John Doucett

( ? -1726)

Doucett, John, captain, lieutenant-governor of the fort of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, 1717-26, and administrator of the government of Nova Scotia, 1717-20 and 1722-26; born probably in England; died 19 November 1726 at Annapolis Royal.

          Although presumed to be of French descent, Doucett was, as he himself put it, "a Stranger to the French Tongue."  He received several military commissions from 1702 on, and was appointed lieutenant-governor of the garrison of Annapolis Royal on 25 May 1717, succeeding Thomas CaulfeildRichard Philipps, the new governor of Nova Scotia, remained in England to gather information and arrange for instructions about his responsibilities; meanwhile Doucett went out to Nova Scotia, arriving at Annapolis Royal on 28 October 1717.

          He was concerned to find the fort in ruins and the garrison unruly because of lack of pay and shortage of clothing, and he took steps to remedy this situation.  Scandalized by the non-allegiance of the Acadians, who formed the bulk of the population, Doucett drafted an oath for their signature.  Within a few days of his arrival, he summoned the neighbouring Acadians to sign it, and early in December he sent a copy of it to Peter Mellanson (Pierre Melanson?) of Minas to be translated into French and made public there.  He also urged Father Félix Pain, the French priest at Minas, not to influence the inhabitants against swearing allegiance to George I.

          Doucett's efforts with respect to the oath were of little avail.  The Acadians of Annapolis replied that unless the garrison could protect them from the Indians they dared not take the oath.  Otherwise, they could only take an oath not to take up arms against England, France, or any of their subjects or allies.  Doucett regarded this dread of the Indians as mere pretence, and believed that the Acadians feared their priests more than the Indians.

          The reply from Minas was received on 10 February 1717/18.  The inhabitants refused to sign the oath for three alleged reasons: it did not assure them freedom of religion; upon taking the oath they would be threatened by the Indians; and their ancestors had never taken such an oath.  The Acadians later sent messengers to Louisbourg to ask the governor, Joseph de Brouillan, dit Saint-Ovide [Monbeton], for his advice.

          Doucett proposed to Vaudreuil [Rigaud] at Quebec and to Brouillan that mutual efforts be made to cement the peace, between Britain and France.  In his letter to Vaudreuil, dated 15 April 1718, he expressed his desire that those Acadians who were inclined to become British subjects should be free to do so, and asked that Vaudreuil order all those who would not to withdraw to French territory.  In his letter of 15 May 1718 he complained to Brouillan about French encroachments on the fisheries of Nova Scotia, as well as about the French failure to comply with the agreement signed by the Acadians with Louis Denys de La Ronde in 1714, in which they signified their willingness to leave Nova Scotia.  Doucett considered the agreement annulled, but was willing to allow any Acadians who still wished to leave to do so.

          Brouillan replied, in July, that he had no knowledge of French encroachment on the British fishery, that in his opinion the Canso (Canseau) Islands belonged to France, and that the failure of the Acadians to emigrate was attributable to obstacles raised by the former governor, Francis Nicholson, and others who did not wish them to carry off their goods.  Vaudreuil's reply was similar in substance.  He also requested Doucett not to allow English vessels to sail the Saint John River which, Vaudreuil claimed, was under French control.  Doucett was convinced that Vaudreuil's claim to the Saint John was without foundation for that river was "much about the center of Nova Scotia."  The gravity of the matter, however, was emphasized by letters from Vaudreuil to Louis Allain of Annapolis, which fell into Doucett's hands.  Vaudreuil told Allain that the Saint John was not under English control and that the Acadians could obtain land along it by applying to Father Loyard who had authority to make such grants.  The boundary dispute was clearly more than academic, for the French claimed that only the peninsula of Nova Scotia fell within the ancient limits of Acadia as ceded to Great Britain by the treaty of Utrecht.

          The subject of trade also bristled with difficulties.  Smuggling was prevalent, and there was considerable trade between Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) and the Acadian settlements at Minas and Cobequid.  Doucett hoped that measures would be taken to prevent clandestine trade and encroachments on the fishery, and in letters dated 6 February 1717/18 to the Lords of Trade and to the secretary of state he pointed out the advantages of having three or four sloops, of four or six guns each, cruising between the Strait of Canso (Grand Passage de Fronsac) and Mount Desert Island (Îles des Monts Déserts), and in the Bay of Fundy.  Doucett continued to press for this support, but although his advice was sound, effective action was not taken immediately.  In the meantime, in September 1718, French fishermen at Canso were plundered by a New England vessel commanded by Thomas Smart.  When, in turn, English fishermen at Canso were raided in 1720 by French and Indians, a company of troops was stationed there for the ensuing winter, and Captain Thomas Durell, in the Seahorse, provided protection for the fishery in 1721.

          Governor Philipps arrived at Annapolis Royal about the middle of April 1720, and on 25 April established His Majesty's Council of Nova Scotia, with Doucett as president.  Philipps took up residence at Canso in the summer of 1721, remaining there until his return to England late in 1722, when he left Doucett in command at Annapolis Royal.

          The need for winning over the Indians of Nova Scotia had become obvious to Doucett, and on 13 December 1718 he urged Philipps to apply to the Lords of Trade for presents for the Indians.  In the summer of 1721 these arrived and early in 1722 Philipps gave a feast at Canso for the Indian chiefs.  The Indians solemnly promised their friendship.  Relations between the Abenakis and the government of Massachusetts had been steadily worsening, however [see Mog].  In mid-June Abenaki raids began at the Kennebec River, and simultaneously the Indians made a sudden and unprovoked attack upon shipping in the Bay of Fundy and along the eastern coast of Nova Scotia.  Reports were received that the Indians had captured 18 trading vessels in the bay and 18 fishing boats off the eastern coast.  Doucett heard that the Indians' design was to capture Annapolis Royal.  Seizing as hostages 22 Indians who happened to be encamped nearby, he sent a sloop to Canso for Philipps' instructions and to warn the fishermen and traders along the coast to be on their guard.  Doucett's initiative at Annapolis Royal and Philipps' actions at Canso thwarted the Indians' plans.  Doucett later expressed the belief that Father Gaulin's mission Indians had taken part in the plundering.

          A definite peace with the Indians was not established in New England until 1727 [see Wenemouet], but the war in Nova Scotia officially ended with the ratification of the peace at Annapolis Royal on 4 June 1726.  Among the Indians present were Joseph Nepomoit (Nipimoit) of Saint John, and representatives of the Cape Sable, Shubenacadie, La Have, Minas, and Annapolis River Indians.  It cost Doucett nearly £300 in presents and feasts to achieve this peace, but the ratification gave him a measure of satisfaction.

          Lawrence Armstrong was commissioned lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia on 8 February 1724/25; Doucett continued as president of the council, as well as lieutenant-governor of Annapolis Royal.  By August 1726 Doucett had received permission for a leave of absence of some months, but he remained in Annapolis Royal until his death in November.  Doucett's wife was with him in Nova Scotia but her name is unknown.  In 1721 they had a family of six children.  In 1723, Isabella and Honoria Doucett, aunts and guardians of four of John Doucett's children, petitioned the War Office on their behalf.

—  Charles Bruce Fergusson, Archivist of Nova Scotia
Associate professor of history, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
John Doucett (the original article)

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