SAINT-ÉTIENNE DE LA TOUR, CHARLES DE [the family name may well have been Turgis], trader, colonizer, and governor of Acadia; b. 1593, probably in the old French province of Champagne, the son of Claude de Saint-Étienne de La Tour; d. 1666.
On 25 Feb. 1610 Charles set sail from Dieppe for Acadia with his father and a party of men led by Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt to reoccupy the abandoned settlement at Port-Royal (now Annapolis Royal, N.S.). During the years that followed, affairs in Acadia were most often in charge of Poutrincourt’s son, Charles de Biencourt. He and young La Tour were close friends, with La Tour serving as his lieutenant.
Following the destruction of Port-Royal by Samuel Argall in 1613, Biencourt and his men were forced to live with the Indians for a time. With little in the way of supplies and reinforcements arriving from France, Biencourt and La Tour were able to rebuild the Port-Royal buildings only in part. They largely abandoned settlement and farming in favour of the lucrative but risky fur trade, a commerce which each year attracted several vessels to the Acadian coasts. When Biencourt died in 1623, he left Charles de La Tour as his heir. La Tour took charge of the colony and soon after he built up a strong post at Cap de Sable, called Fort Lomeron in honour of David Lomeron who was his agent in France. Here he carried on a sizeable trade in furs with the Indians and farmed the land.
When La Tour learned of the outbreak of war between France and England in 1627, he was concerned for the future. For the past 20 years the French government had largely ignored Acadia, leaving it without defence or economic aid. The last remaining post France had in the country was La Tour’s Fort Lomeron. He fully realized something had to be done quickly to strengthen defences if Acadia were to remain French, and he wrote letters both to King Louis and to Cardinal Richelieu pointing out the lack of support and the fact, that, exercising the authority of administrator in Acadia as the heir of Biencourt, he had maintained the hold France had on Acadia. He went on to report that he had trained a mixed force of Frenchmen and Indians which he had used to prevent English attempts to trade and to fish in Acadia. He ended with a request for supplies and reinforcements as well as for a proper commission authorizing him to defend the area. La Tour’s father presented the letters and was able to give a full account of conditions in Acadia.
The request for supplies and men was turned over to the powerful new trading association – the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France (called also the Compagnie des Cent-Associés) – formed that same year, 1627, and given the right to trade with the Indians and to grant seigneuries while encouraging the settlement of New France. The next spring the company sent out under Roquemont de Brison four ships laden with supplies for Quebec and Cap de Sable. Three ships, commanded by Sir David Kirke, which were accompanying some vessels carrying William Alexander the younger and his settlers, captured the French ships (and Claude de La Tour). As a result, no help got through to Charles. With the taking of Quebec by the English in 1629, the sole French stronghold left in New France was La Tour’s Fort Lomeron.
After his capture, Claude de La Tour espoused the English cause and promised to win over his son, in exchange for a large grant of land in “New Scotland.” The elder La Tour set out immediately afterwards with two British warships carrying colonists and soldiers to the Anglo-Scottish settlement at Port-Royal. A stop was made at Cap de Sable and Claude hastened to inform his son of all that had taken place. He urged Charles to give up this last possession of France in Acadia and to accept the title and generous land-grant being offered him by the English. The emphatic reaction of the younger La Tour, as Champlain tells us, was that “he would rather have died than consent to such baseness as to betray his King.”
Since his urging and pleading were in vain, Claude resorted to force. For over 24 hours troops presumably led by Claude de La Tour attacked Fort Lomeron, but without success. Charles, then, was victorious in the cause of France, while his uncomfortable father was obliged to retire with the English to Port-Royal,
Shortly afterwards, two vessels of the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France, sent by Jean Tuffet, arrived at Fort Lomeron with supplies and a relief party including workmen, artisans, and three Recollet priests. Bernard Marot, the leader of the expedition, brought with him letters from the company appointing La Tour one of its associates and explaining that the food, arms, and men had been sent to enable him to build a habitation where he felt it would be most useful. The workmen were soon set to the task of enlarging and strengthening the post at Cap de Sable, and apparently it was renamed Fort La Tour (although Champlain called it “Fort sainct Louys” in his Works (Biggar), VI, 199). At the same time, Charles consulted with Marot and the Recollets about the problem of his father and then decided to allow Claude to return to Cap de Sable.
Because of the new interest shown by France in Acadia, La Tour resolved to build a fortified trading post at the mouth of the Saint John River, the richest source of furs in all Acadia. He reasoned that this would forestall any designs the English might have on that part of the country. La Tour immediately sent to France an emissary, Krainguille, for the additional men and supplies required for the project. On 8 Feb. 1631 Louis XIII signed a royal commission naming Charles de La Tour governor and lieutenant-general of the king; it was delivered either by Laurent Ferchaud or Krainguille, who brought out the requested materials for La Tour’s use at Saint John. When the post there was completed, it was named Fort Sainte-Marie and Jean-Daniel Chaline, one of La Tour’s lieutenants, was placed in charge of this first permanent establishment on the Saint John. On 18 Sept. 1632, a force of Scots from Port-Royal under command of Capt. Andrew Forrester attacked the new fort, tore down a large cross, damaged the chapel, and plundered the supplies. Not too many months elapsed before La Tour captured the English fort at Machias and pillaged it as a warning that his posts could not be molested with impunity.
With the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1632, France recovered Acadia and Canada. Isaac de Razilly was given a commission as governor in Acadia and ordered to take possession of it. He arrived at La Hève that fall and a few months later secured the return of Port-Royal from the Scots. With the country once more under French control, La Tour went to France where he had the limits of his authority and that of Razilly clarified by the company: under this arrangement, Razilly was given control of La Hève, Port-Royal, and the Sainte-Croix area. While in France La Tour also recruited colonists for his headquarters, which he moved to Fort Sainte-Marie in 1635. Everything indicates that La Tour got on well with Razilly and that under their direction trade flourished and settlers were attracted to the land. Just as conditions in Acadia were undergoing such an encouraging change, Isaac de Razilly died suddenly in 1635 and a period of confusion and strife began.
Claude de Rasilly succeeded his brother. Since he found it necessary to stay in France, he delegated the task of looking after the Rasilly interests in Acadia to his cousin, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay. It was not long before d’Aulnay and La Tour, both energetic and ambitious men with indefinite areas of command, came into conflict. The story of Acadia for the next decade is largely a record of their strife, which worsened to armed conflict and paralysed colonization. This deplorable clash between noblemen of the same race, religion, and allegiance had the result of obscuring the history of the period to a surprising degree. What is more, the smoke-screen of prejudice, both contemporary and modern, has made it difficult to determine the facts that should be the basis of unprejudiced judgement by the historian. Happily, enough documentation remains to allow us to trace with a fair degree of accuracy the remarkable feud between La Tour and d’Aulnay.
In 1636, the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France gave a trading post at Pentagouet (on the Penobscot) to Claude de La Tour. Built possibly about 1625 by the elder La Tour, the post had been captured by the New Englanders in 1626, then retaken by d’Aulnay in 1635. The company’s action seems to have roused d’Aulnay’s hatred for both La Tour and the company. D’Aulnay addressed himself directly to the king who in 1638 gave Pentagouet to d’Aulnay and made an unsuccessful attempt to divide all of Acadia west of Canseau (Canso) between them. In their ignorance, Louis XIII’s ministers gave d’Aulnay the land lying north of the Bay of Fundy but not Fort Sainte-Marie, and La Tour the peninsular part of Acadia but not Port-Royal. This simply made matters worse and the struggle continued.
Under an arrangement instituted by the company some years before, Razilly and La Tour shared the expenses and the profits of the fur trade. However, when La Tour went to Port-Royal in 1640 to check the furs and supplies there, he was refused permission and it appears that he and d’Aulnay came to blows. The latter complained to the king about what he termed this act of aggression and was directed to carry orders to La Tour asking the latter to return to France and explain his conduct. This La Tour bluntly refused to do, on the grounds that the order was obtained through misrepresentation. Using this to best advantage, d’Aulnay was able gradually to improve his position at court. Under instructions from the king to put Fort La Tour in the hands of “faithful personages,” he captured and burned the post, keeping all the goods he found there for himself.
When he learned that La Tour, cut off from trade goods and other supplies from France, had sent his lieutenant Gargot to Boston asking for the right to trade and to recruit mercenaries, d’Aulnay hastened to France, to claim that La Tour had committed treason, and that he had shown disrespect for the Crown by refusing to face the king. In August of 1642 he returned to Acadia with orders for La Tour to appear before the king to answer these serious charges.
La Tour and his wife, Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, decided it was best that she go to France and that he stay in Acadia to protect his interests. Once in France, Mme de La Tour won from the vice-admiral authorization for the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France to send a vessel with soldiers and supplies to La Tour. Sailing in April 1643, it entered the Baie Française (Bay of Fundy) to find that d’Aulnay had established a three-ship blockade of the Saint John post. Since the relief ship was not able to get through, La Tour managed to reach her under cover of darkness and to persuade the captain to take him to Boston. There La Tour showed his authorization from the vice-admiral of France to receive supplies that were now illegally denied him by d’Aulnay, and he received permission to obtain private assistance. By mortgaging his property to Major-General Edward Gibbons of Boston he was able to hire four ships and a number of soldiers.
On sighting this fleet in the Bay of Fundy, d’Aulnay fled to Port-Royal where he was pursued by La Tour. There La Tour wished to discuss the matter of compensation for his losses but d’Aulnay refused to negotiate. La Tour then attacked with a force of his own men – augmented by a group of 30 English volunteers – defeated d’Aulnay’s force, and burned the mill. D’Aulnay was not slow in lodging a complaint with the Crown, charging La Tour with open rebellion and having turned traitor in allying himself with the English for the purpose of driving the French from Acadia. The result was that La Tour was totally discredited with the French government. Soon after, when Mme La Tour arrived in France once more to obtain the supplies her husband desperately needed, she was even refused permission to leave the country and had to flee in disguise to England.
Having won the complete favour of the king, d’Aulnay hired soldiers, purchased both a warship and ammunition, and arrived at Port-Royal in September 1644. At this time he signed a treaty of peace with the English of Boston. There is no doubt that he as well as La Tour had been carrying on trade with the New Englanders, who preferred to deal with La Tour but strove to be impartial because of their fear of d’Aulnay. D’Aulnay then sent a representative to Boston asking for aid in his struggle with La Tour. Aid was refused and the suggestion made that he seek instead to make peace with his rival. Such a proposal fell on deaf ears. Victorious at court, he was determined to be victor in the field as well.
During La Tour’s absence from the Saint John early in February 1645, d’Aulnay attacked Fort Sainte-Marie but was beaten off with heavy loss. When in April he learned from deserters that La Tour was once more away at Boston in search of food and trade goods, d’Aulnay resolved to attack again. This time he was successful, but more through deception than force of arms. News of the capture of his fort and of his wife’s death reached La Tour at Boston while he was still preparing his relief expedition.
The next year Charles moved to Quebec where he was warmly welcomed by Governor Huault de Montmagny who gave him lodging at the Château Saint-Louis. During the four years that followed he was busily occupied in trade, assisted the Jesuits in their missionary efforts, and on at least one occasion fought with the Hurons against the Iroquois. When news of d’Aulnay’s death in 1650 reached Quebec, La Tour decided at last to go to France to plead his case. There, he begged that an inquiry be made into his conduct as well as into the faults both he and the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France had found in d’Aulnay’s conduct. The inquiry was granted. It resulted in La Tour’s being re-established in the royal favour; responsibility for the bloody fighting between the two was charged to d’Aulnay.
With his property and his commission as governor restored, La Tour gathered several families of colonists, including that of his childhood friend Mius d’Entremont, and sailed in the summer of 1653 for Port-Royal. He presented Mme d’Aulnay [Jeanne Motin] with a royal order restoring to him the fort at Saint John. Mme d’Aulnay and La Tour were both heavily in debt and anxious to bring the disastrous rivalry of their two factions to an end, and so, in due course, she accepted La Tour’s proposal of marriage. Later that same summer Emmanuel Le Borgne, to whom the d’Aulnay estate owed over 200,000 livres, arrived at Port-Royal to collect the debt. He discovered La Tour was absent at Fort Sainte-Marie and took the opportunity to make off with all the pelts he could find. The next year Le Borgne made an attempt to take the fort at Saint John, which was unsuccessful since La Tour had been forewarned by Nicolas Denys.
On 14 July 1654, an English expedition sent by Oliver Cromwell under the command of Major Robert Sedgwick entered the harbour at Saint John and called for La Tour’s surrender. Having few cannon, almost no ammunition, and a garrison of but 70 men to oppose a force of 500, La Tour was obliged to comply. He was made a prisoner and taken to England. Only in 1656 was he allowed to see Cromwell. He asked for the return of his property on the grounds that England and France had been at peace when the capture took place. Cromwell refused the request, agreeing only to recognize La Tour’s right as a baronet of Nova Scotia as his father’s heir, provided he accepted English allegiance and paid both the amount he owed Boston merchants and the cost of the English garrison that Leverett had maintained at Saint John. Discouraged with the turn of events and undoubtedly dispirited at the thought of the French creditors awaiting him and his wife, Charles accepted these conditions. (It is of interest to note that in 1700 the king of France indicated an understanding of this action when he recognized the rights in Acadia of La Tour’s children.) To raise the some £15,000 involved, La Tour entered into partnership with William Crowne and Thomas Temple.
Soon afterwards – in September, 1656 – La Tour, possibly finding this enforced arrangement with the English distasteful, sold his rights to his two partners, retaining only a small percentage of the profit. Temple took command of the fort at Saint John and Crowne that at Pentagouet. La Tour appears to have retired with his wife to Cap de Sable and there he died in 1666. In all, he had been a resident of Acadia for 56 years and his is the name that predominates during most of that period.
Charles de La Tour was married three times. The first marriage, to an unnamed Micmac girl, was blessed in 1626. By this union he had three daughters, two of whom entered religious orders and the third, Jeanne, who later married Martin d’Aprendestiguy de Martignon. La Tour’s second marriage, to the valiant Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, took place at Port-Royal in 1640. They had one son who apparently died during childhood. La Tour’s third wife was d’Aulnay’s widow, Jeanne Motin, whom he married at Port-Royal in 1653; they had five children.
There is little doubt that La Tour remained loyal to his country until 1656, all of his previous dealings with the English occurring in peace-time and being a recognized practice. Unquestionably, La Tour would have preferred to obtain the goods he required in France, but the acts of his rival had the very effect of forcing him more and more to turn to Boston for supplies. In fact, we may say that in the face of an all too often uninterested and short-sighted government he went to unusual lengths to preserve French power, although he was only a trader and was not really interested in colonization.
So far as his ruinous struggle with d’Aulnay is concerned, it is usually thought that La Tour struck the first physical blow, but there is no proof of this. Had he been willing to conciliate his vindictive enemy, the fratricidal battle might not have reached such heights.
Charles de La Tour, who must remain something of a controversial figure, was ambitious, confident of his own judgement, and the possessor of great natural ability and determination. He was a born leader with the happy faculty of making friends and of inspiring faith in his integrity. His associations with the French court, Huault de Montmagny, Boston merchants, and d’Aulnay’s widow – if not with d’Aulnay – testify to his diplomatic persuasiveness, unusual in a man brought up from boyhood days in a wilderness land. The pages of Acadia’s history are much richer for his presence.
ACM, B.187, f.19. AE, Mém. et doc., Amérique, 8. AN, Minutier, XV, 31; XX, 156; LXVI, 28. BN, ms Fr. 18593, f.373; NAF 9281 (Margry), ff.69–129. “Mass. Archives.” Champlain, Works (Biggar). Charlevoix, History (Shea). Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la Nouv.-France, II, 351–80 passim. Denys, Description and natural history (Ganong). Factum (1614). Mémoires des commissaires, I, xiii, xxvi, xxxvii, 46–48, 71, 80–82, 84, 97, 106, 151; II, 276, 279–80, 286–89, 493, 511; IV, 86, 126, 162–63, 180, 224ff., 232–39, 241, 263, 305, 333, 443, 451, 499; and Memorials of the English and French commissaries, I, 17, 41, 43, 118, 120, 145–47, 155–57, 168, 176, 206, 337, 361, 369, 488, 525, 570, 576–79, 709, 727. PRO, CSP, Col., 1574–1660 [see “Delatour”]; 1661–68 [see “St. Stephen”]; 1669–74; 1697–98 [see “Delatour”]. Suffolk deeds, I, 6–10, 75–76; III, 265, 268, 272, 276. Winthrop’s journal (Hosmer) in Original narratives (Jameson). René Baudry, “Charles d’Aulnay et la Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France,” RHAF, XI (1957–58), 218–41. J. B. Brebner, New England’s outpost: Acadia before the conquest of Canada (New York, 1927). Couillard Després, Saint-Étienne de La Tour, Huguet, Poutrincourt, Émile Lauvrière, Deux traîtres d’Acadie et leur victime: les Latour père et fils et Charles d’Aulnay (Paris et Montréal, 1932). Edmund Slafter, Sir William Alexander and American colonization (Boston, 1873).
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Cite This Article
George MacBeath, “SAINT-ÉTIENNE DE LA TOUR (Turgis), CHARLES DE (1593–1666),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/saint_etienne_de_la_tour_charles_de_1593_1666_1E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||George MacBeath|
|Title of Article:||SAINT-ÉTIENNE DE LA TOUR (Turgis), CHARLES DE (1593–1666)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1966|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||May 30, 2023|