January, 1998 Halifax Herald

The rest of Jacques Maurice's story

During February 1997, this newspaper published two of my columns: “Acadians: how politically neutral were they?” and “Acadians: stuck between a rock and a hard place.” The subject was the life and times of an 18th-century Acadian merchant, Jacques Maurice.

Recap: Maurice acted as an intermediary between the various Nations at war in Nova Scotia during the 1740s and early 1750s. In this capacity, he ransomed many prisoners of war, returning them to their own people. Jacques claimed to be a loyal British subject. In 1754, many Acadians swore unconditional allegiance to Great Britain. In exchange, the councilmen promised that these people would be allowed to return to their old homes. It was a promise the government would not keep. All Acadians, including allies such as Maurice, were ordered deported by Governor Charles Lawrence in 1755. In 1756, Maurice and his followers left their place of exile in Georgia and began a trek homeward.

When I wrote the Maurice story, the end of it wasn't known. I left him stranded, in 1759, in Massachusetts.

After publication, one of Maurice's many descendants, Leonard W. Gaudet, communicated to me that he could furnish the rest of Jacques Vigneau's (alias Maurice's) story. I contacted Gaudet and arranged for him to touch base with my source, Professor Geoffrey Plank, University of Cincinnati. They collaborated to finish the saga. The following is my edited version:

The English and French ended their current war with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Under the treaty's terms, Acadians were granted permission to return to French-ruled territory.

In anticipation of such an eventuality, sometime after 1759, Vigneau obtained a seaworthy craft - he christened it St.-Jacques. In 1763, free at last to leave his Mass Bay Colony exile, Jacques set sail for Miquelon. He arrived on the island in the company of several other boats, which carried a complement of at least 110 Acadian exiles.

While in Miquelon, Jacques made at least one trip to Nova Scotia to transport a number of Acadians to the French-ruled island. Gaudet and Plank report:

"Along with him on the journey was a former French Canadien official, a man named Perrault, who planned to assemble as many Acadians as he could on Miquelon in order to transport them to Cayenne, in the Caribbean. Vigneau helped Perrault bring the exiles to Miquelon, but when Perrault asked him to cooperate with the next stage of his plan Vigneau balked.

“Jacques, along with his brother Joseph, who had recently joined him on the island, protested the proposed move vehemently - the two men had become informal leaders of the new Acadian community on Miquelon. In a carefully drafted letter to Perrault, they assured him that they were faithful servants of France, but argued that the Caribbean would be too warm for them, and that they were acclimatized for life on the coasts of the North Atlantic."

The protests of the Vigneau brothers worked; they and other exiles were granted temporary permission to reside on Miquelon. However, they had difficulty adjusting to it's lifestyle; i.e., the fishing methods used by the islanders were quite different from those they were accustomed to and, by default, many of them became charges to the Island's French colonial government.

In 1767, Miquelon's governor decided to send them all to France. There is no record that Vigneau protested the move. However, in spite of the Governor's wish to be rid of them, he and Joseph returned to the Island in 1768. Jacques, frustrated in his attempts to return to his beloved Acadia, died on Miquelon in 1772. Joseph remained the active leader of the Island's Acadian community, and Miquelon's Governor counted him as a political enemy. Thus ends the saga of Jacques (Maurice) Vigneau!

I confess I'm fascinated by stories such as Vigneau's. These stories, combined with records left behind by colonial officials, detail the trials and tribulations that the Mi'kmaq and the Acadian peoples suffered under British rule. The tenacity they displayed in surviving a hostile social environment leaves one with a great admiration for both peoples. Both were stuck between a rock and a hard place, as a result of greedy manipulations of corrupt and heartless British and French empires.

As Vigneau's story attests, our country has a fascinating history; but its telling often bares the many warts of the British Empire. Thus, Canada's true history is kept under wraps. However, the truth, in the long run, tends to prevail, as it will someday prevail for the Acadians and the Mi'kmaq.

The European war-making mentality, which created such monstrosities as the British and French empires, was a catastrophe for the non-white Nations of the world. Exterminating or badly damaging non-white civilizations, or white civilizations such as the one the Acadians had built beside the Mi'kmaq civilization in Atlantic Canada, were not the acts of a people who believed in a civil world!

Daniel N. Paul


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