APRIL 5, 2016

Peg Leg Watson

I left off my last post dealing with the life of Brook Watson at the point when the boy returned to Boston from Cuba at the age of fourteen or fifteen years of age, with a wooden leg resulting from the shark attack. Far from experiencing a happy reunion with his guardian Levens, on whose ship Watson sailed to Cuba as a cabin boy, he found to his dismay that Levens had become a bankrupt and disappeared, and with Levens, his house and home for Watson, which was then owned by a shrew. Watson was fortuitously taken up by a kind stranger named Captain John Huston, a shipper, who took Watson along with him to Eastern Canada where he lived and supplied provisions to the British army stationed there. Watson lived in Huston’s house as a son in the family than as a servant. In this twenty-first century where most suddenly formed relationships are subject to a wry skepticism as to intent, Rev. Andrew Brown,

Rev. Andrew Brown in marble

the unpublished historian I introduced in the first section of this post, notes that Huston’s was much impressed by the boy’s–

“great and good, honest and honorable, ever attentive and obliging, apt to learn and to improve.

One thing in support of taking Huston’s interest in Watson at eighteenth century face value is the chronic colonial shortage of able, working people, both male and female. In point of fact, prospective employers in American cities waited for ships to arrive from England, to hire as they disembarked passengers looking for work that were given free passage by the shipper who hoped to collect the transatlantic fare from a prospective  American employer.

During the 1600s and 1700s, the French and English were unceasingly at war with each other. Sadly, the French-English conflicts spilled over into North America in the mid-1700s, as  part of the so called Seven Years’ War fought in Europe. In the first post on Watson, I left you hanging as to the fate of the Acadians, the people of French origin who inhabited what is now Nova Scotia in eastern board of Canada. These French-speaking, Roman Catholic rural people, by reason of various treaties between the French and English, legally became British subjects at the beginning of the eighteenth century, which made them at best “suspicious” to the French, and were referred to as “French neutrals” by their Anglican British overlords, which placed them in less than limbo status as British subjects.

The story of the Acadians’ expulsion from the Canadian lands that many of them had occupied since the early 1600’s is tragic, but too complicated in its multiple parts to describe in less than 100 or more  pages, which is not my intention here. What I want to achieve is to acquaint my readers with the basic element of that exile, which combines features similar to the exile of Armenians from Turkey in the early twentieth century as well as haunting facets that chillingly bring to mind the treatment, but not the intended extermination, of the Jewish population in areas controlled by Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The objective of the British in exiling the Acadians was justified by their real desire to avoid a “Fifth Column” among their midst by what they considered at best as heretical “Neutral” citizens, somewhat similar to the reasons given by the Turks and Germans for ridding their communities of Jews. One should remember that Hitler’s original plan to rid Germany of the Jews was to ship them to the Island of Madagascar.

Also, with some exception, I want to restrict the scope of my discussion of the Acadian exile largely to Brook Watson’s role in that calamity, most of which I have become acquainted directly from his own letter to the Reverend Andrew Brown, who  who was penning a history of Nova Scotia, having been a minister at an Anglican Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, during the key years of the Acadian expulson. I should note here that his intended history was never published; as we know, Brown’s historical papers ended up as packing butter and cheese before what remained was salvaged by an astute customer.

The Acadian’s principal settlement was Annapolis Royal.

Annapolis Royal

Here, in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, the English built a fort and garrisoned it with English troops, changing the name of the Province from Acadie to Nova Scotia. However, the Brits took no steps to populate the region with British settlors, as it did with the colonies along the American coastline. That changed in 1749, when Colonel Charles Cornwallis

General Cornwallis

was appointed its first Governor of the Province and brought with him from England a group of settlors, presumably farmers and some tradesman engaged to farming and animal husbandry, to the region he renamed as Halifax. (Cornwallis is best know as an important British general in the American War of Independence and as the British officer who was authorized to surrender in 1781 to the American and French force at the Siege of Yorktown.)

The end of the French and Indian War

Predictably, France viewed England’s new policy of populating the region with British settlers as potentially averse to its remaining, albeit somewhat distant, colony in Canada, which constitutes more or less the present Canadian province of Quebec, and perhaps, bellicose in intent given the long history of warfare between the two nations. The French government in Quebec City, which previously had had scant contact with the Acadians, sent some troops from Quebec in 1750, to stir up any latent animosity of the Acadians and Native Americans into active harassment of the the English settlors. The French also to build a fort in the area called Beausejour. For some reason, the Native Americans viewed the French more favorably that the British, perhaps because the French had been less enterprising in developing a presence the New World. It is true that some Acadians gave shelter to the Native Americans from English retribution.

Cozy relations between Acadians and Native Americans

The French policy of inciting the Acadians and Native Americans against the Brits succeeded so well that the British decided to chastise the French by attacking the garrison of French soldiers at Fort Beausejour. A number of Acadians took take part in the French defense of Beausejour.

The Remains of Fort Beausejour 

When the French fort was captured easily by the British in June of 1755, the French troops were allowed to retreat to their former bases. Even the Acadians who took part in the defense of the fort were allowed to return to their respective homes; however, the English governing Council of Nova Scotia, headed by the Acting Governor Charles Lawrence, determined that it was time to deal definitively with the Acadians, who always seemed to present a real or imagined threat to British rule, an attitude supported by their participation, albeit limited, in the defense of Fort Beausejour.


The British Council decided to exile the Acadians from Canada entirely, and orders were issued to initiate that expulsion. A proclamation was issued commanding the Acadians to appear at Beausejour (renamed Fort Cumberland) on a specific day, without stating the purpose. When they arrived, they were surrounded by British troops. The Acadian men were locked up in the fort, and the women and children were required to return to their homes, there to remain until further notice. The remaining men, some four hundred in number, were told them that they were declared rebels on account of their past misdeeds; that their lands, homes, chattels including animals, were forfeited to the Crown, and that, in the meantime, they would be treated as prisoners.  The gates of the fort were then closed. This same round up was repeated across the Acadian territories.

In September of that year, Brook Watson, with a troop of British soldiers, was directed as a part of the Acadian solution to go to an Acadian settlement called Baie Verte (Green Bay, in English),

Baie Verte of the Acadians still pristine

which was then a sizeable and flourishing settlement. He was ordered to collect and send to Beausejour/Fort Cumbrland, for embarkation, all the women and children to be found in that district, the men having been kept in the fort. After the round-up was completed and the Acadians taken out of the Baie Verte, Watson was ordered to set fire to the town and all of the surrounding homes, outhouses, and barns. Thereafter, Watson was charged with the responsibility of providing food and drink (“victualling”) on the awaited transport ships for its forced passengers.

By August 31, 1755, the transports to take the Acadian to exile had arrived at Beauséjour, and early in the month of September the embarkation began. On October 1 of that year, eighty-six Acadian prisoners dug a hole under the wall of fort where they were imprisoned and escaped in the night. But, on October 13 a fleet of ten transport ships, carrying nine hundred and sixty Acadian exiles, left Nova Scotia bound for South Carolina and Georgia. After the departure of the vessels the British soldiers destroyed every barn and house in the vicinity that remained and drove large herds of Acadian cattle into Fort Cumberland.

Watson remarked in a letter to the Rev. Andrew Brown that:

“The season was now far advanced before the embarkation took place, which caused much hurry, and I fear some families were divided and sent to different parts of the globe, notwithstanding all possible care was taken to prevent it. These wretched people, given up by France without their consent, were for adhering to those principles which the liberal mind must deem praiseworthy, plucked from their native soil, cast out by the nation who claimed their obedience, and rejected by that from whence they sprang, and to whose religion, customs and laws they had evinced the strongest attachment.”

After Beausejour, Lawrence had succeeded in exiling approximately a thousand Acadians. About this time, he should have received a letter of August 13, 1755, from Sir Thomas Robinson at the Court in London, to the effect that the king wished the Acadians to remain unmolested. But as some of them had already been deported, Lawrence thought there was nothing to be done but to finish the business of expulsion. And, perhaps, if his policy of exile accomplished the vitalization of the relative moribund British colony of Nova Scotia, he would not face reprimand, but might indeed bask in the glory of a newly thriving colony.

There was a letter published in the Philadelphia Gazette on September 4, 1756, said to have been written by the Acting Governor Lawrence of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, dated August 6 at Halifax, that succinctly expresses Lawrence’s view of the expulsion:

“We are now forming the noble project of driving the French Neutrals out of this province. They have long been our secret enemies and have assisted the Indians. If we are able to accomplish their expulsion, it will be one of the great achievements of the English in America, for, among other considerations, the lands which they occupy are among the best in the country, and we can place good English farmers in their stead.”

Wikipedia notes that the Rev. Andrew Brown was “strongly critical of Acting Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia

Charles Lawrence

for his role in the expulsion of the Acadians. Brown was also of the view that the expulsion of the “French” was dominated by Boston colonial interests, centering upon unfettered fishing and trapping fur animals in Nova Scotia. As noted before, the British development of the Northeastern America was much more intense than their endeavors in Nova Scotia.

Over all, about 6000 or more people were exiled from Canada. Watson notes that about thirteen hundred perished by shipwreck. Some of the Acadian on British ships that arrived at French ports were denied entry on the ground that they weren’t French citizens, which was technically correct, if not unrealistic. Others who arrived in France were denied entry because of small pox among their midst on the ship. According to Watson, those Acadians were “carried off in great numbers” by the pox. Many went to the French West India, such as Guadalupe and Martinique, were they were admitted, but “died for want of food, as a famine at that time prevailed in the islands; and, the French people there would not help them, as they were not French subjects.”

Watson also wrote that:

“Those who survived the calamity were sent to join their remaining brethren who had been sent to the British colonies from New England to Georgia; they were here more fortunate, for notwithstanding the rancor which generally prevailed against all Roman Catholics, their orderly conduct, their integrity, sobriety and frugality secured to them the good-will of the people and gained them comfortable support.”

Some of the Acadians who were lucky enough to land safely in the North American colonies still longed for their Canadian homes and built boats, taking their families from as far as Georgia along the American coastline to Nova Scotia, or up the Mississippi River.  Watson writes:

“But alas! what did they find? all was desolated for the more effectually to drive them out of the country, all their houses had been burnt, all their cattle killed by order of Government, hence they found no shelter, still they persevered with never-failing fortitude, with unremitting industry, and established themselves in different remote parts of the Province, where they had been suffered to remain, but without any legal property. at least I have not heard of any land having been granted to them; their numbers, I am told, have increased about two thousand, and am informed they still continue, what I know them to be in their prosperous state, an honest, sober, industrious, and virtuous people. In 1755 I was a very humble instrument in sending eighteen hundred of those suffering mortals out of the Province.

Although none of the Acadians appear to have been sent directly to Louisiana, large numbers of them found their way there from various places, especially from Virginia, where they were not allowed to remain. Finding in Louisiana men speaking their own tongue and welcomed by the Spanish rulers of Louisiana at that time, the Acadians felt a sense of security, and gradually settled down with a degree of contentment. There are to-day in various parishes of the state of Louisiana many thousand Acadian-Americans who are called “Cajuns,” which are known outside the State for the cuisine and their amazing music, Zydeco.

A true tale of the horror, compounded priestly hypocrisy, faced by the Acadians is illustrated in one of Rev. Andrew Brown’s papers that was found used to wrap cheese and butter.

“A Capt. Nichols, commanding a transport… was employed by ye Government of Nova Scotia to remove from the Island of St. John about 300 French neutrals with their families. He represented to the agent before he sailed the situation of his vessel, and the impossibility there was of his arriving safe in Old France at that season of the year.

He was nevertheless compelled to receive them on board and proceed upon the voyage. After getting within 100 leagues of Scilly, found the ship so leaking that, with all hands employed, they were not able to prevent her sinking. Finding that she must in a few minutes go down, and that all on board must perish if the French did not consent to the master and crew taking to the boats, by which means a small number had a chance of being saved.

Capt. Nichols sent for their priest and told him the situation, and and pointed out to him the only probable means of saving the lives of a few, among which the priest was one.

He accordingly harangued the Frenchmen for half an hour on the ships deck, and gave them absolution, when they, with one consent, agreed to the master, crew, and priest taking the boats, and themselves to perish with the ship. One Frenchman only went into the boat, on which his wife said “will you thus leave your wife and children to perish without you.” Remorse touched him, and he returned to share their fate. The ship in a few minutes went down, and all on board perished.”

The priest’s argument for leaving the Acadians on board the failing ship and saving his own life was that he hoped to save the souls of the heretics, being the Anglican English crew, and bring them to God. The lifeboats arrived safely at a port in the west of England, with the Acadian priest and captain and crew, all alive and well, whether or not the latters’ souls were saved.

There was a letter published in the Philadelphia Gazette on September 4, 1756, said to have been written by the Acting Governor Lawrence of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, dated August 6 at Halifax, that succinctly expresses Lawrence’s view of the expulsion:

“We are now forming the noble project of driving the French Neutrals out of this province. They have long been our secret enemies and have assisted the Indians. If we are able to accomplish their expulsion, it will be one of the great achievements of the English in America, for, among other considerations, the lands which they occupy are among the best in the country, and we can place good English farmers in their stead.”

Wikipedia notes that the Rev. Andrew Brown was “strongly critical of Acting Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia for his role in the Expulsion of the Acadians. Brown concluded that the expulsion was largely, if not entirely, the “brain child” of the local Council that governed Nova Scotia, which according to Brown, was dominated by Boston colonial interests that centered upon fishing and trapping fur animals. As noted before, the British development of the Northeastern America was much more intense that their endeavors in Nova Scotia.

As a footnote, the British victory in the French and Indian War resulted in France’s virtual expulsion from the North America continent, losing all of its New World possessions including Canada, except for a few small islands off the coast of Canada and in the Caribbean. This victory, however, came a great cost to England, which had incurred massive debt in fighting the war in and for the Canadian colonies, and ultimately yet greater loss to come. In order to reduce the financial loss, the English Parliament issued the infamous 1765 Stamp Act on the American colonists that taxed most printed documents in the American colonies. As a consequence, the colonists boycotted  British goods, forcing repeal of the act. However. Parliament issued the Declaratory Act, which confirmed Britain’s right to tax the colonists without their consent as Englishmen. The various tax and other acts affecting commercial activities in the colonies provided the spark that resulted in the American War of Independance.

Years later in 1783, Brook Watson become involved in another evacuation. He was then serving as Commissary General to the British army in North America, under the command of Sir Guy Carleton, now Lord Dorchester.

Sir Guy Carleton

He was charged with the evacuation of thirty-five thousand Loyalists in New York after the Treaty between the new United States and England was signed. The New York area had the highest number of Loyalists in the American colonies. As I mentioned in the first post on Brook Watson, the Loyalists population in the colonies, of course, represented a broad swath of colonial American society, but also as a group contained a higher percentage of overachievers and the wealthy. They were Americans as much as the Patriots, but simply sought to work things out with the mother country, as viewed unity with England as providing the best route to long-term prosperity.

Most accumulated wealth at the time was in land and fixed assets rather than in portable assets, such as currencies or gold. Accordingly, leaving the Americas meant leaving the bulk of their assets behind.

Loyalists being taken from their houses.

All Loyalists properties left in America was confiscated by local governments and sold at bargain prices to Patriots, some of whose descendants remained wealthy certainly to the twentieth century. As Watson writes, he had done “all in my power was done to soften the affliction of the Acadians,” and now was to “alleviate the sufferings of the loyalists who were so severely treated for endeavoring to support the union of the British empire.”

A Loyalist family disembarking on English soil

Watson’s task was to provide the Loyalists in his keep “everything necessary to their transportation and settlement with provisions for one year after their arrival. He praised the English government for considering the “case of every individual who claims to have suffered by their loyalty, and, after a ruinous war which added one hundred and twenty millions to the public debt, granted compensation for their losses and relief for their sufferings to the amount of between three or four millions, besides annuities amounting to sixty thousand pounds a year.”

A Cartoon of Loyalists petitioning Britannia to recover their losses. NB the Native American

Wow. Good for George 3!

Watson remained actively trading in the Americas and only abandoned his mercantile ventures when he went into politics in London, serving as Lord Mayor of London for one year in 1796. His political opponents, in the typically English manner, made derisive but clever comments about his early ordeal in Havana Bay. One suggested that had the shark taken Watson’s head rather than his leg, a wooden head would have served him as well as a wooden leg, as follows:

“Oh! Had the monster, who for breakfast eat That luckless limb, his noblest noodle met, The best of workmen, nor the best of wood, Had scarce supply’d him with a head so good.”

Watson became a baronet in 1803 and requested that the coat of arms to be created to reflect his ennobled state have a direct references to his Havana nightmare. Neptune, the god of the sea, sits above the shield, fending off a shark with his trident. In the upper left corner of the shield is an image of leg torn off below the ankle. The motto, Scuto Divino, translates as “Under God’s Protection.”

Book Watson’s Coat of Arms

Watson died in 1807, leaving a wife but no children.


 A third in the series of “Three Dead White Men You Should Know” will be posted next week dealing with an amazing character named James Swan.

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