The Escape Of The Acadians From Fort Beausejour At The Time Of The Expulsion
Last week I told you about the escape of 86 Acadians from Fort Lawrence, the 1st of October, 1755. There was another similar escape in that vicinity five months later, this time from Fort Beausejour, involving 80 Acadian prisoners. We do not have as many details with regard to this escape as we did for the other one, but we have enough to know that it happened and to know the way that it was done.
It was planned by one of the ancestors of many of today's Acadians of Yarmouth County, namely, by Pierre II Surette, born in Port Royal on December 9, 1709, the son of Pierre I and Jeanne Pellerin. In 1755, he was living in Beausejour, located on the border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, when the Acadians of that region were summoned to appear at Fort Beausejour on August 11 of that year. As I was telling you last week, 250 answered the call. But a number, apprehending that it was some kind of a scheme, took to the woods. Pierre II Surette and a number of others, who intended to hide in the woods, tarried too long behind and were captured and taken to Fort Beausejour. It was from this fort that they escaped during the night of February 26, 1756, under the guidance of Pierre.
The story of this escapade has been brought down from father to son up to a couple of generations ago. It is said that these prisoners were fed on horse meat and, at the request of Pierre, they saved some of the rib-bones which they hid in the day time and used during nights to dig a tunnel under the outside wall of the fort, covering their work during the day. On that date, 26th of February, they had it all completed and 80 men escaped.
The last one to get out was Pierre Melanson, the biggest man of the crowd, and he got stuck for a while in the middle of the tunnel. They got out just in time to escape the guards who had heard the racket and were right on their heels, but they reached the woods in time by paths that they knew better than the English did. There was a song which was composed regarding Melanson's predicament. My uncle H. Leander d'Entremont says somewhere that he heard his mother, my grandmother Angelique Foi, sing it. In 1941, my Uncle put an ad in a newspaper asking if there was anyone who knew that song. I'm afraid that it is another piece of our folklore which is lost forever.
Father François Le Guerne, who was their missionary, wrote a long letter from Belair, near Cocagne, New Brunswick, under date of March 10, 1756, addressed to Chevalier de Drucours, Governor of Louisbourg in which he tells what Pierre Surete [sic] reported to him concerning the English at the fort. "I hold this (information) from Pierre Surette ... This man, formerly a captain in the militia of Petcoudiac, is sensible and of good judgment, and well versed in public affairs, and was often employed by our Messieurs Officers in delicate matters. The English had kept him this winter at the fort as a man of reason who knew the country and might be useful to them. His agreeable manner of speech gave him a free access to the Commander of the fort (Mr. Scot), who thought him secure, so much so, that he spoke his mind openly to him. He knows the English language and is ever ready to converse with anyone, and they were in the habit of holding nothing in reserve when talking with him".
After his escape, Pierre II Surette with his family, along with other Acadian families, stayed hidden in the woods, not far in that vicinity. After two years of misery and starvation, eating roots, meat of decayed animals, and even the excrement of animals as we are told by Father Le Guerne, these Acadians went around Miramichi, where their condition proved to be worse. Finally, they were obliged to surrender, that which took place around Petcoudiaca[sic] and Memramcook, November 18, 1759. They were 700 in all, led by Pierre II Surette and Jean and Michel Bourque, the ancestors of the Bourques of Yarmouth County. They were taken to Halifax and kept prisoners till after the Treaty of Paris, 1763, which marked the end of the Seven Year War.
After this date, Pierre and his family were to stay six or seven years in the vicinity of Halifax, not knowing where to settle. In 1769, three of the children had their marriage blessed in Chezzetcook by Father Bailly, as recorded in his registers. See sketch No. 34.
It was just shortly after this date That Pierre II Surette, his son Joseph and his three sons-in-law, namely Joseph Babin, Jean Bourque and Dominique Pothier, came to Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau and Belleville, being the ancestors of the Acadians of those names in Yarmouth County.
Pierre II Surette had married in Grand-Pre, September 30th, 1732, Catherine Breau, daughter of Pierre Breau and of Anne LeBlanc. She is the ancestral mother of a great many Acadians in south-western Nova Scotia. According to an old tradition, she would have been buried towards the shore of Salt Bay or Salt Water March [sic], at Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau, way behind the grocery store that the Misses Pothiers used to keep, daughters of Mande Pothier and of Louise Bourque, now under the management of their nephew Surette. The first road ever built in what was then Eel Brook used to go through here, following close to the shore. It was the same path that the narrow-gage railway was to follow up to Argyle, after having followed the western edge of Eel Lake from close to Belleville, traces of which are still visible. What happened, through the influence of some Belleville people--the name of Lezin Pothier, who was constable, is often mentioned--the railroad was finally to go through Belleville and then go on to the east side of the lake.