#63 - THE STORY OF THE ACADIAN BELLS: THOSE ON THE ST. JOHN RIVER, N.B.

Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, March 13, 1990

You must have noticed from the previous sketches that to tell the story of the Acadian bells of ore, we have to know the history of the Acadian churches or chapels of the time. That is true especially when a same bell has been in use in more than one church or when the same patron saint has been given to more than one parish or village.

It is only in 1645 that is mentioned for the first time a chapel on the St. John River. It was at the fort that Charles de La Tour had built in 1632 at a site which took the name, years after, of "Green Mound," at Portland Point, east of the mouth of the river. Its titular must have been that of the fort itself, that of "Sainte Marie." We are not told what happened to the chapel when Charles d'Aulnay burned the fort in 1645. When d'Aulnay built his own fort, on the opposite side of the river, he built at the same time a monastery for the Capucin Fathers and a new church, to which he gave the name of "Saint Jean" (St. John). With regard to the bells of these two chapels, if they really existed, there is nothing given in any documents.

Later on, another church was built on the St. John River, which also took the name of "Saint Jean" which had its bell. Likewise, the name of "Sainte Anne" was given even to several places, namely, to Jemsek (now Jemseg, Queens County, four miles northeast of Gagetown, on the other side of the river); to Pointe Sainte Anne (now Fredericton); to Ekpahoc (or Aucpaque, in the vicinity of Springhill, York County, three miles west of Fredericton); and to Kingsclear (York County, at 14 miles west of Fredericton) which finally kept the titular of "Sainte Anne" (St. Ann) up to this day. With regard to the second church which, on the St. John River, held the title of "Saint Jean", we have to proceed further up the river, to Medoctek (four miles southeast of the present Meductic, in York County, on the right hand side of the river, bordering Carleton County). Here stood the mother church of at least three of the St. Ann's churches mentioned above.

Medoctek was the principal village of the Maliseet Indians. At first, its church was simply a hut made of bark. In 1717, Father Jean-Baptiste Loyard, a Jesuit priest, started to build a stronger one for the Indians, which opened its doors in 1720. He gave to it his own name of "Saint Jean Baptiste." To it, King Louis XV of France gave a bell.

When Father Bailly (whom I mentioned in two previous sketches, No. 34 and No. 55) arrived here in August of 1767, he buried the last surviving Indian of the place and closed the chapel. He writes: "There is here a good size bell which I sent with the rest of the material to Expahoc," which I mentioned above. The Indians, in fact, had moved here from Medoctek.

At the time of the American Revolution, these Indians of Ekpahoc fled way up north to the Keswick River, in Restigouche County, close to the Quebec border. They took with them the bell of their chapel. This was taking place in July of 1777.

With regard to what happened to the bell afterwards, here is what the most famous Acadian genealogist, Placide Gaudet, of Shediac, wrote on November 8, 1890, while he was at Grand Falls on the St. John River, between Victoria and Madawaska Counties, concerning "The French Bell at the Indian village 11 miles above Fredericton"--

"We were informed by a gentleman who was at the mission here on Sainte Anne's day (July 26), two years ago, 1888, that desiring to know something about the history of the bell in use at the little church there, he climbed into the belphrey, and found three "fleurs de Lys" stamped upon the bell, thus showing it to have been cast in France. As he was talking with the priest of the mission, Father O'Lary, one of the Indians stepped up and said that was the bell that once hung in our church at Augh-pa-hack (the head of the tide about six miles above Fredericton) where our people had a grant from the English of a large tract of land including some fine islands close by. After we had been in possession of this for some years, an Englishman living in Fredericton persuaded our people to sell it to him for a very low price. A great many of the Indians objected to this, and after the sale was made the church was burnt down. Nothing was heard of this bell for many years, until two Abenakis who were in Madawaska on a hunting expedition, heard the sound of a bell which they recognized as that of the one which had belonged to their old church. So when evening was come they made ropes of cedar, climbed up into the steeple, took the bell, lowered it down and brought it in their canoe to the Indian Village where it has remained ever since."

In 1794, Father Ciquart, of the diocese of Baltimore, arrived here to take care of the spiritual needs of the Acadians and of the Indians. He built at his own expense a church at the Mission of Sainte Anne of Kingsclear, which inherited the bell of Louis the XVth.

In 1904, the church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The bell was damaged beyond repair. Small bells, surmonted by a small cross, were cast and sold to gather money to rebuild the church. If ever you visit the church at St. Ann of Kingsclear, you will see there, on display, one of these small bells. There are still others at different places in the Maritime provinces; there is one at the Acadian Museum at the University of Moncton.

There has been another bell on the St. John River, the bell of St. Ann's Point, in Fredericton. The first time that it is mentioned is when this Acadian village was ransacked on the last day of February, 1759, by the infamous lieutenant Moses Hazen and his Rangers, from Boston, during his scalping expedition. We read of the massacre of the place in the April 2, 1759, edition of the Parker's New York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, of New York. The survivors fled mostly to "Canada," now the Province of Quebec. The bell weighed about 300 lbs. It is fortunate that the melted metal of the Bell of St. Ann's Point "large Masshouse," which Masshouse was reduced to ashes, was never found, so that the memory of one of the most hideous manslaughters at the time of the Expulsion might stay hidden with it in the ground forever.

There have been still other Acadian bells elsewhere, in Maine, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, even in California, of which I will give you the story in my next sketch.

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