A Protestant sovereign, the great Henry of Navarre, was now on the throne of France, the first and best of her Bourbon kings. His heart was set on promoting the prosperity and true greatness of his kingdom. He had given it peace at home by the edict of Nantes, granting toleration to his Protestant subjects, proclaimed on the fifteenth of April, 1598, and cessation from war abroad by the treaty of Verviers with Spain, signed seventeen days afterward. Agriculture, manufactures, mining, internal improvements, and settlements in New France (America), which had not been attempted since the disappearance of Robertval more than fifty years before, were encouraged. In these labors of statesmanship he was led and assisted by Maximilien de Bethune, the great Duke of Sully, whose name shines with splendor in the annals of France.
Among the earliest of the new French adventurers was the Marquis de la Roche, a wealthy nobleman, who gathered a company from the prisons of France wherewith to found a colony in America. He sailed with a single ship in the spring of 1598, and landed on Sable Island, in the Atlantic Ocean, ninety miles southeast of Nova Scotia, where he left forty men and returned to France for supplies. Before he was ready to go back, he sickened and died, and the poor emigrants had no tidings from home or the rest of the world for seven years. Then a vessel was sent for them, but only twelve survived. These were pardoned on their return, because of their sufferings abroad, and their immediate wants were supplied by the king.
Whilst these men were on Sable Island, another expedition was sent from France on a similar errand. M. de Chastes, Governor of Dieppe, obtained from the king a charter for founding settlements in New France. He engaged Samuel de Champlain of the French navy, a man of noble lineage and a favorite of the sovereign, to act as his delegate. The king commissioned Champlain lieutenant-general of Canada, and with this authority he embarked at Honfleur on the 15th of March, 1603, with a single vessel, commanded by Pont-Greve, a skillful mariner of St. Malo, whose father had been an intimate friend of Cartier. They reached the St. Lawrence in May, and anchored near the site of Quebec, when Pont-Greve, with five men, went up that stream in a canoe to the rapids of La Chine, above Montreal, where Cartier found an impassable barrier to his upward voyage. Then he turned back, carefully examining the shores of the river, and on reaching the ship he gave Champlain a minute account of all they had observed. Meanwhile, Champlain had held intercourse with the Indians, whose memories and traditions ran back to Cartier's kidnapping, but they were placable, and the lieutenant-general was pleased with all he saw. They returned to France in the early autumn, when Champlain published an account of the country.
When the voyagers returned, they found M. Chastes dead and the concessions transferred by the king to Pierre de Gast, the Sieur de Monts, a wealthy Huguenot, who had received the commission of viceroy, with full power for settlement and rule over six degrees of latitude in America, extending from that of Cape May to the parallel of Quebec. That region was named, in the charter, L'Acadie, a corruption of the Greek Arcadia. The charter was published in all the maritime towns of France, and soon afterward De Monts and his associates were vested with the monopoly of the fur and peltry trade of his domain, and around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A new arrangement was made with Champlain, and early in March, 1604, De Monts, with his bosom friend Poutrincourt and Pont-Greve as his lieutenants, and Champlain as the pilot, sailed from France with four vessels well manned, and a goodly company of Protestant and Roman Catholic emigrants. Among the latter were several Jesuits. They reached the St. Lawrence in April, when they found the river ice-bound and the weather so cold that the viceroy determined to plant his settlement further to the southward. They passed around Cape Breton and Nova Scotia into the Bay of Fundy, and on the northern shore of the Peninsula they anchored in a fine harbor environed by hills and meadows, early in May. Poutrincourt was so charmed by the appearance of the country, that De Monts allowed him to remain there with some of the emigrants. He gave him a grant of the region, which was confirmed by the king, and Poutrincourt named the place where he landed Port Royal. It is now Annapolis, in Nova Scotia. De Monts and the rest of the company, seventy in number, crossed over to Passamaquoddy Bay, and on an island not far from the mouth of the St. Croix River, the eastern boundary of Maine, they landed, built a fort with a chapel in it and cannon mounted on it, and there passed a severe winter. Half of them were dead in the spring, when the survivors explored the country westward as far as Cape Cod, and returned to Port Royal, where they joined Poutrincourt's colony. Early in the autumn, De Monts and Poutrincourt returned to France, leaving Champlain and Pont-Greve to make further explorations of the region. They went to the southwest as far as Cape Cod, where they attempted to land and erect a cross, but were driven to their vessel by the Indians. In 1607, Champlain returned to France.
For a few years there was a struggle for existence and growth on the part of the colonists in Acadie. The Jesuit priests who accompanied Poutrincourt back to that land claimed the right to supreme rule by virtue of their holy office. He stoutly resisted their claim, and told them boldly: "It is my part to rule you on the earth; it is your part to guide me to heaven." When Poutrincourt had returned to France they made the same claim upon his son, whom he left in charge of the colony. The fiery young man threatened them with corporeal punishment, when they withdrew and settled on the island of Mount Desert, now so famous as a summer resort, and there set up a cross in token of sovereignty. They were there in 1613, when Samuel Argall, a freebooter of the seas, went, under the sanction of the governor of Virginia, to expel the French from Acadie as intruders upon the domain of the North and South Virginia Company. The Jesuits on Mount Desert, it is said, willing to use such an opportunity for revenge, piloted the Englishmen to Port Royal, which Argall plundered and laid in ashes, driving the colonists to the woods and breaking up the settlement. Acadie was again settled by the French, who suffered many vicissitudes and became the subject of romance and song.
De Monts was not disposed to contend with the powerful English company. He obtained a new charter with ample provisions, and proceeded to plant a colony on the St. Lawrence.
Return to Our Country, Vol. I