This article originally appeared at Borealia and is reposted here with their permission.
by Stephanie Pettigrew
In 1909, a scholar at Université Laval, M. J. E. Prince, conducted a public lecture in Québec to a captive audience on the subject of a recently published book on Acadia. The book, written by Edouard Richard, was reported as “cloué au pilori”—nailing to the pillory—both Charles Lawrence, the villainous British Governor of Nova Scotia who had commenced the deportation of the Acadians in 1755, and Thomas Akins, the publisher of several collections of documents concerning Nova Scotia in the eighteenth century. Another article from the same year published in the Moniteur Acadien calls Akins’ work “less an attempt to make better understood and illustrate the History and progress of Society in Nova Scotia, than to justify the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755… [Akins’ work] is one abounding in prejudice rather than an impartial historical record.”
With the publication of Longfellow’s Evangeline in 1847 came a sudden surge of interest in the events surrounding the deportation – from Francis Parkman, the American historian, to Abbé Henri Casgrain, one of the first French-Canadian historians to write on the subject of Acadian history. Requests for documents concerning 1755 began to flood into the Nova Scotia legislature from far and wide, in person as well as by letter. The legislature needed a way to respond to these requests – especially considering Longfellow’s tale did not paint them in a particularly flattering light – and Akins’ collection was their solution.
It is the nature of the documents and how they were collected with which the Acadian scholars of the early twentieth century particularly took issue. It seems peculiar to me that Akins, a functionary in the cogs of the Nova Scotia administration of the mid-nineteenth century, would be cast with the same amount of disgust and abhorrence as Lawrence. Whereas Lawrence had caused the separation of families, death, dispersal, and irreparable harm that would take generations to overcome, Akins had merely been gathering documents under the orders of the Nova Scotia Legislature. Curious.