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Monckton: Architect of Genocide

Major-General The Honourable Robert Monckton, at the Taking of Martinique, 1762: 
by Benjamin West



The violent events that have unfolded in the last months in Charlottesville, Virginia, have given Americans a new urgency in discussing the importance and symbolism behind their Confederate public monuments. If it is true that history cannot be rewritten (as the old adage goes), it is nevertheless important that monuments should serve as symbolic unifiers and should certainly not serve to offend and divide. And, as far as Confederate public monuments are concerned, in the U.S. it appears they are doing just that—dividing Americans with glorified symbols of the sad history of Virginians of color, a negativity that extends itself to all African Americans as well as all other non-white, or marginalized, American citizens in general. Evidently, even if Canada is not a country that possesses hundreds of U.S. Civil War monuments, there are nonetheless many statues and buildings and ‘honoured’ names that divide Canadians along similar lines—for the most part, they are ‘racist relics’ from our colonial past. For instance one such example is the dispute over the Cornwallis statue in Halifax which has recently garnered much media attention and has made national headlines that have really served to bring to the forefront a debate in relation to the negative symbol of the province of Nova Scotia’s colonial past being honoured in such a manner. Similarly, another reviled ‘racist’ figure is that of British Colonel Robert Monckton, the man whom the city of Moncton, New Brunswick, honours. For whatever reason, the name Monc(k)ton has not yet been dragged into the ongoing debate of ‘dishonorable’ figures from Canada’s colonial past who should cease to be honoured. Starting in 1755, Robert Monckton committed many atrocities against the Acadian civilian population as he tried to expel all of them at the outset of the Deportation and, in francophone circles, he is commonly referred to as un boucher des Acadiens (literally “a butcher of Acadians”). But in spite of this, as far as I know, there is no “Remove Moncton” campaign that has yet sprung up from the city of Moncton’s thriving Acadian community—and, irony of ironies, these people are mostly descendants of those Acadians who got away, escaping an imminent slaughter, or Deportation.    


As a governor of Nova Scotia and a military officer credited for founding the city of Halifax in 1749, Edward Cornwallis would in that same year also issue a bounty on the scalps of the Mi’kmaq people. Mi’kmaq groups and activists have called for the removal of the controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis from a Halifax park for years, but there it still stands. Daniel N. Paul, Mi’kmaq historian and human rights activist, has been advocating for the Cornwallis statue’s removal for decades, and the Members of the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs also agree that it should come down, but there it is—a genocidal figure that is an affront to both the Mi’kmaq nation and Acadian people looming over a park in downtown Halifax. However, it could be said that an even greater honour was bestowed on the genocidal figure of Colonel Robert Monckton when my native city of Moncton, N.B., was named after him.

In the autumn of 1755, after the British colonial authorities, Governors Edward Cornwallis and Charles Lawrence, decided the Acadians posed a threat, it was under Lawrence’s directive that Colonel Monckton was given the task of rounding up the Acadians. He started by rounding up 400 Acadian men at Fort Cumberland on August 10, 1755 and, then, in the months that followed over 7,000 Acadian men, women, and children—nearly the entire civilian population— of the French settlements on the Bay of Fundy would be forced from their homes, crowded onto ships against their will in small groups, and with many families separated forever they were widely dispersed across the Atlantic world. In all, this particularly sad episode in our history continued for eight years; the expulsion of the Acadians took place mainly during the year 1755, although displacements were organized until the end of the Seven Years' War (1763). Although exact figures vary, of the 14,100 individuals living in Acadia (Nova Scotia), Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island), Île Royale (Cape Breton Island and Chignectou Isthmus), it is estimated that approximately 11,500 Acadians were deported and about 8,000 perished before reaching their destination, either because of epidemics, cold, misery, malnutrition or shipwrecks (1). With Deportation, the properties that the Acadians were forced to leave behind would be plundered, their houses torched, and their lands seized.  A census for the year 1764, was made at the request of the Massachussetts Historical Society, estimates that only 2,600 Acadians remained in the colony, those having presumably eluded being captured—out of a total of 12,998 for the population of Nova Scotia (2). Just to put some perspective on these figures, in 1765, the population of New France is estimated at 55,009 (3).

With the Acadian Deportation, or le Grand Dérangement (literally, “the Great Upheaval”) as it is commonly termed, most of the Acadian population was expelled and with this, Acadia, the first established colony in North America would subsequently finally be under British control. Le Grand Dérangement claimed thousands of lives and is now considered to have been an attempt at British cultural genocide of the Acadians, or ‘ethnic cleansing’ if you prefer.

Renowned historian, John Mack Faragher, in discussing his much acclaimed A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland (New York, 2005), describes for us some of the barbaric atrocities committed by Colonel Robert Monckton and his troops in the persecution of the Acadians. These 18th century anti-Acadian persecutions readily bring to mind scenes of large scale pogroms against the Jews in the Russian Empire. Faragher writes (4):

In the autumn of 1755 officers and troops from New England, acting under the authority of the colonial governors of Nova Scotia and Massachusetts, systematically rounded up more than 7,000 Acadians who lived in communities along the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Men, women, and children alike were crowded into transport vessels and deported in small groups to the other British colonies. Many families were separated, some never to meet again. The remaining 10,000 to 12,000 Acadians managed to escape and spent years as refugees. Many took up arms in resistance. The campaign of removal continued for eight years, by which time a total of more than 10,000 Acadians had been forced from their homes and dispersed widely across the Atlantic world. Meanwhile, their property was plundered, their communities were torched and their lands were seized.

     Some of the most appalling violence occurred at the site of present-day Fredericton, New Brunswick, in a village called Sainte-Anne along both sides of the St. John River, which was home to approximately 1,000 Acadians. In November 1758, Colonel Robert Monckton, in command of 2,000 troops, ascended the river as far as present-day Gagetown, leaving a swath of destruction on both banks; he succeeded in capturing few of the Acadians living there, though, as most of them had fled upriver to Sainte-Anne. To remedy this, two months later in February 1759 Monckton sent a company of 15 New England rangers, under the command of Lieutenant Moses Hazen of Massachusetts, to strike that community. Hazen was ordered to "kill them all and give no quarter". He succeeded in bringing back 23 prisoners and 6 scalps. Joseph Godin-Bellefontaine, several years a resident of Sainte-Anne at the time, provided a rare first-hand Acadian account of the attack. The rangers captured his entire family, Godin-Bellefontaine declared in a deposition taken by French authorities. He and his grown son Michel were bound hand and foot and forced to watch as the Yankees abused their wives and daughters. "They took their rage to the point of massacring his daughter Nastazie, wife of Eustache Paré", reads the deposition, "crushing her head with a blow of the butt of a gun, his two children and a son of Michel, and splitting the head of the wife of the latter with a blow of a hatchet". The surviving members of the Godin-Bellefontaine family were sent to Halifax and eventually transported to France.
In an attempt to exterminate the Acadians, with Deportation (1755-1764) the British colonial powers had certainly put into effect a plan to make this happen. When Col. Robert Monckton gave the orders to the New England rangers to ‘kill them all’, it certainly makes him out to be one of the architects of our cultural genocide.

There is certainly nothing new in replacing a place-name that is deemed to be offensive to its inhabitants. For instance, in a similar vein as the offence caused by Confederate public monuments to African Americans, the use of the word ‘Negro’ in places-names in Canada has also prompted some changes due to some of the perceived negativity surrounding it, because it is thought to encourage the use of the N-word. As an example of this, earlier this year—in February, Black History Month—the province of New Brunswick announced that it would officially replace five place-names in the Saint John area that use the anachronistic word Negro. Henceforth, Negro Lake in Grand Bay-Westfield will be called Corankapone Lake in honour of Richard Wheeler whose African name was Corankapone; Negro Point in Saint John was renamed Hodges Point, after the Hodges family who were black loyalists; Negro Head became Lorneville Head; Negro Brook in Grand Bay-Westfield was changed to Black Loyalist Brook, and Negro Brook Road was changed to Harriet O’Ree road (5).

Another divisive name from Canada’s ‘legacy of colonization’ was the one given to the building that housed the Prime Minister’s offices on Wellington Street in Ottawa, the Langevin Block, right across from Parliament Hill. In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau renamed the Langevin Block, and its new name is The Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council. The reason behind the renaming is that Hector-Louis Langevin, Father of Confederation and important member of Sir John A. MacDonald’s cabinet, was also a proponent of the residential school system. Hence, with the ongoing journey towards healing and reconciliation between the Feds and the ongoing effects of cultural genocide, the renewed relationship between Canada and its First Nations meant that the name Langevin just had to go. And, the same thing happened in Calgary, where the Langevin Bridge has since been renamed Reconciliation Bridge (6). At present time, even the name of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, may soon be removed from Ontario’s public schools. Last month (August 17), it was reported that a majority of delegates to the annual general meeting of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario “agreed that the name of Canada’s first prime minister should be removed from Ontario’s public schools”. As Aaron Wherry (CBC News) reported: According to the motion, the union calls upon school districts “to examine and rename schools and buildings named after Sir John A. Macdonald, in recognition of his central role as the architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples” (7).

As statues of Confederate soldiers cause offence and remind African Americans of a past of slavery and oppression, much in the same manner, the name of the city of Moncton reminds the Acadians and Mi’kmaq nations of the racist British colonial at cultural genocide. In consideration of all the negativity and the symbol of genocide the name ‘Moncton’ invokes, it should undoubtedly be changed. But then, what should the new name of the city of ‘Moncton’ be?

The head of the Bay of Fundy was first settled by Acadians in the 1670s, and the first reference to the Petitcodiac River appears on the de Meulles Map of 1686—the name comes rom the Mi’kmaq word meaning “bends like a bow”. In as early as 1700, the Chipodie Acadian settlement was established at the mouth of the Petitcodiac River and, gradually, it would over time extend up the Petitcodiac and Memramcook River valleys until finally reaching the site of present-day Moncton in 1733—there the first Acadian settlers established a marshland farming community and named it Le Coude (“The Elbow”). After Col. Robert Monckton captured nearby Fort Beauséjour in 1755, with the Petitcodiac River valley under British control, the Acadian population of the region would be deported by order of Governor Charles Lawrence. However, thankfully, some of the inhabitants of the Petitcodiac and Memramcook valleys were able to escape and, under the leadership of the legendary Joseph “Beausoleil” Broussard, formed a part of an organized Mi’kmaq and Acadian militia against the British foe—until Broussard himself would end up being deported, and would finally be among the first Acadian families to settle in Louisiana. With the expulsion of the Acadians, the settlement of Le Coude remained empty until June 1766, when eight immigrant Pennsylvania "Deutsch" families arrived from Pennsylvania with a land grant and a charter from the Philadelphia Land Company to establish the Monckton Township on the site of the previous Acadian settlement; their new settlement would be called The Bend of the Petitcodiac, or simply The Bend.

So then, in erasing the name ‘Moncton’ from the map, what should the city’s new name be—Le Coude, The Bend? Or perhaps more appropriately, maybe you think the time has finally come to give the city its original name back—the same name of the river that flows through it, PetitcodiacOr would you rather keep Moncton in spite of all the negativity it represents? Please indicate your choice below and, if enough people care, your choice shall be included in a "Remove Moncton" campaign that shall be submitted to the province of New Brunswick (as part of the Toponymy - Place Name - Organizational Request program).


Paul D. LeBlanc






#effacemoncton #removemoncton

Notes


(1) WHITE, Stephen. “The True Number of Acadians.” In Rene Gilles-LeBlanc, ed. Du Grand dérangement à la Déportation : nouvelles perspectives historiques, Moncton: Chaire d'études acadiennes, Université de Moncton, 2005: pp. 21-56.
(2) Census information available at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/98-187-x/4064810-eng.htm
(3) Census information available at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/98-187-x/4064810-eng.htm)
(4) FARAGHER, John Mack. “A Great and Noble Scheme”: Thoughts on the Expulsion of the Acadians. Acadiensis, [S.l.], p. 82, oct. 2006. ISSN 1712-7432. Available at: <https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/Acadiensis/article/view/5726/11196>. Date accessed: 01 sep. 2017.


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