Without exception, all the Acadian families in post-Deportation Argyle were Roman Catholic, as they had been for generations. In 1767, when they first returned to the region, there were no Catholic priests and no Catholic churches. It would be over thirty years before the first resident priest arrived, although it is clear that itinerant missionary priests visited the area from time to time, as had been the case in the years preceding the Deportation.
Before Bailly's responsibilities in Nova Scotia ended in 1772, he issued permission for Pierre Muise of Rocco Point to perform baptisms and marriages in the absence of a priest. Similar permission was also granted to Louis Robichaud in the Clare region.
The next missionary priest to visit Argyle was Rev. Fr. Joseph-Mathurin Bourg. He did not live in the region but made occasional visits to both Clare and Argyle. It is known from various records that he visited Argyle during the summers of 1781, 1782 and 1783, and again in the spring of 1786. He appears not to have maintained any formal register, although it is clear that he issued ecclesiastical documents such as baptismal and marriage certificates, given to the parties involved. For example, a marriage certificate issued to Benjamin Muise and Anne Doucet at Eel Brook/Ste.-Anne-du-Ruisseau in 1786 is found in the Benjamin Muise papers, held by the Centre d'études acadiennes, Université de Moncton, Moncton, NB. Otherwise, few of these documents have survived.
A loose translation of the Muise-Doucet certificate is given here, as an example of the type of document executed by Father Bourg:
"13 June 1786
The year one thousand seven hundred eighty six the thirteenth of June came before me the undersigned missionary parish priest of Saint Mary's Bay and Cape Sable for lack of a notary, have appeared in person Jeanne Duhon widow of François Mius living and dwelling at Tusket of one part and Magdelaine Mius widow of Dominique Doucet also of Tusket of the other part, Who wishing to marry together their children ______ Benjamin Mius and Anne Doucet have agreed with full consent the two contracted and above named.
1 To do in such that by their marriage, the future acquired moveable and immoveable goods that come to them will become their communal property
2 by the death of the first, the survivor will inherit in kind the joint estate, and will have until death the use and possession of the communal goods belonging to the first dead.
3 at the death of the first having signed, the children resulting from the said marriage, will receive in kind the communal goods of the first dead, and will share half of the joint property with the survivor.
Written and approved at Eel Brook, the said day and year, above noted, with the consent of all the said parties in the presence of Jean Mius, Charles Doucet, Paul Mius, Jacques Amireau, Pierre Potier, Jean Bourg, who, not knowing how to sign, have placed their ordinary mark
+ Mark of jean mius
+ Mark of charles doucet
+ Mark of paul mius
+ Mark of jacques amireau
+ Mark of pierre potiers
+ Mark of jean bourg
+ Mark of jeanne duhon mother of the boy
+ Mark of Magdelaine mius mother of the girl
The said (?) missionary parish priest
of Saint Mary's Bay and Cape Sable
[ornate signature of Rev. Mathurin Bourg]"
It was sometime in the 1780s, during Father Bourg's time in the area, that a chapel was built on Rocco Point at Eel Brook. One assumes that thereafter when missionary priests served the area they held mass and conducted other rites of the church at this location.
Bourg visited Argyle for the last time in spring 1786. Although a successor, Rev. Fr. Jean-Antoine Ledru, arrived that summer to serve southwestern Nova Scotia, various problems soon arose between the new priest and the Acadians of Digby County, and it is uncertain whether he visited Argyle during his brief tenure. In 1789 he left Nova Scotia under a cloud of suspicion raised by other Catholic clergy, who questioned his credentials as an ordained priest.
Ledru was succeeded in southwestern Nova Scotia by three Irish missionary priests, William Phelan (1789), Thomas Power (1790) and Thomas Grace (1790-91). With the exception of Grace, none resided in the area, but visited from time to time.
Finally, in 1799 the Rev. Fr. Jean-Mandé Sigogne was installed as the first permanent Catholic priest for southwest Nova Scotia. Sigogne arrived in Halifax on 12 June and spent the first two weeks with his immediate superior, James Jones, who oversaw all missions throughout the Maritime colonies. According to Clarence J. d'Entremont in his Histoire de Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau, Belleville, Rivière-Abram (Nouvelle-Écosse) (1995), Sigogne arrived at Eel Brook (Ste-Anne-du-Ruisseau) on 4 July 1799 aboard the fishing vessel of Basile Bourque of that place, and while there resided at the home of Joseph Bourque, Basile's brother.
It was clear from the beginning, however, that Sigogne was also to be the priest for Digby County, with its even larger Acadian population stretching along the coastline of Saint Mary's Bay, now known as the 'French Shore,' some fifty miles away. Accordingly he settled into the presbytery at Church Point, and developed the pattern of visiting Argyle several times a year, staying for extended periods of time in order to minister to his parishioners there.
A great deal has been written about Jean-Mandé Sigogne over the years, in particular by Dr. Gérald Boudreau of the Université Sainte-Anne at Church Point. Sigogne's writings, including his early correspondence to his Québec Bishop, have been scrutinized and analyzed, in order to place his contribution to the Acadian community of southwestern Nova Scotia in proper historical context. The data presented in 'An Acadian Parish Reborn,' although focused on the parish registers which Sigogne maintained for the Argyle region, nevertheless demonstrates clearly that he was a meticulous record-keeper.
When he arrived at Eel Brook in 1799, he would have found the small chapel that had been built at Rocco Point. Here, they buried their dead in a small piece of consecrated ground. In recent times, archaeologists from St. Mary's University in Halifax have conducted investigations on the site, and in 1999 a commemorative chapel was built to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the parish.
Sigogne had obviously purchased in Halifax, or elsewhere, a bound ledger that became the first parish register for Argyle. Days after his arrival he began his priestly duties, including the recording of baptisms, marriages and burials, and on the first page of the register he wrote,
In terms of baptisms, Sigogne faced a huge backlog. In addition to those not yet baptized, there were many who had been previously baptized by laypersons and who now wanted that rite confirmed or sanctified by an ordained priest. So great was the backlog that Sigogne also noted on the first page of the register that he was unable to maintain the original order of baptisms he performed. He was a meticulous record-keeper, and this statement suggests that the original information was recorded on loose sheets, then carefully entered into the official register afterwards.
His first formal entry on page one of the register was the baptism of Rosalie Dulain on 8 July 1799, four days after his arrival. Although Sigogne was careful, his registers are nevertheless products of the time and place in which he worked. The spelling of names, for example — and particularly surnames — was not treated with the same respect for consistency that we practice today. It is not unusual in these records to find that Sigogne might spell a last name like Surette or Cottreau three different ways within a single baptismal or marriage record. Combine this casual approach with the fact that 85–90% of the Acadian population at that time could neither read nor write, and one appreciates the problems created for the priest.
Since hardly anyone could tell him how their name might be spelled, he had to record what he heard, to the best of his ability. A common Irish/Acadian surname found in Argyle today is Hubbard, one of the founding families of post-Deportation Argyle. Sigogne, dealing with the French silent 'h' usually recorded the name as 'O'Bird' and often noted that the parishioner in question was Irish. However, the original marriage record for this couple (John Hubbard and Magdeleine Modeste Mius) which took place at Salem, Massachusetts, 16 January 1772, makes it clear that the surname was indeed 'Hubbard,' and eventually it came to be recorded as such in Argyle.
Although Sigogne faced challenges in recording the names of some of his Acadian parishioners, at least they spoke the same language. Also included in these registers, however, are numerous baptisms and some marriages for the local Mi'kmaq population. The incomplete nature of many of these entries suggests even larger problems for Sigogne. The accurate recording of a baptism or marriage for individuals who spoke an entirely different language, and who most likely did not have Christian given names, or surnames in the European tradition, would indeed have been a challenge. This is especially noticeable in the early registers, disappearing in time as Sigogne learned the Mi'kmaw language.
The fact that Sigogne knew none of the Acadian families of southwestern Nova Scotia when he arrived, accounts in some measure for the richness of his records. Many, though not all of these families, were related to each other by 1799. It would have been important for the priest to sort out these relationships, especially for the purpose of issuing marriage dispensations and to identify impediments such as first-cousin marriages. The result of his concern is a body of records extremely rich in primary information on the founding Acadian families of Argyle.
Consider the fact that by 1799, all the Acadian families of post-Deportation Argyle had been settled there for many years, as far back as 1767 or before. With the exception of a handful of baptisms and marriages performed by Father Bailly — which Sigogne may never have seen — no written records existed for these people. They had often been baptized and married, but by itinerant Catholic missionaries who kept no formal record of their activities. Hence, many of Signone's baptismal records state exactly how the godfather and godmother were related to the child. Likewise, the marriage entries frequently note the relationship of the witnesses to the bride and groom. Often these statements provide the only surviving primary evidence of parentage, or of the family relationships linking many of these people to each other.
The baptism of Magdelene Duon of Pubnico on 20 July 1799 is a good example. Sigogne entered in the register both the date of baptism and the date of birth (25 February 1798). He also noted that the child had been baptized previously by the mid-wife out of necessity, but that there had been uncertainty afterwards regarding the validity of the baptism. He identified the parents as Augustin Duon and Natalie Amirault and recorded the child's godfather as an uncle, Paul Duon, and the godmother as a grandmother, Anne d'Entremont. Although not all records found in the registers are as detailed as this one, many are. Such entries, studied closely, can provide the parentage of Acadians whose own baptisms and marriages took place long before 1799, and for whom such records do not exist.
As already noted, various new French families gradually moved into Argyle, married into the established Acadian population and became part of the fabric of the community. The surname Boutier/Boucher represents one such family. When Jean Boutier married Anne Marguerite Doucete on 12 January 1802, Sigogne entered the following information in the register (loosely translated), an entry which again clearly illustrates the detail and richness of some of these records:
'The 12th of January 1802 after three publications of marriage banns, made during the sermons of the parish mass, for three consecutive Sundays, namely the 27th December last, and the 3rd and the 10th of the present month of January — between Jean Boutier, of the age of majority, son of the late Jean Boutier & of Marie Godréux, originally of France, from the town of St. Malo, department of the same name, now resident of this parish, of one part (Who having, in his travels, accidentally lost both his papers and effects, a long time ago, brought to me the following certificate signed by a justice of the peace of this township as proof that he had never been married before leaving France nor since, copy of the certificate: Argyle 14th December 1801. Personally appeared John Butihe (Boutier), and made oath he was born in old France in the town of Saut Mallo Parish of Pluon (Pluevehâne) his father name John Butihe (Boutier) his mother Mary Godril (Godreux) and he came from France to St. Peters, Newfoundland, from there to Nova Scotia & here he has resided since, and he never was married & never contracted marriage till the present contract. Sworn before one signed Joshua Frost, Justice of Peace, with the signature mark of Jean Boutier. I the undersigned priest, certify that the certificate is copied exactly without having been added to or changed in any way, with exception of the spelling of proper names, all placed in brackets, by myself, due to the fact they were misspelled.)
between Anne Marguerite Doucete, legitimate daughter of Michel Doucete & Marie Miuce of this parish, of the other part,
having found no canonical impediments to their marriage. I, the undersigned priest, received their mutual consent of marriage, and then solemnized their marriage according to the ceremonies of the Catholic Church, in the presence of, and with the consent of, Michel Doucete, father of the bride, and before Francois Gilis, Pierre Miuce, Jean-Chrysostome LeBlanc & Francois-David Doucete, brother of the bride — all of this parish, all of whom as well as the bride and groom, declared themselves unable to write, with the exception of Francois Gilis & Pierre Muice.'
The entry is then signed by Francois Gilis, Pierre Mius and Sigogne himself.
As the population of Argyle grew, it was inevitable that the larger communities would request churches of their own, rather than travel the long distance to Sainte Anne's at Eel Brook. Pubnico was the first community to erect its own chapel and it was sufficiently finished by 17 July 1815 for Father Sigogne to confer benediction on the new church. It was called Saint Pierre, and although initially considered a mission of the mother parish of Sainte Anne, it became a parish proper shortly after its establishment. For a number of years, however, all baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages and burials for Pubnico continued to be recorded in the Sainte Anne registers, and it was not until 1836 that a separate register was opened for Saint Pierre.
After Pubnico, the largest Acadian community in Argyle was in Wedgeport. During the years covered by the records presented here, i.e. 1799–1849, it was known as Tusket Wedge by the Anglophone community, and as Bas-de-Tousquet by the Acadians. The first chapel was built there in 1822 as another mission of Saint Anne's, and was named Saint Michel/Saint Michael. In time it too became a parish proper, with the first register dating from July 1836.
The next mission or parish to be sub-divided from Sainte Anne was Saint Ambrose, located in the town of Yarmouth. It served the Irish and other Catholics who had settled there. After 1836, when Saint Michel was established at Tusket Wedge, the residents of Yarmouth most often traveled to that church, which was much nearer the town, and for a time their records are found there. Saint Ambrose's first register begins in 1845.
Although several additional parishes and many missions were created within Yarmouth County in later decades, for the time period covered here, 1799–1849, all the vital records created by the Catholic Church in Yarmouth County are encompassed by the registers for Sainte Anne (1799–1849), Saint Pierre (1836–1849), Saint Michel (1836–1849), and Saint Ambrose (1845–1849).