A Blupete Biography Page

Nicholas Denys "STUCK IN A FRAME"
(1598-1688): -- CLICK HERE --

We begin with the spectacular Loire River valley of France, just south of Paris. The beautiful Loire runs west to meet the Atlantic. The Loire valley must have one of the highest densities of castles in all of Europe. Going down the river, especially from Orleans, and straight through to Nantes, one will see castles or chateaus, one after the other, mile upon mile, surrounded by vineyards, green and row on row. It is from this area where most of the original Acadians have come. For your average American tourist, the area is a fairyland which will match most all of their childhood dreams.

Nicholas Denys was born at Tours in 1598. Tours, located along the Loire River, is one of those wonderful European cities made of stone, and, yes, there is a medieval castle at its center. Denys' father was a captain of the Royal guard of Henri the IV.

Just after coming over to Acadia with Issac de Razilly in 1632, Denys "for some time had been engaged in the shore fishery at La Have."1 He also set up a "wood working plant" near present day Riverport. Apparently feeling, if removed from the main settlement at LaHave, that they might fair better at fishing, at some point, Nicholas Denys and his brother Simon, moved approximately 15 miles down the shore (by boat, a three hour sail) to establish a fishing station at Port Rossignol (Liverpool).2

As we have seen elsewhere the LaHave settlement broke up within three to four years of its establishment with the death of its leader Issac de Razilly a death that occurred during December of 1635.

The Denys brothers, after the death of de Razilly, returned to France. Nicholas Denys was to take a wife in 1642.3 Nicholas, however, had it on his mind to return; he knew there were riches to be tapped in Acadia, but only if he could avoid marauders who prowled the waters of Acadia. Denys would return, but did so only after he received legal papers from the court giving his company rights to a territory that was sufficiently far enough away, allowing him to stay clear of the feuding barons, d'Aulnay and La Tour.

In 1653, Denys "was nominated by the Company of New France Governor of the whole coast of the bay of St Lawrence and the isles adjacent, from Cape Canso to Cape Rosiers."4 As the "Lord Proprietor and Governor of Cape Breton" Denys established settlements at Ste. Pierre, Ste. Anne's and Nipisiquit (these first two communities are at opposite ends of the Bras d'Or Lakes; Nipisiquit is located on the Chaleur Bay just south of, and tucked under, the Gaspe peninsula, where, in the present day, the town of Bathurst, New Brunswick, is located). Nicholas Denys was not long to be left alone though, for d'Aulnay arrived at Denys doorstep and presented what he (d'Aulnay) thought was a more superior set of papers from the king; d'Aulnay promptly "captured Denys' forts, seized his goods, broke up his fishing establishments, and ruined his settlers."5

It causes one to wonder about the age, certainly about the character of d'Aulnay, on how so coolly d'Aulnay went about systematically ruining his old childhood friend. It would appear, however, that the Denys brothers, their families and their followers were allowed to leave Acadia and to seek refuge in Quebec. Simon Denys was to stay on at Quebec; Denys, however, eventually made his way back to France, presumably to strengthen his legal claims in Acadia.

The Denys brothers, after a period of time in prison at Port Royal (Annapolis Royal), were released; soon, they cleared out of Port Royal and sailed for Quebec. Simon Denys had had enough of it and determined to remain in Quebec, but Nicholas was just as determined to return to his home at St. Peters and build it up again (see map). Again, Denys was raided by a superior force. This time, 1653, it was Emmanuel Le Borgne. Le Borgne was a creditor of the d'Aulnay estate and had sailed over from France to liquidate and take in payment what ever he might get his hands on that was remotely connected to the now dead d'Aulnay; St. Peters, Le Borgne believed, was but another piece of real estate that belonged to d'Aulnay; Le Borgne cared not about the claims of Denys. Le Borgne caught Denys away on a visit to his establishment at St. Anns (some 40 miles by sail over the great Bras D'Or Lake6 and without much opposition St. Peters is pillaged and plundered, once again. A few days later they ambushed the unsuspecting Denys who was making his way back over the short neck of land which today is spanned by a canal and lift. Denys was, yet once again, brought to Port Royal as a prisoner. No sooner had Le Borgne arrived back at Port Royal with his booty and prisons when he, in turn, was taken prisoner because of the forces of General Robert Sedgwick which had been assembled to clean out both the French and the Dutch which had located themselves along eastern coast of North America. Sedgwick's taking of Port Royal forms no part of this sketch on Denys, sufficient to say that Sedgwick, seeing that Denys was the prisoner of Le Borgne saw to Denys release. Knowing St. Peters was in ruins, Denys returned to France.

Fixed up with papers, yet again, Nicholas Denys came back to St. Peters, this time with a 120 armed men; they all settled in to do some serious fishing and trading.7

And, so, time passed, and from St. Peter's, Denys continued to administer his far flung establishments at Chedabucto, St Anns and Nipisiquit (Bathhurst). Now, I doubt that anyone, could be exhaustive in the listing of the travails of Nicholas Denys, but I wish to add one more before we come to 1669. At some point, and I have yet to determine when, another French trader by the name of La Giraudiere, whose association with Acadia must have been short, arrived in Denys' territory with a view to grabbing a piece of the action, and, to do so by force (likely La Giraudiere was one of the 120 armed men which Denys had earlier brought over with him). At about this time Denys was concentrating his forces at Chedabucto, feeling it was exposed. While Denys and his loyal men were building a fort at Chedabucto, La Giraudiere picked St. Peters as his point of attack and was successful. What La Giraudiere really wanted was to establish himself at Chedabucto; and he achieved his principle goal through a trade with Denys. La Giraudiere made some very good opening moves in his efforts at conquest. He did however make a mistake which was to upset him within the year; he agreed as part of the swap (St. Peters for Chedabucto) to submit himself to a French court for a determination as to who owed what. Denys was a litigator whereas La Giraudiere was not. It was determined after a hearing back in France that La Giraudiere was in the wrong and he was forced to give up Chedabucto in favour of Denys. A new grant was issued to Denys on 9 November, 1667.8

In 1669, another misfortune visited Denys: his home and his buildings are completely destroyed by fire. After that, Deny retired to Nipisiquit where he turned writer; he wrote his, Historique des l'Amerique, which was published in 1672.9

Nicholas Denys died, in 1688, at Nipisiquit (Bathurst, New Brunswick).



[1] Hannay, p. 186.

[2] See "Trials and Torment: The Story of two Stalwarts" by Carol McLeod NSHQ#9:1.

[3] On the 1st of October, 1642, Nicholas Denys married to Marguerite de Lafitte at La Rochelle. Nicholas Denys and Marguerite were to have five children: Marie (b.1643), Nicolas (b.1644), Marguerite (b.1645), Jacquin (b.1646) Richard (b.1649). Marie married Michel Le Neuf de la Valliére, Seigneur de Beaubassin. Arsenault makes no further reference to Nicolas, Jr; he does give information on Richard. Richard was born on August the 29th, 1649 at La Rochelle; he married first in 1680 to "une sauvagesse"; and, again, at Quebec, on the 15th October, 1689. With his father's death in 1688, Richard was to inherited certain of the seigneuries. Richard Denys died around 1692. Apparently, no male children of the Denys family survived the third generation.

[4] Hannay, op. cit., p. 187; NSHR#9:2 p. 85.

[5] Hannay, op. cit., p. 187.

[6] Likely he hauled into Big Harbour and covered the last five miles from St. Peters overland under the Big Hill, down a path over which today highway No. 105 runs to the South Gut of St. Anns Harbour.

[7] An interesting side note to history may now be made. Denys, as we have seen, had a enemy in Monsieur d'Aulnay, and, for that matter, with Mrs. d'Aulnay. The power structure in Port Royal was entirely rearranged at Port Royal due to Le Borgne's arrival from France and subsequent arrival of Sedgwick's forces from New England. Mrs. d'Aulnay escaped the mess by the simply expedient of marrying her late husband's old foe, Charles LaTour and removed her household across the bay and into the LaTour Fort at the mouth of the St. John. The new allegiance as represented by the marriage of LaTour and d'Aulnay, apparently, allowed no room for the d'Aulnay children; their mother arranged for their removal to France, presumably to relatives who would take good care of them. The children were sent to the Canso area where it was thought they could get further passage to France by one of the returning fish boats. These eight children arrive, motherless and fatherless in the Canso area, but their arrival was too late in the autumn and they missed their chance to return to France; maybe in the spring. Who was it that took these eight children in for the winter, none other than Nicholas Denys; it speaks volumes about this man's character.

[8] NSHQ#9:1, pp. 41-2; DCB.

[9] Reprinted in 1908 by The Champlain Society.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)