In 1756, New York was a migrant town with more than 13,000 inhabitants. Most of these immigrants were young labourers under an indenture agreement. As payment for their transatlantic crossing, they agreed to work for a specified period. They came mainly from Great Britain and received no salary. However, the “indentured servants” were housed, fed, clothed and trained at the expense of the “master” who paid them termination benefits. When the Acadians arrived in 1756, the New York authorities imposed this system of apprenticeship to put people to work and avoid an increase in public spending.

Three groups of Acadians landed in New York in April and August 1756. The first group, numbering 94, arrived on April 28th from Cape Sable, Acadia (Nova Scotia), aboard the schooner Mary. Two days later, it was the tall ship Experiment’s turn to anchor in the port of New York with its 150 passengers. The third vessel did leave Annapolis Royal, Acadia, on December 8, 1755 with 200 Acadians on board, but arrived in New York in August 1756 because strong winds diverted it to St. Kitts Island in the West Indies.

Governors Island
Governors Island (Courtesy of 6SQFT)

Acadian exiles were detained and enumerated on Governors Island in front of New York City (photo) before being spread over the countryside in six surrounding rural counties in May 1756. The census was carried out without respect to the naming of people, many of whom were minors (under 21) overseen by adults like the widow Rouillée (enumerated Ruille) who was taking care of ten children. In most cases, the names were horribly distorted because the enumerators recorded them phonetically or made up their own translation. Ba Selena, Francis Quela, John Malie, Globe Daucet, Louis Giroid, and Peter Lorne are only a few examples which rendered subsequent family member searches extremely difficult. Acadians were, in small groups, transported to the counties of Westchester (Bronx), King’s (Brooklyn), Queen’s (Queens), Richmond (Staten Island), Orange and Suffolk.

Sunday August 22, 1756 a hundred Acadians hardly arrived from the southern colony of Georgia in makeshift boats. They intended to go back to Acadia and resettle in their homelands following up the Atlantic coastline. Their odyssey ended in New York, where there was a shortage of labor in the peripheral counties on the outskirts of the city.

Under an indenture agreement

A few weeks earlier, the New York legislation regulating indentures was amended to authorize the justices of the peace in the six host counties to require that any orphaned teenager be bound to an honorable master for a period of time deemed appropriate. The legislative changes of 9 July 1756 also required the judges to ensure that the Crown wards were treated fairly and accurately, and received proper termination benefits such as “trade tools, clothing and other compensation”. Of the approximately 344 Acadians in New York province in August 1756, 110 (32%) were under an indenture agreement with periods ranging from four to seven years.

Culinary talent of the Acadians
On the left, a casserole made of potatoes, meat, onions and broth, called a “râpure”, a “pâté râpé” or a “chiard”; on the right, an apple pudding cake (Photo credit: Noah Fecks, recipes by Simon Thibault, Courtesy of National Post)

Thanks to the culinary talent of young Acadian girls, many New York families have come to know and appreciate traditional dishes (photo) of the cuisine of yesteryear’s Acadia. In New York, the Acadian people left their mark with simplicity and good taste through the British indenture regime which, at that time, was similar to the one existing in the colonies of French North America, from Quebec to the Caribbean.