Acadian Exiles in Pennsylvania
By Wilton Paul Ledet
University of Chicago - 1942

THE maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island comprise roughly what was once known as Acadia.1 In 1755 this land was the scene of great depredations, which came to a climax in the deportation to Penn sylvania and other British colonies along the coast, of the French people who had for many years lived and toiled on their much- loved plots.

The reasons for this large-scale expulsion are found in the struggle between France and England for empire in the New World. The Acadians were a great asset to the French; on the other hand, they were a great threat to the British, who were as desirous as their foes of retaining what they held on the con tinent and attempting to gain more. In the bitter struggle be tween traditional enemies national prejudices were deliberately intensified. The military, political, and ecclesiastical emissaries of France continually harangued the peaceful Acadians to rise against the handful of English army officers who tried to give them civil government.2

Chastised by the French and the Indians on the one hand and by the British on the other, the unhappy Acadians were occasionally forced to take part in the contest. It was natural that those who did should side with the French, their kin in speech and religion. After the Treaty of Utrecht they were given the choice of either taking an unqualified oath of allegiance to the English Crown or leaving the country. While they constantly refused to swear fidelity to Britain, these humble peasants were reluctant to abandon the lands improved by their forefathers. They there

' Small parts of the province of Quebec and of the state of Maine were included also. 'Abbe Jean Louis Le Loutre has been blamed by most writers on the subject for agitating the Acadians against the British. Rogers and a few others believe that he has been made the "target of unmitigated abuse." Norman McL. Rogers, "The Abbe Le Loutre," The Canadian Historical Reviewj vol. xi (June, 1930), p. 105.


fore hesitated before taking their departure. Perhaps, as has been contended, it was the unanimous intention of the Acadians to leave the country after the treaty and they gave all required notice of their intention to do so, only to find that they were finally refused permission. Whether this is true or not, the Acadians whose loyalty to England was not complete remained in the region which England held and France coveted.

Was the attitude of the Acadians toward the British government so reprehensible that their forcible expatriation was justifiable in time of war? Or was the exile an act of unwarrantable and inexcusable cruelty? Nearly two centuries after the event the question is still controversial.

Approximately six thousand Acadians were seized by force and deception and deported from their native land in vessels hired for the purpose. These unfortunate people were distributed among the English colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia in groups ranging from a few hundred to over a thousand. Pennsylvania received more than 450 as its quota.

The sloops Hannah (Richard Adams, master), Three Friends (James Carlisle, master), and Swan (Jonathan Loviett, master) arrived in the Delaware on November 18 and 20, 1755, carrying to Pennsylvania from Nova Scotia 137, 156, and 161 Acadians respectively. 4 The time for their arrival could hardly have been less propitious. It was a period of unreasonable excitement, a "time when an Indian and a Frenchman were looked on with equal horror."5 General Braddock had been defeated in July,

'The bibliography on the subject is voluminous. For a short unbiased account see Arthur G. Doughty, The Acadian Exiles, vol. ix of Chronicles of Canada, ed. by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton (32 vols.; Toronto, 1922).
' The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 20, 1755. Pennsylvania Colonial Records. Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vi (Harrisburg, 1851), pp. 711-713, 740, 751. Thomas B. Akins (ed.),
Selections from the Public Documents of the Province of Nova Scotia, vol. i (Halifax, N. S., 1869), pp. 287-288. Journal of Colonel John Winslow, Part II, Report and Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society for the Years i8821883, vol. iii (Halifax, N. S., 1883), p. 178. The Three Friends carried 18 Acadians more than its complement of 2 per ton burden. A fourth vessel bound for Philadelphia with exiles was mentioned in several records, but may have been lost at sea. See Abbe Henry Raymond Casgrain, Un Pelerinageau pays d'Pvangeline (Quebec, 1887), p. 156n.

William B. Reed, "The Acadian Exiles, or French Neutrals, in Pennsylvania," Memoirs of the HistoricalSociety of Pennsylvania, vol. vi (1858), p. 288. Philip H. Smith, Acadia, A Lost Chapter in American History (Pawling, N. Y., 1884), p. 230, quoted a gentleman of Philadelphia as 1755, by the French and their Indian allies. The thought that these newcomers might escape and join the ranks of their country men in the wilderness caused apprehension. The people of the province, furthermore, feared that these self-styled neutrals would join the Irish and German Catholics and foment trouble.' The governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Hunter Morris, acting on the advice of the council, placed guards on each vessel to prevent any disturbance on board and to take care that no pas senger would be landed.7 The ships were kept at a safe distance below the town of Philadelphia. Fresh provisions and other necessities were provided them until the assembly could meet and agree on methods for their disposal.

On November 24, 1755, Governor Morris read a message before the members of the council in which he informed them of the doctor's report that it was dangerous to suffer the Acadians to remain any longer in such a crowded state as existed on the vessels.8 The assembly, in accordance with the governor's recommendation, on the same day gave permission to land as many of the French neutrals on Province Island as could be conveniently accommodated in the houses located there.' Provision for their sustenance was made. The captains of the three sloops landed their human cargoes and were discharged.10

On November 25 Anthony Benezet, a Philadelphia Friend, was allowed reimbursement for aid extended the Acadians while on the vessels." The exiles had been on board ship since September, living on a diet of pork and flour. They were at

having written about that time: "May God be pleased to give us success against all our copper-colored cannibals and French savages, equally cruel and perfidious in their nature."
'Pennsylvania Archives. Selected and Arranged from Original Documents in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, first series, vol. ii (Philadelphia, 1852), p. 506.
'Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vi, pp. 713, 730. Pennsylvania Archives. Papers of the Governors, fourth series, vol. ii (Harrisburg, 1900), p. 549.
sMinules of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vi, pp. 729-730.
'Pennsylvania Archives. Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania, eighth series, vol. v (Philadelphia, 1931), p. 4159.
'e Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vi, p. 751. "3PennsylvaniaArchives, eighth series, vol. v, pp. 4160-4161. Benezet was a descendant of a French family banished at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. At an early age he became a Friend. He was widely known for his philanthropic work.


that time in dire need of blankets, shirts, stockings, and other necessities."

After a brief period of adjournment the assembly met again and immediately began to consider a bill for dispersing the French Acadians over the province. By March 5, 1756, the bill had passed both houses and was signed by the governor.' The act, which divided and assigned the Acadians to the counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, and Lancaster, was to continue in force for one year only. Several French Huguenots who were friends of the Acadians were among the commissioners appointed to disperse them within the next twenty days. The law, which was to be copied and used as a model for similar legislation in several other colonies, provided that the overseers of the poor of the several townships receive them, but that not more than one family be assigned to any one township. The overseers were to keep accounts and report to the commissioners from time to time. For those Acadians who had been bred as tillers of the soil, farms were to be rented at reasonable rates and some assistance was to be contributed toward their settlement. Stocks and utensils were to be allotted each family, such supplies not to exceed the value of ten pounds in each instance. Those unable to earn a living were given support. The money required to carry out this law was to be taken from the fund dedicated to the king's use by act of assembly.

If the law of March, 1756, was meant to be a final disposition of the Acadian question, it was soon apparent that many conflicting forces worked to contrary purposes. The unfortunate people resented dispersion. When they were with others in the same predicament, they could bear their troubles with more fortitude than they could alone, and as a body they could expect more consideration to their prayers. In addition the various townships did not want to receive them, some feeling that they could not support their quotas.14 The Acadians at first refused to profit

"Ibid., pp. 4193, 4204, 4206. Pennsylvania Colonial Records. Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vii (Harrisburg, 1851), pp.55, 58. The act was entitled: "An Act for dispersing the Inhabitants of Nova-Scotia, imported into this Province, into the several Counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester and Lancaster, and the Townships thereof,and making Provisions for the same."
"2Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. v, p. 4216. PennsylvaniaArchives. Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives, eighth series, vol. vi (Philadelphia, 1935), p. 4408.


by the opportunities offered them to exercise their own labor and industry and depended on the generosity of the government and of private individuals for food and supplies. By July, 1756, upwards of 1,661 pounds had been drawn from the public treasury on their behalf. The amount grew to a figure above 2,285 pounds by the end of 1756.1'

During the last few months of the year 1756 several petitions for relief were presented to the assembly and the executive council by the Acadians.'8 In one such plea read before the council on September 2, 1756, it was stated that the money appropriated to provide each neutral with a half pound of meat and a pound of bread daily had been expended.'7 The exiles asked to be returned to their people or, if that was denied them, furnished with provisions for subsistence. They admitted that they had refused gardens, cows, and other forms of assistance but said they had done so only because they considered themselves prisoners of war, not subject to being forced to take employment against their will. The governor and the council advised against treating them as prisoners of war and suggested that they be "more generally dispersed and settled as far from the Frontiers as possible."'" The house followed this advice, and the Acadian petition went unanswered.

William Griffitt, one of the commissioners appointed to disperse the French neutrals, revealed in a remonstrance read to the assembly on October 28, 1756, that the exiles were suffering miserably.'9Disease and death had been prevalent. Fifty had fallen victim to smallpox, and many of them had died. Only the services of a doctor and a few nurses had prevented even greater mortality. Those physically able and willing to work had diffi

"Ibid., vol. v, pp. 4358-4374.
Ibid., pp. 4293-4295; Ibid., vol. vi, p. 4421. Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vii, pp. 239-240. A few petitions for relief had been presented to the assembly before that time. See Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. v, pp. 4189-4193, 4216.
"Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vii, p. 240.
'Ibid., p. 241. Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. v, p. 4309.
"Ibid., vol. vi, pp. 4407-4409.

In a letter to R. Peters, secretary of the province of Pennsylvania, on January 22, 1757, Griffitt represented the Acadians as being victims of smallpox, in great need, and not receiving the dole to which they were entitled. If the law granting them aid was not enforced, he wrote, many would perish "in a manner that will reflect Disgrace upon any Christian Government."

Pennsylvania Archives. Selected and Arranged from OriginalDocuments in the Office of the SecretarY of the Commonwealth, first series, vol. iii (Philadelphia, 1852), p. 92.

culty in getting employment because of existing prejudices against foreigners. In several cases individuals unable to work had vainly appealed to the overseers in the rural townships for help. Many had "neither Meat or Bread to eat for many Weeks together, and were necessitated ... to pilfer and steal for the Support of Life."20

Griffitt's appeal and a petition to the governor in which the Acadians in entreating relief represented themselves as being in a "starving Condition" must have moved the members of the assembly, for on the next day they voted to continue the support of their charges until further provision could be made for them.21 On November 9, 1756, a committee was appointed to draft a bill to provide for the maintenance of the French neutrals in the province."

By January 18, 1757, the governor approved and affixed the great seal to a bill providing for binding out Acadian boys and girls as apprentices until they attained the ages of twenty-one and eighteen respectively and for supporting the aged, sick, and maimed at the charge of the province.23 The children were to be taught to read and write the English language. On February 8, less than a month later, the Acadians submitted to the assembly a petition praying that they be not separated from their children. "Be pleased to tell us, whether we are Subjects, Prisoners, Slaves or Freemen?" they asked.24 They took the occasion also to ask for permission to leave the province. If the money to cover the cost of removing was not available, they were willing to sell the remains of their household goods and clothing in order to regain liberty. Furthermore, they were ready to give solemn assurance that they would never take up arms against either the colony or Great Britain. Be merciful, they implored, to a people "plunged into an Abyss of Bitterness and Sorrow." 25

The members of the assembly were not moved to accede to the petition, which they returned to the governor and the council;

'Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. vi, p. 4408.
21Ibid., pp. 4420-4421.
2Ibid., p. 4427.
'Ibid., pp. 4491-4492. Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania,vol. vii, p. 392. The act was entitled "An Act for binding out, and settling, such of the Inhabitants of Nova Scotia, imported in this Provitice, as are under Age; and for maintaining the Aged, Sick and Maimed, at the Charge of the Province."
"2Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. vi, p. 4509. 2Ibid., p. 4511.


they refused to act on it, they said, because they had been informed several weeks before that the Acadians were not prisoners of war.28 On March 3, 1757, however, the law of January 18 was ordered put "in Execution, in such manner" that those who could not "provide for their own Subsistence" would not "perish for Want."27

For several years no more prayers were presented by the Acadians to the colonial legislature. At least, none seem to have been recorded. The lack of petitions may perhaps be explained partly by the exiles' loss of several of their spokesmen. Lord Loudoun, visiting Pennsylvania in March, 1757, caused five Acadian leaders-Charles LeBlanc, Jean Baptiste Gallerme, Philip Melancon, Paul Bujauld, and Jean Landy-to be arrested as "suspicious and evil-minded Persons" who had "uttered menacing Speeches against His Majesty and His liege Subjects" and behaved "in a very disorderly Manner."28 These men were subsequently acquitted and released.29

On February 27, 1761, a committee appointed to inquire into the conditions of the Acadians in Pennsylvania and to suggest the best methods for reducing the expenses of their upkeep reported that sickness prevailed among them and that many of their children had not been bound out according to law and had become burdens in time of sickness.30 When reprimanded for not having the children bound out, the Acadians stated that they had petitioned the king of England for relief and for permission to settle in Nova Scotia or in Old France so that their children would not have to be apprenticed and educated in Protestant homes. The committee reported also that some of them were industrious and had been of great help during the scarcity of laborers. It advised strict enforcement of the law binding out the children and continuance of relief for a few months more.

'Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vii, p. 410. The governor had previously advised against treating the Acadians as prisoners of war. Ibid., p. 241. Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. vi, pp.4514-4515.
2 Ibid., p. 4544.
' Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. vii, p. 446. John Campbell, Earl of Loudoun, a Peer of the Realm, was the commander in chief of all British forces in America at the time.
I S. M. Sener, "The Catholic Church at Lancaster, Pa.," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia,vol. v (1894), p. 314. 3 aPennsylvaniaArchives, eighth series, vol. vi, pp. 5206-5208.


In general the Acadians did not fare well in Pennsylvania. Their physical condition at the time of their landing was miser able; long months aboard crowded transports had had deplor able effects. Several people had been separated from their closest relatives and some men from their entire families.31 From the outset, moreover, sickness prevailed among them. Ill-clothed and undernourished, they were especially susceptible to disease. Small pox decimated them. The overseers of the poor in the rural sections, reluctant in the first place to take charge of them, refused to approach those stricken with that contagious disease.32 Hence efforts to care for them went unheeded, and consequently many died. A petition sent to the king of England stated that 250, over half the number who had landed in Pennsylvania, were dead.33

Government aid to the Acadians did not cease in 1762, as has been asserted by some writers.34 The bulk of public assistance intended for their relief was expended by 1766, but a small sum, usually one hundred pounds, was appropriated annually during the next decade for the needy neutrals in Philadelphia. The annual grants were often supplemented by other sums whenever a severe winter made additional relief necessary or whenever medicine and medical attention were required. From the time of their arrival to the year 1776 about ten thousand pounds was paid out of the provincial treasury for the relief of the Acadians.35

In Philadelphia, perhaps, the exiles received somewhat better treatment than elsewhere in the province. At first they were placed in an inadequate building which at one time had served as barracks for the colonial soldiers, but, through the efforts of Anthony Benezet and others, private and public assistance was secured for the erection of a number of small one-story wooden houses on a plot of ground along the north side of Pine Street,

Pennsylvania Archives, fourth series, vol. ii, pp. 14-15. "Dispersion of the Acadians. Memorial of Those Sent to Pennsylvania, to King GeorgeIII," The American CatholicHistoricalResearches, vol. ix (1892), pp. 31-32.
'Pennsylvania Archives, first series, vol. iii, p. 92.
'3 "Petition of Acadians in Philadelphia to the King of Great Britain,"The American Catholic Historical Researches, vol. xviii (1901), p. 40. 'a To mention one, George S. Brookes, Friend Anthony Benezet (Philadel phia, 1937), p. 73.
a Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. v, pp. 4358-4374; Ibid., vol. vi, pP. 4868-4884, 5052-5066, 5151-5155. Ibid., vol. vii (Philadelphia, 1935),Pp. 5916-5921, 5655-5666. Ibid., vol. viii (Philadelphia, 1935), pp. 6651, 6709, 6784, 6983, 7012, 7022, 7134-7135, 7143, 7147, 7253, 7291, 7567.


extending from Fifth to Sixth Streets." 36 The liberality and benevolence of the Society of Friends and other groups of citizens helped to alleviate their wretchedness. Several of the Quakers even solicited and obtained a considerable subscription to pay a lawyer to plead the cause of the Acadians at the council of the king.37 The free practice of their religion afforded the Acadians much comfort and consolation. 38" A few daughters were taught by Anthony Benezet, through whose efforts the children of some of the families were permitted to attend public schools.39 Modes of employment were devised to enable them to gain a livelihood when revenue from the public fund was decreased to a minimum and aid allotted only to those incapable of physical labor. Some made wooden shoes and linsey cloth.40

There was a great deal of suffering in Philadelphia as well as elsewhere. Many smallpox victims were buried in what is now Washington Square.41' Among the numerous bills presented to the assembly with reference to the exiles at least four were for medicine and medical attention, and an additional five were settlements for the interment of some of the more destitute.42 Much of the expense was incurred for those residing in Philadelphia. A "Report of the Overseers of the Poor on the Condition of the Exiled Acadians in Philadelphia" made on November 2, 1771, showed that there remained in that city twenty-two families

MRoberts Vaux, Memoirs of the Life of Anthony Benezet (Philadelphia,1817), pp. 86-87. John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia (Philadelphia,1830), p. 536. Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. vi, p. 5515. Ibid., vol. vii, p. 5662.
"1"Extracts From the Diplomatic Correspondence of Conrad Alexander Gerard, First Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, July, 1778 to October, 1779," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society, vol. xxxi (1920), p. 228. Letter: Anthony Benezet to Conrad Alexander Girard, Philadelphia, October 17, 1779.
""The Acadians in Pennsylvania," The American Catholic Historical Researches, new series, vol. vii (1911), p. 110. =The Friend, vol. xi (1838), pp. 169-170, quoted in Brookes, op. cit., p. 67. William Penn Charter School Minutes, vol. i, p. 244, quoted in Brookes, op. cit., p. 74.
" Discarded pieces of cloth and even rags gathered from the streets were washed and made into cloth. Brookes, op. cit., p. 73.
""Washington Square, Philadelphia, the First Burial Ground for Catholics-for Patriots of the American Revolution, and for Martyrs for the Faith, the Exiled Acadians," The American Catholic Historical Researches, vol. xviii (1901), p. 38.
" Pennsylvania Archives, eighth series, vol. v, p. 4366. Ibid., vol. vi, pp.4882, 5060, 5064. Ibid., vol. vii, pp. 5659, 5666, 5918, 5921. Ibid., vol. viii, pp. 7022, 7135.


(seventy-eight individuals), of whom about half were in need of relief because of sickness, age, and infirmity." The severity of the winter increased the precariousness of their means of gaining a livelihood. For several years prior to 1775 the overseers of the poor of the city of Philadelphia seldom allowed six months to elapse without presenting a petition to the members of the assembly for relief for the "considerable Number of . . . Neutrals, who from their Age, Sickness or Infirmities" were incapable of supporting themselves."44

The records of St. Joseph's Church in Philadelphia reveal interesting data on the Acadians who settled in that Catholic parish.45 In the register of births and marriages of the Catholic citizens of the section are the names of numerous exiles. The greatest number of Acadian marriages and births seem to have been recorded from 1761 to 1764. During the entire period covered by the records, 1758 to 1786, thirty-eight marriages were entered in which both contracting parties were Acadians. In five marriages Canadians married Acadians; and seven Frenchmen, two of them from Bordeaux, married Acadian women. At least two other mixed marriages were celebrated;, one of which united Jonathan Birt, an English Protestant, and an Acadian woman. Out of these fifty-two marriages a widow or a widower was one of the contracting parties in about forty-three per cent of the cases.

In spite of the fact that in this colony they received just as humane treatment-if not better-as did their fellow countrymen in the other English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard, the Acadians brought to Pennsylvania suffered a tragic fate. By 1760 diseases, particularly smallpox, had accounted for the death of more than half the total of 454.46 What became of the

"4"Report of the Overseers of the Poor on the Condition of the Exiled Acadians in Philadelphia," The American Catholic Historical Researches, vol. xviii (1901), pp. 140-142.
"MPennsylvaniaArchives, eighth series, vol. viii, pp. 6634, 6743, 6853,6982, 7141, 7250. ""List of Baptisms registered at St. Joseph's Church, Philadelphia," copied from the original records by Francis X. Reuss, Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. i (1884-1886), pp. 246-350. Ibid., vol. ii (1886-1888), pp. 227-275. "Father Farmer's Marriage Register, Preserved at St. Joseph's Church, Philad'a." translated and edited by Francis T. Furey, Ibid., pp. 276-315.
""Petition of Acadians in Philadelphia to the King of Great Britain," Op. cit., p. 40.


rest is difficult to determine. Several bills settled by the assembly were for coffins or burial expenses for the exiles; the amounts paid out would account for the death of perhaps thirty of them after 1760. The decrease after 1764 in Acadian baptisms and marriages recorded in Philadelphia is probably an indication of a gradual diminution in the number of these people. Some were absorbed into the population of the province, numerous individuals in which already bore French names.47 Others seem to have made their way to Haiti, which served as a place of refuge for Acadian exiles from several of the English colonies extending from Nova Scotia to South Carolina.48" There inclement weather and lack of provisions caused many to sicken and die. Eventually all survivors left Haiti, several hundred establishing themselves in Louisiana.49

A half century after the arrival of the humble Acadians on Pennsylvania soil there remained few, if any, traces of them. As would be expected under the circumstances, their contributions to Pennsylvania culture were evanescent, but the records of the sufferings and hardships of these exiles in a strange though sympathetic land have survived as a story filled with human interest.

' "Historical Address delivered by the Rev. Morgan M. Sheedy, LL.D.,"Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. xxvi (1915), p. 353.
" The South Carolina Gazette, March 9, 1765, quoted in Ruth Allison Hudnut and Hayes Baker-Crothers, "Acadian Transients in South Carolina," American HistoricalReview, vol. xliii (April, 1938), p. 513.
"Watson, op. cit., p. 536, states that the Acadians in Pennsylvania went off in a body to the banks of the Mississippi, near New Orleans.

Source: Pennsylvania Historical Association - Penn. Hist. April 1942, 118–128.

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