The Acadian Ancestry of The Burke Family in Canada


For a brief history of Canada, read this article. Nova Scotia Archives has become quite digitized and offers searchable databases with links to original documents and photographs. This link will take you to the Genealogy Guide.


Lest we forget... for thousands of years prior to colonization primarily by the English, French and Spanish, the continent of North America was populated by aboriginal peoples. These were civilizations that had great knowledge and respect for their lands and the creatures that lived there with them. They were no more savages than the colonists who came to displace them - these were cultured peoples.

Canada's Birthplace - the French settlement of Port-Royal...

In 1603, a French gentleman, Pierre Dugua de Mons, received a fur trade monopoly for a large area between the 40th and 45th parallel in northeastern North America on condition he establish a colony there. His first expedition arrived in 1604 and selected a site for settlement on St. Croix Island. That winter, nearly half the colonists succumbed to the cold and scurvy. The following summer, after exploring the nearby coasts, Samuel de Champlain, explorer and mapmaker, and François Pont-Gravé selected a new site, named Port-Royal, across the Bay of Fundy. The colony was moved before Sieur de Mons returned to France, leaving Pont-Gravé in charge of the new settlement.

Ironically, just as the colony seemed capable of sustaining itself, word arrived that Sieur de Mons' monopoly was revoked. By the fall of 1607, the colonists were en route to France and the Habitation was left in the care of Membertou, chief of the Mi'kmaq in the Port-Royal area. Although Sieurs de Mons' monopoly was temporarily reinstated and a member of the earlier expeditions, Champdoré, came to trade with the Mi'kmaq in 1608, French settlement was temporarily on hold.

In February 1606 Sieur de Poutrincourt, to whom Sieur de Mons had earlier granted land at Port-Royal, received confirmation of this grant from the king of France. He returned in 1610 with a small expedition to Port-Royal, where he received a warm welcome from Membertou. Hoping to regain royal favour and financial backing, Jean de Poutrincourt encouraged Membertou, his family and several of his people to convert to Catholicism. Despite these efforts, the colony's financial support remained on shaky grounds.

Jesuit interest in establishing missions in Acadie and their influence at Court ensured their participation when they became financial partners of a wary and reluctant Jean de Poutrincourt. The arrival and subsequent involvement of Pères Massé and Biard in local affairs at Port-Royal made existing internal conflicts worse. Crises occurred regarding the affairs of Robert Pont Gravé and the burial of Membertou. The colony lost its financial support due to conflicts between the Poutrincourts, father and son, and the Jesuits. In May 1613, a relief ship removed the Jesuits to Penobscot where they founded another settlement named Saint-Sauveur. They were attacked in July by Samuel Argall, of Virginia, who was commissioned to expel all Frenchmen from territory claimed by England.

In November 1613, while the inhabitants of the Port-Royal settlement were away up river, Samuel Argall's expedition sailed into Port-Royal and looted and burned the Habitation. De Poutrincourt, who was in France, returned in the spring of 1614 to find his Habitation in ruins, and his son and companions living with the Mi'kmaq. Discouraged, he returned to France and transferred his North American lands to his son, who remained loyal to his adopted homeland. He died around 1623 and bequeathed his possessions to Charles Étienne de La Tour.

The colonization of La Cadie, or L'Acadie...

The name Acadia was generally used by the French to denote the Maritime provinces along with adjacent portions of New England and Quebec. The origin of the word Acadia is in dispute. It is generally accepted to be from Archadia (Acadia), so named by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524, meaning a land of rustic peace. The claim that it is of Micmac origin is probably coincidental. The Micmac word Quoddy or Cady was rendered by the French as cadie and meant a piece of land or territory.

In 1621, James I gave Acadia to Sir William Alexander who became the Earl of Stirling, and the area received the name it would ultimately retain, Nova Scotia. But the treaty of St-Germain-en-Laye, in 1632, gave Nova Scotia to France once more. It was at this time that the French really succeeded in establishing colonies in this place. The Commander named to lead this new expedition was Isaac de Razilly along with his kinsmen d'Aulnay de Charnisay and Nicholas Denys de la Ronde. It is at this time that 300 persons were brought to Acadia (including Antoine Bourg), primarily from the regions of France known as Poitou, Charentes and Britanny.

Between 1639 and 1649, Charnisay brought other settlers. In 1651, Charles Étienne de la Tour brought even more settlers. Of the 300 who came in 1632, there were perhaps twenty families. Of the other men, these married young women who were brought from France at a later date.

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Map of "New Scot Lande", 1624...

This map shows the names of the areas of land as they were known to the English. At the time this map was made, in 1624, the New World consisted of New Spain, New England, New France, New Found Lande, and New Scot Lande.

Acadia was made up of the present Atlantic provinces of Canada : New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island (then known to the French as Île St. Jean), some parts of Newfoundland, and parts of Maine - more or less what can be seen on this map as New Scot Lande. Unfortunately, this peaceful beginning was followed by 150 years of struggle between the French and English for control of the continent to which New Scot Lande became a casualty. Except for some short periods of British occupation, Acadia was governed by the French up to 1713. The inlet of Port-Royal is shown in an exaggerated manner on the north side of what will become Nova Scotia, off of what will become known as the Bay of Fundy.

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Early map of Port-Royal area...

Another early map, showing something of how the first location of Port-Royal was settled and may have appeared.

Follow this link to many more maps and other information about Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal today).


Life in Acadia

Acadians prospered due to hard work and a farming technique that was novel and inventive for this area at that time. The farmers reclaimed rich coastal lands that were otherwise unusable by building dykes that could control the flooding caused by incoming tides. The dykes had one-way water gates called aboiteaus that allowed fresh water to drain from the land while keeping incoming tidal water from continuously contaminating the soil with salt. After about two years, with the salt levels greatly reduced by this flushing action, the highly fertile and productive land was ready for the growing of a wide variety of important crops. This technique saved the Acadians from having to do the much harder work of clearing and preparing inland areas for their settlement and farming activities.

The farmers were well fed from their rich gardens and livestock, and well clothed in locally-produced wools and linen. Quantities of, and the variety of, farm animals steadily increased. Families were able to cultivate more and more acreage for their gardens, fields of grain, and orchards of fruit trees (including apples, cherries and pears) as time went on.

Dyke-building in Acadia circa 1640-1650...

(For all of these depictions of Acadian life, hover your mouse cursor over an image to reveal the artist's name.)

Building a home, by Azor Vienneau.

House building in Acadia...

Harvesting marsh hay...

Acadians traded for goods they could not produce themselves with goods they had in abundance...

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Map of Acadia, 1686....

This map shows the proximity of Acadia to the New England colonies, with which the Acadians traded. Many town names can be seen along the coast.

This modern satellite view is here for comparison. In addition to the area shown in the 1686 map above (about as far south as Cape Cod), this view additionally shows Long Island, the Delaware peninsula, and on to just beyond the Roanoke Island area of North Carolina. The distance from Port-Royal to Boston is roughly 300 miles, with much depending on how many stops along the way are made. From Boston, around the cape to New York (New Amsterdam, up until 1664), the distance sailed was somewhere over 200 miles. From New York to Delaware Bay is another 150 miles, and from inside Delaware Bay to inside Chesapeake Bay another 200. (Just 200 more along the coast and you are off the map.)

Although the Acadians were remarkably self-sufficient, there were some things they could not make or grow themselves, and for these needs they established trading links with New England, with other French settlements, and with Europe. Molasses, cooking pots, board axes, clay pipes, gunpowder, fabrics, and rum came through New England. Through Louisbourg, they obtained cottons, thread, lace, firearms and religious items from France. The Acadians were fond of smoking (both men and women smoked): their clay pipes came mostly from England, although at times they did make their own, using local red clay. In return for these items, the Acadians traded grain from the fertile marshlands, cattle well-fed on salt-marsh hay, and furs they had obtained from trapping and trade with the Mi'kmaq.

To get a sense of what a small Acadian farm may include, and how many family members would be in each household, take a look at the census reports from the area.

Community life...

Like many people isolated by circumstances, the Acadians had a strong sense of community and performed many tasks together. One of the most important of these was the regular maintenance of the dykes. Another, which was much enjoyed, occurred when a young couple married. The whole village would gather to help clear land and to build a house for them. It became an occasion for work, fun, food and celebration. Music on these occasions was often provided by fiddles (typically two) and/or jew's harps. Stories of bygone years in France and tales of the hardships and pleasure of pioneer life were told in beautiful ballads.

Acadian music today has a distinct sound - there is a guitar for rhythm, a fiddle, and a predominant button accordian (introduced by the Germans in Louisiana, in the early 1900's, as a replacement for climate-ravaged violins). The accordian was an instrument of huge volume that even offered its own accompaniment by supplying a bass and a chord section. Its full sound was an asset to the packed, noisy dancehalls.

The tunes below are of Acadian or Maritime origin. While they are in synthesized MIDI file format, they still give a good impression of the Acadian/Cajun sound.

For more than a hundred years the Acadians were able to maintain their self-contained lifestyle, enjoying their large families and peaceful communities, strengthened by a firm sense of religion. They lived on friendly terms with their immediate neighbours, the Mi'kmaq Indians, and profited from their trading links with New England and other French settlements. By preference, they had no strong ties with either France or England, and tried to avoid confrontation with them. In some sense, it was their very isolation from the influence of these major colonial powers, coupled with the impact of the marshland landscape which was their home, which helped the Acadians to establish and maintain their unique way of life.


The Politics of the time...

In 1713, a part of Acadia is ceded to Britain - that is, present day Nova Scotia with the exception of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), where the French fortress of Louisbourg was situated. Wanting to remain a distinct entity unto themselves, the Acadians (with a population of some 1,800 now) refused to take the oath of allegiance to the British Crown and offered instead an oath of neutrality. They were prospering - they did not want to take up arms against the British, the French (the land of their birth), or the Mi'kmaq Indians. The English government, recognizing the Acadians as a formidable and necessary group, were not yet willing nor able to expel them for this or even let them leave of their own accord. Unhappily, the situation remained this way for years.

Between 1713 and 1734, some 67 Acadian families (including the family of Michel Bourg) chose to move from the fertile areas around Port Royal and in the Annapolis Valley to the far less fertile but excellent fishing region of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) - this, at the behest of the French government that Acadian families move there to join with French fishermen from Newfoundland and populate the French Island. Some of these families stay, others return to the mainland: the Island population of Acadians grows slowly. Other families, under escalating pressure to pledge allegiance to England, leave Nova Scotia for New Brunswick, Île St. Jean, and Île Royale. Still other Acadians continued to peacefully work their farms on the mainland.

English map of the region, 1740-1755...

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Signing the oath...

For those Acadians who did take the oath, they did so on the condition that they were exempt from the duty of bearing arms. This clause appeared in the documents that the Acadians did sign. Governor Richard Philipps recommended that it be "written in the margin, next to the French translation, in the hopes of overcoming their repulsion, little by little." However, it was not included in the oath itself, which read, "I promise and swear by my Faith as a Christian that I will be entirely faithful and will truly obey His Majesty King George II, whom I acknowledge as the sovereign lord of Acadia or Nova Scotia, so help me God."


The Reason for Deportation...

While neutral in the competition for the New World between the French and English, the Acadians (known as "French Neutrals" by this time) were gradually cut adrift by the French. And while many Acadians had sworn allegiance to the governing power England - with the caveat that they would not have to bear arms - they were not trusted and not wanted by the English, who shared neither their language nor their religion. In 1755, on the eve of a new war, Governor Lawrence orders the Acadians to sign unconditional oaths, Acadian leaders refuse, saying they would leave the area before signing such an oath. On hearing this, the English government gives leave to Governor Lawrence to order the deportation of all Acadians from the Nova Scotian mainland. This became known as "le Grand Dérangement" or "The Great Upheaval" or "The Grand Dispersion". The order of deportation was prepared and delivered by Lieutenant Colonel John Winslow.


The Order of Deportation...

...in this artist's depiction, as it was delivered in the church in Grand Pré, September 5, 1755, in the presence of some 400 male Acadians - his Majesty's Orders and Instructions...

"That your Land & Tennements, Cattle of all Kinds and Livestocks of all Sorts are forfeited to the Crown, with all other your effects Savings your money and Household Goods, and you yourselves to be removed from this Province."

"Thus it is Preremtorily his Majesty's orders That the whole French Inhabitants of these Districts be removed, and I am Through his Majesty's Goodness Directed to allow you Liberty to Carry of your money and Household Goods as Many as you Can without Discommoding the Vessels you Go in. I shall do Every thing in my Power that all those Goods be Secured to you and that you are not Molested in Carrying of them off, and also that whole Families Shall go in the Same Vessel, and make this remove, which I am Sensable must give you a great Deal of Trouble, as Easy as his Majesty's Sevice will admit, and hope that in what Ever part of the world you may Fall you may be Faithful Subjects, a reasonable & happy People."

On hearing the proclamation...

The announcement continues..."I Must also Inform you That it is His Majesty's Pleasure that you remain in Security under the Inspection & Direction of the Troops that I have the Honour to Command." ...and all Acadians were pronounced prisoners of the King, and arrangements were made to deport each and every one.

As to Governor Lawrence, it is said that he "and the chief agents in this shameful act received twenty thousand acres of the Acadian land. This was reduced to five thousand by the Lords of Trade. He himself had the handling of the wealth in products and live stock which the Acadians left, and the lion's share of that wealth was his."

Acadian property was either taken or destroyed...

Governor Lawrence offers the Acadian farms to New Englanders. In 1760, 22 ships of settlers set sail from Connecticut to be among those to take possession.


Where did they all go?

Almost immediately following the order of deportation, more than 7,000 Acadians are put on ships and sent to American colonies : some 2,000 to Massachusetts; 700 to Connecticut; 300 to New York; 500 to Pennsylvania; 1,000 to Maryland; 400 to Georgia; 1,000 to Carolinas. 1,200 Acadians were sent to North Carolina and Virginia but were never let off the ships. After several months in the harbor, they were sent to England. Most of these were finally repatriated to France but ironically, they did not fit in there either - their attitudes, customs, and language had changed. Other than sharing a common religion and more or less a common language, the Acadians had little in common with the French.

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Note: Those sent to North Carolina and Virginia were not allowed to disembark the ships because they had not been expected and they were not wanted. They sat on the beaches for six months. Having arrived in the fall of 1755, they were sent to England in the spring of 1756. Once in England, they were dispersed to Bristol, Falmouth, Liverpool and Southampton where they were detained (held prisoners) for seven years. They were expatriated in 1763 at the signing of the Treaty of Paris and went to France. Many of these Acadians eventually went to Louisiana. Acadians became known as "Cajuns" there.

Perhaps some 3,000 others were able to run away to French Acadia but, as French forts were defeated in battle, many of these Acadians were killed. Of those Acadians that found their way to the Îles St-Pierre et Miquelon, many of them later sailed to Louisiana (most did so around 1785). Still other Acadians made their way to Québec. However, the main concentration of these displaced Acadians can today be found in northern New Brunswick.

While it was the intention of the government to allow family members to depart together, family members were separated from their loved ones. Many Acadians wandered for years before settling down. Some historians estimate that as many as half of the Acadians deported did not survive the exile.

Some Acadians did make their way home over time...

On February 10, 1763, the Treaty of Paris concluded the Seven Years' War between Great Britain and France. Properties that had belonged to the Acadians throughout Nova Scotia before the conflict were given up to New England Planters and Foreign Protestants.

This treaty also ended the seven-year exile of the Acadians. Some chose to return, importantly, to settle the area of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) centered by Isle Madame. For returning Acadians, outside of their retension of knowledge of the area, it was like starting from square one.

A poem called Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow romanticizes the tale of the Acadians...

Gand-Pré, and the immediate region around it, is considered to be both a national historic and world heritage site - for the adaptive techniques of the first settlers and for the Acadian way of life which sadly ended in deporation. A church representative of the era has been built there, funded by Acadian descendants and those touched by the tragic events. Parks Canada has assumed responsibility for preservation and for continuing education. A statue of Longfellow's Evangeline is a feature of the site.

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This file last modified 1/24/2016...

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