🗽 Amérique - Les Huguenots au Canada


The Huguenots in Acadia. The year 2004 marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia by Pierre de Gua (or Gaust), comte de Monts, Huguenot from Pons.

This colony is identified by some historians as the first permanent French settlement in North America. Some deny it that distinction because its occupation may have been intermittent. Port Royal, now called Annapolis Royal, the final site of the colony, was burned by the British at least five times during the 17th century, but was always rebuilt and, some say, was never completely depopulated.

Qu'est-ce qu'on attend pour le traduire ? Pour une fois qu'il n'y a encore que la version anglaise ! Et puis, si vous trouvez que je ne vais pas assez vite, vous n'avez qu'à vous y coller !

Those who deny that Acadia was permanent make Quebec City, founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608, the first permanent settlement.

One author, avoiding the issue of permanence, describes Acadia as the first French agricultural settlement in North America.

Many books tell the story of the Acadian colony. Those of presumably unbiased sources like the great American historian Francis Parkman and contributors to various encyclopedias, those of writers like John Fiske apparently partial to a Catholic interpretation, and those of such propagandists for the Huguenots as Abram Elting Bennett and Lucian J. Fosdick differ on many details, for example, the spelling of De Monts' name, the number of ships and the number of clergymen and the religious affiliations of De Monts' principal lieutenants.

All agree, however, that it was a largely Huguenot venture.

That was not surprising; both of the serious French attempts at settlement in the New World in the 16th century had also been Huguenot-sponsored, by Gaspard de Coligny- and consisted principally of Huguenots.

Both settlements ended in disaster. The Brazilian colony of 1555 was razed by the Portuguese and the Florida colony of 1564 was destroyed by the Spanish, with an accompanying massacre justified by calling the settlers, "Lutherans".

The privilege of exploring and settling newly discovered lands was awarded to the Spanish and Portuguese by Pope Alexander VI, in 1493, in a papal bull that gave the Spanish the Western Hemisphere and the Portuguese the Eastern Hemisphere. The next year, in the Treaty of Tordesillas, between Spain and Portugal, Brazil was awarded to Portugal.

But France, like England and other European maritime powers, never accepted the Pope's right to parcel up the world.

France claimed rights to the Western Hemisphere on the basis of Jacques Cartier's voyages in the 1530s. Preoccupied by the Wars of Religion, the French were not very aggressive in the colonization race. Nevertheless, fishermen from Normandy, Brittany and the Basque country were active in the sea off what is now Canada for as much as three decades before Cartier and in the middle of the 16th century they began to trade in furs.

Many of the fishermen and the fur traders sailed from ports like St. Malo, Dieppe, and La Rochelle, areas that, as Calvinism spread, became Huguenot centers.

Furthermore, the Huguenots had a virtual monopoly on the processing of beaver fur; They held a chemical formula for treating the fur that enabled them to maintain their control of the European beaver fur market even after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes resulted in their diaspora.

If fishing took the French to the St. Lawrence valley, it was the fur trade that dept them there. On November 8, 1603, De Monts, who had formed a company in partnership with a number of French coastal merchants, obtained a commission from (King) Henri IV authorizing him as viceroy to possess and settle that part of North America located between the fortieth and forty-sixth degrees of latitude, extending roughly from the present-day city of Philadelphia, PA to north of Montreal, Canada and described in the commission as La Cadie, Canada, and other parts of New France. Cartier had given the name Acadia to the northern coastal area of North America, encompassing Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and part of (the State of) Maine.

Although often confused with the Greek province, Arcadia considered to represent the virtues of archaic simplicity, Acadia had o classical connotations. The name was based on a Micmac Indian word meaning depending on which historian you read, "Pollock" a fish common in those waters, or simply "place". It also appears in such North American place names as Passamaquoddy. Whether it was considered part of Canada was not clear from the wording of the commission; this was the first document to use the name Acadia. Under the commission De Monts was also to convert the natives to Christianity not defined as to whether Catholic or Protestant, but his mixed settlers were to have religious freedom.

As partners in the venture, De Monts had enlisted various merchants, both Protestants and Catholics, interested in the fur trade and including participants in earlier, unsuccessful colonization attempts and some involved in such a venture for the first time. The company was to receive a ten-year monopoly of the fur trade and by levying a ten percent tax on the traders it was to recoup its colonization expenses.

The expedition (to St. Croix) of about 120 men sailed from Le Havre in March 1604.

Both of De Monts' two principal lieutenants were Catholics: Samuel de Champlain, an experienced explorer of Canadian waters, and Jean de Biencourt, baron de Poutrincourt. Also on board were at least one Catholic and one Protestant clergyman. According to Champlain, religious dissension broke out even on board the ship. On arrival at the Bay of Fundy, much time was spent in exploring the area in the effort to select a suitable site for a settlement. While a part was on the isthmus of Nova Scotia a priest named Aubry wandered away from the group and could not be found. Back on the ship suspicion fell on a Huguenot who had held many hot religious disputes with the priest, and this man was accused of doing away with him. Seventeen days after his disappearance, Aubry was found by a fishing party; he had subsisted on wild fruit.

One place visited on the isthmus of Nova Scotia was what is now called Annapolis Harbor, and De Poutrincourt fell in live with it. As viceroy, De Monts granted the site, which he named Port Royal, to De Poutrincourt, who resolved to bring over his own group of settlers for it. De Monts however, decided to establish his colony on an island later called St. Croix, or Doshet (later Douchet)at the spot where the St. Croix River entered the Bay of Fundy. This river is now the boundary between the United States (Maine) and Canada (New Brunswick), and the St. Croix (Douchet) Island is part of Washington County in the American state of Maine. The island was selected for its superior defensive capabilities but proved to be a disastrous choice. It had no supply of fresh water and very little wood and in the winter it proved to be heavily exposed to the elements.

Although the Indians were not hostile, they were not hospitable either and failed to share their rations. In consequence, nearly half the settlers on St. Croix Island died in the first winter, principally of scurvy. Preaching to the Indians also represented problems. According to Champlain's account, they were confused by the rival versions of Christianity presented by the Catholic and Protestant clergy. Champlain said the priest and the minister often came to physical blows. Both died in that harsh winter within a few days of each other and it is said the settlers buried them in the same grave, to see whether they could get along better in the afterlife.

After that dreadful winter De Monts moved his settlement to Port Royal. He himself returned to France, but Champlain and Poutrincourt understood additional explorations of the Bay of Fundy area and of the coast as far south as the Charles River near the present city of Boston. Near Cape Cod some unfortunate occurrences including an encounter with hostile Indians, disillusioned them about that area, and they finally decided to keep the colony in Port Royal. There it prospered. The colonists erected a fort, barracks, store rooms, and cooking facilities and began to grow their own grain.

The colony had its enemies. The Jesuits were upset by the grant of religious liberty, and merchants from ports other than those represented in the company resented the monopoly. In 1607, as a result of complaints principally from residents of St. Malo, the monopoly was withdrawn. De Monts' hopes of profit were dashed. It's said he spent the equivalent of $­­­­­­­­­­­­­100,000 on his colony and he was to be allowed a return of $­­­­­­­­­­­­­6,000 in the form of a tax on the fur trade, if he could collect it. It isn't clear whether this amount was expended by De Monts personally or by his company.

De Monts and De Poutrincourt went to France to resolve matters.

De Poutrincourt obtained the king's confirmation of the grant De Monts had made to him of the Annapolis Royal site. Thus the settlement could continue, and De Poutrincourt sent additional colonists in 1610. However, De Poutrincourt lacked the financial resources available to De Monts company and De Monts succeeded in having the king renew his monopoly for one year. He enlarged his company to include the St. Malo merchants who had complained and he embarked on another fur trading voyage that turned out to be highly profitable. In the course of it, Champlain, acting under De Monts' commission established a trading post in Quebec.

The assassination of Henry IV in 1610 signaled the end for the Huguenots in Canada. De Monts surrendered his commission as viceroy of New France and it eventually came to be held by Cardinal Richelieu. De Monts' monopoly was purchased by Antoinette de Pons, marquise de Guerchevile, a lady in waiting to the queen and a devotee of the Jesuits. In 1611, the Jesuits sent a mission to Acadia and in 1613, another to what is now Mount Desert Island in Maine (Acadian National Park). But, Samuel Argall, an English sea captain who was later governor of Virginia was cruising in the area at the time of the arrival of the Mount Desert colony. He captured the island and the French vessel and went on to burn Port Royal.

In 1710, Port Royal, which for 100 years was in play between the French and the English, was captured by a party of New Englanders (This war party was led by Maine born William Phipps of Woolwich, Maine), and in 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht, ending the War of the Spanish Succession, gave it to England. Under the British, Port Royal, renamed Annapolis Royal, remained stubbornly French in sentiment - so much so that in 1755 the British anticipating another war with France, decided to evacuate the French-speaking residents as a security measure.

The result was the famous expulsion of the Acadians immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Evangeline". By that time, the population seems to have been almost if not completely Catholic, perhaps the result of passive resistance. (Friends note: Hmmmmmm...! It would be good journalism to have a short example of "passive resistance" documented at this point.)

In 1625, the Crown banned all religions except Roman Catholicism in Canada. All permanent residents had to be Catholic, although Protestant traders were permitted as nonresidents. According to the "Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies", the ban was specifically extended to Acadia in 1659 indicating both that Acadia and Canada were viewed as separate entities and that the earlier banning of the Huguenots had not had the same effect in Acadia as in Quebec. It proved more difficult to wipe out Protestantism in Acadia than along the St. Lawrence River because of Acadia's proximity to the English colonies, because of fresh Acadian settlements sponsored by De Poutrincout and his son, and because of the ubiquitous presence of Huguenot sailors and merchants in the area.

Indeed, Huguenot traders continued to operate there throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

Most historians agree that France lost its possessions in North America because its settlers were badly outnumbered by the English. Charles W. Baird, the American historian who chronicled the Huguenots in America, considers the exclusion of the Huguenots from New France "one of the most stupendous blunders that history records." He expresses the opinion that if France had encouraged Huguenot settlement there it might have been able to hold on to the territory in the face of the English onslaught. It is true that the Huguenots were more willing to settle in colonies overseas than were the Catholic peasants, but the real French error may have been the preoccupation with the fur trade, which kept French activity concentrated in a part of North America that was agriculturally barren and had a climate unattractive to Europeans.

The Quebec separatist movement has kept Canadians aware of their country's French past. Most, however, equate the beginning of European residence in North America with Champlain's establishment of Quebec City in 1608, and the name of De Monts has largely faded from memory.

In the United States, the park on Mount Desert Island that is now known as Acadia National Park was originally called Sieur de Monts National Monument, but the name was changed after only three years. The town of Calais, Maine, near St. Croix Island, has announced plans to commemorate the founding of Acadia in June 2004, but has not mentioned the Huguenots.

Sources : Késsinnimek - Roots - Racines From the Huguenot Heritage Society of New York


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