Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada
Père Pierre Biard
Confessional, altar, tabernacle and crucifix inside the Habitation’s chapel © Parks Canada/A. Rierden
In 1608, Henri IV’s confessor summoned Pierre Biard, a Jesuit priest and scholar in theology and Hebrew, to take charge of the Jesuit mission in Acadia. The Jesuits had a powerful ally at court, Antoinette de Pons, Marquise de Guercheville, the wife of the governor of Paris, and the first lady-in-waiting to the queen. Deeply religious, she supported the Order’s desire to found missions in North America and raised money at court so that Biard and Father Énemond Massé could become partners with Poutrincourt in the New France expedition after other backers had withdrawn. Eventually, through Madame de Gurercheville’s patronage, the Jesuits obtained passage by becoming part owners of the ship and cargo. They arrived in Port-Royal in May of 1611. Father Biard would become the first in a long line of distinguished Jesuits to write accounts of North America and the first to describe native people.
The priests’ tenure at Port-Royal, however, would not be easy. Conflicts with Charles de Poutrincourt over the standards used to convert the native people (in Poutrincourt’s eyes, the higher the numbers the better the chances of obtaining court financing) and the overall mood of suspicion and prejudice between the colonists and the priests, resulted in the Jesuit mission meeting with little success. Madame de Guercheville, who had succeeded Sieur de Mons as proprietor of New France, eventually sent over another vessel in 1613 under Réne Le Coq , Sieur de La Saussaie, and ordered him to stop at Port-Royal to take the two Jesuits elsewhere to found a new colony. La Saussaie sailed over to what is now Bar Harbor, Maine. Their colony, Saint-Sauveur, had barely set down roots when Samuel Argall from Virginia plundered the establishment in a quest to destroy all French settlements in the region. Argall sent half the settlers with Father Massé adrift in a small boat that eventually made it to France. He took the other half with Father Biard as prisoners to Jamestown, Virginia. Another Argall expedition with Biard on board, set out soon after to complete the destruction of Saint Croix and Port-Royal.
After Argall destroyed Port-Royal, he sent Biard back to Jamestown, where he may have faced execution. However, stormy seas and high winds carried the vessel on which he was held as prisoner across the ocean to the Azores. Eventually the captain released Biard.
Back in France, he met with scorn for purportedly helping in the demise of Port-Royal. Champlain, however, vindicated him. Biard resumed his work as a professor of theology, and afterwards became a prominent missionary in the south of France. Toward the end of his life, he was made military chaplain in the armies of the king.
For more information on Père Pierre Biard, please go to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.