Book Review

Fortune and La Tour: The Civil War in Acadia

by M. A. MacDonald

This great book was the seed that inspired me to write The Conquest of Canada.

Fortune and La Tour is the story of the momentous and fateful adventures of Charles La Tour, his young wife, Marie Jacquelin, and his father, Claude. Far from being just history, it’s an exciting documentary that holds the reader in suspense as well as any novel.

Charles La Tour was a major player in Acadie in the 1600s. His father was somewhat of a rogue whose family had fallen on hard times. But Claude had dropped the family name “Turgis” in favour of “La Tour”, which he thought more noble sounding, and indeed, he managed to marry into the nobility.
Charles was just a boy when his father took him to Port Royal, where Jean de Biencourt had built a habitation. Biencourt was a man of vision and had plans to dyke the Port Royal marshlands, which he knew would be superb farming country. He planned to bring over poor peasants from France. Biencourt had excellent relations with the Mik’maq. A few years earlier, also at Port Royal, Samuel de Champlain, another great visionary, had organized the Order of Good Cheer.

Baron Biencourt sold everything he had in France to build Port Royal. It had to work or he was finishe. There was no more money. To bring out needed supplies and trade goods, Biencourt needed help. He allied himself to the beautiful courtesan, Antoinette de Pons, Marquise of Guerchville, a fervent supporter of the Jesuits. Antoinette advanced the monies he needed. It was the Jesuits’ understanding that, in exchange, they would be able to establish missions in Acadie, and perhaps have some say in what went on at Port Royal.

BInstead, hostilities developed between Biencourt and the Jesuits. The Biencourts wanted the natives to be converted to Christianity quickly, so that they would have lists of converts to show to the zealots back home, hoping that more money would be forthcoming. The Jesuits saw this for what it was and refused to cooperate. Relations deteriorated to such a point that the Jesuits were ultimately confined to the habitation's attic. When they tried to escape they were caught.

In 1613 Port Royal was destroyed by the Jamestown pirate Samuel Argall, later Governor Argall of Virginia. Argall sent some of the Jesuits back to France in a rowboat (they made it back). But one of them, Father Pierre Biard, Argall took with him; first to Jamestown, where Father Biard was threatened with hanging; and then to the Bay of Fundi, where Father Biard was supposed to show the pirates the way to Port Royal.

Argall did find the way, whether with or without Father Biard’s help.
At Port Royal, Argall took the cattle and the furniture and then set fire to the buildings. From the surrounding hills, Charles La Tour and his men, just returning from hunting, saw the habitation ablaze. And they saw Father Biard among the Jamestown pirates. To the end of his life Father Biard would swear that he had not helped Argall find his way into the Bay of Fundi and through the Gut to Port Royal. But Charles and the other Port Royal men would forever be convinced of his guilt. He did it, they said, to save himself from hanging.

The Jesuits would not return to Acadie for many years. In the meantime, Charles La Tour learned the Mik’maq language, adopted native ways, married a Mik'maq, and was elected Grand Saqmaw by their council. For years, as the successor to the Biencourts, Charles governed Acadie without recognition and without adequate support from France. In the meantime, he and his father were engaged in the beaver trade, living in the woods with Mik’maq. Eventually, they built a stronghouse at Cape Sable, which they kept well hidden from view.

The problem that would dog the French in the 1600- and 1700-hundreds, and ultimately doom their efforts to gain control of the continent, was that Frenchmen, as a rule, would not emigrate. There were only about twenty men at Cape Sable. With their native allies they were trying to hold vast Acadie for France against poachers, fishermen, and pirates of many nations, some of whom were beginning to settle in the new land.

Charles built a fort on the St.John river and sent to France for a wife—his native wife, with whom he had three little girls, had died. His new wife, Marie Jacquelin, joined him at the St. John fort. She was thirty years younger.

Then began some of the most incredible events of this story. An aristocrat named d’Aulnay was sent out from France to govern part of the territory. Charles was initially given the St.John area. But d’Aulnay intended to have the whole of Acadie for himself, and soon there was war between the two men. Charles was imprisoned for a while at Port Royal, now rebuilt by d’Aulnay.

Once free, Charles sailed to Boston. Founded in 1630, Boston was a metropolis compared to anything in Acadie or Canada. La Tour persuaded the governing council there that he was the rightful governor of Acadie and that d’Aulnay was a usurper. He may also have persuaded the Boston council that he had Protestant sympathies. La Tour returned home leading a fleet of warships from Boston and he gave d’Aulnay a sound drubbing. D’Aulnay responded by attacking the fort at the mouth of the St. John River. Unfortunately, Charles was in France at the time and Marie Jacquelin herself had to marshal the workmen and soldiers to defend the fort.

By all accounts her efforts were heroic. But tragedy ensued, and also some surprising turns of fate ...

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