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Acadia - Missing Links of a Lost Chapter in American History
Chapter VIII

Philipps returns to England 1731—Armstrong resumes the administration of the province—His character, his difficulties with Major Cosby, Biinn, Winniett, etc.—His relations with Mau-geant—The Compiler, his omissions, his artifices—Suicide of Armstrong, Dec. 6tli, 1739.

At last, this question of the oath, so long an occasion of strife, vexation and uncertainty, was, apparently at least, settled for good. There was no more question of it for twenty years till the foundation of Halifax in 1749. Until then, the Acadians had been held captive in the country by the orders and hindrances of the governors, who had refused to accept in good faith the treaty and conventions of Queen Anne.

Wearied of a bootless struggle, the Acadians had accepted the oath of fealty which granted them the exemption which they clung to so earnestly. They were becoming English subjects, and were finally giving up the ever-entertained idea of a departure. Their agricultural holdings, which had suffered from this uncertainty, were about to make rapid progress. Peace and contentment were about to take the place of distrust, and prosperity was going to spring up anew.

This period of twenty years was the most tranquil, the happiest and most prosperous in the history of Acadia. The Acadians had still to suffer from Armstrong, who, for nine years after the departure of Philipps, once more tilled the office of lieutenant-governor; but as much might be said of the garrison, the officers and the council, all of whom suffered perhaps even more than the Acadians, because the daily contact they had with him exposed them still more to his whims and bursts of anger. Oil the whole the Acadians did not feel the yoke too severely; in fact, those of Mines and Beaubassin were almost left to themselves. For a long time there was almost no other garrison in the Province than that of Annapolis. Outside this place the authority of the government was in no way represented, except perhaps by the notary, who was at the same time receiver of the rents and revenues of the Crown, which were very little. These notaries, moreover, were themselves Acadians, and, during six months of the year, all communications between these places and Annapolis were interrupted. Disagreements between Acadians were rare, and were usually settled by arbiters, except those arising from the limits of their lands, which were referred to the Council of Annapolis. These latter seem to have been frequent after 1730. These properties had never been regularly surveyed, and, as the population rapidly increased and the government refused or delayed to make new concessions, the result was repeated subdivisions of the land and frequent conflicts, which were submitted to the decision of the council. I shall return to this subject.

I would like to speak as seldom as possible of the Compiler, but, in spite of myself, I am forced to return to him, because he puts me in the impossibility of passing an enlightened judgment on many a phase of this history. His volume, which, in the intention of the Legislature, was to serve for the general history of the province, is, as I have already said, only a compilation of complaints against the Acadians and the clergy. Insignificant as they sometimes are, they take up the whole of his space during Armstrong’s administration, from 1725 to 1740. There is not in the volume of the Archives a single document emanating from the Acadians or their priests during these fifteen years; it was not, however, because they were completely wanting, since in several of Armstrong’s letters to the Lords of Trade he makes mention of copies of such documents which he communicates to them.

Not only does the volume of the Archives contain nothing but letters setting forth complaints against the Acadians and the clergy, but these letters are mutilated in such a way as to exclude all that does not relate thereto. It is easy to understand that Armstrong in his letters to the Lords of Trade must have most carefully avoided whatever might damage him; but his other letters, treating of his endless difficulties with his officers, his council and all his attendants, are quite sufficient to give us a clear insight into his character, and these were omitted by the Compiler, who, I have no hesitation in saying it, has carefully eliminated all that might direct suspicion to Armstrong. And, if Armstrong's own letters are a sufficient portrait of himself, how much more life-like that portrait would be, if in each case the letters of others about him were also shown? Did the Compiler imagine that writers who like to get to the bottom of a question were going to accept as proved and indisputable every accusation brought by Armstrong, even were this man what the Compiler has endeavored to make him? With some people, doubtless, he has succeeded; but all this deception will come to an end: for, not to speak of the researches of painstaking writers* on this subject, the Government of Nova Scotia will, I trust, understand how it is its bounden duty to have the Archives overhauled and that compilation completed and corrected, which has issued so incomplete and so one-sided from the hands of Thomas IS. Akins.

Through the fault of this Compiler, I am unable to satisfy myself and the public fully as to Armstrong’s administration, which occupies, in the period of history I am engaged on, fifteen years, that is, nearly one-third of the whole. Though the Compiler’s handling of the other two-thirds is not much better, I have at least had, in certain parts, the advantage of receiving more complete information from documents outside the volume of the Archives.

I will, however, try to make up, as best I can, for the Compiler's omissions, and to show, what he hides, the character of Armstrong ; for that purpose I shall in certain cases receive help from the curtailed portion of the documents that he delivers to us, in others, from new documents coming mostly from Armstrong himself. Thus, to a great extent, which is certainly a rare privilege, Armstrong shall be judged by himself.

We have already seen what Lieutenant-Governor Caulfield said of him to the Lords of Trade, when Armstrong was as yet only captain in the regiment garrisoned at Annapolis in 1718. We have seen how lie had made himself enemies at Boston among the merchants of the place. We have seen, besides, by another letter dated October 24,1785, not cited in the volume of the Archives, that, as soon as he arrived at Canso from London with his commission as lieutenant-governor, he wrote to the Lords of Trade, that he had asked to have from Boston sixty Indians and twelve whalers, that he had from Commodore St. Lo the promise of sixty marines, that, with all of these joined to the soldiers of his garrison, he intended to traverse the province for the purpose of forcing the Acadians to take the oath, lie ended his letter thus: “I hope we shall do our duty, and give a good account of ourselves.” True, he did nothing of the kind; hut perhaps he could not help himself. At all events this letter speaks volumes for his character.

At the same time lie complained of Captain John Eliot, Captain Franklin, Captain Kenwood and several others. On September 23,1726, he accused his servant, John Nichols, of an assault on his person. In the month of July following, Mr. Shirreff. secretary of the council, resigned his position after some difficulties he had with Armstrong. A month later, as Murdoch writes: “A discord arose between Armstrong and M. M. Winniett, James Blinn and Bissell, merchants, connected with the supplies for the garrison.” August 2Sd, Armstrong informed the council: "of M. Blinn’s insolent behaviour to him on Monday last, upon the public parade, before most of the officers and soldiers of the garrison, where,, after a great deal of disrespectful language and unmannerly gestures, he, at length, told him that he would not give him two pence for his commission.”

In September of the same year he notified the inhabitants of Annapolis to take the oath. They refused unless he would insert the restriction. lie imprisoned the three delegates they sent him, Landry, Bourgeois and Richard: “It was ordered that they should be sent to prison and laid in irons.” Landry’s wife applied to Armstrong, in consequence of her husband being dangerously ill, to grant his liberty on surety for his return when recovered. Her prayer was rejected.

July 12, 1728, Armstrong wrote to Mr, Stanion, of the office of the Secretary of State: “Several complaints being sent against me by two or three malicious leaders in this Province, although not exhibited, but lodged in the hands of Governor Philipps, who, I am sure, only wants a proper opportunity of making his own use of them to my prejudice.” Murdoch, the estimable author of a history of Nova Scotia, to whom I owe some of my quotations, says, that Armstrong had, in 1711 and afterwards, undergone some losses, and that in consequence he became “unhappy, irritable, and jealous. He suspected Philipps and Cosby of being his enemies,” the last named gentleman because he had married the daughter of Winniett, with whom Armstrong had had some difficulties. “Mi. Winniett,” continues Murdoch, “ steems to have been married to an Acadian lady and to have had great personal influence among the Acadians, but I believe it was never used for any improper purpose, and that he was upright, loyal and kindly disposed.”

June 23, 1729, Armstrong wrote again to the Lords of Trade. In this letter, which is very long, he complains of everybody, of Major Cosby in particular, of Father Breslay, of the French papists, of the collector of customs, etc., etc.

On the arrival of Philipps, in 1730, Armstrong went back to England, whence he returned the following year. Here is what Philipps wrote to the Secretary of State a few weeks after his arrival at Annapolis: “I found at my coming a general dissatisfaction in all parts, and disagreement between the two lieutenant-governors (Cosby and Armstrong) about the right of power and command, which drew the inferior officers into parties; but I assure Your Grace it is now the reverse. Joy and satisfaction appear in every countenance among the people, and in the garrison tranquillity.”

This letter is in the volume of the archives, but the part I quote is omitted. Doubtless it is by mistake the Compiler dates this letter January 3, 1729, for in reality it should be January 3, 1730.

The following fact is a revelation of Armstrong’s character. In 1726, there arrived at Annapoli, a Frenchman by the name of Maugeant, who, when examined by the council, admitted that he was fleeing from French justice for a murder he had committed at Quebec. He pleaded as an excuse self-defence. Armstrong made him his man of business, his instrument, and, as far as we can judge, his intimate counsellor. With Armstrong’s confidence and protection, Maugeant incurred the detestation of everybody: officers, soldiers, and Acadians. His infatuation for Maugeant was so great that he took him with him to England, on the arrival of Philipps. Here is what Philipps wrote of him, September, 2, 1730: ' “Lieut.-Col. Armstrong who is gone for England, carried with him one Maugeant, a french papist, who fled lately from Canada into this rrovince for a barbarous murder. The Lieut.-Governor took him into his protection and admitted him to take the oatli, after which he rendered himself exceedingly odious to the inhabitants, both English and French, they, believing that the Lieut.-Governor acted toward them by his council and advice. At my arrival, he, finding many complaints were ready to be exhibited against him, petitioned for leave to retire, which, being granted, with a defense, never to return, gave a general satisfaction, and proved a great inducement towards their submission to the Crown of Great Britain. The fellow’s character is very bad, but is allowed to have a genius, and would make an excellent minister to an arbitrary prince.”

This letter is also in the volume of the archives, except, however, this citation; and nevertheless this short extract says more as to the character of Armstrong and is more useful to the general history of the Province than many other documents found therein.

Philipps sang his own praises rather loud when he attributed his prompt success to the good remembrance every one had preserved of him, and to the difference between his administration and Armstrong’s. He cannot be judged exactly by his own valuation; for, though he undoubtedly possessed great practical judgment, tact, and many of the qualities that go to make a good administrator, yet all this was favored and enhanced by circumstances; the contrast made him seem greater than he really was.

Obliged to return to England for affairs of his regiment, he was again replaced by Armstrong. At the moment of his departure, Philipps wrote to the Duke of Newcastle: “It imports me much to be very careful of delivering up the Government to Lieutenant-Governor Armstrong with the greatest exactness, who is turning up every stone and raking into every kennel, to find some dirt to bespatter me tv'ith, in hopes that some may Stick, etc., etc.” lie accuses him of ingratitude.

Hardly had Philipps gone home, when Armstrong’s difficulties commenced again worse than before with Cosby and Winniett. Cosby did not wish to sit with Armstrong, and the council was reduced to four councillors. Twice in the course of the autumn of 1732 did Armstrong complain of both these councillors to the Lords of Trade. At that time he wished to establish a fort at Mines, but was prevented by the Indians. Murdoch says in reference to this : “ Armstrong accuses and suspects everybody in his disappointment.”

There is reason to believe that Armstrong’s unpopularity and his ever-recurring difficulties embittered him more and more and drew upon him a severe reprimand from the Lords of Trade; for he ended by committing suicide, December 6,1739. He had made his will a month before, and a few weeks after his death all his goods were seized in the hands of his executors, to pay for rents and government fees which he had collected for several years without rendering any account of them; in other words he was a peculator.

I ask the reader: Is the writer that does not get firm hold of these facts a person capable of forming a sound estimate of events ? By silently ignoring them, does he fulfil his duty towards the public as an historian ? I think not; on the contrary, I think that, when there is question of a government the power of which is centred in the hands of a single man, the first duty of the historian is to seek to penetrate the character of that man. This once found, he has the secret that will enable him to disentangle and elucidate many confused situations, to substitute light for darkness.

I mi l: lit perhaps express an opinion about some of Armstrong's difficulties; I will not do so ; it is not necessary. It matters little, after all, whether in this or that particular ease he may have been right or wrong. The fact that he was in a continual turmoil during his whole administration, with everybody and everywhere, is ample evidence that lie himself was the author of his troubles through his cross-grained and hot-tempered nature. His was an ill-balanced mind. This makes it more difficult to understand and judge him than a man whose character is firm and steadfast, whether for good or evil; however, enough is known of him to preclude all danger of a mistake. He was by turns kind and tyrannical. Amidst his fits of rage and his brutalities lie sometimes gave proofs of humane feelings and of a sincere desire to promote the interests of his government. Though despotic at times, he was the first to suggest to the Lords of Trade the establishment of a representative assembly, and, when he saw that his idea was for the moment impracticable, he nevertheless granted the Acadians, and that spontaneously, the privilege to name deputies. Their functions and powers were almost null; yet this creation of his was wise and disinterested; it produced excellent results under his successor.

While passing judgment. on his character and administration, we cannot forget these facts; however, they atone but very poorly for his long series of administrative buffooneries, his frauds, his unspeakable brutalities. He made enemies of all the people about Inin: of Major Crosby, of the secretary of the Council, of the merchants, the Acadians, the clergy, and even of Philipps, with whom it was so much his interest to be on good terms. His authority had so fallen into discredit that he was even publicly insulted by a merchant of the place and suffered a personal assault from his servant. It would indeed be something quite unprecedented if difficulties so frequent and persistent crossed the path of one who knew how to use his authority with dignity and justice. The tree is judged by its fruits.

Nothing gives us a better insight into Armstrong’s character than his relations with Maugeant. Though the latter had been expelled by Philipps on account of his criminal record, and for having made himself odious to everybody, Armstrong took him with him to England as a chosen companion, brought him back again after eighteen months’ absence, and, in direct opposition to the orders of his chief, retained him near his own person even till death, as his intimate counsellor and the instrument of his caprice. In view of these facts it is not surprising that Armstrong’s authority had fallen so low.

It will be readily understood that what I have alleged embraces only a very small part of Armstrong’s deeds and feats, for, I have hardly touched on the last seven years of his administration, the years that immediately preceded his suicide. Very little is known of the events of that period; presumably, this suicide was brought on by the aggravation of his faults and disappointments so keenly felt by his ill-balanced mind as to throw it completely out of gear; but the Compiler cunningly saw that all this would throw too much light on Armstrong’s administration and character, and defeat his purpose ; so he deemed it expedient to eliminate carefully whatever might reflect upon Armstrong, in order, thereby, to animadvert with cumulative force upon the Acadians and the clergy. When the documents contain nothing against them, his occupation is gone ; he creates a vacuum. And, so far did he carry these tactics, that he even carefully omitted all documents which would let the reader know of Armstrong’s suicide.

The better to exhibit his artifice, I here give the number of the documents that the volume of the Archives contains for each year of Armstrong’s administration: 1725,3—1726,4—1727,11—1728,1—1729,1—1731,5— 1732, 9—1733, 0—1734, 0—1735,1—1736, 2—1737, 0— 1738, 0—1739, 0. Except five or six documents of the Council, this collection is wholly made up of Armstrong’s own letters to the Lords of Trade. There is not a single letter from the Acadians or the priests, and yet there were such communications, since even Armstrong's letters mention several of them. Writing on June 10th, 1732, he says: “I transmit the enclosed letters; Nos. 4, 5, 6, from priest de la Goudalie ; 7, 8, are mine ; No. 9 is from lien6 Le Blanc.” In another letter of Nov. 22nd, 1736, he writes: “No. 1 is M. St. Ovide’s first letter, No. 2 is my answer; No. 3 are the minutes of the Council; No. 4 is M. St. Poncy’s declaration in Council; No. 5 are the minutes of Council: No. 6 is the petition of the Acadians.”

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