The Lioness of Acadia - by Susan Poizner
The Beaver: Canada's History Magazine Feb/Mar 07
In March 1640, a young woman left her safe and familiar life in France for the New World to marry a man she may have met only once in her life. Swept up in adventure, she became one of Canada's greatest heroines.
Françoise-Marie Jacquelin was born into an upper middle-class family in the city of Nogent-le-Rotrou in France in 1602. The daughter of a doctor, she moved in bourgeois circles and dressed in silk and taffeta gowns. She was expected to marry, raise a family, and manage a household as her mother had done. Unlike her mother, Françoise-Marie and her sister Gabrielle learned to read and write in a convent school. Literacy meant French girls at the time were given more responsibilities in managing their households. It also meant they could read about the romantic novels, including adventurous tales of brave knights battling foes in faraway lands.
At eighteen, Françoise-Marie was setting off on her own romantic adventure in the New World. Two attendants, including a maidservant, accompanied her. The ship carried a large arsenal: nine cannon, three mortars, sixteen muskets, two dozen pikes, and ammunition. Françoise-Marie soon learned that her new husband was embroiled in a rivalry that would quickly escalate into a civil war.
In summer of 1606, fourteen-year-old Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour sailed from France to Acadia with his father and a group of adventurers led by the visionary Baron Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt. Intending to create a thriving French colony in this resource-rich land, they landed at Port Royal in today's Nova Scotia, founded the previous year by explorer Samuel de Champlain. Turbulent times awaited French fur traders in Acadia. Political disputes over fur rights discouraged traders, and many returned to France by 1613. But Biencourt's twentytwo-year-old son, also named Charles, stayed on, accompanied by young Charles La Tour and a handful of other free-spirited men. They lived among the Mi'kmaq and
learned their language. La Tour married a Mi'kmaq woman who bore him three daughters before she died young.
The Frenchmen slowly built up trade with a company based in La Rochelle, France, exporting pelts and salt-fish and importing staples such as wine, lard, spices, and salt. When Charles Biencourt died in 1623, La Tour took over the leadership of the small company, which thrived despite the constant challenges of Dutch, English, Basque, and French poachers. By 1631, La Tour had built a new fort – Fort La Tour – on the Saint John River. That same year, La Tour was rewarded for his accomplishments. A letter from Cardinal Richelieu, the French king's chief minister, appointed him governor of Acadia and a lieutenant general for Louis XIII. This was a great honour for a man of La Tour's modest social standing. At thirty-eight, he was well established in Acadia.
However, he had a rival.
Due to confusion in Paris over the geography of the Acadia, the territorial division of the colony and its profits were unclear. La Tour shared the governorship with aristocratic naval officer Charles de Menou d'Aulnay. Ruthlessly ambitious, d'Aulnay hated La Tour, whom he saw as socially inferior. His goal was to be the sole leader of Acadia by whatever means necessary.
In 1636, d'Aulnay married Jeanne Motin, a devout Frenchwoman. After the first of eight d'Aulnay children was born, La Tour realized he also needed a male heir. He commissioned his friend and agent in France, Guilliame Desjardins, to secure him a bride – Françoise-Marie Jacquelin. La Tour and Françoise-Marie had likely met during one of La Tour's previous trips to France, though no details of that meeting are known.
La Tour had told Desjardins to encourage the young Françoise-Marie to leave France for an uncertain life in Acadia by offering a generous agreement: cash, a large inheritance fund, and a half share in his property. On New Year's Eve, 1639, Desjardins joined Françoise-Marie and members of her family to sign the marriage contract. Three months later, she set off from La Rochelle.
In the first weeks after her arrival in June 1640, Françoise-Marie adjusted to day-to-day life at Fort La Tour. Looking out from the fort, she could watch La Tour's men netting salmon in the Saint John River. Aboriginal trappers came to trade pelts. Inside there was a cookhouse, bakery, blacksmith, chapel, trading room, vegetable garden, and livestock. Soon, Françoise-Marie took on some responsibility by helping manage the fort's daily affairs.
In July 1640, Françoise-Marie accompanied her husband across the Bay of Fundy to visit d'Aulnay's Port Royal headquarters on the pretence of introducing Françoise- Marie to d'Aulnay's wife. La Tour's true motivation was more likely to check that d'Aulnay wasn't taking more than his fair share of fur. La Tour sent a shallop ashore to ask permission to land. D'Aulnay replied that La Tour was not welcome. Soon after, d'Aulnay's vessels approached La Tour's ship and the two exchanged cannon fire, killing one of Françoise-Marie's loyal guards. In the only existing account, d'Aulnay blamed La Tour for taking the first shot.
D'Aulnay's men grounded La Tour's boat, rounded up his men, and threw them in the dungeon. Françoise-Marie and La Tour were also taken prisoner. All were held captive until La Tour agreed to sign a proposal to bring their quarrel to the king's court, where d'Aulnay felt his powerful contacts would ensure he won. La Tour was humiliated, and Françoise-Marie saw first-hand how ruthlessly d'Aulnay would pursue his goal of domination.
Once La Tour signed the proposal, d'Aulnay stepped up his campaign to discredit his rival in the French court. He wrote letters and reports accusing La Tour of villainy, violence, and greed. Among those reading the reports and influencing the king's decisions were d'Aulnay's contacts and kinsmen. At the same time, d'Aulnay aggressively set out to conquer areas officially under La Tour's rule. In 1642, d'Aulnay's political assassination of La Tour had paid off. A series of decrees from France stripped La Tour of his powers, forbidding him to import essential supplies and arms from France and calling for his arrest if he did not come to Paris and explain himself to the king. La Tour knew that in France he would be imprisoned,
possibly even charged with treason. In his stead, Françoise-Marie journeyed to France to plead her husband's case in front of the Grand Prior. She did this with grace, presenting key documents attesting toher husband's innocence and achieving a partial victory. The Grand Prior allowed her to return with a warship to Acadia to help her husband in his defence. The issue was not resolved, but La Tour would have a fighting chance. On her return, Françoise-Marie was prevented access by d'Aulnay's blockade of the Bay of Fundy. La Tour was able to reach her ship in the night, and the two made their way to Boston. There they negotiated for enough ships and supplies to run the blockade and return, together, to Fort La Tour.
During the next three years, d'Aulnay put a stranglehold on his rival, continuing his blockade of the Bay of Fundy and keeping the La Tours confined to Fort La Tour. Around 1643, Françoise-Marie gave birth to a son – her only child. In early 1644, Françoise-Marie made a second trip to Paris to plead her husband's case in the French courts. This time, however, the courts sided with d'Aulnay and ordered Françoise-Marie to stay in France or risk being put to death. She defied the order and fled in disguise to England where she made a contract with Captain Bailly of the Gillyflower for passage back to Fort La Tour.
Bailly did not live up to his end of the contract, prolonging the return trip for six months while fishing off the Grand Banks. When they finally neared Cape Sable, the ship was intercepted by d'Aulnay onboard his warship, the Grand Cardinal. Françoise-Marie remained hidden below deck while d'Aulnay ushered the Gillyflower out of Acadia and toward New England. Unbeknownst to Françoise-Marie, her husband was in Boston negotiating for aid in his battle with d'Aulnay. The Gillyflower arrived in Boston eight days after La Tour departed for his return to Acadia.
But the business alliances her husband had created in Boston proved beneficial, as Françoise-Marie was forced to stay there until she could find a way to get past the blockade. She also built her own alliances with the people of Boston, in part through her studies in reformed Anglicanism, which the colonists practised. Françoise-Marie spent months navigating a treacherous legal battle with Bailly over his breach of contract, at times coming close to receiving a pittance for her troubles, at other times, approaching total victory. The courts finally granted her a settlement of £2,000. Before she could collect the entire amount, Bailly's ship fled Boston. But Françoise-Marie had collected enough to commission three ships to sneak past d'Aulnay's blockade in the harsh winter. She returned safely, though exhausted, to Fort La Tour. After nearly a year apart, the couple was reunited.
The blockade and the expense of continuing hostilities took a heavy toll. The La Tours were low on supplies. The men were hungry; some abandoned the fort. La Tour ran out of furs for trading and was in serious debt due to his purchase of weapons and warships. By spring of 1645, it was clear that unless d'Aulnay was defeated soon, La Tour would be forced to surrender. The only option was to return to Boston to see if friends would lend money for enough ships and soldiers to help break the blockade. La Tour left Françoise-Marie in charge of the fort with just forty-five men.
Shortly after La Tour left, a dispute erupted between Françoise-Marie and the fort's Récollet fathers over her deepened interest in Protestantism. Exacerbated by the cold and lack of food, tempers flared and the argument got out of hand. The Récollets and several of the men left Fort La Tour and sought refuge at Port Royal. There, they told d'Aulnay that La Tour and a number of men had left for Boston.
D'Aulnay gathered a small army and sailed the Grand Cardinal and a small fleet to Fort La Tour. Certainly d'Aulnay would have expected Françoise-Marie to surrender. Instead, she led her husband's men into battle. They had little but muskets and courage. D'Aulnay had sixteen cannon and hundreds of soldiers. Outnumbered and outgunned, François and her band kept d'Aulnay's forces at bay for three days.
On Easter Sunday, April 16, 1645, a frustrated d'Aulnay pulled his ships out of the firing line to plan a new strategy. Françoise-Marie encouraged her men to rest while a forty-seven-year-old Swiss named Hans Vandre kept watch. But when Vandre saw d'Aulnay's superior forces mounting a ground assault, he knew the battle couldn't be won and betrayed Françoise-Marie, allowing d'Aulnay's forces into the fort. Françoise- Marie and her men realized too late what was happening.
After fierce hand-to-hand combat, Françoise-Marie agreed to surrender if d'Aulnay would spare the lives of her men. He agreed, but went back on his word. Only two men were spared: Vandre the betrayer and one other ";who had his life spared on condition that he would perform the execution." With a rope tied around her neck, Françoise-Marie watched helplessly as her men were hanged one by one. Françoise-Marie, her young son, and woman servant were also spared. But when Françoise-Marie was caught trying to smuggle a message to her husband through native traders who had returned in the spring, d'Aulnay had her imprisoned. Within three weeks, at age twentyfour, she would die – some speculated from poison, but many more believe of a broken heart.
Susan Poizner is the producer and director of ";Françoise-Marie Jacquelin: Lioness of Acadia," one episode in the thirteen-part television series called Mother Tongue, which explores the roles of ethnic heroines in Canada's past. For more information visit www.mothertongue.ca.
After the war
It was months before Charles La Tour learned the fate of his fort and his valiant wife. Having lost everything, he moved to Quebec City to start a new life. Five years later, in May 1650, he learned that d'Aulnay had drowned in a canoeing accident. Some reports said that a young Mi'kmaq warrior, who d'Aulnay had earlier slapped in the face during a minor dispute, watched from the shore as d'Aulnay struggled in the frigid waters for hours before going under.
La Tour returned to Acadia, proposing a union with d'Aulnay's widow, Jeanne Motin, which would allow him to reclaim his role as governor. Herself in debt as a result of d'Aulnay's wars, Motin agreed, marrying La Tour in 1653. La Tour was sixty, Motin in her mid-thirties. They had five children. La Tour has many direct descendents in the region as a result of this union. But until recently little was known about the fate of Françoise-Marie's young son by Charles La Tour, other than that after her death, d'Aulnay sent the boy and a maidservant back to France. French researcher Jean-Marie Germe recently discovered the child's baptism records in Nogent-le-Rotrou, dated December 26, 1645. The boy was two years old and had been adopted by Françoise-Marie's sister Gabrielle and her husband. He was called Charles-Françoise-Marie, after his mother and father.
It was also here that Germe discovered records of Françoise-Marie's baptism on July 18, 1621. A fictional novel on the life of Françoise-Marie published in the 1920s gave her birth year as 1602 and described her as a retired actress in her late 30s when she joined La Tour. This fictional account crossed over into historical accounts, many of which still give 1602 as her birth year. Now it is known that she was much younger than at first believed.
In the 1970s, journalist M.A. MacDonald stumbled upon the story of Françoise-Marie and wrote an article on her for Chatelaine. After receiving a Canada Council grant, MacDonald spent three months in the archives of Paris and Nogent-de-Rotrou. She uncovered court edicts and business documents, even Françoise-Marie's marriage contract. The Massachusetts State Archives were a gold mine of information and had accounts of a 1644 court case that Françoise-Marie filed in Boston. MacDonald used her research to write her account of the Acadian civil war, entitled Fortune & La Tour.
Most of the documents MacDonald had found were written by d'Aulnay, who wanted to convince the French king that La Tour was a scoundrel so that he could rule Acadia alone. Without written testimony from La Tour, it's impossible to know if these reports are true. In his contemporary accounts, Nicolas Denys, a member of the Company of New France and an ally of La Tour, described Françoise-Marie's heroic defence of Fort La and called her ";La Commandante."
Fortune & La Tour: The Civil War in Acadia (Methuen, 1983) by M.A. MacDonald.
Lioness of Acadia • Feb/Mar 07 • edit 7 10
From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People 1604–1755. (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005) by N.E.S. Griffiths.
In The Beaver: ";Private War Over Acadia," by André Pelchat, Dec/Jan 2000–01, Vol.80:6. A vivid account of the rivalry and war between La Tour and d'Aulnay.