Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, September 5, 1989.
The 200th anniversary of the French Revolution brings rejoicings for some people, sorrowful memories for others. For the Acadians, it brings to mind that two of their kindreds, Anne LePrince and her daughter Anastasie, were put to death, at the time, for concealing a Catholic priest.
Anne LePrince was born in 1713 in Windsor, N.S., then called Pisiquid, the daughter of Antoine LePrince and of Anne Trahan. It was here also that she married, around 1743, Sylvain LeBlanc, born in 1719, the son of Jean LeBlanc and of Jeanne Bourgeois. Very shortly after the birth of their daughter Anastasie, in 1755, which took place also at Pisiquid, they were expelled to England, where Sylvain LeBlanc died the following year in Liverpool.
In 1767, we find Anne LePrince with her family in France, at Morlaix, in the Department of Finistere, Brittany. She was still living there with her daughter Anastasie in the evening of June 19, 1794, when the abbe Augustin Le Clec’h knocked at her door to beg refuge. The clergy of France had been summoned by the revolutionaries to take the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which stated that the clergy of France was independent from the Holy See. February 6, 1791, the abbe Le Clec’h refused publicly to take the oath. Unfortunately the pastor of the parish where he was took a different stand. In order to conform himself with the Pope’s edict which forbade all relations in religious matters with anyone who had taken the oath, the abbe Le Clec’h declared on October 2 of the same year that from then on he was “to sever all cultural relations with the constitutional pastor of the parish.”
This was for him the beginning of a rugged nomadic life which was to last nearly three years. His lot worsened as new penal laws were enacted against those who had refused to take the oath. Then came the famous law of August 26, 1792, whereby all priests who still refused to take the oath were to leave the country within 15 days, under the pain of severe sanctions.
After having met with great many hazards and escaped many perils, he at length succeeded, around the end of spring, 1794, with the help of a nephew, to board a boat which was to take him to a sloop sailing for England. Unfortunately, rough seas compelled him to turn back. He landed on the shores of Brittany, about thirty miles north east of Morlaix. In spite of the distance, he immediately decided to walk here. He arrived at the home of Anne LePrince around ten o’clock in the evening. The abbe Le Clec’h and Anne LePrince were complete strangers to each other. However, a sister of the abbe Le Clec’h was subprior at the convent of the Carmelite Sisters of Morlaix, where Marie-Modeste LeBlanc, daughter of Anne LePrince, had made her profession in 1788.
The arrest of the abbe Le Clec’h was to take place the very next day. In fact, on the evening of June 20, around six o’clock, two agents of the Municipality of Morlaix arrived at the home of Anne LePrince, who was listed as a needy person, for the sole purpose of inquiring abut her welfare. Anastasie, thinking that these agents had come to arrest the abbe Le Clec’h, hastened to warn the priest, who was hiding upstairs. The agents, perplexed, followed her and found the priest. He was instantly taken as prisoner and brought, along with Anastasie, before the Directory of Morlaix, which was a body of five men with executive powers.
In order to have enough evidence of guilt, the municipal authorities sent four officers to perquisite the home of Anne LePrince. They found articles that could have belonged to the abbe Le Clec’h, also many objects belonging to the Carmelite Sisters. The investigation at the house being completed, legal seals were affixed to the doors of every room and Anne LePrince was taken as prisoner.
A report was drawn up without delay. This made it possible for the Directory to start questioning immediately the abbe Le Clec’h. The examination lasted three hours, until about one o’clock in the morning. Due to the frankness of the answers of the abbe, the Directory, next day, June 21, issued an order by which he was to appear before the Revolutionary Tribunal of Brest, some 60 kilometers from Morlaix. Anne LePrince and her daughter Anastasie were to be taken there with him.
Arriving at Brest on the 23rd of June, the prisoners were immediately confined to the prison of the Chateau. The trial was set for July 1. The attorney general for the Revolutionary Tribunal of Brest was an unfrocked religious priest, 58 years old, who had madly thrown himself into the Revolution.
In those revolutionary days, to be accused meant practically to be condemned. The verdict, which was imposed immediately after the cross-examination, contained the following clauses: “The Tribunal ordains that the said August Clec’h shall be delivered to the executor of the criminal cases to be put to death according to articles ten (etc.). Sentences Anne LePrince, Anastasie LeBlanc, her daughter, to die according to articles 2 and 3 (etc.)”.
The trial had opened at eight o’clock in the morning of July 1, 1794. At noon on the same day, the abbe Augustin Le Clec’h, 55 years of age, Anne LePrince, 80, and Anastasie LeBlanc, 38, ascended the scaffold erected on the square called “Triomphe du Peuple”, on the common of Brest, to receive the palm of martyrdom.
And thus another judicial assassination was consumed in innocent blood, the victims having been found guilty of having accomplished their most sacred obligations up to the end.
The wish that comes naturally to one’s mind at this moment is that these martyrs may some day be raised by the Church to the honors of the Altar. It would be one of the greatest glories of the Church of Nova Scotia. It would also be an aureole for the Acadian people.