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  • Windsor
    – From Pisiguit to Philadelphia’s Graveyard of the Poor
Salty marshes appear in blue (Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada)

Pisiguit (now Windsor) takes its name from the Mi’kmaq word “Pesegitk” which means “Where the rising tide branches off” in reference to the junction of the Avon (formerly Pisiguit) and St. Croix rivers in the Minas Basin. The first settlers were young Acadians from Port-Royal who came around 1684, followed by the British in 1749 who built Fort Edward the following year. French regime census documents dated 1686 list several well-established farms next to the salty marshes (in blue on the map). Meticulous archaeological excavations have uncovered a large number of Acadian villages prior to the 1755 Great Upheaval, more specifically the villages of Babin, Breaux, Forêt, Leblanc, Pierre Germain Landry, Rivet, Thibodeau, Trahan, Vincent, and Cinq Maisons. Together these settlements or groups of dwellings made up Pisiguit (also called Pisiquit, Pigiguit, Pisiquid or Pisiguid). The 1701 census counted 188 people spread over 33 families. Although there were several farmers, other trades were also highlighted such as seaboard coasters, a tailor and plowman, surgeons, a mason, and a potter. The Valley of the Three Rivers, including the Quenetcou River (now Kennetcook), was inhabited throughout most of its shoreline.

Pisiguit had two parishes, Holy Family Parish (in green) in the western zone and Assumption Parish (in pink) in the eastern zone. In its early days, Pisiguit comprised only one parish, namely Notre Dame of Assumption, founded on August 8, 1698. Of course, the inhabitants who resided in the opposite zone wanted their own church, since river crossing was difficult. It was then that the Bishop of Quebec promulgated an edict on June 28, 1722, creating Holy Family as the needed second church. However, the parishioners were served by a single priest, who celebrated mass alternating every week between the two churches.

From prosperity to deportation

The people of Pisiguit did experience increased prosperity for at least half a century. This state of affairs is revealed to us through a population increase that almost doubled in just thirteen years, from 188 souls in 1701 to 351 in 1714. Two decades later, in 1737, Pisiguit numbered 1,623 settlers, comprising 168 men, 161 women, 749 boys and 545 girls. Then in 1748, Pisiguit with 2,700 souls became more populated than the communities of Grand-Pré and Rivière-aux-Canards (Canard) which together had 2,400 residents. From the early 1750s the population began to decline under increasing pressure from the British authorities. The departures were mainly toward Isle St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island) and Beaubassin in the Chignectou Isthmus.

The Avon River at Falmouth
The Avon River at Falmouth opposite Windsor (Courtesy of Canada247)

Fort Edward, mentioned above, was erected by the British in 1750 on top of a hill overlooking the Minas Basin on the site of the demolished Assumption church. It was in this wooden log fort that the inhabitants of Pisiguit learned, on September 5, 1755, of the events that would lead to their deportation. Twenty-five days later the ships Dolphin, Neptune, Ranger and Three Friends left Pisiguit for the Anglo-American colonies on the Atlantic coast with 1,066 deportees on board. The Three Friends alone carried 156 Acadians.

Philadelphia’s oldest graveyard of the poor
Philadelphia’s oldest graveyard of the poor called Potter’s Field (photographer unknown, source IRMA Portal)

On November 20, 1755, the Three Friends arrived in Philadelphia at roughly the same time as the ships Boscowen, Hannah and Swan which came from Grand-Pré and the Isthmus of Chignectou. These four transport vessels landed on the docks of Philadelphia a total of 454 destitute Acadians. More than half of the arrivals, that is to say 250 Acadians, died of smallpox in the fall of 1756 despite the care received. In complete anonymity their remains, simply rapped in a linen sheet, were piled into a mass grave called Potter’s Field, the old graveyard of the poor. Today in the northeast corner of Washington Square where the graveyard is located, one of the three epitaphs (photo) reads “A lonely Acadian refugee found eternal rest here, along with epidemic victims”.

Additional information regarding the Acadians in exile in Philadelphia is given in this notebook under the geographical area entitled Anglo-American Settlements.