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Brigadier-General Charles Lawrence (December 14, 1709 – October 19, 1760) was a British military officer who, as lieutenant governor and subsequently governor of Nova Scotia, was responsible for overseeing the expulsion of Acadians from the colony in the Great Upheaval. He was born in Plymouth, England and died in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"I shall support the law, for the law gentlemen, is the firm and solid basis of civil society, the guardian of liberty, the protection of the innocent, the terror of the guilty, and the scourge of the wicked." - Governor Charles Lawrence, in an address upon the swearing in of the first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, 14th of October, 1754.

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Lawrence's background

Lawrence followed his father into a military career. His father was General Charles John Lawrence and is said to have served in Flanders under John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.

Charles Lawrence's earlier life is obscure. He was commissioned in the 11th Regiment of Foot in 1727 and served in the West Indies from 1733 until 1737. He then served in the War Office. He was made lieutenant in 1741 and then captain in 1742. He was wounded while serving with the 54th Foot in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. He transferred to the 45th Foot and as a Major went with it to Nova Scotia, arriving at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) in 1747. In 1749 he transferred again, to the 40th Foot. He built Fort Lawrence on the south bank of the Missaguash River in the fall of 1750, and was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel the same year. In 1753, he directed the settlement of European Protestants on the coast south of Halifax, Nova Scotia . the behest of Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts, he helped raise forces that under Robert Monckton captured the French Fort Beauséjour (near Sackville, New Brunswick) on June 16, 1755, and Lawrence's involvement with the expulsion of the Acadians was connected to a desire to maintain that conquest.

Governor of Nova Scotia

Charles Lawrence was named lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia in late 1753 when Governor Peregrine Thomas Hopson left on November 1 due to health problems. Lawrence was officially sworn in on October 21, 1754, holding this position until 1756, when Hopson resigned the post and Lawrence was made governor. He served as governor until his death in 1760.

To his new post, he brought considerable distrust of the French. The French Acadians of Nova Scotia had become British subjects by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), but exhibited no willingness to participate in the British-French quarrels that were ongoing in the region at the time. Lawrence adopted a view that he found in the correspondence of previous governors: that though the Acadians should not be antagonized, they should be required to take an oath of allegiance. In July 1755, he attempted to force a visiting delegation from Minas (Grand Pré region) to take the oath. When the delegation refused to submit without consulting the population they represented, Lawrence imprisoned them. The council then decided the expulsion of individuals refusing the oath was appropriate, and that "it would be most proper to send them to be distributed amongst the Several Colonies on the Continent." Although there was no military plan in Britain mandating the expulsion, Lawrence was never rebuked for acting without orders.

As lieutenant governor, it was he who was responsible for writing the 1755 Acadian deportation order, securing the approval and co-operation of William Shirley, the governor of Massachusetts. Together with the refusal to take the loyalty oath, one of the major reasons for the deportation was lust for the fertile Acadian farmlands. Lawrence was convinced these rich meadows would make excellent farms for English Protestant settlers. The deportation, known to Acadians as the Grand dérangement (see Great Upheaval), was a form of ethnic cleansing; historians estimate that approximately half of all Acadians died as a direct result of it, primarily due to shipwrecks, disease, and exposure. Some survivors eventually reached sanctuary in south Louisiana where they formed the basis for what would become the Cajuns.

As governor of Nova Scotia, Lawrence saw the settlement of the Acadian lands as his most important task. He fell into conflict with merchants like Joshua Mauger, and was the object of formal complaints against him in the form of petitions to the Board of Trade. Lawrence issued proclamations in 1758 and 1759 seeking settlers for the Acadian lands, directed mainly at New Englanders. Since settlers were reluctant to break new forest land, he combined new and old land in each grant; merchants interested chiefly in taking advantage of the lands the expelled Acadians had settled, as well as those interested in using the lands as awards for military veterans, opposed this policy. But Lawrence wrote privately to Lord Halifax that "drunken, dissolute, and abandoned" habits, especially the habit of idleness, made veterans bad settlers.

In 1757, Lawrence was further promoted to the title of brigadier general and commanded the successful siege of the French fortress at Louisbourg on Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) in 1758.

It was during his tenure, but not with his approval, that Nova Scotia had its first elected legislative assembly which met in 1758. This elected body is the oldest representative body in Canada. He is said to have died of pneumonia in 1760, after over-indulging in a local Halifax, Nova Scotia banquet; others report that he died "after catching a chill." He is buried under St. Paul's Church (Halifax)

After Lawrence's death, the Board of Trade ordered an investigation into complaints against him. He was criticized for approving excessively large land grants and concealing of the true cost of his land policy, but was exonerated from the most serious charges. His role in the expulsion of the Acadians occasioned very little commentary at the time of his demise.

References

  • Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia (1987); Brasseaux, Scattered to the Wind (1991); Dominick Graham, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (2000); Rushton, The Cajuns (1979).

External links

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