Week 4 Lecture Part III: Settlement ‘Failures’ of the 1600s

[The critical question historiographically speaking: Who defines ‘failure’? And its logical ancillary question: by what criteria?]

2) la Cadie / Acadia

a. French Approach to Settlement

As noted previously, the kind of official government involvement in North American settlement that was undertaken by European powers differed between England and France.

Throughout the 17th century, the French monarch was (at least in theory, and practically as much as events would allow) directly involved with setting the social, political, and cultural standards of new colonies. In contrast, the English monarch had left that task to be sorted out (theoretically and practically) by the joint stock companies that had been granted land in exchange for overseeing its settlement, and by Parliament (specifically the board of Trade and Plantations).

Thus, the French and English sources available for historical study are different in more ways than just the language they were written in. For one, under the French system the high degree of official involvement generated a large bureaucracy — to keep track of that involvement. So there are more French sources that have greater detail about various aspects of people’s behaviour in the new settlements. [And there are more surviving French government records because they tended to be archived in official repositories, whereas the records of English joint stock companies tended to be scattered about in private household collections and lost over time].

As was the case with England’s settlements, early French settlements were financially backed by private investors who sought to profit from the exploitation of the region’s natural resources.

But, early French efforts at settlement in Atlantic Canada, aside from being business ventures, were also aimed at colonization that accorded with the reigning monarch’s ideas about what proper society should be. So for France the intent was to transplant French subjects to an American location and reproduce the civil society of France — one that was socially stratified, with an aristocracy whose privileges were protected — thereby effectively increasing the territorial size of France (and its culture).

Unlike English proprietors’ ventures that sent out settlers to do manual work and an on-site company representative or two to see that marketable goods were produced, for French settlement ventures nobles were sent out, military detachments were sent out, and clerics, and intellectuals, along with tradespeople and peasants who rounded out the settlement society.

And if the tradespeople and peasants were largely illiterate or without the need to keep written records of their day-to-day existence, the nobles and intellectuals, military officials, and clerics were literate and often had compelling reasons (legal reasons for example) to keep record of their own activities and those of people with whom they interacted.

Clerics, for one, were charged by their religious orders with keeping records of souls under their care: who married whom, who was baptized, who was tithing, who was going to the devil etc. The clerics’ religious orders in turn needed these records to justify Royal assent to the existence of their orders (Royal decrees could legitimize and delegitimize religions in the realm [take the Edict of Nantes (1598) and its revoking (1685) for striking examples]. Plus, the clerics and their superiors at home needed to keep up a steady stream of written accounts of settlement activities to justify the presence of their orders in North America (as opposed to some other religious order being there — or to anyone being there at all for that matter).

In contrast, the English sources from Newfoundland (which at the time was the only English settlement in the area that we are examining, which is the part that eventually became Atlantic Canada), were written by businessmen. They were more concerned with business problems that directly affected themselves, their investments, and profits than with listing settlers and detailing what they were up to. The social relationships and cultural activities of settlers were of no interest when it came to filling out accounts in business records. Only the productivity of settlers was entered into the ledgers (unless of course their social lives interfered with productivity — in which case a notation might be added, or perhaps a letter written).

b. 1st phase of French Settlement (Acadia, Phase 1)

The 1st French attempts to settle ‘New France’ were abortive. France very quickly decided to abandon both i) Jacque Cartier’s settlement and ii) Trolius de la Roche de Mesgouez’s settlement. But the attempts did not end there. With attempts iiiv we get Acadia, Phase 1)

Théophile Hamel, portrait, “Jaques Cartier,” c. 1844, based on a portrait of Cartier as imagined by François Riss in 1839. Source Wikimedia Commons.

i. Jacque Cartier‘s 1541 campsite on the St. Lawrence was abandoned, although a few sojourning fishers and fur traders continued to work in the area. (Because the settlement is technically, and arbitrarily, outside our region, that is all I’m saying about that.)

“The ‘Dauphin Map’ of Canada, circa 1543, showing Cartier’s discoveries,” see enlargement. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

ii. In 1598 the Marquis de la Roche-Mesgouez [a.k.a. Trolius de la Roche de Mesgouez; but better known as simply ‘La Roche’] received letters patent from the King of France, granting him title to the territories of Canada, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Norumbega*, and the monopoly of the fur trade. All others were forbidden to trade in furs without the marquis’ consent, on pain of losing all of their ships and merchandise.

[*Norumbega was a legendary city/territory somewhere in the vicinity of Acadie, supposedly heavily populated with many islands & very rich — a northern Aztec/Inca empire where everybody spoke Latin.]


“Northeastern part of Ortelius Americas map from 1570. (Map showing numerous more or less anachronistically placed mythical names on locations, as well as several phantom islands, which was regular for maps in that time. For instance: Norvmbega.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.


The letters patent further allowed La Roche to recruit criminals for his undertaking. In 1598 he sent 2 shiploads of ‘vigorous’ men and women who had been classed as beggars, vagabonds, and convicts — a total of 40 settlers — to be dropped off with 10 soldiers on Ile de Sable (Sable Island/Île de Bourbon), 300 km. off the mainland.

Sable Island is the crescent shape out in the ocean off the mainland to the right above, coordinates: 43°57′0″N 59°54′57″W. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Marquis’ settlers actually did quite well. They hunted and fished and there were cattle and vegetable gardens. In 1599, 1600, and 1601, La Roche sent additional settlers and supplies of food and wine.

“Aerial view of Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Taken from NW at approx 1500 ft.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1602, however, no ship bearing food arrived from France. The following year the settlement’s leaders were found assassinated, and numerous settlers had apparently been murdered. So the settlement was abandoned. The 11 colonists who had survived were repatriated to France. There, much to La Roche’s consternation, they were rewarded by King Henry IV for bringing back furs.

To deepen La Roche’s disgust …

Hamilton MacCarthy (1846-1939), sculpture, “Pierre du Gua de Monts.”

iii. … in 1603, Pierre du Gua de Monts, who had made several voyages to North America, was granted a 10 year fur-trading monopoly over “the coasts, lands, and confines of Acadia, Canada and other places in New France,” from Henry IV.

Henry IV of France. Source Wikimedia Commons.

In return, de Monts was expected to:

— settle 60 French colonists in the region each year

— get missionaries to work at civilizing the Aboriginal peoples.

De Monts, well financed through selling shares in his venture, had 2 ships fitted out, the necessary supplies purchased, including lumber and livestock (one sheep of which fell overboard and drowned and had its death commemorated in the naming of Port-au-Mouton), and both Protestant and Roman Catholic priests recruited [De Monts was a Huguenot]. There were several noblemen, whose motives for joining ranged from a quest for riches to a desire to win new lands for France (for example Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt et de Saint-Just). There was an intellectual (who may have been either a commoner of the better sort or a lesser noble), known as Samuel de Champlain, who was to act as geographer and cartographer [for examples of Champlain’s work see http://bit.ly/9SoRx1]. There was a linguist/interpreter, Mathieu de Costa (whose talents eventually became legendary and who is celebrated as the first recorded person of African descent to arrive in what became Canada). There were soldiers; there were clergymen (two priests, including Nicolas Aubry), and a minister; there were tradesmen, including artisans, architects, carpenters, masons and stone cutters; and there were the lower classes — former vagabonds.

De Monts’ troupe set up camp on Ile Ste-Croix (Dochet Island, St. Croix River), in the area known as Acadie (or La Cadie, depending on what map one looked at), on what’s now the Maine-New Brunswick border.

“Buildings on Ste. Croix Island, 1613 (From Champlain’s diagram.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The colony foundered during the harsh winter (which began in October), and almost half the colonists died. All but 3 settlers returned to France.

iv. Pierre du Gua de Monts & Champlain tried again in 1605 at Port-Royal on the Bay of Fundy. Champlain was able to secure help from resident Mi’kmaq. Still, the colony only managed to last 2 years before it too was abandoned — due to problems de Monts faced regarding his patent back in France.

(A French patent was equivalent to an English charter: a guarantee that the enterprise was considered legitimate by the Crown and therefore was to be exempt from competition from fellow French subjects. But de Monts lost more money than he made, and faced competition from merchants involved in the illicit trade of furs — and there were a fair number. In 1604 alone at least 8 vessels had been seized for trading without license, and many more escaped detection. Those who traded illegally were enticed to do so because they did not have to bear the financial burden imposed on de Monts of supplying colonists and their necessities.)

v. The Port Royal colony was re-started in 1610, by its former governor, Jean de Poutrincourt et de Saint-Just, who had first arrived there in 1606 (see above). With 20 new colonists, Poutrincourt’s party again failed to establish a firm French foothold in the region.

The principal problem was internal conflict. Poutrincourt needed financial support and more settlers — and to arrange for both, he was obliged to agree to allow Jesuit missionaries to work in the region and to become their partners in the fur trade. Their presence, and their fur-trade privilege, became a source of conflict in the colony. There was a priest from another order who was already present and who had baptized influential Mi’kmaq representative, Henri Membertou, and his band (of over 100 individuals), thus cementing an alliance with them [see http://bit.ly/9X59eY]. But the Jesuits were dissatisfied, because although baptized, the Mi’kmaq had not been educated in either Catholic rituals or articles of faith.

So the colony split in two with the Jesuits [Briard and Massé] moving to Saint-Saveur, on Île des Monts, [what is now Mount Desert Island] at the mouth of the Penobscot River in Maine. [see also Cyber Acadie]

And then, in 1613,  successful attacks were launched against the newly split, and therefore weakened, colonies of Saint-Saveur and Port Royal by the English of Virginia — attacks which were precursors to the 30 Years War of 1618-1648. The two settlements were razed to the ground. Those people who were really only interested in being ‘old-world’ agrarian-village-type peasants were returned to France. The more adventurous* individuals interested in making ‘new-world’-style profit stayed behind as fishers and fur traders. These included men such as Poutrincourt’s son Charles de Biencourt de Saint-Just, and cousin, Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour.

[*’adventurer’  has an economic meaning]

Those who stayed behind did quite well, extending the geographical reach of their trading network. And, over time, they became even more closely connected to Mi’kmaq bands through marriage — that of Charles La Tour is considered well documented — the marriages of others have been posited by historians on a the basis of a close reading and re-evaluation of existing documents.

c. A Scottish Intrusion: ‘Nova Scotia’

“Sir William Alexander.” Source: Wilfred Campbell, The Scotsman in Canada (Toronto: Musson Book Co., 1911), frontispiece.

In 1628, Sir William Alexander attempted to establish ‘New Scotland.’ He was a renowned poetical writer, and had been a favourite of both James I and Charles I of England in their dealings with Scotland — one of his chief duties had been to ward off needy Scots from making requests of the English court. Initially Sir Alex. had wanted to start up a settlement in Newfoundland, but he finally decided on installing one settlement on Cape Breton Island and another at the burned-out site the New Englanders had made of the French Port Royal.

The reason the English monarchs were agreeable to Sir Alexander’s proposal was that his plan included convincing needy Scots to emigrate away from England, which, he argued, they would not do unless they had a distinctly Scottish ‘New Scotland’ to go to.

Sir Alex. had a difficult time getting prospective settlers — and keeping them: a bunch that had been landed in St. John’s, Newfoundland, due to bad weather simply scattered. Most deserted to sign on as fishing crew, some decided to join Newfoundland communities, and some died.

Eventually, by getting the King of England to promise the title of ‘knight-baronet’ to any worthy Scot who would buy a 30,000 acre estate in New Scotland and furnish settlers, Sir Alexander found 85 takers.

However, the 30 Years War was going on. War between England and France had really heated up in 1627, and the Alexander’s Cape Breton settlement, begun in 1628, was routed by the French in 1629.

The Scottish residents at Port Royal held their own with help from both the neighbouring Mi’kmaq and Charles La Tour’s entourage [La Tour was in the process of deciding whether he might wish to become one of Alexander’s knight-baronets].

But,  ‘meanwhile, back in Europe’, the 30 Years War was declared ended. By the 1632 Treaty of Saint-Germaine-en-Lye, Acadia fell under French jurisdiction — not Scottish.

[and, incidentally, the treaty also returned ‘New France’ to French control (following David Kirke’s seizure of the settlement in 1629, which was what he had been doing before he and his wife Sara settled in Newfoundland)].

So New Scotland’s name reverted to Acadia, because it was French-claimed territory again, and we have:

d. Acadia, Phase 2, on the Nova Scotia peninsular territory.

Throughout the 1600s French settlements were being established in New Brunswick along the Saint John River and the North Shore.

[Settlement on Prince Edward Island did not occur until the 1700s, when French colonists began to build permanent communities on the island. On the Labrador mainland, first settlement also began in the 1700s, as French fishers and hunters from New France (which included parts of present-day Quebec and Ontario) established fur trading stations along the southern coastline.]

So France had a number of widely spaced toeholds in the region, and these were consolidated through the treaty of Saint-Germaine-en-Lye to give France a nice chunk of territory on their maps drawn from 1632 onward. The territory, however, would be actively contested by the British throughout the rest of the 17th century.

Upheavals, therefore, would mark European settlements in Acadia: there were contests that pitted French against French and those that pitted French against English. And, aside from experiencing upheavals due to proximity to these contests, Aboriginal societies were also struggling with epidemics that — as far as records that exist show — appear to have begun hitting the region full force.

i. French vs. French contests:

Isaac de Razilly was sent to take command of Port Royal in 1632, to establish a settlement that would keep New England at bay. He arrived with 300 men, 3 Capuchin fathers, a few women and children and  Charles Menou d’Aulney & Nicolas Denys as his lieutenants.

Mitchell map of 1733. Source: Nova Scotia Museum website, Acadians 1 info sheet.

Razilly’s main base was at La Hève. Denys set up fishing, fur trading, and lumbering operations at Canso, St. Pierre (St. Peters) and Nepisiquit on the Baie des Chaleurs (Chaleur Bay).

Locating Acadian settlements in the seventeenth century. Click map to enlarge. Note: Bay of Fundy a.k.a. Baie Francaise; 1. Nepisiquit, Baie des Chaleurs (Denys); 2. Port aux Baleines (Alexander); 3. St. Pierre (Denys); 4. Canso (Denys); 5. La Hève (Razilly); 6. Pnt. La Tour (La Tour); 7. Port Royal; 8. Fort La Tour (La Tour).


Razilly was able to establish good relations with Charles La Tour — who was a bit of a wild card — by agreeing to divide the Acadian territory between them. La Tour was stationed mainly at Cape Sable and the mouth of the St. John’s River (where he traded with New France’s Company of 100 Associates, as did Razilly). But Razilly died in 1635 and many of his settlers went back to France. D’Aulney, his former lieutenant and now his successor, moved a fair number of the remaining settlers to Port Royal where they joined new migrants. Settlers at La Hève who had married into Mi’kmaq bands, however, stayed put.

D’Aulney and La Tour did not get along and were competitive to the point of violence. In 1645  d’Aulney attacked La Tour’s St. John River outpost — La Tour fled to Quebec settlement.

In 1650 D’Aulney died (which was the end of official French migration), and his creditor, Emmanuel Le Borgne seized Port Royal and attacked d’Aulney’s other settlements.

La Tour then married his late antagonist d’Aulney’s widow, and, allied with Nicolas Denys, attempted to oust Le Borgne.

ii. French vs. English contests:

But, in 1654, Robert Sedgwick, of Massachusetts, who had been commissioned to attack Dutch settlements, but was prevented from doing so by a peace that had been declared, took his three English ships, a ketch, and a force of 170 men, further north. He captured Port Royal and plundered other settlements.

La Tour, who was taken prisoner, swore allegiance to England, sold off his holdings in Acadia, and retired to Cape Sable.

In 1662, Oliver Cromwell’s government appointed Sir Thomas Temple (who had bought out La Tour), as governor of their newly acquired Acadia — So we have Nova Scotia, Phase 2.

The French government, however, appointed Le Borgne as governor of their not-yet-totally-lost Acadia and he continued to attack English settlements (those that were formerly La Tour’s).

But, in 1667 the Treaty of Breda [which resolved the 2nd Anglo-Dutch War] unequivocally restored Nova Scotia/Acadia to France.

At this point in time: In Acadia, Phase 2 gave way to Acadia, Phase 3

  • View from the top:

Louis XIV of France, c. 1670. Source Wikimedia Commons.

Louis the XIV of France set out on a program to re-assert the Royal prerogative of overseeing all overseas colonization. He was determined that all French colonies be properly monitored and controlled by a bureaucratic regime.

Despite his intentions, the impediments of distance, administrative inefficiencies, and his own preoccupation with European problems — both internal and external to France — added to a shortage of financial and military resources. This meant that most of the available official attention focused on the colony at Canada — and even more acutely, on securing the Newfoundland fishery set up at Plaisance.

A Digression to Plaisance [now known as Placentia]:

Lames S. Meres, watercolour, “The Town and Harbour of Placentia from Castle Hill,” dated summer 1786. Source: Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no. 2833964.

To protect their interests in Newfoundland, the French had established the colony at Plaisance in 1658. As of 1662 the colony’s purpose was to act as a base for the French fishing fleet, to monitor English activity on the Avalon peninsula, and to protect approaches to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In true French form, the settlement community included a governor and other administrators, a military force, Roman Catholic priests, and settlers [fishing families].

Fishing activities were shared between French ships and resident boat-keepers (called ‘planters‘), who hired seasonal fishers from France each year. The planters sometimes became merchants and privateers.

The colony’s administrators, both civil and military, had a financial interest in the local fishery and trade. They were not interested in supporting the interests of non-islander French merchant ships which came to Newfoundland seeking to profit on the sale of goods.

Plaisance eventually drew a large part of its annual supply from Quebec, and, because Boston’s merchants could visit Plaisance 3 or 4 times a year, whereas French merchants could perhaps make only a single visit, illicit trade with Boston went on from at least 1676 and continued to the end of the century.

To return to Acadia:

Trade with Boston was something that Acadians had been doing as well. And, because the French state was preoccupied with other matters, the Acadian settlers went about that illicit activity and a good deal of the rest of their business beyond the official gaze.

  • Historiographical view from the middle:

The same old merchant motive to make money off of fish and fur prevailed

  • Historiographical view from the bottom:

“Acadian Farmers. from a plate in ‘Longfellow’s Poetical Works’ (1877).” Source: Peter Viney, Acadian Driftwood, theband.hiof.no/…/acadian_driftwood_viney.html.

The settlement in Acadia had developed some distinctive characteristics:

a). Communities displayed an intermingling of peoples and of what anthropologists call cultural markers. It appears that if you survived the environment, or conflict, or disease, then you belonged. This made for an interesting, distinctive culture:

European and Aboriginal communities, where they were geographically distant from each other, remained distinct from each other. But, where peoples were geographically close to each other, the originally distinct communities blended familially and culturally where their edges overlapped. Much more so, social historians such as Naomi Griffiths and Olive Patricia Dickason have argued, than those who kept records in the past overtly stated, and beginning far earlier than previous historians had realized.

[Again the point is that historians can’t take records at face value — a historian needs a critical eye. For example, a French, or English baptismal name does not mean the individual was necessarily of entirely European, or even partly European, heritage.]

— Mixed communities in Acadia combined European religious rites and customs with the pronounced orality, social conventions (such a family networking), and decision making and dispute resolution customs that were common to egalitarian Aboriginal societies.

— In mixed communities it was also possible to compare respective technologies and adopt the most efficient. Thus, Aboriginal canoes were used alongside craft with European sails and rigging; European guns and powder were used along with Aboriginal toboggans and snow shoes.

b). Despite the upheavals in the region during the 17th century, there was population increase in settlement colonies — In 1686 the Acadians numbered 885 [not a whole lot more than the number of settlers in Newfoundland], and in 1714 the first English census gave their number as 2500. The increase was not attributable to immigration alone.

During the 17th century, migration to Acadia was basically French and took place before 1671. However, a few of the small number of English, Irish, and Scots who had also settled managed to persist. A third of the names borne by those of Acadian descent today can be traced to people who arrived between 1671 and 1713. But, relative to Europe, in Acadian settlements there was a high degree of natural increase: people married young, most people married, and there was a low death rate — babies were generally very healthy.

c). And, geographically, there was increase-in-population-driven expansion of settlement  — not all of which was formally regulated. Contrary to the original plans, not all settlements were overseen by aristocrats. As families grew, younger members would start up a new community in an area they determined was promising. They did not wait for permission, or for a seigneur to be appointed. And, by the end of the century — unlike in New France’s Canada — seigneuries existed in name only.

d). The Acadians had distinctive ways of maintaining healthy subsistence: making optimal use of the available resources (of which there were a good variety).

  • agriculture: Acadians used tidal marshes, draining and diking them (and getting salt in the process). Such marshes were more fertile than plots of depleted soil in deforested areas. The combination of favourable soil and climate allowed grain production. Fruit was also grown. Acadians developed the lands around Port Royal, the marshes of the Minas Basin, and they also settled the Chinecto Isthmus.
  • animal husbandry: Plenty of fodder was available without excessive labour input. Because raising livestock was possible, there was a reduced need to rely on hunting and so seasonal migration was not a necessity.
  • fishing: Good fisheries meant Acadians could easily generate a subsistence supply and have enough surplus fish to dry as a trade item in order to secure manufactured household goods and occasional luxuries.
  • fur: There were sufficient fur bearing animals to allow trading for needs and wants. This was a small trade that was of more interest to Boston merchants than it was to merchants of France because the greater the distance, the more expensive it was to pursue

During the last 40 years of French rule, 1670-1710, those sent out to govern mostly resided either at Penatagoet (Penobscot) or at one of the forts along the valley of the St. John. Many Acadians had little or no direct contact with the garrisons established by France, or with the world of the St. Lawrence, or with Versailles. They built their own interrelated communities, relied on their own efforts for food, shelter, and defense, and by 1713, when the colony was transferred to England by the Treaty of Utrecht, they had become native to Acadia.

Outcome: The period of early settlement is often presented as a century or so (depending on when one starts counting) of neglect during which Acadians developed their communities in spite of imperial designs rather than because of them.

An influential American historian, Berbner, once observed: “there were, in effect, two Acadies, each important in its own way. The one was the Acadie of international conflict [a territory abstracted on maps], the other the land settled and developed by the Acadians.” The dichotomy stemmed from European ignorance of North American geography in general, so that the negotiators of treaties and the diplomats at conference tables had no very clear idea of what exactly was granted to the possessor of ‘Acadia or Nova Scotia’. The land actually settled was always much smaller than the territory described in the documents.

The French Acadie had the south shore of the Bay of Fundy as its centre and no exactly defined boundaries. However, its neighbours were New France and New England so that Acadia was a wedge — borderland — between these expanding edges of empire. The people, like other borderland peoples throughout history, were more interested in the state of their homes and farms than in the various claims made upon their allegiance by distant governments whose political dictates could be ignored (if their disruptive actions could not). Both England and France ruled the colony at some point — neither power made a great deal of [socio-cultural] impact on the [socio-political] loyalties of those who were settlers.

English again: Nova Scotia, Phase 3:

The recognition of the English conquest of Acadia, which had been the result of an expedition sent out from Boston in 1710, presented the Lords of Trade in London with a French Catholic colony to govern. At this time, part of the accepted idea of how the world ought to work, held by the English governing classes, was the belief that colonies existed primarily for the benefit of the Mother Country — ie. there were [imperfectly] applied policies of trade preferences for England.

[Actually, two secretaries of state had sole charge of all foreign and domestic affairs except taxation. These two were the final authorities for Scotland, Ireland, the colonies, and the army and navy. In 1726 their entire staff numbered 24.]

Colonial affairs were of minor importance when viewed against domestic and foreign affairs. Plus, communication with the colonies was slow. Acadia, with no major raw material, agricultural products, or native industry that might involve it in the complicated patterns of British trade, was not a centre of attention — except insofar as it was a borderland, and therefore a pivot point in the Anglo-French struggle for control of North America.

As we will see next week, Acadians and First Nations learned how borderlands can become ‘no man’s lands’ when it comes to contests for imperial dominance.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.