This Week in History
The Accidental Naturalist: Nicolas Denys’ Adventures in Perseverance
For the week of Monday December 3, 2007
On December 3, 1653, Nicolas Denys purchased the rights to most of the region from what is now Cape Breton Island to the Gaspé peninsula, and all the adjacent islands including the Îles de la Madeleine, and Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island).
Starting in 1632, Denys had journeyed often to Acadia to fish, lumber, trade, and to attempt to establish permanent settlements. His was not an easy journey. Nicolas often clashed with the Governors of Acadia and merchants of the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France. On several occasions his lands were seized, his property confiscated and he was imprisoned. Although the French judicial powers always exonerated Nicolas and ordered that his lands be restored to him, Denys was never fully compensated for his losses. This left him near bankruptcy and unable to pursue his dream of establishing a great seigneury on New Brunswick’s north shore.
Denys established forts and villages in what is now New Brunswick at Miscou, Nipisiquit (Bathurst), and Chedabouctou (Guysborough), and in Nova Scotia at Saint-Pierre and Port Rossignol (Brooklyn), but by 1662 only seven families of permanent settlers remained. The lowest point in his career came in December 1668 when his home and business at St. Pierre were destroyed by fire, forcing his move to Nipisiquit. However, Denys’ most lasting contribution to history resulted from this misfortune. Now nearly destitute, he decided to compile his forty years of recollections and experiences in Acadia into book format. He hoped that the sale of these narratives would provide needed funds and attract new settlers.
For his intimate connection with, and honest recollections of the land and peoples of early Acadia, Nicolas Denys was recognized as a National Historic Person in 1924.
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