Exhibiting the Acadian History of Pointe Sainte-Anne

Stephanie Pettigrew

[Welcome to our summer series on Acadian history! We are very excited to be presenting this special four-week series, cross-posting on Unwritten Histories, Borealia, and  Acadiensis, and in collaboration with the Fredericton Regional Museum, the York Sunbury Historical Society, an Open Academy grant from the Royal Society, the UNB Departments of History and French, the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design, the Institut d’Études Acadiennes, and Historica Canada.

The blog series is the result of an exhibit on the history of the Acadian community of Pointe Sainte-Anne which will be opening this summer at the Fredericton Region Museum (FRM), curated by Dr. Chantal Richard of the UNB French Department, with Stephanie Pettigrew (PhD Candidate in History, UNB) as Research Director. These short essays draw upon a lecture series held in conjunction with the exhibit. – Editors.]


The Pointe Sainte-Anne exhibit and lecture series originated in conversations between Chantal Richard and myself about how lacking Fredericton was in terms of public education and knowledge of its Acadian history. Everything you see around here is Loyalist history. Beyond a few street names, and the name of the French school here in Fredericton, there is very little acknowledgment of the complex history of Saint-Anne, the Acadian village that existed in this location until its destruction in 1759.

But first, we need to emphasize that the history of Pointe Sainte-Anne obviously does not begin with the French at all, but with the Wəlastəkwiyik. Sainte-Anne (and thereby Fredericton) is located on Wəlastəkwiyik territory, which was never ceded. The first thing we aim to do with our exhibit is disabuse ourselves of the notion that the Acadians always peacefully co-existed with the local indigenous people. They did not. Although Acadians mostly managed to avoid outright war with the indigenous communities nearest to them, that doesn’t mean they didn’t outright displace them, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the local indigenous communities benefited from their presence.[1]

Fort Nashwaak

The first French settlements were small, and consisted mostly of the seigneurial family and their servants. The grants were held by the D’amours family, who held massive amounts of land they were meant to populate with French settlers. Governor Villebon, the Governor of Acadia from 1691 to 1700, established Fort Nashwaak, turning the Fredericton region into Acadia’s capitol for a brief 9 year period – a foreshadowing of its future as provincial capitol, perhaps. After Villebon’s death, the capitol moved back to Port Royal, despite its proven insecurity; Port Royal had fallen numerous times by 1700.

A matter of Record

Extract from the 1698 census (Source: LAC)

The records for Pointe Sainte-Anne between the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the deportation are pretty sparse. A few censuses were taken before the settlement was destroyed; the first was recorded in 1698, and showed a population of 38 French settlers, made up mostly of the seigneurial families and their households. Having received their grant from the colonial government of New France in Québec in 1692, they had managed to clear 118 acres of land by the time the census was taken. Other French families had also begun to populate the area, in particular the Godin family, which would play a prominent role in the events of 1759. The last census before the destruction of the settlement was taken in 1739, and indicated a population of about 100. It is much less detailed in nature than the 1698 census, however. While the 1698 census listed each individual family member, including children, the 1739 census lists only the head of each family and the number of people included in each individual family. No listings are given for cleared acreage, livestock, servants, or guns. An idea of the total population is about the most we can get from this census, along with the fact that the settlement is located about seven leagues (38 kilometers) downriver from Ekwpahak, the Wəlastəkwiyik village. Mostly everything else we know about Sainte-Anne, we know from the documentation created by its destruction.[2]

This is where things start to get really, really messy. I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you, the reader, are at least somewhat familiar with the history of the Deportation of the Acadians, which is how destruction of Saint-Anne’s came to pass.[3] I’m also going to assume you’re at least somewhat familiar with the area’s complex relationship with nineteenth-century archival integrity, and how its complicated historiography makes any study of events which occurred in the mid-eighteenth century…. unpleasant. In short, almost all of the history covering the Acadian deportation has been done with an eye towards proving someone right. Entire archival collections have been carefully manicured, curated, and published with the goal of making British officers from this era look better. Twentieth-and twenty-first-century historians aren’t blameless in this historiography, either; primary source material has been shamelessly cherry-picked to prove a particular point, specifically searching for quotes that specifically disregards the contextual body of the source. In order to avoid this problem as much as possible, for the Pointe Sainte-Anne exhibit, I have insisted on using primary sources only to develop the narrative. If it has been transcribed or published, we are returning to the original, untranscribed source. And we are not taking any of these sources for granted; if the information presented cannot be verified with the other source material we have on hand, if it doesn’t make sense, or if it seems widely off-base, then we are not assuming it is correct, just because it is a primary source (see: eighteenth-century newspapers.) Because when it comes to the Deportation, and the Saint John River campaign in particular, everybody seems to have something to prove. We’re not interested in proving anything. What we ARE interested in, is telling the story of the Acadians who lived here, what happened to them, and their continued presence on the river despite the multiple attempts to disperse them.

The Saint John River Campaign

The Saint John River Campaign was a part of the Acadian Deportation, and started after the fall of the Fortress of Louisbourg. Once the British and New England troops (referred to as the New England Rangers) successfully managed to seize and capture the Fortress, they were ordered to move on to the mouth of the Saint John River, in order to capture the Acadians who had been using it as a refuge to escape deportation. General Robert Monckton was in charge of this expedition, was ordered to destroy the villages, capture any “French Neutrals” he found, and take them prisoners to Fort Cumberland – not kill them, take them as prisoners. They arrived at the mouth of the river (what would today be known as Saint John) in early September 1758, and began building a fort they called Fort Frederick. Monckton began writing and sending dispatches to Lord Abercrombie about his mission in mid-October, reporting on the information he had already acquired by that point. One of the most important things portrayed in this initial dispatch, was that the river was already virtually deserted.

Saint John River Campaign Locations

Monckton had led his troops upriver in an attempt to flush out the Acadians from the villages they had settled in since fleeing up the river from the Bay of Fundy in 1755. Jemseg, Grimross, and Saint-Anne had all grown significantly in population thanks to refugees fleeing the deportation, but thanks to the lack of parish or census documentation, it is unclear how large this population growth actually was. Monckton’s October 15th letter includes an account of Captain Morris, one of the officers under his command, who had captured a priest and about sixty Acadian men, women, and children, but it is unclear where exactly these prisoners came from. The priest did inform Morris that the inhabitants of the river had begun leaving for regions further north as soon as they had learned that the British had arrived at the mouth of the river. And the priests’ words proved to be the case, as Monckton found very few people as he moved upriver.[4]

The first settlement they came across was Grimross, where they destroyed forty to fifty homes, the livestock, the fields, and the barns. Next came Jemseg, where approximately twenty buildings were destroyed, along with all livestock and any stores found. But no prisoners were taken, nor was anybody seen. The soldiers began experiencing significant difficulties; they lost a few ships to the shallow depts of the river, losing a significant amount of stores, and decided to turn back at this point.[5] Writing on October 15th, 1758, to Lord Abercrombie, Monckton stated that “…but that I am hurrying every thing that I may get up river, I am apt to think that (the french) have deserted the river further than we can possibly go, if not quite retreated to Canada.” Later, in mid-November, Monckton expresses his concerns regarding the upcoming winter, which, much like the winter of 2018, started early in 1758. Although Monckton is fairly confident in the strength of Fort Frederick, stating that it “would withstand all the musketry of France,” he is somewhat concerned over the fact that the river has frozen so early in the season. While he is clear after the destruction of Jemseg that there is not enough of a presence upriver to constitute a risk to Fort Frederick before deciding to turn back, the frozen river changes things considerably in terms of risk and strategy. Navigation becomes much easier; what was once impossible to do on foot is now easily achievable without much planning, or without the effort of building or finding available ships which are capable of navigating the shallow waters, and without the hassle of finding suitable landing spots.[6] There was now an easy, direct path between the unknown northern parts of the river and Fort Frederick. So Monckton began sending scouting parties, to make reports about the security of their surroundings.

These scouting parties were led by the New England Rangers, and it is worthwhile to take a moment to acknowledge the difference between the New Englanders and the British regulars. I mention in passing above that Port Royal and Acadie were treated as an imperial chess piece, passed back and forth numerous times with absolutely no regard to the actual inhabitants of the area. This frequent back-and-forth contributed to the continuing insecurity for those inhabitants throughout the colonial period, regardless of what treaties were enacted. While many histories regard the period of 1713 to 1750 as a “golden age” for Acadia, it was in fact a turbulent era, defined by disputes over how borders were defined, and which imperial power owned what. The frequent battles over Canso are a perfect example of this, and Jeffers Lennox’s book Homelands and Empires is a great source on how the European failure to actually understand this region’s geography and population dynamics led to its spectacular insecurity. But what often gets overlooked is how the residents of New England were subject to this same dynamic of insecurity. What happened to Acadia had an impact on them as well; when the French were in control of Acadia, that meant the French imperial foe was literally at their doorstep whenever war was declared overseas. Yet they depended on cooperation between Acadia and New England for a successful fishery, as use of the shores of Nova Scotia was essential for Massachusetts fishermen.[7] Trade between Boston, Louisbourg, and Port Royal was thick, and imperial conflict had a huge impact on the residents of these regions – from family ties to access to food. Yet despite these colonial ties, Geoffrey Plank writes extensively on how the New England Rangers differed from the British Regulars, and how they viewed Acadia, stating that the Rangers were essentially a militia force, as opposed to the British regulars, who were trained military, and for many of them, this was their first time away from home. Acadie was a foreign land, an alien space, and the French-speaking Acadians were entirely “other”: their fear of the unknown can be paralleled to the fear expressed today, of “otherness.” They spoke a different language, were of a different religion, and were at war with their country; this was enough to breed hatred.[8] But there is enough of a significant difference in attitudes, both in attitudes expressed in primary source documents, as well as in actions taken by individuals, to differentiate between “New Englanders” and “British” at this point. Motivations of individuals are important, and it is unfair to attribute everything that happened during the deportation as simply “the English did x y z.”[9]

The Rangers who initially scouted up river from Fort Frederick were led by Captain MacMurdy. These missions initially passed without incident, until MacMurdy was killed by a falling tree in January 1759. In order to replace him, Moses Hazen was promoted to Captain, and took over the scouting missions. This led him to Sainte-Anne in mid-February, 1759, where he came across the Godin family. Hazen’s destruction of the settlement, as well as his murder of members of the Godin family, are described in two sources: one is contemporaneous, a journal written by an unnamed English officer who was stationed at Fort Frederick, and who described Hazen’s return from his scouting mission with clear disgust. While Hazen had a clear mission to return with information, he had taken it upon himself to not only destroy the village, but to return with six prisoners, as well as four scalps, which had been taken from the women and children of the Godin family.[10] The second written account is from Joseph Godin himself, who wrote an account of the event in 1785 after being deported to France. Despite the long interval between the massacre of 1759 and his retelling in 1785, his account to the French government lines up with the account given in the British officer’s journal: his grandchildren and their mothers were tied to trees and brutally beaten by Hazen’s men before being scalped and killed.[11]

Moses Hazen, a digital recreation by Alan Edwards/Reallusion, NBCCD

Godin also confirmed the intelligence that Monckton had been in possession of since early autumn of 1758 – the Acadians had begun deserting the river the moment they received word of the British establishing a military presence at the mouth of the Saint John. According to Godin, before the English landed at the mouth of the Saint John River, there were about ninety families established in the area of Pointe Sainte Anne; many of whom had fled there after the deportation had begun. This is backed up by various other sources; Hazen himself says he burned about 147 buildings, while other sources note that the Acadians were capable of building a winter dwelling in two to three days. There were also approximately 300 indigenous people in the area, whose numbers had been greatly depleted by war and disease. When the English arrived at the mouth of the river, and began constructing a fort, they fled en masse towards Canada. Those who remained behind did so because they couldn’t flee; either due to health reasons, or domestic reasons, or because they could not immediately flee and then were caught by winter. So instead, they abandoned the houses near the river, as they were too exposed and vulnerable, and instead made themselves huts in the woods to survive the winter until they could flee to Quebec.  They learn that Godin himself is a major in the French militia, that while the river can in fact be used to travel all the way to Québec, there are obstacles which make portage routes necessary and so it is impractical for the object that the British had in mind (military and supply transport).

To those who would justify the actions of the Rangers, or the displacement of the Acadians from the Saint John River, the fact that Godin was a major in the French militia has often been pointed at as significant. This fact, however, and the importance placed on it, seems anachronistic. Most Acadians of the era had a role to play in the militia. As head of his community, and as chief representative of Saint-Anne, Godin was naturally the head of the local militia. He actually inherited the role from his father. Acadie was constantly in conflict, but without much formal military support; the maintenance of a militia was a natural development of these circumstances. But most importantly, the officers at Fort Frederick clearly had no idea that Godin was in any way affiliated with the militia. Nothing is mentioned about it in any of the dispatches or journals prior to February 1759, Godin himself brings it up in his debrief. The events which led to the sacking of Saint-Anne were incidental; Hazen happened upon the Godin family, he was not deliberately seeking Joseph Godin. And, finally, the Boston newspapers which spoke of Hazen’s actions said nothing about having captured a militia major, only that some French prisoners had been taken and some killed, with a number of livestock and buildings burned.[12] If it had been an important contemporary capture, surely someone would have made a big deal about it?

Storying an Exhibit

Either way, the story we are telling at the Fredericton Region Museum is not a military one. The story we are trying to tell is the story of the village of Pointe Sainte-Anne, the people who lived there, the families who spent their lives there, who died there, and who came back after being driven away. After the turmoil of the Seven Years War died down, many Acadians returned to the maritime region to try and rebuild, and Point Sainte-Anne was no exception. When the Loyalists who are termed the “founders of Fredericton” arrived in this area in the 1780s, they found over 200 Acadians already settled here. The Acadians were again displaced by New Englanders, and many of them made their way upriver again, settling in the Madawaska area.

Fredericton has been built, torn down, built, and rebuilt, flooded, and then built over again so many times, that the tangible heritage of its eighteen-century Acadians is almost nil. What is left to us is a few nails, some pipes, a few foundations which could have been houses. So how are we going to show people what was once here?

Well, we are rebuilding it, virtually. Thanks to the excellent work of Alan Edwards and his team at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, we are actually building a virtual exhibit which will show not only Pointe Sainte-Anne as it once was, but also allow visitors to interact with some of the key players in the story of Pointe Sainte-Anne – Moses Hazen (pictured above), Robert Monckton, François Saint-Aubin, a Wəlastəkwiyik man who frequently interacted with Joseph Godin, who will also be represented, along with Jeanne Dugas, who was likely also present around the time of 1759, as her son, Eustache Paré, was married to the daughter of Godin. Her grandchildren were killed by Hazen, along with Paré’s wife. We’re hoping that, by creating an atmosphere in which people can immerse themselves, can interact with characters, and can get a feel for the history, we can jolt them out of the mindset of justifying one side versus the other, and remember that history is made up of actual people.

Our primary goal is to have people walk away from this exhibit, remembering that the people of Pointe Sainte-Anne, and those who came into conflict with them, were people, human beings with anxieties and motivations which came down to protecting their families and themselves from dangers, both real and perceived. And if people can carry that message into the present-day world, and be a little more compassionate towards those they were once afraid of, then all the better.

Stephanie Pettigrew is a PhD Candidate at the University of New Brunswick. Her dissertation focuses on witchcraft, blasphemy, and heretics in seventeenth century Montreal. She’s also the editorial assistant of Unwritten Histories, and the Project Manager of the British North America Legislative Database Project (bnald.lib.unb.ca). You can find her on twitter at @steph_pettigrew.


[1] See Andrea Bear Nicholas, “Settler Imperialism and the Dispossession of the Maliseet, 1758-1765” in John G. Reid & Donald Savoie’s Shaping an Agenda for Atlantic Canada (Black Point: Fernway Publishing, 2011) p. 21-57. Anne Marie’s blog will also cover more on this topic next week.

[2] “Recensement des habitans de la rivière Saint-Jean” 1698. LAC R11577-28-5-F (MIKAN no. 2319374); “”Etat actuel de la nouvelle Collonie françoise de la Rivière Saint-Jean,” P. Danielou 1739. LAC R11577-28-5-F (MIKAN no. 319383).

[3] At the very least, I’m going to assume you can consult the handy resources I’ve provided in the links.

[4] Letter from General Monckton to Lord Abercrombie, October 15th 1758. From LAC: “Nova Scotia: Documents relating to the Expedition to the St. John’s River in 1758, with the holograph drafts of Colonel Monckton’s Reports of the Proceedings of the Expedition.” MG18-MSérie1 (MIKAN no. 2809856).

[5] “Seven Years’ War journal of the proceedings of the 35th Regiment of Foot”, (1757). John Carter Brown Library. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:576523/

[6] Because Monckton’s letter of October 15th is his first to Abercrombie since arriving on the Saint John River, it is both long and detailed. There are many references to the difficulties of navigating the river, including a really interesting description of the reversing falls, the impossibility of navigating the shores due to the thickness of the trees, how few the bays and landing sites are for their ships, and the trouble he had to go through to find ships with a shallow enough depth to move upriver. Letter from General Monckton to Lord Abercrombie, October 15th 1758. (LAC)

[7] This is how the seigneur of Beaubassin, Michel de la Vallière lost his governorship of Acadia, by allowing fishermen from Massachusetts to dry their cod on the shores of Acadie. Clerbaud Bergier, who had acquired a monopoly on the fishery in Acadia in the 1680s, did not appreciate this intrusion on what he saw as his territory, and pulled some royal strings to see La Vallière replaced by Perrot.

[8] See also Geoffrey Plank, “New England Soldiers in the St John River Valley, 1758-I760,” in Stephen Hornsby & John G. Reid, New England and the Maritime Provinces: Connections and Comparisons (Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005) p. 59-73.

[9] I realize that there is currently a debate happening regarding whether or not the deportation constitutes an act of genocide. Much like the issue of Neutrality, that constitutes another blog post entirely. This blog post is about Point Sainte-Anne.

[10] “Seven Years War Journal” (JCB)

[11] “Memoire pour le sieur Joseph Bellefontaine dit Beau-Sejour Major de toutes les milices de la Rivière St-Jean en Accadie” 15 january 1774. LAC, MG6-A15 (MIKAN no. 3084622).

[12] The Boston Evening Post, Monday March 26 1759.


Featured image: St. John River Campaign: A View of the Plundering and Burning of the City of Grimross (present day Gagetown, New Brunswick) by Thomas Davies in 1758. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Latest Comments

  1. mike. olive says:


Continue the conversation ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s