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Forts Lawrence and Cumberland

Now let my readers accompany me to that narrow neck of land which connects New Brunswick with Nova Scotia, and is known as the Isthmus of Chignecto. When Port Royal and La Tour were first erected, the settlements of France and England were very insignificant, but now we come to a time when Quebec and Montreal were towns of considerable importance, and the English colonies were rapidly increasing in population and wealth. I n the middle of the last century the French had a fort at the mouth of the Missiquash, one of the streams which empty into Cumberland Basin. These were times when there were many apprehensions entertained by the British authorities in Port Royal and Halifax as to the good faith of the large settlements of Acadian French which had in the course of a hundred and fifty years established themselves in the most fertile section of the Province. Under these circumstances the erection of Fort Beau S6jour, in the vicinity of Beaubassin, one of the most important French Acadian settlements, near the site of Amherst, induced Major Lawrence to send a British force to the Isthmus of Chignecto and build another fort on the opposite side of the river, and which was named after the Governor himself. Then, in the course of a few months, ensued a series of hostilities between the French and English, but the final result was the destruction of the Village of Beaubassin and the capture of Beau Séjour, which was then named Fort Cumberland a name which has since been given to a large and prosperous country. With the history of every French fort in Acadia the name of some famous Frenchman is intimately associated. The heroism and perseverance of De Poutrincourt and La Tour threw a halo of romance around the early annals of Acadia. The name of Le Lontre, for some years one of the French missionaries, can never be for gotten in any sketch of the history of Beaubassin and Beau Séjour. His enemies describe him and no man in Acadia had more enemies among the British as a compound of craft and cruelty, and it is quite certain that he hated the English and resorted to every means, whether fair or foul, to prevent their successful settlement of Acadia. That beneath his black robe beat the courageous heart of a soldier, the following incident of the siege of Beau Séjour shows full well: When the commandant, Vergor, was almost driven to despair by the perils which threatened him, Le Lontre alone appears to have preserved that composure which, to do him justice, never deserted him in the hour of danger ; and day after day he walked on the ramparts, smoking his pipe, and urging the men to renewed exertions, though the bullets whistled all around him. It is truly said, had the spirit of the habitans been always equal to that of their priest, Beau Séjour would not have fallen as soon as it did.

The country around the old forts presents a charming combination of pastoral and water scenery. Here, too, is a large expanse of marsh land, where some of the fattest cattle of America find a bounteous pasture and the farmers grow rich in the course of a few years. The landscape presents a vast sea of verdure, relieved by the Cobequid Mountains in the distance, by glimpses of the sea, by clusters of white houses, and by placid rivers which wind through a country where nature has been most lavish of its gifts. No traces now remain of Fort Lawrence; a little cottage is said to stand on its exact site; but we can still see ruins of Fort Cumberland a short distance off, across the stream. It is in the shape of a pentagon, or fort of five bastions, which once mounted thirty or forty guns of large caliber. We can see the remains of the old barracks, and the cannon which did service for both the French and English in old times. The casemates are still in a good state of preservation, for they were made of solid brick-work. The magazine is outside of the walls, on the seaward side, and is a substantial building. Every spot of ground has its historic associations. As we passed, a sum-mer ago, into one of the casemates, we recollected the story of the havoc made by a British shell which came directly through the opening and killed several French officers, as well as an Englishman, whilst they were seated at breakfast. Treachery, according to tradition, was at the bottom of this tragedy. The tradition is that a French-man, having some design of vengeance to carry out against his officers, had directed the British in the fort opposite how to aim directly into the casemate, and gave the pre-concerted signal with a handkerchief when all the officers were at breakfast. The shell was aimed, as I have shown, with unerring precision.

On a free-stone slab near the site of Fort Moncton the name afterwards given to Fort Gaspereau, which had been erected by the French at Bay Verte so as to command the whole isthmus can still be seen a rudely chiselled and not very grammatical inscription, which recalls the perilous times of Acadia.

"Here lies the body of Sergeant Mackay, and eight men, Killed and scalped by the Indians, in bringing fire-wood, Feby. 26th, 1755."

This fortification contained an acre of ground and was well built. The ancient turnpike and causeway, across a tract of marsh, as well as the contour of the walls, can be ascertained without difficulty by the curious tourist. The flourishing town of Moncton an important station of the Intercolonial Railway is named after the captor of the Gaspereau fort.

 

The Old Forts of Acadia, By J. G. Bourinot, The Canadian Monthly, and National Review, Vol. 5, May 1874

 

Old Forts of Acadia


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