Fort La Tour History – Submitted by Bob Elliot
“The Gathering Place”
4,000 Years of History
In April of 1645, cannon and musket fire echoed across Saint John Harbour as forces battled for control of a fortified trading post. This was the culmination of an intense rivalry which had raged for over a decade. In a story laced with treachery, brutality and bravery, the Acadian civil war pitted the forces of two French entrepreneurs against one another.
Fort Sainte Marie had been established at the mouth of the St. John in 1631 by Charles de La Tour. This fortified outpost was strategically placed for the collection of furs from New Brunswick’s hinterland. Acadia, at the time, was plagued by rival claimants which often led to conflict. Only one year after La Tour built his fort, Scots from across the Bay of Fundy attacked and captured La Tour’s post. However, it was the conflict between La Tour and rival Frenchman Charles de Menou (d’Aulnay) which led to the bloody battle in 1645.
As sunset approached on April 16, 1645 (Easter Sunday), the sounds of battle died. It had been a siege of several days. Francoise Marie Jacquelin (wife of Charles de La Tour) had led a garrison of about forty-five in a spirited defense of Fort La Tour while her husband was away in Boston, but the battle had been lost. Heavily out-gunned and out-numbered by d’Aulnay’s force, La Tour’s post was captured. Shortly thereafter, most of the survivors were executed and Francoise died a few weeks later – reportedly of natural causes (illness and despair) or perhaps by poison?
But the story of this bloodied site, in the heart of Saint John, began long before Europeans were even aware of a New World. Archaeological evidence proves that First Nations peoples were using the site for over three and a half thousand years before La Tour constructed his outpost! Seven Red Paint burials (so called because the graves were lined with red ochre) were made on the site 4,000 years ago. Aboriginals of the Red Paint culture lived throughout Atlantic Canada, as well as, coastal Maine practicing a maritime economy – their tools were designed for sea hunting.
These burials were followed by peoples of the Susquehanna culture who camped in the area. People were actually living on the Fort La Tour site for the first time. And above this occupation layer can be found evidence of the Maritime Woodland culture (c. 500 A.D.). The site’s strategic location at the mouth of the mighty St. John, the main highway to New Brunswick’s interior, was well known to the region’s pre-European residents. Indeed, this location had been a gathering place for First Nations peoples long before the French arrived.
First Nations continued to have a presence on the site after the erection of La Tour’s fort. Two Contact Period burials (c. late 17th century) lie within the fort’s ruins. These Maliseet burials reflect a changing aboriginal culture as they contain both Native and European artifacts. For one should remember that the fortified post was a point of contact and exchange between to very different cultures. Not only were furs being traded for European goods, but there was an exchange of ideas and technologies. While First Nations peoples were introduced to metal trade goods, firearms and other European commodities, these peoples had shown the early French the advantages of their technological innovations – the snowshoe and the birch-bark canoe for travel in a wild new environment so different from France. Points of interaction and exchange like Fort La Tour were transforming both groups – First Nations culture was changing and French residents were becoming Acadians.
However, with the eventual departure of the French occupiers, others continued to use the site. New England Planters, Simonds, Hazen and White established their trading headquarters over the ruins of Charles de La Tour’s fort during the 1760’s. During the 19th century several manufacturing industries operated in the immediate vicinity. The site’s strategic location was again recognized during World War II when an anti-aircraft battery was constructed. For at least 4,000 years, this spot of land has witnessed a parade of peoples which contributed their stories to the tale of the site now known as Fort La Tour – a “gathering place” in the heart of the City of Saint John.
The Fort La Tour Development Authority is charged with the responsibility of educating the public with the importance of this significant site, as well as, meaningful development and interpretation of this valuable archaeological resource. Over the coming years, we hope to see the development of Fort La Tour so residents and tourists alike will continue to meet at the “gathering place”.
Computer-generated image of the Fort La Tour’s gatehouse complex. This image was created using archaeological information, period accounts and architectural data for 17th century building styles. The building on the right is depicted with clay roofing tiles.
Charles de La Tour’s Coat of Arms.