Our Acadian Heritage

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Acadia Survives As Fur Trading Outpost Despite Neglect

The Virginia "admiral" Samuel Argall sailed into the harbor of Port Royal, Acadia, in October 1613.  He got there at a lucky time.  Most of the settlers were five or six miles away harvesting fields in the Annapolis Valley.  Charles de Biencourt, who was in charge at the settlement, was away on a trip to trade for Micmac Indian furs.

Argall scattered or hauled off the herds of cattle, stole whatever provisions he could, then set the settlement afire.

The settlers rushed back when they saw the smoke, but it was too late.  The settlement was destroyed.  With winter approaching, the Acadians were left without food or provisions.

By then, there were still fewer than 50 men at Port Royal.  They built temporary shelters and began to dig and store artichokes and other native roots and vegetables.  Hunters were sent into the woods and sides of moose and deer meat were put aside.  There was still flour for bread, since Argall had not found the mill and its storehouse farther up the Annapolis Valley.   Fortunately, too, the Acadians were on good terms with the nearby Micmac Indians, who were willing to share what they could.

Even though the Argall raids were the first clash in what would become a long struggle between France and England over who would control the Atlantic seaboard, nothing much came of them at the time.  France and England were technically at peace, so they exchanged stern diplomatic notes and clucked across the English Channel at each other.  The Virginians gave back the French ship they captured at Penobscot, but refused to make restitution for loss of life and property at either Penobscot or Port Royal.

Jean de Poutrincourt sailed back to France for enough supplies to rebuild the Acadian colony.  Things were even worse in Europe.  France was divided even more than ever by religious strife.  Before he could get the finances and supplies that Port Royal required, Poutrincourt and his son, Jacques de Salazar, were killed in one of the religious-civil battles then ripping the mother country.  Poutrincourt's other son, Charles de Bienville, took over the Acadian colony.

At the time of the Argall raid, Port Royal was becoming an agricultural settlement.  But now, at least for a time, cut off from supplies from the mother country and threatened by raiders from North America, it became more of a trading post than a farming community.

Biencourt and the band of men with him in Acadia, decided that it would be futile to try again for support from their mother country.  They set up a series of observation posts along the coast and used them to signal ships when they had furs to trade in exchange for ammunition and other provisions.  In 1616, Biencourt was able to ship some 25,000 pelts back to France from trading posts at Port Royal, Cape Sable, Penobscot, and on the St. John River.

In 1617, Claude de La Tour, who had come to Acadia with Poutrincourt in 1607, sailed back to France to try to recruit new colonists for the colony.  He found few takers.  Meanwhile, things continued to deteriorate in the colony.

In 1619, while La Tour was still in France, the Virginians sent Argall on another raid against the French.  This time, he burned Saint-Sauveur then sailed for Saint Croix Island and burned all of the buildings there.

He again found Port Royal undefended because the settlers were working in fields a few miles away.  Once again, the smoke from their burning houses gave the Acadians the first notice that Argall had returned.  The Acadians rebuilt once again.

Biencourt died in 1624 at the age of 31, leaving no known disposition of the colony that he had inherited from his father.  Charles de La Tour, Claude's 27-year-old son, was Beincourt's second in command and took over when Biencourt died.

One of the first things he did was to move the headquarters of the colony from Port Royal to Cape Sable on the Atlantic coast.  He thought the place would be easier to defend and that it would be more accessible to the fishing boats and trading ships that were now his only link to a France that had apparently forgotten him.