Blupete's History of Nova Scotia


"Black Winter At French Cross"

In an edition of the Halifax Herald, dated January 25, 1889, an unknown historian gave an account of the "Black Winter Among the Acadians at French Cross." The accounting impressed Arthur Wentworth Eaton sufficiently enough for him to set it out in full in his work, History of the County of Kings. I do likewise. For those who are not familiar with the surrounding events of 1755, I refer to The Deportation of the Acadians.

"As is well known the southern shore of the Bay of Fundy is overlooked by a frowning, beetling cliff, extending all the way from Cape Split to Digby Neck. Against this wall of solid trap, from time immemorial, the thundering waves, like battering-rams, have hurled themselves in vain. At certain points, however, there are breaks in this high bluff, making access to the Bay easy, and affording harbours for vessels. One of these places is found opposite the Aylesford St. Mary's Church. The ancients called it the 'French Cross', the moderns call it 'Morden'.

"Long before either English or French speech was heard along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, the Micmacs had their highways of travel over land and water, as well established and as well known as are the railways, coach roads, and steamer routes, of the present day. The country around the head of the Bay, all the way from the Petitcodiac to Advocate, was favourite ground for the savages of olden times. Equally desirable was the district along the banks of the Annapolis river. The abundance of fish, fowl, and wild beasts made these parts of the country desirable dwelling places for the red men. And there was necessarily much travelling from place to place. In choosing their highways the Indians, like the modern railway men, looked for routes securing the greatest possible advantage. From any point at the head of the Bay, outside of Minas Basin.. canoes would soon glide across to French Cross. Am easy portage of about four miles would bring them to the Annapolis river, near where St. Mary's Church in Aylesford now stands. Here the canoes, would be launched, and down the river to Digby it was mere music. and poetry to travel. The gentle current would bear them along the sinuosities of the river, where there were always mink, otter, beaver, rabbits, partridges, ducks and geese for their swift-winged arrows and their traps and snares; and salmon and shad in plenty for their deft spears. High pleasure and glorious sport it was for the. red men to drift down this stream, and not less was the fun to their papooses and squaws. Silently they would float along, surprising game at every turn of the stream. As soon as the French came into possession of the lands at Annapolis, and around the head of the Bay, and had made friends with the Micmacs, they naturally adopted the Indian routes by land and water.

"In the early autumn of 1755 a canoe, well manned with Indians, might have been seen gliding up the Cornwallis river, and then being taken rapidly over the portage between Berwick and the Caribou bog. Here being again launched, it swept along the Annapolis river, impelled both by the current and the Indians' paddles. Its occupants stopped neither to shoot fowl nor to spear fish. On and on they went till they arrived at the point a little above the Paradise railway station. Here they came upon the eastern end of the Acadian settlement. They were the bearers of startling news. Gloom was on their faces, and alarm in their actions and words. The intelligence they gave brought consternation to the hearts of the Acadians, for the latter now learned from their Micmac friends that their compatriots at Grand Pré and Canard were prisoners in the Grand Pré parish church, and surrounded by armed red coats; and that ships were anchored at the mouth of the Gaspereau, ready ta bear them away from their homes to lands strange and unknown.

"The news flew down the river and over the marshes on the wings of the wind, and spread on either side till it reached the home of every habitant. The hearts of the people quailed before an impending calamity so dire, a fate so terrible. In Upper Granville, that is from below Bridgetown to Paradise, a meeting of the people. was hastily called. Of course, the pressing, burning question was, what under the circumstances should be done. Already their 1wiests and delegates were prisoners in Halifax, and they were face to face with the black sequel. Some said: 'Make no resistance, surrender to the English and trust Providence'. Others said, 'Nay; of all evils before us this is the worst to choose!' The result was a, permanent division of opinion. About sixty resolved on instant flight up the river. But the risk was too great to travel either by stream, or by the old French road. In either course they might meet the English soldiers. Their route must be north of the river, north of the road.

Loading themselves to the full measure of their burden bearing powers with provisions and camp life conveniences, they a wailing farewell of their companions, who had resolved to remain and started on their wearisome journey. Slowly and cautiously they moved up the country, till they came to a point about a mile east of Kingston railway station. There these fugitive men, women, and children encamped. Their Micmac friends acted as pickets and spies. On these sand dunes they heard from time to time of the progress of the deportation at Annapolis, Grand Pré Cumberland. Their bread lasted but a short time, and this forced them to a diet to berries, fish, and venison. Dysentery, common at that season, broke out among them. Death began its work. No priest was there to minister to the soul, no physician to care for the body. Fear aggravated the malady. With sad hearts they dug their friends' graves in the soft sands of the Aylesford plains. With an agony such as only these social, simple-hearted Acadians were capable of, they buried their dead in these graves, and their wailings resounded among the trim, straight trunks of the ancient pines.

"All Aylesford has heard of the 'French Burying Ground'. In it the money diggers have found bones, but no money. The mineral rods in the hands of the experts have pointed unerringly to the chest of gold. Digging must be done in the night. Spectres and ghosts were ever on guard, and at any moment might be encountered. Again and again these supernatural visitors have appeared, striking terror into the hearts of the gold-seekers. More than once the crow-bar, thrust deep into the soft soil, has struck the iron ~chest containing the gold; but incautious lips have uttered some sudden exclamation, and away has gone the enchanted chest to another place, driven through the sand by the might of the presiding ghost. Baffled and chagrined by their own folly, the diggers have then gone home empty-handed, denouncing their impulsive comrade, and resolved to be more cautious the next time. Not a man of three score years in all Aylesford, but remembers these adventures of olden times.

"The tragedy of the expulsion dragged its cruel length along through the autumn and into the early winter. The intelligence brought to the camp by the faithful Micmacs convinced the Acadians that they were so hemmed in by dangers that their safest course was to take the trail to French Cross and remain there until spring, and then cross the Bay and wander on to Quebec. This plan, desperate though it was, was executed. Under the shadow of the primeval forest, close by the shore, where a brook still empties itself into the waters of the Bay, about six miles from their camp in the valley they erected their rude winter huts. Before leaving the plains they bedewed with tears the graves of their companions, and then wearily made their way over the leve4 wooded country, up the slopes of the mountain, and down to the shore of the Bay. From the place chosen for their winter home they could see across to the opposite shore. The English vessels were continually passing up and down the Bay, and even should they get safely to the other side it would :not be possible for them to go to Quebec, for not only grim forests, but deep snows would effectually bar their way. Until spring, therefore, they must stay there as contentedly as they could. During all this bitter experience their Micmac friends stood faithfully by them. Though there were many moose and caribou in the woods it was not always easy to capture them, yet they managed to get a good deal of venison, and to 'vary their diet they found an almost inexhaustible quantity of mussels clinging to the rocks.

"The winter passed slowly away. Above them, through the rigid, leafless branches of the giant forest, howled the storm. But around their huts were always the sympathetic spruce and fir trees, kindly and green. In December, they saw the last of the transports pass down the Bay, bearing away their compatriots to unknown shores. As they gazed upon them, appearing, passing, and disappearing in the west, borne on to shores and destiny all unknown, they envied them their lot. The last tidings brought them late in tho autumn was that all the Acadian homes had been burned. No hope or shelter appeared in that direction, so there they remained, the winter through, in their huts by the sea. Disease dogged their steps, from the sand dunes to their cold camps on the shore. Death claimed more victims. The weak among them, both old and young, succumbed, and another cemetery was made. Close by the.shore, opposite their camps, was an open space, green till covered by the snow. There they dug more graves for their fallen companions.

"At length spring came. Indians helped them flay the birches and construct enough canoes to take the survivors to the New Brunswick shores. When all was ready the fugitives loaded their canoes, wept over the graves of their dead, took a farewell look at their rude huts and the heaps of bones of moose, partridges, and caribou, and the shells of mussels, and committed themselves to the tender mercies of the Bay of Fundy, whose calms and storms they had watched through all that black winter. As the shore receded from their gaze their tear-dimmed eyes rested upon one object which stirred their deepest feelings. It was the wooden cross they had erected to protect the graves of their dead brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children. No priest had been present to absolve the dying or to say solemn service for the dead, but they left this symbol of their religion to hold their sepulchres sacred in the eyes of all who might visit the place in after years.

"On the opposite side of the Bay they found some of their countrymen, who, like themselves, had endured the sufferings of camp life throughout that rigorous winter with Micmac friends. Patience, fortitude, and hope, characteristic of the Acadian, did not forsake them. They knew their homes were in ashes, but a blind belief possessed them that they should return to them, and again see in spring their green fields, bursting forests, and blossoming apple trees; again hear the sweet call of their church bells to mass and vespers; and again around their bright fires, drink their cider, smoke their pipes, and enjoy life as they had done in bygone days."

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Peter Landry
2012