The Acadians who in the latter part of the 18th century settled in southwestern Nova Scotia (Canada) had been deported from Acadia or were their descendants. Expulsion by British authorities began in 1755 and lasted until the early 1760s. Some returning Acadians resettled in the southwestern region about 1768. These Acadians lacked basic necessities of life and were still reeling from the traumatic turn of events.

Of particular concern to these Acadians was the lack of regular pastoral guidance; in its historical context, the need for spiritual care was of the utmost importance to this people. Immediately after resettlement, Acadians had only sporadic visits from itinerant missionaries, like Bailly and Bourg. Other missionaries visited in the 1780s and early 1790s. Some of these were not appreciated by the Acadians either because they were dishonest or spoke no French, the only language for all but a very few Acadians.

Through various avenues, both religious and civil, Acadians obtained in 1799 an answer to their prayers. The French missionary who arrived in Halifax via London, England, accepted as his mission the spiritual care of approximately two hundred Acadian families settled in small villages along the coast of southwestern Nova Scotia: about 120 families in Clare (Saint-Mary's Parish) and 80 in Argyle (Saint-Anne's Parish).

Jean Mandé Sigogne willingly accepted the challenges of working in this undeveloped region. As was customary in France, he had been encouraged to pursue his studies in hopes of some day becoming a priest. such was likely the case for Sigogne who undoubtedly showed above-average intelligence. Born in 1763 and raised in the small French village of Beaulieu outside of Loches, near the city of Tours. He did his Theology in the Seminary there and at 24 years of age he was ordained to the priesthood for service in the Diocese of Tours. He quite happily exercised his ministry in the parish of Manthelan, until the upheaval of astronomical proportions, the French Revolution, changed everything.

For Sigogne, the Revolution was a time of great personal distress; not only had his father adopted the republican philosophy, but also as a priest Sigogne had to choose personally between the Roman Catholic Church and the Republican ideology. Accepting the Civil Constitution of the Clergy as instituted by the Republicans was made a legal obligation for all priests. Priests and bishops had to swear allegiance to the civil authority of France rather than to the Roman hierarchy. The predicament proved too great for Sigogne. His fidelity to Rome did not swerve, as made abundantly clear in his writings later on in life. Despite his father's and brother's frequent insistence, Sigogne steadfastly refused to yield and was thus divested of priestly functions in his parish. For some time, he practised his ministry in hiding always in fear of being imprisoned or, even worse, beheaded along with others of his priestly confreres. Finally, the turmoil became intolerable and he secretly left for England in the summer of 1792 with thousands of others.

Although safe in England, Sigogne's life as a Roman Catholic priest from France, who spoke little English, was not easy. Great Britain showed great hospitality to anti-Revolutionary expatriates, providing a few guineas for them on a regular basis and helping sustain them in various other ways.

Sigogne and his compatriots expected their English exile to be short, only until law and order prevailed again in France. The belief that Sigogne returned to France a few years after his arrival in England is unfounded. He never returned to France, remaining in London until his departure, not for France, but for Nova Scotia (Acadia, as it was then called) in 1799. While in England, Sigogne learned to speak and write English well as his later correspondence shows. English was his sixth language; later on in Nova Scotia, he would master a seventh language, Mi'kmaw, the most difficult according to his own admission, in order better to accomplish his mission for a group of people dear to his heart. During his exile in London he also directed a small boarding school and ran a business selling religious and educational books. He gave instruction to the daughters of a wealthy lady who in turn taught him English. He adopted a nine-year-old orphaned Irish-catholic girl, provided for her religious up-bringing and had her trained as a mantua-maker (seamstress). He provided for her education to continue after his own departure for Nova Scotia. Tradition has it that Sigogne earned part of his keep in London as a cooper (smith) and a lathe-turner. Although there is so far no documentation for this, he gave proof of his skills in wood-working throughout his life in Nova Scotia.

After seven years, this refined and well educated man was anxious to return to priestly duties, the thing he missed most in exile. The steps which led to the selection of Sigogne for the Nova Scotia mission are not known in details. Some who intervened were Fr. Jones, representative of the Bishop of Quebec in Halifax, Rev. Dr. Matignon (a Frenchman having the same functions in Boston as Jones in Halifax), the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Sir John Wentworth, and Mgr de la Marche, an exiled French Bishop in England. Sigogne left England on 14 April 1799, and arrived in Halifax on 12 June after 59 days on the sea and a close call during a storm before entering Halifax harbour.

From 4 July 1799, the day of his arrival in southwestern Nova Scotia, Sigogne spent the last 45 years of his life serving the Acadian and the Mi'kmaw peoples until his death in 1844. Due to the great many documents recovered and preserved in various archives, much more of Sigogne's life in Nova Scotia is known than of that spent in France and in England. Well over 2000 pages of letters, sermons, and other documents written by him in Nova Scotia contain valuable and interesting information about this man and the history of Acadians.

His new historical setting in 1799 was not quite what Sigogne had known in France nor in England: practically no roads, the villages small, dispersed and isolated one from the other, with communication between them only possible by sea or through forest. The people were poor, the economy elementary and modest; the daily enterprise of the average family meant scrabbling out a basic sustenance through domestic farming and fishing. The housing was simple, for the most part log cabins with one room to serve for all necessities of life. For his pastoral work, Sigogne found upon his arrival at Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau) a small chapel in dire need of repairs, a glebe house in similar or worse condition, and a few bare necessities for liturgical ceremonies. Without a priest for so long, these people were seriously disorganised regarding religious matters. The moral behaviour of the youth was also quite alarming though, according to Sigogne, it was not confined to the youth. Lax morals had taken over and disgraced the population as a whole. In its historical context, a faithful obedience to laws of the Church was to be rigorously expected of everyone. Those who contravened the Church were considered sinful and deserving of punishment in this life and/or the next. Sigogne's writings reveal that his parishioners were not always disposed to law and order. Alcohol abuse, youthful merry-making, courting rituals, indifference to education, religious and otherwise, malicious gossip, deeply rooted prejudices against certain people, and wilful refusal to support a priest and the needs of a parish: those were some of the attitudes that brought Sigogne to speak harshly and admonish his parishioners to mend their ways.

Sigogne instituted rules and regulations in an effort to organise his parishes and to put his people on a straight and narrow path. At Sainte-Anne's Parish, he established a parish council of six elders to help him direct the temporal matters; he appointed two other parishioners to oversee needs related more directly to the liturgy. Midwives were sworn in according to the Book of Church Rituals, church records began to be kept, and a sacristan or sexton was hired.

Law and order in the parish were such a priority for Sigogne that three months after his arrival in Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau, he had all heads of families sign and swear under oath an official set of rules comprised of 28 articles pertaining to various aspects of their social and religious practices. This long document typifies Sigogne's character and the manner in which he regulated behaviour. His set of rules is based on the principle that all quarrels among the parishioners must be settled amicably, and without the intervention of outsiders like lawyers and judges. Article 11 stipulates that "we do not pretend to establish a tribunal or a court of justice; but solely to take such salutary and useful means as may be necessary for our spiritual and temporal advantages, and to maintain peace, justice and union among ourselves according to religion, conscience and honour".

These rules were formally approved for the first time in Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau on 24 October 1799. The document was signed or marked with an X by 72 heads of families. It is remarkable that Sigogne, who arrived in this parish only at the beginning of July, took such a short time to appraise the morals and the social conduct of his parishioners. Interestingly enough, he succeeded in convincing them to sign under oath this quasi-legal document. It is well known to historians that Acadians were always hesitant and suspicious in signing oaths; in a way, their refusal to sign an unconditional oath to the colonial government had been a determining factor which played against them in the Expulsion of 1755. Following this tragedy, Acadians became in many circumstances even more suspicious of all authorities, whether religious or civil. Furthermore, Sigogne resolutely instructed his people on the importance of submitting to the will of God as manifested by the civil authorities. Having experienced the civil upheaval in France, he was personally inclined to stress that quality in his people, and he relentlessly did so. The Church's own policy on this matter was much akin to Sigogne's. Civil disobedience of any sort meant disorder in the Church. There is evidence that Sigogne strategically brought his people not only to conform to the rules of the Church, but also to submit to the systematic organisation of its society according to the law and order of the civil government.

The prompt and convincing manner in which Sigogne was able to have practically all heads of families sign that document was indeed a master stroke. This wasn't an isolated instance of his power of command over his people. In August 1803, he was instructed by the Lieutenant Governor of the province, Sir John Wentworth, "to take and subscribe the oath of Allegiance to His Majesty" from all French people having settled in the area after the conclusion of the war with France. Sigogne dutifully followed this instruction. On 8 October, in the presence of John Crawley and Bénoni d'Entremont, two justices of the peace, he administered the oath of allegiance in French to his people. The oath said: "I do hereby promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear allegiance to His Majesty King George III, so help me God." Four Frenchmen took the oath that day. Sixty-six other residents of the area renewed their oath voluntarily, even if they had already done do. It was at Sigogne's insistence that these heads of families accepted to renew their allegiance to the King of England.

During his lifetime, Sigogne was held in high esteem and respect by the British officials of the province. He also had influential friends, as many sources indicate. For example, the correspondence between Thomas Haliburton and Sigogne found at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, reveals a long friendship and mutual interests.(1) Haliburton himself admits that he is "in habits of intimacy and friendship for many years [...] with [the] venerable and excellent Pastor the Abbé Sigogne". As a member of the provincial legislature for the county of Annapolis, Haliburton spoke eloquently in favour of the Catholic petition for the abolition of the test oath. There is little doubt that Sigogne and Haliburton worked together on this matter. A moving testimony was given to Sigogne by Haliburton speaking on this question in the House on 26 February 1827. The Catholic petition was unanimously passed the next day. Other influential people who befriended Sigogne were Joseph Howe and Judge Peleg Wiswall from Digby. The latter left correspondence which is found in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Sigogne was first appointed Justice of the Peace for the county of Annapolis as early as 4 March 1806.(2) His journal relating to this office is preserved at the National Archives in Ottawa, Canada.

It is not surprising then to find in his writings in Nova Scotia, passages where he expresses gratitude to the English. In 1820, after the great fire in Clare, Sigogne writes to the Lieutenant Governor Kempt in Halifax who had generously assisted this unfortunate and destitute people.

Indeed I lay now under a double obligation of gratitude to the benevolence of the English people. I had first experienced it, with many French Ecclesiastics, not without admiration, when the terrible and cruel Revolution forced me to take refuge in England. And I do again on this melancholy occasion for the second time, with no less astonishment for its greatness and as much gratitude as being extended not only towards me, but towards our destitute folks. Thus, in my misfortunes I find a great happiness to have luck to live among such a generous and liberal people.(3)

Lieutenant Governor Prevost also held him in esteem, as Father Burke, Vicar General in Halifax, indicates in a letter dated 1811.(4) In a letter addressed in 1835 to the Committee of the Shelburne Temperance Convention, Sigogne attests:

I, with a particular pleasure and gratitude, remember the many proofs of attention and esteem I have received from the English people since I am in the country. Your esteemed address is for me a confirmation of that.(5)

Ecumenical gatherings at the beginning of the 19th century were not the favourite pastime of pastors of whatever denomination. Sigogne repeatedly alludes to such events in a way that indicates his open-mindedness on this question. He regularly mentions Protestants joining in celebration, along with other nationalities and denominations, as for example, at the initial raising of the church structure in 1803 at Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau.(6) Those of other denominations are reported to have invited him often to preach to them and to perform official marriage ceremonies for them in his church. His relationship with the Mi'kmaw people and his work among them is also a subject of a considerable interest.(7)

This untiring pastor intervened many times to obtain concessions of crown land on behalf of the Acadians. A petition dated September 1808 was sent to Lieutenant Governor Prevost requesting a total of over 10 000 acres for those inhabitants living in and around Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau. Similar petitions for land and other needs were sent by Sigogne for the Acadians living in the Clare area. Copies of the many deeds written by Sigogne are found in various archives.

The Yarmouth Herald (Yarmouth, Nova Scotia) of 11 November 1844, two days after Sigogne's passing away, stated:

Fr. Sigogne was one of those respectable but persecuted Clergymen, who during the French revolution had to take refuge in England for safety; soon after which he visited this Province, and took charge of the Parish of Clare; and for a long period discharged the religious duties of Priest among the Roman Catholic population both of Clare and this County, in the most exemplary and conciliatory manner. He was esteemed by all classes, and by men of all religious denominations; as a Peace-maker he was almost proverbially known; his charities were boundless; the poor houseless wanderer of whatever creed, the untutored Indian or hapless African, found in this worthy man present relief and every provision he could make for their future welfare. He will long be remembered with affection and respect by the Members of his own Church, and deservedly lamented by all who had the satisfaction of his acquaintance.(8)

Jean Mandé Sigogne was an extraordinary priest who, two centuries ago, crossed the Atlantic to assist the Acadian and the Mi'kmaw peoples in southwestern Nova Scotia.

Sigogne toiled among Acadians for the last 45 years of his life. His frail health, mean living and social conditions and resistance by some of the parishioners made his work at times difficult if not impossible. His accomplishments are nevertheless impressive and fruitful. He oversaw construction of 12 public buildings: two churches and two rectories at Sainte-Marie (now called Church Point), a church and rectory at Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau, and churches at Pubnico, Meteghan, Plympton, Digby, one at Bear River for the Mi'kmaw people, and one at Corberrie. Taking into account his other responsibilities, the rigors of the times, the difficulties of giving pastoral care without assistance, and the fact that in his seventies he was still building churches, his feat as a missionary is prodigious. The admiration and esteem given to this man who remained steadfast and faithful to God and to his priestly calling is not surprising.

(1) See Gérald C. Boudreau, "Haliburton's "Affectionate Intercourse" with Sigogne and the Acadians of Clare", in Richard A. Davies (Ed.), The Haliburton Bi-centenary Chaplet, Papers presented at the 1996 Thomas Raddall Symposium, Gaspereau Press, Wolfville (NS), 1997, pp. 165-176.

(2) PANS, RG 1, Vol. 172, p. 155.

(3) PANS, Vol. 229, documents 87 and 102: letter to Sir T. Kempt.

(4) Halifax Archdiocese Archives, Burke Papers, Vol. III, document 165, p. 1.

(5) The Yarmouth Herald, Vol. III, No. 21, December 25, 1835, p. 1.

(6) Quebec Archdiocese Archives [AAQ], 312 CN, N.-É., V:50, p. 1, letter from Sigogne to Denaut.

(7) See Gérald C. Boudreau, "The Nujjinen of the Mi'kmaq People and the Construction of their Chapel at Bear River, Nova Scotia", Nova Scotia Historical Review, Vol. 16, no 1, June 1996, pp. 7-20.

(8) The Yarmouth Herald, (11 novembre 1844), p. 3.