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Acadia Before the French Arrival

Prehistorical Acadia and the Mi'kmaq
     The area that became known as Acadia was inhabited for thousands of years by Native American tribes.  The predominant tribe that the French found in Acadia was the Mi' kmaq.  Though often written as Micmac, the name should properly be written as Mi'kmaq. 

      The Acadians called them Souriquois at first, and later (18th & 19th centuries) ... Mi'kmaq.  There were 3000 when the French first arrived.  The Mi'kmaq came from the southwest and drove the Kwedecks (Iroquois) towards the St. Lawrence.  The Restigouche (in New Brunswick) was the northern boundary of the Mi'kmaq.  They allowed Malicites (once part of the Abenaki nation) to have the St. John, but reserved a village site at the mouth of the river.  The Mi'kmaq were in the Algonquin family of Indians. 

     The Mi'kmaq were intelligent and honest, and always were friendly with the French.  The Acadians would often trade with them.  In fact, they saw the fertile area of Grand Pre when venturing there to trade with the Indians.  When they outgrew the Port Royal area, many moved to Grand Pre.  Mi'kmaq had homes (at least in the summer) at the Grand Pre area early on.  Burial grounds and a mound (with clam shells, animal bones, arrowheads, stone implements, rude pottery) have been found. 

     One of the most famous Mi'kmaq legends involves Glooscap ... the Great Spirit of Mi'kmaq tradition.  He lived like other men, but was never sick, never grew old, and never died.  Minas Basin was his beaver pond. Spencer’s Island was his ketle, made of a stone.  Two rocks nearby were his dogs.  When the white man came, he was angry at their treachery, turned his kettle over, turned his dogs to stone, and left the country ... to return again some day. 

     The Mi'kmaq had a name for every geographical feature by the time the French arrived.  Silas Tertius Rand spent 40 years with the Mi'kmaq and produced a dictionary with 40,000 of their words.  Some of the place names are: 

         Annapolis River: Tawopskik, flowing out between rocks
         Cape Breton: Oonamaagik
         Cobequid: Maycobegilk, end of the flowing water
         Cornwallis River: Chijikwtook, narrow river
         Halifax: Chebookt, chief harbor
         Memramcook: Amlamkook, variegated
         Micmac: Migamack
         Newfoundland: Uptumcook, the mainland
         Nova Scotia: Megumaage, Mi'kmaq land
         Penobscot: Banoopskep, opening out through the rocks
         PEI: Eppayguit, anchored on the wave
         St. John River: Olastook, beautiful river
         Windsor: Setun
Mi'kmaq LINKS
   • Mi' kmaq history
   • Maliseet-Passamaquoddy Dictionary
   • Mike's Mi'kmaq Place
The Naming of Acadia
     The first mention of the area by name came around 1524.  Verrazano visited the New World and noticed the green and full of life.  He named the area Arcadie, after Ancient Greece.  The area he visited was actually in the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia region.  As the years went by,  mapmakers started labeling the Nova Scotia area as "L'Arcadie".  In later maps, the "r" was left off. 
     In 1548, Gastaldi called it Lacardia, as did Zaltieri in 1556.  Ruscelli used the term Lacardie on his map in 1561.  Andre Thivet called it Arcadia in 1575.  Champlain, in his work Les Sauvages, called it Arcadia.  In Clark's book, Acadia, he gives several sources that discuss the naming of the land. 
Early Exploration of the Area
     In 1534, a French sea captain (Jacques Cartier) entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Over the next 73 years, ships from St. Malo, Brouage, and Honfleur made the trip. [Colby, 4]  French fishermen (Norman, Breton, Basque, etc.) had been working in the Atlantic waters east of Canada for many years prior to 1604. 
     King Henry IV of France, started giving out monopolies in 1588. The person receiving it was supposed to bring a certain number of colonists to New France.  In 1597, La Roche planned to colonize Sable Island (off the coast of Acadia). He planned to take 200 vagrants from Normanday and Brittany, but he died before the plans could be realized.  Chauvin, a Huegenot from Honfleur, received a monopoly on fur trade, provided he take 50+ colonists a year for 10 years (but he didn’t live up to that part of the deal).  About all he did was leave 16 at Tadoussac in 1600.  That attempt was a dismal failure. [Colby, 119] 

     In 1603, Champlain traveled up the St. Lawrence and brought beaver skins and Indians back to France.  De Chastes, who initiated the 1603 expedition, died before the ships returned.  As a result, colonization efforts switched from the St. Lawrence to Acadia.  The efforts were taken over by De Monts, who wanted to establish a colony, but in a better climate than the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  [Colby, 64]

Continue to Origins of the Acadians

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