The Feudal Chiefs of Acadia


WITH the opening of the seventeenth century began that contest for the ownership of North America which was to remain undecided for a century and a half. England claimed the continent in right of the discovery by the Cabots in 1497 and 1498, and France claimed it in right of the voyage of Verrazzano in 1524. Each resented the claim of the other, and each snatched such fragments of the prize as she could reach, and kept them if she could. In 1604, Henry IV. of

France gave to De Monts all America from the fortieth to the forty-sixth degree of north latitude, including the sites of Philadelphia on the one hand, and Montreal on the other ; while eight years after, Louis XIII. gave to Madame de Guercheville and the Jesuits the whole continent from Florida to the St. Lawrence, — that is, the whole of the future British colonies. Again, in 1621, James I. of England made over a part of this generous domain to a subject of bis own, Sir William Alexander, to whom he gave, under the name of Nova Scotia, the peninsula which is now so called, together with a vast adjacent wilderness, to be held forever as a fief of the Scottish Crown. Sir William, not yet satisfied, soon got an additional grant of the “ River and Gulf of Canada,” along with a belt of land three hundred miles wide, reaching across the continent. Thus the king of France gave to Frenchmen the sites of Boston, New York, and Washington, and the king of England gave to a Scotchman the sites of Quebec and Montreal. But while the seeds of international war were sown broadcast over the continent, an obscure corner of the vast regions in dispute became the scene of an intestine strife like the bloody conflicts of two feudal chiefs in the depths of the Middle Ages.

After the lawless inroads of Argall, the French, with young Biencourt at their head, still kept a feeble hold on Acadia. After the death of his father, Poutrincourt, Biencourt took his name, by which thenceforth he was usually known. In his distress, he lived much like an Indian, roaming the woods with a few followers, and subsisting on fish, game, roots, and lichens. He seems, however, to have found means to build a small fort among the rocks and fogs of Cape Sable. He named it Fort Loméron, and here he appears to have maintained himself for a time by fishing and the fur trade.

Many years before, a French boy of fourteen years, Charles Saint-Etienne de la Tour, was brought to Acadia by his father, Claude de la Tour, where he became attached to the service of Biencourt (Poutrincourt), and, as he himself says, served as his ensign and lieutenant. He says farther that Biencourt, on his death, left him all his property in Acadia. It was thus, it seems, that La Tour became owner of Fort Loméron and its dependencies at Cape Sable, whereupon he begged the king to give him help against his enemies, especially the English, who, as he thought, meant to seize the country; and he begged also for a commission to command in Acadia for his Majesty.

In fact, Sir William Alexander soon tried to dispossess him and seize his fort. Charles de la Tour s father had been captured at sea by the privateer Kirke and carried to England. Here, being a widower, he married a lady of honor of the queen, and, being a Protestant, renounced his French allegiance. Alexander made him a Baronet of Nova Scotia, a new title which King James liad authorized Sir “W illiam to confer on persons of consideration aiding him in his work of colonizing Acadia. Alexander now fitted out two ships, with which he sent the elder La Tour to Cape Sable.

On arriving, the father, says the story, made the most brilliant offers to his son if lie would give up Fort Lomeron to the English, to which young La Tour is reported to have answered, in a burst of patriotism, that he would take no favors except from his sovereign, the king of France. On this, the English are said to have attacked the fort, and to have been beaten olf. As the elder La Tour could not keep his promise to deliver the place to tlio English, they would have no more to do with him, on which his dutiful son offered him an asylum, on condition that he should never enter the fort. A house was built for him outside the ramparts, and here the trader Nicolas Denys found him in 1635. It is Denys who tells the above story, which he probably got from the younger La Tour, and which, as he tells it, is inconsistent. with the known character of its pretended hero, who was no model of loyalty to his king, being a chameleon whose principles took the color of his interests. Denys says farther that the elder La Tour had been invested with the order of the Garter, and that the same dignity was offered to his son, which is absurd. The truth is that Sir William Alexander, thinking that the two La Tours might he useful to him, made them both Baronets of Nova Scotia.

Young La Tour, while begging Louis XIII. for a commission to command in Acadia, got from Sir William Alexander not only the title of Baronet, but also a large grant of land at and near Cape Sable, to be held as a lief of the Seottisk Crown. Again, he got from the French king a oTantof land on the river

St. John, and, to make assurance doubly sure, got leave from Sir “William Alexander to occupy it. This he soon did, and built a fort near the mouth of the river, not far from the present city of St. John.

Meanwhile, the French had made a lodgment on the rock of Quebec, and not many years after, all North America, from Florida to the arctic circle, and from Newfoundland to the springs of the St. Lawrence, was given by King Louis to the Company of New France, with Richelieu at its head. Sir AVilliam Alexander, jealous of this powerful rivalry, caused a private expedition to be fitted out under the brothers Kirke. It succeeded, and the French settlements in Acadia and Canada were transferred by conquest to England. England soon gave them back by the treaty of St. Germain, and Claude Razilly, a Knight of Malta, was charged to take possession of them in the name of King Louis. Full powers were given him over the restored domains, together with grants of Acadian lands for himself.

Razilly reached Port Royal in August, 1632, with three hundred men, and the Scotch colony planted there by Alexander gave up the place in obedience to an order from the king of England. Unfortunately for Charles de la Tour, Razilly brought with him an officer destined to become La Tour’s worst enemy. This was Charles de Menou d’Aunay Charnisay, a gentleman of birth and character, who acted as his commanders man of trust, and who, in Razilly s name, presently took possession of such other feeble English and Scotch settlements as had been begun by Alexander or the peopie of New England along the coasts of Nova Scotia and Maine. This placed the French Crown and the Company of New France in sole possession for a time of the region then called Acadia.

“When Acadia was restored to France, La Tour’s English title to his lands at Cape Sable became worthless, He hastened to Paris to fortify his position, and, suppressing his dallyings with England and Sir William Alexander, he succeeded in getting an extensive grant of lands at Cape Sable, along with the title of lieutenant-general for tlie king in b ort Loin (iron and its dependencies, and commander at Cape Sable for the Company of New France.

Razilly, who represented the king in Acadia, died in 1635, and left his authority to D’Aunay Charnisay, his relative and second in command. D’Aunay made his headquarters at Port Royal, and nobody disputed bis authority except La Tour, who pretended to be independent of him in virtue of his commission from the Crown and his grant from the Company. Hence rose dissensions that grew at last into war.

The two rivals differed widely in position and qualities. Charles de Menou, Seigneur d’Aunay Charnisay, came of an old and distinguished family of Touraine,1 and he prided himself above all things on bis character of gentilhouiDie français. Charles Saint-Etienne de la Tour was of less conspicuous lineage.2 In fact, his father, Claude de la Tour, is said by his enemies to have been at one time so reduced in circumstances that he carried on the trade of a mason in Rue St. Germain at Paris. The son, however, is called “ gentilliomme d’une navssance distingués,” both in papers of the court and in a legal document drawn up in the interest of his children. As he came to Acadia when a boy, he could have had little education, and both he and D’Aunay carried on trade, which in France would have derogated from their claims as gentlemen, though in America the fur trade was not held inconsistent with noblesse.

Of La Tour’s little kingdom at Cape Sable, with its rocks, fogs, and breakers, its seal-haunted islets and ironbound shores guarded by Fort Loméron, we have but dim and uncertain glimpses. After the death of Biencourt, La Tour is said to have roamed the woods with eighteen or twenty men, “ living a vagabond life, with no exercise of religion.” He himself admits that he was forced to live like the Indians, as did Bieucourt before him. Better times had come, and he was now commander of Fort Lomeron, or, as he called it, Fort La Tour, with a few Frenchmen and a band of Micmae Indians. His next neighbor was the adventurer Nicolas Denys, who, with a view to the timber trade, had settled with twelve men on a small river a few leagues distant. Here Razilly had once made him a visit, and was entertained under a tent of boughs, with a sylvan feast of wild pigeons, brant, teal, woodcock, snipe, and larks, cheered by profuse white wine and claret, and followed by a dessert of wild raspberries.

On the other side of the Acadian peninsula, D’Aunay reigned at Port Royal like a feudal lord, which in fact he was. Denys, who did not like him, says that he wanted only to rule, and treated his Settlers like slaves ; but this, even if true at the time, did not always remain so. D’Aunay went to France in 1641, and brought out, at his own charge, twenty families to people his seigniory. He had already brought out a wife, having espoused Jeanne Molin or Motin. daughter of the Seigneur de Courcelles. What with old settlers and new, about forty families were gathered at Port Royal and on the river Annapolis, and over these D’Aunay ruled like a feudal Robinson Crusoe. He gave each colonist a farm, charged with a perpetual rent of one sou an acre. The houses of the settlers were log cabins, and the manorhouse of their lord was a larger building of the same kind. The most pressing need was of defense, and D’Aunay lost no time in repairing and reconstructing the old fort on the point between Allen s River and the Annapolis. He helped his tenants at their work, and his confessor describes him as returning to his rough manor-house on a wet day, drenched with rain and bespattered with mud, but in perfect good humor, after helping some of the inhabitants to mark out a field. The confessor declares that during the eleven months of his acquaintance with him he never heard him speak ill of anybody, a statement which must probably be taken with allowance. Ibis proud scion of a noble stock seems to have given himself with good grace to the rough labors of tlie frontiersman, while Father Ignace, the Capuchin friar, praises him for the merit, transcendent in clerical eyes, of constant attendance at mass and frequent confession.

With his neighbors, the Micmac Indians, he was on the best of terms. He supplied their needs, and they brought him the furs that enabled him in some measure to bear the heavy charges of an establishment that could not for many years be self-supporting. The Indians are said to have brought to Port Royal in a single year three thousand moose skins, besides beaver and other valuable furs. Yet, from a commercial point of view, D’Aunay did not prosper. He had sold or mortgaged his estates in France, borrowed large sums, built ships, bought cannon, levied soldiers, and brought over immigrants. He is reported to have had three hundred fighting men at his principal station, and sixty cannon mounted on his ships and forts; for besides Port Royal he had two or three smaller establishments.

Port Royal was a scene for an artist, with its fort; its soldiers in breastplate and morion, armed with pike, halberd, or matchlock; its manor-house of logs, and its seminary of like construction; its twelve Capuchin friars, with cowled heads, sandaled feet, and the cord of St. Francis; the birch canoes of Micmac and Abenaki Indians lying along the strand, and their feathered and painted owners lounging about the place or dozing around their wigwam fires. It was medievalism married to primeval savagery. The friars were supported by a fund supplied by Richelieu, and their chief business was to convert the Indians into vassals of France, the Church, and the Chevalier d’Aunay. Hard by was a wooden chapel, where the seignior knelt in dutiful observance of every rite, and where, under a stone chiseled with his ancient scutcheon, one of his children lay buried. In the fort he had not forgotten to provide a dungeon for his enemies.

The worst of these was Charles do la Tour. Before the time of Razilly and his successor, D’Aunay, La Tour had felt himself the chief man in Acadia; but now he was confronted by a rival higher in rank, superior in resources and court influence, proud, ambitious, and masterful.3 He was bitterly jealous of D’Aunay, and, to strengthen himself against so formidable a neighbor, he got from the Company of New France the grant of a tract of land at the mouth of the river St. John, where he built a fort and called it after his own name, though it was better known as Fort St. Jean. Thither he removed from his old post at Cape Sable, and Fort St. Jean became bis chief station. It confronted its rival, Port Royal, across the intervening Bay of Fundy.

Now began a bitter feud between the two chiefs, each claiming lands occupied by the other. The court interposed to settle the dispute, but in its ignorance of Acadian geography its definitions were so obscure that the question was more embroiled than ever.4

While the domestic feud of the rivals was gathering to a head, foreign heretics had fastened their clutches on various parts of the Atlantic coast, which France and the Church churned as their own. English heretics had made lodgment in Virginia, and Dutch heretics at the mouth of the Hudson, while other sectaries of the most malignant type had kenneled among the sands and pine-trees of Plymouth, and others still, slightly different but equally venomous, had ensconced themselves on or near a small peninsula which they called Boston, at the head of La Grande Baye or Bay of Massachusetts, As it was not easy to dislodge them, the French dissembled for a while, yielded to the logic of events, and hided their time. But the interlopers soon began to swarm northward and invade the soil of Acadia, sacred to God and the king. Small parties from Plymouth built trading-houses at Machias and at what is now Cnstine, on the Penobscot, As they were competitors in trade no less than foes of God and King Louis, and as they were too few to resist, both La Tour and D’Aunay resolved to expel them; and in 1633 La Tour attacked the Plymouth tradinghouse at Machias, killed two of the five men he found there, carried off the other three, and seized all the goods. Two years later, D’Aunay attacked the Plymouth trading-station at Penobscot, the Pentegoet of the French, and took it in the name of King Louis. That he might not appear in the part of a pirate he set a price on the goods of the traders, and then, having seized them, gave in return his promise to pay at some convenient time, if the owners would come to him for the money.

D’Aunay had called upon La Tour to help him in this raid against Penobscot; but La Tour, unwilling to recognize his right to command, had refused. He had hoped that D’Aunay, becoming disgusted with his Acadian venture, which promised neither honor nor profit, would give it up, go back to France and stay there. About the year 1638, D’Aunay did in fact go to France, but not to remain, for in due time he reappeared ; and it was then that he brought with him his bride, Jeanne Motin, who had had the courage to share his fortunes, and whom he now installed at Port Royal, — a sure sign, his rival thought, that he meant to make his home there. Disappointed and angry. La Tour lost patience. went to Port Royal and tried to stir D’Aunay’s soldiers to mutiny ; then he set on his Indian friends to attack a boat in which was one of D’Aunay’s soldiers and a Capuchin friar, the soldier being killed, though the friar escaped. This was the beginning of a quarrel waged partly at Port Royal and StJean, and partly before the admiralty court of Guienne and the royal council; partly with bullets and cannon shot, and partly with edicts, decrees, and procèsverbaux.

As D’Aunay had taken a wife, so too would La Tour, and he charged his agent Desjardins to bring him one from Prance. The agent acquitted himself of his delicate mission, and shipped to Acadia one Marie Jacquelins, daughter of a barber of Mans, if we may believe the questionable evidence of bis rival. Be this as it may, Marie Jacquelins proved a prodigy of mettle and energy, espoused her husband’s cause with passionate vehemence, and backed his quarrel like the intrepid Amazon she was. She joined La Tour at Fort St. Jean, and proved the most strenuous of allies.

About this time D’Aunay heard that the English of Plymouth meant to try to recover Penobscot from bis hands. On this he sent nine soldiers thither with provisions and munitions. La Tour seized them on the way, carried them to Fort St. Jean, and, according to his enemies, treated them like slaves. D’Aunay heard nothing of this till four months after, when, being told of it by Indians, he sailed in person to Penobscot with two small vessels, reinforced the place, and was on Ids way back to Port Royal when La Tour met him with two armed pinnaces. A fight took place, and one of D’Aunay’s vessels was dismasted, He fought so well, however, that Captain Jamin, his enemy’s chief officer, was killed, and the rest of the party, including La Tour, his new wife, and his agent Desjardins, were forced to surrender and were carried prisoners to Port Royal.

At the request of the Capuchin friars, D’Aunay set them all at liberty, after compelling La Tour to sign a promise to keep the peace in future. Both parties now laid their cases before the French courts, and, whether from the justice of his cause or from superior influence, D’Aunay prevailed. La Tour’s commission was revoked, and he was ordered to report himself in France to receive the king’s commands. Trusting to his remoteness from tlie seat of power, and knowing that the king was often ill served and worse informed, he did not obey, but remained in Acadia exercising his authority as before. D Aunay s father, from his house in Rue St. Germain, watched over the interests of his son, and took care that La Four’s conduct should not be unknown at court. A decree was thereupon issued, directing D’Aunay to seize his rival s forts in the name of the king, and place them in charge of trusty persons. The order was precise, but D Aunay had not at the time force enough to execute it, and the frugal king sent him only six soldiers, Hence he could only show the royal order to La Tour, and offer him a passage to France in one of his vessels, if he had the discretion to obey. La Tour refused, upon which D’Aunay returned to France to report his rival s contumacy. At about the same time La Tour’s French agent sent him a vessel with succors. Tlie king ordered it to he seized, hut the order came too late, for the vessel had already sailed from Rochelle bound to Fort St. Jean.

When D’ Aunay reported the audacious conduct of bis enemy, the royal council ordered that the offender should he brought prisoner to France; and D’Aunay, as the king’s lieutenant-general in Acadia, was again required to execute the decree. La Tour was now in the position of a rebel, and all legality was on the side of bis enemy, who represented royalty itself. D’Aunay sailed at once for Acadia, and in August, 1642, anchored at the mouth of the St. John, before La lour s fort, and sent three gentlemen in a boat to read to its owner the decree of the council and the order of the king. La Tour snatched the papers, crushed them between his hands, abused the envoys roundly, put them and their four sailors into prison, and kept them there more than a year.

His position was now desperate, for he had placed himself in open revolt. Alarmed for the consequences, he turned for help to the heretics of Boston. True Catholics detested them as foes of God and man, but La Tour was neither true Catholic nor true Protestant, and would join hands with anybody who could serve his turn. Twice before he had made advances to the Boston malignants, and sent to them, first one Rochet, and then one Lestang, with proposals of trade and alliance. The envoys were treated with courtesy, but could get no promise of active aid.

Desjardins had sent La Tour from Rochelle a ship called the St. Clement, manned by a hundred and forty Huguenots, laden with stores and munitions, and commanded by Captain Mouron. In due time, La Tour, at Fort St. Jean, heard that the St. Clement lay off the mouth of the river, unable to get in because D’Aunay was blockading the entrance with two armed ships and a pinnace. On this he resolved to appeal in person to the heretics. He ran the blockade in a small boat, under cover of night, and, accompanied by his wife, boarded the St. Clement and sailed for Boston.

Francis Packman.

  1. The modern representative of this family, Comte Jules de Menou, is the author of a remarkable manuscript book, written from family papers and official documents, and entitled L’Acaclie colonist© par Charles de Menou d’Aunay Charnisay. 1 have followed Count de Menon’s spelling of the name. It is often written “ d’Aulnay,” and by New England writers “ d’Aubrey.” The manuscript just mentioned is in my possession. Count de: Menou is also the author of a printed work called Preuves de 1‘ Histoire de la Maisoli de Menou.
  2. The true surname of La Tour’s family, “which belonged to the neighborhood of Evreux, in Normandy, was Turgis. The designation of La Tour was probably derived from the name of some family estate, after a custom common in France under the old regime. The Turgis arms were ”d or au chevron de sable, accompagni de trois palmes de me me.”
  3. Besides succeeding to the authority of Razilly, D’Aunay had bought of his heirs their land claims in Acadia. (Arrêts du Conseil, 9 Mars, 104l2.)
  4. Louis XIII. d’Aunay, 10 Férier. 1638. This seems to be the occasion of Charlevoix’s inexact assertion that Acadia was divided into three governments, under D’Aunay, La Tour, and Nicolas Denys respectively. The title of Denys, such as it was, had no existence till 1654.