Fortune and La Tour:
The Civil War in Acadia

—the inspiration for Wendel Messer’s
Conquest of Canada

 

This great book by M A MacDonald relates the adventures of Charles La Tour, La Tour's young wife Marie Jacquelin, and La Tour's 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, and he married into the nobility. As a young lad, Charles accompanied his father to Port Royal, where Baron Pourtincourt had built a habitation. Poutrincourt was a man of vision and had plans to dyke the marshlands, which he saw as superb farming country. He planned to bring over poor peasants from France. His relations with the Mik'maq were excellent. Poutrincourt even played his compositions on the spinet for them. This is where, a few years earlier, Samuel de Champlain, another great visionary, had organized the Order of Good Cheer.

The reader also learns about the broils between the Poutrincourts and the Jesuits. Baron Poutrincourt sold everything he had in France to build Port Royal. It had to work or he was finished; there was no more money. To bring out needed supplies and trade goods, Pourtrincourt needed help. The beautiful courtesan, Antoinette de Pons, Marquise of Guerchville, a fervent supporter of the Jesuits, advanced the monies; and it was assumed by the Jesuits that they would be able to establish missions in Acadie and, perhaps, have some say in what went on at Port Royal.

But instead, hostilities developed. The Poutrincourts 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 the point where the Jesuits were confined to the attic. When they tried to escape they were caught.

In 1613 Port Royal was destroyed by the Jamestown pirate Samuel Argall, known to the Americans as Governor Argall. Argall had captured the Jesuits on the coast before arriving at Port Royal. He sent some of them 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.

Argall did find the way, with or without the Jesuit's help. 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 prancing about with the Jamestown pirates was Father Biard. To the end of his life Father Biard would swear that he had not helped Argall find his way into 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, Charles governed without recognition and without adequate support from France, while he and his father were engaged in the beaver trade. After the habitation was destroyed, the Port Royal men went into the woods to live with the Mik'maq, then 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 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, d'Aulnay, was sent out from France to govern part of the territory. Charles was given the St.John area. The aristocrat intended to have the whole of Acadie and soon there was war between them. Charles was imprisoned for a while at Port Royal, now rebuilt by d'Aulnay.

At one point, finding himself in desperate straits, 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 given them to believe 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. Unfortunately, Charles was in France at the time and Marie Jacquelin 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.

M A MacDonald's great relation was the inspiration for Wendel Messer's

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LINKS page

critically acclaimed novel, THE CONQUEST OF CANADA: A NOVEL OF DISCOVERY, half of which is concerned with the early part of the La Tour saga.