A Blupete Biography Page


Chief Henri Membertou:
(d.1611):

Unfortunately, because writing was unknown to them, little can be accurately stated about the Indian nations, and this includes that which occupied the lands of Acadia, the Micmac. We are obliged to speculate when it comes to the comings and goings of the pre-Cartier Indians. Even after the arrival of the white man, we have come to know only a very little of the Indian nations of North America. However, that maybe, we know less about the Micmac nation, as an entity, than of those individuals of which it was composed. Chief Henri Membertou was one of the few of which we might give a brief sketch.

He was, by all reports, a very old, though, a vigorous man when the de Monts' expedition came in 1604. These first overwintering Frenchmen were to know Membertou but for seven years before the old man died (and for two of these first seven years, the French had deserted their post at Port Royal in favour of France).

It is said that Membertou had recollections of Jacques Cartier and his visits to the North American continent between the years 1534-42. At any rate, Membertou apparently embraced his new French friends and could certainly have made their acquaintance in the year 1604 when de Monts, Champlain and the 79, first wintered over on St. Croix during the winter of 1604/05. He certainly was around, when, in 1605, these French adventurers moved across the bay to found the "permanent" colony at Port Royal, in 1605. Lescarbot wrote of Membertou and expressed the view, in 1607, that the chief, or sagamo, was "already more than 100 years old." If this were so, then, he was a centenarian like few others: he had a wife and a young family and went out, in season, to lead his followers in battle against their ancient enemies to the south, the Armouchiquois.1

Membertou led "a small following of Micmacs" who hunted and fished in the area encompassing the basin of water, which, in 1604, the French named Port Royal and which we know today as Annapolis Basin.2 Membertou, we may conclude because of his position amongst the Micmac, was an upright and honourable man, who respected the Micmac traditions, and, so too, must have showed his bravery to his followers during the forays regularly undertaken by the tribe. One of the French priests of the time wrote of Membertou:

"This was the greatest, most renowned and most formidable savage with in the memory of man; of splendid physique, taller and larger-limbed than is usual among them; bearded like a Frenchman although scarcely any of the others have hair upon the chin; grave and reserved; feeling a proper sense of dignity for his position as commander." (Father Biard, as quoted by the DCB.)
Membertou, we might imagine, was among those who greeted the return of the French to Port Royal in June of 1610. At that time he expressed his faithfulness to the French by allowing himself to be, shortly thereafter, baptized by one of the priests which came with the returning group. By the following year, however, Membertou was to become but a memory, having died on September 18th, 1611 - it seems at Port Royal, among both his Indian followers and his French friends; a solemn funeral followed.
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FOOTNOTES:

[1] From a reading of history one will learn that certain members of the de Monts expedition traveled south aboard their ocean going sailing vessel, in 1605, and were to meet up with the Armouchiquois who occupied territory beyond that area located in the present day State of Maine, Saco. They had with them "an Indian with his squaw" taken from those Acadian Indians which they had come to know during the winter of 1604/05. Now, its not likely that this was our Membertou, but who ever this couple was, they no doubt recounted their experiences to their family and friends upon their return to Acadia. These experiences are dealt with in some detail in Chapter 4, The Founding of Port Royal, sufficient to say that these Frenchmen participated in one of the first battles that Europeans had with the North American Indians, of the many that were to unfold in the bloody history between the two groups in the following 300 years. The point is, that French guns were turned on the Armouchiquois, a turn of events which undoubtedly much endeared the French to the Micmac and their leader, Membertou. This is the likely reason why Membertou "showed an unswerving loyalty" towards his French allies (DCB).

[2] Though their territory extended south-west over the isthmus and along the shores of St. Mary's Bay, we may refer to this particular group, a subset of the larger nation, as the Port Royal Indians.

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Peter Landry
(1998-2000)