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Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada

People



Membertou

Image from the book, "The Micmac And How Their Ancestors Lived Five Hundred Years Ago"

What we know today about the grand chief or kjisaqmaw, Membertou, is based primarily on the writings of Marc Lescarbot and other explorers. Nearly all of them described him as a person of great influence, who led a small following of Mi’kmaq in the region that came to be known by the French as Port-Royal. According to reports, Membertou was very old, though vigorous, when Sieur de Mons moved his expedition across the bay to establish the Habitation at Port-Royal. Champlain wrote that in war Membertou “had a reputation of being the most evil and treacherous among all those of his nation.” His trustworthiness in dealings with friends, neighbours and guests earned him the esteem of the French. Father Biard, one of the Jesuits who came to Port-Royal in 1611 wrote: “This was the greatest, most renowned and most formidable [native person] within the memory of man; of splendid physique, taller and larger-limbed than is usual among them; bearded like a Frenchman, although scarcely any of the others have hair upon the chin; grave and reserved; feeling a proper sense of dignity for his position as commander.”

Image from the book, "The Micmac And How Their Ancestors Lived Five Hundred Years Ago" Images from the book, "The Micmac And How Their Ancestors Lived Five Hundred Years Ago"
© Parks Canada/K. Kaulbach

After the settlers received orders to return to France in 1607, the Port-Royal Habitation was left for three years in Membertou’s hands. He greeted the French on their return to Port-Royal in June of 1610. On June 24th, 1610 (Saint John the Baptist Day), Membertou became the first Aboriginal person to be baptized in New France. The ceremony was carried out by Father Jessé Fléché, who had just arrived on Poutrincourt’s expedition. Fléché went on to baptize all of Membertou’s immediate family. Membertou was given the baptized name of the late king of France, Henri, as a sign of alliance and good faith. A year later, Membertou became gravely ill. While he originally insisted on being buried with his ancestors, Jesuit missionaries persuaded him otherwise. Close to his death, Membertou requested to be buried among the French. In his final words he charged his children to remain devout Christians. The grand chief’s conversion to Christianty has had a lasting impact on the Mi’kmaq culture. Today many Mi’kmaw people continue to practice Roman Catholicism.

Resources:
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Mi’kmaq Resource Centre

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