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