The officer's writings are mostly dry and technical - accounts of the weapons deployed and how many lashes were meted out for drinking.
But buried in the terse prose of Jeremiah Bancroft's journal, which goes on display today in Halifax, are new details of Acadian resistance to the 18th-century deportation. It's information that one community leader hopes will help erase a lingering feeling of helplessness.
"I have met several Acadians over the years who have experienced a sense of shame of not having done anything about it," said Victor Tétrault, executive director of the Société Promotion Grand-Pré. "That's what they gleaned from the history, but with this we can know that we did all we could."
Ensign Bancroft's writing offers an account of the 1755 British military efforts to remove Acadians from the Maritimes. It includes some acts of resistance not mentioned in the journal of expedition leader Lieutenant-Colonel John Winslow, the only other British officer whose account of this phase of the deportation has survived.
The original Bancroft journal is now lost, but in 1925 an amateur historian typed out what appears to be an accurate copy, going so far as to replicate archaisms such as "Munday ye 16th." Then it was filed away and sat forgotten for decades, until chanced upon by Jonathan Fowler, an historical archaeologist at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.
The pages will have their first public airing today at the university's Sobey School of Business, exhibited for one day only along with artifacts from the Grand-Pré site. There is the hope that the exposure could jog someone's memory and perhaps lead to the original journal resurfacing.
"There are only a few documents written by eyewitnesses, so this is very interesting," Prof. Fowler said. "Because the events of the deportation have such resonance today, any light that we can throw onto these events, that becomes significant."
The transcript notes the captives' "shame and confusion" when they learned their lands were forfeited and they would be deported. Later, though, Ensign Bancroft describes prisoners seizing weapons from the British and fleeing, captives slipping off ships and a man shot while trying to escape.
"It really humanizes the deportation, this cataclysm in the Acadian experience, because it shows us how messy it really was," Prof. Fowler said. "This is not a people that simply goes passively aboard ships and sink into the mists of history."