Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada
Jean de Poutrincourt
In 1603, Jean de Poutrincourt, a baron and soldier, learned that his friend Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons had received a grant to explore Acadia and was planning an expedition to the region. With great aspirations to found an agricultural colony in North America, he appealed to Henri IV and received permission to accompany de Mons. Energetic and industrious, Poutrincourt obtained the necessary arms and soldiers for the defence of the settlement de Mons planned to establish.
A monument dedicated to Poutrincourt located near the site of his grist mill on the Lequille River © Parks Canada/A. Rierden
The expedition set sail in early March, 1604. After four long months, it reached the north Atlantic coast of North America around the 45th parallel. As the expedition searched for an area to settle in for the winter, it sailed into a narrow passage between two high cliffs. Here they entered into what Champlain described as, “…one of the finest harbours I had seen on all these coasts.” Because of its regal dimensions, Champlain named it Port-Royal.
Poutrincourt was so impressed with the beauty of the country, he asked for and was given a grant to the territory by the Sieur de Mons on his promise to colonize Port-Royal. The king confirmed this grant, in 1606, which included fur-trading privileges and fishing rights. While de Mons and most members of the expedition decided to spend the winter on an island they named Saint Croix, Poutrincourt returned to France that autumn with a cargo of furs.
In the spring of 1606, Poutrincourt returned to Port-Royal as lieutenant governor of Acadia to take command of the new settlement at Port-Royal. He brought with him some 50 men including Louis Hébert, Marc Lescarbot, and his own son Charles de Biencourt, and set out to strengthen the settlement. He erected a number of buildings; among them was a water-driven grist-mill, possibly the first in northern North America. Under his supervision, the settlers prepared fields and planted crops. He made friends with the native people and garnered their trust. The French under Poutrincourt set a pattern of good will.
In the autumn of 1607, the ship Jonas arrived in Acadia, with the news that the King’s council had revoked Sieur de Mons’ trading monopoly. The inhabitants of Port-Royal were forced to return to France. Despite the setback, Poutrincourt held fast to his dream of settling Acadia. Poutrincourt did not return to Acadia until 1610. The delay was due in part to trouble with financial backers and his disinclination to take the Jesuits with him. Though they had great influence with the king, who insisted they go to Port-Royal, the Jesuits were rumoured to be too interested in commercial profit. Nevertheless, once he arrived back in Port-Royal, Poutrincourt worked hard to build his agricultural colony and set about converting the native people with a new zeal. The old chief Membertou was baptized along with twenty members of his family.
The struggle between Poutrincourt and the Jesuits and their allies however, would overpower the settler’s mission, forcing him to return to France discredited. Undaunted, Poutrincourt formed a partnership with ship outfitters in France by promising them a share of the fur trade in the Port-Royal region, which he still controlled. In December, 1613, he again set sail for Port-Royal. He arrived that March to find the Port-Royal Habitation in ruins and the inhabitants starving after Samuel Argall’s raid the previous November. Poutrincourt had no choice but to return to France with most of the colonists. He deeded to his son the title of all his lands in North America.
Poutrincourt died in 1615. His son, Charles de Biencourt, remained in Acadia and continued on with the fur trade until his death in 1623, at around the age of 31.
For more information on Jean de Poutrincourt please go to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.