Acadie/Tome I/23

Texte établi par Henri d’Arles, J.-A. K.-Laflamme (Tome Ip. 402-406).


(Cf. Chapitre Dixième)

(Extrait de Knox’s Historical Journal. Appendice XXV).


[See vol. i. p. 275. The editor is indebted to Mr. Placide Gaudet, Genealogist of the Canadian Archives, for the interesting information contained in this note. If the Acadians had had more advisers of the type of the Abbé Desenclaves, they might have been spared much of the suffering which fell to their lot. It seems incredible that the English should have neglected a man who rendered them such signal service.]

The Abbé Jean Baptiste Gay Desenclaves was born, January 29, 1702, in the parish of Saint Leonard-de-Limoges, France. He was ordained priest June 15, 1726, was admitted to the order of Saint Sulpice a few months after his ordination, and, two years later, was sent to Canada. On September 1, 1728, he arrived at Montreal, and spent the next nine years in missionary work in the parishes of Notre Dame de Montréal, Sainte Anne du Bout-de-l’ile, Repentigny, Longue Pointe, and Sault au Récollet. After a visit to France he came to Louisbourg with the Abbé Nicolas Vauquelin in September, 1739. The Abbé Vauquelin was appointed parish priest of Annapolis Royal by Lieutenant-Governor Armstrong, and Desenclaves was sent successively to Cobequit (now Truro), Grand Pré, and Rivière aux Canards (now Canning). In June, 1742, Desenclaves became parish priest of Annapolis Royal, and for twelve years lived on good terms with the Governor and the principal ofîicers of that place. When Du Vivier failed to capture Annapolis in 1744, he attributed his want of success to the missionary priests in Acadia, and reported to the Comte de Maurepas that the priests had not encouraged the Acadians to support him. That minister, writing to the Bishop of Quebec on May 12, 1745, said :

« [His Majesty] is far from being satisfied with the conduct displayed during the past year by some of the missionaries in Acadia, on the occasion of the expedition undertaken in that country. He has, indeed, been informed that the Sieurs Maillart, La Goudalie, Laboret and Le Loutre alone endeavoured to obtain assistance for the French who had been sent there, and that the Sieur Desenclave, curé at Port Royal, carefully reported to the English Governor all he could learn as to the movements of the French, and exhorted his parishioners to be faithful to the King of England, the Sieur Chevreux, another curé, threatened to excommunicate those of his parishioners who took up arms in favour of the French, and the Sieur Miniac, Vicar-General, though acting with greater secrecy, did even more to frustrate the enterprise. His Majesty would have taken care to have these last three missionaries return to France, if circumstances had permitted his doing so ; but he shall give orders that they are no longer to participate in the grant he makes towards the support of the priests in Acadia. » [Archives des Colonies, B. 81 : from the copy in the Canadian Archives.]

Desenclaves took the same stand in 1745 and in 1747, at the time of the expeditions of Marin and of De Ramesay against Annapolis Royal.

During the visit of the Abbé Le Loutre to France in 1753 he persuaded his friend, the Abbé Daudin, to give up a parish in the Diocese of Sens and come to Nova Scotia as a missionary priest to the Acadians. On his arrival Daudin took up his residence at Pisiquid [Windsor], Some extracts are here given from letters written by him to the Abbé Le Loutre, then at Au Lac, near Fort Beauséjour. The first letter is dated at Port Royal, August 10, 1754 — four months after Desenclaves had left that parish :

« As regards Mr. Desenclaves I have no news to send you, except that he is very much regretted by our Gentlemen [the English], and with good reason : no other priest did them such good service. They were better acquainted with him than M. l’abbé de l’Isle Dieu, I have no doubt you will see to his withdrawal. I am sending you a reply from the commandant of the fort which will give you information. I have returned to M. Chauvreux the Bishop’s letters which I found complete, lying in some houses at the Cape where the English are continually. We have written to him in very severe terms. For my part I close my letter — after having reproached him with his trickeries, which he cannot deny — by saying that if I were his superior I would interdict him. It was high time for my mission in this country on behalf of faith and morals. I had never seen anything worse, and I do not wonder that the English are asking to have him back again… I fear that M. Desenclaves may have written against me. It is a matter you should see to. He is a dangerous man, and might be able to tie my hands : you understand what I mean. »

The other letter is dated September 26, 1754, and reads thus :

« …M. Desenclaves is having himself sought after by the English. He thinks it may be a means of getting back again, but the people [the French] are far from asking for him. He was strongly against the King of France in the dispute. He did not conceal that it would be better to deal with the English than with the French. You can judge of the rest ! I have written him a letter in which I do not spare him. He tells me he has sent it to His Lordship. That is his business. The people take my side. » [The Pichon Papers. Canadien Archives, M. 653].

The Abbé Daudin continued to upbraid Desenclaves for refusing to exhort his parishioners to abandon their farms and emigrate to the Isthmus of Chignecto. Desenclaves had left Annapolis in the spring of 1754 : the last entry in the Register in his hand is dated April 8, 1754. He went to the d’Entremonts and Amisaults at Cape Sable, which included the two settlements now known as Barrington and Pubnico, and remained two years. When Prebble landed there on his way from Halifax to Boston in April, 1756, he took prisoners and carried off many of the Acadian inhabitants. Desenclaves escaped with a few Acadians and found refuge at Baccaro Point, four miles beyond Port La Tour. After staying there for two years and a half he was captured by Goreham’s Rangers, who had been sent by Monckton in September, 1758, to search for Acadian refugees in the vicinity of Cape Sable. Monckton has the following entry in his Journal, October 15, 1758 :

« The Pilot Schooner arrives [in the River St. John, N. B.] with a Letter from Maj’r Morris — Acquainting me — that, after, having despaired of meeting with any of the Inhabitants — for want of proper Guides — Cap’ Goreham with a small party had surpris’d a small village, in which he had taken one Mr. Disenclave (sic) the priest & between 60 to 70 Men, Women & Children. » [Canadian Archives, M. 211-1 : C. O. 5 : 54 ; formerly A. & W. I. 89-1.]

Morris embarked the prisoners and sent them to Halifax. These prisoners with others taken during the fall of 1758 were sent on board two Cartel-ships to France, and landed at Havre in February, 1759. Desenclaves had been nine years a missionary in Canada and twenty years in Acadia. When taken at Baccaro he was poor, old and feeble. Through the good offices of the Abbé de l’Isle Dieu, the minister, M. Berryer, obtained a gratuity of four hundred livres for the poor Abbé, who went to Limoges, where he ended his days. The date of his death is not known. We have from his pen a curious letter addressed to M. Berryer at Versailles, of which a translation is here given.

« My Lord, — The rumours of peace that are current here lead me to entreat your lordship to allow me to importune you a little. You can read this at odd hours. In any case I have the honour to assure your Lordship that my zeal both for the interests of religion and for those of my country, together with the long and frequent interviews I was compelled to have with the English governors and officers, who spoke to me with the utmost frankness, have combined to procure me a vast amount of information, which may, perhaps, be useful.

« It is true, My Lord, that England might listen to, and even submit peace proposals, but, to judge by what was said, she would come to no decision until she should have seen the success of her attack on Canada. She has the conquest of that country particularly at heart, because she regards it as an assurance of perpetual tranquillity for New England, [since it would involve] the reduction of winning over of the Indians — the end she has chiefly in view. If Canada be taken, whereof there is great danger, she will be more exacting ; if not, she would be more readily disposed to peace. But in any case she will demand portmaon [Port Mahon] ; and might in that case make up her mind to cede Acadia and Louisbourg, places henceforth of little value to France, for Acadia is wholly ruined and at least three-fourths of the inhabitants dead.

« It will be said, My Lord, that Louisbourg is completely fortified : but what benefit has ever been derived from the fortifications costing immense sums which, during there last two wars, have served only to cause the loss to France of a great number of men and ships ? It would be a good thing, provided that France were as strong on sea as England, and if her officers, both of the Colonies and of the Marine, were as faithful to their prince and to the state as the English officers are, — the thing is loudly bruited in all the seaport towns of France.

It is a beautiful sight, My Lord, to see English noblemen in North America going to face all the terrors, hardships and even dangers of roads and weather, sacrificing their pleasure and their interests for the service of their prince and their country ; whilst little gentlemen who owe their very means of existence to the goodness of His Most Christian Majesty think of nothing save enriching themselves at the cost of the public and of the individual. They were unwilling to go one step to defend a fortress, (Beauséjour), the loss of which brought in its wake the ruin of the fairest hopes of France, the lost of almost all she possessed in the lands of North America, and the affliction of some fourteen hundred families by the loss of goods, of liberty, and even of life for the greatest number.

« I have known, My Lord, and even intimately, an officer (Du Vivier), who boasted loudly of his warlike exploits, which consisted in the capture of a small, unfortified village (Canso), where the only artillery was a few small guns with a single gun-carriage of half-decayed wood. It is true he marched against a more important post, (Annapolis Royal) of which he might have made himself master with some honour, had he gone thither with the little force of ships he had and a medium mortar. But was it not rashness to appear before a fortress, well defended with moats and bastions, mountings large guns and to great mortars ; and, moreover, though having only a company of infantery and a hundred ill-disposed Indians, to summon the Commandant and his officers ? The glory that he brought thence was that of being more skilful in trade than in the art of war and of being utterly silly in his manner of writing. In his camp he spoke only of hogsheads of molasses and of brandy. He had made, in a very short space of time, more than two hundred thousand livres in this business or in that of flour, God knows how. Yet this was the officer who alone got himself spoken of in the last war on the coasts adjacent to the Isles Royalles [sic], and who alone performed those fine exploits, which, I believe, without exageration, cost France Louisbourg and those fatal consequences of its capture from which, it may be, we shall never recover.

« Something further might be said, My Lord, concerning the character of the fortifications erected in our North American fortresses. It is true that, even had they been of bronze, they would not have prevented the last reduction of Louisburg. But we would [not ?] have had to fear the assault afterwards if the stones had been sufficiently well cemented not to fall into the ditches when the cannons were being pushed on the walls, as I am told they did. Nearly thirty years ago, when walking on the ramparts of the city of Montreal, I detached the stones without difficulty by laying my hand on the walls, the mortar crumbling away like sand. It is reported that the walls of Louisburg as well as the other fortified places were of similar character.

« I beg Your Lordship will allow me to add here that in the last war it was said that the Court had been on the point of doing away with the Navy because of the poor services which it rendered France. Yet the outcry against it is much louder in the present war. And if formerly we had thought of abandoning Canada because it cost more than it was worth — and the only motive for preserving it was the salvation of the Indians who were being won to God — now, should Canada once be taken, this motive ceasing, we might well withdraw from there entirely and turn our attention to the Mississippi, settling it with people removed from all these localities, and even — so runs the proposal — transporting thither the foundlings of Paris. Thus we could avoid the surrender of port maon, which is worth more to France than all North America.

« We could, however, in order to mislead the English, make pretence of a great attachment to those places so as to give them greater value and obtain more compensation for abandoning our assumed demands.

« It is true that we need a station for the cod-fishery ; but such could be found easily, and we would secure a most favourable one, where pasturage and tillage could be had and where it would suffice to place a few guns and keep ships as is done by the English.

« I have the honour to entreat Your Lordship to pardon the liberty I am taking since I have no other favours to ask of you after the assurances given me that provision would be made for my salary and that I would be reimbursed for my losses and outlays caused by the disasters of the Acadians. I shall have no further reason for importuning Your Lordship. The grief alone that the misfortunes of this war have brought on me, and my great desire to see it brought to an end by a peace honorable and advantageous to France have as it were compelled me to write this. Henceforth, however, I shall think of it as little as possible and speak of it still less to the very end of my days. I must henceforth think only of the Lord, [praying] that He may preserve all states and bring them happy fortunes, and especially their rulers, governors and administrators.

« I have the honour to be with the most profound respect, My Lord, Your Lordship’s most humble and most obedient servant Desenclavepriest.

« Honfleur, March 8, 1759. »

[Canadian Archives, F. 95 : C. I. 95.]