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Updated on May 8, 2011

Acadia was the name applied by France to its Atlantic coastal possessions in North America, which in the 17th century comprised the territory between the Atlantic Ocean and the lower river and gulf of St. Lawrence. The name in French is Acadie. The word, which is of Micmac origin, was first used in 1603 in a commission issued to the sieur de Monts by the French government.

De Monts' colony was originally established on the island of St Croix (near present-day Calais, Maine) in 1604 but was transferred to Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) in 1605. It was abandoned in 1607 following the cancellation of his charter. Port Royal was revived in 1610 by Jean de Biencourt de Poutrin-court, one of de Monts' associates. But he was forced to return to France in search of financial assistance, and during his absence the infant settlement was plundered and burned by the English adventurer Samuel Argall in 1613.

In 1614, Poutrincourt, returning and finding Port Royal in ruins, took most of the colonists back to France. After his death in 1615 his son and successor, Charles de Biencourt, neglected the settlement and lived off the fur trade. When Biencourt died in 1623 or 1624, Charles de St. fitienne de La Tour became the colony's leader.

Meanwhile, in 1621, Sir William Alexander had been given a grant of Nova Scotia by James I of England. Encouraged by Sir David Kirke's capture of Quebec, Alexander besieged Cape Sable in 1629. Charles de La Tour refused to surrender it, although summoned to do so by his father who had defected to the English. Port Royal, which was captured by Alexander's son' Sir William in 1629, was returned to France in 1632.

Perturbed by Alexander's incursions, France then made its first real effort to aid the Acadians. It sent out an able and energetic lieutenant governor, Isaac de Razilly, under whom the colonists made substantial progress in the cultivation of the soil as well as in the shore fishery and the fur trade. Following Razilly's death in 1635, a feud developed between his successors, Charles de La Tour and Charles de Menou d'Aulnay. The latter gained the upper hand and secured appointment as governor of all Acadia in 1641. Under d'Aulnay's capable administration the colony prospered until his death in 1650.

Four years of confusion ensued, marked by bitter rivalry between Charles de La Tour, who was appointed governor in 1651, and Emmanuel Le Borgne, one of d'Aulnay's creditors, who took over d'Aulnay's properties in Port Royal.

The New England colonists quickly took advantage of this dissension. An expedition from Boston led by Robert Sedgwick overran Acadia in 1654. An English garrison was placed in Port Royal, and the area remained in English hands until Charles II restored Acadia to France by the Treaty of Breda (1667).

France failed to strengthen the colony's defenses, and in 1690 Port Royal fell an easy prey to a New England force under Sir William Phips in King William's War. Restored again to France in 1697, Port' Royal was retaken by the New Englanders in 1710. It was renamed Annapolis Royal when, with the rest of Acadia, it was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713).

Stung by the loss of Acadia, the French built a fort at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, which lay outside the ceded territory. Louisbourg was captured in 1745 by the American colonial troops in King George's War, but it was returned to the French by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). Thereupon the British founded Halifax and demanded a binding oath of loyalty from the Acadians, with the option of withdrawing into French territory. Their refusal to accept either alternative caused the British to comply with repeated New England requests for the expulsion of the Acadians.

The expulsion of the Acadians in 1755 has been defended as an act of military and political necessity, but it undoubtedly caused great hardship and suffering. Many of the refugees eventually settled in Louisiana. (The Acadians' plight was movingly described by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his celebrated poem Evangeline.) Historians say responsibility for the tragedy rests mainly with the French officials and the priests, who had convinced the Acadians that they still owed allegiance to France.

Some 6,000 Acadians, out of a total of 10,000, were expelled. But 2,000 of the exiles later returned and, together with those who had not been evicted, were peacefully assimilated into the population of Nova Scotia and became loyal subjects of the British crown.


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