Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada
François Gravé, Sieur du Pont
Pont-Gravé encouraged inhabitants to plant gardens for their own gain © Parks Canada/A. Rierden
A courageous seaman with long experience in the North Atlantic and a major figure in the colonization of New France, François Pont-Gravé served as commander of Port-Royal from 1605 to 1606. The young Samuel de Champlain after sailing with Pont-Gravé on an earlier expedition to the St. Lawrence, referred to the more seasoned mariner as his mentor. “As for the Sieur du Pont,” Champlain would write, “I was his friend and his age led me to respect him as I would my father.”
After entrusting Pont-Gravé with the command of Port-Royal, de Mons returned to France to build support and financing for the expedition. Pont-Gravé kept the workmen busy on the settlement, urging them to weather proof the Habitation before winter. He also created gardens outside the fort and encouraged the colonists to till individual plots for their own gain.
Large spirited with a gift for storytelling, Pont-Gravé was popular with the men even though he had a temper. “M. du Pont was not a man to sit still, nor allow his people to remain idle,” Marc Lecarbot wrote.
The period that Pont-Gravé headed Port-Royal proved difficult. After many months of waiting for supply ships from France, Pont-Gravé feared the settlement would run out of provisions. The commander and all but two of the colonists boarded small boats, called barques, and set sail for Canso where they hoped to find anglers who could help them. En route, they ran into a sharp squall, and the high seas damaged one of their iron rudders. They sailed on, very near starvation. Finally, a French ship appeared reporting that a supply ship was en route with abundant provisions.
Still their leader, Sieur de Mons decided to stay in France to work with his investors. In 1606, he ordered Pont-Gravé to run commercial operations on the fishing coast. Two years later, Pont-Gravé commanded one of the ships; and Champlain commanded the other, on an expedition that led to the founding of Quebec.
For more information on François Gravé, Sieur du Pont please go to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.