The Beaubassin/Beauséjour church bell

In archaeology, it is quite rare to find a complete or intact artefact. However, one artefact from the Acadian village of Beaubassin has been preserved in its original condition through the years.  

Let us first examine the context in which this artefact was created. In the period between 1700 and 1740 there flourished in Rochefort, France, a large naval works. Equipment of every description needed by the navy and the colonies was cast in their foundry. Church bells were also cast there.  In 1734, a bell was cast, the weight of which was about 250 pounds, the height about 18 inches, the largest diameter about 21 inches. The bell was of graceful shape, had been machined inside and out, had fine ornamentation at top and bottom, and carried an inscription in letters of the Classic Latin AD HONOREM DEI FECIT F M GROSS A ROCHEFORT 1734, a free translation of which reads: “Made to the Honor of God by F.M. Gross, Rochefort, 1734.”

 

Following its fabrication, this bell followed a rather unique itinerary as it was sent across the Atlantic to the Beaubassin area. In the Isthmus of Chignecto region, originally called Beaubassin, there were seven or eight churches, namely at Beaubassin proper (Chignecto, close to Amherst); Beauséjour (Fort Beauséjour/Cumberland); Tantramar, N.B. (on the river of the same name); Baie Verte, N.B. Chipoudy, N.B. (near Hopewell, at the mouth of the Shepody River); Peticoudiac, N.B. (at St. Anselme, Fox Creek); and even at the “Coude” (Elbow, now Moncton). There was also a chapel at Minudie, N.S., in the peninsula that stretches out into Cumberland Basin.

Beaubassin proper had its first church in 1686. It had cob-walls covered with stones and a thatched roof. Known at first as the church of “Notre-Dame du Bon Secours,” its name was changed to that of “Notre-Dame of the Assumption.” Benjamin Church, from Massachusetts, who invaded Acadia in 1691, set this church on fire. It was replaced in 1723 by a new church which would become the first to house the bell.  That 1723 church was burned in 1750, this time by the Acadians themselves, with the rest of the village, at the approach of Lawrence’s fleet, when they moved on the other side of the river, in what is now New Brunswick territory. Before doing so, Father Germain had lowered the bell from the steeple; it was then taken to Beauséjour.

At Beauséjour, in April of 1755, was completed the church which was to replace the initial small chapel. At that time, the bell was installed there and the church consecrated under the patronage of St. Louis. A sketch of the Point Beausejour and the fort, made from a distance of a mile and a quarter, by an English officer in 1755, shows the old church still standing as well as the new one, built 1753-1755, described by its priest, Abbe Le Loutre, as a very fine building for the time. While it was much smaller in size, this church was inspired from the designs of the cathedral of Quebec.

 

Unfortunately, the bell rang in the new church during one month only, because at the approach of Monkton’s fleet, the Acadians, realizing that they would have to capitulate, set the church on fire on June 4th 1755, as ordered by Abbe Le Loutre. But before doing so, they again saved the bell.

After a number of years, the Beaubassin-Beausejour bell was installed in the St. Mark Anglican church, at Mount Whatley, now on route 16, close to Fort Cumberland. When the museum at Fort Beauséjour alias Fort Cumberland, was built in the 1930’s, the bell was placed here on display, where it is still one of the main attractions of the museum.

On August 14th 2004, the Beaubassin church bell, silent witness of the beginning of “The Expulsion of the Acadians”, was heard again for the first time in 200 years, when an outdoor mass was celebrated on the very site of the old village of Beaubassin.

 This article is part of a text written by Clarence d’Entremont and available at this address: http://www.museeacadien.ca/english/archives/articles/61.htm This article is also inspired by the article written by A.W Bulmer and published in the Amherst Daily News on Februrary 2nd, 1938.

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