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Good spirits and good cheer saved them in great measure from the scurvy; and though towards the end of winter severe cold set in, yet only four men died. The snow thawed at last, and as patches of the black and oozy soil began to appear, they saw the grain of their last autumn's sowing already piercing the mould. The forced inaction of the winter was over. The carpenters built a water-mill on the stream now called Allen's River; others enclosed fields and laid out gardens; others, again, with scoop-nets and baskets, caught the herrings and alewives as they ran up the innumerable rivulets. The leaders of the colony set a contagious example of activity. Poutrincourt forgot the prejudices of his noble birth, and went himself into the woods to gather turpentine from the pines, which he converted into tar by a process of his own invention; while Lescarbot, eager to test the qualities of the soil, was again, hoe in hand, at work all day in his garden.
All seemed full of promise; but alas for the bright hope that kindled the manly heart of Champlain and the earnest spirit of the vivacions advocate! A sudden blight fell on them, and their rising prosperity withered to the ground. On a morning, late in spring, as the French were at breakfast, the ever watchful Membertou came in with news of an approaching sail. They hastened to the shore; but the vision of the centenarian sagamore put them all to shame. They could see nothing. At length their doubts were resolved. A small vessel stood on towards them, and anchored before the fort. She was commanded by one Chevalier, a young man from St. Malo, and was freighted with disastrous tidings. Dc Monts's monopoly was rescinded. The life of the enterprise was stopped, and the establishment at Port Royal could no longer be supported; for its expense was great, the body of the colony being laborers in the pay of the company. Nor was the annulling of the patent the full extent of the disaster; for, during the last summer, the Dutch had found their way to the St. Lawrence, and carried away a rich harvest of furs, while other interloping traders had plied a busy traffic along the coasts, and, in the excess of their avidity, dug up the bodies of buried Indians to rob them of their funeral robes.
It was to the merchants and fishermen of the Norman, Breton, and Biscayan ports, exasperated at their exclusion from a lucrative trade, and at the confiscations which had sometimes followed their attempts to engage in it, that this sudden blow was due. Money had been used freely at court, and the monopoly, unjustly granted, had been more unjustly withdrawn. De Monts and his company, who had spent a hundred thousand livres, were allowed six thousand in requital, to be collected, if possible, from the fur-traders in the form of a tax.
Chevalier, captain of the ill-omened bark, was entertained with a hospitality little deserved, since, having been intrusted with sundry hams, fruits, spices, sweetmeats, jellies, and other dainties, sent by the generous De Monts to his friends of New France, he with his crew had devoured them on the voyage, alleging that, in their belief, the inmates of Port Royal would all be dead before their arrival.
Choice there was none, and Port Royal must be abandoned. Built on a false basis, sustained only by the fleeting favor of a government, the generous enterprise had come to naught. Yet Poutrincourt, who in virtue of his grant from De Monts owned the place, bravely resolved that, come what might, he would see the adventure to an end, even should it involve emigration with his family to the wilderness. Meanwhile, he began the dreary task of abandonment, sending boat-loads of men and stores to Canseau, where lay the ship "Jonas," eking out her diminished profits by fishing for cod.
Membertou was full of grief at the departure of his friends. He had built a palisaded village not far from Port Royal, and here were mustered some four hundred of his warriors for a foray into the country of the Armouchiquois, dwellers along the coasts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Western Maine. One of his tribesmen had been killed by a chief from the Saco, and he was bent on revenge. He proved himself a sturdy beggar, pursuing Pontrincourt with daily petitions,--now for a bushel of beans, now for a basket of bread, and now for a barrel of wine to regale his greasy crew. Memberton's long life had not been one of repose. In deeds of blood and treachery he had no rival in the Acadian forest; and, as his old age was beset with enemies, his alliance with the French had a foundation of policy no less than of affection. In right of his rank of Sagamore, he claimed perfect equality both with Poutrincourt and with the King, laying his shrivelled forefingers together in token of friendship between peers. Calumny did not spare him; and a rival chief intimated to the French, that, under cover of a war with the Armouchiquois, the crafty veteran meant to seize and plunder Port Royal. Precautions, therefore, were taken; but they were seemingly needless; for, their feasts and dances over, the warriors launched their birchen flotilla and set out. After an absence of six weeks they reappeared with howls of victory, and their exploits were commemorated in French verse by the muse of the indefatigable Lescarbot.
With a heavy heart the advocate bade farewell to the dwellings, the cornfields, the gardens, and all the dawning prosperity of Port Royal, and sailed for Canseau in a small vessel on the thirtieth of July. Pontrincourt and Champlain remained behind, for the former was resolved to learn before his departure the results of his agricultural labors. Reaching a harbor on the southern coast of Nova Scotia, six leagues west of Cansean, Lescarbot found a fishing-vessel commanded and owned by an old Basque, named Savalet, who for forty-two successive years had carried to France his annual cargo of codfish. He was in great glee at the success of his present venture, reckoning his profits at ten thousand francs. The Indians, however, annoyed him beyond measure, boarding him from their canoes as his fishing-boats came alongside, and helping themselves at will to his halibut and cod. At Cansean--a harbor near the strait now bearing the name--the ship Jonas still lay, her hold well stored with fish; and here, on the twenty-seventh of August, Lescarbot was rejoined by Poutrincourt and Champlain, who had come from Port Royal in an open boat. For a few days, they amused themselves with gathering raspberries on the islands; then they spread their sails for France, and early in October, 1607, anchored in the harbor of St. Malo.
First of Europeans, they had essayed to found an agricultural colony in the New World. The leaders of the enterprise had acted less as merchants than as citizens; and the fur-trading monopoly, odious in itself, had been used as the instrument of a large and generous design. There was a radical defect, however, in their scheme of settlement. Excepting a few of the leaders, those engaged in it had not chosen a home in the wilderness of New France, but were mere hirelings, without wives or families, and careless of the welfare of the colony. The life which should have pervaded all the members was confined to the heads alone. In one respect, however, the enterprise of De Monts was truer in principle than the Roman Catholic colonization of Canada, on the one hand, or the Puritan colonization of Massachusetts, on the other, for it did not attempt to enforce religions exclusion.
Towards the fickle and bloodthirsty race who claimed the lordship of the forests, these colonists, excepting only in the treacherous slaughter at Port Fortune, bore themselves in a spirit of kindness contrasting brightly with the rapacious cruelty of the Spaniards and the harshness of the English settlers. When the last boat-load left Port Royal, the shore resounded with lamentation; and nothing could console the afflicted savages but reiterated promises of a speedy return.
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Pioneers of France in the New World -by- Francis Parkman