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Blog past #300: Port Royal From 1604 to 1613. Of Heritage Value to all North Americans

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Blog post #300: Port Royal From 1604 to 1613. Of Heritage Value to all North Americans

Champlain Port Royal

Champlain’s Drawing of Port Royal, 1605

From Calnek and Savary’s book

This story of Port Royal, from 1604 to 1613 is a condensed version of that found in Chapter 1 of History of the County of Annapolis: including old Port Royal and Acadia, by William Arthur Calnek and Alfred William Savary, 1897.


What memories cluster around the basin of old Port Royal! What visions of brave hearts and strong hands, of adventurous enterprise and religious zeal, of toil and hardship, and success and failure! It was the site of the first permanent settlement by Europeans in Canada, established three years before any settlement at Quebec. A fort and a village were built, cultivation of the soil took place, it was the site where the first vessel was ever built on the Continent, and the first mill in North America. There also echoed the first notes of poetic song heard in Canada. It also saw the first blood to fall in the long struggle between France and England for the possession of North America. It is a locality of especial interest to every Canadian, no matter to what province he belongs, or from what lineage he descends.

It was probably about the middle of June, 1604, that De Monts and his associates entered the Annapolis Basin. The ships sailed from Havre-de-Grace, on the 7th of March, 1604, and proceeded to Port Mouton, where they landed and remained nearly a month, awaiting the arrival of another ship laden with supplies. During this interval De Monts and his secretary, Rallieu, accompanied by Champlain and a few others, among whom was D’Aubrey, a priest, proceeded in a boat, or patache, finally arriving at the Bay of Fundy, and into Port Royal Basin. It was during this exploratory voyage that the priest managed to become lost. They returned to Port Mouton, where the store-ship had arrived and set sail again, finding the priest who had strayed seventeen days before. The Huguenots of the party must have been relieved, as they had been tacitly accused of murdered him.

As they passed up the basin, on the left they beheld a range of hills, rising abruptly to an average height of four to six hundred feet. On their right was another range of hills in a generally parallel direction, but less abrupt, with depressions, through which streams flowed northwardly into the waters over which they sailed. These heights and slopes were all covered in forests.

After some exploration and delay they proceeded to Passamaquoddy Bay, where, on St. Croix island they fixed their winter-quarters. L’Escarbot says, that among their difficulties during the ensuing winter, was a “want of wood, for that which was in the said isle was spent in building.” Champlain tells us that, in the spring, “Sieur De Monts decided upon a change of place,” and having found no other suitable location in the limited time available, proceeded to Port Royal.

Champlain described the basin at Port Royal as he saw it in 1604. He said, “We entered one of the most beautiful ports which I had seen on these coasts, where two thousand vessels could be anchored in safety. The entrance is eight hundred paces in width. Then we entered a harbour which is two leagues in length and one in breadth, which I have named Port Royal, into which descend three rivers, one of which is large, flowing from the east, called the River L’Equille.”

Nearly every writer who has described the events of the initial period of our history, has fallen into the error of representing them as having transpired on the site of the present town of Annapolis; but the evidence makes it very clear that the spot was on the Granville shore, and a little to the east of Goat Island, which is still known as the locus of the old Scotch fort of 1621-31.

Champlain explained that “Having recognized the site of our habitation as a good one, we commenced to clear the land, which was covered with trees, and to put up the houses as rapidly as possible everyone was thus employed.” Pontgravé, who had spent the winter in France and thus avoided the privations at St. Croix, returned to St. Croix about the time De Monts had resolved to make Port Royal his settlement. Pontgravé came with forty men to join the colony, and considerable supplies, which aided them in its work.

After the greater part of the buildings done, Sieur De Monts decided to return to France to represent to His Majesty what was needed. Pontgravé was given charge, and he undertook the work of completing the buildings. Champlain, at the same time, resolved to remain, in the hope of making discoveries in the direction of Florida.

Friendly relations were soon established with the Indians, who readily parted with their furs, game, and other articles of trade for such commodities as they were offered in exchange. The winter, no doubt, seemed long and dreary enough to the adventurers, who remembered with a shudder the miseries at St. Croix a year before, but only six of their number died before the spring had fully opened. The labour of grinding their corn in hand-mills, insufficient surface drainage, and drinking snow-water may have caused this mortality. In addition, their huts were an inadequate defence against the winter cold and storms.

In the spring of 1606, Pontgravé fitted out a vessel to explore the coasts southward, but being frustrated by adverse winds, he abandoned this plan. The supplies which De Monts had promised had not arrived, nor any tidings concerning them. Pontgravé therefore turned his attention to shipbuilding. He built a barque and a shallop, which were intended to convey the colonists to Canseau and maybe fall in with French ships, in which to transport the settlers back to France if necessary. His was the first shipyard established in North America.

Poutrincourt, who had gone home with De Monts in the autumn of the preceding year, induced Marc L’Escarbot, an advocate of Paris, to join them at Port Royal, and from his writings we glean much of our knowledge of the events of the period. A ship named the Jonas sailed for Acadie, on the 13th of May, 1606. After a long voyage, on the 27th of July they reached their destination, where they found only two men, who had been placed in charge of the property left by Pontgravé who had departed homeward, with the remainder of the inhabitants. He returned, however, a short time after the arrival of the Jonas, having been informed by some fishermen that the Jonas had passed Canseau. Clearing away of the forests, with a view to agrplanting crops ensued together with the repairing of buildings. The Jonas had brought out a number of new immigrants and considerable fresh supplies.

The priests who had come out in 1604 had returned to France, and Poutrincourt had not secured others. L’Escarbot therefore assumed the duties of catechist and teacher, and also preached to the Indians who were ultimately converted. During this summer Poutrincourt made an exploratory voyage down the coast as far as Cape Cod, accompanied by his son Biencourt, Dupont Gravé, Daniel Hay, an apothecary, and others. Five young men, having landed, were attacked by Indians. Three of them were killed and others wounded. The survivors were greeted with rejoicing and L’Escarbot wrote verses in honour of the occasion. These verses were the first uttered in Canada in any European language. The celebrations over, they viewed the corn fields which they had sown where the town of Annapolis now stands. This was a great pleasure, as the growth of the grain pointed to a future when they would be relieved from the necessity of supplies from Francw. This was the initial step made in farming in North America. The year 1606 also witnessed the construction of the first lime-kiln, and the erection of the first forge, charcoal for which was first made there. The first efforts in North America at road-building also proceeded.

The winter of 1606-1607 passed pleasantly and. They formed themselves into a sort of club to which they gave the title “Order of Good Times.” This Order consisted of fifteen members who had insignia of office, and other forms of observance were also instituted. Each member in turn became the caterer, and they each endeavoured to excel his predecessor in office. “Thus did Poutrincourt’s table groan beneath the luxuries of the winter forests, flesh of moose, caribou and deer, beaver, otter and hare, bears and wild-cats, with ducks, geese, grouse and plover; sturgeon, too, and trout and fish innumerable, speared through the ice of the Equille, or drawn from the depths of the neighbouring sea … The invited guests were Indian chiefs, of whom Membertou was daily present at table with the French … Those of humbler degree sat on the floor or crouched together in the corners of the hall.”

The winter was a mild one, but four of the settlers died toward the spring. When spring finally opened the settlers resumed their agricultural labours on the cape; and Poutrincourt built a grist-mill, the first erected on the continent. The site of this mill was near the head of the tide, on what they named Mill Brook, afterwards known as the Allain and now miscalled the Lequille River.

Early in 1607, Poutrincourt received letters in which he was informed that the promoters could no longer defray his expenses, and nothing was left but to abandon the colony and return to France. Poutrincourt assured the settlers that he would return as soon as he could make arrangements and, on July 30th, L’Escarbot, with all the inhabitants, except eight souls, left Port Royal in the shallop and patache to proceed to Canseau, where the Jonas was awaiting them. Poutrincourt stayed behind until the 11th of August until the grain had ripened, so that he could carry samples to Paris. From these dates, it seems that the grain was rye or winter wheat.

The voyage to Canso was successful and they set sail on the Jonas on the 3rd of September, 1607, reaching France about the beginning of October. Desertion of the colony was complete; not a single European was left. On his arrival at Paris, Poutrincourt applied to Henry IV for a confirmation of the grant of Port Royal, which De Monts had given him in 1605. This was complied with; but Poutrincourt does not seem to have visited Acadie again before 1610. Somebody visited, however, for a stone was lately discovered were engraved the Freemasons’ arms and the date 1609.

It was not easy for Poutrincourt to finish arrangements for a return to Acadie, but on February, 1610, he set sail from France, and reached Port Royal about the 1st of June; early enough to sow the seeds they had brought with them, and for others to set about repairing the houses which had been vacant for more than two years. The king had required that Poutrincourt take with him a Jesuit priest or priests and, in consequence of this, he was accompanied by Father Flesché, who, on the 24th of June, baptized a number of Micmacs, among whom was Membertou. I believe that this was the first baptism in Canada. Biencourt was despatched to France to convey tidings to the king, and was directed to return with fresh supplies. These supplies did not arrive, however, until January, 1611. Two additional priests, Fathers Biard and Massé also arrived.

As the new supplies arrived, Poutrincourt had been responsible for twenty-three persons, and the food had diminished to such a degree that he had relied on the Indians to supplement his stores. The vessel had, however, brought but small additional supplies, it was necessary to obtain more, for he now had fifty-nine mouths to feed, instead of twenty-three. With this intention, he made a voyage to the coasts of what is now New England, where he fell in with four French vessels, from which he obtained what he needed. He then returned to France in order to secure further supplies. All the inhabitants, except Biard and Massé and twenty others, accompanied him on the homeward voyage.

Poutrincourt, who left Port Royal in July, reached France in August, but was not able to dispatch a vessel until the last day of December. This vessel arrived at Port Royal on January 23rd, 1612, not a moment too soon for the inhabitants, who had been placed on rations some weeks before. The vessel also carried Gilbert du Thet, a priest of the Order of Jesus, to take the place of Father Massé, who had gone to the St. John River.

The winter of 1612-13 was one of considerable hardship. Biencourt, who began to distrust the priests, had been informed of the purchase of the rights of De Monts in Acadie, by Madame de Guercherville, and he feared that plans were underway which could endanger his father’s rights in Port Royal.

Madame de Guercherville, having purchased Acadie except for Port Royal, dispatched a vessel from Honfleur with forty-eight persons, together with livestock and food, which arrived at Port Royal late in May. On her arrival, five souls only were found in the town, Biencourt and his men being absent on exploring expeditions. Hebert, the apothecary, acted as governor, and to him were delivered the letters from the Queen of France authorizing the return of Fathers Biard and Massé by Madame de Guercherville’s vessel. Du Thet, the new priest, disembarked, and the ship sailed to the island of Mont Desert and made a landing opposite to it. The English, who had recently formed a settlement at Jamestown in Virginia, had begun to look with fear, at the fort and settlement in Acadie, and commands were given to destroy it. Captain Samuel Argall was then despatched, and while on his voyage fell in with the French ship and party at Mont Desert. A fight ensued, in which Du Thet was killed. Argall then proceeded to Port Royal, where he “destroyed the fort and all monuments and marks of French power at Port Royal.”

When the news of this disaster reached Poutrincourt, he gave up forever all connection with Acadie, and was finally killed at the storming of Méry sur Seine, in December, 1615.


Written by johnwood1946

August 24, 2016 at 9:10 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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