More by accident than by design the Sieur de Monts, in 1604, with his oddly assorted band of adventurers on the foggy Bay of Fundy, steered into the rocky entrance, which leads into the beautiful landlocked basin of present day Annapolis in Nova Scotia. One of his followers, the Baron de Potrincourt, was so enchanted by the beauty of the scene that he asked a grant of land here. This was given him, and upon this land in the next year he built himself first a fort, then a house, and then several more houses. This was the beginning of Port Royal, now known as Annapolis, the second oldest fortified place in the Western Hemisphere.
The voyager today may repeat de Monts’s experience and with no design to do that, too. Fogs wrap the eastern and western coasts of Nova Scotia in an impenetrable blanket most of the time. The traveler who sails, let us say, from St. Johns, New Brunswick, for the Annapolis Basin, crosses sparkling waters, and then, as he enters the mountainous cleft which gives entrance to this beautiful bay, comes into the belt of mist which obscures all of the coast. He hears the fog horn on the point at the entrance, which de Monts did not hear, and then suddenly, like an apparition, the land looms into view; there is a lane of shrouded, uncertain water, between towering misty headlands; and, then, he is beyond the mists. Annapolis Basin, bright and blue with soft clouds overhead, like a highland lake, lies before him. At the far head of the Basin, where the delicate horizon merges into the sky, is Annapolis. It is not hard to understand Potrincourt’s enthusiasm for this beautiful spot. It is hard to understand how de Monts himself could have passed over this locality in favor of the barren Isle St. Croix for his first settlement, for this is what he did.
The winter of 1604 was passed by the little colonizing expedition at St. Croix – the sandy island which is now the boundary line between Canada and Maine. Potrincourt went back to France with de Monts to secure supplies and settlers for his own pet project, whose setting was Annapolis Basin, and returned with his chief in June 1605, to find that the companions they had left behind them at St. Croix had had a sorry winter. The whole settlement was then moved over to Potrincourt’s Port Royal. This was the beginning of Annapolis.
The makeup of de Monts’s expedition was thoroughly typical of the colonizing bodies sent out by France in that day. There were men of the noblest blood of France, of whom our Potrincourt was a conspicuous example, and there was, also, the sweeping of the off scouring of the most dissolute cities of the Old World. The motives which inspired these different men were no doubt as mixed as the character of the men and as pleasant a theme of speculation, but with this we will have nothing to do. The second winter of de Monts’s adventurers, even at sheltered Annapolis, was severe, and it was with joy that the men saw the spring of 1606 arrive and bring with it the little ship from France which annually brought supplies and new blood from the Old World.
In this ship there was one arrival who must be given a special consideration. A poet lawyer, a strange combination, at that, Marc Lescarbot eventually was to write his name in fame as the author of one of the earliest histories of New France, one of the most authentic records in existence of the early adventures of the French in the New World; but in our regard of him now we must consider the high spirit and bold emprise which he brought with him to cheer his companions and to help them through the rigors of this early settlement. A rhymester of some skill, he tuned his lyre to the most trivial events to keep his associates in good spirits, and in this last endeavor displayed an ingenuity, which cannot help but endear him to all generations, which like brave deeds done in blithe ways. He organized the Ordre de la Bon Temps, the only requirements for membership in which were presence in the little colony, and the duties of whose members were on successive days to provide a banquet for their brethren.
There was formality attached to the office, too. Theatrical masques were gotten up and odd tasks were devised for all Knights of the Merry Time. Lescarbot infused a brave spirit into even the most dreary of the odd crew, which made up this colony. We can picture the merry adventurers in their rude little fort engaged in their pranks of drollery thousands of miles away from home and with inhospitable wilderness and bleak shores for environs.
The charter of the colony was revoked in 1607, by one of those pleasing inconsistencies of royalty which inspire in the student of the past so thorough a belief in the theory of the divine right of kings, and the brave Order of the Merry Time to a man, with retainers and family vessels, embarked upon the skittish little vessels in which they entrusted themselves to the Atlantic and sailed back to France. It was not for three years that any of them returned, but in 1610 perseverance on de Potrincourt’s part had triumphed over royal pudding headedness once more, and in that year he came back again to his colony. It is related that he found everything in Port Royal exactly as he had left it, not a lock or a bar in the little fort having been disturbed by the Indians, who displayed, in addition to their honesty, another engaging trait of fidelity to friendship by the many manifestations of joy which they made at having with them again their friends, the Frenchmen. Not again was Port Royal to be entirely deserted.
In 1613 the Jesuits of Port Royal, a class to themselves, abandoned the place and attempted the settlement of a picturesque inlet on Mount Desert Island on the coast of present day Maine, their inlet still bearing the name of Frenchmen’s Bay. The freebooting Argall, a piratical seafarer from the new colony of Virginia far south on the Atlantic Coast, heard of this settlement and descended upon it in force. Most of the French were killed after a brave but ineffectual resistance, and fire and axe were given to their settlement. In the following year this Argall heard of the presence of Port Royal, for news travelled slowly in those days, and preceded against that point after completing his work of pillage at Mount Desert and St. Croix. Taking the little place by surprise with a superior force, he scattered the inhabitants, burned the village, and razed the fort to the ground. Potrincourt, a survivor, returned to France and fell fighting at the siege of Mery in the following year.
From this time until the signing of the treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye in 1632, Port Royal and Acadia were held in the hands of the British, and during this time occurred that odd experiment of Sir William Mackenzie to make of Acadia a New Scotland or Caledonia. The Scottish knight obtained the concession of the Acadian peninsula from King James in 1621 and founded a colony on the site or very near the site of Port Royal, building a fort at this point. Charles I renewed the charter granted by his predecessor, and created an order of minor nobility known as the Knights Baronets of Nova Scotia. It became Mackenzie’s idea to establish in the New Caledonia the feudal institutions of the Old World. His colony was not a success even during its short life, and in 1632 Port Royal passed by treaty to the French, thus putting an end effectually to New Caledonia and its Knights Baronets of the dissolute Charles’s erection.
The seesaw between French and English was once more to incline in the English favor as regards Acadia. The cession of this peninsula to the French had always been looked on with disfavor by the New England colonists, because it gave their hereditary enemies a secure base from which to send out privateering expeditions against their shipping. In 1654, Cromwell the Protector dispatched a force to ensure the subjugation of the Dutch on the Island of Manhattan. Peace with Holland was concluded by England before this purpose was affected, and it was then determined to turn these arms to the reconquest of Acadia. An expedition was accordingly fitted out secretly in Massachusetts and dispatched upon its mission. The French forts on the Penobscot and at St. John were speedily reduced. Le Borgne was at Port Royal with one hundred and fifty men but he attempted little resistance and the post once more came into English possession.
Until 1667 Port Royal was in the hands of the English, and then by the Treaty of Breda the whole of Acadia was returned to the French. During their occupancy the English had spent large sums repairing the fortifications in Acadia under their control, and in this undertaking the importance of Port Royal was duly recognized.
For the next generation the French made Port Royal their base, and the place acquired an evil reputation with the English because of the marauding sea expeditions which proceeded from out of there. Finally, in 1690, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts raised a levy and empowered Sir William Phips to go against the ancient stronghold. This doughty gentleman was successful in his mission and the port was in English hands again this time hands of destruction.
After the departure of their enemies the French rebuilt Port Royal and it became, once more, a busy shipping point and the haunt of privateers. It is not difficult today to appreciate the fine strategic value of Port Royal, set at the head of its beautiful landlocked basin, but it is difficult, today, as the river now stands, to appreciate how vessels of any burthen could go up to its wharves. But at that time, doubtless, the river had not filled up to the degree that it has today.
In 1704 and again in 1705, the pertinacious New Englanders went upon futile expeditions against Port Royal, each time being driven off without much loss and each time evincing a singular lack of spirit in their enterprise, a lack of spirit all the more remarkable when one considers the undertakings which they faced and carried through at other times in their history. The taking of Port Royal seems to have become a sort of obsession with them – a theme for an idle hour, a pet worry which they would take up when all other worries failed them. Finally, in 1710, before the onslaught of a combined force of Her Majesty Queen Anne’s soldiery and New England militia, Port Royal fell to the English for the last time, bravely and gallantly fighting against overwhelming odds. Its spirited commandant, M. Subercase, with a famished army of one hundred and fifty men, marched out through the ranks of three thousand five hundred enemies and the red flag of England was raised where the white one of France had flown. Port Royal was renamed Annapolis in honor of the English sovereign, and Colonel Vetch, with four hundred and fifty men, occupied the fort. Though it was endangered by French arms several times thereafter, the little fort was never again out of English possession.
The sod ramparts of the fort have been carefully maintained and are today the cherished possession of Annapolis or Annapolis Port Royal, as its inhabitants, making an odd mixture of its names, prefer to call it. From them one may gaze down the placid little river over a scene very like that upon which its French and English commanders looked on their separate turns and different generations. It is difficult really to visualize the events through which the little fort has passed, but if one considers that its history goes as far back beyond the days of the American Revolution as the beginning of the twentieth century comes this side of the Revolution, one begins to perceive how big is its historical background as events go in America.
The officers’ quarters, – a quaint, sturdy, low building, – and the magazine are still standing in the fort at Port Royal, both very ancient and very suggestive edifices, neither one as ancient as the walls of the little fort.