habited like a fool in petticoats, with a man after him with a bell in one hand ringing at every door, and a lighted candle and lanthorn in other.”
In the afternoon he went to see an Indian trader named Pierre Asneau. That is when he tells us that “Money is the worst commodity a man can have here and the people here don’t care to take it.” Governor Richard Philipps, by a proclamation, had decreed that “all in this province are obliged to take Massachusetts bills in payment”; but Massachusetts money, hardly anybody had. That is why the people here “trade little among themselves, everyone raising himself what he wants.” Hale adds: “When I came to pay my reckoning (or acount) at the Tavern, the landlord had but 5 pence in money (that is 5 pennies), though he is one of the wealthiest in the place.”
This landlord is where he lodged, he calls him William Sears; this was Guillaume Cyr, 52 years of age, father of six children. That same evening, he says that “Just about bedtime, we were surprised to see some of the family on their knees paying their devotions to the Almighty and others near them talking and smoking. This they do all of them, mentally but not orally, every night and morning.
Then he goes on, describing the people. “The women here differ as much in their clothing–besides wearing of wooden shoes–from those of New England as they do in features and complexion, which is dark enough by living in the smoke in the summer to defend themselves against the mosquitoes, and in the winter against the cold. Their clothes are good enough, but they look as if they were pitched on with pitchforks, and very often their stockings are down about their heels.” With regard to the houses, he writes “they have but one room in their houses besides a cockloft (or some small garret), cellar and sometimes a closet. Their bedrooms are made something after the manner of a sailor’s cabin, but boarded all round about the bigness of the bed, except one little hole on the foreside, just big enough to crawl into, before which is a curtain drawn and a step to get into it. There stands a chest. They have not above two or three chairs in a house, and those wooden ones, bottom and all. I saw but two mugs among all the French and the lip of one of them was broken down above two inches. When they treat you with strong drinks, they bring it in a large basin and give you a porringer to dip it with,” which is a low one-handled metal bowl or cup for children.
Having said this, he goes on to tell us that the following day, Tuesday, June 29, they left at 3 p.m. for home. He describes his return with as many details as he had given us previously, up to the time that they tied up at the wharf at Charlestown, close to Boston; that was Thursday evening, July 8 at 10:30. It took them four days, from the 9th till the 12th, to unload “40 Chaldron Seacoal” they had brought; a caldron was worth 32 bushels in London; by seacoal is meant pit-coal or mineral coal, by opposition to charcoal.
Two days later, July 14, he arrived home in Beverly “and found my family in good health.”