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Fort La Tour

None of the French forts of Acadia has a more interesting history than that erected on the banks of the St. John River, by one of the most courageous "gentlemen-adventurers "who ever sought to establish homes for themselves and family on this continent. As we review the incidents of the eventful career of Charles de St, Etienne, Seigneur de la Tour, we see him often a wanderer with the savages in the depths of the forest anon determinately defending the French posts on the Atlantic coast and on the River St. John anon arraying his retainers and battling for his rights like some bold chief of feudal times. When Biencourt, Baron de Poutrincourt's son, died in 1623, he bequeathed to La Tour his rights in Port Royal, and nominated him as his successor. La Tour, however, for some reason or other, removed to Cape Sable, where he built a fort which he needed St. Louis. Subsequently he deserted the fort at that point, and moved to the entrance of the River St. John. The new fort was built under his directions during the year 1627, on the extreme end of a long point of land on the western side of the harbor. It was an earthwork of some eighty paces in diameter, with four bastions, on each of which six large cannon were mounted. By this time the colonies of Virginia, New York and New England were making rapid headway compared with the French settlements in Acadia. The indomitable commercial enterprise of the early British colonists was already bearing rich fruits throughout New England particularly. The total population of Quebec did not exceed 500 souls, and it was still a very insignificant place. The towns or villages rather, next in importance, were Three Rivers and Tadousac, both of them extensive trading-posts. In Nova Scotia, Port Royal and the St. John fort were the only posts occupied by the French, while Cape Breton was inhabited by a few fishermen.

The history of this fort, for many years, was the history of the feud between Charles de la Tour and Chevalier D'Aulnay Charnisay, both of whom claimed the same rights in Acadia, and fought out the dispute to the bitter end. Then La Tour's wife appeared on the scene, and proved herself, all through that critical period in the history of the country, a fit helpmate for her husband, for she displayed an amount of courage and resolution of character of which we have few instances on record. She undertook important missions to England and Massachusetts, and did her husband good service; but she will always be best remembered for her heroic defense of the fort on two occasions against D'Aulnay, who attacked it during his rival's absence. On the first occasion, Madame La Tour rallied the defenders and succeeded in beating off the assailants. At a later time, how-ever, D'Aulnay was successful, and Madame La Tour was forced to agree to terms of capitulation. D'Aulnay then sullied his reputation by breaking his pledge in a most disgraceful manner, for he ordered all the garrison to be hanged with the exception of one man, who acted as executioner in the presence of the unfortunate lady, who was forced to stand by with a halter around her neck. These occurrences naturally broke the poor lady's heart, for she died a few months later.

La Tour subsequently received a new commission from the King as Governor of Acadia, and alas for human constancy married the widow of his old rival, who was drowned in the Bay of Fundy sometime during 1650. Then, Acadia having fallen into the possession of the English, in 1654, La Tour succeeded in obtaining from Cromwell a grant of considerable land, and retired from the fort.

The history of Fort La Tour, under its English masters, affords us no such interesting episodes as characterized its career during its occupation by its founder and his heroic wife. When, in 1670, the posts in Acadia were restored to the French, Fort La Tour appears to have been in a ruinous state, and was deserted for some time. For many years, till the close of the 17th century, it was occupied by a small garrison, but in the summer of 1701 one of the French Governors ordered it to be razed to the ground. Henceforth its history as Fort La Tour may be said to end. In 1758 Col. Moncton was sent by the British Governor at Port Royal to take formal possession of the River St. John. The work was very soon accomplished, and the English flag now waved triumphantly over the whole river territory from the Canadian boundary to the sea. Then the old fort began to wear a new aspect, for the ruined ramparts were renewed, and cannon again mounted on its walls ; but, while it obtained another lease of existence, it became, not Fort La Tour as of old, but Fort Frederick, in honour of a prince of the nation to whom it now be-longed. Thenceforth its history is monotonous, and we need not trace its career up to the time when it fell to pieces, or was swallowed up by the encroaching tides of the Bay of Fundy. It is still possible, however, to distinguish some of the old embankments of the fort, notwithstanding the fact that it is now to some extent covered by houses and gardens. One of the most enterprising cities of the Dominion has sprung up around it, according as it has decayed and disappeared. Great ships, freighted with the merchandise of every land, come to anchor within a few yards of the spot where the fleur-de-lis once floated in the breeze, and the wealth of a fine province comes down the River St. John and passes the graves of the old pioneers who once saw in Fort La Tour the germ of an empire under the rule of France. The older and more pretentious settlement of Port Royal is only a small town; Louisbourg is a mere sheep pasture; but around Fort La Tour has sprung up a wealthy city, to illustrate the wisdom of the old adventurers who chose it as the site of a settlement which was, under favorable auspices, to grow in the course of time into a large and flourishing community. A city has indeed grown up, but its people are not the descendants of the race who first noted the natural advantages of the harbor of St. J .1, and hoped to see it eventually the rival of Quebec.

 

The Old Forts of Acadia, By J. G. Bourinot, The Canadian Monthly, and National Review, Vol. 5, May 1874

 

Old Forts of Acadia


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