Strangers In A Strange Land: A Look At How Exiled Acadians Fared in Maryland
An account of the little-known effort to settle exiled Acadians in Maryland in 1755 and the hardships and injustices these people suffered. Blame can be attached to the British government, but also to the government of Louis XV which "...began with making the Acadians its tools, and ended with making them...the sorry victims of bad advice."
by Allen R. Powell

About the Author:

Allen R. Powell was educated at Anderson College and Theological Seminary (B.S.), Ball State University (M.A.), and the University of Maryland (graduate studies beyond masters level). He served as Professor of Philosophy and Sociology at Hagerstown Junior College where he won recognition for Excellence in Education and other awards. He has written several books on the history of Maryland as well as a philosophical study and a number of magazine articles.

This paper was presented before the Torch Club of Hagerstown, MD December 15, 1998.

While researching the Archives of Maryland for my book which carried the title, Maryland And The French And Indian War, I discovered several references to the presence of Acadians in the colony of Maryland. This came as a surprise since I had supposed that the forcible eviction of those French farmers, craftsmen and seamen and their families from Nova Scotia had resulted in a series of deportations that had placed them in Louisiana. Here they were popularly referred to as “Cajuns” – a play on the word Acadian quite like that when Indian became “Injun.”

It seemed it would make an intriguing story to uncover why there was such a massive relocation of these French speaking subjects of Great Britain to nine British colonies to the south. It would also be informative to find out what happened to those who were deposited on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The object of this essay is to report what the record reveals.

Background Of The Deportation On September 2, 1755, a proclamation written in both French and English was posted in several Acadian villages. It contained an order for the appearance of all males above ten years of age at the church in Grand Pré on Friday the 5th at three in the afternoon. The order was backed up with the threat that “… no Excuse will be admitted of on any pretense whatever on pain of Forfeiting Goods and Chattels on Default.”1 There was bound to be an ominous anxiety among the French inhabitants as they plodded dutifully along the country roads to hear the pronouncement of their British overlords. Their fears were justified. Colonel John Winslow, Commander of the New England troops, read the fateful message which he declared “… is very disagreeable to my natural make & temper as I know it must be Grievous to you who are of the same specie.” 2

In stunned silence the rural inhabitants heard with dismay their awful fate. The orders read:

“That your Lands & Tenements, Cattle of all kinds and Live Stocks of all Sorts are Forfeited to the Crown with All other Effects Saving Your money and Household Goods and you yourselves to be removed from this his Province …”3

After promising that whole families would be kept together as units on the same vessel, Colonel Winslow was thoughtful enough to “… hope that in whatever part of the world you may Fall you may be Faithful Subjects, a Peaceable & Happy People.”4

What followed can only be viewed as one of the most tragic stories of human suffering and deprivation recorded on North American soil. For about eight years there was an ongoing dispersion of Acadians which, of necessity, involved separation and suffering by shipwreck, hunger, disease and persecution. The blame for such a calamity may be widely shared but, in the end, the bulk of it must be placed upon the Acadians themselves – along with their civil and religious mentors serving the French government.

The numbers of those deported varies from “a few thousand” to upwards of twelve thousand. It is hard to get an accurate count of those dispossessed of their land because of the scope of the dispersion. Some ended up in Canada, England and France while others were distributed in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.5

Before dealing with how these “neutral French” Fared at their various destinations we need to Take a momentary,but important, digression to point out the significance of the dates of their arrival in the above named colonies. This detour will help explain the anti French And anti Catholic public opinion which resulted In much resistance – even hostility – to their placement. Those destined for Maryland made Their appearance in November, 1755. There Were four boatloads with 178, 242, 263 and 208 Acadian passengers respectively.6

It is crucial to recall that these exiles were forcibly removed from their homeland and their villages burned before a declaration of war was made by England on May 15, 1756. In addition there were several other instances of confrontation which served to send signals that yet another war between England and France was in the making. Between 1690 and 1814 there were no less than six wars between these inveterate foes. This fourth war, wrongly called “The 13 French And Indian War,” was a seven year long conflict between 1756 and 1763. Unofficially, however, there surfaced several confrontations beginning as early as 1754 in North America. In February of that year, French forces seized the unfinished Fort Prince George at the site of present day Pittsburgh and renamed it Fort Duquesne.

Then on May 28th of that year, George Washington ambushed a small contingent of French military forces near the present day site of Uniontown, Pennsylvania and killed ten of their numbers while capturing 21. The two foregoing events might well have qualified as “precipitating causes” for officially declared war. But the declaration was not yet forthcoming.

On July 3rd the French retaliated against Washington at the makeshift outpost named Fort Necessity, also in western Pennsylvania. This was a much larger engagement and the defeat prompted the British government to commit two regiments of British regulars to retake Fort Duquesne. Lead by General Edward Braddock, these European trained soldiers suffered a horrendous defeat on July 9th in 1755, at the hands of a small number of French and Canadian troops augmented by over 700 Indians. T h e y then turned on a defenseless frontier and unleashed a torrent of burning, scalping, torture, and destruction. Tales of frontier atrocities were carried in the Maryland Gazette at the very same time that ships were unloading large numbers of potential enemies on both shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Little wonder then, that Marylanders were in no mood to embrace their Acadian guests. It is fair to assert that while hostility was the norm in the relations between England and France, England had followed a very enlightened policy in the management of the Acadian population. By the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Aix la Chapelle (1748) these inhabitants of the peninsula of Nova Scotia were placed under the rule of Great Britain while the islands of St. Jean (now Prince Edward) and Cape Breton were left under the control of France. The dividing line (see map) between French Canada and British control on the peninsula was the Missaguash River. The French were quick to build Fort Beauséjour on the French side of that line.

The Acadians were, by these same treaties, to enjoy the free exercise of their Catholic faith and were given one year to make a decision as to whether to move out from under the rule of England or to remain and take an oath of allegiance expected of all British subjects. This became an insoluble obstacle to peaceful relations between the two populations.

There were compelling reasons why the Acadians stubbornly refused to take an unqualified oath of subservience to England. There were also compelling reasons why successive governors of Nova Scotia felt a necessity of forcing an acceptance of this oath of loyalty. As it turned out, persuasion did not produce success so British officials turned to force.

The Acadians had willingly taken a qualified oath of loyalty which permitted them to refrain from taking up arms for England. If, however, they had submitted to an unqualified oath they might have been required to take up arms against other Acadians and the armed forces of France at Fort Beauséjour, Fort Louisburg and possibly at other places in other ports of Canada. This they were loath to do.

On the other hand, the British government faced some serious problems as it tried to rule a population that still had such a strong attachment to France. British officials tried in vain to win the Acadians over to become willing subjects of English rule. Britain’s meager troops on the peninsula were in a precarious situation with Fort Beauséjour nearby and Louisburg not too far distant to be a menace.

In addition, British historians claim that Acadians charged excessive prices for the goods they sold to their unwanted overlords. At the same time, they secretly supplied French forces with much needed farm produce and even intelligence from time to time. But the most egregious affront to peace and stability came from Catholic priests who continually stirred up the Micmac Indians to scalp and plunder. The most fanatic of these priests, the Abbé Le Loutre, was tireless in the use of threats of Indian atrocities and eternal damnation to keep the Acadians from taking the much hated oath.

Eventually, the Provincial Council of Nova Scotia, with the approval of the Governor, Charles Lawrence, and the Board of Trade in England, made the momentous decision to remove the troublesome Acadians from their homeland and distribute them among the colonies to the south. For practical reasons, they could not be sent to Canada, Cape Breton or neighboring islands for fear that they would merely strengthen the enemy.

A letter to Governor Lawrence from the Lords of Trade will serve to reveal the utter frustration experienced by the British in their failure to effect any change in the attitudes of those who had been termed (improperly) “neutral French.” They were never neutral; they were resident enemies. The correspondence reads as follows: "We were in hopes that the lenity which had been shown to those people by indulging them in the free exercise of their religion and the quiet possession of their lands, would by degrees have gained their friendship and assistance, and weaned their affections from the French; but we are sorry to find that this lenity has had no little effect, and that they still hold the same conduct, furnishing them with labor, provisions, and intelligence, concealing their designs from us.”

So it came about that an estimated seven thousand Acadians were uprooted from their homes in Nova Scotia and scattered abroad. It is now appropriate to concern ourselves with the story of the 900 plus who ended up in the colony of Maryland. It bears repeating that their arrival in the Fall of 1755 was incredibly bad timing in view of the situation on the frontier.

Indian incursions into western Maryland were fueled by gifts of rum and other presents as well as the prospects of plunder. These incursions came from French officers operating out of Fort Duquesne. The commanding officer, Captain Jean-Daniel Dumas, openly bragged of laying waste the western parts of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. He claimed to have killed more enemies of France after Braddock’s defeat than were lost during the disasterous encounter near Turtle Creek. Anti French feeling was widespread.

Acadian Exiles: The Maryland Experience Upon arrival in Maryland, the four boatloads of Acadians were assigned to various locations with the aim of keeping the concentration at manageable proportions. A December 4th release of the Maryland Gazette made these observations about the newcomers.

“ S u n d a y last arrived here the two last of the vessels from N o v a Scotia, with F r e n c h Neutrals for this place, w h i c h makes four within this Fortnight who have b r o u g h t upwards of N i n e Hundred of them. While they have been in this Port, the Town has been at a considerable charge in supporting them, as they appear very needy, and quite exhausted in Provisions …. We are told that three of these vessels are to sail With the first wind (which we heartily wish soon To happen), one for the Patuxent River, another For Choptank, and a third to Wicomico, there to Wait the orders of his Excellency the Governor.”

Figure 2 shows the major areas of settlement for the newly arrived French exiles. It is obvious that there are no areas occupied in our western parts. Great pains were taken to insure that the exiles were contained where they could be watched.

Since winter was fast approaching and officials of the colony were slow in formulating a plan of assistance for these poorly clad and unfed needy, it was left up to individuals with a charitable impulse to offer aid to these unwanted guests. There are many reports of personal kindness by those who were sympathetic to the plight of the Acadian exiles.

Government policy contributed to the appalling conditions by forbidding Catholics to house the exiles. Charles Carroll, the well known and prosperous planter, wrote to his son that:
“Many of them would have met with very humane treatment from the Roman Catholics here, but a real or pretended jealousy inclined this government not to suffer them to live with Roman Catholics. I offered the government to take and support two families consisting of fourteen souls, but was not permitted to do it.”

It was six months after the exiles had settled in before the legislature of Maryland enacted a law of assistance which also regulated their conduct. Several elements of the law merit notice. It was provided: "that the Justices of the several Counties within this Province, shall, and they are hereby empowered in the same Manner that they now take care of and provide for the Poor of their respective Counties, to take care of and provide for such of the said French Neutrals in their respective Counties as they deem to be real Objects of Charity ….Provided always, that none of the said Neutrals shall be sent into Frederick County.”10

Reports of widespread poverty among the exiles and their children resulted in some provisions in the foregoing legislation especially targeted toward the children. If judged by the standards of today the assistance would seem primitive. Nonetheless, it was probably typical of the times. The act declared: “That if any of the said Inhabitants of Nova- Scotia shall be unable to support their children by their own Labour and Industry, that then, and in such case, it shall and may be lawful for the Justices of the several County Courts respectively to bind out such Child or Children to some Person, upon the best Terms they can make, for the Ease of the County, as well as the Benefit of such Child, in the same Manner that Orphans are bound out by the Laws of this Province.”11

It has already been pointed out that the exiles, as French and Catholic, were under dark clouds of suspicion. Many saw them as “papists” who sided with their perennial enemy, the King of France. There was no agreement on how their status should be defined. While they may have been officially referred to as “French Neutrals,” in popular speech and writing they were called “rebels,” “prisoners of war” and other terms of derision. They were certainly regarded as potential spies.

It followed that they should not be given freedom of movement. Both law and practice restrained the exiles in their capability to move about. The 1756 law referred to above contained these restrictive clauses. “…if any of the said Inhabitants of Nova- Scotia commonly called French Neutrals, shall be found traveling above the Distance of ten miles from the Place of his or her Abode, or out of the County where he, she or they shall reside, without a Pass from some Provincial or County Magistrate, describing the Person or PeRsons of such French Neutrals, mentioning their Place of Residence. And whither they are going and limiting a Time for their Return, it shall and may be lawful for any Person or Persons to take up such French Neutral or Neutrals, and him, her or them, carry before some Justice of the Peace; and if, on Examination, it shall appear to such Justice, that such French Neutral or Neutrals are traveling beyond the Place or Places, or after the Time mentioned in the said Pass, it shall and may be lawful for such Justice, and he is hereby required to commit such Person or Persons to the Public Goal of the County where he, she or they reside, there to remain for the Space of five days, unless he, she or they give Security for his, her or their good Behavior and Appearance at the next County Court.”12

This fear of the movement of exiles was not confined to intra-provincial changes of address. There was concern that large numbers might be secretly trying to return to their homeland. British Governor Charles Lawrence, in a letter from Halifax dated July 1, 1756, to Governor Horatio Sharpe, warned of such a possibility. He wrote:
“I am well informed that many of the “I am well informed that many of the French Inhabitants transplanted last year from this Province, and distributed among the different Colonies upon the Continent, have procured small Vessels and embarked on Board them in order to return by Coasting from Colony to Colony; and that several of them are now actually on their way: And as their success in this enterprise would not frustrate the design of this Government in sending them away at so prodigious an Expense, but would also greatly endanger the Security of the Province especially at this Critical juncture, I think it my indispensable duty to entreat Your Honour to use your utmost endeavors to prevent the accomplishment of so pernicious an undertaking, by destroying such Vessels as those in your Colony may have prepared for that Purpose….”13M

In a response to Governor Lawrence dated August 24th 1756, Governor Sharpe assured him that:
"none of the French who were imported into this Province last year from Nova Scotia have been suffered either by Land or Water to return again thither.”14

Meanwhile, there remained the practical problem of meeting the daily needs of “the wretched Acadians.” Apparently there were regular complaints about their door to door begging. A group of citizens from Talbot County expressed their frustration in the following statement:
…they cannot find houses, clothing and other comforts, in their condition needful, without going from house to house begging, whereby they are become a nuisance to the County hereby unable to afford necessary comfort to their own poor.”15

Their solution to the problem was to find a way to rid themselves of these bothersome creatures.

“We therefore pray that you will use your endeavors in the Assembly to have this pest removed from among us, after the example of the people of Virginia and Carolina, at their own expense, as they Request ….”16

Since few of the exiles could afford to finance their own way to Louisiana, there were requests for public assistance.17 There must have been a positive response because several boatloads of exiles made an exit from Maryland to the more hospitable government of Louisiana – now under Spanish rule. Starting in 1766, there was a boatload of exiles bound for the mouth of the Mississippi each year for four years. The total number of relocated exiles is estimated to be about 600 persons.

The journey to the new homeland to the south was a perilous one which exposed these unfortunate victims to even more hardship and suffering. Those who sailed on the schooner, “Virgin” in 1767 reported that they missed the entrance to the Mississippi and entered the mouth of the Rio Grande. Because of a shortage of food, they were reduced to eating rats, cats and all the leather on board.18

Those who remained in Maryland were typical of those who lived in “French Town” in Baltimore. They found ways to survive, find a trade and accommodate to the conditions imposed by the exile. One interesting form of adaptation was the alteration of their French names which obviously identified the origin of the bearer. One writer makes the following observation. “Many Acadians made Maryland home. Many who remained anglicized their names. Thus Dupuis, which means “of the well” in French, became Wells. Le Blanc became White and Dorant became Gold. These name changes helped the Acadians assimilate with the English colonial population.”19

Thus the memory of the Acadian exiles has faded into the misty past, resurrected only occasionally by the curious student of history who may have been moved by the pathos of their story. Then too, there are descendents of these ill-fated transplants who find some comfort in keeping a record of their trials and achievements.

We are now at an appropriate point to conclude this brief account with an assessment of who might have contributed to the conditions which eventuated in so much human suffering and dislocation.


One must be careful not to rush to judgment at a great distance from a tragic event. The following observations are made therefore, with no attempt at bombast or authoritarian righteousness. Those with a different perspective, may then make their case and it will be heard with openness and respect.

Acadians and their plight will in all probability make the charge that British officials were guilty of effecting a gigantic land grab. By this view, British officials saw the lush and fertile fields that had been cleared by the hard work of these sturdy farmers and coveted the land. It could be gotten very easily by improvising a plan to justify a military occupation.

This argument would be compelling if there had been a land shortage at the time of the deportation. But, with so much available land and so little that was occupied, it is hard to see land hunger as the prime factor in the Acadian deportation.

It is then asserted that the eviction was the result of a hasty and unjust decision made by British officials who failed to exercise due patience with their French subjects. As the unfortunate victims of a contest for empire, they were, it is claimed, pawns in the game of geo-political chess – heartlessly manipulated by rival world powers. Accordingly, they were not considered with due patience and fairness. In addition, it is argued that their own conduct was not a factor in the British decision to remove them from Acadia.

The foregoing arguments and who would be interested in reading an extended work which completely presents an Acadian perspective, should read Dudley J. Le Blanc’s The True Story Of The Acadians. Le Blanc liberally quotes historians who see the deportation as an act of inhuman brutality perpetrated by heartless British officials.

These historians include the eminent United States historian, George Bancroft.20

As a descendent of those long-suffering Acadians, it is understandable that Le Blanc would point an accusing finger at the British for every real or imagined trespass on his ancestors. But when he points to one evil to be indicative of the general nature of British leaders, he has winded a good horse. I am referring not to the exile but to Le Blanc’s charge that what General Jeffrey Amherst proposed to be carried out by Colonel Henry Bouquet during Pontiac’s uprising was typical of British leadership.21

It will be recalled that Amherst suggested that small pox infected blankets be given as gifts to the Delawares and Shawnees who had laid siege to Fort Pitt during the uprising of Pontiac, the great Ottawa Chief. This early attempt at germ warfare was indeed successful – but it only brought shame to those responsible.

The problem with this approach is that it ignores many instances of French atrocities during the four French and Indian wars which raged between these great rival powers. Brutality was a common element of European, Colonial and Indian behavior as they contested for their separate interests.

Understandably, those with a British perspective do not accept the foregoing line of thought. Perhaps the most important consideration for them is the stark reality that Acadians were deeply French and Catholic at heart and could not conceive of making an unqualified oath of allegiance to a British monarch. No matter that they had experienced the enlightened rule of British officials for over forty years. They could not or would not put themselves in the position of possibly bearing arms against their kinsmen and neighbors.

British legalists had pointed out in vain that Acadians were actually asking for an exception to the expectations of all other British subjects who had no qualms about taking the desired oath. Acadians were surely aware that security required loyalty and unity as a condition of rule by British officials who were painfully aware of their precarious position in Nova Scotia.

The British were resentful of the willingness of the Acadians to supply intelligence, food and other material to England’s enemies. They were infuriated at the continued warlike acts of Catholic priests who stirred up the Indians to mischief. It becomes clear then that the ordeal faced by the Acadians was a ghastly wound that was self inflicted.

Francis Parkman is deservedly recognized as one of America’s great historians. He makes the following judgment about the unfolding events in Acadia.

“There is no doubt that in a little time they would have complied, [with the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht] had they been let alone; but the French authorities of Canada and Cape Breton did their utmost to prevent them, and employed agents to keep them hostile to England. Of these the most efficient were the French priests, who, in spite of the treaty, persuaded their flocks that they were still subjects of King Louis.”22

Then, at the conclusion of his study of the Acadian deportation, Parkman makes this scathing indictment of French officials “Whatever judgement may be passed on the cruel measure of wholesale expatriation, it was not put in execution till every resource of patience and persuasion had been tried in vain. The agents of the French court, civil, military and ecclesiastical, had made some act of force a necessity. We have seen by what vile practices they produced in Acadia a state of things intolerable, and impossible of continuance. They conjured up the tempest; and when it burst on the heads of the unhappy people, they gave no help. The government of Louis XV began with making the Acadians its tools, and ended with making them its victims.23

If the foregoing judgements are valid, it becomes obvious that these simple Acadian farmers, craftsmen and fishermen, along with their wives and children, were the sorry recipients of bad advice. The tragedy was compounded by the almost certain verdict that it was all unnecessary and avoidable.


Clark, George Frederick, The True Story
(documented) Expulsion of the Acadian.
Fredericton: Brunswick Press, 1955.
Gipson, Lawrence Henry, The British Empire
Before The American Revolution. Vol. VI,
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1753.
Le Blanc, Dudley J., The True Story Of The
Acadians, Lafayette, La.: Tribune Publishing
Co., 1937.
Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe. New
York: Atheneum, 1984.
Sharpe, Horatio, Correspondence Of
Governor Horatio Sharpe, William Hand
Browne (Ed.), Baltimore: Maryland Historical
Society, 1888.
Wood, Gregory A., A Guide To The Acadians
In Maryland in The Eighteenth And
Nineteenth Centuries, Baltimore: Gateway
Press Inc., 1995.


Sollers, Basil, “The Acadians (French
Neutrals) Transported To Maryland,”
Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. III, No.
1, March 1908.
Sollers, Basil, “Party of Acadians Who Sailed
From the Potomac, Bound For The
Mississippi,” Maryland Historical
Magazine, Vol. IV, No. 3, September, 1909.


Morgan, Michael, “The Acadians: When
‘boat people’ arrived In Annapolis.” The
Sun, The Evening Sun (Baltimore), Feb. 14,


1 Lawrence Henry Gipsen, The Great War
For Empire, p. 269.
2 Ibid., p. 270.
3 Ibid., p. 270.
4 Ibid., p. 270.
5 George Frederick Clark, The True Story
(Documented) Expulsion Of The Acadians,
p. 30.
6 Gregory A. Wood, A Guide To The
Acadians Of Maryland In The Eighteenth
And Nineteenth Century, pps. 9-10.
7 Francis Parkman, Montcalm And Wolf, p.
8 Gregory Wood, Op. Cit., p. 16.
9 Ibid., p. 24.
10 Ibid., p. 20.
11 Ibid., p. 20.
12 Archives of Maryland, L11 p. 373 in Ibid.,
p. 21.
13 Archives of Maryland, Vol. I pps. 445-6.
14Ibid., p. 471
15 Gregory Wood, Op Cit., p. 23.
16 Ibid., p. 23.
17 Basil Sollers, “The Acadians (French
Neutrals) Transported to Maryland,”
Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. III, No.
1, 1908, pps. 19-20.
18 Basil Sollers, “Party Of Acadians Who
Sailed From The Potomac, Bound For The
Mississippi,” Maryland Historical Magazine,
Vol. IV, No. 3, Sept. 1909, p. 280.
19 Michael Morgan, “The Acadians: When
‘boat people’ arrived in Annapolis,” The Sun,
Evening Sun, Feb. 14, 1980.
20 Dudley J. Le Blanc, The True Story Of The
Acadians, p. 96.
21 Ibid., p. 61.
22 Francis Parkman, Op. Cit., p. 54.
23 Ibid. p. 166.

© Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
Acadian & French Canadian Ancestral Home
2004 - Present

Please Navigate This Web Site
Using The Sidebar To The Left
If You Do Not See A Sidebar Click Here