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Origins of the Acadians

     Although the Acadians, a group of people who settled eastern Canada in the 1700's, have been researched extensively over the years, many questions still remain as to their origins.  A few have been traced to France and elsewhere. But the majority of Acadian settlers still have no link to the Old World.

Most Acadians were probably farmers of western France.  For more details on what their lives were like before they left for the New World, visit 
Pre-Acadian Life in France
  They first arrived in the area of Acadia shortly after the start of the 17th century.  Visit the page on  For information on pre-1604 Acadia, the Mi'kmaq Indians, & the origin of the name, visit
Acadia before the French arrival
1604 to 1631
     Pierre de Guast, Sieur de Monts, from Saintonge, was given a fur trade monopoly for Acadia. Backed by merchants, de Monts sailed to Acadia with 79 men in 1604.  They explored the Baie Francoise (Bay of Fundy).  One of their stops was Cape D’Or (Golden Cape), where they found copper mines ... hence the name Les Mines.  They sailed into the Basin and found a large amethyst on Partridge Island.  It was broken in two and De Monts brought one piece back and had it made into jewelry for the king and queen. [Herbin]
     De Monts didn’t like the rocky cliffs at Blomidon.  He didn’t go far enough to see the rich lands of Grand Pre a few miles to the south, and left the head north. He and his men stayed on an island on the St. Croix River. [LINK: St. Croix Island NHS]
      It was thought that the area offered protection from raiders. Francois Grave Du Pont and Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt sailed back to France before winter.  French noblemen, Catholic & Protestant clergy, laborers, and artisans were in the that first group of men. Over the winter, 35 men died.  Besides the weather, scurvy was a problem.  In The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents ... 1610-1791, ed. R.G. Thwaites, Father Pierre Briard wrote that of the 79, only 11 remained well. 
    Grave Du Pont arrived back at St. Croix in June 1605 with 2 ships, men, and supplies.  They spent 6 weeks exploring the coast (all the way down to Cape Cod) to find a better place to settle.  They chose a spout on the north side of the basin, opposite Goat Island, which became Port Royal.  They built structures at Port Royal using the materials from the buildings they had constructed on Ile St. Croix.  Grave Du Pont and Champlain and 45 men remained that winter, while de Monts and Poutrincourt returned to France.
Acadie ... 1605
    Poutrincourt returned to Port Royal in July 1606 with 50 men (including his son Biencourt, Louis Hebert, and Marc Lescarbot) and supplies.  He found that all but 2 men had left for Canso, where the fishing was good.  They men were called back and attempts at farming were begun.  They built a lime kiln and set up a forge. Paths were cut from the settlement to the  valley and fields.  Tradesmen would work at their trade for part of the day, and spend the rest hunting, 
fishing, and collecting shellfish. [Clark, p. 79]
    Poutrincourt and Champlain visited the north side of the Basin of Minas that year. They found a cross ... old, rotten, and covered in moss.  Christians had been here at some time in the past ... perhaps itinerant fisherman or another explorer. [Herbin, p. 22]
     Our best record of those days can be found in Marc Lescarbot’s History of New France, where he tells of “the pleasure which I took in digging and tilling my gardens, fencing them in against the gluttony of the swine, making terraces, preparing straight alleys, building store-houses, sowing wheat, rye, barley, oats, beans, peas, garden plants, and watering them, so great a desire had I to know the soil by personal experience.”  The rye, he tells, grew “as tall as the tallest man.”  Seeds were planted in March/April to see how early they’d “take.”  Hogs and sheep were brought to Acadia the year before (1605).  Lescarbot tell how the hogs multiplied quickly and how they liked to lay abroad, even in the snow.  There weren’t many sheep (he says he had one).  They also had hens and pigeons, though they didn’t reproduce well.  The ships brought the gray rat to Acadia with them.  A water-powered gristmill was constructed to grind the grain.  There’s mention of an axe, hoe, and spade, but not a plow. 
     Note: Lescarbot's Histoire de la Nouvelle France is online as a set of GIF images.
     The group fared well that 1606-07 winter.  But when the weather warmed up and ship began making the trek across the ocean, news came that de Monts grant was revoked. Though the offical reason for canceling the monopoly was that they he hadn't fulfilled the obligation of converting the Indians to Christianity, the real reason probably had to do with jealousy on the part of other French merchants. [Daigle, p. 384]  In addition, de Monts had taken the wrong side in that year's civil war politics in France.  When the fur trade monopoly was taken from De Monts in 1607, the colonists abandoned Acadia and left the settlement under the care of the Indians.  [Daigle, p. 19]
     Before going, they visited St. Croix again, and the copper “mines” (actually the deposits were in the Cape Chignecto region).  It is thought that this was a stall tactic so that they could collect the ripe grain to show everyone back home.  The settlement was then abandoned ... only the Mi'kmaq were there. [Clark, p. 80]
     In 1609, Marc Lescarbot drew maps of Acadia and of the Port Royal area.  His map of Acadia (right) has the word Souriquois, which was an early name for the Mi'kmaq Indians. The maps can be found in his book, Histoire de la Nouvelle France.

Click on image for a larger flash version
Jean de Biencourt Sieur de Poutrincourt
     Poutrincourt was the son of Florimond de Biencourt and Jeanne de Salazar. He married Claude Pajot on Aug. 14, 1590 and they had 6 daughters and 2 sons (Charles and Jacques).  After returning to France, Poutrincourt died in 1615 at the battle of Méry sur Seine. 
     Poutrincourt's son, Charles de Biencourt de Saint Just, was with him on the Jonas, which left from La Rochelle, France on May 13, 1606.  This was Poutrincourt's second trip to Acadia.

  ["The Seigneurs of Acadie", Joan Bourque Campbell, Les Cahiers, SHA, V. 26, No. 2, 1995, p. 91-94]

     Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt, Baron de Saint Just became the first seigneur of Acadia when de Monts granted him the Port Royal area in 1604.  Upon returning to France, he applied for and received confirmation of a grant in the area. 
     In 1610, he brought his son, a priest, and other men (and perhaps cattle) with him. He planted winter crops as soon as he arrived.  Forty men stayed with him for the winter, while his son returned home with a cargo of furs. [Clark, p. 81] 
     We don’t know of the agricultural activity from 1610 until the Scottish arrived. There’s no evidence of dyking or fruit trees early on. [Clark, p. 87]

     His son, Charles de Biencourt, returned with his mother and more men in 1611.  The court pushed for him to take 2 Jesuits (Pierre Biard and Enemond Masse) with him.  Some merchants withdrew their financial support because of this, but the Jesuits made up for it. [NOTE: One of Biard's works ... Epistola ex Portu-regali in Acadia ... is online]
    Poutrincourt’s wife was probably the first European woman in Acadia.  There may have been a couple of women in Alexander's group in 1628/29.  When it came to finding a wife in early Acadia, the only females to be found were the Indians.  Taking up with the Indian girls was objected to by the priests.  When it happened, it was more likely for the fellow to follow her to the forest than for her to follow him to the fields.   The absence of wives and families may have been the biggest thing holding back agricultural development.  It had been shown that crops could grow, but women and children were needed to help in the fields and garden and to process the food in the home. 

     Poutrincourt returned to France before winter.  Charles de Biencourt and the men faced competition from Du Pont’s son, who was trading at the St. John River area.  Problems soon began with the priests.  They wanted to turn the trading post into a mission. Poutrincourt was looking to make money, not new Christians.
     Another group went to Acadia in 1613 and picked up the priests at Port Royal to settle elsewhere.  It is said that they wanted to “take over” Acadia outside of Poutrincourt’s grant.  They settled St. Sauveur on Mt. Desert Island with 30 men, goats, and horses. 
     Port Royal now stretched as far as Pre Ronde.  Champlain made a map in 1612/13, which refers to the area as Acadye.  An account of a May 1613 visit to the area is mentioned in Biard’s Relation for 1616. 
          “At Port Royal, they found only 5 persons; namely, the 2 Jesuits, their servant, the Apothecary Hebert, and another.  Sieur de Biencourt and the rest of his people were all quite far away, some here, some there.  Now because Hebert was taking the place of the Sieur, they presented to him the Queen’s letters, which contained the royal command to release the Jesuits and to let them go wherever they pleased; so the Jesuits took away their property in great peace.  And on that day as well as on the following, they made it as pleasant for Hebert and his company as they could, so that this arrival would not be a cause of sadness to them.  At their departure (although they were not in need of anything) they left them a barrel of bread and some bottles of wine, that the farewell might be received with equally good grace.”   [Canadian Types of the Old Regime  by Charles W. Colby, p. 123]

     Late in 1613, Poutrincourt left La Rochelle for Port Royal with supplies.  But before he arrived, Samuel Argall had paid Port Royal a visit. 
     Samuel Argall, a freelance trader from Jamestown, had been authorized by Gov.Dale to drive out any French south of latitude 45 N.  He attacked St. Sauveur first, and then Port Royal in November.  To took their goods and burned the settlement down.The people were scattered and the livestock killed. 

     Poutrincourt arrived in spring 1614 to find just a few men left .. the others having moved on or died.  Though Poutrincourt decided to abandon the colony, his son and a few others (Claude LaTour, Charles LaTour, etc.) decided to stay to trade for furs for the La Rochelle merchants. A number of the men, including Louis Hebert, left Acadia at this time and returned to France.  Louis Hebert was to later (1617) return to New France to settle in Quebec and is said to have established the first family in New France. 
    When Poutrincourt was killed in 1615 in France, his son Biencourt took over his grant.  Biencourt and an undetermined number of men appear to have been living in the area.  For the next couple of decades, they traded for fur and perhaps did some farming; but the concentration was on trading (and hunting, fishing, etc.). In 1616 alone, 25,000 pelts were produced in Acadia [Clark, p. 82] The French that remained were said to be mainly of Huguenot stock.  They lived with the Indians in the woods.  Forts were build at Pentagouet, on the St. John River, and at Cape Sable (Fort Lomeron).  Lomeron was a merchant who supported Poutrincourt and later the LaTours

    Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, had been talking for years of developing Acadia as Scottish territory.  Check out An Encouragement in Colonies (1624) and several other works for more information on him.  He got a charter for New Scotland (“Nova Scotia”) in 1621. [Herbin, p. 23]  Ile Royale and Ile St. Jean were not a part of this charter, but were given shortly afterwards to Robert Gordon of Lochinvar. [Royal Letters, Charters, and Tracts Relating to the Colonization of New Scotland, ed.David Laing (1867)]  Alexander headed to Acadia in 1622, but had to winter in Newfoundland.  The following year, he found the “colonists” of 1622 were working with the fishery; so he explored the south shore of Nova Scotia, collected a cargo of cod, and sailed home. [Clark, p. 83]

     In 1623, Jean de Biencourt died and Charles LaTour took over.  He moved the headquarters to the Cape Sable area that year.  LaTour also established a fort at Pentagouet in 1623. [Clark, p. 83]

     From 1628 to 1632, Canada/Acadia was under English and Scottish control.  The 
Kirkes forced Champlain to surrender at Quebec in 1629.   The Kirkes were a father and 3 sons who started as privateers, but got official support when they took Quebec in 1629. [Clark, p. 84]
     Voltaire called Canada a patch of snow. Speaking of Kirke’s expedition in 1628, he says “He took possession of the whole of Acadia. That is to say, he destroyed the huts of a few fishermen.”  The thought was that New France just served to keep France involved in wars. [Colby, p. 51]
     Alexander finally set up a colony at Port Royal in 1628/29.  Harvey, in “Sir William Alexander” states that Alexander probably settled at Gaspe with “70 men and tua weemen” (p. 20). 

     The Alexander group moved to Port Royal in 1629.  Though the date of the settlement is argued among scholars, falling from 1627 to 1629, we do know there were Scottish present from 1629 to 1632. 
     James Stewart started another Scottish settlement at Port Baleine on Cape Breton (Ile Royale)  in 1629.  Alexander’s son dropped 50 men off there on his way to Port Royal.  A Frenchman, Capt. Charles Daniel captued the settlement 3 months later and deported the Scottish. 
     Alexander’s son arrived at Port Royal to find that 30 of them had died.  After France regained Acadia and New France under the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Lay in 1632, some of the Scottish settlers left for New England.  At  46 of them left for England in 1633.  According to La Gazette de Renaudot (Feb. 11, 1633), Razilly’s ships dropped the 46 off at England on the way back to France. 
     From 1613 to 1629, there may have been 20 or so men from Poutrincourt’s settlement ... fluctuating over the years ... still living in Acadia. [Clark, p. 99]

     By 1630, there were posts at Pentagouet, on the Saint John River, at Cape Sable, at Miscou, and at present-day St. Ann on Cape Breton (by Daniel after he’d deported the Scottish).  Fort Lomeron (in the Cape Sable area) was later called Fort St. Louis, and then Port LaTour. [Clark, p. 85]

The majority of the settlers came from France,though their origins are still being debated.For a discussion of where they might have come from, visit the page on
Acadian Colonists' Origins
Continue to Early Acadia

Acadia: 1632-1653 * 1654-1670 * 1671-1689 * 1690-1709 * 1710-1729 * 1730-1748 * 1749-1758
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