Acadia of the Lands and Forests
“Disputed Boundaries & Rediscovered Families”
The fifth Acadian World Congress held in August 2014 offers a special opportunity to consider the surprising historical and geographic links between the participating communities of five neighbouring counties of New Brunswick, Maine and Quebec.
The systematic settlement of Acadia of the Lands and Forests — as opposed to maritime Acadia — did not begin until 1785, 30 years after the Deportation. Up until about 1845, settlement of the territory was haphazard. While the United States and Great Britain quarrelled over the boundary, the population increased and newcomers put down roots, though without necessarily obtaining formal title to the land. The American and British authorities conducted various censuses in the region, but so as to not make the situation any worse, generally refrained from granting any land there. Once the conflict was over, in 1842, Augusta and Fredericton sent out Commissioners to regularize the situation. Those occupants who met the Treaty criteria received official ownership title and plots of land were surveyed and marked out.
Numerous documents were produced on that occasion, including cadastral maps and a compendium of occupant testimonials. As a result of this particular history, we have detailed official records about the people on the territory in its earliest days, the like of which is not available for other surrounding populations at that time. Presenting this archival documentation is the main feature of our project. We want to share it in a number of ways. First, through an exhibit at the Madawaska Historical Museum, which will later go on tour. This issue of the Revue de la Société historique du Madawaska, which is entirely devoted to this exhibit, also stands as its catalogue. At the same time, the IT tools developed during the project are being progressively incorporated into a web tool of the museum, so that Internet users can further pursue their own research.
Both visitors to the museum and readers of the Revue can appreciate the old maps and documents being presented by means of an interpretation that is organized into 10 steps:
In the beginning were… the lands and forests – The first step illustrates the 16th-century Europeans’ unfamiliarity with the territory, the first European incursions into the Upper Saint John River Valley, and the Acadian Diaspora following the deportations.
Seed of a republic in Madawaska – The second step deals with the arrival of the first inhabitants, using some of the oldest archival documents, including a first map made in the region in 1787 by George Sproule, Surveyor General of New Brunswick.
London and Washington dispute the lands and forests – The third step recalls the context of the disputed territory, when the entire region was claimed by both the United States and the British Empire.
Webster and Ashburton divide land, forests… and families – The fourth step describes the Washington Treaty of 1842, its significant elements, and the repercussions of this Treaty, which settled the question of the international boundary, although not just that.
Fredericton and Augusta integrate “their” Madawaska – The fifth step presents the work of the American and British Commissions who came to bring some order to land ownership once the Treaty had been signed. Excerpts from the Madawaska Grant Book tell us about how the occupants acquired control over their land at the time.
MacLauchlan and Allen knock at the doors of Madawaskans – The sixth step — and central part of the project — consists of three modules. The first two modules each interpret a typical map from the cadastral atlas created between 1844 and 1847. The first refers to the land that ultimately became the site of the city of Edmundston as well as those lots along the Madawaska River up to the Quebec boundary. The second presents the southern portion of the “British” territory, west of and including the present-day town of Grand Falls.
Eastman, Dana, and Cunningham visit the “Americans” - The third module of step 6 tells us about the lots on the south shore of the Saint John River and on both sides of Fish River in Maine, USA.
Every Madawaska family has a history – The seventh step will be of particular interest to those involved in genealogy. Two tables show the distribution of families on each side of the Saint John, the number of plots they occupied, and the total area of their grants.
Quebec and Fredericton dispute the lands and forests – The eighth step deals with the issue of the interprovincial boundary between Quebec and New Brunswick.
There is a star for each of us – The ninth step allegorically portrays contemporary Acadia as an Acadia of the World, and invites us to see Acadia of the Lands and Forests as a land without boundaries, neither internal nor external.
Tribute to the partners – A final step acknowledges all of the partners who have made this project possible and whom we thank for their help and support.
Throughout the exhibit, actual visitors as well as readers of the Revue are guided by a timeline of key events from 100 selected years. Tools are also available at the exhibit or online to pursue one’s own research in our databases.
Beyond all of its lessons, this project demonstrates that Acadia of the Lands and Forests forms a unique entity, certainly one that is formed of three components, yet one whose people share a common geography and history, composed of disputed boundaries, but also of rediscovered families, at the junctions of major currents of North American history.