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Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada


Introduction    A Taste of History    Hard Times for the Colonists    Port-Royal: A Landmark of Preservation


Hard Times for the Colonists

Jesuit missionaries became financial partners with Poutrincourt upon his return to Port-Royal in 1610. Jesuit missionaries became financial partners with Poutrincourt upon his return to Port-Royal in 1610.
© Parks Canada/F. Gaudet

Just as the colony seemed capable of sustaining itself, word arrived that the King’s council had revoked Sieur de Mons’ monopoly. The news came as a devastating and bitter blow to some of the colonizers. They had built a Habitation, where the soil was good and crops flourished. For Champlain especially, it was a major setback. By the fall of 1607, the colonists were en route to France leaving the Habitation under the care of Membertou, the Kji-Saqmaw, or grand chief, of the Mi’kmaq in the Port-Royal area. Although the king reinstated Sieur de Mons’ monopoly and a member of the earlier expeditions, Champdoré, came to trade with the Mi’kmaq in 1608, the French settlement was temporarily on hold. That same year, Champlain led a group of French settlers up the St. Lawrence River, where they established the Habitation of Quebec.

Poutrincourt returned to Port-Royal in 1610 with a small expedition that included his son Charles de Biencourt, who was then about 18 or 19, and their relatives through marriage, Claude de Saint-Étienne de La Tour and his young son Charles, who would become a prominent figure in the years to come. They received a warm welcome from Membertou. Hoping to regain royal favour and financial backing, Poutrincourt persuaded Membertou, his family and several of his people to convert to Catholicism. Despite these efforts, the colony’s viability remained on shaky grounds. Jesuit interest in establishing missions in Acadia and their influence at Court ensured their participation. Through their royal connections, they became financial partners of a wary and reluctant Poutrincourt. The arrival and subsequent involvement of Fathers Massé and Biard in local affairs at Port-Royal made existing internal conflicts worse. Ultimately, the colony lost its financial support due to conflicts between the Biencourts (Poutrincourt and his son Charles) and the Jesuits. In May 1613, a relief ship removed the Jesuits to Penobscot (Maine) where they founded another settlement named Saint-Sauveur. In July, Samuel Argall of Virginia, commissioned to expel all Frenchmen from territory claimed by England, attacked and destroyed the colony.

Coats of arms at the Habitation Coats of arms at the Habitation
© Parks Canada

That fall, while the inhabitants of the Port-Royal settlement were away up river, Argall’s expedition sailed into Port-Royal and looted and burned the Habitation. Poutrincourt, who was in France, returned in the spring of 1614 to find his Habitation in ruins, and his son and companions living with the Mi’kmaq. Discouraged, he returned to France. Poutrincourt transferred his land holdings and leadership role in Acadia to his son, Charles de Biencourt. At that time, the area encompassed principally mainland Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and coastal parts of Maine. Charles de Biencourt remained in the region with his cousin and second in command, Charles de Saint-Etienne de La Tour and a handful of men. When Biencourt died in 1623, La Tour became leader of the colony and continued the fur trade in the region. He founded a trading base at Cape Sable and later, one on the Saint John River.

The settlements at Saint Croix, Port-Royal and Quebec marked the beginnings of French settlement on the continent. The generations that followed would firmly ensure the integration of French culture in North America.