Early Ships


Early Ships


Colonel Franquet’s Visit to Port La Joie -1751

                The earliest documented ships to enter the Afton region occurred during the French Regime at Port La Joie. In 1751, Colonel Franquet arrived in the Maritimes from France in order to superintend the new fortifications of Louisbourg. Records indicate the vessel carrying Franquet from Louisbourg to the Island, ran into a fair wind along the way which caused much distress. It was noted they spent two days, the 31st of July, and the 1st of August, beating between the shores of Acadia, and Ile Saint Jean. Franquet noticed the Harbour of Tatamagouche, which he knew lay seven leagues from Port la Joie. On the third of August, the wind was favorable, and the vessel was able to complete her course to the French settlement. The pilots were cautioned upon entering the harbour, as the reefs running from St. Peter’s and Governor’s Island posed extreme danger.[1] Franquet and his crew passed through the narrow entrance into the harbour with Point de la Croix on the left, with a large cross standing tall above the water; and Battery point, or Blockhouse Point, where they anchored safely.

The Loss of the Duke William and Violet -1758 

Another group of early ships to come to the Afton Community were again associated with the French Regime. The story of the Duke William and the Violet, is a tragic event which occured as a result of the deportation of French Acadians from Port la Joie. In the Fall of 1758, Lord Rollo had approximately 3500 Acadians bound for France. The Acadians had with them clothing, bedding, and plenty of food and water for the voyage.[2] The Duke William was the largest of the Ships, and capable of carrying more than 400 passengers. The ship was commanded by Captain Nichols, and on board were some of the most prominent French settlers, including Abbe Girard, the Colony priest.

                On November 25th seven ships sailed out of the Bay of Canso on the way to France with about 1,500 of the French and Acadian prisoners on board.  Duke William led the convoy which was hit by a sleet storm on the third day out from land.  In the storm, which lasted for many hours, the ships became separated and it was not until December 10th that the outlook on Duke William sighted the Violet. This ship had suffered directly in the storm and was leaking badly; a situation worsened by choked pumps.

Captain Nicholls shortened sail in order to stay close to the Violet, and promised to send over another pump as soon as the wind and seas calmed.

While the two ships were sailing along, an immense wave hit the Duke William so hard that the captain was knocked off the chair on which he was sitting smoking his pipe.  In a few minutes the mate told him that there was water in the hold.  Captain Nicholls and the carpenter went below, where they found water pouring in around a timber that had been knocked out.  The crew tried to repair the damage, but in vain.  Water kept rushing in.  Captain Nicholls awakened the French and asked them to help with the pumps.  They immediately got up and cheerfully assisted.

When dawn came, the Violet was lying broadside in the seas while the crew were trying desperately to cut away a broken mast.  Suddenly both ships were struck by a squall.  When it cleared ten minutes later, the Violet had disappeared.  Four hundred people were drowned in her.

The water was still pouring into the Duke William.  The Acadian women used the wooden tubs they had brought on board for washing to empty water over the side of the ship.  For three days the Acadians pumped and bailed steadily.  On the fourth morning, the French came to Captain Nicholls and said despairingly that it was useless to continue, as the vessel was full of water.  Sadly, the captain agreed and asked the priest to give his people absolution.

There were only a few lifeboats on board, not nearly enough to save everyone.  The crew prepared the lifeboats for launching, although the sea was too rough for small boats.  Then one of the look-outs shouted that he saw two ships.  The crew of the Duke William hoisted the distress signal and fired the ship’s guns slowly to draw their attention.  The two ships sailed away, probably because their captains thought the Duke William was an enemy warship. Another day, which was hazy, they saw a Danish ship, but she too sailed away.

Some of the Acadians came to Captain Nicholls to say that they were prepared to die; they begged the captain and crew to save themselves, and to take the priest with them.  After some hesitation, the captain followed their suggestions.  Soon after the captain and thirty-five men had pulled away, four young Acadians found a jelly-boat on the Duke William. They threw it and two paddles overboard, and swam out to the little boat.  After they had climbed into it, they saw the Duke William sink.  As she went down in the sea, her decks blew up with a noise like a clap of thunder.  About 300 Acadians on board were drowned.  The men in the rowboats reached the English coast safely, and later the priest and the four young Acadians were sent to France.”

                --   P. Blakely and M. Vernon , The Story of Prince Edward Island, 1963


Other Early ships to note:


The Elizabeth Smead, went down off Rocky Point in 1882[3]


The Edward Hall No. 1 of Sarnia, Ontario, burnt off Rocky Point on December 2nd, 1915[4]





[1] Julie Watson, Shipwrecks & Seafaring Tales of P.E.I., 1994. 15-16

[2] Ibid, 17

[3] Ibid, 19

[4] Ibid.


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