History Timeline 1600s

Picture above: Pocahontas, Source: World Noted Women, D. Appleton and Company, 1883, Wikipedia Commons. Right: Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain John Smith, New England Chromo. Lithograph Company, 1870. Courtesy Library of Congress.


Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1600s


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  • 1604 Detail

    April 7, 1604 - Pierre Dugua sails toward establishment of early New France settlement at St. Croix Island in territory of today's Maine, but the colony fails.

    St. Croix Colony

    The Spanish had their success in the Caribbean, with St. Augustine, and throughout their missions of the southwest and Mexico, but England and French were falling behind as far as permanent settlement and exploration of the Americas. There had been summer excursions of fur traders and an English attempt at Cuddyhunk in 1602, but permanent settlement had been elusive. For France, they wanted to explore the north and look for that passage to the Orient. This would require permanent settlements as a base, and as the 17th century began its first years, explorers such as Pierre Dugua and Samuel Champlain were anxious to get started. Pierre Dugua, the Sieur de Monts had distinguished himself, like Champlain, in the French religious wars, siding with King Henri IV, and is considered likely to have visited the Americas in 1599-1600 with the expedition of Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit, who had been given a fur trading monopoly for regions near the St. Lawrence.

    On April 7, 1604, Pierre Dugua, with more than one hundred men, including the aforementioned Champlain (Champlain in his journal would state that the expedition had about one hundred and twenty men, although some current accounts list seventy-nine men, which will be discussed below), sailed west from France on two ships to search for a suitable site in l'Acadie, the area of today's Maine south of the St. Lawrence. Dugua was accompanied by a number of notable French; Francois Grave' Du Pont was the senior officer, the Baron de Poutrincourt was on board, priest Nicolas Aubry accompanied the mission, and Mathieu de Costa, a black linguist, was the first black man to arrive in North America. There were also Protestant clergy as well.

    Account of Samuel de Champlain, Start of the 1604 Journey

    Sieur de Monts, by virtue of his commission having published in all the ports and harbors of this kingdom the prohibition against the violation of his monopoly of the fur-trade accorded him by his Majesty, gathered together about one hundred and twenty artisans, whom he embarked in two vessels: one of a hundred and twenty tons, commanded by Sieur de Pont Grave'; another, of a hundred and fifty tons, in which he embarked himself, together with several noblemen.

    We set out from Havre de Grace April 7, 1604, and Pont Grave' April 10th, to rendezvous at Cafeau, twenty leagues from Cape Breton. But, after we were in mid-ocean, Sieur de Monts changed his plan, and directed his course toward Port Mouton, it being more southerly and also more favorable for landing than Canfeau.

    On May 1st, we sighted Sable Island, where we ran a risk of being lost in consequence of an error of our pilots, who were deceived in their calculation, which they made forty leagues ahead of where we were.

    This island is thirty leagues distant north and south from Cape Breton, and in length is about fifteen leagues. It contains a small lake. The island is very sandy, and there are no trees at all of considerable size, only copse and herbage, which serve as pasturage for the bullocks and cows, which the Portuguese carried there more than fifty years ago, and which were very serviceable to the party of the Marquis de la Roche. The latter, during their sojourn of several years there, captured a large number of very fine black foxes, whose skins they carefully preserved. There are many sea-wolves there, with the skins of which they clothed themselves since they had exhausted their own stock of garments. By order of the Parliamentary Court of Rouen, a vessel was sent there to recover them. The directors of the enterprise caught codfish near the island, the neighborhood of which abounds in shoals.

    On the 8th of the same month, we sighted Cap de la He've, to the east of which is a bay, containing several islands covered with fir trees. On the main land are oaks, elms, and birches. It joins the coast of La Cadie at the latitude of 44 degrees 5', and at 16 degrees 15' of the deflection of the magnetic needle, distant east-north-east eighty-five leagues from Cape Breton, of which we shall speak hereafter.

    On the 12th of May, we entered another port, five leagues from Cap de la He've, where we captured a vessel engaged in the fur-trade in violation of the king's prohibition. The master's name was Roffignol, whose name the port retained, which is in latitude 44 degrees 15'.

    On the 13th of May, we arrived at a very fine harbor, where there are two little streams, called Port au Mouton, which is seven leagues distant from that of Roffignol. The land is very stony, and covered with copfe and heath. There are a great many rabbits, and a quantity of game in consequence of the ponds there.

    As soon as we had disembarked, each one commenced making huts after his fashion, on a point at the entrance of the harbor near two fresh-water ponds. Sieur de Monts at the same time despatched a shallop, in which he sent one of us, with some savages as guides, as bearers of letters, along the coast of La Cadie, to search for Pont Grave', who had a portion of the necessary supplies for our winter sojourn. The latter was found at the Bay of All-Isles, very anxious about us (for he knew nothing of the change of plan); and the letters were handed to him. As soon as he had read them, he returned to his ship at Canfeau, where he seized some Basque vessels engaged in the fur-trade, notwithstanding the prohibition of his Majesty, and sent their masters to Sieur de Monts, who meanwhile charged me to reconnoitre the coast and the harbors suitable for the secure reception of our vessel.

    With the purpose of carrying out his wishes, I set out from Port Mouton on the 19th of May, in a barque of eight tons, accompanied by Sieur Ralleau, his secretary, and ten men. Advancing along the coast, we entered a harbor very convenient for vessels, at the end of which is a small river, extending very far into the main land. This I called the Port of Cape Negro, from a rock whose distant view resembles a negro, which rises out of the water near a cape passed by us the same day, four leagues off and ten from Port Mouton. This cape is very dangerous, on account of the rocks running out to the sea. The shores which I saw, up to that point, are very low, and covered with such wood as that seen at the Cap de la He've; and the islands are all filled with game. Going further on, we passed the night at Sable Bay, where vessels can anchor without any danger.

    Dugua had been given a monopoly on the fur trade in 1603 between the 40th and 46th parallels with a minor goal to convert the natives of the area to Christianity and populate the settlement with sixty new colonists per year, as long as he funded the project. Once arriving, they chose St. Croix island, near the border of today's Canada and Maine, due to its location in the middle of the St. Croix River, near the Bay of Fundy, and within reach of the St. John River and St. Lawrence River. The island seemed a great location for a trading post.

    Champlain Journal, Arriving at St. Croix Island

    "On the 20th of May, we set out from the Port of Mines to seek a place adapted for a permanent stay, in order to lose no time, purposing afterwards a return, and see if we could discover a mine of pure copper which Prevert's men had found by aid of the savages. We sailed west two leagues as far as the cape of the two bays, then north five or six leagues; and we crossed the other bay, where we thought the copper mine was, of which we have already spoken: inasmuch as there are there two rivers, the one coming from the direction of Cape Breton, and the other from Gaspe' or Tregatte', near the great river St. Lawrence. Sailing west some six leagues, we arrived at a little river, at the mouth of which is rather a low cape, extending out to the sea; and a short distance inland there is a mountain, having the shape of a Cardinal's hat. In this place we found an iron mine. There is anchorages here only for shallops. Four leagues west south-west is a rocky point extending out a short distance into the water, where there are strong tides which are very dangerous. Near the point we saw a cove about half a league in extent, in which we found another iron mine, also very good. Four leagues farther on is a fine bay running up into the main land; at the extremity of which there are three islands and a rock; two of which are a league from the cape towards the west, and the other is at the mouth of the largest and deepest river we had yet seen, which we named the river St. John (June 24), because it was on this saint's day that we arrived there. By the savages it is called Ouygoudy. This river is dangerous, if one does not observe carefully certain points and rocks on the two sides. It is narrow at its entrance, and then becomes broader. A certain point being passed, it becomes narrower again, and forms a kind of fall between two large cliffs, where the water runs so rapidly that a piece of wood thrown in is drawn under and not seen again. But by waiting till high tide you can pass this fall very easily. Then it expands again to the extent of about a league in some places, where there are three islands. We did not explore it farther up. But Ralleau, secretary of Sieur de Monts, went there from time to time to see a savage named Secondon, chief of this river, who reported that it was beautiful, large, and extensive, with many meadows and fine trees, as oaks, beeches, walnut-trees, and also wild grape-vines. The inhabitants of the country go by this river to Tadouffac, on the great river St. Lawrence, making but a short portage on the journey. From the river St. John to Tadouffac is sixty-five leagues. At its mouth, which is at latitude 45 degrees 40', there is an iron mine.

    From the river St. John we went to four islands, on one of which we landed, and found a great numbers of birds called magpies, of which we captured many small ones, which are as good as pigeons. Sieur de Pountrincourt came near getting lost here, but he came back to our barque at last, when we had already gone to search for him about the island, which is three leagues distant from the main land. Farther west are other islands; among them six leagues in length, called by the savages Manthane, south of which there are among the islands several good harbors for vessels. From the Magpie Islands we proceeded to a river on the main land called the river of the Etechemins, a tribe of savages so called in their country. We passed by so many islands that we could not ascertain their number, which were very fine. Some were two leagues in extent, others three, others more or less. All of these islands are in a bay, having, in my estimation, a circuit of more than fifteen leagues. There are many good places capable of containing any number of vessels, and abounding in fish in the season, such as codfish, salmon, bass, herring, halibut, and other kinds in great numbers. Sailing west-north-west three leagues through the islands, we entered a river almost half a league in breadth at its mouth, sailing up a league or two we found two islands, one very small near the western bank; and the other in middle, having a circumference of perhaps eight or nine hundred paces, with rocky sides three or four fathoms high all around, except in one small place, where there is a sandy point and clayey earth adapted for making brick and other useful articles. The island is covered with firs, birches, maples, and oaks. It is by nature very well situated, except in one place, where for about forty paces it is lower than elsewhere: this, however, is easily fortified, the banks of the main land being distant on both sides some nine hundred to a thousand paces. Vessels could pass up the river only at the mercy of the cannon on this island, and we deemed the location the most advantageous, not only on account of its situation and good soil, but also on account of the intercourse which we proposed with the savages of these coasts and of the interior, as we should be in the midst of them. We hoped to pacify them in the course of time, and put an end to the wars which they carry on with one another, so as to derive service from them in future, and convert them to the Christian faith. This place was named by Sieur de Monts the Island of St. Croix. Farther on, there is a great bay, in which are two islands, one high and the other flat; also three rivers, two of moderate size, one extending towards the east, the other towards the north, and the third of large size, towards the west. The latter is that of the Etechemins, of which we spoke before. Two leagues up this there is a waterfall, around which the savages carry their canoes some five hundred paces by land, and then re-enter the river. Passing afterwards from the river a short distance overland, one reaches the rivers Norumbegue and St. John. But the falls are impassable for vessels, as there are only rocks and but four or five feet of water. In May and June, so great a number of herring and bass are caught there that vessels could be loaded with them. The soil is of the finest sort, and there are fifteen or twenty acres of cleared land, where Sieur de Monts had some wheat sown, which flourished finely. The savages come here sometimes five or six weeks durig the fishing season. All the rest of the country consists of very dense forests. If the land were cleared up, grain would flourish excellently. The place is in latitude 45 degrees 20', and 17 degrees 32' of the deflection of the magnetic needle."

    The Beginning and End of the St. Croix Settlement

    But the location was not good, despite the features that Champlain described above. During the summer and fall, the men of the expedition readied the settlement, a barricade, houses, a chapel, and other buildings, including a storehouse nine fathons (fifty-four feet) long and twelve feet high. They planted gardens on the island and mainland, and made good trade alliances with the local tribes, the Passamquoddy, Maliseet, and Migmaq (Micmaq, Micmac). They began construction of a water mill, but did not finish it. They searched for a reported copper mine on the mainland, and found it. On August 31, 1604, Sieur de Monts decided to send some of the colonists back to France on the ships. That is likely why the remaining number of seventy-nine colonists is often stated as the number of total colonists who made the trip west from France to Acadia, not accounting for the trip back mid-colony.

    Winter was brutal for the men who remained and came early, the first snow on October 6, 1604. The colonists had completed their homes, but had not completed other tasks around the settlement. By December 3, ice flows had begun on the river. The weather was brutal with three to four feet of snow lasting into April, with the ice flows on the river making passage to the mainland for game and fresh water nearly impossible. Of the seventy-nine men still on St. Croix Island, thirty-five died, predominantly of scurvy.

    Spring brought relief when the tribes returned from their winter quarters and the ice flows ceased. Health of the men improved. However, the lack of fresh water and the remote nature of the island convinced Pierre Dugua that this was not the best place for settlement. He prepared the remaining ships for departure on May 15, 1605, but decided to wait for the returning vessels before heading out on the smaller ships. On June 15, news was received that his vessels had returned from France; two days later Sieur de Monts decided to search for a better location for the settlement within his Acadian monopoly.

    He moved the colony to Port Royal, twenty-five leagues (about eight-six miles) from St. Croix Island, in today's Quebec in August 1605. Now known as the Habitation at Port-Royal, as it would last for only eight years, and be followed in 1629 by the permanent Port Royal settlement. Dugua returned to France soon after the new Port Royal settlement was in order, leaving Champlain to explore and attempt to maintain his monopoly on the fur trade. That would only last until 1608. During that same year, Champlain would found Quebec City itself, returning to New France on his third voyage one year after leaving Acadia for France in 1607.

    Dugua would never return to New France.

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    St. Croix Island International Historic Site

    For those the like to visit those moments at history at the locations where they happened, the St. Croix Island International Historic site sure fits that bill. It's located eight miles south of Calais, Maine. No, you can't go over to the island itself, although that would certainly make it even better, but you can walk an interpretive trail on the mainland side that has awesome views of the island and tell that story.

    The park is now located in Maine, very close to the Canadian border, thus the International tag. There's a Visitor Center, guided hikes by park rangers some days, and awesome views of one of the first times France attempted a permanent presence in the Americas.

    Canada also maintains a national park of the same name to interpret the settlement. It is open from the beginning of June to mid-October. For more info on the Canadian St. Croix Island park. It is also located on the mainland, near Bayside, with a self-guided trail, great views of the island, and picnic areas.

    Image above: Art of the St. Croix Island Colony from the interpretive trail of St. Croix Island International Historic Site. Courtesy National Park Service. Below: Image from "the Algonquin Legends of New England: or, Myths and Folk Lore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot tribes," 1884, Charles Godfrey Leland. Courtey University of Connecticut Libraries via Wikipedia Commons. Info source: National Park Service; National Parks Canada; Archive.org; Voyage of Samuel de Champlain, American Journeys, Wisconsin Historical Society; Library of Congress; Wikipedia.

    Note: Some documents list March 6 as the date of their departure, with members of the expedition stating March 25 and 26, 1602.

    Native image St. Croix Island

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