GRAVÉ, DU PONT (also called Pont-Gravé and Du Pont-Gravé), ROBERT, naval captain, furtrader, founder of the first European settlement in what is now New Brunswick and possibly the first white man to become completely familiar with the language and customs of the Etchemin (Malecite) Indians; b. c. 1585 at Saint-Malo, the son of François Gravé Du Pont and Christine Martin; d. 9 Nov. 1621.
In the spring of 1606 he sailed for Acadia with Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt. That fall he accompanied Champlain and Poutrincourt on a voyage of exploration along the coast to Cape Cod and had part of his hand blown off when his musket exploded during an attack by some 400 Indians. He returned with the party to Port Royal, and there became active in the fur trade.
By 1610 his trading activities had concentrated on the Saint John River and in that year he was arrested by Poutrincourt following complaints lodged by the Etchemins that Gravé had abducted one of their women. It was also felt that his loose morals and defiance of the law were creating a bad impression of the white man among the Indians. Gravé escaped and went to live among the Indians whom he endeavoured to turn against French authority and the efforts being made to convert them.
When Father Biard arrived in Acadia in the spring of 1611, he learned of this situation and a few weeks later, he persuaded the governor to pardon Gravé. This was only achieved after heated discussion during which Poutrincourt voiced his strong objection to Biard’s interfering in civil matters. Gravé then gave himself up and swore to recognize Poutrincourt’s authority. Later that same year, however, word reached Charles de Biencourt, who had been left in charge in Acadia, that Gravé was plotting to overthrow the Poutrincourts. Louis Hébert was sent with a force of men to capture him at Emenenic (Caton’s Island) on the Saint John River. This trading station organized by young Gravé was the first attempt at settlement yet made in New Brunswick. Hébert captured the post but both Gravé and his aide, Capt. Merveille, were absent, although details of the plot were confessed by the man left in charge of the post. On 3 Oct. 1611, Biencourt organized a force of 16 men and, accompanied by Father Biard and two Indian guides, they set out for Gravé’s post on the Saint John. Again, both Gravé and Capt. Merveille were absent, but Merveille was captured that evening, Gravé remaining at large. Father Biard admired Gravé’s “great physical and mental strength” and was relying on him to serve as his interpreter with the local Indians. He therefore went to find him after receiving Biencourt’s word that he would not be harmed. A few days later he returned with Gravé who was pardoned after promising to reform.
Gravé continued to live at his post on the Saint John until 1618, apparently making regular trips to France with furs obtained there. In 1619 he had command of the Espérance sent with a French expedition to the East Indies. His ship was burned there by the Dutch in 1621 and he died at sea soon afterwards.