The Story of The Acadian Bells:
Those of Port Royal
This month and next month, I intend to tell you the story of the Acadian bells prior to the Expulsion, starting with those of Port Royal, now Annapolis Royal. We know of a certain number of them, but most probably not all of them. If we had all the Acadian church bells that people have said to have been hidden at the time of the Expulsion, we would surely have more than enough to compete with the chime of the tower of the Parliament House in Ottawa. There has been a certain number of them which were thus hidden. Some have been recovered. There could be others which are still buried in the ground. Many of those that different legends have buried all over the place will never be found, for the simple reason that they never existed.
Every church in Acadia did not have a bell. In that case, people were summoned to the divine service by other means. Colonel Robert Hale of Beverly, Mass., who visited Acadia in 1731, says that in one of the churches of "Meshequesh" in New Brunswick, on Musquash Brook about eight miles north of Sackville, flowing into the Tantramar River, a flag was hoisted to call the people to the morning and to the evening prayers. One Sunday morning in 1727, near "Megoguich," on the Missaguash River, which makes the boundary between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, an Acadian asked Ensign Robert Wroth, an adjutant of the troops of the King of England in Acadia, permission to "hoist a small dirty white flag as a signal to the inhabitants to attend divine service."
In New England at this time, people were summoned to church by drums, flags or conch-shells. The Puritans of Higham, Mass., were saying that "a church bell is a contrivance of priests, not suitable for our meeting houses. We will continue to use the drum."
It was not an easy task at the time to get a bell. With regard to those of the Acadians, they had to be ordered form France. Already, though, in the 17th century, there was in Québec a "master bell-caster" by the name of Jean Amounet, three of his bells, destined to the parish of Québec, having been blessed in 1664 by Bishop de Laval. In 1712, Pierre la Tour of Beauport, a suburb of Québec, was another "master bell-caster". And in 1757, still in Beauport, there was Étienne Simonneau who was involved in the same trade. Already in 1645, the parish church of Québec had received a bell of 100 pounds. In 1651, a bell of 1,000 pounds arrived in Québec.
With regard to Nova Scotia, as early as 1654, a bell from Port Royal was brought to Boston at the time of the conquest of Acadia by Sedgewick. It was then in the hands of Capt. Lothrop. This bell belonged to the Capucin Fathers. Another one of these bells was taken to Boston or elsewhere during the same raid. One weighed 200 pounds and was worth 300 English or French pounds; the other was 100 pounds, being worth 150 English or French pounds.
Port Royal had to wait a number of years before getting another bell; in fact, in 1701, it did not have one yet. Finally, in 1706, the French Minister was writing: "Will cause a bell to be given to the Recollets of Port Royal, the one that was given them having cracked at the first peal." This new bell must have been the MARIE BELL. It is the one which Father Sigogne inherited in 1801 for his church in Church Point. We read, in fact, in Father Sigogne's registers: "On June 11, 1801, I, priest undersigned, have blessed a bell which comes from Jacob troop of Annapolis, which is said to have belonged to the Catholic church of Port Royal, today Annapolis; she received the name of MARIE ...a name given by Marguerite LeBlanc, widow of Pierre Doucet." This Pierre Doucet is the one I described in my sketch No. 49. The Troop family, of German origin was from Granville, where Jacob himself was born in 1759.
This must have been the bell of the church of St. John the Baptist, which replaced the one taken to Boston in 1654; the church was located between Granville Center and Upper Granville. According to tradition, when the Acadians of Annapolis heard that they were to be sent into exile, they brought all their copper and silver coins to the pastor, who lowered the bell from the steeple, filled it with the coins brought by the Acadians and buried it in the ground.
Twenty years later, Jacob Troop, while plowing his field in Granville, found the bell. He kept his finding to himself, although people noticed that the started to live at ease without doing a great amount of work. Shortly after Father Sigogne arrived at St. Mary's Bay, Troop offered him the bell, figuring probably that, belonging to the Catholic Church, he could not keep it.
Unfortunately, this bell perished in the great fire of September 12, 1820 that devastated all the buildings in its path for miles and miles, including the church, of which I will give you an account later on.
It is then that Father Sigogne gathered a great quantity of old copper coins from his parishioners and sent them to France, with which a new bell was cast. It arrived in Church Point in April of 1823. On the 20th of that month, Father Sigogne blessed it, when he gave to it the same name as that of her elder sister, that of MARIE. Her godfather was Anselme Doucet, son of Capt. Pierre, mentioned above and her godmother was his wife, née Elisabeth LeBlanc.
August 14 and 25, 1905, three new bells were blessed in Church Point for the new church which had just been built; they are still in service. That is when the parish of Church Point gave the bell of 1823 to her daughter, the parish of Concession, which had been erected as a mission of Church Point in 1901.
And that is the story of the bells of Port Royal and of their followers. Next week, I will tell you the story of the bells of the Fortress of Louisbourg.