Monday, 18 October 2010

L’Acadie

The electoral comté de l’Acadie was established by the reforms of 5 October 1829 and covered a vast area extending 32 kilometres along the western bank of the Richelieu and varied between 13 and 25 kilometres wide. To the south it bordered the United States and was adjacent to the comté de Chambly to the north-east. The comté was bordered to the west by the seigneurie de Beauharnois[1] and the township of Hemmingford. [2] In the 1830s, it contained six seigneuries and a small area held in frankpledge and common soccage. The comté included the parishes of Saint-Cyprien, Saint-Valentin and Saint-Édouard and parts of the parishes of Sainte-Marguerite-de-Blairfindie, Saint-Rémi and Saint-Philippe. Colonised following the War of American Independence, in the decades before the Rebellions, its socio-economic structure was dominated by the agricultural sector and showed little economic diversification. [3]

The comté, covered in place by marshes, was under-developed by Lower Canadian standards; it seems that the difficult conditions for colonists partly explain this situation. [4] The region showed uneven development between different seigneuries and between different farmers on the same fief. However, Acadie had several prosperous farmers among its 11,419 residents in 1831 even if conditions for the majority were poor. [5] Its seigneurs vigorously exploited their habitants and placed heavy economic burdens on both owners of land and tenant farmers.[6] Habitant debt was a chronic problem throughout the region.[7] The seigneurs undoubtedly contributed to levels of distress in Acadie and the seigneurial question became a political issue of major importance during the 1830s. Greer argues that evidence of the worsening relationship between the habitants and the seigneurs in Acadie can be found in the seven anti-seigneurial petitions its deputies presented to the Assembly between 1831 and 1836.[8] Divided between its Catholic French Canadian majority (72.3% heads of household in 1831) and a strong anglophone minority, the comté saw friction between the two linguistic groups. [9] This provided a basis for the growing radicalism of Patriotes and, in many respects the experience of Acadie was typical of the situation in the Montreal district.[10]

The seigneuries in Acadie, however, demonstrate the problem of trying to make generalisations about the area. The seigneuries of De Léry[11] and Lacolle[12], although both were owned by William Penderleath Christie, illustrate the problem. [13] De Léry was a strong settlement with 5,437 habitants in 1831, almost all French Canadian Catholics while Lacolle was less populated with only 2,150 habitants of whom 63% were Anglo-Protestants. The two seigneuries were the only ones in Acadie to have been granted under the French regime and to be managed by the agent William McGinnis.[14] The loyalist American settlers at Lacolle experienced relatively prosperous farming and paid the highest seigneurial royalties in Lower Canada during the 1830s. De Léry, by contrast, was not as prosperous and in 1835, several habitants were dispossessed because of arrears.[15] The remaining four seigneuries were, until 1820, part of the canton of Sherrington but they were included in Acadie as a government solution to litigation between the seigneur of Lasalle and the rightful owners of the canton. In 1837, the seigneurie of Saint-Georges (2,198 habitants largely French Canadian in 1831) was the property of seigneur François Languedoc, deputy of the comté from 1831 to 1834. The seigneuries of Twaite (346 habitants largely French Catholics) and Saint-James (502 habitants of varied ethnic origins) had been held since 1825 by John Boston, a Montreal lawyer and an important loyalist. Finally the seigneurie of Saint-Normand (437 habitants, more than 90% French Catholics) had been the fief of Collin McCallum since 1835. It appears that the level of both droits d’entrée and seigneurial dues were high across all of the seigneuries in Acadie.[16]

With 398 identified Patriotes, the comté de l’Acadie was strongly mobilised, particularly in the parish of Saint-Cyprien and in the village of Napierville,[17] areas with a strong French Canadian petite bourgeoisie who played a central role in the radical movement. [18] Based on the list of 2,100 Patriote names compiled by Bernard, Patriote support in the comté consisted largely of habitants (91% for the comté as a whole but higher in Saint-Valentin and Lacolle with 97% and 96% respectively. Anglophones were significantly under-represented in the Patriote organisation in the comté. Cyrille-Hector-Olivier Côté[19], a young doctor from Napierville and Lucien Gagnon[20], a 42 year old prosperous peasant from Pointe-à-la-Mule led the movement in Acadie. Côté had not only been deputy for Acadie since 1834 at the age of twenty four, but played a leading part in the planning of the rebellions in 1837 and 1838 and acted as treasurer and general of the camp at Napierville. Under the pseudonym of ‘Agricola’, he took a radical position on seigneurial tenure.[21] Lucien Gagnon, famous for his violent temper, was less important than Côté although he was primarily responsible for mobilising Pointe-à-la-Mule and was an important recruiter for the Frères Chasseurs.[22]

The comté de l’Acadie was an important area of Patriote activity in both 1837 and 1838 and saw considerable military action. On 12 July 1837, an anti-coercive assembly took place at Napierville, the most important Patriote demonstration in the comté during 1837, according to La Minerve attended by 4,000 people.[23] The Patriote assembly was attended by Papineau, O’Callaghan, T.S. Brown, Côté, Gagnon and Merritt Hotchkiss[24] who like Côté was deputy for the comté and passed twenty resolution including one especially critical of the seigneurial system. On 24 July, there was also a loyalist meeting organised in the village of Napierville by Joseph Brisset and the seigneurs François Languedoc and John Boston.[25]

Two months later on 10 September 1837, a further Patriote assembly at Napierville denounced the dismissal of magistrates and militia officers by the colonial government and demanded that pressure should be exerted on loyalists to resign their posts.[26] Following this assembly and the reorganisation of the local militia, there were several charivaris, orchestrated by Côté, against a number of loyalists including Dudley Flowers[27], a lieutenant in the militia, curé Amiot of Napierville and Doctor Timoléon Quesnel, a local magistrate.[28] A delegation from Acadie, which only arrived at the last minute, attended the assembly at St-Charles on 23 October 1837 where Côté’s call to arms caused consternation among the more moderate Patriotes.[29]

The village of Pointe-à-la-Mule acted as the centre for Patriote initiatives in Acadie led by Gagnon, Côté and François Paradis.[30] Operations were largely aimed at intimidating and disarming loyalists and Captain George Phillpotts in a report to Colborne described the situation in Acadie as terrible. [31] An arrest warrant was delivered to Côté’s address. By mid-November, Pointe-à-la-Mule had become the site of an armed camp from where, led by François Nicolas and Amable Daunais, an attack on the soldiers at St-Jean was planned for late November. However, their force was too small and their contribution to the rebellion was to execute Joseph Chartrand, a loyalist volunteer from St-Jean was visiting the parish of L’Acadie and was accused of being a government spy. Tried by court-martial in the local schoolhouse, he was found guilty, tied to a tree and shot.

Côté and Gagnon had been among the first Patriote leaders to cross into Vermont on 20 November in search of weapons where they had been joined at Swanton by other fugitives but also welcomed by French Canadians already settled there. [32] Gagnon was soon back across the border gathering men and weapons and made his way back to Swanton with 66 recruits. With Patriotes already there and a few Vermonters, his force numbered around 200 men. On the evening of 6 December, about 84 Patriotes carrying substantial munitions moved across the border towards the town of St-Césaire where rumour placed Wolfred Nelson establishing a new camp. Gagnon had already succeeded in alarming Loyalists in the whole region and Colborne immediately dispatched troops and cannons to St-Armand. However, before his troops reached the border, the Patriotes were ambushed by 300 Missisquoi Volunteers led by Captain Oran J. Kemp at Moore’s Corner, a little crossroads between St-Armand and Philipsburgh.[33] During the twenty minute skirmish, five Patriotes including Bouchette were captured and one killed and the rest retreated across the border. This reverse put an end to the rebellion in 1837 and in February 1838 loyalist forces in the area were reinforced when 300 Glengarry Volunteers occupied Napierville.[34]

The comté de l’Acadie played a role in Robert Nelson’s attempt to invade Lower Canada from the United States in November 1838. At the head of French Canadian refugees and American volunteers, he planned to invade southern Lower Canada and then to march on Montreal. The majority of the Chasseurs gathered at Napierville on 4 November for the most important Patriote gathering during the rebellions. [35] Also, depending on the estimates, between 1,500 and 5,000 Chasseurs gathered in the parish of Saint-Cyprien. They were guided by a large flag with two blue stars hanging from the maypole of a local militia captain.[36] A hundred loyalists were imprisoned, including militia Captains C. Fortin and P. Gamelin and merchants T. Thompson, W. Wilson, L. Odell and Orange Tyler until freed by Colborne’s troops on 10 November.

Around midnight on 3 November, Robert Nelson and a dozen supporters including Charles Hindenlang and another called Touvrey, both soldiers of fortune who had served in the French army sailed northwards on Lake Champlain to the Canadian border. [37] Nelson had some $20,000 in cash, the remnants of the Chasseurs treasury, a six-pounder cannon and 250 rifles and ammunition. Both the force and the supplies were less than he expected. There had already been a decline in active American support for the movement because of the increased patrols on both sides of the border. Nelson was unperturbed expecting that the regulars garrisoned in Montreal would be drawn away by an invasion of the upper province. He seems to have learned little from the previous February. Much like De Lorimier at Beauharnois, rebel successes were in people’s minds rather than on the battlefield, propaganda to persuade hesitant Hunters south of the border to commit themselves to action.

Nelson landed at Vitman’s Quay, three miles north of the border and twenty miles from Napierville, about 1.00 am on 4 November to a silent welcome. There was no Patriote army but there were large numbers of loyalist volunteers at Hemmingford, fifteen miles to the west, at Lacolle six miles north and at Odelltown three miles away and regulars were stationed at Ile-aux-Noix. With difficulties, the small party hid the armaments and headed north arriving at Napierville about 9.00 am where Côté was waiting with nearly 3,000 men though only a tenth had arms. Nelson again proclaimed the independence of Lower Canada, Côté was made commander-in-chief and Hindenlang organised the companies and battalions. By the morning of 5 November, patrols were scouring the country for recruits and food and later that day, Hindenlang’s organisation complete, the army marched by Nelson in grand review. The following night, a force of 500 under the command of Côté, Gagnon, Touvrey and a Polish colonel Oklowski headed south towards Vitman’s Quay to retrieve Nelson’s guns. It swung to the west of Lacolle to avoid volunteers but between Lacolle and their destination blundered into a small volunteer force that was dispersed with hardly a dozen shots. This was sufficient to rouse the loyalist forces in Lacolle, the Lacolle Frontier Volunteers but the Patriotes continued to Vitman’s Quay to find the arms intact. With volunteers converging from Hemmingford in the west, from Lacolle and from the east across the Richelieu, the Patriotes tried to force their way through to Napierville. Yet, within fifteen minutes, they had scattered leaving eleven dead and the weapons and Côté and almost the entire Chasseur force headed south towards the border. By the morning of Wednesday 7 November, a few stragglers made their way back to Napierville and news quickly spread through the camp. By the evening, of the 3,000 who had gathered there, only 1,200 remained.

This defeat led Nelson, on Thursday 8 November to decide to try to retrieve the weapons presumably still in Lacolle and at 9.00 am, led his men south. By dusk, his force had fallen to 600 men and he ordered a night encampment and then rode off into the darkness, he later argued, to make his own reconnaissance. Hindenlang had sent out armed patrols and one apprehended Nelson who was dragged back to the camp. Nelson protested that he had not been making for the border but his officers were hard to convince and the camp was in uproar. A semi-trial followed at which he was finally able to allay Patriote suspicions of betrayal and on the morning of Friday 9 November, the army continued its march south. Hindenlang commanded the centre, the left surrounded Nelson and the right spread out through the fields along the road. However, at Odelltown, 200 loyalist volunteers were waiting with the Patriote cannon standing in front of the church. After two hours of indecisive fighting, the loyalists, now reinforced, surged forward to push the Patriotes out of the cluster of barns and buildings round the church and after five more sorties in the next hour the remaining Patriotes were exhausted and low on ammunition. Hindenlang moved to the left to consult Nelson, but he had not been seen for two hours. With volunteers arriving from Hemmingford and from Clarenceville across the Richelieu, the last of the Patriotes fled leaving fifty dead and as many wounded. By dusk, Nelson, who had slipped away from the battle, was safely across the border but Hindenlang was captured and taken north to Montreal. The battle of Odelltown was the decisive battle of the rebellion. With the rout of the Chasseur forces and Nelson’s flight across the border, the rebellion had failed. [38]

Repeating what occurred in 1837, before Colborne arrived at Napierville the following day, Pierre-Remi Narbonne[39] surrendered to Lewis Odell.[40] The actions of loyalists and regular troops in 1838, unlike the previous year, were repressive and brutal in Acadie. In Napierville, for example, eighty houses were destroyed and in the parish of Saint-Cyprien 170 Patriotes were arrested. This did not represent the end of the Patriote agitation and secret assemblies took place at Pointe-à-la-Mule in the spring of 1839 and the seigneurie of Lacolle was the target of punitive incursions from March 1839 until June 1843. The comté de l’Acadie is important in trying to understand the character of rebellion in 1837 and 1838. Its particular socio-economic structure, the radicalism of its habitants and Patriote leaders as well as the importance of the military operations that occurred there placed Acadie at the centre of the Lower Canadian political crisis of the 1830s. [41]


[1] Bouchette, Joseph, Description topographique du Canada 1815, (Éditions Élysée), 1978, pp. 111-114 on the seigneurie de Beauharnois.

[2] Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, 1986, p. 42; Courville, Serge, dir., Paroisse et municipalité de la région de Montréal au XIXe siècle (1825-1861), Répertoire documentaire et cartographique, (PUL), 1988, p. 51; Laporte, Gilles, Patriotes et Loyaux: Leadership régional et mobilisation politique en 1837 et 1838, (Septentrion), 2004, pp. 207-225.

[3] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 54, 62.

[4] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 63, 64.

[5] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 63, 64; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 43.

[6] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 43.

[7] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, p. 77.

[8] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 243; ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 79, 121, 124, 130.

[9] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 146.

[10] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, p. 142; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 43, 55

[11] Ibid, Bouchette, Joseph, Description topographique du Canada 1815, p. 175.

[12] Ibid, Bouchette, Joseph, Description topographique du Canada 1815, pp. 178-180.

[13] Ibid, Noel, Françoise, The Christie Seigneuries: Estate Management and Settlement in the Upper Richelieu Valley, 1760-1854. See also, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 184-186.

[14] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 44 -46; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 43.

[15] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 44.

[16] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 46-50; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 44.

[17] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 46-50; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 85.

[18] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Rebellions de 1837-1838: Les Patriotes dans La Memoire Collective et Chez Les Historiens, p. 297.

[19] DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 208-211; Messier, pp. 118-119.

[20] DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 333-335; Messier, pp. 199-200.

[21] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 249.

[22] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 46-50; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, pp. 90-91.

[23] Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, (VLB), 1987, pp. 135-143.

[24] Messier, p. 240.

[25] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, p. 156; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, pp. 254-255. Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 148-152.

[26] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 194-196.

[27] On Flowers, see DCB, Vol. 7, p. 239.

[28] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 158-159; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, pp. 213, 219, 222, 224, 242.

[29] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, p. 89.

[30] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 158-159; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 161.

[31] Senior, Elinor Kyte, Redcoats & Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38, (Canada’s Wings Inc), 1985, p. 79.

[32] Bernard, Jean-Paul, ‘Vermonters and the Lower Canadian rebellions of 1837-1838’, Vermont History, Vol. 58, (1990), pp. 250-263.

[33] Bouchette, Robert-S.-M., Mémoires de Robert-S.-M. Bouchette 1804-1840, originally published in the Revue Canadienne, republished, Montreal, (1903), pp. 41-44, gives a participant’s account of Moore’s Corner. ‘Robert-Shire-Milnes Bouchette’, DCB, Vol. 10, pp. 77-78. Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Redcoats & Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38, pp. 144, 154.

[34] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 158-159; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 161.

[35] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 158-159; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 168.

[36] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 305.

[37] ‘Charles Hindenlang’, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 411-412.

[38] Senior, Elinor Kyte, ‘The battles of Lacolle and Odeltown, 1838’, Journal annuel de la société historique de la vallée de la Chateauguay/Chateauguay valley historical society annual journal, Vol. 13, (1980), pp. 13-20.

[39] See DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 412, 484-485, 514; Messier, pp. 350-351.

[40] Ibid, Gendron, Mario, Tenure seigneuriale et mouvement patriote: le cas du comté de l’Acadie, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire, pp. 177, 178. Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Odell (1782-1843) commanded the 2nd Battalion Arcadian Militia and was in the Battle of Odelltown, 9 November, 1838.

[41] The Union Act of 1840, section 19 stated that ‘the said Counties of L’Acadie and Laprairie shall be united into and form one county to be called the County of Huntingdon...’

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