HOME · HISTORY · AROUND TOWN · INFO BOOTH · FUN STUFF · NEW BRUNSWICK

Saint John New Brunswick


By 1963, the excavation of Fort La Tour (now within Saint John) had revealed these remains. The rows of stones outlining the digging are believed to be part of a drainage system. The square area inside the stones is the outline of one of the rooms with the rock fireplace in the centre.

The First Acadian
Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour is famous for much more than his three wives

by Maurice Basque
The New Brunswick Reader
April 16/05

   The history of the early French pres ence in Acadie is filled with men who had exceptional destinies. Prominent among these men who left France to start a new life in the New World was Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour. For decades, he was a controversial figure and in the first half of the 20th century, French historian Emile Lauvrière, who despised him, and French Canadian historian Azarie Couillard Després, who admired him, continued to fuel this controversy over La Tour with their writings. Neither hero nor traitor, Charles de Saint Étienne de La Tour was a key player in the first stages of Acadian history and he fought all his life for his landed interests in Acadie that had become his new homeland. As a matter of fact, La Tour can probably be called the first Acadian. This is his story.
   Born around 1593, Charles arrived at the Habitation of Port Royal in 1610, accompanying his father Claude Turgis dit de Saint-Étienne de La Tour who was a friend of the Sieur de Poutrincourt, the leader of the small French colony in Acadie and the seigneur of Port Royal. Barely 10 years old, Charles was one of the youngest Frenchmen in Acadie at the time and his formative years were spent living amongst the Mi'kmaqs with whom his father Claude was engaged in the fur trade.
   Claude and Charles seem to have been an exceptional father and son team. When an English raid from Virginia captured and destroyed the Habitation of Port Royal in 1613, Claude and Charles remained in Acadie after most of their French counterparts returned to Europe. Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour got involved in the fur trade alongside his childhood friend, Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt, who had inherited from his father the seigneurie of Port Royal. When Jean died around 1623, Charles became the leading Frenchman in Acadie and styled himself as seigneur of Port Royal. Acadie was really becoming his adopted country as he settled a small trading post in the Cape Sable area of what is now southwestern Nova Scotia. Further proof of his integration in the New World came around 1625 when he married a native woman, probably a Mi'kmaq relative of his First Nation trading partners. History did not remember her name but she gave Charles at least three daughters, two of whom became nuns in France while the eldest, Jeanne, remained in Acadie and married a Basque fur trader around 1655, the sieur Martin d'Apprendestiguy de Martignon. They lived at the mouth of the St. John River.
   Charles de Saint-Etienne de La Tour was the first leading Frenchman in Acadian history to embrace the ways of the First Nations by taking a native wife and by living with his Mi'kmaq friends. But European affairs were never far away. Charles' father Claude had remained in Acadie and had built a small trading post in the Penobscot area of present day Maine. The English settlers of nearby Plymouth colony did not take well to what they considered a French intrusion in an area they claimed as theirs. Claude was forced to abandon his trading post and return to France. But the senior La Tour did not abandon his dreams of a colonial estate. When the Cardinal de Richelieu launched an ambitious fur trading and settlement company for New France in 1627, the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France, Claude de Saint-Étienne de La Tour got involved. In 1628, while travelling aboard a ship that was to bring his son Charles' provisions from France, Claude was captured and brought as a prisoner to England.
   Unknown to his son Charles who was still living in Acadie, Claude manoeuvred well in England and befriended an influential Scott aristocrat, Sir William Alexander. King James VI of Scotland, who was also King James the first of England, had granted Alexander most of the territory of the actual Maritime provinces in 1621. This new colony was named New Scotland or Nova Scotia. Searching for financial partners that would help him establish his new colony, Sir William Alexander was distributing baronet titles of Nova Scotia as an enticement. Claude de Saint-Étienne de La Tour wound up receiving one of these baronet titles in 1629 and even accepted one for his son Charles. Claude had now renounced his allegiance to the French Crown and, when he arrived in Acadie in 1630 accompanied by Scottish settlers, he tried to convince his son to do the same. Charles refused and remained loyal to the French Crown that would name him governor of Acadie in 1631. But the baronet title accepted by his father would not be forgotten . .
   By now, Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour had built another trading post at the mouth of the St. John River. After the brief Scottish interlude, Acadie returned to France in 1632. Charles was on good terms with the new French governor, Isaac de Razilly, and he continued his trading business at the mouth of the St. John. When Razilly died in 1636, his successor, Charles de Menou d'Aulnay, would become La Tour's mortal enemy. The Sieur d'Aulnay belonged to the world of the French nobility, albeit the rural one, and he looked down with disdain to what appeared to him to be a parvenu, an upstart. It is true that Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour, like his father Claude, profited from the social mobility of the New World to style themselves as nobles, seemingly forgetting their commoner origins as part of the French artisan or petit bourgeois milieu.
   While the Sieur d'Aulnay transformed Port Royal into his permanent operation base, La Tour kept his trading posts at Cape Sable and on the St. John. Both men claimed to be the only legitimate representative of the French Crown in Acadie. In 1638, the French government made matters worse as it named both rivals lieutenant of the French King in Acadie. This gesture greatly contributed to what became known as the Acadian civil war. D'Aulnay and La Tour attacked each other's positions for years, weakening the already marginal colony that was Acadie at the time.
   La Tour did not always have fighting on his mind. In 1640, his Mi'kmaq wife likely having died, he married Francoise-Marie Jacquelin. This feisty French woman became Charles' most valuable ally in his fight against the Sieur D'Aulnay. She would go down in history under the name Madame La Tour, seen by many as an outstanding pioneer, even a heroine. Her tragic death in 1645 set the stage for her present-day hero status. In the spring of that year, in the absence of her husband who was in Massachusetts on business, Francoise-Marie Jacquelin valiantly defended his St. John River trading post against an attack led by the Sieur d'Aulnay. D'Aulnay eventually captured the fort and Madame La Tour became his prisoner. She died shortly afterwards. Legend has it that she was courageous to the end. Novels, plays and songs were inspired by her actions and Lt.-Gov. Herménégilde Chiasson devoted one of his documentaries to her story.
   The death of his second wife surely chagrined La Tour but the loss of his trading post on the St. John River did not crush his ambitions. He fled to Quebec where he befriended the local elite. In 1648, he was named godfather to Charles-Amador Martin, son of Abraham Martin, whose vast land holdings in Quebec would later bear his name and go down in history as the Plains of Abraham. La Tour's Quebec exile lasted five years. When he got news in 1650 that d'Aulnay had accidentally died in Port Royal, La Tour sailed for France and rushed to the French royal court, which gave him back his Acadian possessions and recognized him as the legitimate representative of French royal power in the colony.

   La Tour returned to Acadie and retook position of his trading post at the mouth of the St. John River. His deceased enemy's widow, Madame d'Aulnay (her maiden name was Jeanne Motin de Reux), had remained in Acadie and was now facing problems of her own. Her late husband's major creditor, a La Rochelle merchant by the name of Emmanuel LeBorgne, was claiming to be seigneur of Port Royal as a compensation for money he had never received from Sieur d'Aulnay. Jeanne Motin de Reux had had at least eight children with the Sieur d'Aulnay and she was ready to fight for their rights to claim their father's Acadian estate. In February, 1653, at the small church in Port Royal, Jeanne Motin de Reux married her late husband's arch rival, Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour. In what may have seemed like a sudden new development, the widow d'Aulnay had chosen the strongest party of the land as husband and protector of her children's vested interests in Acadie. This strategic marriage was not only a business venture. At least five children were born from this union and to this day many Acadians (including this author) can trace back their ancestry to this almost Shakespearean couple.
   Now, starting a life with a third wife and a full complement of stepchildren, La Tour could have aspired for quieter times. This would not be the case. Just a year after his marriage to Jeanne Motin de Reux, La Tour's possessions in Acadie were attacked by an English raid commanded by a Massachusetts merchant and militia officer, Robert Sedgwick. La Tour was captured and brought to England as a prisoner. The time he spent in England must have made him think about his youth and about his father Claude who had also spent time in England as a prisoner. Always the sly fox, La Tour came up with quite a card in his hand. In 1556, he petitioned the English government, claiming that he was a baronet of Nova Scotia, a title his father had accepted for him in 1629. How things had changed. La Tour would no longer publicly state his allegiance to the French Crown but was now affirming that he had certain rights to Nova Scotia. Historian John G. Reid has ably written that La Tour's petition gave the English government the legitimacy they were looking for following Sedgwick's conquest of Acadie. La Tour swore allegiance to the English government and shared his baronetcy rights to Nova Scotia with two enterprising Englishmen, Thomas Temple and William Crown. Shortly afterwards, La Tour sold his rights to Temple and Crown and returned to Acadie where he retired with his family in the Cape Sable area where he died around 1664.
   While he was a prisoner in England, the English government had used La Tour as a strategic pawn to bring back legitimacy to the concept of a Nova Scotia colony in the New World. It is possible that La Tour was very well aware of this ploy, having witnessed many deceits, deceptions and dealings in his own life. But at the end, he chose Acadie, the land that had chosen him when he was a young boy at Port Royal. La Tour had led a rich and com plex life in the New World, making friends with the rulers of colonial Massachusetts and Quebec as well as with European merchants and Mi'kmaq warriors. By his third marriage with Jeanne Motin de Reux, he founded an influential dynasty in Acadie and his children and grandchildren would be key players in Acadian history until the Grand Dérangement of the 1750s., His granddaughter, Agathe de Saint-Étienne de La Tour was the last seigneuresse of Acadie. In official documents that she wrote in the 1730s, her grandfather Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour appears as master and lord proprietor of all Acadie. In life, La Tour had a hard time protecting his Acadian estate against the attacks of English raiders and French creditors. In death, his children and grandchildren would boost his image and make him the leading force in the establishment of a pioneering French presence in Acadie. For them, he was truly the first Acadian.

Maurice Basque is an historian and director of Acadian Studies at the Universite de Moncton.

Back

HOME · HISTORY · AROUND TOWN · INFO BOOTH · FUN STUFF · NEW BRUNSWICK