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- Over the Border: Acadia - 5/18 -
In the hot breath of cannon, Of its sturdy defenders, Thy lady alone Saw the cross-blazoned banner Float over St John. Alas for thy lady! No service from thee Is needed by her Whom the Lord hath set free: Nine days, in stern silence, Her thralldom she bore, But the tenth morning came And Death opened her door'"
Hannay says she was "the first and greatest of Acadian heroines,--a woman whose name is as proudly enshrined in the history of this land as that of any sceptered queen in European story."
For a long series of years this post of Port Royal was the bone of contention between the French and English; the fort, being held for a time by one power, then by the other, representing the shuttle-cock when these contending nations battled at her doors. In 1654 the place was held by the French under Le Borgne. An attack by the English was successful, though the French were well garrisoned and provisioned.
In De Razilly's time La Tour, who might have been satisfied with his possessions at St. John, assailed it; then English pirates took the fishing fleet (1684); next Sir William Phipps captured and pillaged the fort in 1690. Shortly after this, pirates from the West Indies plundered the place; and in 1691 it again fell into the hands of the French under De Villebon. It was still to undergo two sieges in 1707, when, under Subercase, the besiegers were repulsed; and in 1710 seven ships with English marines bombarded the fort for several days. The garrison at last, being in starving condition, were forced to yield; and the victors christened the place Annapolis Royal, in honor of their sovereign then reigning in Great Britain.
The subjugation of this part of "New France" made Nova Scotia an English province; and for a time this realm might have answered to the description of Rasselas's Happy Valley; the thrifty, honest people relieved from "wars and rumors of wars", and taking up the quiet, contented routine of every-day life.
"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife They kept the noiseless tenor of their way."
But in 1744 the reign of siege and terror began again, and the town was destroyed by bombardment and incendiary fires, when, for nearly three months, Laloutre and Duvivier besieged the fort. The garrison, augmented by troops from Louisburg, and assisted by provisions and men from Boston, finally repulsed their assailants. The next year there was another assault under De Ramezay, which was unsuccessful; and after the dispersion of the Acadians (1755), the much-fought-over place was allowed to remain in quiet until 1781, when two American ships-of-war sailed up the river at night. Their forces, taking the fort by surprise, robbed the houses, after imprisoning the people in the old block-house. Since that time the English have retained possession of this much disputed territory; the fort has been unarmed and unoccupied (by military force) since 1850, when the Rifle Brigade were stationed here; but the tedium of garrison life proving still more irksome here, and desertions being frequent, the fort was abandoned as a military post.
What a fascination there is about that old fort at Annapolis!--"the hornet's nest", as it was called in the olden time; the stronghold which withstood so many sieges, and was the subject of constant contentions in by-gone years.
The hours slip by unnoted when one sits, on the ramparts dreaming and gazing on the broad sweep of river, the distant islands, the undulating lines of the mountain ranges. The sleepy looking cows wander lazily about, cropping the grass on the embankments, and even clamber over the ancient archway.
One peoples the place with imaginary martial figures, and is almost startled when the stillness is broken by a rustle and approaching footsteps, and turns, as if expecting to see glittering uniforms appearing through the crumbling arch; but it is only old Moolly, who deliberately walks into the inner enclosure, and, if "our special artist on the spot" has left his sketch for a moment, probably puts her foot in it, with the air of one who should say, "Who are you who dare invade my realm?"
The quaint barrack building, with its huge chimneys and gambrel roof, is now occupied by several families; and a whitewashed fence encloses a gay garden. The small magazine, built of creamy sandstone sent from France for the purpose, still remains, and its excessively sharp roof shows above the ramparts; but the massive oaken door stands open wide and is green with age; the roof is decidedly shaky; and the shingles hang loosely, so that one would think that only a moderate gale would send them flying like a pack of cards.
The block-house, built of massive logs and heavy planks of English oak, stood within the past year by the bridge over the moat; but, unfortunately, a person without reverence for antiquities has razed it, thereby obtaining his winter fuel cheaply; and he now turns an honest penny by selling canes, etc., of the wood.
When we indignantly ask some of the town's-people how they could have permitted this, they reply, "Oh, it was getting rotten, and would have tumbled down some day;" but we judge, by pieces which we see of the sound, tough fibred oak, that it might have stood for fifty years more without injury; while a little judicious propping and repairing, perhaps, would have preserved it for a longer period than that. Poor Annapolitans, who had no Centennial Exhibition to teach them the value of historical relics and "old things".
On the Maine Central Railroad, quite near the track at Winslow, we passed, on our way here, an old block-house, which is carefully preserved.
Not long ago, the Canadian Government received orders that all buildings, except the barrack and magazine, must be removed from the fort enclosure; yet a garrulous old Scotchman still resides there in a tiny house, and plies his trade as cobbler.
His delight is to regale strangers with preposterous "yarns", and accounts of his adventures in her Majesty's service; accounts which must be taken with considerably more than the proverbial grain of salt, but to which we listened with delight and amazingly sober countenances. When asked how it happens that he still remains in the fort grounds, he answers, "I writ out home, to Angland, to say that I served in the arrumy fur thurty yeer, and I know the ould gurrul will let me stay." (There's respect for a sovereign!)
He talks wisely of the "bumpruf", a word which we have some difficulty in translating into _bomb proof_; and we are, apparently, overpowered with wonder as he explains how "with a few berrls av pouther they cud send ivery thing flying, and desthroy the whole place, avery bit av it."
Presumably misled by our simulated credulity, he goes on to describe a well in front of the magazine, and says, "When they wanted to get red av throoblesome preesoners, ploomp they'd go in the watter, and thet was the last av 'em'" Suffice it to say, that the oldest inhabitant has no recollection of the slightest trace of such a well.
The underground passage has fallen in; only the entrance being now visible and accessible Old Gill says, "I as the last man iver in it; and I got caught there with the wall fallin' in, and they were twinty fower hours gettin' me out," (a li[e]kely story!) adding, "Oh, I was a divil in them days!" and "I found in there a bit av a goon wrinch" (gun wrench); and Mr. So and So, from Halifax, "gev me some money fur it, an' he lapped it up in his han'kerchef like as if it had ben goold."
We are told of an ancient house "of the era of the French occupation," and go to see it; but learn, though it looks so aged, that it was built upon the _site_ of the French house, and is not the old original. The owner has reached the ripe age of ninety-four, and is a remarkable man, with the polished manner of a gentleman of the old school In such a climate as this, one would naturally expect to find centenarians. He tells us many interesting things about old times here, and his grandson brings out a barrel of Acadian relics to show us.
We are interested in noting the differences between these ancient implements and those in use at the present time; here is a gridiron, with very long handle and four feet (a clumsy quadruped), and we see in fancy the picture of home comfort, as the busy housewife prepares the noonday meal, where--
"Firmly builded with rafters of oak, the house of the farmer Stood on the side of a lull commanding the sea, and a shady Sycamore grew by the door, with a woodbine wreathing around it"
Here, too, are ox chains, a curiously shaped ploughshare, an odd little spade used in mending the dikes, and digging clay for bricks, and also the long and heavy tongs of the "blacksmith".
"Who was a mighty man in the village and honored of all men For since the birth of time, throughout all ages and nations Has the craft of the smith been held in repute by the people."
These implements were discovered at Frenchman's Brook on this farm, only three years ago, and were then found apparently as bright and strong as if just placed there. They were covered with brush, but a foot or two below the surface; and seem to have been hurriedly hidden by the exiles, who, finding them too weighty for conveyance, secreted them, probably with the hope of returning sometime.
What a study for an artist the group would have made, as they stood examining the misty iron, and talking of the unhappy people so ruthlessly sent into banishment! For background, the quaint, unpainted house, black with age, the roof of the "lean-to" so steeply sloping that the eave-trough was on a line Avith the heads of the group Beyond lay the lovely valley, with the winding Équille on its serpentine way to join the greater river; the whole picture framed in the long range of wooded and rugged hills.
Higginson thinks there has been too much sentimentalizing over the fate of the Acadians; and one member of our party so evidently considers that our enthusiasm savors of the gushing school-girl, that we are cautious in our remarks. But the old man's grandson, holding his pretty child on his shoulder, and looking across the valley to his pleasant dwelling, says, "Oh, it was cruel to send them away from their homes!" to which all earnestly assent.
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