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- Over the Border: Acadia - 4/18 -
and pampered denizens of palaces.
After a probably tempestuous voyage across the bleak Atlantic, and a merciless buffeting from Fundy in the spring of 1604, the prospective Governor of the great territory known as Acadia was sailing along this coast, which presents such a forbidding aspect from the Bay, making his first haven May 16. At that time, we can readily imagine, in this northern region the weather would not be very balmy. Even now the wild rocky shore stretches along drearily--though with certain stern picturesqueness--as far as eye can reach, and then must have been even less attractive, as it showed no sign of habitation.
Champlain was somewhat familiar with these shores from former voyages, and so had been chosen as pilot; but De Poutrincourt and Pontgravé, other associates of Pierre du Guast, the Sieur de Monts, doubtless looked askance at each other, or indulged in the expressive French shrug as the cheerless panorama parsed before them. On that 16th of May, at the harbor where the little town of Liverpool is now situated, De Monts found another Frenchman engaged in hunting and fishing, ignoring, or regardless of, the rights of any one else; and without ado this interloper (so considered by De Monts) was nabbed; the only consolation he received being the honor of transmitting his name, Rossignol, to the harbor,--a name since transferred to a lake in the vicinity.
After a sojourn of two weeks at another point (St. Mary's Bay), the explorers proceeded northward; and at last a particularly inviting harbor presented itself, causing the mental vision of the new Governor and his company to assume more hopeful aspect, as they turned their course thither and pronounced it "Port Royal"!
Here they managed to exist through the winter with as much comfort as circumstances would admit of; but with the return of summer were on the wing again, in search of more salubrious climate and more southerly locality for the establishment of a colony, sailing along the coast of Maine and Massachusetts as far as Cape Cod.
Attempts were made to establish settlements, but the natives proved unfriendly; the foreigners had not a sufficient force to subdue them; and, as De Monts was obliged to return to France, De Poutrincourt and his companions established themselves again at Port Royal. Here, to while away the long winter, the gay adventurers established a burlesque court, which they christened "L'Ordre de Bon Temps"; and of the merry realm each of the fifteen principal persons of the colony became supreme ruler in turn. As the Grand Master's sway lasted but a day, each one, as he assumed that august position, prided himself on doing his utmost to eclipse his predecessor in lavish provision for feasting. Forests were scoured for game; fish were brought from the tempest-tossed waters of the Bay, or speared through the ice of L'Équille; so the table fairly groaned with the luxuries of these winter revelers in the wilds of Acadia. With ludicrous caricature of court ceremonial, the rulers of the feast marched to the table, where their invited guests, the Indian chiefs, sat with them around the board; the squaws and children squatting on the floor, watching for bits which the lively company now and then tossed to them. "They say" that an aged sachem, when dying, asked if he should have pies in heaven as good as those which he had eaten at Poutrincourt's table!
To the Indians, the greatest delicacy of all on the table was bread. This, to them a dainty viand, they were always ready to consume with gusto; but were invariably averse to grinding the corn, although promised half of the meal as recompense for their labor. The grinding was performed with a hand-mill, and consequently so laborious and tedious that the savages would rather suffer hunger than submit to such drudgery, which they also seemed to think degrading to the free sons of the forest.
Proverbially fickle are princes; and of this De Monts was convinced on his return to France, for during his absence he had lost favor with his sovereign, Henry IV., who revoked his commission; still he succeeded, after many difficulties, in procuring supplies for his colony, and arrived just in time to prevent his people from leaving Port Royal discouraged and disheartened. One member of the little community of Frenchmen was Lescarbot, a lawyer, who was talented, poetical, and did much to enliven the others during the absence of their leader, who, on his return, was received by a procession of masqueraders, headed by Neptune and tritons, reciting verses written by Lescarbot. Over the entrances to the fort and to the Governor's apartments were suspended wreaths of laurel and garlands surrounding Latin mottoes,--all the work of the pastimist (if one may coin such a word). The relief and encouragement brought by De Monts were but temporary, and in the spring (1606) news was received that nothing more could be sent to the colonists, and they must be disbanded.
Imagination portrays the strange picture presented at this time in this remote region, the gay French courtiers vanishing from the sight of their Indian comrades almost as suddenly and mysteriously as they had appeared but three years before, and leaving their dusky boon companions lamenting on the shore. The eyes of the savages--that race who pride themselves on their stoicism--were actually dimmed with tears as they watched the vessel fading away in the distance.
For four years "ye gentle sauvage" pursued the even tenor of his way, and consoled himself as best he could for the absence of the lively revelers who had cheered his solitude; then, presumably to his delight (in 1610), he saw Poutrincourt returning. That nobleman had promised the king to exert himself for the conversion of the Indians. Three years later a company of Jesuits sailed for this port with the same object in view; but, losing their reckoning, they founded settlements at Mt. Desert instead.
Madame de Guercheville, a true woman indeed, who was honored and respected in a dissolute court where honor was almost unknown, had become a zealous advocate of the conversion of Indians in America; and through her means and influence several priests of the Jesuit order were sent out in 1612 to this settlement. The sachems, with members of their tribes living at Port Royal, were baptized, twenty-one at one time, with much show of rejoicing typified by firing of cannon, waving of banners, blaring of trumpets. Some doubt is expressed whether the savages fully understood what it was all about, and what their confession of faith fully signified; as one chief, on being instructed in the Lord's Prayer, objected to asking for bread alone, saying that he wished for moose flesh and fish also; and when one of the priests deliberately set to work, with notebook and quill, to learn the language of the aborigines by asking one man the Indian words for various French ones (to him totally incomprehensible), the savage, with malice aforethought, purposely gave him words of evil signification, which did not assist the Frenchman in enlightening other members of this benighted race. Perceiving the trick which had been played upon him by the savage, who had been so perplexed by his questioning, the priest declared that Indian possessed by the Devil! However, with all its discouragements, this was the opening of the work of the Jesuits in America; in which even those who might have thought their zeal at times mistaken could not but respect them for the noble heroism, displayed during so many years, in their work of civilizing and enlightening the savages. Even in these olden times there were turbulent marauders abroad; and one such, Argall, from Virginia, after destroying the settlement at Somes Sound (Mt. Desert), pounced upon this peaceful station, destroying the fort and scattering the colonists (1613).
The section known as Virginia was granted in 1606 to the London and Plymouth Companies; and as that portion embraced the country between 34 degrees and 43 degrees north latitude, it seems that Argall pretended that the French at Port Royal were interlopers, usurping his rights; but as De Monts had received in 1604 a charter for the country deemed as lying between 40 degrees and 46 degrees north latitude, Argall had no right to dispossess De Monts or his successor.
Notwithstanding that a member of Argall's company speaks of him as "a gentleman of noble courage", that does not prevent us from considering him a rascal; for at this time France and England were at peace, and he was unauthorized in his base and tyrannous invasion of Port Royal. Before his attack on this quiet, peaceful station, he had shown greatest treachery at Somes Sound, Mt. Desert, where he stole Saussaye's commission and cast adrift in an open boat fifteen of the colonists.
Poutrincourt's son, Biencourt, was now Governor of Acadia, and stationed at Port Royal. He endeavored to make terms with Argall, and offered to divide with him the proceeds of the fur trade and the mines; but this was refused, and the settlement broken up, some of the unfortunate Frenchmen joining Champlain at Quebec, some scattering into the woods among the Indians, while others were carried to England and from thence demanded by the French ambassador. Thus, after only a little more than eight years from the time of settlement, the colony was entirely broken up.
En passant: A friend of ours, who with his family passed a summer in New Hampshire, "at the roots of the White Mountains", as someone expressed it, surprised an old farmer by asking the names of hills in sight from that particular locality. The reply was, "I dono, and I dono as I care; but you city folks, when you come here, are allers askin' questions." We conclude that we are liable to be classed in a similar category; and, in fact, the Dabbler when sketching one day is asked, "Ain't some of your party writing a book?" The interrogator's mind is set at rest by being answered that the reason we have become animated notes of interrogation is because we are interested in the history of the old town; but it is fearful to think for what that innocent lad is responsible: putting notions in people's heads, and causing this volume to be inflicted on a suffering world!
To return to our subject. The olive branch was not yet to be the emblem of this spot, now so peaceful, for a colony of Scotch people were next routed (1628), and the place left in ruins, when a season of quiet ensued; but this was virtually the commencement of the French and English wars in North America, continuing, with slight intermissions, until the treaty of 1763, by which France gave up her possessions in America.
In 1634 Port Royal fell into French hands again, when Claude de Razilly was Governor, and here for a short time lived La Tour, one of his lieutenants, who kept up such bitter feuds with D'Aulnay, who held like position to his own, and whose story Whittier relates in his poem, "St. John, 1647".
Madatae de la Tour must have been one of the earliest advocates of women's rights, as she so bravely held the fort of St. John in her husband's absence.
"'But what of my lady?' Cried Charles of Estienne On the shot-crumbled turret Thy lady was seen Half veiled in the smoke cloud Her hand grasped thy pennon, While her dark tresses swayed
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