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  • An Unsettled Conquest: The British Campaign Against the Peoples of Acadia
  • Carl A. Brasseaux
Geoffrey Plank, An Unsettled Conquest: The British Campaign Against the Peoples of Acadia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001)

Since publication of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic Evangeline in 1847, Acadian historiography has focused upon the justification of the forced deportation of Acadians from Nova Scotia. Discussion has been polarized along ethnic boundaries, with Anglo-Canadian historians staunchly defending the deportation on the basis of colonial security and Franco-Canadian scholars condemning the operation as a unjustifiable episode of what would now be called ethnic cleansing. Like the Canadian political climate which the ongoing debate mirrors, there has been regrettably little middle ground.

Geoffrey Plank, associate professor of History at the University of Cincinnati, expands both the scope and the breadth of the frequently acrimonious scholarly dialogue with a refreshingly dispassionate analysis of the Acadian deportation framed against the backdrop of British imperial policies on the one hand and the complexities of the local military, social, and economic realities in the present Canadian Maritime Provinces on the other. In a notable departure from the traditional debate over bilateral Anglo-Acadian relations, Plank demonstrates convincingly that events leading to the Grand Dérangement, as Acadian deportation is popularly known, were profoundly shaped by the Mi’kmaq people, Nova Scotia’s indigenous population which controlled much of Nova Scotia. By 1713, when Great Britain secured permanent control of Nova Scotia through the Treaty of Utrecht, the Acadians, who had colonized the Bay of Fundy’s eastern shores for more than a century, and the Mi’kmaq had established a symbiotic relationship, undergirded by extensive trade links and blood ties. The Mi’kmaq, however, proved less amenable to British rule over the peninsula, and the result was sporadic, but intense fighting between the tribe and British military forces. This fighting occasionally threatened British control over Nova Scotia and, by extension, the Grand Banks fisheries and the major North American shipping lanes. Until the Seven Years’ War, the British were never able to subjugate the Mi’kmaq, in part because of surreptitious assistance from the Acadian population.

In the 1740’s, the Nova Scotian government embarked upon an effort to “separate the Mi’kmaq from the Acadians and transform the Acadians into ‘English Protestants’” (p. 161). To accomplish this feat, colonial authorities, led by Admiral Charles Knowles, newly appointed governor of British-occupied Cape Breton Island and an important policy formulator in the debates over the pacification of the Scottish Highlands in the wake of the Battle of Culloden (1745), initially subscribed to the effort to deport Highlanders to North America. Massachusetts Governor William Shirley, future British commander-in-chief in North America, was a particularly enthusiastic proponent of the dual deportation proposal. The Nova Scotian leaders maintained that deportation of the Acadian population to New England would make way for the Scottish influx. The two ethnic cleansing operations thus would solve festering security problems in both the Old World and the New.

Deportation of the Acadian population to New England, it was then believed, would receive the popular endorsement of New Englanders, who had chafed under the heavy expense of outfitting periodic military expeditions to Nova Scotia. These New Englanders, like their British counterparts, however, viewed culturally distinct communities such as the Acadians as being inherently subversive, and this attitude, combined with Acadian cultural tenacity, ultimately doomed the deportation scheme to failure, for, in the end, the Acadians remained unassimilated. The other part of the equation, however, proved more successful from the British imperial perspective, for, after the Grand Dérangement, the Mi’kmaq were forced to sue for peace.

An Unsettled Conquest is a major addition to Acadian and Canadian Maritime historiography. The author has done much to broaden the scope of the debate about the Grand Dérangement-the traditional focal point of Acadian and Maritime historiography. By inserting the role of the Mi’kmaq in the development of events and policies leading to the Grand Dérangement, the author has demonstrated that the interplay between the colonial regime and the established populations was far more complex than has generally been recognized. Unlike many other...

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