Tatamagouche, NS

A day-trip from The Belgravia

Visit the Acadian Settlement at Tatamagouche

It is little known in the year 2004 that there once existed a thriving little village of Acadian settlers at Tatamagouche. Nor is it commonly known that it was from this very location that the infamous expulsion of the Acadians by the British, in 1755, first began.

Tatamagouche was first settled by the French about 1700, at or near a major summer campsite of the native Mi'Kmag, who had traditionally used the area for hundreds of years. The village established by the Acadians was located up from the shore of Tatamagouche Harbour in the area east of the mouth of the French River. This area where the two rivers meet was ideal in that it provided an early view of any potential attackers approaching by water.

The core Acadian village at Tatamagouche is thought to have consisted of no more than a dozen or so families, but there were other families dispersed along the marshlands and uplands upstream along the French and Waugh Rivers. Though sparsely populated, Tatamagouche formed an important link on the trade route between the larger settlements around the Bay of Fundy, and Prince Edward Island (Isle St. Jean) and Louisburg. This route overland from Masstown, through Tatamagouche and along the Northumberland Strait, allowed for the movement of provisions and cattle between the Acadian settlements and Louisburg, by avoiding the British patrols and privateers along the Atlantic coast.

The French garrison at the fortress of Louisburg provided an important market for the farm produce and livestock of the Acadian settlements. From Cunard to Masstown to Tatamagouche, the supplies for the fort traveled. In return, the settlers obtained gold and silver in payment, and it is rumored that in those uncertain times it was tradition to bury their valuables in the ground for safekeeping.

The village Tatamagouche of two hundred and fifty years ago consisted of a chapel, warehouses and of course, dwellings and barns. There was undoubtedly a wharf, probably near the location of the present Trans-Canada Trail Bridge at the mouth of the French River, where the river channel is closest to shore. The chapel and cemetery were located up the hill on land immediately adjacent to the present Balmoral Motel, a tract of wooded land which to this day has been left undeveloped in acknowledgement of the scattering of graves known to exist there.

In other areas of the surrounding district, evidence can still be found of the activities of these hard-working people. Along the riverbanks of the French River for instance, there still remain the dykes and levees built nearly three centuries ago to reclaim the salt marsh for hayland. On aerial photos can still be seen the old drainage ditches and roads leading to the uplands. On the Clark property (owned by your Belgravia hosts) near the head of the tide, are the known locations of at least three former Acadian dwelling sites. This author remembers as a boy working on the farm, of plowing or harrowing over these sites and finding numerous broken fragments of dishware, pottery, clay tobacco pipes and metal utensils. None of these sites have ever been scientifically dug up or studied.

Without going into any detail here on the background history or the political reasoning leading to the expulsion of these people, suffice it is to say that plans were drawn up to do so by Governor Charles Lawrence and his Council in Halifax, representing the British government. Orders were given to Capt. Abijah Willard, a New Englander from Lancaster, Massachusetts, then serving at Fort Cumberland near the present Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border, to proceed to Tatamagouche with a force of one hundred irregular soldiers, including a contingent of New England Rangers, to carry out the removal of the local Acadian population.

At 4 AM on Aug 14, 1755, Willard and his force broke camp on the Isgonish River, near present day Debert, and marched overland to Tatamagouche, arriving first at the farm of Francis Boys (Francois Bois?) at the head of tide on the French River. From there the force proceeded to the main village where Willard made his headquarters at the home of Joseph Blanchard.

Using the ruse that he needed to learn how many of the residents were friendly to the English, the word was circulated to all households that evening that all heads of families were to appear before Willard at his headquarters the next morning.

By nine in the morning of the following day about twenty Acadian men had arrived and were ordered into one of the houses. The Acadians apparently had come without any suspicion of their fate. Once Willard had all the men inside the house he dispatched forty of his troops to Remsheg, another settlement twelve miles to the west. The remaining sixty of his force he used to confine the Acadian men to the house they were in, and to search other houses for guns.

As his orders were being carried out, Willard entered the house and informed his prisoners they were to be removed from Tatamagouche and their village destroyed. The prisoners tried to negotiate, offering to pledge allegiance to the British or to voluntarily move their families to l'Isle Saint Jean. Both options Willard refused, telling them he did not have the authority to grant them. When asked about the fate of their families, Willard did agree to leave them behind as he did not want the trouble of the women and children on the forced march to Fort Cumberland.

The Acadian men were kept closely confined and guarded in the house that day and night. At noon the next day, Willard and a troop of his soldiers set about the destruction of the dozen or so buildings in the main village. Amongst the dwellings, barns and stables were two warehouses containing supplies destined for Louisburg, including sugar, molasses, rum, wine and iron ware. The troops took care to save the rum, then set all the buildings on fire. By the end of the day all that was left of Tatamagouche was smoke and ashes.

The burning of the village completed, Willard gathered his troops and marched his prisoners off to the cries and sobs of the women and children left destitute behind.

After a march of several miles, the force reached another small settlement of four houses and two barns. This was possibly the settlement at the head of tide on the French River. There the force camped for the night and were treated kindly by their Acadian hosts. The next morning in return for the hospitality they received, the troops burned all the buildings in that place before setting march again to Isgonish, a distance of twenty miles, which they reached late that same day.

More than a week later, on August 26, Capt. Willard and his force arrived at Fort Cumberland where he turned over his twenty-two Acadian prisoners to the British. As to the destiny of the Tatamagouche Acadians, all that is known is that on October 13, 1755, a fleet of ten vessels set sail from Fort Cumberland with 960 Acadians, bound for South Carolina and Georgia.

Of the women and children left at Tatamagouche, little is known. They were hardy pioneer people and they certainly would not have starved at that season of the year. It is doubtful that all of the outlying farms were destroyed. It is thought they may have been assisted by the local friendly Mi'Kmaq. Or perhaps they were rescued by French compatriots from Isle Saint Jean, or Quebec. It is known, however, that for another three or four years there were still a few Acadians living and hiding in the Tatamagouche area.

In an interesting, little-known twist to the cruel conspiracy of events which expelled over 7,000 people from the colony, that had the orders been postponed for one month it is unlikely the deportation would ever have happened at all. On August 13, 1755, the British Ministry wrote to Lawrence that the Acadians could be trusted to keep "possession of their settlements." Slow communications in those times prevented the letter from arriving until November, when most of the Acadians were already being transported on ships to other British colonies.

Too little is known in present times of the tenure of the Acadian people at Tatamagouche. There is little evidence of the final destiny of the adult males expelled from the village, or of the women and children left behind to fend for themselves, the only Acadian settlement where this was allowed to happen.

When the first English speaking settlers arrived at Tatamagouche about 1770, the district was deserted. From hearsay passed down through generations, it would seem the new settlers took over the cleared farmlands for themselves. There was little else of use, Willard and his men having destroyed the buildings, mills, chapel and anything else of value.

It would seem that none of the deported Acadians ever returned to the area, at least not to resettle. So ended the short, but historically important tenure of the French at Tatamagouche.

Today, the Village of Tatamagouche is a thriving, vibrant community, and one of the most enjoyable places to explore in Nova Scotia.

Notes by David C. Clark, Canadian Author