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(Meeting of Françoise Marie Jacquelin and Sieur d'Aulnay by C.W. Jeffreys.)

The Lioness of La Tour
Françoise Marie Jacquelin – who mounted a vigorous defence of a Saint John garrison – was the very essence of a modern women in 17-century Acadia

by M.A. MacDonald

    She was called the heroine of Acadia caught in the power struggle between two warring governors that reached its climax in a battle at Fort La Tour in what is now Saint John in April, 1645. Her name was Françoise Marie Jacquelin and her husband was Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour, a personable underdog who had fought to preserve the colony of Acadia through many adversities. His rival, Charles de Menou, Sieur d'Aulnay, was an astute and capable aristocrat, cousin of France's chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu.
    Learning that La Tour was away, leaving Françoise in charge of the small Saint John garrison, d'Aulnay attacked in force. Late in the afternoon of April 16, 1645 - Easter Day - d'Aulnay withdrew his forces for a time beyond artillery range. Glad of the respite, Françoise ordered her embattled men to rest.

    In the sudden quiet she could, perhaps, hear her child's frightened crying from the cellar of one of the battered buildings and her maid's voice soothing him, mingled with moans and cries from the wounded. Jagged pieces of wood from palisade and buildings lay in heaps; spent ammunition, broken glass and roof tiles littered the broken flagstones. Heavy projectiles had carried away sections of the parapet, parts of which had collapsed into the defensive ditch. The habitation reeked with the acrid, sulphurous stink of gunpowder, smoke from burning timbers, the smell of blood and sweat. The exhausted survivors snatched a few moments to rest or sleep, leaving the 47-year-old Swiss, Hans Vandre, to keep watch.
    D'Aulnay, meanwhile, judging the fort to be sufficiently weakened, made preparations for the general assault. As an incentive, he promised his followers the pillage of the place. An hour before sundown the men from the ships and the shore battery joined forces to begin a stealthy advance. At a little distance, Vandre watched them come, saw how heavily they outnumbered the remaining defenders, saw them come up over ditches filled with debris, then begin to mount the broken ramparts.
    Vandre has been accused of yielding to bribery, of betraying the fort. Perhaps "bribery" and "betrayal" are too strong: he only needed to keep silent. Vandre came from the Swiss countryside near Lucerne, an area from which French armies recruited heavily and he would have dreaded the fate in store for captured rebels.
    As d'Aulnay's men poured over the shattered section of the parapet, the defenders caught up their weapons and rushed to meet them in a melee of sword and musket butt, pike point and hooked halberd. Françoise led the charge at the head of her men and only yielded, in the words of the contemporary historian Nicholas Denys, "at the last extremity, and under the condition that the said d'Aulnay should give quarter to all."
    But when he had made himself master of the place, d'Aulnay broke his word. He had been deceived, he said, adding in a fury that he would not have granted terms if he had known how few the defenders were. Such obstinacy had to be punished. He had lost too many men in taking the fort.
    As he looked, he could see the heavy toll the garrison, too, had paid. But it was not enough. D'Aulnay gave orders to hang all the surviving defenders on the spot, with the exception of one man "who had his life spared on condition that he would perform the execution." One other, Vandre, also survived.
    In the stench and shambles of the fort, in the midst of its shattered and burning buildings, Françoise stood bound and with a rope around her neck "as though she had been the greatest villain," according to Nicholas Denys. The fort's dead lay with wide-flung limbs or in broken, bloodied heaps about her, among splinters of wood, discarded weapons, smoke and the reek of smouldering tow that had ignited the silenced cannon. She was forced to watch as her remaining men, grimed and stained with sweat, met a slow, agonizing death. All were well known to her, many of them friends of long standing. They died, one by one, of slow strangulation. It was not a matter of a quick drop and a broken neck; "hanged and strangled," say all the accounts.
   Françoise was spared the gruesome fate of her men but died three weeks later; no one knows exactly how.

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