Charles de LaTour

An Adventurer in Acadie

In 1606 at the age of fourteen, Charles de LaTour came to Acadie and led an adventurous life.

In 1606, fourteen-year-old Charles de St-Étienne de LaTour came to Acadie with his sixteen-year-old cousin, Charles de Biencourt, whose father, Jean de Poutrincourt, had been granted the seigneurie of Port Royal. The boys spent a year at the Habitation exploring their surroundings and getting to know their Mi'kmaw neighbours before the settlers were forced to return to France.

In 1610, the two young men returned to Port Royal with Poutrincourt to re-establish the settlement and trading post. The community was plagued by financial difficulties and rivalry between France and England for control of Eastern North America. While Poutrincourt was back in France seeking money and supplies, New Englanders raided and destroyed the Habitation. Poutrincourt was forced to take most of the settlers home, while Biencourt, LaTour, and a few followers remained at Port Royal to continue the fur trade with the support of their Mi’kmaw friends.

After a few years, they turned their attention to the southwest region between Cape Sable and Cape Negro. They spent many years travelling with the Mi’kmaq, sharing their way of life and trading furs with fishing companies that operated in that region. During this time, LaTour married a Mi’kmaw woman with whom he had three daughters. In 1623 Biencourt died, leaving Charles de LaTour as leader of the French in Acadie. 

LaTour selected a South Shore harbour as his headquarters and built Fort St-Louis at what is now Port LaTour.  By now he had three ships and was prepared to defend Acadie against the English, but he needed support from France. He sent a request to the King and Cardinal Richelieu for a commission formally establishing his leadership in Acadie. He received some supplies, but the commission was slow to come, and he was struggling to survive. 

Meanwhile, Sir William Alexander had persuaded England’s King Charles I to create “baronies of Nova Scotia” and in 1629 established a garrison of Scots, known as Charlesfort, at the head of the Annapolis Basin. LaTour’s father, Claude, saw an opportunity to obtain power by obtaining baronies for himself and his son. He and his English wife arrived at Port LaTour with a Scottish expedition to convey the news to Charles, who was horrified at his father’s treachery and sent them back to their ship. 

In 1630, supply vessels finally arrived with food, munitions, building material for a new fort, and Récollet priests to conduct a mission among the Mi’kmaq. Charles’s marriage received the church’s blessing and his daughters were baptised. With a firmer grip on Acadie, he allowed his father to return with his household. He would not allow them to live with him at Fort St-Louis but gave them a house nearby.

Charles used the building material to construct Fort LaTour on the Saint John River. In 1631, he finally received his commission as Lieutenant General for the King in Acadie. The following year, Isaac de Razilly received a similar commission and established a settlement at LaHève. They reached an amicable division of power, but after Razilly’s death in 1636, his successor, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay, wanted complete control of Acadie. LaTour and d’Aulnay became bitter enemies and fought constantly.

Meanwhile Charles’s wife died, and he was looking for another. He may have met Françoise-Marie Jacquelin during an earlier visit to France; in 1639 he sent an agent to arrange a marriage contract, and 1640 Françoise arrived in Acadie. The couple lived at Fort LaTour on the Saint John River, and Madame LaTour took an active part in her husband’s affairs.

D’Aulnay and LaTour vied for the support of New England merchants. While Charles was in Boston, D’Aulnay’s men attacked Fort LaTour. Françoise led the defence, but after several days the fort fell, and she was forced to witness the hanging of the surviving defenders. She became ill and died some time later.

The loss of his second wife and his fort left LaTour desperate. He stole a ship and made his way to Québec, where he was living when he heard of D’Aulnay’s death in 1650.

In an extraordinary turn of events, Charles returned to Acadie and married D’Aulnay’s widow, forging an alliance against her creditor, Emmanuel Leborgne, and fathering five more children. Conflicts continued until an attack from New England resulted in LaTour being taken prisoner to England, where he sold his rights in Acadie to William Crowne and Thomas Temple. He returned to a quiet retirement in Acadie until his death in 1663.