- The 'Conquest' of Acadia, 1710: Imperial, Colonial, and Aboriginal Constructions
In narratives of Canadian history, the word 'conquest' (often capitalized) was, until recently, invariably associated with the British capture of Quebec in 1759. 'Conquest' is placed in quotation marks in the title of this volume not only to signal that there are other conquests in Canadian history, but also to underscore the ambiguity that still surrounds the meaning of the capture of Port Royal in 1710. With hindsight, we know that what is now mainland Nova Scotia remained in British hands after the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, but power relations among Aboriginal, Acadian, British, and French peoples in the region (variously known as Mi'kma'ki-Wulstukwik, Acadie, and Nova Scotia) remained unstable and contested for another half-century. This is the first major study to look at the conquest of Port Royal on its own terms rather than as an imperial triumph of Great Britain over France and/or as a precursor to the expulsion of the Acadians and the British successes in the Seven Years' War (1756-63). The result of several years of collaboration among six scholars led by John Reid, these essays are strong on grounded research, rich in insights, and important contributions to our understanding of the North Atlantic world in the eighteenth century.
The authors operate on the premise that the conquest of Acadia must be viewed from a variety of perspectives for its significance to be fully grasped. In the opening chapter, John Reid outlines the events surrounding the capture of Port Royal and argues that various groups perceived the conquest differently in the short term and had difference experiences of its impact over the longue durée. Subsequent chapters flesh out this claim. Elizabeth Mancke and John Reid draw upon recent studies in European state formation to explain the paradox whereby Acadia figured so prominently in European treaty negotiations while remaining a marginal colonial venture. Using family history to excellent effect in his chapter on pre-conquest Acadia, Maurice Basque makes the important point that the Acadians, long essentialized as a homogeneous people trying desperately to remain neutral in the struggle between Great Britain and France, were far more diverse as a people and variously partisan in their responses to [End Page 262] the pressures they faced. Geoffrey Plank also complicates the New England perspective, noting that, while business and fishing interests helped to fan the flame of Acadian and Mi'kmaq grievances, most New Englanders in all likelihood preferred to stay isolated from their northern neighbours. By looking at the world through the eyes of Antoine Tecouenemac, William Wicken demonstrates that the task of securing essential food supplies, not a brief military siege in one corner of their territory, was the main pre-occupation of most Mi'kmaq in 1710. John Reid returns to explore the formal and informal diplomacies among those most affected by the conquest, and three chapters detail the post-conquest adjustments made by the British (Barry Moody) and Acadians (Maurice Basque) in Nova Scotia as well as those made in the larger imperial context (Elizabeth Mancke).
These multiple perspectives help to demonstrate the larger significance of the conquest of Acadia. In the wake of 1710, the authors argue, three populations negotiated relationships with each other, making the region 'a virtual laboratory for cultural and political realignment in the Atlantic world.' The conquest and its aftermath, they suggest, show that imperial, colonial, and Aboriginal influences ran in multiple directions, making complex patterns whose outcomes could never be predicted. The authors also eschew the notion that the region was only a 'middle ground' of Aboriginal-European interaction. Instead, they maintain, it was a more complex space that included middle grounds as well as Aboriginal territories and colonial settlements.
Although it will be some time before this study is superseded, there is one perspective that seems to be underdeveloped here. Barry Moody's chapter on 'Making a British Nova Scotia...