Febuary 21, 1997 Halifax Herald

Acadians: stuck between a rock and a hard place

Jacques Maurice grew up in a house within sight of the French fort at Port Royal. After England took the fort and renamed it Annapolis Royal, the family stayed in the area until 1720. They then moved to Beaubassin where by 1732, Jacques had established his own home and was a prominent merchant. He spoke both English and French and probably was fairly fluent in Mi'kmaq.

By 1746, Maurice was the owner of a sloop named Margaret. He and brother Joseph, with a crew of six, used it to ferry goods and people between the Isthmus of Chignecto and Cape Breton Island. His family, including children and grandchildren, numbered 18 by 1754.

Maurice engaged in trade with all the diverse factions that were competing for power in Nova Scotia.

Geoffrey Plank, a University of Cincinnati history professor, relates: "Engaging in any kind of trade between [the diverse factions resident in Nova Scotia] would have been dangerous. But Maurice... embraced controversy and entered into transactions with significant political ramifications... he did business with Acadians, French, New Englanders, British, Micmac and Huron.

“He was related by blood, marriage, or some less formal connection on the female side, to officers in both the French and British military. Until his world collapsed in 1755, he found ways to profit from these diverse connections...

"...In 1744 the British and French empires [again] went to war. Ransoming captives became a critical part of wartime diplomacy. For Jacques and his brother Joseph, the exchange of prisoners became a business.

"Maurice became a specialist in the exchange of human beings. Throughout his lifetime in Nova Scotia, especially in the region of Beaubassin, there was constant demand for intermediaries who could assist persons moving across national boundaries... Sometimes he arranged the ransom of prisoners... More often he acted as the hired agent of the imperial regimes, and returned deserters to their homes and barracks. For twenty five years he conducted this business..."

Plank relates an incident where one William Pote was taken prisoners by a band of Huron warriors. The Huron, trying to help Pote arrange ransom, took him to the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to consult with Joseph Maurice. Joseph directed them to take Pote to his brother Jacques in Beaubassin. Unfortunately for Pote, Jacques was unavailable.

Plank comments: "Anthony Casteel was luckier. In the summer of 1753 he was captured by a band of Micmac warriors... His captors told him he would die if he did not pay a ransom. Casteel protested he had no money, but the warriors told him not to worry because they would take him to a merchant who could provide a loan...the Micmac introduced him to Jacques Maurice...

...the prisoner haggled with the Micmac over the size of his ransom. At a bad moment in the negotiations a warrior raised a knife. Casteel fainted... When the prisoner regained consciousness he found himself in the Maurice family home. The merchant's wife...gave him some wine, [then] counted out [and gave him] the money he needed to buy his freedom."

There is considerable evidence to suggest that Jacques was working a scam to extort money from prisoners. Plank observes: "The Acadian family may have made a show of saving Casteel when in fact they were part of the ritual and profited from the extortion. By 1753 Jacques had purchased many prisoners by offering them loans with interest. He, at least in some quarters, had gained the reputation of a slave trader."

During these years Jacques often proclaimed himself to be a loyal British subject. He told Casteel: "If he was never to receive a farthing that should not hinder him from saving the English to the utmost of his power, even to the last shirt on his back." However, although the British used him, they didn't believe he was a loyal British subject nor did they trust him. But in reality this was their estimation of all Acadians. Without exception all were ordered deported in 1755.

Plank relates Maurice's fate: "In November 1755 Jacques Maurice, his wife, children and grandchildren were seized, placed on the ship Prince Frederick and carried to Georgia."

In Savannah Maurice argued before the authorities that he should be permitted to return home. He presented himself as a "vigorous British subject." On march 10, 1756 he was given permission to leave Georgia. He, his wife, 16 children and 82 newly adopted dependents removed themselves to South Carolina.

From the governor in Charleston the clan was granted permission to move on to North Carolina. After some controversy he was permitted to move on to New York. From thence they traveled to Massachusetts. The Bay colony refused permission for them to return to Nova Scotia. Instead, they were separated and assigned to live in designated towns situated throughout the province.

Plank: "In 1759 Jacques filed the last petition of his life, asking the [Massachusetts] provincial government to reimburse him for the value of his impounded canoes. He received seven pounds, eight shillings and two pence, and the British authorities never heard from him again."

Was neutrality a viable option for Jacques Maurice? When passing judgement upon the actions of Maurice one must remember that the Acadians were stuck in between a rock and a hard place: the greedy ambitions of two imperialistic powers, Great Britain and France.

Daniel N. Paul


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