The French at the Athol house Site
The Story of the Restigouche, Chapter II

The period of the French occupation of the Restigouche is in many ways the most intriguing. Yet the records, particularly those of the first half of the seventeenth century, and scarce and almost no visible materials, not even ruins, are left for us. It is from missionary priests who established missions here that we obtain most of our knowledge of the first people. When French priests came to live among them, the natives rapidly assimilated European manners and put aside many of their traditional ways. These priests and the traders, fishermen and soldiers who followed them dealt so kindly and kept such good faith with the natives that the latter were always the warm allies of the French. Father Sébastien of the Récollet order was the first of the French to minister in this Restigouche area. He established a mission at Nepisiquit (Bathurst) in 1620 (Jes.Rel., 1620) and shortly afterwards he visited the settlement at Tjigog. The Récollets were replaced by Capucins in 1624. In 1624, the Jesuit order took Charge of the Bay of Chaleur area, and ministered there until 1661, when the Récollets were once more sent out to carry on the work with the natives until the close of the century.

The best known of these missionaries who worked with the Restigouche natives in the early days was Father Le Clercq, who came out form France in 1679. For nearly twelve years, he laboured among the natives along the Restigouche and the Bay of Chaleur. He is celebrated as the inventor of a system of hieroglyphics, by which he taught the Micmacs to read and write. In his system each symbol represents a syllable, and this successful syllabary of the language is still in use(1).

Although the missionaries continued to visit the river regularly, it was not until 1693 that any lands along the Restigouche were given out as grants. At this time, Nicolas Denys received large holdings in Acadia. The Seigniory of Restigouche was included in these. The next year, he was appointed Governor and Lieutenant General over his vast seignory, with a monopoly on the right to establish fixed fisheries in Acadia. Denys was both capable and energetic. He had come out of France in 1633, and ad engaged in trading and fishing along the coast of Acadia. His main post was on Cape Breton, but it was burned in 1669 and he moved to Nepisigiut or Bathurst. At this time, Denys built a trading post at Tjigog, but it was abandoned soon afterwards.(2) Three years later he went back to France leaving his seventeen-year-old son Richard in command. Richard Denys seems to have been as capable as his father. They were both aware of the needs of this country; both were genuinely interested in its welfare. We have a record showing that in 1685 Richard granted about eighty-one acres of land at Restigouche to the Récollets for a mission. This very likely included Old Mission Point, the site of the native settlement of Tjigog. Young Denys established a post at Restigouche sometime between 1679 and 1680(4). It consisted of a house and a storehouse. A census taken in 1688 showed that seven men and a clerk carried on the dry-fishing industry and the fur trade for Denys in the area. There were also three settlers with their families making 17 residents in all. About 400 natives were living on the river at this time.(5)

In 1690 Iberville, one of the leading figures in Acadia and New France at this time, was granted the Seigniory of Restigouche.(6) The seigniory was thirty miles in depth, and ran from a point about eighteen miles above Bathurst up the Restigouche above Old Mission Point. The Denys, father and son, had not carried out the conditions of their grant, and it had reverted to the Crown. However, Richard Denys bought back Iberville's portion in 1691. Unfortunately, he was drowned that same year on a voyage back to France. If he had lived to carry on his plans, the history of northern New Brunswick would unquestionably have been entirely different. As it was, the Restigouche seigniory went to Denys' widow. Shortly afterwards, she married Pierre Rey-Gaillard and lived in Quebec. It is probable that Mme Rey-Gaillard leased the seigniory for short periods. In 1691, for example, Réne d'Eneau had possession of the Restigouche. However, the establishments declined, and were abandoned for the most part. In 1724, the whole area where Denys had 103 French residents in 1668 contained only one French trader, a Canadian settler, and some Children of native ancestry.(7) In spite of this, the grant was inherited by the Daughter of Denys' widow. She sold it some time after 1753 to a monsieur Bonfils in Quebec. In 1764, Bonfils tried to claim the grant from Nova Scotia Government, in whose province it then lay. The claim cam e to nothing, since a law passed in 1759 cancelled all such French titles. The events and movements that took place on the Restigouche after Richard Denys' death were greatly influenced by what was happening in southern Acadia. By the Treaty of Utrecht, signed by France and England in 1712 Acadia, which included the territory now called New Brunswick, was ceded to England. But trouble arose over the boundaries of Acadia. The British held that Acadia was all that territory which now makes up New Brunswick and Nova Scotia whereas the French maintained that it was the peninsular part - or Nova Scotia - only. This dispute lasted for many years, and was on e of the reasons why the expulsion of all the Acadians in Nova Scotia was deemed necessary by the British in 1755.


(1) His "Nouvelle Relations de la Gaspésie", first published in Paris 1691, is an indispensable reference work for the period.
(2) Gagnon, "Origin of Settlements", p 31.
(3) Archives of Quebec, Genaple papers.
(4) At the Indian village of Tjigog.
(5) , N.B.H.S. No. 7. p. 36
(6) T.R.S.C. II, 1899. pp.318, 319.
(7) N.B.H.S. No. 7, p. 53.

 

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