by Georges Arsenault
In the summer of 1755, Pierre Poirier was a young man married to Marguerite Girouard. They were expecting their first child. They lived in Tintamarre (near present-day Sackville, N.B.). Like most of the men of the region, Pierre was arrested in the month of August and taken prisoner by the British soldiers. While waiting to be deported, he was incarcerated with others at Fort Lawrence which was located near the place where the Nova Scotia Tourism Information Centre stands today, not far from Amherst.
The wives of the prisoners were allowed to bring them food. At the request of the men, one of the women brought a knife which she hid in a large loaf of bread. With the help of this knife, the men were able to dig a tunnel under the walls of the fort. During the stormy night of the 1st and 2nd of October 1755, Pierre Poirier and 85 other Acadian prisoners managed to escape through the 12-foot underground tunnel they had made!
Pierre immediately headed for home hoping to find his wife who was about eight months pregnant. He found the village of Tintamarre deserted. He met some Mi’kmaq who told him that all the women, children and elders had gone to Cocagne to escape deportation. Pierre headed for Cocagne where he found Marguerite. From there, the couple sailed to île Saint-Jean (PEI). It is not known if their baby was born in Cocagne or on the Island. It is known, however, that Marguerite gave birth on October 15 to a girl, Rosalie, who was baptized the following November 24, 1755, at Port-la-Joye.
Pierre Poirier remained on île Saint-Jean with his young family until 1758. That summer, Lord Rollo and a contigent of British soldiers arrived on the Island to deport the inhabitants to France. For a second time, Pierre managed to escape deportation. With quite a few other families, Pierre fled to a refugee camp on the Restigouche River at the head of the Bay of Chaleur.
Around 1761, the Poirier family returned to the Island and settled at Havre-Saint-Pierre (St. Peters Harbour) for several years. Pierre and a number of Acadian men were hired to fish cod for British entrepreneurs. During his stay at Havre-Saint-Pierre, Pierre also went to Trois-Rivières (Montague area) in the winter of 1768 with eight other Acadian men to cut pine trees for William Livingston, and later that same year he was employed as a labourer for 11 days by Isaac Deschamps to do public work on the Island such as clearing land for the settlement of Charlottetown.
The Anglophones for whom Pierre worked in order to feed his family, seemed to have difficulty pronouncing his family name, Poirier. To their ears, it sounded a bit like Perry, a popular name in England. That is probably how Pierre’s family name was translated to Perry. It is written in a number of ways in the 18th century documents in English: Paurie (1765), Purrie (1768), Pery (1790), Perry (1795), Perrie (1798). Pierre Perry seems to have been the first Poirier to more or less adopt the surname Perry. For many years, only his descendants were known by that name on the Island.
From Havre-Saint-Pierre, Pierre Poirier moved his family to Malpeque Bay in the early 1770s where they settled in Lot 17 in what is now North St. Eleanors. We don’t know where and when Pierre and Marguerite Poirier died. They were still alive and living in Lot 17 when the 1798 census was taken. By 1799, the Acadians started leaving the shores of Malpeque Bay to settle elsewhere in Prince County. Their children, Pierre (la Grand’couette), Basile, Rosalie, and Marguerite figure among the pioneers of Tignish while the other members of the family, Germain and Madeleine, are listed among the founders of Mont-Carmel.
Rosalie, born in 1755, married Joseph Richard. They are the ancestors of the Richards from the Tignish region. Marguerite married Julien DesRoches and they have among their descendants many of the West Prince DesRoches. As for Madeleine, she married Firmin Gallant, nicknamed “Panneau”, and they settled in Mont-Carmel. Their descendants are found in large numbers in the Evangeline Region, among them are the families with nicknames such as Panneau, Cannon, Calumet, and Blague.
Several of Pierre and Madeleine Poirier’s descendants have made history : 1) Rev. Sylvain Éphrem Perrey (1802-1887) was the first Acadian born in the Maritimes after the Deportation to be ordained to the priesthood; 2) Stanislaus Perry (1823-1898) was the first Acadian elected to the Legislative Assembly of PEI and the first Acadian from the Maritime Provinces to be elected to the House of Commons in Ottawa; 3) Joseph Alphonse Bernard (1881-1962) was the first Acadian to be named Lieutenant Governor of a Canadian province. His mother was a daughter of Stanislaus Perry. Note : The information about Pierre Poirier as being one of the escapees from Fort Lawrence in 1755 comes from the research of genealogist Placide Gaudet. See: « La famille Poirier (Généalogie préparée par feu Placide Gaudet) », L’Évangéline, 28 January 1943.