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Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
June 30, 1892

GLIMPSES OF THE PAST

Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.

XXIII – THE FIRST FRENCH SETTLEMENT.

[W. F. Ganong, M. A.]

The true history of our county begins with the attempt of DeMonts to found a settlement on St. Croix Island, in the summer of 1604.

The Indians preceded the French in this region, it is true, and they have had a not inconsiderable influence upon its later settlement; and early Spanish, Portuguese and French explorers doubtless visited and knew our shores, but neither the one nor the other have left us any account of their doings.  It is Champlain, the historian of the expedition, the future explorer, leader, and ‘Father of New France,’ who has given us the first authentic records in the history of Charlotte County.  And the events of that first settlement of which he tells us so fully and so clearly are not only of great interest in themselves, but they have a wide significance from the part that settlement played in the birth of a new power in the New World.  For here France made her first serious attempt at colonization in America; here began the period of French occupation, which only closed more than a century and a half later with the fall of Quebec.  Those of our readers who wish to follow the broader current of events in Acadian or Canadian history should turn to ‘Hannay’s History of Acadia,’ for the one, or Parkman’s works, particularly his ‘Pioneers of France in the New World,’ for the other.

But we will let Champlain tell his own story.  His work, ‘The Voyages of Sieur de Champlain of Saintonge, Captain in Ordinary to the King in the Marine,’ was published in Paris in 1613.  It is now rare and expensive, but it has been twice reprinted, and yet a third time in translation,1 and from the latter the following is taken.

1.-From France to St. Croix Island.

‘Sieur de Monts, by virtue of his commission, having published . . . the prohibition against the violation of monopoly of the fur trade accorded him by his majesty, gathered together about one hundred and twenty artisans, whom he embarked in two vessels; one, of 120 tons, commanded by Sieur de Pont Grave; another, of 150 tons, in which he embarked himself, together with several noblemen . . . We set out from Havre de Grace April 7th, 1604, and Pont Grave April 10th, to rendezvous at Canseau, twenty leagues from Cape Breton . . . On May 1st we sighted Sable Islands.’

They then coasted the shores of Nova Scotia, rounded Cape Sable, visited Annapolis Basin, and Minas Basin which they so named; then they crossed the bay, (la Baye Française-Bay of Fundy,) and came down the coast of New Brunswick, which they followed towards the south-west until they came to ‘the mouth of the largest and deepest river we had yet seen, which we named the River St. John, because it was on this saint’s day we arrived there (24th June).  By the savages2 it is called Ouygoudy . . .

‘From the river St. John we went to four islands3 on one of which we landed and found great numbers of birds called magpies, of which we captured many small ones, which are as good as pigeons.  Sieur de Poutrincourt came near getting lost here, but he came back to our barque at last, when we had already gone to search for him about the island, which is three leagues distant from the main land.  Farther west are other islands; among them, one six leagues in length, called by the savages Manthane,4 south of which there are among the islands, several good harbors for vessels.  From the magpie islands we proceeded to a river on the mainland called the river of the Etechemins,5 a tribe of savages so called in their country.  We passed by so many islands that we could not ascertain their number, which were very fine.  Some were two leagues in extent, others three, others more or less.  All of these islands are in a bay,6 having in my estimation a circuit of more than fifteen leagues.  There are many good places capable of containing any number of vessels, and abounding in fish in the season, such as cod fish, salmon, bass, herring, halibut, and other kinds in great numbers.  Sailing W. N. W., three leagues, through the islands, we entered a river almost half a league in breadth at its mouth,7 sailing up which a league or two we found two islands.  One8 very small near the western bank, the other,9 in the middle, having a circumference of perhaps 800 or 900 paces, with rocky sides, three or four fathoms high all round, except in one small place where there is a sandy point and clayey earth adapted for making brick and other useful articles.  There is another place affording shelter for vessels from 80 to 100 tons, but it is dry at low tide.  The island is covered with firs, birches, maples and oaks.  It is by nature very well situated, except one place where for about 40 paces is it lower than elsewhere.  This, however, is easily fortified.  The banks of the mainland being distant at both sides some 900 to 1000 paces, vessels could pass the river only at the mercy of the cannon on this island; and we deemed the location most advantageous, not only on account of its situation and good soil,10 but also on account of the intercourse, which we proposed with the savages of these coasts and of the interior, as we should be in the midst of them.  We hoped to pacify them in course of time, and put an end to the wars which they carry on with one another, so as to derive service from them in future and convert them to the Christian faith.  This place was named by Sieur De Monts, the island of St. Croix.11  Further on, there is a great bay, in which are two islands, one high and the other flat;12 also three rivers, one extending towards the east,13 one towards the north,14 and the third,15 of larger size, towards the west.  The latter is that of the Etechemins, of which we spoke before.  Two leagues up this river there is a waterfall, around which the savages carry their canoes some 500 paces by land, and then re-enter the river.  Passing afterwards from the river a short distance overland, one reaches the rivers Norumbegue16 and St. John.  But the falls are impassible for vessels, as there are only rocks and four or five feet of water.  In May and June so great, a number of herring and bass are caught there that vessels could be loaded with them.  The soil is of the finest sort and there are 15 or 30 acres of cleared land, where Sieur De Monts had some wheat sown, which flourished finely.17  The savages come here sometimes five or six weeks during the fishing season.  All [?] of the country consists of very dense forests.  If the land were cleared up, grain would flourish excellently.  This place is in latitude 45° 20’18 and 17° 32’ of the deflection of the magnetic needle.


1Prince Society, Boston, 1878.  Translated by C. P. Otis, edited by Rev. E. F. Slafter.

2Champlain, and the French generally, always called the Indians ‘Savages.’

3The Wolves.  The history of this and other place names mentioned, will be traced in a future article.

4Grand Manan.

5St. Croix, or Schoodic.

6Passamaquoddy.

7The St. Croix, of course.

8Little Dochet.

9The present Dochet.

10He afterwards found the soil to be poor.

11‘The Holy Cross.’  Lescarbot, who also (in 1609) published an account of the St. Croix settlement, says that the island was so named from a resemblance to a cross, caused by the entrance of two streams into the river above the island.

12The islands of Oak Bay.

13The Waweig.

14Oak Bay.

15The main river.

16Penobscot.

17This was probably on the site of St. Stephen-perhaps at the Cove, or, possibly, near Salmon Falls, at Milltown.

18The true latitude is 45° 7’ 43”.


In connection with the name of St. Croix, Rev. W. O. Raymond sends us the following curious extract from a letter written by Dr. Gesner, of the geological survey, to Ward Chipman, under date July 8, 1841:-

‘In ascending the river above St. Andrews and above Dochez Island, Oak Bay will be seen in front, the Warwig River on the right hand and the Schoodeag or St. Croix on the left.  From this resemblance to a cross, I think it is evident the river obtained its present name from the French.’


Readers who have kept the preceding articles for reference will please make the following corrections and additions:

Article I.  In fifth paragraph, for ‘1669’ read ‘1667.’

Article XIV.  At end of first paragraph may be placed the following note-
‘The Indians south of the Kennebec were called Armouchiquois.  Lescarbot, a contempory of Champlain, says the river St. Croix is in the land of the Etchemins; and further mentions that, there being a war between the Etchemins and the Armouchiquois, an ambassador who came from the Etchemins was from the St. Croix.’

Article XVI.  Insert ‘in’ before the words ‘one of the islands,’ in the description of Razilly’s grant.  Strike out paragraph relating to grant to the Episcopal Seminary of Foreign Missions.

Article XX.  In fifth line, instead of word ‘Ghent’ read ‘1794.’


Correction: The Additions and Corrections article contains the following correction to this one: "In second column, line 37, ‘15 or 30’ should be ‘15 or 20.’  The reference marks in the second column, §§, || ||, &c., were meant to refer to the foot-notes in the same column, and should, therefore, have been *, †, &c., to correspond."

Caren's note: The '15 or 30' reference is located in the third last line of the article as presented here. The correction concerning the reference marks does not apply here as I use numbers rather than symbols for footnotes.