In the mid-eighteenth century there were a few small Acadian settlements along the Saint John River in what is now New Brunswick. Almost all of the inhabitants of these settlements belonged to a half dozen extended families: Alexandre Le Borgne de Bélisle and his sons-in-law Pierre and François Robichaud making up one, on the lower part of the river, and the Bergerons, D'Amours', Dugas', Godins, Parts, and Roys being the others, living higher up, near the present site of Fredericton.
A heads-of-families type census was made for these people in 1739 (Archives Nationales de France, Archives des Colonies, Series G1, Vol. 466, No. 29). This census shows that the Acadian settlements reached as far up as a point about a league below the Malecite Amerindian village at Ékoupahag (now Kingsclear). There were either 116 or 117 persons counted in this census, depending upon how many domestic servants Alexandre Le Borgne de Bélisle actually had, and they were divided among seventeen households.
Using genealogical records (as compiled for the two parts of the Dictionnaire généalogique des familles acadiennes), I have recently tried to determine how many families and individuals would have been living in this same little colony by the early autumn of 1755, when the Expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia began. According to my calculations, there would have been some thirty-nine families on the river by then. Given that none of the registers of the local Catholic mission survives, counting the individual members of these thirty-nine families as of 1755 becomes difficult, because most of what we know about them comes exclusively from records dating from 1763 or later. As it is very likely that significant numbers of individuals from this group died between 1755 and 1763, and that the only records of their existence would have been in the missing mission records, one has to suppose that the actual population in 1755 must have been substantially higher than that which can be established through looking only at the records from 1763 and later. In trying to set a reasonable total for this group, I consequently calculated two figures, one being the number of persons known from the records, and the other being the number of persons who might have existed, presuming that these families would have grown according to the norms observed elsewhere among the Acadians, where children came into the world very regularly every two years, and very few left it prematurely, because infant mortality was virtually negligible. By this means I concluded that there were at least 224 Acadians living along the river in 1755, and possibly as many as 312. Averaging these two numbers gives 268, and it seems to me very likely that the Acadian population in the area was very near to that at the time in question.
Things changed very rapidly in 1755. On June 16th of that year Fort Beauséjour surrendered. The British also hoped to capture Fort Ménagoèche, which the French maintained on the west side of what is now Saint John Harbour. (One should note that J. C. Webster pointed out, in a corrective note on page 273 of his second revised edition of W. O. Raymond's The River St. John [Sackville, N. B.: The Tribune Press, 1950], that Fort Latour--the one captured by Governor d'Aulnay in 1645--was at Portland Point, on the east side of the harbour. D'Aulnay destroyed that fort and built a new one on the west side of the harbour. The French subsequently rebuilt on this second site several times. In official correspondence they often simply called this "new" fort the "fort de la rivière Saint-Jean," but Raymond indicates that it was given the name of Ménagoèche [op. cit. (St. John, N. B.: John A. Bowes, 1910), p. 123].) According to a letter written July 24, 1755, by the French Governor General, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, to the Minister of the Navy in France (reproduced in Placide Gaudet's Acadian Genealogy and Notes, in the Report concerning Canadian Archives for the Year 1905 [Ottawa: S. E. Dawson, printer, 1906], Vol. II, Part III, p. 344), the British sent a force to seize Fort Ménagoèche, arriving before it on June 27th. Vaudreuil goes on to say that Charles Deschamps de Boishébert, the fort's commandant, realizing that he could not withstand a British attack, and that once installed in the fort the enemy could and would easily force the submission of the local Acadians, took the only course that seemed reasonable to him in the circumstances; he blew up Fort Ménagoèche and withdrew with his small contingent of troops upriver to some narrows, where he set up a fortified camp from which he would have a fair chance of repelling any British advance. A report written by Boishébert a month later (ibid., p. 176) makes his situation a bit clearer; his little contingent consisted of only 120 men, counting Natives.
Beginning in October 1755, the deportation ships began to leave Nova Scotia. Thanks to Boishébert's skillful manoeuvre in June, the Acadians living along the Saint John were not affected by that, at least to the extent of not being deported. But the Deportation was soon to have another sort of impact on them as refugees from other Acadian settlements began to arrive during the winter of 1755-1756. These came in two main groups that winter. There were some 232 persons belonging to thirty-six families from the snow Pembroke, which was to have carried them from Port-Royal to exile in North Carolina, but had brought them instead into the Saint John River after a successful mutiny led by Charles Belliveau (see Paul Delaney, "La reconstitution d'un rôle des passagers du Pembroke," Cahiers de la Société historique acadienne, Vol. XXXV , pp. 4-75), and then there were another 200 persons or so belonging to another group of about thirty families from Port-Royal who had managed to elude the British and make their way to Boishébert's outpost (Gaudet, op. cit., pp. 180, 182). There may have also been some families from the Petitcodiac, Memramcook, and Chipoudy settlements as well, for Boishébert reported that he had enlisted thirty of the most destitute families from those places to come to the Saint John River as soon as they could (ibid., p. 177), and Vaudreuil wrote on August 6, 1756, to the Minister of the Navy (ibid., p. 182) that Boishébert had had as many as 600 refugees to feed during the preceding winter. Vaudreuil stated in the same letter that another fifty persons belonging to five families and a group consisting of nine men had arrived on the river in mid-June 1756. The five families had come back up the coast from South Carolina by boat, and the nine men had come back from the same colony through the interior of the continent. The available food supply was stretched very thin as a consequence of the influx of all these refugees, and during the summer of 1756 most of them were sent to Québec, where their subsistence could be more readily secured (ibid.). Vaudreuil then ordered Boishébert to send any others for whom he could not provide on the Saint John River to the Miramichi (ibid., p. 183; see also Delaney, op. cit., pp. 18-19). Permission was also granted to sixteen of those who had returned from South Carolina to go over to île Saint-Jean (Gaudet, op. cit., p. 183).
The result of all of this was that things on the Saint John River more or less returned to the way they had been before the arrival of the refugees. Some slight changes in the local population inevitably occurred, however. The local surgeon, Philippe de Saint-Julien de La Chaussée, for example, having lost his first wife, Françoise Godin, found one of Charles Belliveau's daughters from the Pembroke, Marguerite, a suitable replacement, and he went with her to the Miramichi and then on to Chaleur Bay. Similarly, Joseph Boucher, who had been the widower of Marguerite Roy since at least 1753, selected another girl from the Pembroke, Marie-Anne Raymond, as his second wife, and by the summer of 1757 they had moved to Kamouraska. Michel Godin dit Beauséjour meanwhile wed Marguerite Guilbeau, who belonged to one of the thirty families from Port-Royal that had not been on the Pembroke. She was to meet a terrible and tragic end, as will soon appear.
In the summer of 1758 the British decided to take possession of the Saint John River. Louisbourg had fallen on July 26th, and they consequently had considerable troops more or less handy who could be deployed for the purpose. They anticipated a substantial resistance, and prepared accordingly. A force of 2000 men was assembled at Louisbourg consisting of 350 New England rangers, the second battalion of the Royal Americans, the 35th Regiment, and a large group of gunners, all of whom were placed under the command of Robert Monckton (Raymond, op. cit. [1910 ed.], p. 216). Monckton and his troops set sail from Louisbourg on August 28th to go to Halifax, and they left the latter place for Saint John on September 11th, aboard five transports, escorted by two sloops and one man-of-war (ibid., p. 217). They arrived at Saint John a week later, on the 18th. It is said that 200 Natives and a few Frenchmen waited in ambush for the British, but quietly retired upriver when they saw how large the British force was (ibid.). Monckton carefully noted in his journal that there was no one at Saint John to oppose the landing of his troops (ibid., p. 218). He found old Fort Ménagoèche still in ruins, just as Boishébert had left it three years earlier (ibid.). There was plenty of building material available, and Monckton had plenty of manpower, so he set his men to work on September 24th on rebuilding the fort, which was renamed Fort Frederick (ibid., pp. 220-221).
Once they learned of what was going on at the mouth of the river, most of the Acadians who resided upstream decided that their position was no longer tenable, and they left their homes to take refuge at Québec during the fall of 1758. The British were aware of this withdrawal and did nothing to oppose it, as is evident from a letter written on April 19, 1759, by General Jeffrey Amherst to the British Secretary of State, William Pitt: "By the intelligence it appears that the chief part of the inhabitants belonging to this river [the Saint John] went to Canada last fall . . . on Brigadier Monckton's taking post at St. John's." (quoted in ibid., p. 242)
The Acadian settlements were consequently almost deserted when Lieutenant Moses Hazen led his infamous raid up the Saint John River early in 1759. He and his men left Fort Frederick on February 19th (ibid.). Captain John Knox recorded in his journal that Hazen and his men burned 147 houses, two churches, and a great many barns. (Another contemporary source, a letter dated March 10th and quoted in the Pennsylvania Gazette of April 5, 1759, states that 147 was the total number of buildings destroyed.) They found only one house occupied. According to Knox, this house was reportedly situated away from the others, in a thick forest (ibid., p. 243). Hazen and his men pursued the inhabitants, killing and scalping six and making prisoners of six others, while another five got away (ibid., p. 242). Knox wrote that the six who had been killed were all men, but Vaudreuil reported that they were in reality two women and four children (ibid.). The truth of Vaudreuil's statement is borne out by declarations later made by the survivors, who were sent to Halifax and then deported from there via England to Cherbourg in France. Joseph Godin dit Beauséjour identified the two women in a memorial dated January 15, 1774 (Archives départementales de Calvados, Caen, Dossier C 1020) as his daughter Anastasie and his daughter-in-law Marguerite Guilbeau. One of the four children was Marguerite Guilbeau's son. The three others all belonged to Anastasie, as is additionally attested by testimony during the ecclesiastical inquiry held on January 20, 1761, regarding her widower Eustache Part's request for a dispensation to permit him to marry to his second cousin, Anne Melanson (M. Godret, "Mariages acadiens à Cherbourg," Racines & Rameaux français de l'Acadie, No. 26 , pp. 10-11). To give him due credit, it must be noted that W. O. Raymond deeply deplored this atrocity (op. cit. [1910 ed.], pp. 242-243).
The fact that the other Acadians from the Saint John River had taken refuge at Québec is confirmed by mention of some of them in the parish records there. For example, Raphaël Bergeron and Pierre-Ignace Chandonné were baptized there in early February 1759, and Joseph Roy, the two-year-old son of Joseph Roy and Marie-Agnès D'Amours de Chauffours, was buried there on January 4, 1759. The absence of further records at Québec suggests that their sojourn there was relatively brief.
Certainly by the latter part of the summer of 1759, the invasion of Canada by the British would have left these Acadians little incentive to remain at Québec. Then the battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13th sealed the fate of the French in North America. After that most Acadians would have probably been of the opinion that it would be better to try to reach some sort of accommodation with the British back on the land that had so long been their home, rather in a city where they were no more than strangers and refugees. Of all the Acadians then in Québec, only those from the Saint John River would have actually been in a position to return to their former homes.
The news of the surrender of Québec was brought to Fort Frederick on the following October 18th by three Acadian deputies who sought to make submission on their own behalf and on behalf of those they represented in exchange for permission to resettle upon their farms (ibid., p. 250). The commandant at Fort Frederick, Colonel Arbuthnot, required all the Acadians, numbering around 200, to come down to the fort to await the decision of the authorities in Halifax (ibid.). On February 26, 1760, Father Germain, the Jesuit assigned to the Saint John River mission, wrote to Vaudreuil that he had returned to his post on the preceding November 1st, only to find that all the inhabitants had gone down to the English fort with their families (Gaudet, op. cit., p. 196). Governor Charles Lawrence meanwhile ordered Colonel Arbuthnot to send all the Acadians at Fort Frederick to Halifax as prisoners (Raymond, op. cit. [1910 ed.], p. 251).
Transports were sent from Halifax to collect the people (ibid.). Sergeant John Burrell noted in his diary that the Acadian men were put aboard the transports on Sunday, January 27, 1760, that the women and children were embarked the following day, and that the transports set sail the day after that (ibid., p. 252). The vessels arrived at Halifax on or about February 11th.
The original plan was to deport the Saint John River Acadians to England (ibid., p. 251), but that did not happen. Instead, they were simply kept with other Acadian prisoners in the Halifax area. It is likely that most, if not all, of them were sent to Massachusetts in the abortive deportation of 1762, and then were sent right back to Nova Scotia. The lists of the Acadians who wished to be repatriated to French territory in 1763 (Archives Nationales de France, Archives du Ministère des Affaires étrangères, Correspondance politique, Angleterre, Vol. 451, fol. 59-61) show that the great majority of the Acadians who had formerly resided on the Saint John River were still there in Halifax when the war finally ended in 1763.