French Regime

The French Regime 1720-1758



Jaques Cartier is credited as the first to discover Prince Edward Island in 1534. However, it was Samuel de Champlain who was the first great inland navigator, noting its geographical features, as well as giving the Island its title and placing it on the map of the New World in 1604.[1] The first European settlers to set foot on the Island, landed in Port la Joie, located on the western entrance to the Charlottetown harbour. Today, Port la Joie is widely known as Fort Amherst-Port La Joye in the community of Rocky Point, which is now a National Historic Site under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada. It may also be referred to as Port la Joye, or Fort La Joie. Fort la Joie generally refers to the barracks or fort, whereas Port la Joye is more associated with the entrance to the harbour. The settlement of this area began shortly after the Treaty of Utrecht on April 11, 1713. The Treaty marked the end of the war of Spanish Succession/Queen Anne’s war between France and England leaving French inhabitants the ability to settle in French territory outside of Acadia.[2]

            It was the Compt de St. Pierre who was at the forefront of colonizing the French controlled Ile Saint Jean. He had received a conditional title to the Island in 1719 from the Duke of Orleans, Regent of Louis XV.[3] In August of 1720, three ships arrived in Ile Saint Jean carrying approximately 300 passengers from Rocheford and France, under the command of the Sieur de Gotteville. The Compt de St. Pierre was confident the small island would prosper once colonized, as the conditions surrounding the port were optimal for fishing and farming. Among the passengers were: farmers, fisherman, craftsman and 30 soldiers for the colony.[4] These passengers would be the first labourers to construct the permanent settlement at Port la Joie, which was to serve as the administrative headquarters to the French colony in Louisbourg. Construction began immediately after their arrival, and the erection of several buildings ensued. Two missionaries accompanied the Compt de St. Pierre to the Island: L’abbé de Breslay, and L’abbé de Métivier. The very first chapel on the Island, built in the early 1720’s, was situated in Port la Joie, as faith and religious practice was highly valued among the French Company. The small chapel was erected on the shore toward the north end of the settlement and dedicated to St. Jean l’Évangéliste. It was De Breslay who performed the first act of Marriage on the Island at Port la Joie between Francois du Rocher, a fisherman, and Elizabeth Bruno, on April 10, 1721.[5] By this time there were 10 families living at Port la Joie, all of whom were fisherman, which was presently the most profitable source of income.

            The population was growing significantly in a short period of time. By the end of 1721 there were already 20 families established in the area, which amounted to approximately 100 people.[6] Of the 20 families, 16 of them were French and 4 were Acadian. Michel Hache-Gallant and Pierre Martin were among the first Acadian settlers to come to Port la Joie from New France. By 1724, five of the Gallant children, and four of the Martin family followed their fathers to Ile Saint Jean. The two families multiplied and accounted for approximately one half of the total population.[7] By 1730, eight of the Gallant children owned properties in the colony. Michel Hache-Gallant was notorious for piloting ships between Ile Saint Jean and Ile Royale, or Cape Breton Island. His ability to navigate between the two Islands was extremely valuable to the French Commandant; as they were continuously transporting passengers and supplies. Hache-Gallant lived in Port la Joie with his family for 17 years, until his tragic death by drowning in 1737.  Many of the children stayed in the colony, even after Hache-Gallant’s fatal accident. In fact, research shows there has been more than 1530 descendants derive from Hache-Gallant.[8]

            Between the years 1720-1722 the construction of the village continued using the abundance of wood in the surrounding area. The typical Acadian home, according to available descriptions, was constructed of square logs joined at the corners. The houses were quaint with one main room, with a fireplace for cooking meals, and a loft area for storage. The French constructed a governor’s house for Commandant de Gotteville, and Boisberthelot de Beaucours, a barracks capable of holding up to 30 soldiers, and a residence for the two missionaries. There is also record of a storehouse, bakery, and as already mentioned, a chapel.[9] In 1723, two new missionary priests arrived. Father Louis Barbet Pulonjon only stayed for one year, and Father Felix Pain, who remained on the colony until 1729.[10]

            Although the Compt de St. Pierre had expectations for the settlement to develop and sustain itself, his company were already beginning to vacate Ile Saint Jean. Reports to Ile Royale in Cape Breton revealed the company was failing, and the French settlers returned back to France. The Acadians, having already established their farms and homesteads, were among the remaining few to call Port la Joie their home. However, in 1726, another wave of French troops arrived in an attempt to re-establish the deserted settlement; this time under the command of de Pensens.[11] De Pensens was faced with the daunting task of repairing the abandoned buildings. Conditions left by the Compt St. Pierre were unfit for living, which forced de Pensens to write to the Minister in 1728, requesting assistance.[12] Without any reply, he had no choice but to work with what was handed to him, and thus had to repair and rebuild the settlement with his own resources. The repairs consisted mainly of patching up the decaying buildings; no new provisions were set to construct new buildings until the 1730’s. New commandant lodgings were erected in 1734, while lodging for the junior officers weren’t complete until 1737.[13]

            The first Island census in 1728, conducted by M. de Pensens recorded 57 families in total on Isle Saint Jean, 14 of which were situated at Port la Joie. By 1735 that number spiked to 81 families.[14] All was seemingly peaceful, as the French colony continued to thrive and make a living using the fertile soils and fish filled seas. This peace was largely associated with the present amity between the English and French. This lasted until 1744, when war broke out between Britain and France, and Louisbourg began taking on enemies.  New England soldiers attacked the fortress of Louisbourg and the French stronghold fell at the hands of the British. Immediately following the successful take over, Commander Pepperell sent a group of 400 soldiers to Ile Saint Jean. The New Englanders arrived in Port la Joie on June 20, 1745, and burned the colony to the ground leaving the French to flee their home.[15]

            Port la Joie was under British rule until 1748, when it was once again restored back to France. This time around, it was Denis de Bonaventure who led the French through a rebuilding stage. Once again, Port la Joie was operating as the military and administrative centre. A new Commandant’s lodging was erected for Denis de Bonaventure and his wife in 1749. Also constructed, was lodging for the Officers, chaplains, and Surgeon. A third and final barracks was constructed to house the troops, as well as a bakery, forge and prison guardhouse. The new outpost in Port la Joie was larger than ever before and required three storehouses to meet their needs. These storehouses held general merchandise, vegetables, and other dry goods.[16]

            In 1755, Port la Joie became an important port of entry for Acadians fleeing from the mass-deportation in Acadia during the “grand dérangement”. The population continued to increase until it reached approximately 4000. [17] Three years later, their fate was sealed, as the British made their way to Port la Joie for a final time after Louisbourg capitulated. On August 8th General Amherst instructed Lord Rollo to proceed to Ile Saint Jean with 500 men and four transport vessels. The transport vessels were backed by the man-of-war, Hind, carrying 24 guns. The Hind’s log recorded at 2 PM on August 17th, as the Hind was approaching Port la joie, a boat approached them carrying a truce flag. By 3 PM the Hind fired its first shot and the French fort, under the command of Gabriel de Villejouin, easily surrendered.[18] Following the take-over, Rollo dispatched his men across the Island to round up an estimated 3500 Acadians, and bring them to Port la Joie to be deported “back” to France. There have been reports of several Acadians who escaped the British by seeking refuge in the heavy woods, or fleeing the Island altogether.

        After the deportation in 1758, the original French settlement’s existence and its history came to a close. The British re-established the fort in the name of the Queen, as Fort Amherst, and it was once again an administrative headquarters. An excavation conducted in 1987-88 at the present day National Park, revealed several artefacts from the French period, which have given us insight into the lives of the first European settlers to come to Prince Edwards Island. [19]





[1] Benjamin Bremner, An Island Scrapbook: Historical and Traditional, PEI: Irwin Printing Company Limited, 1932. UPEI: FC 2611.8.B74 1932 C.6

[2] Duncan Campbell, History of Prince Edward Island,  Nd.

[3]The Life and Times of Michel Hache Gallant, P.E.I. Register.

[4] P.P. Arsenault, Les Acadiens de L’Ile Saint-Jean, Mont Carmel, 1921.

[5] Ibid, 4.

[6] Ibid.

[7] John Cavern, Port La Joie, PEI Magazine (1899)

[8] Michel Hache Gallant,

[9] Barbara Schmeisser, Building a Colonial Outpost of Ile St. Jean, Port La Joye, 1720-1758. (Parks Canada, 2000).

[10] Hache Gallant, 5.

[11] The Life and Times, 7

[12] John Cavern, 1899

[13] Barbara Schmeisser, 2000

[14] P.P Arsenault, 1921(5)

[15] Boyd Beck & Edward Macdonald, Everyday & Extraordinary: Almanac of the History of Prince Edward Island, Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, 1999.

[16] Barbara Schmeisser, 2000

[17] Hache-Gallant, 7

[18] Earle Lockerby, The Deportation of the Acadians from Ile St. Jean, 1758. 1998

[19] Rob Ferguson, The search for Port La Joye: Archaeology at Ile Saint Jean’s First French Settlement. Island Magazine, 1990


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