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Charles de Menou Charnisay

Charles de Menou Charnisay

Charles de Menou Charnisay, Seigneur d'Aulnay (ca. 1604-1650), was a governor of Acadia, a territory in the northeast of Canada. He was responsible for a solid and well-rooted establishment of French colonists in Nova Scotia.

Charles de Menou Charnisay was the son of a councilor of state of Louis XIII. He served in the French navy and, when his cousin Isaac de Razilly was appointed governor of Acadia in 1632, went there with him to a settlement at the mouth of the La Have River on the south shore of Nova Scotia, not far from the present town of Bridgewater.

On the death of Razilly in 1635, Charnisay acted as the effective governor of Acadia, though he did not have the title, which had been passed to Razilly's brother, with whom Charnisay worked cordially. Gradually the weight of settlement was shifted from La Have to the sunnier and more fertile lands at Port Royal on the Annapolis Basin on the northwest coast of Nova Scotia.

By this time a rivalry with Charles de La Tour, another administrator across the Bay of Fundy at the St. John River, had arisen. Both Charnisay and La Tour were under the aegis of the Company of New France, a trading company. Each had a right to half the revenue from the whole Acadian area, and each had the right of inspection of each other's territory.

In 1638 their quarrel was aggravated, rather than settled, by an arbitrary and clumsy move made through King Louis XIII, who granted Charnisay the title of lieutenant general in Acadia, with jurisdiction over La Tour's settlement at St. John. This led to a minor war between the two rivals and endless litigation. Further interventions of the court strengthened Charnisay's legal and financial position, but La Tour refused to give in. La Tour went to Boston in 1642 and chartered four ships, which he used to force Charnisay to give up a siege of starvation that he had laid against St. John.

In 1645 Charnisay again laid siege to St. John, apparently deliberately choosing a time when La Tour was absent in Boston. The fort was stormed and finally captured at Easter, 1645. The defenders, who had fought bitterly, were mostly hanged; Madame de La Tour, who had helped to defend her husband's fort, was taken prisoner and died shortly afterward.

By 1647 Charnisay became the governor of the whole of Acadia from the St. Lawrence as far south as he could get his writ to run. In the north he ran afoul of Nicholas Denys, whose trading empire had been established at what is now Bathurst on the northeast coast of New Brunswick. This too produced a lawsuit; but Charnisay's standing at court was very good, and he might have prevailed here too; but in May 1650 his canoe capsized in the Annapolis Basin, and he was rescued only to die of exhaustion. He was buried at Port Royal, leaving a widow, eight children, and a troubled estate. By a strange irony Charnisay's widow married Charles de La Tour in 1653.

Further Reading

The feud between Charnisay and La Tour has passed to the historians, who still tend to side with one or the other. John Bartlet Brebner, New England's Outpost: Acadia before the Conquest of Canada (1927), and Andrew Hill Clark, Acadia: The Geography of Early Nova Scotia to 1760 (1968), are reasonably objective, while Bona Arsenault, History of the Acadians (trans. 1966), sides with Charnisay. □

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