Biographies & Memoirs


A Model Colony Fails at Home, 1605–07

These people called savages … are men like ourselves…. They have courage, fidelity, generosity, humanity, and their hospitality is so innate and praiseworthy that they receive among them every man who is not an enemy. They are not simpletons like many people over here; they speak with much judgment and good sense.

—Marc Lescarbot on the Indians of Acadia1

IN THE SPRING OF 1605, the sieur de Mons decided to move his settlement from Sainte-Croix Island. The new site was Port-Royal, near the present town of Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia. It was (and is) a beautiful setting, with a magnificent harbor. The soil in this part of Acadia is fertile, and the winters are more temperate than on Sainte-Croix Island. One French visitor wrote, “No earthly paradise could be more agreeable than this place.”2

Most important, the Indians were friendly. The Mi’kmaq (Champlain’s Souriquois) wanted close trading relations and an alliance against their enemies. They welcomed the French settlers, wanted them to found a colony there, and gave much vital assistance. One settler wrote, “We were not, as it were, marooned on an island, as was M. de Villegagnon in Brazil, for this nation loves the French, and would if necessary take up arms, one and all, to aid them.”3

Once de Mons made his decision to resettle at Port-Royal, his small band of colonists went to work with a will. “The time being short,” Champlain wrote, “we fitted out two barques, which we loaded with the woodwork of the Sainte Croix, to transport it to Port-Royal twenty-five leagues distant.” Every structure was dismantled except the storehouse, which was too big to move. Many trips were needed to carry the buildings across the bay.4

The sieur de Mons stayed in Port-Royal until “everything had been set in order,” and then he hurried home to France. The colony had powerful enemies at court, and rival merchants were challenging his monopoly. His own investors were growing restless. After the winter at Sainte-Croix, the tropics seemed more attractive for settlement. In the summer of 1605, Henri IV was thinking seriously about planting a French colony between Portuguese Brazil and New Spain. He appointed a soldier named Daniel de la Revardière to be lieutenant general for the territory from the Amazon to Trinidad.5


Champlain’s map of Port-Royal is on a diff erent scale from his other charts. The protected harbor was fifteen miles long, the soil was more fertile, the climate was less severe than Sainte-Croix, and the Mi’kmaq nation very welcoming.

New France was in danger at home, and de Mons needed to “obtain from His Majesty what was necessary for his enterprise.” To that end, he carried back many gifts in the hope of reviving the king’s interest in North America. The most striking present was a big birchbark canoe, thirty feet long and stained bright red. It was launched on the River Seine by returning sailors, who paddled past the Louvre at “an incredible speed,” much to the pleasure of the king and the delight of the little Dauphin, four years old, who would become Louis XIII. Other presents included a baby moose (six months old and already “as big as a horse”), a caribou (the first recorded use of that word), a muskrat (rat musqué, they called it), a huge set of moose antlers, a living hummingbird, a collection of dead birds, plus bows and arrows, Indian portraits, and other marvels for the royal collection.6

Before he left Acadia, the sieur de Mons appointed an acting lieutenant to govern Acadia in his absence. His first choice had been the sieur d’Orville, a French nobleman who was still suffering the effects of scurvy and unable to serve. Next in line was Pont-Gravé, who took the job.7 Champlain could have gone home with de Mons, but he wanted to stay at Port-Royal in the hope of “making new discoveries towards Florida.” The sieur de Mons “highly approved,” and Champlain received many privileges as well as strong support for his explorations.8

The settlement of Port-Royal rapidly took form. Champlain made a sketch and described its plan as a tight rectangle, sixty feet long and forty-eight feet wide. He called it the fort. These men were always thinking of military defense—not against Indians but European attackers. Their experience of incessant war at home inspired a habitual sense of insecurity.9 The settlement at Port-Royal resembled a fortified farming hamlet in France. It stood on the crest of a low hill, completely enclosed by outer walls nearly two hundred feet in circumference. At one corner of the rectangle, the builders added a projecting bastion with four guns that commanded the anchorage and covered two walls of the fort. At another corner, a log platform of similar design protected the gate and a third wall.10

The interior was carefully planned to maintain social rank and internal order. Standing alone at the northern corner of the fort was an elegant little house with a high-hipped roof and “handsome woodwork.” This was the same building that had been prefabricated in France, and erected for the sieur de Mons on Sainte-Croix Island. At Port-Royal it became the residence of Pont-Gravé and Champlain. These old friends lived comfortably together, and their harmony set a tone for the settlement.

Next to their house on the northwestern side was a row of smaller dwellings for officers of rank. The Catholic priest and Protestant pastor lived there, the surgeon Deschamps, and the skilled shipwright Champdoré. On the southwest was a dormitory for artisans.11To the southeast was the bakery, kitchen, blacksmith shop, and a “maisonette” for small boats and rigging. Probably some of the laborers and servants slept in the kitchen, bakery and smithy, which would have been warm in the winter. On the northeast side was the vital magasin, a storehouse with a “very fine cellar, five or six feet deep” that held the colony’s stock of wine, cider, grain, and other provisions. The end closest to the commander’s house may have served as an armory and barracks for the small detachment of Swiss soldiers who were billeted between officers and “other ranks,” much like marines aboard warships.12

Champlain’s sketch of the habitation at Port-Royal, ca. 1605–06, shows a fortified settlement surrounded by fertile gardens on rising ground above the harbor. It was a highly successful colony—until its funding failed in France.

Pont-Gravé kept the colonists at work on the settlement, urging them to make the fort weather-tight before winter. He was a driver, but not unpopular with the men. They admired his large spirit even as they feared his temper. Lescarbot wrote, “M. du Pont was not a man to sit still, nor allow his people to remain idle.”13 After the buildings went up, the colonists cleared the outer grounds and created something like a protective glacis around the fort. A year later, a visitor described Port-Royal as “almost wholly surrounded by meadows.”14

Champlain and Pont-Gravé began to make gardens outside the fort. They encouraged all the colonists to till individual plots for their own gain. Champlain himself loved gardening and worked with his servants to prepare the ground. His purpose was to experiment with various crops, as he did wherever he went in New France. At Port-Royal, he tells us, he “sowed there some seeds which throve well; and … took therein particular pleasure, although beforehand it had entailed a great deal of labor.”

Champlain surrounded his garden with “channels full of water, wherein I placed some very fine trout; and through it flowed three brooks of very clear running water, from which the greater part of the settlement was supplied. I constructed near the seashore a little sluiceway, to draw off the water whenever I desired.” His servants added “a small reservoir to hold salt-water fish, which we took out as we required them.”15

He made a particular effort to attract birds into his garden, and they swarmed around him. He wrote happily, “The little birds thereabouts received pleasure from this; for they gathered in great numbers, and warbled and chirped so pleasantly that I do not think I ever heard the like.” Near his garden, stream, and fishpond, Champlain constructed a small “cabinet” or gazebo where he could work at his maps and papers or talk with Pont-Gravé and his friends. “We often resorted there to pass the time,” he recalled.16

One day Champlain and Pont-Gravé were discussing the king’s interest in minerals. A Breton seaman named Prévert had earlier reported a deposit of copper at the Port of Mines. Champlain and the sieur de Mons had made a quick search the year before, without success. In the fall of 1605, Pont-Gravé agreed that Champlain might have a look, with maître Jacques, one of the miners from Slavonia.17

They took a barque across the Baie Française to the Saint John River, in search of the Etchemin sagamore Secoudon, Champlain’s friend and Prévert’s guide. “Having found him,” Champlain wrote, “I begged him to come with us. He willingly agreed, and showed us the way.” Together they went to the Port of Mines and found “several small pieces of copper as thick as a sou, embedded in grayish and red rocks.” Maître Jacques also discovered veins of “rose copper.” Its exceptional purity was a sign of large deposits, but the tide covered the site twice a day. While the miner was chipping away with his hammer, Champlain went out of his way to meet Indian leaders, and cultivated relationships by working with them. That constant effort was important to his success.18

When Champlain returned to Port-Royal, where forty-five settlers were preparing for the winter, he was shocked to discover that some of them were already showing symptoms of scurvy. Everyone remembered the horror of the past year and looked ahead with deep foreboding. Fortunately, the first snow did not fall until December 20, two months later than at Sainte-Croix. Small floes of ice came down the river past the Port-Royal settlement, but to their relief, “the winter was not so severe as it had been the year before, nor was the snow as deep, or of as long duration.”19

The settlement had a sufficiency of grain and dried provisions, and this time Champlain got fresh game from the Indians. But as the winter wore on, scurvy began to spread again. The toll was not as terrible as at Sainte-Croix, but still very cruel. Of forty-five colonists, twelve died from this dread disease. Five more fell very ill, and recovered only in the spring.20

Still, something had diminished the mortality rate from the year before. It might have been a late winter and an early spring. The Indians had good hunting and brought an abundance of fresh meat to Port-Royal. They helped in another way too. Lescarbot later wrote that they “took in one of our men, who lived with them for some six weeks in their fashion, without salt, bread, or wine, sleeping on the ground in skins, and that too in time of snow. Moreover they took greater care of him, as also of others who often went with them, than of themselves, saying that if any of these died, his death would be laid at their door.” Probably they also had antiscorbutic plants and herbal remedies.21

When spring arrived in 1606, supply ships were expected from France. They did not appear, and the settlers at Port-Royal began to run short of provisions. The wine gave out first, and other stocks fell short. The first month of summer came and went without any news from home. By mid-July Pont-Gravé and Champlain feared that they had barely enough food to reach the fishing coast where they could find a passage home. The settlement had two barques. The colonists crowded aboard these small vessels, all except two intrepid Frenchmen who agreed to stay behind as caretakers of the fort.

On July 17, 1606, the settlers departed for Canso on the Atlantic coast, where they hoped to find fishermen who could help them. The first night they anchored for some reason in Long Island Strait, an entry into Baie Sainte-Marie, south of Port-Royal. It was not a wise decision. When the tide began to run, an anchor cable parted on one shallop, and they were lucky to survive. They got clear of the shore and ran into a sharp squall. High seas smashed their rudder irons. Only one man could put it right—the shipwright Champdoré, who “cleverly mended the rudder.”

They sailed on, still far from Canso and very near starvation. They were on the edge of despair, when suddenly a sail appeared. She was French, and they were hailed by the familiar voice of Jean Ralluau, Mons’ secretary. He reported that a supply ship had at last reached Canso with abundant provisions, fifty colonists, and a new governor with instructions to “remain in the country.”

The sieur de Mons was still their leader, but he had decided to remain in France to rally support at court and work with his investors. He ordered Pont-Gravé to run commercial operations on the fishing coast, and sent out Poutrincourt as governor of Port-Royal. We have met him as commander of an ill-fated exploring mission on the coast of Norumbega.

Poutrincourt was an interesting man. He was the fourth son of an ancient noble family from Picardy in the north of France, with close connections to the Catholic House of Guise, and a record of long service to the Valois kings through the better part of three centuries.22 His family had suffered severely in the wars of religion. Poutrincourt’s two older brothers were killed in 1562 and 1569. His sister Jeanne became lady-in-waiting to Mary Queen of Scots, and was caught up in that tragedy. Poutrincourt himself fought against Henri IV, but when the new king converted to Catholicism, Poutrincourt broke with the Catholic League, and was rewarded with many offices.

In 1605 Poutrincourt was forty-eight years old. He had inherited the seigneury of Marcilly-sur-Seine, and the barony of Saint-Just on the River Marne in Champagne, but had trouble managing his property. He was also a man of broad interests and large spirit, a man of the Renaissance, a humanist with an interest in literature and the arts. Music was his passion; he was an active composer of secular and sacred works.23

Traveling with Poutrincourt was another extraordinary character—Marc Lescarbot, his lawyer, literary companion, and family friend. Lescarbot tells us that he had suffered a wrong at the hands of corrupt judges in Paris and decided to “flee” to Acadia as a place of refuge for those who “love justice, and hate iniquity.” He was another Renaissance man—a living example of its ideal of the uomo universale, the universal man. Lescarbot was a poet, playwright, historian, and man of learning, steeped in humanistic values and widely read in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and his native French. His first love was classical literature, and his dream was to emulate its glories in the modern era.24

Poutrincourt and Lescarbot joined the circle of humanists who had founded New France. They had much in common with de Mons and Champlain—a passion for knowledge, a curiosity about the new world, an interest in the Indians, a vision of enlightened enterprise, a dream of humanity, a hunger for peace, a loyalty to the large spirit of Henri IV, and an abiding hope for a greater France in North America. They also enlarged this circle by contributing their own purposes, which were not the same as those of de Mons and Champlain. Like others in New France, they were dreamers too, but they dreamed of other things.

Lescarbot was drawn to Acadia as a field for literature. With much encouragement from Poutrincourt and the sieur de Mons, he hoped to be the Virgil of this colonizing venture, and sought to compose an Acadian Aeneid in modern poetry and prose. When he went to join his ship, he withdrew from the others, “keeping at times a little apart from the company,” and wrote a long poem called “Adieu à la France.” It cleverly combined deep nostalgia for the old world with high anticipation for the new—the mood of many immigrants to American shores. Lescarbot had it printed in La Rochelle and remembered with pride that it was received with “much applause.”25

Poutrincourt had yet another vision of Acadia. He hoped to found a feudal utopia in the new world, which he and his family could rule in a benevolent way, for the good of the whole. Poutrincourt asked the sieur de Mons for a grant of land at Port-Royal, proposing “to live there, and to establish his family and his fortune, and the name of God above all.” De Mons agreed, and on February 25, 1606, Henri IV granted Poutrincourt “the seigneury of Port-Royal and adjacent lands.” In return, he was required to plant a colony within two years.26

Poutrincourt recruited about fifty colonists. Half of them can be identified by name or occupation. Once again they were highly stratified by social rank, as in France itself. At the top were a tight circle of family and friends: Poutrincourt himself, his son Charles de Poutrincourt de Biencourt, and their cousins from the barony of Saint-Just in Champagne; Claude Turgis de Sainte-Étienne et de la Tour, and his son Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour, who would become leading figures in the history of Acadia. Also in that circle was Poutrin-court’s cousin-german from Paris, Louis Hébert, a master of pharmacy who came from a family of prosperous merchant-apothecaries and spice dealers.27

Other gentlemen and officers included Jean Ralluau, secretary to sieur de Mons. Also welcomed to the expedition was Robert Gravé, son of Champlain’s friend Pont-Gravé. This young man was “favoured with a splendid physique, good looks, and an alert, practical intelligence.” He was a free spirit who went his own way and quarreled with Poutrincourt, but in the end they got along.28 Three officers chose to remain from the year before: Samuel Champlain, the shipwright Pierre Angibault called Champdoré, and the sieur de Boullay, a captain in Poutrincourt’s regiment.29

These men of rank had a large number of servants who were rarely mentioned by name. Poutrincourt had a valet named Estienne. Champlain had several “lackeys.” He scarcely ever referred to them by name—a common attitude among gentlemen-humanists in the early modern era.

Below the gentlemen were skilled artisans who worked with their hands, such as the surgeon Estienne and the locksmith Jean Duval. Poutrincourt also enlisted many young journeymen. At least three journeyman carpenters received contracts and three journeyman woodcutters signed on for one year and were paid 100 livres.30 At the bottom were the unskilled laborers. Lescarbot regarded them as a wild bunch. “I do not wish to rank all of them in this category,” he wrote, “for some among them were quiet and respectful.” But many were turbulent characters. At La Rochelle before they sailed, Lescarbot remembered, “Our workmen, who received twenty sous per day, played marvelous pranks in the Saint Nicolas Quarter where they lodged … some were made prisoners and kept in the town hall until departure.”31

Even in a small ship or a close-built colony, a great distance separated the gentlemen from other men. Marc Lescarbot’s classical humanism embraced the Indians, but not these lowest orders of Frenchmen. “The common people is a queer beast,” he wrote in a casual way that denied their humanity and individuality in a single phrase. “In this connection,” he added, “I remember the so-called Peasants’ War, in the midst of which I once found myself when I was in Quercy. It was the most bizarre thing in the world to see this clutter of folk all wearing wooden shoes, whence they had got the name of Clackers, because their shoes, hobnailed behind and before, went clack at every step. This motley mob would hear of neither rhyme nor reason. Everybody was master.”

The gentlemen of New France had no sympathy for “clackers,” and none at all for democracy or equality. They were quicker to recognize the humanity of the Indians than that of their own servants and laborers—an attitude that Champlain shared.32

This hierarchy of orders and estates was transplanted to Acadia, but not without change. Some men of humble rank rose rapidly in the new world. Daniel Hay, a carpenter, won honor through repeated acts of valor. Lescarbot celebrated him as a man “whose pleasure it is to display his courage among the dangers of the deep.” Champlain praised his bravery and presence of mind. He appears to have been a natural leader, and began to be treated with respect by gentlemen who might not have deigned to notice him in Europe. Another example was François Addenin, “servant to sieur de Mons,” a soldier who was sent as his bodyguard. He won a reputation as the most skilled hunter in the settlement, and was welcomed to the tables of gentlemen. We shall meet him again.33The experience of these men brought out a paradox in New France, which was at once highly stratified and highly mobile. Clear lines were drawn between social orders, but men such as Daniel Hay and François Addenin were able to cross the lines more easily than in the old country.34

There were no European women in Acadia from 1604 through 1607. Their absence was much regretted. Lescarbot told a story about an attempt that had been made to settle Cape Breton. The managers had “sent some cows two years and a half ago, but for want of some village housewife who understood taking care of them, they let the greater part die in giving birth to their calves. Which shows how necessary is a woman in a house.”

Lescarbot missed the company of women, as did many of his companions. Others were of a contrary mind and didn’t miss them at all. These early settlements attracted more than a few misogynists. Lescarbot was not among them: “I cannot understand why so many men slight them, even though they cannot get on without them. As for myself, I shall always believe that in any settlement whatsoever, nothing can be accomplished without the company of women. Without them, life is sad, sickness comes, and we die without their aid and comfort. This is why I despise those woman-haters (mysogames) who wish them all sorts of harm, which I hope will overtake that lunatic … who said that woman is a necessary evil, since there is no blessing in the world to be compared to her.”35

On July 27, 1606, Poutrincourt brought his fifty male colonists ashore at Port-Royal. He met with those who had stayed the winter, and spoke of his purposes. He explained his vision of Acadia as a self-sustaining agricultural colony, and he began to work toward that end. Large grain fields were cleared along the river on rich alluvial soil. On a small stream near a waterfall he built a water-powered grain mill with a proper grindstone that must have been brought from France. It was thought to be the first water mill in this country. An old grindstone in the park at Fort Anne today is said to be the original wheel.36

He also planted orchards, “perhaps the first fruit trees in a region that was to become famous for its apples.” Poutrincourt brought over so many animals that his ship Jonas became a veritable ark. He introduced a small herd of cattle, but, as Lescarbot lamented, they did not flourish, perhaps indeed for the want of skilled dairywomen. Poutrincourt also brought swine, which increased and multiplied, as did pigeons and poultry. A solitary sheep was allowed to live in the courtyard of the fort, and was sheared for its wool. Other unintended animals in this menagerie were the rats that traveled in the hold of Poutrincourt’s ship and found their way ashore. The result was a plague of rats, a problem in many early colonies. The worst sufferers were the Mi’kmaq, when the rats moved into Indian villages and consumed their small stock of supplies.37

Poutrincourt gave Port-Royal a different tone from other feudal utopias in America, which were strongly collectivist. He was persuaded to follow the example of Champlain and Pont-Gravé, and encouraged his colonists to work both for the colony and for themselves. The result was a system of mixed enterprise. The men were asked to work at collective tasks for a small part of each day. Together they dug ditches and moats around the fort to strengthen its defenses and to improve its cleanliness. A well was also dug in the middle of the courtyard and lined with bricks burned of “Port-Royal clay.”38

This collective labor was limited to two or three hours. The rest of the day, the leaders urged the men to work at their own gardens. Lescarbot set them an example by tilling his own plot, as Champlain had done the year before. Lescarbot wrote, “I can say without lying that never before had I worked so hard as the days of summer were very short. I had often in the spring continued by moonlight.”39

The settlement at Port-Royal had a dual character. Poutrincourt and Lescarbot made it a feudal seigneury, subject to the king of France. One of their first acts was to mount the arms of France and the king above the gate, along with the heraldry of the sieur de Mons and the sieur de Poutrincourt. At the same time, these French leaders were quick to discover that settlers were more productive when they worked for their own gain. These two ideals, feudal and entrepreneurial, coexisted at Port-Royal.

French artisans and workmen brought many skills to Port-Royal, as Lescarbot records. “We had numerous joiners, carpenters, masons, stone-cutters, locksmiths, ironworkers, tailors, woodsawyers, sailors, etc., who worked at their trades.” The pace of work was relaxed, and food was abundant. Lescarbot recalled that the men spent much of their time “gathering mussels … found in great numbers at low tide in front of the fort, or a species of lobster, or crab, which abound beneath the rocks of Port-Royal, or clams [he called them cockles] which grow beneath the mud in all parts of the beach of the harbor. All these were gathered without either boat or net.”40

Fish was available in quantity. Lescarbot remembered that “when the Indians camped near us had made a catch of any sturgeon, salmon, or smaller fish, or of any beaver, moose, caribou, or other animals … they gave us the half thereof, and frequently put up the remainder to public sale, and anyone who wished bartered bread for it.”41 A barter economy developed rapidly, and a spirit of improvisation was encouraged. “Some of the masons and stonecutters tried their hand at baking, and made us as good bread as that of Paris…. No one lacked bread, and each had three half-pints of wine a day.” In 1606, they ran low on wine and Poutrincourt was forced to reduce the daily ration to one pint of wine a day. “Yet even so an extra supply was frequently served out.”42

The abundance of supplies was partly the product of individual effort and partly the result of careful planning in France by the sieur de Mons, who had enlisted the aid of merchants in La Rochelle. Lescarbot, for one, was appreciative. “We owe much praise to the said M. de Mons and his partners, Messrs. Macquin and Georges of Rochelle, who made such honorable provision for us. For our rations we had peas, beans, rice, prunes, raisins, dried cod and salt meat, besides oil and butter.” Fuel was not a problem. “Our wood-sawyers several times made us a great quantity of charcoal.”43

In the late summer and fall of 1606, as we have seen, Poutrincourt and Champlain went exploring on the coast of Norumbega. The rest remained at Port-Royal under Lescarbot’s authority. He kept the peace, worked well with the Indians, supported the spiritual life of the colony, and spent much of his time at his writing desk.

On November 16, 1606, the sieur de Poutrincourt and Champlain limped back into Port-Royal in a battered barque with a broken rudder and three men wounded from their bloody encounter with the hostile Indians of Cape Cod.44 They were amazed to be welcomed by Marc Lescarbot with a theatrical entertainment, an elaborate masque that he had written specially for the occasion. It was staged on the water at Port-Royal with music, verse, costumes, and special decorations on the fort. French workers wore Indian clothing. The real Indians attended, some afloat in their canoes; more than a few were probably wearing articles of European dress that they had acquired in trade.45

Lescarbot called this spectacle Le Théâtre de Neptune. It had a cast of eleven actors: the Sea God Neptune, six Tritons, and four Frenchmen dressed as Indians, plus at least one trumpet and drum. Poutrincourt and Champlain were asked to take seats in their barque, while a shallop approached, bearing Neptune in a regal blue robe, wearing a crown and carrying a trident. He greeted the sieur de Poutrincourt with a poem of praise for his courage.

Marc Lescarbot’s masque, The Theatre of Neptune, was performed on November 16, 1606, to welcome Poutrincourt’s return to the colony. The drawing is by artist-historian C. W. Jeff reys.

Hail to you, Sagamos, rest and stay awhile!

Come listen to a God who welcomes with a smile! …

Neptune and his Tritons took turns reciting many lines of Lescarbot’s classical verse, punctuated by trumpet and drum, and leavened by Parisian jests that mocked the manners and speech of French colonists who came from the provinces to the south and west. The masque reached its climax in a panegyric to the sieur de Poutrincourt:

Go then with happiness and follow on the way

Wherever fortune leads you since I foresee the day,

When a prosperous domain you will prepare for France

In this fair new world, and the future will enhance

The glory of De Mons, so too, your name shall ring

Immortal in the reign of Henry—your great and puissant king.

This was the first recorded theatrical production performed in New France. Historian Marcel Trudel quoted a comment by an anonymous contemporary of Champlain: “When the French founded a colony, the first thing they built was a theater; the English, a counting house; the Spanish, a convent.”46

This masque was not the first European theatrical production in North America, as has often been claimed. Spaniards had performed at least three dramas before The Theatre of Neptune—at Florida as early as 1567, Cuba in 1590, and New Mexico in 1598. No texts have survived, but the theatrical in New Mexico was described as “written by a Spanish soldier in celebration of their conquests.”47 Marc Lescarbot’s Theatre of Neptune is all the more interesting by its contrast with that earlier work. It is not in any way a celebration of military conquest. Poutrincourt and the French settlers are welcomed by four Indians who “render homage” to the sacred fleur de lys of the French, and hope for the establishment of “all that is good and peaceful.” After the welcoming speeches, the Indians are welcomed in their turn to the French habitation and they all break bread together.48 The play proclaims the excellence of French culture, but treats Indians with respect, celebrates an entirely peaceful encounter, and ends with Indians and Europeans dwelling together in peace.49

Music and celebration had a prominent place in the life of Port-Royal. To Lescarbot’s masque, Poutrincourt also added his own entertainments. He was a gifted musician who, in the words of one historian, “seriously contends for the title of North America’s first composer.”50 He also wrote religious and secular pieces for production in Port-Royal. Lescarbot wrote, “I remember that on a Sunday afternoon, the 14th of [January 1607], we amused ourselves by singing music along the banks of the Rivière l’Équille, now called Dauphin River, and that during this same month we paid visit to the cornields, two leagues from our fort, and dined joyously in the sunshine.”51

The settlers observed saints’ days and royal birthdays with musical events. In the spring of 1607, they learned that the queen had given birth to a second son, “Monseigneur le duc d’Orléans,” a large title for a newborn baby. His arrival greatly cheered the men of Port-Royal. The birth of a second son meant that their good king Henri IV had two sons who could inherit the throne, and his subjects had brighter hopes for peace and stability in France. Champlain wrote that the news brought “great rejoicing(rejiouissance).”Lescarbot recalled their celebrations. “We made bonfires in honour of the birth of my lord the Duke of Orléans, and began afresh to make our cannon and falconets thunder, with good store of musketry, though not until after we had sung a The Deum for the occasion.”52

*  *  *

The leaders of this French colony were devoted to the idea of living well in L’Acadie. When winter came in 1606–07, Champlain added his own contribution. He explained: “We spent this winter very pleasantly, and had good fare by means of an Ordre de Bon Temps, which I established and which everybody found beneficial to his health, and more profitable than all the varieties of medicines that we might have used.”53

In a happy turn of phrase, Champlain’s English-speaking editors W. F. Ganong and H. P. Biggar translated the “Ordre de Bon Temps” as the Order of Good Cheer, and so it has remained in anglophone Canada. Champlain himself thought of it as an order in the sense of a medal or decoration. “This order,” he wrote, “consisted of a chain which we used to place with certain small ceremonies around the neck of one of our company, commissioning him to go hunting that day. The next day it was conferred on another, and so on in succession. All competed with one another to do it best and to bring back the finest game. We did not come off badly, nor did the sauvages who were with us.”54

Lescarbot confirmed Champlain’s invention of this order, and added more detail. “To this Order,” he wrote, “each man of the said table was appointed Chief Steward in his turn, which came round once a fortnight. Now this person had the duty of taking care that we were all well and honorably provided for. This was so well carried out that, though the epicures of Paris often tell us that we had no Rue aux Ours over there, as a rule we made as good cheer as we could have in this same Rue aux Ours and at less cost,” than on that Paris Street famed for its cooked meats.55

Champlain founded the Ordre de Bon Temps, a dining society, at Port-Royal. This reconstruction by C.W. Jeffreys closely follows accounts by Champlain and Lescarbot.

He continued: “There was no one who, two days before his turn came, failed to go hunting or fishing, and to bring back some delicacy in addition to our ordinary fare. So well was this carried out that never at breakfast did we lack some savory meat of flesh or fish, and still less at our midday or evening meals; for that was our chief banquet, at which the ruler of the feast or chief butler [architriclin], whom the savages call Atoctegic, having had everything prepared by the cook, marched in, napkin on shoulder, wand of office in hand, and around his neck the collar of the Order, which was worth more than four crowns; after him, all the members of the Order, each carrying a dish. The same was repeated at dessert, though not always with so much pomp. And at night, before giving thanks to God, he handed over to his successor the collar of the Order, with a cup of wine, and they drank to each other.”56

So enthused was Lescarbot that he added more detail. “I have already said that we had abundance of game, such as ducks, bustards, grey and white geese, partridges, larks, and other birds; moreover, moose, caribou, beaver, otter, bear, rabbits, wildcats (or leopards), raccoons, and other animals such as the savages caught, whereof we made dishes well worth those of the cook-shop in the Rue aux Ours, and far more; for of all our meats none is so tender as moose-meat (whereof we also made excellent pasties), and nothing so delicate as beaver’s tail. Yea, sometimes we had half-a-dozen sturgeon at once, which the savages brought us, part of which we bought, and allowed them to sell the remainder publicly and to barter it for bread, of which our men had abundance. As for the ordinary rations brought from France, they were distributed equally to great and small alike; and, as we have said, the wine was served in like manner.”57

Champlain intended his Order of Good Cheer to be something more than merely a dining society. He believed that scurvy could be kept at bay by a diet of fresh meat and that health could be improved by exercise and entertainment. The Order of Good Cheer also promoted comity among the leaders of the colony, and encouraged an idea of service and mutual support. Altogether, it was a brilliant success.58

Most of its members can be identified. At the head of the table was Poutrin-court, “commandant” of the colony. Others included his son Biencourt and cousins Charles and Claude de la Tour, Captain Boullay, surgeon Estienne, apothecary Hébert, nobleman Fougeray de Vitré, Robert du Pont-Gravé, son of Champlain’s old friend, Daniel Hay, Marc Lescarbot, and Champlain. Also a member was François Addenin, one of the best shots in the settlement, who supplied the table “abundantly with gamebirds.”59

The “lower orders” of French colonists were not invited, but Indians were very much a part of these events. “At these proceedings,” Lescarbot wrote, “we always had twenty or thirty sauvages, men, women, girls and children, who looked on at our manner of service. Bread was given to them gratis as one would do to the poor. As for sagamore Membertou and other chiefs who came from time to time, they sat at table, eating and drinking like ourselves. And we were glad to see them while, on the contrary, their absence saddened us, as happened three or four times when they all went away to the places wherein they knew that there was hunting.”60

A key to Port-Royal’s success was the relationship between the French and the Acadian Indians, who were four nations by Champlain’s reckoning, and six by ours today. Champlain and Lescarbot referred to them as Souriquois (now the Mi’kmaq), mostly on the east coast of the Bay of Fundy, the Etchemin (now Maliseet, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy) on the west coast, Abenaquioit (now Abenaki or Wabenaki) inland to the west, and the Canadien, who lived north of Acadia and south of the St. Lawrence River. TheCanadien were probably a southern branch of the people who were called Montagnais by Champlain. These nations were primarily hunters and gatherers, but they were not primitive, as too often they have been made to appear. They were highly skilled traders, and thought of themselves as superior to the farming nations to the south and west. All spoke Algonquian languages, but in different dialects. All were enemies of the hated Iroquois, but they also fought each other. They hoped that the French would be trading partners and allies in their incessant wars. Champlain tried to keep peace among them.61

The French deliberately settled very near the Indians and were comfortable in their presence. In a country of enormous size, they did not attempt to drive the Indians off the land or to push them away. To the contrary, French leaders of Port-Royal invited Mi’kmaq sagamores to share their table, and to eat and drink with them as equals on a regular basis. The Mi’kmaq in turn welcomed the French as neighbors. Each side invited the other to tabagies, as Champlain had done at Tadoussac and again on the Penobscot River. In these festivals, the French were quick to adopt Indian customs of evening feasts, with speeches and dancing, and smoking together. The Mi’kmaq sponsored some of these gatherings, and the French reciprocated. It was very different from the English in Massachusetts and Virginia, who settled apart from the Indians, kept them at a distance, annexed large tracts of land, and cultivated an attitude of distrust and contempt.

The French also sent young gentlemen of the highest rank in the colony to live among the Indians, master their languages, and learn their ways. Three in particular did so in Acadia. One was Poutrincourt’s son Charles de Biencourt, fifteen years old in 1606, and his young cousin Charles La Tour, aged about fourteen. A third was Pont-Gravé’s son Robert, who was about the same age.62 They leaped at the opportunity. Biencourt and La Tour learned the languages of the Souriquois and the Etchemin. Gravé became fluent in the Etchemin tongue. All of them learned much more besides. As M. A. MacDonald writes, “the French boys” began to “acquire woodcraft, visiting the Indian camps and taking easily to Indian ways.” She tells us that they learned how to build a birchbark canoe, and steer it without splash or ripple. They learned to glide through the forest without a sound, and mastered “the wide-swinging snow-shoe stride, tracking moose through deep snows, learning to keep all senses alert, to be aware of everything—wind direction, broken twigs, shades of expression on a human face.” All three became leaders of French settlement in Acadia. They moved easily among Indian and French cultures, and understood the customs of the country.63

Champlain also fostered Indian relations in another way. More than any other high leader in New France, he sought out Indians in their own territory, and visited them with only one or two companions. He formed enduring relationships with many native leaders. Among his friends were Secoudon the sagamore of the St. John Valley, Bessabez in the Penobscot Valley, Sasinou in the Quinibequi country (Kennebec today), and many more.64

The most important of these relationships was with the Souriquois sagamore Membertou, who lived close to Port-Royal. Some scholars have tried to minimize his role and have accused Champlain of exaggerating his position, but Lescarbot and the missionaries had the same judgment of his importance. Nearly all wrote that he was a man of great influence, the leader of a group of four hundred Indians, and builder of “a town surrounded by high palisades.” Jesuit Father Pierre Biard met him and described him as “the greatest, most renowned and most formidable savage within the memory of man: of a splendid physique, taller and larger-limbed than is usual among them, bearded like a Frenchman, though scarcely any of the others have hair upon the chin; grave and reserved; feeling a proper sense of dignity for his position as a commander.”65 He appeared before the French in a “beautiful otter robe” that was much coveted by French leaders and added greatly to his gravitas. Membertou combined many roles as warrior, magistrate, healer, and soothsayer. He was also a shaman or aoutmoin—a prophet, healer, and medicine man. His biographer writes that “the prestige of aoutmoin reinforced that of the sagamo and gave him a special authority in the councils.” At the same time Membertou was a leader in trade and acquired his own European shallop, which he decorated with his own totems and used to sail the coast of Acadia.66 He sailed far out to sea, met approaching ships, and offered Indian goods at high prices—forestalling the coastal markets.

When the French arrived, Membertou was elderly but fit and very strong. Lescarbot, never at his best with numbers, reckoned his age as “at least 100,” and he had a son aged sixty, “though even now he does not look more than fifty years old.”67 The French were amazed by the keenness of Membertou’s senses. One morning, he shouted to the French that a sail was heading toward Port-Royal. “All ran to see, but none was found with such good sight as he,” Lescarbot remembered. “We soon saw [that it was] a small merchant vessel.”68

Lescarbot, Poutrincourt, and Champlain held Membertou in high respect, but they understood him in different ways. Lescarbot was mainly interested in writing a work of literature that celebrated the humanity of the American Indians. “From a human point of view at least,” he wrote, “the savages were more humane and more honorable than many of those who bear the name of Christians.”69 He applied that idea to Membertou and made him the model of a noble savage who led his people with wisdom. “He has under him a number of families whom he rules, not with as much authority as our king has over his subjects, but by his ability to harangue, to give counsel, to lead into war, and to give justice to those who received injury.” Lescarbot added, “He does not impose taxes on them, but if there is a hunt, he gets a share without taking part in it. It is true that sometimes he is given presents of beaver pelts and other things when he is employed to heal the sick or exorcise demons, or to reveal the future or those who are absent…. Membertou is the one who has practised these arts among his people. He has done it so well that his reputation is very high among the other sagamores in the land.”70

This “Gourd of Membertou” was elaborately carved to symbolize an alliance between the Mi’kmaq sagamore Membertou and the French. It also bears the arms of the Robin family, who helped to fund Port-Royal and sent several men to Acadia.

Poutrincourt approached the Indians in another spirit. He “regarded as the chief end of his journey thither to bring about the salvation of these poor, savage and barbarous tribes.” To that purpose, he saw in Membertou a way of converting the “savages of Acadia” to Christianity, and persuaded him to be baptized along with his family. Poutrincourt himself served as the sponsor and chose Christian names for each convert. Membertou and his wife and eldest son were named Henri, Marie, and Louis after the first family of France. Other members of Membertou’s family were christened with the names of French noblemen.71

Poutrincourt also tried to suppress Indian rituals of death and burial, with no success whatever. Membertou insisted on practicing two religions at the same time. Without abandoning his own original faith, he took up Christianity with the proverbial zeal of the convert and proposed to “make war on all who refused to become Christians.” The French urged him to make converts by persuasion rather than by the sword, for they had seen too much of that at home.72

Champlain thought of Membertou in a third way. He recognized Membertou’s many virtues, and found him to be honorable and trustworthy in his dealings with friends, neighbors, and guests. But he tried to understand the Indian leader in his own terms. He understood that Membertou lived by ethics very different from those of the French. In a wilderness that was ruled by fang and claw, he kept the hard code that the Romans called lex talionis, the rule of justice by retaliation, often by sudden raids and surprise attacks. Cham plain wrote that in war Membertou “had a reputation of being the worst and most treacherous of all his nation.”73 In the summer of 1607, for example, Membertou led his people to war against the Saco Indians. Champlain observed that “this entire war was solely about a member of Membertou’s nation who had been killed at Norumbega.”74 After the body of the slain kinsman was recovered, Membertou arranged an elaborate funeral. The friends and family of the murdered man painted their faces black, “which is their manner of mourning,” Champlain observed. The body was arrayed in red cloth that Champlain supplied. Instead of trying to suppress the Mi’kmaq burial customs as Poutrincourt did, Champlain supported them.75

These very different ways of thinking about the American Indians met and mixed among the French humanists who settled at Port-Royal.76

As the winter of 1606–07 came to an end, the men of Port-Royal made ready for another planting season. One imagines them toiling around the fire at night, mending their tools, sharpening blades, and replacing handles. Once again the leaders urged every man in the settlement to cultivate his own garden. They encouraged a spirit of rivalry that spurred them on to greater effort. “Near the end of March,” Lescarbot recorded, “the best-disposed among us set themselves who should best till, with a pride of ownership and achievement, and a feeling that they were working for themselves that spurred them to greater labor.”77

The seeds sprouted quickly, and the French were astonished by the results of their labor. “When each of us had finished his sowing,” Lescarbot continued, “it was a marvelous pleasure to see them grow and increase day by day, and still a greater contentment to make abundant use of them…. This commencement of good hope made us almost forget our native country.” They also went to work on the fishing in the same spirit, and “were yet more astonished by the abundance of their catch…. The fish began to seek the fresh water and to come in such abundance into our brooks that we knew not what to do with them.”78

On May 24, 1607, the habitants of Port-Royal saw a sail coming up the great sound. It proved to be a small barque du port of about six or seven tons, flying a French ensign. In command was a young captain of Saint-Malo named Chevalier.79 He brought letters from the sieur de Mons, and they were heavy with bad news. The colonists were shocked to learn that the company had failed. It had been brought down by many blows. Individual investors had been cheating the company; they sent their own ships to trade for fish and furs, and kept the profits for themselves. Then came the crowning blow. The Royal council found that de Mons had failed to meet the conditions of his patent, and they terminated his monopoly of the fur trade. Without it, the company was no longer able to support a colony in Acadia. With much sadness, the sieur de Mons ordered Poutrincourt to abandon Acadia and bring the settlers back to France.80

Some habitants of Port-Royal were delighted to go home, but the leaders did not want to leave quickly. The crops were coming splendidly, and the sieur de Poutrincourt wanted to see the result. Champlain’s work of surveying and mapmaking was unfinished. Others believed that they could obtain furs and fish sufficient to help the sieur de Mons weather a financial crisis. They decided to remain in Acadia for another three months, and make the most of the time.81

In July, another message arrived from France. It was Ralluau again, with more peremptory orders to return home. A ship had been sent for that purpose, the ill-named Jonas, and she was waiting at Ingonish on Cape Breton. The settlers closed up the colony, and went aboard the company’s vessels. Most sailed in two barques on July 30, 1607, but still the leaders were reluctant to depart. Poutrincourt wanted to stay for a few more weeks until the first grain crops ripened. They also wanted to say farewell to Membertou, who had been away leading a war party against the Almouchiquois at Saco.82

On August 10, 1607, Membertou returned in triumph. The next day, the French harvested some grain from their fields, put it aboard their small shallop, and made ready to depart. Membertou and the Indians were sorry to see them go. There were tears and lamentations. The Indians promised to protect the settlement, which they did with complete fidelity. The French leaders sailed on August 11, and met the ship Jonas at Canso for the voyage home.83 The habitants left with a sense of pride and achievement. They had nothing but praise for their leaders. Although Poutrincourt had not done well in command of exploring expeditions, he was more successful in command of a fortified post among Indians who repeatedly demonstrated their friendship.

Champdoré brought from Acadia a beautiful blue amethyst, which he had cut in two pieces, and “gave half to M. de Mons and the other to M. de Poutrincourt,” as a token of esteem. The two men had the stones handsomely set, and presented them to the king and the queen as glowing symbols of New France, and of the “beautiful things that lie hidden in these countries, knowledge of which has not yet been given to us.” The leaders believed that something had gone profoundly right at Port-Royal—with the Indians, with oneanother, and with the place itself. They thought of Port-Royal as an ideal settlement, and held it up as “a successful model, well suited to conditions in North America.” The leaders were determined to try again, and plant another settlement that might endure. But first they had some urgent business in France.84

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