Before the British established the town of Lunenburg in 1753, the site was known to the Mi'kmaq as E’se’katik and to the French as Merliguesche – a name they borrowed from the Mi'kmaw word for the area. Merliguesche was a small Acadian settlement in the colony of New France, but by 1753, all but one Acadian had left. A contemporary map identifies “the House of a French man, the only Inhabitant, before the Settlement,” to the west of the town plot. A second map dated 1753, shows the same house (which seems to have stood on a hill, as it was used to aid navigation for vessels entering the harbour) described as "Labrador’s Farm." The name Labrador today is commonly associated with Mi'kmaw families. So, who was this man?
Most of the French settlers at LaHave were transferred to Port Royal following the death of French naval officer, Isaac de Razilly, in 1636. The fort, dwellings, and chapel at LaHave were later destroyed, but a few French families continued to live in the area. A 1686 census lists two French families at Merliguesche one of which is named "LaVerdure." The French in Acadie were often known by (dit) a supplementary surname to distinguish between families that shared a common name. The "LaVerdure" family listed in the census was, in fact, named Guédry, dit LaVerdure.
Claude Guédry, dit LaVerdure, settled in Merliguesche with his wife, Marguerite Petitpas, and one child, Jean-Baptiste, sometime before 1686. The couple had another son, Paul, born at Merliguesche in 1701, and baptised by Father Felix Pain. By 1708, Jean-Baptiste had married Madeleine Mieuss, who was half Mi’kmaq. Around 1720, Paul Guédry, dit LaVerdure, married Madeleine’s sister, Anne, who also was of Mi'kmaq ancestry.
Paul made his living as a fisherman and was employed as a coastal pilot. He seems not to have been involved in a skirmish in Merliguesche harbour in which a group of Mi’kmaq and Acadians, including Paul's brother Jean-Baptiste and his son, attacked an English vessel. Even though his brother and nephew were captured, taken to Boston, and hanged, Paul appears to have remained on good terms with the English.
Paul and the other Acadians left Merliguesche for Île Royale (Cape Breton) in the 1740s when tensions increased between the French and the English. Paul later returned to his property at Merliguesche and was the only “French man” living there when the British arrived in 1753 and established the town of Lunenburg.
In addition to the 1753 map, the name "Labrador" makes an appearance in a letter written to Paul on behalf of Colonel Lawrence in 1754. In it, the Colonel requests accommodation for some Acadians returning from Île Royale because they were “nearly related to old Labrador.” The surname Labrador likely was an anglicised version of the name LaVerdure, so there can be little doubt that "old Labrador" was in fact Paul Guédry, dit LaVerdure. When Paul's farm was granted to Patrick Sutherland in 1762, "Paul Labrador" is identified as its previous owner – the anglicised name had stuck.
Paul and Anne's children – and possibly Jean-Baptiste and Madeleine's too – may have had close ties with their Mi'kmaw relatives. It was not uncommon for the children of "mixed marriages" to be embraced by Mi'kmaw communities, which possibly explains how the Labrador name became common among the Mi'kmaq of Lunenburg County. Some were recorded in Chester in 1801.
All that remains of the Acadian settlement of Merliguesche is the "Old French Cemetery" by the Lunenburg waterfront. While the wooden crosses marking the graves have long since rotted away and later gravesites were placed nearby, the open grassy space is the last resting place of "old Labrador" and his companions.