Our Acadian Heritage

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Trouble With English Began Almost Immediately

The French had barely settled themselves in Acadia when trouble with the British began.  It started partly from national rivalries and wars in Europe that simply spilled over into North America.  Religion played its part.  The Reformation and its effects created bitter rivalries between Catholics and Protestants and, later, among Protestant sects.  Greed for land and furs and political power added fuel to other squabbles.

Even though other nations were beginning to settle in the New World, Spain still claimed much of North America.  But it was a claim that it could hold only with increasing difficulty as other nations began to build powerful fleets.

Between 1577 and 1580, Sir Francis Drake made the first sea voyage around the world, and returned to England laden to the gunwales with plunder taken from Spanish ships.  His raids upset Spanish King Philip III, who was made even more upset by the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in England in 1587.  She was Elizabeth I's Catholic rival for the British throne.  In retaliation, the Catholic Philip assembled more than 100 ships and sent them to overthrow Elizabeth and restore the faith to the British Isles.  The plan didn't work.

The great Spanish Armada reached the English Channel at the end of July 1588.  For about a week, English warships could do little but harass the heavier Spanish vessels.  But then, storms and tides spread the armada so that it could be attacked and defeated.  In a battle that changed the history of the world, the British drove the Spanish out of the English Channel.  Adding to the impact, many of the Spanish ships that managed to escape the British guns were driven ashore or broken up by a terrific storm as they tried to make their way back home.

The defeat of the Armada not only kept Spain from invading the British Isles, it opened once and for all the seas that had long been dominated by the Spanish fleet.  British ships and those from other nations could sail the Atlantic with impunity.

One of the first to take advantage of this new freedom of the seas was Sir Walter Raleigh.  In 1578, the queen gave Raleigh's half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the right to "inhabit and possess all remote and heathen lands not in the actual possession of any Christian prince."  Gilbert was lost at sea in an attempt to found a colony on the coast of Newfoundland, and Raleigh inherited the charter.

In 1585, Raleigh sent Captain Ralph Lane and more than 100 men to Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina.  But Lane and his men started hunting for gold instead of settling down to work.  They quarreled among themselves and with the Indians and, finally, when supplies grew short, sailed home only a year after they arrived.  Raleigh attempted to settle Roanoke Island twice more.  Neither attempt worked.  Indeed, the fate of the "lost colony" on Roanoke Island is one of the mysteries of history.  A relief expedition in 1591 found the island completely deserted with no sign of the last group of colonists.

James I became King of England in 1603 and accused Raleigh of plotting against the crown.  He and his family and their servants lived comfortably for 12 years in the Tower of London, during which time he wrote his "History of the World."  He was released in 1616 to lead an expedition to search for gold in South America.  The king ordered him not to invade Spanish territory, but Raleigh's men disobeyed the orders.  The Spanish successfully defended themselves, and Raleigh had to abandon the project.  When he returned to England, he was sentenced to death for disobeying orders, and was executed in 1618.

Raleigh's grant to Virginia was revoked when he was first sent to the Tower of London, but his backers still liked the idea of a North American settlement.  There were two groups of interested merchants, one in Plymouth and one in London.  In 1606, the king gave the London group the exclusive right to colonize the area between the 34th and 38th parallels, roughly all of the territory between Charleston, SC, and Washington, DC.

In the Spring of 1607, three British ship, the Goodspeed, Discovery, and Sarah Constant, sailed into Chesapeake Bay and up the James River carrying 120 men.  The settlement they began at Jamestown struggled in the beginning, but eventually took root.  It stretched the resources of the first investors, but they created a new company, the Virginia Company, sold stock to the venture, and began to send over settlers who were as interested in agriculture as the first had been in finding gold and establishing trade.

In 1609, the company was given a new charter that redefined the boundaries of Virginia to include 400 miles along the Atlantic coast.  The English said this included the site of Penobscot, Maine.  That's why it upset the Virginians when, in 1613, Madame de Guercheville, decided that she wanted to establish her Acadian colony there.

The French had been in Penobscot little more than a month when Samuel Argall, a pirate who somehow had achieved the lofty title of "Admiral of Virginia," sailed into the harbor with a fleet from Jamestown.

He knew about the place because a storm had driven his ship into the harbor at Penobscot three years before.  This time he sailed into the harbor on purpose.  He had instructions from the Virginia Company to make sure that no Frenchmen were encroaching on company lands.  He was surprised to find Madame de Guercheville's settlement there, but followed orders with gusto.

He burned the settlement, killed anyone who resisted, took a handful of prisoners back to Virginia on a captured French ship, and set Father Masse and 15 other hated Catholics adrift in an open boat (from which they were rescued by fishermen).  This was the beginning of a conflict that would last for more than 100 years.

Argall's easy success at Penobscot encouraged Virginia Governor Thomas Dale to bigger adventures.  For the first time, a British official decided that he should rid the entire Atlantic coast of Frenchmen.  He would not be the last to attempt it.