The History of Long and Brier Islands

Lost Priest on Long Island

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Brier Island, Freeport, Long Island, people | 0 comments

A visit by Samuel De Champlain

Lost Priest on Long Island

 Digby Neck and Long Island are first mentioned in literature by the French explorer Samuel De Champlain. In an account of his explorations of the Bay of Fundy in 1604 he stated that he was near an island called Long Island. He described the location and size of the island in some detail and stated it was covered with quantities of pines and birches. It was bordered by dangerous rocks and the only harbour suitable for boats was at the end of the island. He further stated that the tides ran strongly at the little passage and natives were observed in this area catching seals.

 In the account of his exploration of Digby Neck, he mentioned that St. Mary’s Bay from Long Island to the head of the Bay was about six leagues (18 miles) in length and that the land at the shore was high and separated into capes, which projected into the sea.

 When Champlain and his company were exploring St. Mary’s Bay they made numerous excursions into the surrounding country. One of these occasions a Catholic priest named D’ Andre’ accompanied the party when they went ashore. As they travelled through the woods the priest stopped for a moment to drink from a spring and he removed his sword so he would be able to drink more easily. After drinking he hurried along and overtook his companions, however he then realized that he had left his sword behind at the spring. He promptly returned to the spring to recover his lost weapon but, in so doing, he became separated from his companions and found himself helplessly lost in the woods.

 During the remainder of their travels the explorers apparently did not miss the priest. However when they boarded their boats to return to the vessel, at the close of the day’s adventure, the observed that the priest was missing. Some of the company said that he had been devoured by wild animals, other said the he had just gotten lost, while many others openly accused a Protestant comrade of having murdered him because the excused and the priest sometimes argued over religion. They waited for several days, firing guns and sounding trumpets, but in vain the noise of the sea was so intense no other sound could be heard. Having abandoned all hope of finding there missing friend the explorers left the scene and proceeded to examine the Bay of Fundy on the western side of Digby Neck peninsula.

They eventually made their way to the end to the Annapolis Basin and founded Port Royal. Continuing their explorations these French adventurers at length selected a location for settlement at St. Croix, in the present state of Maine. Leaving  some of their people there to erect buildings, others returned to St. Mary’s Bay, arriving by way of Petit Passage, to do further exploration. While they were doing this work, a boat was employed in catching fish. Suddenly the attention of the crew was attracted by a signal from the shore. It was the missing priest D’ Andre, who finding his voice too weak to hail them, he attached his handkerchief and hat to a stick, and held them up to view. Being pale, feeble, and emaciated, his sudden appearance astonished them as much as if he had risen from the grave; for this was the sixteenth day since he had parted from them in the woods. That account which he related was, that after recovering his sword, he lost all sense of direction and continuing to wonder he eventually reached the shore, where he watched for natives. During his time in the woods he had lived on berries and roots of plants. The priest was very thin from this experience and it was found necessary to restrict his diet. He returned with a party to the settlement at St. Croix, amid the great joy of all the explorers and the relief of the Protestant, who had been accused of having killed him.

 For the many years thereafter, no attempts were made to further explore or colonize this area. It does not appear that the French afterwards took any steps in that direction- being quite content to have it in their undisturbed possession of their native allies. Possibly the next major expiration of Digby County was by the people from New England States during the 1760’s


Gentlemen and Jesuits

Glory and Adventure in the Early Days of Acadia

By Elizabeth Jones

Lost Priest on Long Island

This excursion took them south-west and then north around the lower-part of the Nova Scotian Peninsula. First they sailed into Barrington Passage and Cape Sable, the northwards among the islands that lie to the west off the coastline, past Yarmouth, on to long Island, and so into St. Mary’s Bay. Here they explored the coves along Digby Neck as far as the North Creek. They then headed back along the opposite shore of the bay, now known as the French Shore because it is largely Acadian population. On the return journey they rounded the islands on the seaward side. Champlain was nothing if not thorough. The day before they reached Port Mouton a severe gale drove their pinnacle ashore and they almost lost her; this, as Champlain drily remarked, would have placed them “in dire distress.”

Fishermen had already given names to some of the places they visited. Cape Sable for example, which is not to be confused with Sable Island, and Long Island. But there were many others that Champlain and his companions had the joy of naming. Cape Negro received its name because of the rock in the distance, now Black Rock, which reminded Champlain of a negroes head. Perhaps it was the black interpreter, d’Acosta, of whom Champlain was thinking-that is, if he was with them. Also labelled for posterity where the Seal Islands, though only one of those is now known by that name. Again, the two parallel islands jutting out from Yarmouth look like a forked cape, so they called the place Cap Fourchu. St. Mary’s Bay also received its name at this time. Among other names given that changed the time and the new settlers, the river now called Little River on Digby Neck was then named after Du Boullay, who was anxious for some credit in the work of exploration.

          Everywhere Champlain made very careful notes on the coastline, the ports, their latitude, navigational hazards and possibilities, the soil, the rivers and streams, the vegetation, and the wildlife. Each place that seemed suitable for cultivation is mentioned. The spot he most favored was Port St. Margaret, today’s Weymouth. What also impressed him here was the quantity of shellfish: muscles, clams, and sea-snails.

          But indeed wherever they landed he was amazed by the profusion of sea life. On one island they collected a barrel full of bluish-white cormorant eggs and nests squeezed one against another. On another there was so many gannets that the men  could kill them with a stick. On yet another the shore was thick with seals, which they did not spare. Near Port Forchu they made a good haul of cod. A practical man, Champlain always noted where a supply of food could be found. Neither was he averse to what he calls the pleasures of the chase. But as a watcher as well as hunter, he took delight in enumerating the many birds of different species. Three centuries of human greed, perhaps at times of human need, have caused terrible depredations and vastly diminished their numbers. The cormorant, for example, has had to be declared a protected species.

          The year before, while Champlain was on the St. Lawrence, one Captain Prevert of St. Malo claimed to have spent some time in these waters. The two that had met at Lle Percee on the return voyage. Prevert regaled Champlain with stories of the rich copper mines. So, on this excursion Maittre Simon was detailed to keep chisel and hammer at the ready in order to search for metal in the rocks. At what is now Mink Cove what is now he reported ‘a good silver mine’. (Rocks here contained lead.) At Waterford, where the soil round about has red like blood, he thought he detected an iron mine. So Champlain had much to relate to the sieur de Monts on his return for Port Mouton, though nothing particularly promising to suggest as a site for permanent settlement.

 De Monts, too, has some news for him. In spite of all the fresh game, provisions had began to run short during Champlain’s absence. For this reason they started to draw on Rossignol’s supplies. The holiday mood turned to one of anxiety as day went by and their was no sign of Grave’s Bonne Reommee, which carried supplies for the winter. Some who had already had their fill of adventure suggested a prudent withdrawal and return to France. At this Poutrincourt  indignantly declared that death would be better than the dishonor of abandoning the enterprise; “whereto” wrote Lescarbot friend, “the sieur de Monts conformed himself.”

About a week before Champlain’s return, the worried de Monts asked some of their new  Indian acquaintances to go up the coast toward Canso to look for Grave. They agreed to do so on the condition that the French fed their families during their absence. With them went a Frenchman carrying letters from de  Monts. At the Bay of All Isles, near Sheet Harbour, de Monts’ messenger  sighted the ship he had last seen anchored at Le Havre. Grave’ was enormously, exuberantly relieved. He was afraid that de Monts’ ship had gone down among the icebergs. He was somewhat irritated. On arriving at Canso, he had looked in vain for their prearranged signs. There he had his troubles with illicit traders. He had seized four Basque ships from St. Jean de Luz and confiscated their goods. Now he promised to send the masters of these two ships on to de Monts, who, as Vice-Admiral, would know how to deal with them. Having read de Monts letter, he and Captain Morel delivered a good part of the provisions. Their duty to colonization was almost done. They sailed on to Tadoussac  to trade. The picnic at Port Mouton was over. Orders were give to strike camp and board the ship. Rossignol’s captured Levrette now went with them. Champlain and his ten men appeared in the nick of time. They had been given up as lost and the expedition was almost ready to set off without them. In such unknown territory a commander had to be prepared to cut his losses and continue. But, fortunately, there was Champlain to present his report, share his discoveries, and guide his companions round the coast. For the two vessels took the route that Champlain had just explored and came to anchor in St. Mary’s Bay.

A day or two later, about 12th June, it looked as if the expedition had suffered its first casualty. Aubry, the Parisian priest of good family, went off with a group to roam the woods. While wandering through Long Island they came to a brook and knelt down to drink the clear water that they found so refreshing after the stinking slimy stuff in the ship’s barrels. To free his hands, Aubry placed his sword on the ground and left it there when they all moved on. As they were making their way through the thick summer undergrowth back to the shoreline on St. Mary’s Bay, he suddenly remembered it and turned back. That was the last his companions saw of him. But it is not until nightfall, when they were all back on the ship, that his absence caused concern. Suspicious minds immediately leapt to the conclusion that the Huguenot he argued with so heatedly had killed him. One can imagine the thrill of alarm, the black looks, the accusations and angry denials. On the shore they sounded the trumpet; from the ship they fired cannon shots. But no Aubry appeared. A very anxious de Monts asked the Indians to scour the woods for the priest. Even they could not find him and he was given up for lost. The forebodings of Aubry’s  friends seemed justified.

 But there was still the question of the settlement to be considered. On a calm summer’s day St. Mary’s Bay looked inviting with its blue shimmer of sea, the varied green of the coastline touched here and there with earthy red. But de Monts’ practiced eye soon noted there was no place that could be defended from the attack. And defence was the priority.

 On 16th June de Monts, with Champlain, Poutrincourt, Chamdore’, Maitre Simon, and some other men, set off to explore further. The two large ships remained in St. Mary’s Bay while they took the Pinnace, which could be more easily manoeuvred. Through Petit Passage they sailed into the great flow and ebb of the Fundy tide. A 1541 map had represented this huge bay as R. de fundo. De Monts named it Baie Francaise or French Bay. But whether because of “fundo,’ or as a corruption of fond de baie (end of the bay) or as a corruption of Cap Fendu (Cape Split), Bay of Fundy it has become.

 Sailing along the Fundy side of Digby Neck, they came to the narrow passage between high cliffs now known as the Digby Gut. Here they entered what Champlain described as “one of the finest harbors I have seen on all these coast where a couple of thousand vessels could lie in safety.” Because of it’s regal dimensions Champlain called it Port Royal. (When Lescarbot later claimed that de Monts was the namer, Champlain stiffly corrected him.) This is now, of course, the Annapolis Basin, later called after an English monarch, Queen Ann. The Explorers found much to exclaim at, as today tourist  can appreciate: the great, luminous stretch of water, the high surrounding wooded hills, the streams that glistened down them, the two islands, the wide rivers. They went a considerable way up the large river, now the Annapolis, that flowed east, naming it the Equille after the sand-ells they caught there. And they were equally delighted with the deciduous trees, the oaks and the ashes and the many meadows. At times these were flooded at high tide. Some decades later Acadian farmers dyked them to create the lush, leisurely pastures that we know today. Champlain acknowledged “that this place was the most suitable and pleasant for a settlement that we have seen.”

 As for Poutrincourt, the seeker of a new estate and fortune, he was quite enrapture. This was where his siegneury would be. Here was a good harbor, suitable sites for forts and a habitation, timber for construction, arable land, pastures, streams to turn mills- and game. On this occasion they hunted a moose that amazed them by swimming with great ease across the port. So Poutrincourt lost no time in asking de Monts to exercise, for the first time, his right to grant lands and make Port Royal over to him. This de Monts promised to do, though the king would still have to ratify the grant when they returned to France.

 Even so, now Poutrincourt could plan and dream. He could see himself as lord of his domain: trading for furs first to maintain his settlement, hunting and fishing for food and sport, growing fine crops, the corn to be ground in his own mill. His family would be with him. They would establish friendly relations with the Indians, teach them  to sow and plant. And they would prepare them to receive the Christian religion: how to make the sign of the cross, recite the prayers of salvation. He could compose liturgical music for them to sing. One must remember that most Frenchmen of the time had nothing but condemnation for the ”inhuman torments” that the Spanish inflicted on the Indians  in their colonies. “By their cruelties,” wrote Lescarbot, they “have returned the name of God odious, in the name of offence to these poor people… Witness him that had rather be damned than go to the Paradise of the Spaniards.” And now Poutrincourt   would show that French tolerance was a better way of winning souls than Spanish intransigence. It was a paternalistic attitude, to be sure, and one based on complete comprehension of Indian culture, but not entirely in the ignoble for those times.

 But his dreams- some would call them his delusions- were for the future. Champlain had yet to discover the mines of which Prevert had spoken. We may wonder at the persistence displayed by the de Monts and Champlain in their search for mineral wealth. But if rich seams had been found, settlement would have been assured. They could go on to found a colony, even if envious merchants should cause there monopoly of fur trade to be canceled. No rock, so to speak, should be left unturned.

 In his search the expedition left the hospitable basin. They sailed farther up Fundy on past Cape Chignecto, named by them Cape of Two Bays because of its position between Chignecto Bay and the Minas Basin. At Port aux Mines, now Advocate Harbour in the Minas Basin, they discovered the copper that occurs in the trap rocks of that impressive site. Maitre Simon pronounced it very good. Champlain was to return here on two other occasions. Champdore noticed different glints and glitters and cut out of the rock a shining blue stone. This was amethyst, which is still fairly common along that coast. Back in France, Champdore broke his stone in two, giving half to de Dumont’s and the other to Poutrincourt. The two noblemen had their stones set in gold and Poutrincourt presented his to the King while de Dumont’s was graciously accepted by the Queen. So at least one semi-precious stone made its way from the wilds of Acadia to the court of France.

 By now time is growing short and a site for settlement had to be chosen soon. On the 20th June they weighed anchor and set out again, westwards this time and round Cape Chignecto. On the 24th June they reached a large river, which they named the St. Jean in honour of St. John the Baptist, whose feast day it was and who was also Poutrincourt’s patron saint.  It is pleasant to imagine the sailors celebrating it by lighting the traditional bonfire on the shore and jumping over it- an old pagan custom that somehow survived into Christian times. And bonfires are still an important feature of the great St. Jean Baptiste Festival in Quebec.

On the east side of the mouth of the Saint John River, they found some iron- but not enough to tempt them to stay. Though fascinated by the reversing falls, Champlain thought the river approach dangerous. Exploration of this magnificent waterway with its islands and fine trees was left to Ralluau and Champdore four years later.

The 25th June was then considered Midsummer’s Day, after which the day would be getting shorter. Again the voyagers felt the pressure of time as they continue south-west pass the dark, rocky islands now ominously known as the Wolves. Here they ever-impetuous Poutrincourt was nearly lost when they left the pinnace for an island to capture some young sea pigeons then released by as a delicacy. But the boat went right around the island and he was sighted. Other islands could be seen in the distance, among them the long, dark bulk of Grand Manan. On the 26th or 27th June the pinnace turned into Passamaquoddy Bay and then up the “river of the Etchemins.

 The French tended to call all the Indians living around the shore from Saint John down to Penobscot Etchemins. Later those in the Saint John valley came to be called the Maliseet, possibly because their area became a favorite trading place for ships from St Malo. Yet all these Indians, though they spoke different dialects, were part of the Wabenaki cluster, related to and friendly with the Micmacs.

 As they sailed further up this river and then down again, de Monts and Champlain could feel their excitement rising. Right in the middle, below a point where three waterways met to form a Y-like cross, lay an island.

 There is something remote and romantic yet satisfied about the islands. They stand mysteriously alone but they can be encompassed, contained. This one, of course, was not completely cut off or isolated in the middle of the ocean like barren Sable Island. Instead, on either side of the river lay the broad, well-wooded and name well- watered shores of the mainland. Summer visitors today viewing the quiet charm of Dochet Island from either the New Brunswick or the Maine shore can understand how appealing it must have looked to voyagers anxious to settle down. Here, de Dumont’s decided, they would stay. Because of the configuration of the waterways, he named the island Ste Croix, a name that was later extended to the river.

 No one could then guess what a real cross this island would become. They happily pointed out to one another all its favourable features. It was easy to defend, since passing ships would come with in range of the cannon they would set up on shore. It rose up steeply to ledges, so would have to be fortified in only one low place. There was good anchorage; hardwood trees as well as evergreens to supply timber for building; sand and clay for making bricks. No streams, but water could be fetched from one of the little rivers on the mainland where they might construct a mill. Only a few strokes of an oar and they could be on one side of the river or the other. The thick tall grass seem to indicate fertile soil where crops should thrive. On the shores of the island itself there was a profusion of shellfish.

 Champlain was hopeful: This place we considered the best we had seen, both on account of its situation, the fine country, and for the intercourse we were expecting with the Indians of these coast and of the interior, since we should be in their midst. In course of time we hope to pacify them, and to put an end to the wars which they wage against one another, in order that in the future we might derive service from them, and convert them to the Christian faith.”

 It was an optimistic programme. We may note that he had not forgotten the terms of de Monts mandate from the King. For there was material for conversion there: groups of Indians who came down to the shores of the river every summer during the fishing season.

 The first job was defense. On an inlet as nubble at the end of the main island facing towards Passamaquoddy Bay they erected a barricade which was to serve as a platform for mounting cannon. Everyone worked hard, through plaqued by blackflies. Without Indian grease or the modern woodsman’s repellents the faces of some of the men puffed up painfully about their eyes and almost prevented them from seeing.

 Still, the barricade got built, after which de Dumont sent Champdore and some men off again in the pinnace. They were to tell the big ship still riding at anchor in St. Mary’s Bay to come to Ste Croix. Settlement, he could announce was underway. Maitre Simon went too in order to have another look at the mines and extract some samples. So Champdore in the pinnace, having delivered his message, lingered on a little, while the ships hoisted sail for St. Croix.

 One day, the 28th or the 29th June, he and some others went fishing near Long Island. A keen-eared man thought he caught the sound of a voice across the water. Could it be Monsieur Aubry? The others jeered. Did he really think Monsieur Aubry was still alive? But something stirred through the woods on the shore. White linen- handkerchief? A plumed hat waggled on a stick. There was no doubt now. It was Monsieur Aubry, found sixteen days after he wandered away from his companions to look for his sword. Unused to long austerities- Lescarbot is a little dry on the subject of this priest- he was weak with hunger. They were careful to give him only a little food at a time and joyfully took him along to Ste Croix.

 Gradually his story was pieced together. Instead of turning towards the bay side of Long Island, he had walked in the opposite direction and had arrived at the other shore where there was no ship in site. Not realizing where he was, he  concluded that his companions had callously sailed away and deserted him. For the next sixteen wretched days he had fed himself upon sorrell and partridge berries found in the woods. But he kept near the shore hoping to see some sign of human life on the surge of the Fundy tide. At last he caught sight of Champdore and his men fishing from the pinnace. He tried calling out but his voice had grown too weak to carry. This was before the days of survival kits. Baden- Powell, boy- scouting, and wood- lore still lay centuries ahead. What Monsieur Aubry did have, however, was a classical education. Some lines from Ovid pressed them selfes upon his mind. What was it Ariadne had done when abandoned by Theseus?

Candida imposui longae velamina virgae,

Scilicet oblitos admonitura mei.

(White garments to a long stick I tied

To remind the forgetful I was still alive.)

 Actually it was not clear whether Aubry thought of this classical allusion at the time, or whether it is Lescarbot who makes the connection between the quotation and Aubry very sensible action. But it could have been Aubry himself. His device worked and everyone was happy to see him again, particularly the de Monts. It would have looked very bad indeed for a Catholic priest to disappear on an expedition led by a Huguenot. One wonders whether of the Protestant accused of murdering Aubry received a due apology. It took Aubry a long time to recover. Convalescing in the pleasant surroundings of Ste Croix Island, warmed by the summer sun, he might well give thanks to his Catholic God and his classical education. Around him ran the sound of axe on wood. Settlement had begun.

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