There was a pause instantly, and we heard the sharp click of the cocks, as they were lowered in obedience to the little stage-driver. It had a wonderful power of command, that voice—soft and clear, but brief, decisive, authoritative.
It is quite interesting to ride fellow-passenger with a person who has played a part in the national drama, but more villainous face I never saw. Mr. Crampton, with whom I sailed on the Canada, had a much more amiable expression; indeed I think we should all be obliged to him for ridding us of at least a portion of his fellow-countrymen.
But now we ride by the Shubenacadie lakes, a chain—a bracelet—binding the province from the Basin of Minas to the seaboard. The eye never tires of this lovely feature of Acadia. Lake above lake—the division, the isthmus between, not wider than the breadth of your India shawl, my lady! I must declare that, all in all, the scenery of the province is surpassingly beautiful. As you ride by these sparkling waters, through the flowery, bowery, woods, you feel as if you like to pitch tent here—at least for the summer.
And now we approach a rustic inn by the roadside, rich in shrubbery before it, and green moss from ridge-pole to low drooping eaves, where we change horses. And as we rest here upon the wooden inn-porch, dismounted from our high perch on the stage-coach, we see right above us against the clear evening sky, Her Majesty's ci-devant partisan, now prisoner—by merit raised to that bad eminence. The officer hands him a glass of brandy, to keep up his spirits. The prisoner takes it, and, lifting the glass high in air, shouts out with the exultation of a fiend:
"Here's to the hinges of liberty—may they never want oil, Nor an Orangeman's bones in a pot for to boil."
Once more upon the stage to Dartmouth, where we deposit our precious fellow-travellers, and then to the ferry, and look you! across the harbor, the twinkling lights of dear old mouldy Halifax. And now we are crossing Chebucto, and the cab carries us again to our former quarters in the Hotel Waverley.
Halifax again—Hotel Waverley—"Gone the Old Familiar Faces"—The Story of Marie de la Tour.
Again in old quarters! It is strange how we become attached to a place, be it what it may, if we only have known it before. The same old room we occupied years ago, however comfortless then, has a familiar air of welcome now. There is surely some little trace of self, some unseen spider-thread of attachment clinging to the walls, the old chair, the forlorn wash-stand, and the knobby four-poster, that holds the hardest of beds, the most consumptive of pillows, and a bolster as round, as white, and as hard, as a cathedral mass-candle. Heigho, Hotel Waverley! Here am I again; but where are the familiar faces? Where the brave soldier of Inkerman and Balaklava? Where the jolly old Captain of the native rifles? Where the Colonel, with his little meerschaum pipe he was so intent upon coloring? Where the party of salmon-fishermen, the Solomons of piscatology? Where the passengers by the "Canada?" And where is Picton? Gone, like last year's birds!
"A glass of ale, Henry, and one cigar, only one; I wish to be solitary."
I like this bed-room of mine at the Waverley, with its blue and white striped curtain at the window, through which the gas-lights of Halifax streets appear in lucid spots, as I wait for Henry, with the candles. Now I am no longer alone. I shut my chamber door, as it were, upon one world, only that I may enjoy another. So I trim the candles, and spread out the writing materials, and at once the characters of two centuries ago awake, and their life to me is as the life of to-day.
There is nothing more captivating in literature, than the narrative of some heroic deed of woman. Very few such are recorded; how many might be, if the actors themselves had not shunned notoriety, and "uncommended died," rather than encounter the ordeal of public praise? Of such the poet has written:
"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
Of such, many have lived and died, to live again only in fiction; whereas their own true histories would have been greater than the inventions of authors. We read of heroes laden with the "glittering spoils of empire," but the heroic deeds of woman are oftentimes, all in all, as great, without the glitter; without the pomp and pageantry of triumphal processions; without the pealing trumpet of renown. Boadicea, chained to the car of Suetonius, is the too common memorial of heroic womanity.
The story I relate is but a transcript, a mere episode in the sad history of Acadia: yet the record will be pleasing to those who estimate the merits of brave women. This, then, is the legend of
MARIE DE LA TOUR.
In the year 1621, Sir William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Sterling,[B] a romantic poet, and favorite of King James I., was presented by that monarch with a patent to all the land known as Acadia, in the Americas. Royalty in those days made out its parchment deeds for a province, without taking the trouble to search the record office, to see if there were any prior liens upon the territory. The good old rule obtained thus—
"That they may take who have the power, And they may keep who can."
or, to quote the words of another writer—
"For the time once was here, to all be it known, That all a man sailed by or saw was his own."
It is due to Sir William Alexander to say that he gave the province the proud name which at present it enjoys, of Nova Scotia, or New Scotland, a title much more appropriate than that of "Acadia,"[C] which to us means nothing.
[B] This William Alexander, Earl of Sterling, was the ancestor of General Lord Sterling, one of the most distinguished officers in the American Revolution.
[C] The name "Acadia," is, no doubt, a primitive word, from the Abenaqui tongue—we find it repeated in Tracadie, Shubenacadie, and elsewhere in the province.
At this time the French Colony was slowly recovering from the effects of the Argall expedition, that eight years before had laid waste its fair possessions. Among a number of emigrants from the Loire and the Seine, two gentlemen of birth and education, La Tour by name, father and son, set out to seek their fortunes in the New World. It must be remembered that in the original patent of Acadia, given by Henry IV. to De Monts, freedom of religious opinion was one of the conditions of the grant, and therefore the fact, that both the La Tours were Huguenots, did not prevent them holding commissions under the French crown, the father having in charge a small fleet of transports then ready to sail from the harbor of Brest; the son, being the commander of a fort and garrison at Cape Sable, upon the western end of Acadia.
Affairs being in this condition, it chanced that the English and French ships set sail for the same port, at about the same time; and it so happened that Sir William Alexander's fleet running afoul of the elder La Tour's in a fog, not only captured that gallant chieftain but also his transports, munitions of war, stores, artillery, etc. etc., and sailed back with the prizes to England. I beg you to observe, my dear reader, that occurrences of this kind were common enough at this period even in times of peace, and not considered piracy either, the ocean was looked upon as a mighty chessboard, and the game was won by those who could command the greatest number of pieces.
Claude de la Tour, not as a prisoner of war, but as an enforced guest of Sir William, was carried to London; and there robbed of his goods, but treated like a gentleman; introduced at Court, although deprived of his purse and liberty, and in a word, found himself surrounded with the most hostile and hospitable conditions possible in life. It is not surprising then that with true French philosophy he should have made the best of it; gained the good will of the queen, played off a little badinage with the ladies of the court, and forgetting the late Lady de la Tour, asleep in the old graveyard in the city of Rochelle, essayed to wear his widower weeds with that union of grace and sentiment for which his countrymen are so celebrated. The consequence was one of her majesty's maids of honor fell in love with him; the queen encouraged the match; the king had just instituted the new order of Knights Baronet, of Nova Scotia; La Tour, now in the way of good fortune, was the first to be honored with the novel title, and at the same time placed the matrimonial ring upon the finger of the love-sick maid of honor. Indeed Charles Etienne de la Tour, commandant of the little fort at Cape Sable, had scarcely lost a father, before he had gained a step-mother.
That the French widower should have been so captivated by these marks of royal favor as to lose his discretion, in the fullness of his gratitude; and, that after receiving a grant of land from his patron, as a further incentive, he should volunteer to assist in bringing Acadia under the British Crown, and as a primary step, undertake to reduce the Fort at Cape Sable; I say, that when I state this, nobody will be surprised, except a chosen few, who cherish some old-fashioned notions, in these days more romantic than real. "Two ships of war being placed under his command," he set sail, with his guns and a Step-mother, to attack the Fort at Cape Sable. The latter was but poorly garrisoned; but then it contained a Daughter-in-law! Under such circumstances, it was plain to be seen that the contest would be continued to the last ounce of powder.
Opening the trenches before the French fort, and parading his Scotch troops in the eyes of his son, the elder La Tour attempted to capture the garrison by argument. In vain he "boasted of the reception he had met with in England, of his interest at court, and the honor of knighthood which had been conferred upon him." In vain he represented "the advantages that would result from submission," the benefits of British patronage; and paraded before the eyes of the young commander the parchment grant, the seal, the royal autograph, and the glittering title of Knight Baronet, which had inspired his perfidy. His son, shocked and indignant, declined the proffered honors and emoluments that were only to be gained by an act of treason; and intimated his intention "to defend the Fort with his life, sooner than deliver it up to the enemies of his country." The father used the most earnest entreaties, the most touching and parental arguments. Charles Etienne was proof against these. The Baronet alluded to the large force under his command, and deplored the necessity of making an assault, in case his propositions were rejected. Charles Etienne only doubled his sentinels, and stood more firmly intrenched upon his honor. Then the elder La Tour ordered an assault. For two days the storm continued; sometimes the Mother-in-law led the Scotch soldiers to the breach, but the French soldiers, under the Daughter-in-law, drove them back with such bitter fury, that of the assailants it was hard to say which numbered most, the living or the dead. At last, La Tour the elder abandoned the siege; and "ashamed to appear in England, afraid to appear in France," accepted the humiliating alternative of requesting an asylum from his son. Permission to reside in the neighborhood was granted by Charles Etienne. The Scotch troops were reembarked for England; and the younger and the elder Mrs. de la Tour smiled at each other grimly from the plain and from the parapet. Further than this there was no intercourse between the families. Whenever Marie de la Tour sent the baby to grandmother, it went with a troop of cavalry and a flag of truce; and whenever Lady de la Tour left her card at the gate, the drums beat, and the guard turned out with fixed bayonets.
Such discipline had prepared Marie de la Tour for the heroic part which afterwards raised her to the historical position she occupies in the chronicles of Acadia. I have had occasion to speak of freedom of opinion existing in this Province—but for the invasion of English and Scotch filibusters, this absolute liberty of faith would have produced the happiest fruits in the new colonies. But unfortunately in a weak and newly-settled country, union in all things is an indispensable condition of existence. This very liberty of opinion, in a great measure disintegrated the early French settlements, and separated a people which otherwise might have encountered successfully its rapacious enemies.
At this time the French Governor of Acadia, Razillia, died. Charles Etienne la Tour as a subordinate officer, had full command of the eastern part of the province, as the Chevalier d'Aulney de Charnise, had of the western portion, extending as far as the Penobscot. As for the Sterling patent, Sir William, finding it of little value, had sold it to the elder La Tour, but the defeated adventurer of Cape Sable by the treaty of St. Germains in 1632, was stripped of his new possessions by King Charles I., who conveyed the whole of the territory again to Louis XIII. of France. Thus it will be seen, that two claimants only were in possession of Acadia; namely, the younger La Tour and D'Aulney. The elder La Tour now retires from the scene, goes to England with his wife, and is heard of no more.
Between the rival commanders in Acadia, there were certain points of resemblance—both were youthful, both were brave, enterprising and ambitious, both the happy husbands of proud and beautiful wives. Otherwise La Tour was a Huguenot and D'Aulney a Catholic—thus it will be seen that the latter had the most favor at the French court, while the former could more securely count upon the friendship of the English of Massachusetts Bay—no inconsiderable allies as affairs then stood. Under such circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that there was a constant feud between the two young officers, and their young wives. The chronicles of the Pilgrims, the records of Bradford, Winthrop, Mather, and Hutchinson, are full of the exploits of these pugnacious heroes. At one time La Tour appears in person at Boston, to beat up recruits, as more than two hundred years after, another power attempted to raise a foreign legion, and, although the pilgrim fathers do not officially sanction the proceeding, yet they connive at it, and quote Scripture to warrant them. Close upon this follows a protest of D'Aulney, and with it the exhibition of a warrant from the French king for the arrest of La Tour. Upon this there is a meeting of the council and a treaty, offensive and defensive, made with D'Aulney.
Meanwhile, Marie de la Tour arrived at Boston from England, where she had been on a visit to her mother-in-law. The captain of the vessel upon which she had reembarked for the new world, having carried her to this city instead of to the river St. John, according to the letter of the charter, was promptly served with a summons by that lady to appear before the magistrates to show cause why he did it; and the consequence was, madame recovered damages to the amount of two thousand pounds in the Marine Court of the Modern Athens. With this sum in her pocket, she chartered a vessel for the river St. John, and arrived at a small fort belonging to her husband, on its banks, just in time to defend it against D'Aulney, who had rallied his forces for an attack upon it, during the absence of Charles Etienne.
Marie de la Tour at this time was one of the most beautiful women in the new world. She was not less than twenty, nor more than thirty years of age; her features had a charm beyond the limits of the regular; her eyes were expressive; her mouth intellectual; her complexion brown and clear, could pale or flush with emotions either tender or indignant. Before such a commandress D'Aulney de Charnise set down his forces in the year 1644.
The garrison was small—the brave Charles Etienne absent in a distant part of the province. But the unconquerable spirit of the woman prevailed over these disadvantages. At the first attack by D'Aulney, the guns of the fort were directed with such consummate skill that every shot told. The besieger, with twenty killed and thirteen wounded, was only too happy to warp his frigate out of the leach of this lovely lady's artillery, and retire to Penobscot to refit for further operations. Again D'Aulney sailed up the St. John, with the intention of taking the place by assault. By land as by water, his forces were repulsed with great slaughter. A host of Catholic soldiers fell before a handful of Protestant guns, which was not surprising, as the cannon were well pointed, and loaded with grape and canister. For three days the French officer carried on the attack, and then again retreated. On the fourth day a Swiss hireling deserted to the enemy and betrayed the weakness of the garrison. D'Aulney, now confident of success, determined to take the fort by storm; but as he mounted the wall, the lovely La Tour, at the head of her little garrison, met the besiegers with such determined bravery, that again they were repulsed. That evening D'Aulney hung the traitorous Swiss, and proposed honorable terms, if the brave commandress would surrender. To these terms Marie assented, in the vain hope of saving the lives of the brave men who had survived; the remnants of her little garrison. But the perfidious D'Aulney, who, from the vigorous defence of the fort, had supposed the number of soldiers to have been greater, instead of feeling that admiration which brave men always experience when acts of valor are presented by an enemy, lost himself in an abyss of chagrin, to find he had been thrice defeated by a garrison so contemptible in numbers, and led by a female. To his eternal infamy let it be recorded, that pretending to have been deceived by the terms of capitulation, D'Aulney hanged the brave survivors of the garrison, and even had the baseness and cruelty to parade Madame de la Tour herself on the same scaffold, with the ignominious cord around her neck, as a reprieved criminal.
To quote the words of the chronicler: "The violent and unusual exertions which Madame la Tour had made, the dreadful fate of her household and followers, and the total wreck of his fortune, had such an effect that she died soon after this event."
So perished the beautiful, the brave, the faithful, the unfortunate! Shall I add that her besieger, D'Aulney, died soon after, leaving a bereaved but blooming widow? That Charles Etienne la Tour, to prevent further difficulties in the province, laid siege to that sad and sympathizing lady, not with flag and drum, shot and shell, but with the more effectual artillery of love? That Madame D'Aulney finally surrendered, and that Charles Etienne was wont to say to her, after the wedding: "Beloved, your husband and my wife have had their pitched battle, but let us live in peace for the rest of our days, my dear."
Quaint, old, mouldy Halifax seems more attractive after re-writing this portion of its early history. The defence of that little fort, with its slender garrison, by Madame la Tour, against the perfidious Charnise, brings to mind other instances of female heroism, peculiar to the French people. It recalls the achievements of Joan of Arc, and Charlotte Corday. Not less, than these, in the scale of intrepid valor, are those of Marie de la Tour.
Bedford Basin—Legend of the two French Admirals—An Invitation to the Queen—Visit to the Prince's Lodge—A Touch of Old England—The Ruins.
The harbor of Chebucto, after stretching inland far enough to make a commodious and beautiful site for the great city of Halifax, true to the fine artistic taste peculiar to all bodies of water in the province, penetrates still further in the landscape, and broadens out into a superb land-locked lake, called Bedford Basin. The entrance to this basin is very narrow, and it has no other outlet. Oral tradition maintains that about a century ago a certain French fleet, lying in the harbor, surprised by the approach of a superior body of English men-of-war in the offing, weighed anchor and sailed up through this narrow estuary into the basin itself, deceived by seeing so much water there, and believing it to be but a twin harbor through which they could escape again to the open sea. And further, that the French Admiral finding himself caught in this net with no chance of escape, drew his sword, and placing the hilt upon the deck of his vessel, fell upon the point of the weapon, and so died.
This tradition is based partly upon fact; its epoch is one of the most interesting in the history of this province, and probably the turning point in the affairs of the whole northern continent. The suicide was an officer high in rank, the Duke d'Anville, who in 1746, after the first capture of Louisburgh, sailed from Brest with the most formidable fleet that had ever crossed the Atlantic, to re-take this famous fortress; then to re-take Annapolis, next to destroy Boston, and finally to visit the West Indies. But his squadron being dispersed by tempestuous weather, he arrived in Chebucto harbor with but a few ships, and not finding any of the rest of his fleet there, was so affected by this and other disasters on the voyage, that he destroyed himself. So says the London Chronicle of August 24th, 1758, from which I take this account. The French say he died of apoplexy, the English by poison. At all events, he was buried in a little island in the harbor, after a defeat by the elements of as great an armament as that of the Spanish Armada. Some idea of the disasters of this voyage may be formed from one fact, that from the time of the sailing of the expedition from Brest until its arrival at Chebucto, no less than 1,270 men died on the way from the plague. Many of the ships arriving after this sad occurrence, Vice-Admiral Destournelle endeavored to fulfill the object of the mission, and even with his crippled forces essay to restore the glory of France in the western hemisphere. But he being overruled by a council of war, plucked out his sword, and followed his commander, the Duke d'Anville. What might have come of it, had either admiral again planted the fleur de lis upon the bastions of Louisburgh?
But to return to the to-day of to-day. Bedford Basin is now rapidly growing in importance. The great Nova Scotia railway skirts the margin of its storied waters, and already suburban villas for Haligonian Sparrowgrasses, are being erected upon its banks.
I was much amused one morning, upon opening one of the Halifax papers, to find in its columns a most warm and hearty invitation from the editor to her majesty, Queen Victoria, soliciting her to visit the province, which, according to the editorial phraseology, would be, no doubt, as interesting as it was endeared to her, as the former residence of her gracious father, the Duke of Kent.
In the year 1798, just twenty years before her present majesty was born, the young Prince Edward was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the forces in British North America. Loyalty, then as now, was rampant in Nova Scotia, and upon the arrival of his Royal Highness, among other marks of compliment, an adjacent island, that at present rejoices in a governor and parliament of its own, was re-christened with the name it now bears, namely—Prince Edward's Island. But I am afraid Prince Edward was a sad reprobate in those days—at least, such is the record of tradition.
The article in the newspaper reminded me that somewhere upon Bedford Basin were the remains of the "Prince's Lodge;" so one afternoon, accompanied by a dear old friend, I paid this royal bower by Bendemeer's stream, a visit. Rattling through the unpaved streets of Halifax in a one horse vehicle, called, for obvious reasons, a "jumper," we were soon on the high-road towards the basin. Water of the intensest blue—hill-slopes, now cultivated, and anon patched with evergreens that look as black as squares upon a chess board, between the open, broken grounds—a fine road—a summer sky—an atmosphere spicy with whiffs of resinous odors, and no fog,—these are the features of our ride. Yonder is a red building, reflected in the water like the prison of Chillon, where some of our citizens were imprisoned during the war of 1812—ship captives doubtless! And here is the customary little English inn, where we stop our steed to let him cool, while the stout landlord, girt with a clean white apron, brings out to his thirsty travellers a brace of foaming, creamy glasses of "right h'English h'ale." Then remounting the jumper, we skirt the edge of the basin again, until a stately dome rises up before us on the road, which, as we approach, we see is supported by columns, and based upon a gentle promontory overhanging the water. This is the "Music House," where the Prince's band were wont to play in days "lang syne." Here we stop, and leaving our jumper in charge of a farmer, stroll over the grounds.
That peculiar arrangement of lofty trees, sweeping lawns, and graceful management of water, which forms the prevailing feature of English landscape gardening, was at once apparent. Although there were no trim walks, green hedges, or beds of flowers; although the whole place was ruined and neglected, yet the magic touch of art was not less visible to the practised eye. The art that concealed art, seemed to lend a charm to the sweet seclusion, without intruding upon or disturbing the intentions of nature.
Proceeding up the gentle slope that led from the gate, a number of columbines and rose-bushes scattered in wild profusion, indicated where once had been the Prince's garden. These, although now in bloom and teeming with flowers, have a vagrant, neglected air, like beauties that had ran astray, never to be reclaimed. A little further we come upon the ruins of a spacious mansion, and beyond these the remains of the library, with its tumbled-down bricks and timbers, choking up the stream that wound through the vice-regal domains: and here the bowling-green, yet fresh with verdure; here the fishing pavilion, leaning over an artificial lake, with an artificial island in the midst; and here are willows, and deciduous trees, planted by the Prince; and other rose-bushes and columbines scattered in wild profusion. I could not but admire the elegance and grace, which, even now, were so apparent, amid the ruins of the lodge, nor could I help recalling those earlier days, when the red-coats clustered around the gates, and the grounds were sparkling with lamps at night; when the band from the music-house woke the echoes with the clash of martial instruments, and the young Prince, with his gay gallants, and his powdered, patched, and painted Jezebels, held his brilliant court, with banner, music, and flotilla; with the array of soldiery, and the pageantry of ships-of-war, on Bedford Basin.
I stood by the ruins of a little stone bridge, which had once spanned the sparkling brook, and led to the Prince's library; I saw, far and near, the flaunting flowers of the now abandoned garden, and the distant columns of the silent music house, and I felt sad amid the desolation, although I knew not why. For wherefore should any one feel sad to see the temples of dissipation laid in the dust? For my own part, I am a poor casuist, but nevertheless, I do not think my conscience will suffer from this feeling. There is a touch of humanity in it, and always some germ of sympathy will bourgeon and bloom around the once populous abodes of men, whether they were tenanted by the pure or by the impure.
The Last Night—Farewell Hotel Waverley—Friends Old and New—What followed the Marriage of La Tour le Borgne—Invasion of Col. Church.
Faint nebulous spots in the air, little red disks in a halo of fog, acquaint us that there are gas-lights this night in the streets of Halifax. Something new, I take it, this illumination? Carbonated hydrogen is a novelty as yet in Chebucto. But in this soft and pleasant atmosphere, I cannot but feel some regret at leaving my old quarters in the Hotel Waverley. If I feel how much there is to welcome me elsewhere, yet I do not forsake this queer old city—these strange, dingy, weather-beaten streets, without reluctance; and chiefly I feel that now I must separate from some old friends, and from some new ones too, whom I can ill spare. And if any of these should ever read this little book, I trust they will not think the less of me because of it. If the salient features of the province have sometimes appeared to me, a stranger, a trifle distorted, it may be that my own stand-point is defective. And so farewell! To-morrow I shall draw nearer homeward, by Windsor and the shores of the Gasperau, by Grand-Pre and the Basin of Minas. Candles, Henry! and books!
The marriage of La Tour to the widow of his deceased rival, for a time enabled that brave young adventurer to remain in quiet possession of the territory. But to the Catholic Court of France, a suspected although not an avowed Protestant, in commission, was an object of distrust. No matter what might have been his former services, indeed, his defence of Cape Sable had saved the French possessions from the encroachments of the Sterling patent, yet he was heretic to the true faith, and therefore defenceless in an important point against the attacks of an enemy. Such a one was La Tour le Borgne, who professed to be a creditor of D'Aulney, and pressing his suit with all the ardor of bigotry and rapacity, easily succeeded in "obtaining a decree by which he was authorized to enter upon the possessions of his deceased debtor!" But the adherents of Charles Etienne did not readily yield to the new adventurer. They had tasted the sweets of religious liberty, and were not disposed to come within the arbitrary yoke without a struggle. Disregarding the "decree," they stood out manfully against the forces of Le Borgne. Again were Catholic French and Protestant French cannon pointed against each other in unhappy Acadia. But fort after fort fell beneath the new claimant's superior artillery, until La Tour le Borgne himself was met by a counter-force of bigotry, before which his own was as chaff to the fanning-mill. The man of England, Oliver Cromwell, had his little claim, too, in Acadia. Against his forces both the French commanders made but ineffectual resistance. Acadia for the third time fell into the hands of the English.
Now in the history of the world there is nothing more patent than this: that persecution in the name of religion, is only a ring of calamities, which ends sooner or later where it began. And this portion of its history can be cited as an example. Charles Etienne de la Tour, alienated by the unjust treatment of his countrymen, decided to accept the protection of his national enemy. As the heir of Sir Claude de la Tour, he laid claim to the Sterling grants (which it will be remembered had been ceded to his father by Sir William Alexander after the unsuccessful attack upon Cape Sable,) and in conjunction with two English Puritans obtained a new patent for Acadia from the Protector, under the great seal, with the title of Sir Charles La Tour. Then Sir Thomas Temple (one of the partners in the Cromwell patent) purchased the interest of Charles Etienne in Acadia. Then came the restoration, and again Acadia was restored to France by Charles II. in 1668. But Sir Thomas having embarked all his fortune in the enterprise, was not disposed to submit to the arbitrary disposal of his property by this treaty; and therefore endeavored to evade its articles by making a distinction between such parts of the province as were supposed to constitute Acadia proper, and the other portions of the territory comprehended under the title of Nova Scotia. "This distinction being deemed frivolous," Sir Thomas was ordered to obey the letter of the treaty, and accordingly the whole of Nova Scotia was delivered up to the Chevalier de Grande Fontaine. During twenty years succeeding this event, Acadia enjoyed comparative repose, subject only to occasional visits of filibusters. At the expiration of that time, a more serious invasion was meditated. Under the command of Sir William Phipps, a native of New England, three ships, with transports and soldiers, appeared before Port Royal, and demanded an unconditional surrender. Although the fort was poorly garrisoned, this was refused by Manivel, the French governor, but finally terms of capitulation were agreed upon: these were, that the French troops should be allowed to retain their arms and baggage, and be carried to Quebec; that the inhabitants should be maintained in the peaceable possession of their property, and in the exercise of their religion; and that the honor of the women should be observed. Sir William agreed to the conditions, but declined signing the articles, pompously intimating that the "word of a general was a better security than any document whatever." The French governor, deceived by this specious parade of language, took the New England filibuster at his word, and formally surrendered the keys of the fortress, according to the verbal contract. Again was poor Acadia the victim of her perfidious enemy. Sir William, disregarding the terms of the capitulation, and the "word of a general," violated the articles he had pledged his honor to maintain, disarmed and imprisoned the soldiers, sacked the churches, and gave the place up to all the ruthless cruelties and violences of a general pillage. Not only this, the too credulous Governor, Manivel, was himself imprisoned, plundered of money and clothes, and carried off on board the conqueror's frigate, with many of his unfortunate companions, to view the further spoliations of his countrymen. Many a peaceful Acadian village expired in flames during that coasting expedition, and to add to the miseries of the defenceless Acadians, two piratical vessels followed in the wake of the pious Sir William, and set fire to the houses, slaughtered the cattle, hanged the inhabitants, and deliberately burned up one whole family, whom they had shut in a dwelling-house for that purpose.
Soon after this, Sir William was rewarded with the governorship of New England, as Argall had been with that of Virginia, nearly a century before.
Now let it be remembered that in these expeditions, very little, if any, attempt was made by the invaders to colonize or reside on the lands they were so ready to lay waste and destroy. The mind of the species "Puritan," by rigid discipline hardened against all frivolous amusements, and insensible to the charms of the drama, and the splendors of the mimic spectacle, with its hollow shows of buckram, tinsel, and pasteboard, seems to have been peculiarly fitted to enjoy these more substantial enterprises, which, owing to the defenceless condition of the French province, must have appeared to the rigid Dudleys and Endicotts merely as a series of light and elegant pastimes.
Scarcely had Sir William Phipps returned to Boston, when the Chevalier Villabon came from France with troops and implements of war. On his arrival, he found the British flag flying at Port Royal, unsupported by an English garrison. It was immediately lowered from the flag-staff, the white flag of Louis substituted, and once more Acadia was under the dominion of her parental government.
Villabon, in a series of petty skirmishes, soon recovered the rest of the territory, which was only occupied at a few points by feeble New England garrisons, and, in conjunction with a force of Abenaqui Indians, laid siege to the fort at Pemaquid, on the Penobscot, and captured it. In this affair, as we have seen, the famous Baron Castine was engaged.
The capture of the fort at Pemaquid, led to a train of reprisals, conspicuous in which was an actor in the theatre of events who heretofore had not appeared upon the Acadian stage. This was Col. Church, a celebrated bushwhacker and Indian-fighter, of memorable account in the King Philip war.
In order to estimate truly the condition of the respective parties, we must remember the severe iron and gunpowder nature of the Puritan of New England, his prejudices, his dyspepsia; his high-peaked hat and ruff; his troublesome conscience and catarrh; his natural antipathies to Papists and Indians, from having been scalped by one, and roasted by both; his English insolence; and his religious bias, at once tyrannic and territorial.
Then, on the other, we must call to view the simple Acadian peasant, Papist or Protestant, just as it happened; ignorant of the great events of the world; a mere offshoot of rural Normandy; without a thought of other possessions than those he might reclaim from the sea by his dykes; credulous, pure-minded, patient of injuries; that like the swallow in the spring, thrice built the nest, and when again it was destroyed,
——"found the ruin wrought, But, not cast down, forth from the place it flew, And with its mate fresh earth and grasses brought, And built the nest anew."
Against such people, the expedition of Col. Church, fresh from the slaughter of Pequod wars, bent its merciless energies. Regardless of the facts that the people were non-resistants; that the expeditions of the French had been only feeble retaliations of great injuries; and always by levies from the mother country, and not from the colonists; that Villabon, at the capture of Pemaquid, had generously saved the lives of the soldiers in the garrison from the fury of the Mic-Macs, who had just grounds of retribution for the massacres which had marked the former inroads of these ruthless invaders; the wrath of the Pilgrim Fathers fell upon the unfortunate Acadians as though they had been a nation of Sepoys.[D]
[D] One incident will suffice to show the character of these forays. A small island on Passamaquoddy Bay was invaded by the forces under Col. Church, at night. The inhabitants made no resistance. All gave up; "but," says Church in his dispatch to the governor, "looking over a little run, I saw something look black just by me: stopped and heard a talking; stepped over and saw a little hut, or wigwam, with a crowd of people round about it, which was contrary to my former directions. I asked them what they were doing? They replied, 'there were some of the enemy in a house, and would not come out.' I asked what house? They said, 'a bark house' I hastily bid them pull it down, and knock them on the head, never asking whether they were French or Indians, they being all enemies alike to me." Such was the merciless character of these early expeditions to peaceful Acadia.
"Herod of Galilee's babe-butchering deed Lives not on history's blushing page alone; Our skies, it seems, have seen like victims bleed, And our own Ramahs echoed groan for groan; The fiends of France, whose cruelties decreed Those dexterous drownings in the Loire and Rhone, Were, at their worst, but copyists, second-hand, Of our shrined, sainted sires, the Plymouth Pilgrim band."
One of the severest cruelties practised upon these inoffensive people, was that of requiring them to betray their friends, the Indians, under the heaviest penalties. In Acadia, the red and the white man were as brothers; no treachery, no broken faith, no over-reaching policy had severed the slightest fibre of good fellowship on either side. But the Abenaqui race was a warlike people. At the first invasion, under Argall, the red man had seen with surprise a mere handful of white men disputing for a territory to which neither could offer a claim; so vast as to make either occupation or control by the adventurers ridiculous; and therefore, with good-natured zeal, he had hastened to put an end to the quarrel, as though the white people had only been fractious but not irreconcilable kinsmen. But as the power of New England advanced more and more in Acadia, the first generous desire of the red man had merged into suspicion, and finally hatred of the peaked hat and ruff of Plymouth. In all his dealings with the Acadians, the Indian had found only unimpeachable faith and honor; but with the colonist of Massachusetts, there had been nothing but over-reaching and treachery: intercourse with the first had not led to a scratch, or a single drop of blood; while on the other hand a bounty of "one hundred pounds was offered for each male of their tribe if over twelve years of age, if scalped; one hundred and five pounds if taken prisoner; fifty pounds for each woman and child scalped, and fifty pounds when brought in alive."
The Abenaqui tribes therefore, first, to avenge the injuries of their unresisting friends, the Acadians, and after to avenge their own, waged war upon the invaders with all the severities of an aggrieved and barbarous people. And, as I have said before, the severest cruelty inflicted upon the Acadian colonist, was to oblige him to betray his best friend and protector, the painted heathen, with whom he struck hands and plighted faith. To the honor of these colonists, be it said, that although they saw their long years' labor of dykes broken down, the sea sweeping over their farms, the fire rolling about their homesteads, their cattle and sheep destroyed, their effects plundered, and wanton and nameless outrages committed by the English and Yankee soldiery, yet in no instance did they purchase indemnity from these, by betraying a single Indian.
A few more Threads of History—Acadia again lost—The Oath of Allegiance—Settlement of Halifax—The brave Three Hundred—Massacre at Norridgewoack—Le Pere Ralle.
During the invasion of Col. Church, the inhabitants of Grand-Pre were exposed to such treatment as may be conceived of. The smoke from the borders of the five rivers, overlooked by Blomidon, rose in the stilly air, and again the sea rolled past the broken dykes, which for nearly a century had kept out its desolating waters between the Cape and the Gasperau. Driven to despair, a few of the younger Acadians took up arms to defend their hearthstones, but the great body of the people submitted without resistance. A brief stand was made at Port Royal, but this last outpost finally capitulated. By the terms of the articles agreed upon, the inhabitants were to have the privilege of remaining upon their estates for two years, upon taking an oath of allegiance to remain faithful to her majesty, Queen Anne, during that period. Upon that consideration, those who lived within cannon-shot of the fort, were to be protected in their rights and properties. This was but a piece of finesse on the part of the invaders, an entering wedge, as it were, of a novel kind of tyranny, namely, that inasmuch as those within cannon-shot had taken the oath of allegiance, those without the reach of artillery, at Port Royal, also, were bound to do the same. And a strong detachment of New England troops, under Captain Pigeon, was sent upon an expedition to enforce the arbitrary oath. But Captain Pigeon, in the pursuit of his duty, fell in with an enemy of a less gentle nature than the Acadians. A body of Abenaqui came down upon him and his men, and smote them hip and thigh, even as the three hundred warriors of Israel smote the Midianites in the valley of Moreh. Then was there temporary relief in the land until the year 1713, when by a treaty Acadia was formally surrendered to England. The weight of the oath of allegiance now fell heavily upon the innocent colonists. We can scarcely appreciate the abhorrence of a people, so conscientious as this, to take an oath of fidelity to a race that had only been known to them by its rapacity. But partly by persuasion, partly by menace, a majority of the Acadians took the oath, which was as follows:
"Je promets et jure sincerement, en foi de Chretien, que je serai entierement fidele et obeirai vraiment sa Majeste le roi George, que je reconnaias pour le Souverain seigneur de l'Acadie, ou Nouvelle Ecosse, ainsi Dieu me soit en aide."
Under the shadow of the protection derived from their acceptance of this oath, the Acadians reposed a few years. It did not oblige them to bear arms against their countrymen, nor did it compromise their religious independence of faith. Again the dykes were built to resist the encroachments of the sea; again village after village arose—at the mouth of the Gasperau, on the shores of the Canard, beside the Strait of Frontenac, at Le Have, and Rossignol, at Port Royal and Pisiquid. During all these years no attempt had been made by the captors of this province, to colonize the places baptized with the waters of Puritan progress. Lunenburgh was settled with King William's Dutchmen; the walls of Louisburgh were rising in one of the harbors of a neighboring island; but in no instance had the filibusters projected a colony on the soil which had been wrested from its rightful owners. The only result of all their bloody visitations upon a non-resisting people, had been to make defenceless Acadia a neutral province. From this time until the close of the drama, in all the wars between the Georges and the Louises, in both hemispheres, the people of Acadia went by the name of "The Neutral French."
Meantime the walls of Louisburgh were rising on the island of Cape Breton, which, with Canada, still remained under the sovereign rule of the French. The Acadians were invited to remove within the protection of this formidable fortress, but they preferred remaining intrenched behind their dykes, firmly believing that the only invader they had now to dread was the sea, inasmuch as they had accepted the oath of fidelity, in which, and in their inoffensive pursuits, they imagined themselves secure from farther molestation. Some of their Indian neighbors, however, accepted the invitation of the Cape Breton French, and removed thither. These simple savages, notwithstanding the changes in the government, still regarded the Acadians as friends, and the English as enemies. They could not comprehend the nature of a treaty by which their own lands were ceded to a hostile force; a treaty in which they were neither consulted nor considered.[E] They had their own injuries to remember, which in no wise had been balanced in the compact of the strangers. The rulers in New France (so says the chronicler) "affected to consider the Indians as an independent people." At Canseau, at Cape Sable, at Annapolis, and Passamaquoddy, English forts, fishing stations, and vessels were attacked and destroyed by the savages with all the circumstances that make up the hideous features of barbaric reprisal. Unhappy Acadia came in for her share of condemnation. Although her innocent people had no part in these transactions, yet her missionaries had converted the Abenaqui to faith in the symbol of the crucifixion, and it was currently reported and credited in New England, that they had taught the savages to believe also the English were the people who had crucified our Saviour. To complicate matters again, the Chevalier de St. George (of whom there is no recollection except that he was anonymous, both as a prince, and as a man) sent his son, the fifth remove in stupidity, of the most stupid line of monarchs (not even excepting the Georges) that ever wore crowns, to stir up an insurrection among the most obtuse race of people that ever wore, or went without, breeches. A war between France and England followed the descent of the Pretender. A war naturally followed in the Colonies.
[E] In the treaty of Utrecht, no mention was made either of the Indians or of their lands.
Again the ring of fire and slaughter met and ended in a treaty; the treaty of Aix la Chapelle, by which Cape Breton was ceded to France, and Nova Scotia, or Acadia, to England. Up to this time no attempt at colonizing the fertile valleys of Acadia, by its captors, had been attempted. At last, under large and favorable grants from the Crown, a colony was established by the Hon. Edward Cornwallis, at a place now known as Halifax. No sooner was Halifax settled, than sundry tribes of red men made predatory visits to the borders of the new colony. Reprisals followed reprisals, and it is not easy to say on which side lay the largest amount of savage fury. At the same time, the Acadians remained true to the spirit and letter of the oath they had taken. "They had relapsed," says the chronicler, "into a sort of sullen neutrality." This was considered just cause of offence. The oath which had satisfied Governor Phipps, did not satisfy George II. A new oath of allegiance was tendered, by which the Acadians were required to become loyal subjects of the English Crown, to bear arms against their countrymen, and the Indians to whom the poor colonists were bound by so many ties of obligation and affection. The consciences of these simple people revolted at a requisition "so repugnant to the feelings of human nature." Three hundred of the younger and braver Acadians took up arms against their oppressors. This overt act was just what was desired by the wily Puritans. Acadia, with its twenty thousand inhabitants, was placed under the ban of having violated the oath of neutrality in the persons of the three hundred. In vain the great body of the people protested that this act was contrary to their wishes, their peaceful habits, and beyond their control. At the fort of Beau Sejour, the brave three hundred made a gallant stand, but were defeated. Would there had been a Leonidas among them! Would that the whole of their kinsmen had erected forts instead of dykes, and dropped the plough-handles to press the edge of the sabre against the grindstone! Sad indeed is the fate of that people who make any terms with such an enemy, except such as may be granted at the bayonet's point. Sad indeed is the condition of that people who are wrapt in security when Persecution steals in upon them, hiding its bloody hands under the garments of sanctity.
Among the many incidents of these cruel wars, the fate of a Jesuit priest may stand as a type of the rest. Le Pere Ralle had been a missionary for forty years among the various tribes of the Abenaqui. "His literary attainments were of a high order;" his knowledge of modern languages respectable; "his Latin," according to Haliburton, "was pure, classical and elegant;" and he was master of several of the Abenaqui dialects; indeed, a manuscript dictionary of the Abenaqui languages, in his handwriting, is still preserved in the library of the Harvard University. Of one of these tribes—the Norridgewoacks—Father Ralle was the pastor. Its little village was on the banks of the Kennebeck; the roof of its tiny chapel rose above the pointed wigwams of the savages; and a huge cross, the emblem of peace, lifted itself above all, the conspicuous feature of the settlement in the distance. By the tribe over which he had exercised his gentle rule for so many years, Le Pere Ralle was regarded with superstitious reverence and affection.
It does not appear that these people had been accused of any overt acts; but, nevertheless, the village was marked out for destruction. Two hundred and eight Massachusetts men were dispatched upon this errand. The settlement was surprised at night, and a terrible scene of slaughter ensued. Ralle came forth from his chapel to save, if possible, the lives of his miserable parishioners. "As soon as he was seen," says the chronicler,[F] "he was saluted with a great shout and a shower of bullets, and fell, together with seven Indians, who had rushed out of their tents to defend him with their bodies; and when the pursuit ceased, the Indians who had fled, returned to weep over their beloved missionary, and found him dead at the foot of the cross, his body perforated with balls, his head scalped, his skull broken with blows of hatchets, his mouth and eyes filled with mud, the bones of his legs broken, and his limbs dreadfully mangled. After having bathed his remains with their tears, they buried him on the site of the chapel, that had been hewn down with its crucifix, with whatever else remained of the emblems of idolatry." Such was the merciless character of the invasion of Acadia; such the looming phantom of the greater crime which was so speedily to spread ruin over her fair valleys, and scatter forever her pastoral people.
The tranquillity of entire subjugation followed these events in the province. The New Englander built his menacing forts along the rivers, and pressed into his service the labors of the neutral French. "The requisitions which were made of them were not calculated to conciliate affection," says the chronicler; the poor Acadian peasant was informed, if he did not supply the garrison fuel, his own house would be used for that purpose, and that neglect to furnish timber for the repairs of a fort, would be followed by drum-head courts martial, and "military execution."
To all these exactions, these unhappy people patiently submitted. But in vain. The very existence of the subjugated race had become irksome to their oppressors. A cruelty yet more intolerable to which the history of the world affords no parallel, remained to be perpetrated.
On the road to Windsor—The great Nova Scotia Railway—A Fellow Passenger—Cape Sable Shipwrecks—Seals—Ponies—Windsor—Sam Slick—A lively Example.
A dewy, spring-like morning is all I remembered of my farewell to Halifax. A very sweet and odorous air as I rode towards the railway station in the funereal cab; a morning without fog, a sparkling freshness that twinkled in the leaves and crisped the waters.
So I take leave of thee, quaint old city of Chebucto. The words of a familiar ditty, the memory of the unfortunate Miss Bailey, rises upon me as the morning bugle sounds—
"A captain bold in Halifax, who lived in country quarters, Seduced a maid, who hung herself next morning in her garters; His wicked conscience smoted him, he lost his spirits daily, He took to drinking ratifia, and thought upon Miss Bailey."
While the psychological features of the case were puzzling his brain and keeping him wide awake—
"The candles blue, at XII. o'clock, began to burn quite paley, A ghost appeared at his bedside, and said— behold, Miss Bailey!!!"
Even such a sprite, so dead in look, so woe-begone, drew Priam's curtain in the dead of night to tell him half his Troy was burned; but this visit was for a different purpose, as we find by the words which the gallant Lothario addressed to his victim:
"'You'll find,' says he, 'a five-pound note in my regimental small-clothes; 'T will bribe the sexton for your grave,' the ghost then vanished gaily, Saying, 'God bless you, wicked Captain Smith, although you've ruined Miss Bailey.'"
There is no end to these legends; the whole province is full of them. The Province Building is stuffed with rich historical manuscripts, that only wait for the antiquarian explorer.[G]
[G] Since my visit this work has actually commenced. At the close of the legislative session of 1857, the Hon. Joseph Howe moved, and the Hon. Attorney-General seconded, and the House, after some demur, resolved, that his Excellency be requested to appoint a commission for examining and arranging the records of the Province. Dining the recess the office was instituted, and Thomas B. Akins, Esq., a gentleman distinguished for antiquarian taste and research, was appointed commissioner. It was known that in the garrets or cellars of the Province Building were heaps of manuscript records, of various kinds; but their exact nature and value were only surmised. Some of these had vanished, it is said, by the agency of rats and mice; and moth and mold were doing their work on other portions. To stay the waste, to ascertain what the heaps contained, and to arrange documents at all worthy of preservation, the commission was appointed. Mr. Akins has been for some months at the superintendence of the work, helped by a very industrious assistant, Mr. James Farquhar. Very pleasing results indeed have been realized. Several boxes of documents, arranged and labelled, have been packed, and fifteen or twenty volumes of interesting manuscripts have been prepared. Some of these are of great interest, relative to the history of the Province, and of British America generally, being original papers concerning the conquest and settling of the Provinces, and having reference to the Acadian French, the Indians, the taking of Louisburgh, of Quebec, and other matters of historic importance connected with the suppression of French dominion in America. We understand some of these documents prove, as many previously believed, that what appeared to be a stern necessity, and not wanton oppression or tyranny, caused the painful dispersion of the former French inhabitants of the more poetic and pastoral parts of Acadia. If this be so, some excellent sentiment and eloquent romance will have to be taken with considerable modification. A few of the most indignant bursts (?) in Longfellow's fine poem of "Evangeline" may be in this predicament; and may have to be read, not exactly as so much gospel, but rather as rhetorical extremes, unsubstantial, but too elegant to be altogether discarded. In volumes alluded to, of the record commission, the dispatches, and letters, and other documents of a former age, and in the handwriting, or from the immediate dictation, of eminent personages, will present very attractive material for those who find deep interest in such venerable inquiries; who obtain from this kind of lore a charming renewal of the past, a clearing up of local history, and an almost face-to-face conference with persons whose names are landmarks of national annals. The commission not only examines and arranges, but forms copious characteristic "contents" of the volumes, and an index for easy reference; it also keeps a journal of each day's proceedings. The "contents" tell the nature and topics of each document, and will thus facilitate research, and prevent much injurious turning over of the manuscripts. The work, too long delayed, has been happily commenced. Its neglect was felt to be a fault and a reproach, and serious loss was known to impend; but still it was put off, and spoken lightly of, and sneered at, and a very mistaken economy pretended, until last legislative session, when it was adopted by accident apparently, and is now in successful operation. The next questions are, how will the arranged documents be preserved? who will have them in charge? will they be allowed to be scattered about in the hands of privileged persons, to be lost wholesale? or will they, as they should, be sacredly conserved, a store to which all shall have a common but well-guarded light of access and research.—Halifax Sun, Dec. 9, 1857.
But now we approach the station of the great Nova Scotia Railway, nine and three-quarter miles in length, that skirts the margin of Bedford Basin, and ends at the head of that blue sheet of water in the village of Sackville. It is amusing to see the gravity and importance of the conductor, in uniform frock-coat and with crown and V. R. buttons, as he paces up and down the platform before starting; and the quiet dignity of the sixpenny ticket-office; and the busy air of the freight-master, checking off boxes and bundles for the distant terminus—so distant that it can barely be distinguished by the naked eye. But it was a pleasant ride, that by the Basin! Not less pleasant because of the company of an old friend, who, with wife and children, went with me to the end of the iron road. Arrived there, we parted, with many a hearty hand-shake, and thence by stage to Windsor, on the river Avon, forty-five miles or so west of Halifax.
My fellow-passenger on the stage-top was a pony! Yes, a real pony! not bigger, however, than a good sized pointer dog, although his head was of most preposterous horse-like length. This equine Tom Thumb, was one of the mustangs, or wild horses of Sable Island, some little account of which here may not be uninteresting. But first let me say, in order not to tax the credulity of my reader too much, that pony did not stand upright upon the roof of the coach, as may have been surmised, but was very cleverly laid upon his side, with his four legs strapped in the form of a saw-buck, precisely as butchers tie the legs of calves or of sheep together, for transportation in carts to the shambles, only pony's fetters were not so cruel—indeed he seemed to be quite at his ease—like the member of the foreign legion on the road to Dartmouth.
Now then, pony's birth-place is one of the most interesting upon our coast. Do you remember it, my transatlantic traveller? The little yellow spot that greets you so far out at sea, and bids you welcome to the western hemisphere? I hope you have seen it in fine weather; many a goodly ship has left her bones upon that yellow island in less auspicious seasons. The first of these misadventurers was Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who was lost in a storm close by; the memorable words with which he hailed his consort are now familiar to every reader: "Heaven," said he, "is as near by sea as by land," and so bade the world farewell in the tempest. Legends of wrecks of buccaneers, of spectres, multiply as we penetrate into the mysterious history of the yellow island. And its present aspect is sufficiently tempting to the adventurous, for whom—
"If danger other charms have none, Then danger's self is lure alone."
The following description, from a lecture delivered in Halifax, by Dr. J. Bernard Gilpin, will commend itself to our modern Robinson Crusoes:
"Should any one be visiting the island now, he might see, about ten miles' distance, looking seaward, half a dozen low, dark hummocks on the horizon. As he approaches, they gradually resolve themselves into hills fringed by breakers, and by and by the white sea beach with its continued surf—the sand-hills, part naked, part waving in grass of the deepest green, unfold themselves—a house and a barn dot the western extremity—here and there along the wild beach lie the ribs of unlucky traders half-buried in the shifting sand. By this time a red ensign is waving at its peak, and from a tall flag-staff and crow's nest erected upon the highest hill midway of the island, an answering flag is waving to the wind. Before the anchor is let go, and the cutter is rounding to in five fathoms of water, men and horses begin to dot the beach, a life-boat is drawn rapidly on a boat-cart to the beach, manned, and fairly breasting the breakers upon the bar. It may have been three long winter months that this boat's crew have had no tidings of the world, or they may have three hundred emigrants and wrecked crews, waiting to be carried off. The hurried greetings over, news told and newspapers and letters given, the visitor prepares to return with them to the island. Should it be evening, he will see the cutter already under weigh and standing seaward; but, should it be fine weather, plenty of day, and wind right off the shore, even then she lies to the wind anchor apeak, and mainsail hoisted, ready to run at a moment's notice, so sudden are the shifts of wind, and so hard to claw off from those treacherous shores. But the life-boat is now entering the perpetual fringe of surf—a few seals tumble and play in the broken waters, and the stranger draws his breath hard, as the crew bend to their oars, the helmsman standing high in the pointed stern, with loud command and powerful arm keeping her true, the great boat goes riding on the back of a huge wave, and is carried high up on the beach in a mass of struggling water. To spring from their seats into the water, and hold hard the boat, now on the point of being swept back by the receding wave, is the work of an instant. Another moment they are left high and dry on the beach, another, and the returning wave and a vigorous run of the crew has borne her out of all harm's way.
"Such is the ceremony of landing at Sable Island nine or ten months out of the year: though there are at times some sweet halcyon days when a lad might land in a flat. Dry-shod the visitor picks his way between the thoroughly drenched crew, picks up a huge scallop or two, admires the tumbling play of the round-headed seals, and plods his way through the deep sand of an opening between the hills, or gulch (so called) to the head-quarters establishment. And here, for the last fifty years, a kind welcome has awaited all, be they voluntary idlers or sea-wrecked men. Screened by the sand-hills, here is a well-stocked barn and barnyard, filled with its ordinary inhabitants, sleek milch cows and heady bulls, lazy swine, a horse grazing at a tether, with geese and ducks and fowls around. Two or three large stores and boat-houses, quarters for the men, the Superintendent's house, blacksmith shop, sailors' home for sea-wrecked men, and oil-house, stand around an irregular square, and surmounted by the tall flag-staff and crow's nest on the neighboring hill. So abrupt the contrast, so snug the scene, if the roar of the ocean were out of his ears, one might fancy himself twenty miles inland.
"Nearly the first thing the visitor does is to mount the flag-staff, and climbing into the crow's nest, scan the scene. The ocean bounds him everywhere. Spread east and west, he views the narrow island in form of a bow, as if the great Atlantic waves had bent it around, nowhere much above a mile wide, twenty-six miles long, including the dry bars, and holding a shallow late thirteen miles long in its centre.
"There it all lies spread like a map at his feet—grassy hill and sandy valley fading away into the distance. On the foreground the outpost men galloping their rough ponies into head-quarters, recalled by the flag flying above his head; the West-end house of refuge, with bread and matches, firewood and kettle, and directions to find water, and head-quarters with flag-staff on the adjoining hill. Every sandy peak or grassy knoll with a dead man's name or old ship's tradition—Baker's Hill, Trott's Cove, Scotchman's Head, French Gardens—traditionary spot where the poor convicts expiated their social crimes—the little burial-ground nestling in the long grass of a high hill, and consecrated to the repose of many a sea-tossed limb; and two or three miles down the shallow lake, the South-side house and barn, and staff and boats lying on the lake beside the door. Nine miles further down, by the help of a glass, he may view the flag-staff at the foot of the lake, and five miles further the East-end look-out, with its staff and watch-house. Herds of wild ponies dot the hills, and black duck and sheldrakes are heading their young broods on the mirror-like ponds. Seals innumerable are basking on the warm sands, or piled like ledges of rock along the shores. The Glascow's bow, the Maskonemet's stern, the East Boston's hulk, and the grinning ribs of the well-fastened Guide are spotting the sands, each with its tale of last adventure, hardships passed, and toil endured. The whole picture is set in a silver-frosted frame of rolling surf and sea-ribbed sand."
The patrol duty of the hardy islander is thus described:
"Mounted upon his hardy pony, the solitary patrol starts upon his lonely way. He rides up the centre valleys, ever and anon mounting a grassy hill to look seaward, reaches the West-end bar, speculates upon perchance a broken spar, an empty bottle, or a cask of beef struggling in the land-wash—now fords the shallow lake, looking well for his land-range, to escape the hole where Baker was drowned; and coming on the breeding-ground of the countless birds, his pony's hoof with a reckless smash goes crunching through a dozen eggs or callow young. He fairly puts his pony to her mettle to escape the cloud of angry birds which, arising in countless numbers, dent his weather-beaten tarpaulin with their sharp bills, and snap his pony's ears, and confuse him with their sharp, shrill cries. Ten minutes more, and he is holding hard to count the seals. There they lie, old ocean flocks, resting their wave-tossed limbs—great ocean bulls, and cows, and calves. He marks them all. The wary old male turns his broad moustached nostrils to the tainted gale of man and horse sweeping down upon them, and the whole herd are simultaneously lumbering a retreat. And now he goes, plying his little short whip, charging the whole herd to cut off their retreat for the pleasure and fun of galloping in and over and amongst fifty great bodies, rolling and tumbling and tossing, and splashing the surf in their awkward endeavors to escape."
And now to return to our pony, who seems to sympathize with his fellow-traveller, for every instant he raises his head as if he would peep into his note-book. Let me quote this of him and of his brethren:
"When the present breed of wild ponies was introduced, there is no record. In an old print, seemingly a hundred years old, they are depicted as being lassoed by men in cocked hats and antique habiliments. At present, three or four hundred are their utmost numbers, and it is curious to observe how in their figures and habits they approach the wild races of Mexico or the Ukraine. They are divided into herds or gangs, each having a separate pasture, and each presided over by an old male, conspicuous by the length of his mane, rolling in tangled masses over eye and ear down to his fore arm. Half his time seems taken up in tossing it from his eyes as he collects his out-lying mares and foals on the approach of strangers, and keeping them well up in a pack boldly faces the enemy whilst they retreat at a gallop. If pressed, however, he, too, retreats on their rear. He brooks no undivided allegiance, and many a fierce battle is waged by the contending chieftains for the honor of the herd. In form they resemble the wild horses of all lands: the large head, thick, shaggy neck of the male, low withers, paddling gait, and sloping quarters, have all their counterparts in the mustang and the horse of the Ukraine. There seems a remarkable tendency in these horses to assume the Isabella colors, the light chestnuts, and even the piebalds or paint horses of the Indian prairies or the Mexican Savannah. The annual drive or herding, usually resulting in the whole island being swept from end to end, and a kicking, snorting, half-terrified mass driven into a large pound, from which two or three dozen are selected, lassoed, and exported to town, affords fine sport, wild riding, and plenty of falls."
Thus much for Sable Island.
"Dark isle of mourning! aptly art thou named, For thou hast been the cause of many a tear; For deeds of treacherous strife too justly famed, The Atlantic's charnel—desolate and drear; A thing none love, though wand'ring thousands fear— If for a moment rest the Muse's wing Where through the waves thy sandy wastes appear, 'Tis that she may one strain of horror sing, Wild as the dashing waves that tempests o'er thee fling."[H]
[H] Poem by the Hon. Joseph Howe.
And now pony we must part. Windsor approaches! Yonder among the embowering trees is the residence of Judge Halliburton, the author of "Sam Slick." How I admire him for his hearty hostility to republican institutions! It is natural, straightforward, shrewd, and, no doubt, sincere. At the same time, it affords an example of how much the colonist or satellite form of government tends to limit the scope of the mind, which under happier skies and in a wider intelligence might have shone to advantage.
Windsor-upon-Avon—Ride to the Gasperau—The Basin of Minas—Blomidon—This is the Acadian Land—Basil, the Blacksmith—A Yankee Settlement—Useless Reflections.
Windsor lies upon the river Avon. It is not the Avon which runs by Stratford's storied banks, but still it is the Avon. There is something in a name. Witness it, O river of the Blue Noses!
I cannot recall a prettier village than this. If you doubt my word, come and see it. Yonder we discern a portion of the Basin of Minas; around us are the rich meadows of Nova Scotia. Intellect has here placed a crowning college upon a hill; opulence has surrounded it with picturesque villas. A ride into the country, a visit to a bachelor's lodge, studded with horns of moose and cariboo, with woodland scenes and Landseer's pictures, and then—over the bridge, and over the Avon, towards Grand-Pre and the Gasperau! I suppose, by this time, my dear reader, you are tired of sketches of lake scenery, mountain scenery, pines and spruces, strawberry blossoms, and other natural features of the province? For my part, I rode through a strawberry-bed three hundred miles long—from Sydney to Halifax—diversified by just such patches of scenery, and was not tired of it. But it is a different matter when you come to put it on paper. So I forbear.
Up hill we go, soon to approach the tragic theatre. A crack of the whip, a stretch of the leaders, and now, suddenly, the whole valley comes in view! Before us are the great waters of Minas; yonder Blomidon bursts upon the sight; and below, curving like a scimitar around the edge of the Basin, and against the distant cliffs that shut out the stormy Bay of Fundy, is the Acadian land—the idyllic meadows of Grand-Pre lie at our feet.
The Abbe Reynal's account of the colony, as it appeared one hundred years ago, I take from the pages of Haliburton:
"Hunting and fishing, which had formerly been the delight of the colony, and might have still supplied it with subsistence, had no further attraction for a simple and quiet people, and gave way to agriculture, which had been established in the marshes and low lands, by repelling with dykes the sea and rivers which covered these plains. These grounds yielded fifty for one at first, and afterwards fifteen or twenty for one at least; wheat and oats succeeded best in them, but they likewise produced rye, barley and maize. There were also potatoes in great plenty, the use of which was become common. At the same time these immense meadows were covered with numerous flocks. They computed as many as sixty thousand head of horned cattle; and most families had several horses, though the tillage was carried on by oxen. Their habitations, which were constructed of wood, were extremely convenient, and furnished as neatly as substantial farmer's houses in Europe. They reared a great deal of poultry of all kinds, which made a variety in their food, at once wholesome and plentiful. Their ordinary drink was beer and cider, to which they sometimes added rum. Their usual clothing was in general the produce of their own flax, or the fleeces of their own sheep; with these they made common linens and coarse cloths. If any of them had a desire for articles of greater luxury, they procured them from Annapolis or Louisburg, and gave in exchange corn, cattle or furs. The neutral French had nothing else to give their neighbors, and made still fewer exchanges among themselves; because each separate family was able, and had been accustomed to provide for its own wants. They therefore knew nothing of paper currency, which was so common throughout the rest of North America. Even the small quantity of gold and silver which had been introduced into the colony, did not inspire that activity in which consists its real value. Their manners were of course extremely simple. There was seldom a cause, either civil or criminal, of importance enough to be carried before the Court of Judication, established at Annapolis. Whatever little differences arose from time to time among them, were amicably adjusted by their elders. All their public acts were drawn by their pastors, who had likewise the keeping of their wills; for which, and their religious services, the inhabitants paid a twenty-seventh part of their harvest, which was always sufficient to afford more means than there were objects of generosity.
"Real misery was wholly unknown, and benevolence anticipated the demands of poverty.[I] Every misfortune was relieved, as it were, before it could be felt, without ostentation on the one hand, and without meanness on the other. It was, in short, a society of brethren; every individual of which was equally ready to give, and to receive, what he thought the common right of mankind. So perfect a harmony naturally prevented all those connections of gallantry which are so often fatal to the peace of families. This evil was prevented by early marriages, for no one passed his youth in a state of celibacy. As soon as a young man arrived to the proper age, the community built him a house, broke up the lands about it, and supplied him with all the necessaries of life for a twelvemonth. There he received the partner whom he had chosen, and who brought him her portion in flocks. This new family grew and prospered like the others. In 1755, all together made a population of eighteen thousand souls. Such is the picture of these people, as drawn by the Abbe Reynal. By many, it is thought to represent a state of social happiness totally inconsistent with the frailties and passions of human nature, and that it is worthy rather of the poet than the historian. In describing a scene of rural felicity like this, it is not improbable that his narrative has partaken of the warmth of feeling for which he was remarkable; but it comes much nearer the truth than is generally imagined. Tradition is fresh and positive in the various parts of the United States where they were located respecting their guileless, peaceable, and scrupulous character; and the descendants of those, whose long cherished and endearing local attachment induced them to return to the land of their nativity, still deserve the name of a mild, frugal, and pious people."
[I] At the present moment, the poor in the Township of Clare are maintained by the inhabitants at large; and being members of one great family, spend the remainder of their days in visits from house to house. An illegitimate child is almost unknown in the settlements.
As we rest here upon the summit of the Gasperau Mountain, and look down on yonder valley, we can readily imagine such a people. A pastoral people, rich in meadow-lands, secured by laborious dykes, and secluded from the struggling outside world. But we miss the thatch-roof cottages, by hundreds, which should be the prominent feature in the picture, the vast herds of cattle, the belfries of scattered village chapels, the murmur of evening fields,
"Where peace was tinkling in the shepherd's bell, And singing with the reapers."
These no longer exist:
"Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pre."
I sank back in the stage as it rolled down the mountain-road, and fairly covered my eyes with my hands, as I repeated Webster's boast: "Thank God! I too am an American." "But," said I, recovering, "thank God, I belong to a State that has never bragged much of its great moral antecedents!" and in that reflection I felt comforted, and the load on my back a little lightened.
A few weeping willows, the never-failing relics of an Acadian settlement, yet remain on the roadside; these, with the dykes and Great Prairie itself, are the only memorials of a once happy people. The sun was just sinking behind the Gasperau mountain as we entered the ancient village. There was a smithy beside the stage-house, and we could see the dusky glow of the forge within, and the swart mechanic
"Take in his leathern lap the hoof of the horse as a plaything, Nailing the shoe in its place."
But it was not Basil the Blacksmith, nor one of his descendants, that held the horse-hoof. The face of the smith was of the genuine New England type, and just such faces as I saw everywhere in the village. In the shifting panorama of the itinerary I suddenly found myself in a hundred-year-old colony of genuine Yankees, the real true blues of Connecticut, quilted in amidst the blue noses of Nova Scotia.
But of the poor Acadians not one remains now in the ancient village. It is a solemn comment upon their peaceful and unrevengeful natures, that two hundred settlers from Hew England remained unmolested upon their lands, and that the descendants of those New England settlers now occupy them. A solemn comment upon our history, and the touching epitaph of an exterminated race.
Much as we may admire the various bays and lakes, the inlets, promontories, and straits, the mountains and woodlands of this rarely-visited corner of creation—and, compared with it, we can boast of no coast scenery so beautiful—the valley of Grand-Pre transcends all the rest in the Province. Only our valley of Wyoming, as an inland picture, may match it, both in beauty and tradition. One has had its Gertrude, the other its Evangeline. But Campbell never saw Wyoming, nor has Longfellow yet visited the shores of the Basin of Minas. And I may venture to say, neither poet has touched the key-note of divine anger which either story might have awakened.
But let us be thankful for those simple and beautiful idyls. After all, it is a question whether the greatest and noblest impulses of man are not awakened rather by the sympathy we feel for the oppressed, than by the hatred engendered by the acts of the oppressor?
I wish I could shake off these useless reflections of a bygone period. But who can help it?
"This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it Leaped like the roe when it hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman? Where is the thatch-roof village, the home of Acadian farmers— Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands? Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!"
The Valley of Acadia—A Morning Ride to the Dykes—An unexpected Wild-duck Chase—High Tides—The Gasperau—Sunset—The Lamp of History—Conclusion.
The eastern sun glittered on roof and window-pane next morning. Neat houses in the midst of trim gardens, rise tier above tier on the hill-slopes that overlook the prairie lands. A green expanse, several miles in width, extends to the edge of the dykes, and in the distance, upon its verge, here and there a farmhouse looms up in the warm haze of a summer morning. On the left hand the meadows roll away until they are merged in the bases of the cliffs that, stretching forth over the blue water of the Basin, end abruptly at Cape Blomidon. These cliffs are precise counterparts of our own Palisades, on the Hudson. Then to the right, again, the vision follows the hazy coast-line until it melts in the indistinct outline of wave and vapor, back of which rises the Gasperau mountain, that protects the valley on the east with corresponding barriers of rock and forest. Within this hemicycle lie the waters of Minas, bounded on the north by the horizon-line, the clouds and the sky.
Once happy Acadia nestled in this valley. Does it not seem incredible that even Puritan tyranny could have looked with hard and pitiless eyes upon such a scene, and invade with rapine, sword and fire, the peace and serenity of a land so fair?
A morning ride across the Grand-Pre convinced me that the natural opulence of the valley had not been exaggerated. These once desolate and bitter marshes, reclaimed from the sea by the patient labor of the French peasant, are about three miles broad by twenty miles long. The prairie grass, even at this time of year, is knee-deep, and, as I was informed, yields, without cultivation, from two to four tons to the acre. The fertility of the valley in other respects is equally great. The dyke lands are intersected by a network of white causeways, raised above the level of the meadows. We passed over these to the outer edge of the dykes. "These lands," said my young companion, "are filled in this season with immense flocks of all kinds of feathered game." And I soon had reason to be convinced of the truth of it, for just then we started up what seemed to be a wounded wild-duck, upon which out leaped my companion from the wagon and gave chase. A bunch of tall grass, upon the edge of a little pool, lay between him and the game; he brushed hastily through this, and out of it poured a little feathered colony. As these young ones were not yet able to fly, they were soon captured—seven little black ducks safely nestled together under the seat of the wagon, and poor Niobe trailed her broken wing within a tempting distance in vain.
We were soon upon the dykes themselves, which are raised upon the edge of the meadows, and are quite insignificant in height, albeit of great extent otherwise. But from the bottom of the dykes to the edge of yonder sparkling water, there is a bare beach, full three miles in extent. What does this mean? What are these dykes for, if the enemy is so far off? The answer to this query discloses a remarkable phenomenon. The tide in this part of the world rises sixty or seventy feet every twelve hours. At present the beach is bare; the five rivers of the valley—the Gasperau, the Cornwallis, the Canard, the Habitant, the Perot—are empty. Betimes the tide will roll in in one broad unretreating wave, surging and shouldering its way over the expanse, filling all the rivers, and dashing against the protecting barriers under our feet; but before sunset the rivers will be emptied again, the bridges will uselessly hang in the air over the deserted channels, the beach will yawn wide and bare where a ship of the line might have anchored. Sometimes a stranger schooner from New England, secure in a safe distance from shore, drops down in six or seven fathom. Then, suddenly, the ebb sweeps off from the intruder, and leaves his two-master keeled over, with useless anchor and cable exposed, "to point a moral and adorn a tale." Sometimes a party will take boat for a row upon the placid bosom of this bay; but woe unto them if they consult not the almanac! A mistake may leave them high and dry on the beach, miles from the dykes, and as the tide comes in with a bore, a sudden influx, wave above wave, the risk is imminent.
I passed two days in this happy valley, sometimes riding across to the dykes, sometimes visiting the neighboring villages, sometimes wandering on foot over the hills to the upper waters of the rivers. And the Gasperau in particular is an attractive little mountain sylph, as it comes skipping down the rocks, breaking here and there out in a broad cascade, or rippling and singing in the heart of the grand old forest. I think my friend Kensett might set his pallet here, and pitch a brief tent by Minas and the Gasperau to advantage. For my own part, I would that I had my trout-pole and a fly!