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Arcadians Expelled from Cobequid, Nova Scotia

Cobequid is now Colchester County, Nova Scotia

On the second day of September, 1775, the French inhabitants of Cobequid Village (now Masstown) lying on the north side of the bay, and upper part of the Township of Londonderry, were engaged in their fields at their work, it being harvest time. With the afternoon tide three vessels were seen coming up the Bay. Two of them prepared to anchor, one opposite the Village, and the other at Lower Cobequid; whilst the third ran further up the shore. Curiosity was rife. Who were they, and whither were they going? Their curiosity was still heightened by the appearance of a person in the garb of a curate, who informed them that the following notice was posted on the door' of the Church: " To the inhabitants of the Village of Cobequid, and the surrounding shores, as well ancient as young men and lads ordering them all to repair to the Church the next day at three P. M., and hear what he had to say to them." Signed by John Winslow.

Meanwhile the Sailors landed, and were freely supplied with milk, eggs, and anything they wanted, by the farmers. Small parties of Soldiers landed, chatted with the people, examined their farms, or strolled to the uplands in search of partridges, and in the afternoon of the third day of September they joined the people as they repaired to the Church. The women had milked the cows, and prepared supper, but no one came from the Church. The moon rose, and the sisters strolled out and ran to the Church to ascertain the cause of their delay. When they arrived at the Church, to their great astonishment, they found it surrounded by armed Soldiers, who answered their inquiries by pointing their bayonets, and ordering them to go home. They met many of the women from the houses nearest the Church, all anxious and sad at the detention of their friends. At daybreak the following notice was read, which was stuck on the fence opposite the Church: "Cobequid, September 4th, 1775. All Officers, Soldiers and Seamen employed in His Majesty's Service, as well us all His subjects, of what denomination soever, are hereby notified that all cattle, viz., horses, horned cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, and poultry of every kind, that was supposed to be vested in the French inhabitants of this Province, have become forfeited to His Majesty, whose property they now are ; and every person of what denomination soever, is to take care not to hurt, destroy, or kill any of the above named animals, nor to rob orchards, or gardens, or to make waste of anything in these districts, without special order given at my Camp, the day and place to be published throughout the Camp, and at the Village where the vessels lie. Signed by John Winslow, Lieut. Colonel Commanding." When the people read this notice they were speechless with terror; death stared them in the face. In the meantime three hundred men and boys found themselves close prisoners in their own Church.

Some of the boys screamed aloud, some attempted to force the door, but they were overawed by the muskets of their guards. Day dawned at length over the wretched prisoners; they wished to be allowed to return to their families for food ; this was refused, but their families were ordered to supply food to them. A few of these prisoners were sent out during the day to inform those that dwelt at a distance from the Church if they did not immediately surrender, their houses would be burnt and their nearest friends shot. One of these messengers attempted to escape; he was shot, and his house and barn set on fire. Thus the work of destruction was commenced. About 200 married women, and upwards of 100 young women, besides children, were ordered to collect what they could of their apparel, and prepare to embark. In vain the men entreated to know whither they were going, but no answer was given. By noon, the 5th of September, the beach was piled with boxes, baskets and bundles; behind them were crowds of weeping women and children; children crying for their mothers, and mothers looking for their children; sick men and bedridden women were carried by strong maidens, or tipped out of the carts which bore them to the spot. A little before high water the prisoners in the Church were ordered to form six deep and march to the place of embarkation; they refused to obey this command. The troops were ordered to fix bayonets and advance on the prisoners. This act produced obedience, and they commenced their march. When they came to the beach and saw their property, their mothers, wives, children and sisters kneeling at each side of the road, one long, loud wail of anguish went up from them on account of being so suddenly torn away from their houses and homes, the place of their nativity, their flocks and fields, which were then covered with the crops of the season, with some of their wheat cut, and the remainder ready for cutting, and separated from their wives and families, leaving behind them their Church and the graves of their kindred, to be dispersed among strangers in a strange land,-among a people whose customs, laws, language and religion were strongly opposed to their own. The women were ordered the same afternoon to embark in another ship. About midnight all were on board, except one or two women who had escaped to visit their forsaken houses the next morning, and witness the sad havoc that had been made the night before by some of the British soldiers who remained, by setting fire to a number of the houses of the Village. Among these was their Chapel, of 100 feet in length and 40 feet in breadth, which contained a large heavy bell. This Chapel stood in a field which is now owned by Alexander Vance, near the house of Mr. Lightbody of Masstown. This place took its name from the fact that the French had their place of worship or Masshouse there. Mr. Vance informed the writer, that he had recently ploughed up some of the melted metal of the bell, and the spot upon which it stood was pointed out by Mr. Thomas Fletcher, son of the late Thomas Fletcher, who was one of the first settlers in this place after the French were driven out.

The transport ship, with the men on board drifted down to the mouth of the Avon River, and there awaited the other vessel that had the women and children on board. At daybreak she was in sight, and they drifted down the Bay with the saddest freight on board that ever sailed out of the Cobequid Bay; and as the vessels stood out to pass Blomedon, the third vessel that had run further up the Bay joined them, freighted with the French inhabitants who were gathered from the places now called Onslow, Truro, Clifton and Selma. With a favorable wind these miserable, houseless, homeless wanderers were soon borne out of sight of the place of their nativity; night hid from their view forever the blue mountains of Cobequid.

It may here be mentioned that while the French inhabitants of Truro were hunted by the British soldiers as the partridge on the mount, some of them fled for a hiding place, and encamped in the woods up the Salmon River, in a deep valley of the brook that Mr. William Murray had his Mills on recently, and from this the brook took its name as French Village Brook. One of the females who had escaped, or had been left behind on account of a boat being overloaded, returned that night to her former place of abode, and there remained during the night altogether unconscious. In the morning, when she returned to consciousness, she was too weak to stand; it was some hours before she realized the full horrors of her situation. After a time she was able to crawl to the door, and there the scene which surrounded her was fearful. The first object she beheld was the Church, the beautiful Mass House, a blackened heap of ruins. She was recalled to a sense of her forlorn situation by her cow which came to her, asking by her lowing to be milked. She milked her cow and partook of some of the milk with a crust of bread, which revived her so much that she set out to see if she could find any one remaining in the Village; but there was no one to be found. Cattle had broken into the fields and were eating the wheat; horses were running in droves through the fields. On the evening of that day, cows and goats came up to their accustomed milking place, and lowed around the deserted dwellings ; pigs yet fastened in the pens, squealed with hunger; and the oxen, waiting in vain for their master's hand to free them from the yoke, ( for they were used in moving the goods to the vessels) were bellowing in the agony of hunger; they hooked and fought with each other, running through the marsh, upsetting the carts or tumbling into the ditches, until death put an end to their sufferings. The pigs were rooting up the gardens. She sat down on the doorstep beholding the desolation of the Village, when an Indian approached her and told her to come with him. She enquired the fate of her people. "Gone," said he, "all gone," pointing down the Bay, "the people everywhere are prisoners; see the smoke rise, they will burn all here to-night." He pointed up the Bay; two or three blazing fires attested the Indian's story as too true. He assisted her in gathering some of the most valuable things that were left. The Indian then piloted her to his wigwam, near the edge of the forest; bore she found about a dozen of her people, the remnant left of what was once the happy settlement of the Village of Cobequid (now Masstown). They waited about the woods on the north side of the Bay, for more than a month to see if any more stragglers could be found before they would start, to go to Miramichi. At length they were joined by about twenty of the French inhabitants who had escaped from Annapolis. These persons informed them that the houses and crops in Annapolis were burnt by the soldiers who were sent up the River to bring them to the ships. Some fled to the woods; some, besides this party, crossed the Bay intending to go to Miramichi through the 'woods. After another week's travel they met with a party that had escaped from Shepoudie (now called Shuhenacadie). From these persons they learned that about two hundred and fifty buildings were burned along the sides of this River, and that while they were firing the Mass House there, the Indians and French rallied and attacked the British Soldiers and killed and wounded about thirty of them, and drove the remainder back to their ships.

History and Genealogy of Colshester, Nove Scotia


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