Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada
Port of Entry
Three vessels left Rochefort, France on April 15, 1720 loaded with settlers, provisions and fishermen and arrived four months later at Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island). With a narrow entrance channel and a harbour that was large, sheltered and easy to defend, Port-la-Joye was chosen as the administrative capital of the island. Louis-Hyacinthe Castel, Comte de Saint-Pierre, had been granted a monopoly on Île Saint-Jean of the fisheries, naval construction, trade and agriculture by King Louis XV the previous year. In exchange for the monopoly, the Comte de Saint-Pierre was requested to send one hundred settlers from France the first year and fifty each following year until the Island was well populated. Acadians soon followed these French settlers, relocating from today's New Brunswick and mainland Nova Scotia.
Who are the Acadians?
Acadians are the descendants of French colonists who, in the 1600s, settled in Acadia (mainland Nova Scotia and parts of New Brunswick and Maine) and gradually developed a distinct Acadian identity.
The Island's proximity to Île Royale (Cape Breton) and the Fortress of Louisbourg offered an easy market for any excess agricultural production from the fertile farmland, which could be provided to the troops and inhabitants of the settlement there. Île Saint-Jean was thus proposed to be the "breadbasket" of Louisbourg.
Port-la-Joye, which Louis Denys de la Ronde described in 1721 as being "one of the most beautiful harbours that the eye can behold," was also the gateway to settlement along the Rivière du Nord-Est (Hillsborough River, a Canadian Heritage River). The river connected Port-la-Joye to Havre Saint-Pierre (St. Peter's Bay) on the north shore of Île Saint-Jean, which was considered the colony's main commercial and population centre. Several other settlements were established along the three rivers that extended out of the Port-la-Joye harbour, including the Rivière du Nord-Est, Rivière de l'Est, and the Rivière du Nord.
Gédéon de Catalogne, a military engineer from Quebec, oversaw construction at Port-la-Joye. Most, if not all of the buildings erected during the first summer of 1720 were piquet (picket) or vertical log structures including a barrack, storehouse and chapel. The construction of more buildings continued through the fall with a commandant's residence, housing for the soldiers, the labourers and the priest, a bakery and shelters for the animals.
Life was often not easy on Île Saint-Jean. The French and Acadian settlers had to work hard to grow crops and maintain vessels for fishing and received very little assistance from the Comte de Saint Pierre's company. Even so, between 1720 and 1722 eleven private homes were constructed on the opposite side of the creek from where the garrison was established.
On the garrison side of the creek stood one private home, that of Michel Haché Gallant. He arrived at Port-la-Joye in 1720 at 56 years of age with his wife, Anne Cormier and four of their twelve children: Louise, Jacques, Madeleine and François. A literate man who had been quite successful in such areas as farming, carpentry and coasting, Haché Gallant owned his own schooner, “La Miscoudine,” which made a number of trips to Louisbourg carrying passengers and supplies between 1721 and 1723.
In 1724 the Comte de Saint Pierre's company fell into bankruptcy. The French settlers who had come to the island returned to France along with the garrison. A few Acadian settlers remained at Port-la-Joye and on Île Saint-Jean, including the Haché Gallants and the Martins. By 1726 the island was repatriated as a crown colony and in 1730 it was returned to the French royal domain. From then on, the colony would fall under the administration of Louisbourg.
A new commandant, Jacques de Pensens, arrived in Port-la-Joye from Louisbourg in the summer of 1726. It was hoped that an enhanced government presence on the struggling colony would encourage more settlement. This was moderately successful as the population rose from 297 in 1728 to 432 in 1735. De Pensens was to stay as commandant for ten years, despite failing health. He made many pleas to the French government for aid and financial support for the settlement at Port-la-Joye, which was falling into a state of disrepair. The settlers were further hampered by plagues of rodents, which destroyed crops three times between 1724 and 1738. Provisions of seed and food stores were sent from Louisbourg, which was met by disappointment by the government officials at Isle Royale. The original idea, after all, had been that Île Saint-Jean would have been in a position to provide them with food. Fortunately in 1739 and 1740 excellent harvests were taken in and surplus supplies were sent to Louisbourg to repay the provisions given during the earlier, difficult years.
By 1740 war was looming once again between France and Great Britain. There were, at that time, only 37 soldiers serving in the garrison at Port-la-Joye and it was becoming increasingly difficult for settlers to cross the strait due to the presence of British warships.
The agricultural progress of the island soon became limited due to a lack of manpower. Increasing tension led the Governor at Louisbourg to decide to leave only a small detachment of 18 soldiers on Île Saint-Jean. The small garrison remained at Port-la-Joye until the fall of 1744 when the commandant decided to move the soldiers to pass the winter at Havre Saint Pierre. Most of the civilian population followed the soldiers and Port-la-Joye was virtually abandoned.
France officially declared war on Great Britain in March of 1744. In June of 1745 a large expedition from New England captured Louisbourg after a siege that lasted six weeks. Soon after the surrender the leaders of the New England campaign ordered a portion of their force to proceed to Île Saint-Jean to eliminate that French colony. A force of 300 New Englanders first descended on Jean Pierre Roma's settlement at Trois-Rivières, on eastern Île Saint-Jean. The inhabitants escaped but the soldiers burned their settlement. The New Englanders continued to Port-la-Joye, unaware that the settlement had been abandoned the previous fall. They set the vacant outpost and houses on fire before being surprised by a combined French, Mi'kmaq and Acadian force on the Rivière du Nord-Est. That force killed some of the New Englanders, and captured 28 as well as a British ship. However, Port-la-Joye lay in ruins.
The fall of Isle Royale and Île Saint-Jean was, however, only a temporary gain for the British. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 returned both islands once again to French control.
With the coming of peace in late 1748, a government outpost was once again established at Port-la-Joye. A vast increase in immigration followed, as mainland Acadia was a British possession, and the Acadians still living there were feeling pressure to declare unconditional loyalty to Britain. Many relocated to Île Saint-Jean, greatly expanding the colony's population. Port-la-Joye, with its ideal location across the strait from Nova Scotia, was a principal port of entry for that migration. In 1749 the population of the island was about 900, with an additional 1,100 immigrants in 1750, and another 2,000 in 1751.
Within a few years the colony began to recover from the influx of immigrants and was en route to becoming self-sufficient. The year 1755 proved to be a difficult one, however; a steady stream of Acadians sought refuge on Île Saint-Jean after the Nova Scotia Council ordered a deportation of all Acadians living in that territory. The British and New England soldiers in Nova Scotia deported an estimated 6,000 Acadians on ships before 1755 came to an end. Many Acadians, however, were able to escape, and some made their way to Île Saint-Jean, again swelling the Island's population. Most of these refugees arrived in dismal condition, having escaped with only what was necessary. Though few stayed at Port-la-Joye, many passed through there.