By Cyril Bambrick
The year 2004 was the 500th anniversary of the French Presence in Newfoundland. It was also the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia. As well, this year marked the 100th anniversary of the end of French fishing rights on what we call the French Shore in Newfoundland. This article is a very brief overview of the life of a man who had a profound influence upon the history of both Plaisance and Acadia. Brouillan, who was born in France, was first posted as governor to Plaisance and later on to Acadia.
In 1662 the French founded the royal colony of Plaisance in order to maintain control of their fishery and to prevent English expansion into what they considered to be their sphere of influence. Throughout much of its existence the colony struggled to survive. One man who did much to boost French fortunes in Newfoundland was Jacques François Mombeton de Brouillan.
When Brouillan arrived in Plaisance in the summer of 1691, he found the colony in a deplorable state. In the previous two years, the colony was attacked by English privateers and suffered an uprising by the Basques. Brouillan set himself to the task of repairing and building new fortifications. He began the construction of Fort Louis in 1691, the Gaillardin on the mountain overlooking Fort Louis in 1692, and Fort Royal in 1693. Other gun emplacements and batteries were constructed as well. In 1692 the English attacked the colony and, in 1693, threatened to attack again. However, Brouillan successfully defended the colony and in 1696 he participated in the attacks against the English. In 1697 he returned to France for personal and health reasons and stayed there until he was appointed governor of Acadia, after the death of Robinau de Villebon in July, 1700.
In May, 1701, Brouillan arrived in Acadia with 40 soldiers and munitions. He immediately visited several areas in order to assess the state of the colony - Chibouctou (Halifax, N.S.), Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal, N.S.), and Les Mines (Grand Pré). There were rumours of war and Brouillan prepared plans for the defence of the colony. He convinced the inhabitants of Les Mines to open a route to Port-Royal, in order to help the town in case of attack. He persuaded the inhabitants of Port-Royal to build a fort and he built quarters for the soldiers and organized the settlers into a militia. That summer Brouillan sent a report back to officials in France detailing the state of the colony and its resources. Even though the fur trade and agriculture were the mainstays of the Acadian economy, Brouillan suggested that fishing could become the main industry of Acadia. He offered to build chaloupes and asked for rope to make nets. He also suggested that fishermen be brought in from Placentia to teach the Acadians how to fish.
Rumours of war became fact when the War of Spanish Succession broke out on 15 May, 1702. Port-Royal was not immediately attacked and the delay gave Brouillan time to complete the planned fortifications. By 1704, the fort was built and contained a garrison of 200 soldiers. Brouillan also formed the colonists into six militia companies and had barks, a limekiln, a mill, and a frigate constructed.
In May, 1704, a force from New England commanded by Benjamin Church sailed from Boston with orders to attack French settlements in Passamaquody Bay, and Pentagoet [now part of Maine, it was then part of Acadia]. French sources state that the English burned some houses, took prisoners, and broke dykes which flooded lands under cultivation. The main force also attempted landing operations at Port-Royal, but Brouillan sent parties of soldiers, Indians, and settlers to maintain defensive fire along the banks of the river. After 18 days, the Massachusetts commander, Benjamin Church, decided to return to Boston.
Later that year Brouillan was in France to answer to charges of corruption and cruelty. He was cleared of several charges but was rebuked by the court for some of his activities. However, Brouillan retained the favour of the court because of his courage, his success in defending French interests, and his effectiveness as governor of both Plaisance and Acadia. In his final years the governor was plagued with health problems. He died in Chedabouctou on September 22, 1705, and his heart was taken to Port-Royal, where it was buried.