Tuesday, April 9, 2013

life and death and cornwallis

the week around march 14 overflowed with life, death and cornwallis. 

for cornwallis, i completed the last proof and sent it off to the printers. it should be back in a few weeks, ahead of the may 21 launch. there was much satisfaction in sending the last email confirmation - after 18 months, it's finished. i can move onto the next big writing project. 

as i was writing the bio, i also dug into my own family history. i knew the first tattrie arrived in nova scotia around the same time as cornwallis, but not much more. i researched jean-george tattrie to illustrate the ordinary people who settled here. much of that research was assisted by my aunt marge, keeper of the family lore. 

on march 14, my son xavier was born - adding the ninth generation of tattries to my lineage. the next day my aunt, who was more like a grandmother, died. i didn't get to see her a last time as i was in the hospital with my wife and son, but thanks to the wonders of facebook, she did get to see a photo of xavier hours before she died. it gave her the last smile of her life and she mused on one generation starting even as the other departs. 

the current edition of Halifax Magazine runs an essay i wrote about my search for my roots - and how it went back to europe, but beyond, all the way back to adam. a dna map follows. 

It's Only Us

By Jon Tattrie
When I sat down to write a biography of the controversial life of Edward Cornwallis, I wore my neutral journalist’s hat. My research into Halifax’s infamous founder seemed unconnected to my own life, but I soon found my story was fundamentally tied to his – and to yours. 

Family lore had it that the first Tattrie arrived in Halifax not long after the founding in 1749. I looked into it for a side story illustrating the lot of the ordinary settlers. What I found was surprising. Jean George Tattrie did indeed arrive as part of the Foreign Protestants Cornwallis invited to the fledgling city to replace the distrusted Acadians and despised Mi’kmaq.

261 years ago, Tattrie hoped on a boat, sailed to Nova Scotia, and displaced Mi’kmaq people in the area the British now called Halifax. He moved twice, dislocating Mi’kmaq and Acadian people from the area of Lunenburg (where his name is on a monument) and again in Tatamagouche, today one of the few places in the world where the name is common.

So is it a simple story of European aggression and colonial theft?

Maybe not. I dug into Tattrie’s past and I found out why he was willing to sail into the unknown. His home village of Chagey in France was a land ruined by religious war, corrupt government, routine famine and grinding poverty. It was a miserable life for peasant farmer. The situation became intolerable in the late 1740s when his Lutheran minister died and the Catholic government sent a Catholic priest to replace him, backed by soldiers.

Tattrie and others blocked the church. The soldiers opened fire. 21 of the 50 protesters were shot, three fatally. Tattrie took a bullet to the leg – a bullet that now lies buried with him in the old cemetery in Tatamagouche.

Is that the end of the story? European refugee flees persecution, only to become the persecutor?

Maybe not.

I dug deeper. The written record for Tattries – or D’Attreys as they were likely known - runs cold in the 1600s. So do most European family names, as that’s when the convention became widespread.

I swabbed my cheek and had a lab study my DNA. It came back 100 per cent European. My haplogroup – my direct blood line – was traced to the Vikings. A distant Tattrie likely moved from Scandinavia to the British Isles 1,000 years ago after a Viking raid. A few hundred years later, a medieval Tattrie crossed the English Channel and settled in France.

But the blood line stretches further back.  

12,000 years ago, Europe was covered in deep ice. My ancestors – and the ancestors of most Europeans – clung to the southern edge of the continent in the wilderness of what are now Spain, Italy and Greece.

25,000 years ago, my people lived in the Middle East, following herds along what was then the open savannah of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

45,000 years ago, my ancestors slowly pursued prey from Sudan/Ethiopia into the Middle East. They were part of the second migration out of Africa.

60,000 years ago, the ancient Tattries lived among a small group of people poised on the edge of extinction in the land now called Kenya. The migration map marks this period with an all-capital name: ADAM. 

This is not the biblical man, but the scientific shorthand for a single man who lived in Kenya 60,000 years ago. He was not the only man alive, but of all his friends, family and foes, only his lineage survived. Every other branch withered and died. (“Eve”, our common mother, goes back about 120,000 years.)

This is where you come into it. My proto-grandfather – and Cornwallis’s proto-grandfather, and every Mi’kmaq person’s proto-grandfather, and your proto-grandfather, no matter where you come from – was the same man.

His children populated Africa. Another family branch headed along the coast of India and Asia to discover Australia 40,000 years ago. 10,000 years ago, cousins crossed the Berengia land bridge between Russia and Alaska, traversed a continent as the Ice Age melted, and settled in Nova Scotia.

When Jean George Tattrie crossed the Atlantic 10,000 years later, he was meeting his ancient kin in the Mi’kmaq. But no one knew that. Instead of celebrating the rediscovered blood relatives, blood was shed.

Cornwallis, and Tattrie, would have been astonished to learn of all our family trees have the same roots. 

They had no knowledge of deep human history. But today we know better.

I started to write the biography of Edward Cornwallis to better understand the ongoing war of Us vs Them. Should we celebrate “Our” British heroes at the expense of “Their” Mi’kmaq warriors? But I learned I was not studying the war of Us vs Them.

It’s only Us.
Jon Tattrie is the author of Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax. 

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