Despite Colbert’s optimism, the English clung to Acadia until 1667, when the Treaty of Breda finally restored ownership of the colony to France. However, the English governor at that time, Sir Thomas Temple, delayed turning over the administration of the colony to France until 1670, when the new French governor of Acadia, Hector d’Andigne de Grandfontaine, accepted the surrender of the English garrisons at Jemseg, on the lower Saint John River, and at Port Royal, and later at Cape Sable.01
The colony was finally back in French hands.
During the time of English control, despite the halt of immigration into Acadia, there had been notable growth of settlement in the Port Royal basin. One historian records that "there was a substantially larger number of settlers up the Port Royal River above the fort than there had been sixteen years earlier; in Acadians terms almost a generation had grown up." He adds: "Although we may accept [Nicolas] Deny’s belief that they gave up their homes near the fort to move away from immediate English surveillance, the direction of the move was a natural one if they were seeking more marshlands and there is no evidence that the English paid much attention to them. Certainly their new masters, whether from New or old England, had not the slightest interest in settling or actively developing the part of Acadia they controlled: their interest was solely in furs and in the control of Indian attacks on New England, and the Acadians at least were protected from attacks from that area. Documentation on the conditions of settlement and agriculture is almost completely lacking. It has been inferred that after 1654 many of the French settlers moved on to Quebec or returned to France. For those who remained (and they were, we think, the majority), we have to assume the gradual but inexorable increase of numbers and expansion of agriculture, the planting and reaping of grain, peas, flax, and vegetable crops, and the tending of sheep, swine and cattle. If the period is largely a tabula rasa in the historical record, it was nevertheless one of consolidation and expansion of this nucleus of the Acadian population."02
With the full assumption of French control in Acadia under Governor Grandfontaine, immigration into the colony resumed. Members of the Carignan Regiment of the French army arrived with Grandfontaine and his lieutenants, and some of them married Acadian women. In the spring of 1671 Colbert sent 50 new settlers to Acadia aboard L’Oranger, which sailed from La Rochelle. Other settlers arrived from Canada.03
That same spring, before the shipload of new settlers arrived from France, Grandfontaine ordered Father Cordelier Molin to take a census of the colony’s inhabitants—the first Acadian census on record. Here would be a list of the First Families of Acadia, including families that had lived in the colony for over three decades. The CORMIERs would be among the 68 families and 373 inhabitants counted in the census.04
Thomas CORMIER, meanwhile, finally did his part in the expansion of the settlement along the Port Royal basin. At age 32, in 1668, he took a wife. She was Madeleine GIROUARD, the 14-year-old daughter of Francois GIROUARD and his wife Jeanne AUCOIN. Francois had been born in 1621 at La Chaussee, department of la Vienne, in the region of Loudun, France, and had arrived at Port Royal in c.1640. This made him only 15 years older than his new son-in-law. He had married Jeanne AUCOIN in c.1647 at Port Royal. Madeleine, born in 1654 at Port Royal, was their third child.05
Thomas and Madeleine wasted no time in starting a family of their own. In 1669, they were blessed with a daughter—the first CORMIER born in the New World—whom they named Madeleine after her mother. The following year, in 1670, their first son was born—Francois, named no doubt after his maternal grandfather.06
When Father Molin came around to count this little family in the first Acadian census of 1671, the good priest listed Thomas as age 35 with a wife and one daughter (Francois for some reason was not counted), 7 cattle and 7 sheep. Compared to the other inhabitants of the Port Royal basin, Thomas’s possessions in cattle and sheep were about average. One settler, Charles Melancon, owned 40 head of cattle. Another, Daniel LeBlanc, owned 26 sheep. Thomas’s father-in-law, Francois GIROUARD, owned 16 head of cattle and a dozen sheep.07
Father Molin did not count any other CORMIER in the census of 1671—not Robert, not Marie, not Jean—only Thomas and Madeleine and their infant daughter. What became of the master carpenter who had taken his wife and two sons to Acadia 36 years before and settled at Port Royal 6 years later the records do not say. Were Thomas’s father, mother and younger brother no longer among the living? Or had they returned to France? The eminent genealogist/historian of the Acadians, Bona Arsenault, insists that Robert CORMIER was buried in Port Royal on February 12, 1712. Robert would have been at least 101 years old at the time! Arsenault, unfortunately, does not document this assertion that Robert spent his remaining years in Port Royal. Other, more compelling evidence indicates that Robert was no longer in the colony, one way or the other, years before his supposed burial in 1712. Not only is he not found in the first census of 1671, he cannot be found in any of the subsequent censuses taken of the Port Royal settlement. Not a single one of these Port Royal censuses—that of 1678, 1686, 1693, 1698, 1700, 1701, 1703, and 1707—nor any other census of the other Acadian settlements during this time, lists Robert or Marie or Jean CORMIER as inhabitants of the Acadia colony. A more recent historian of the Acadians, Tim Hebert, speculates that Robert "returned to France, and that his only son, Thomas, stayed in Acadia."08
Based on the scanty evidence available to us, the most likely scenario for the fate of Robert CORMIER, his wife and younger son is that they left the colony and returned to La Rochelle after the English had captured Port Royal in 1654. It is certain that Thomas chose to remain in the colony; he would have been 18 in 1654, old enough to make up his own mind about the matter. Having taken up the trade of his father, he may have made a passable living as a carpenter in the struggling settlement along the Port Royal basin. He probably took up farming as well, living on his father’s small holding in the basin and doing carpentry work when it was offered to him. He probably never heard from his parents again, though they doubtlessly wondered about the fate of their older son. When Thomas finally married in 1668, his father would have been 58 years old. If Robert CORMIER did return to La Rochelle and live his final days there, he most likely never knew that he had planted the seed of the CORMIER family in the rich red soil of Acadia.
Soon after the counting of heads by the new Acadian governor, some of the inhabitants of the crowded Port Royal basin became pioneers again. A hand full of them established the first permanent agricultural settlement outside of the Port Royal valley, "the first swarming of the Acadians to establish their hive," as one historian describes it.09 "Not long after 1671 Jacques Bourgeios, the former surgeon of D’Aulnay and a well-to-do farmer of Port Royal, decided to move to Beaubassin," writes another historian of the colony. "He had known the area in younger days in the course of extensive fur-trading activities and his move was undoubtedly aimed at the freer activity of Indian trading as well as of farming. But he persuaded five other families to go with him and the prospects of farming were certainly bright enough with a situation on the edge of the largest continuous expanse of dykable marshland in eastern North America. Even without dyking, the resources of salt-marsh hay, and of grazing, must have seemed limitless. Within five years the group was well established, other settlers followed, more and more land was reclaimed, and the flocks and herds increased."10
Thomas CORMIER was the head of one of these families who followed Jacques Bourgeois to the promising new settlement. He and Madeleine and their three children now—Madeleine, age 3; Francois, 2; and Alexis, still an infant—carved out a homestead overlooking what is now called the Cumberland Basin, an arm of Chignecto Bay, near present-day Amherst, Nova Scotia. The settlement was called Beaubassin because of the lovely view of the wide, red-soiled marshes that lined the sparkling blue basin to the south. It was also called by the Indian name Chignecto after the narrow, 15-mile-wide isthmus that it dominated. Here four generations of CORMIERs would make their homes until the settlement was destroyed in the 1750s. Beaubassin thus became the seat of the CORMIER family in Acadia. Thomas settled in what became the Menoudy section of Beaubassin, south of the basin.11
Beaubassin and associated settlementsOne historian insists that Thomas CORMIER "became the most well-to-do member of the new settlement."12 The second Acadian census of 1786, the first one to find Thomas at Beaubassin, records:
Thomas CORMIER, 55; Madeleine GIROUARD 37; Children: Madeleine 18, Francois 16, Alexis 14, Marie 12, Germain 10, Pierre 8, Angelique 4, Marie and Jeanne, twins, 1; 4 guns, 30 cattle, 10 sheep, 15 hogs, 40 arpents.13
Only the seigneur of Beaubassin, Michel Le Neuf, Sieur de La Valliere, had more land than Thomas did—60 arpents—and only three others of the 20 heads of households in the settlement had 40 arpents of land. Not even the seigneur had as many cattle as Thomas. Only the seigneur and two other settlers had more sheep. Only four other settlers had as many or more hogs than Thomas CORMIER. Another, more important kind of prosperity also smiled down on Thomas and Madeleine. Only one other household had more children than theirs, and those were from two separate marriages. So one can safely say that Thomas CORMIER was indeed a prosperous member of this new Acadian community.14
01. Clark, Acadia, 107, 108. Arsenault, History, 35, notes: “Unlike his predecessors in Acadia, Grandfontaine was not just a mere concessionary but the designated representative of the King of France,” who was still Louis XIV. “However, like all French governors who succeeded him in Acadia, Grandfontaine received his instructions from the Governor of Canada, his immediate superior.”
02. Clark, Acadia, 108. See also Arsenault, History, 36.
03. Arsenault, History, 36.
04. Arsenault, History, 43; LeBlanc, Acadian Miracle, 21.
05. Arsenault, Genealogie, 567, 568. GIROUARD also is spelled GIROIR. Strangely, Arsenault records no AUCOINs in his genealogy volume on Port Royal. The earliest member of that family in Acadia, according to his records, was Martin AUCOIN, b.1651 in the parish of Cougnes, La Rochelle, France, who settled at Beaubassin in 1684 and later in the Minas Basin on the Riviere aux Canards. See Arsenault, Genealogie, 1086. Could Jeanne AUCOIN have arrived at Port Royal before 1647 alone, without her family? Arsenault does not record her birthplace or her arrival in the colony.
06. Arsenault, Genealogie, 909.
07. See T. Hebert, website, for the census.
08. Arsenault, Genalogie, 494. T. Hebert, website, takes this information from an article in the St. John [New Brunswick] Telegraph-Journal of July 29, 1994, A4. No author of the article is given. Hebert also fails to document this assertion, so the fate of the elder CORMIER, like that of many other early Acadians, remains only speculation.
09. Erskine, Nova Scotia, 30.
10. Clark, Acadia, 141. The other Beaubassin pioneers, besides Jacques Bourgeios and Thomas CORMIER, were Charles and Germain Bourgeios, sons of Jacques, Pierre Arsenault, Jacques Belou, Jean Boudrot, Pierre Cyr, and Germain GIROUARD, who was a son-in-law of Jacques Bourgeios and younger brother of Madeleine GIROUARD. See Arsenault, History, 48, and Arsenault, Genealogie, 567, 976.
11. Ron CORMIER of Lebanon, Connecticut, family historian.
12. Arsenault, History, 47, repeated in Stacey, French Heritage, 48, which also says that Thomas was a son-in-law of Jacques Bourgeois. No other source shows Thomas CORMIER married to anyone other than Madeleine GIROUARD. For instance, see the Beaubassin census of 1686, the last census in which Thomas is counted, and the censuses of 1693, 1698, 1700, and 1703, which list Madeleine GIROUARD as the widow of Thomas CORMIER. For some reason she is not counted in the 1701 census. See T. Hebert, website. Thomas CORMIER’s only relationship to Jacques Bourgeois was that he was the husband of an older sister of one of Jacques’s sons-in-law, not a son-in-law himself. See Arsenault, Genealogie, 567, 976.
13. DeVille, Acadian Families 1686, 22; T. Hebert, website.
14. DeVille, Acadian Families 1686, 20-3; T. Hebert, website.
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copyright (c) 2001-04 Steven A. Cormier