First Madawaska Acadian Settlement

In June 1785, a few families left Fredericton and vicinity to go up the St. John River, taking with them the bare necessities, very little clothing and food, as they were using canoes.

Those of them who had never gone up the River, were under the impression that they were about to touch the end of their pilgrimage. Whenever a river was crossed, or an Indian village was seen, the children would inevitably ask their parents: “Is this Madawaska?”

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After ten weary days, they heard the thunderous waters at Grand Falls (my home town, where I was born). Having made the one mile long portage of the Falls, they came across a promontory which dominated the valley of the lower St. John River and, from there they could see a broad valley with hills on both sides. They were at the door of the promised land, and there they took a very needed rest.

The travelers continued their journey until they set foot on the south bank of the St. John River, two and one-half miles south of the Malecite village on one of the most elevated flats, a short distance from the present church of St. David, Madawaska, Maine. As they were making camp, Joseph Daigle erected a cross (which is today known as the ‘Acadian Cross’) at that very place in the land of Madawaska.

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On the same day, two young men were sent to the Indian village (now Edmundston, New Brunswick), to advise the Chief of their arrival and that their fathers would be in to see him the next day.

At first the Indians did not show much enthusiasm when the strangers arrived, but soon afterwards the meeting was one of the most cordial. The hall to which they were admitted, was full of tribal warriors. The Chief, while extending to them a welcome did not hesitate however, to warn them that the vast territory between Grand Falls (New Brunswick) [where I was born] and Lake Temiscouata (Quebec), had always been known as the land of the Malecites. In a few words, he told the visitors that they could have a part of this land and that they could help them protect it from invaders. “As long as your guns will not refuse to shoot the reindeers, or your nets to catch the fish in our rivers, you shall be welcome, and you shall be my friends.”

After this meeting with the Chief and his warriors, the Frenchmen returned to meet their fellowmen, who had already begun the work of building. This diplomatic meeting, won the good graces and protections of the Indians. We must not forget that this Indian village, the Malecite capital of the St. John Valley, had 60 families, and that Francis Xavier who had just spoken to them, had 200 warriors under his command, and that on the first day that an argument should ensue between the two peoples, the Acadians would be at the mercy of the Indians.

During the first summer, the pioneers selected their lands and began to clear them. Some settled on the south bank of the river, near the cross that was erected upon their arrival; others went down a little way, to what is known as Beaulieu, Maine; still others settled near Green River on the north side of the St. John River. Two families built their houses near the Indian Reservation, and two others settled near the Iroquois River. The larger group which could be called the nucleus of the colony, settled at a short distance from the present church of St. David in Madawaska, Maine.

The pioneers planted potatoes and a few acres of wheat. In the lowlands along the St. John River, there was an abundance of wild hay and tall grass, which would feed the cattle they had planned to bring from Springhill (Nova Scotia), in the Fall. The first year, they all lived as one family, with everything divided equally among the families.

On the south bank of the St. John River, we find the following families: Pierre Duperry, Paul Potier, Joseph Daigle, Baptiste Fournier, Joseph Daigle Jr., Jacques CYR, Francois CYR, Firmin CYR, Alexandre Ayotte, Antoine CYR, Baptiste Thibodeau and Louis Sansfacon.

Site of Madawaska Settlement

On the north bank, near the Indian village, we find Louis and Michel Mercure.

Near the Iroquois River, we find Olivier and Pierre CYR.

All these pioneers had come to Madawaska at the end of June 1785. In the summer, others came to Madawaska from Fredericton, to join them. By the Fall of 1787, one could see smoke from twenty chimneys, which showed that the colonization of the Madawaska area, was growing.

The dwellings of the pioneers were not the pretentious kind we find nowadays; they were primitive, and as such, they did not have the luxuries and comforts that we find today in the modern camps of the lumberjacks. The pioneers had no tool and no material with which to build. The dwellings were made of logs, insulated with moss and covered with birch bark. It is only later that houses were constructed with cut-lumber. In a primitive dwelling, there was but one room, with one or two windows facing the south, which were closed during the winter months with pieces of canvas. In the middle of the room, was the hearth with chimney made of stones and cemented by means of mortar, which was made of clay found about. The hearths were good to cook the food and give light at night, but they burned more wood and gave very little heat.

Furniture was very simple; a table, a few benches, two or three chairs, a few beds for the aged and the heads of the families. The children slept on cot beds made of wood, which could be closed in the daytime. Table utensils such as spoons, knives, forks and ladles, were generally made of wood.

The pioneers fed themselves with the flesh of wild animals and fish, which abounded in the area.

In the Fall of 1786, the crop was good except for the wheat which was sowed late and was pretty well destroyed by the September frost. Wool was unknown at that time. Trousers, coats and boots, were made with the skins of wild animals. Imported articles cost exorbitant prices. Groceries were transported from the St. Lawrence by means of sleds, boats or pack-sack.

During the first summer, a few pioneers went to Canada by way of Lake Temiscouata. Two portages separated the Madawaska River from the St. Lawrence. One portage was along the Cabano River, which connected to the latter with the Riviere des Caps. Another reached Trois Pistoles (Quebec) [where I started going to school] by the Ashberish and Trois Pistoles Rivers. The last portage has a greater advantage over the other, since in the Fall and Spring, the journey was practically done by water. It is in the Fall and Spring, that all groceries and bare necessities, were brought to the colony.

It is during one of these journeys that representatives of Madawaska asked Father Adrian Leclerc, pastor of Isle-Verte, to accept them as their parishioners. This missionary’s mission, comprised all of the Gaspesie and the Malecites of Madawaska.

The following summer, in 1786, Father Leclerc visited his parishioners of the St. John Valley. It was a short visit, since his mission covered 200 miles and, in such circumstances, he could not, therefore, stay very long in one place.

In 1787, Father Leclerc had the joy and satisfaction of saying Mass in the little chapel covered with birch bark and erected by the pioneers, the first church in Madawaska. The site of that primitive chapel is debated; some hold that it was in St. Basile (New Brunswick); others hold that it was at St. David in Madawaska (Maine), a mile or two from the present church of St. David in Madawaska, Maine. Joseph Daigle, the father of the colony, held the post of Marshal until the canonical erection of the parish.

The second year after the settlement was made in this area, immigrants from the St. Lawrence, came to Madawaska. Such were: Soucy, Albert, Michaud, Levasseur, Chaurest and Saucier from Kamouraska (Quebec); Dube, Beaulieu and Gagne from Isle-Verte; Guimond and Ouellet from Riviere Ouelle; Desnoyers from Riviere du Sud. We must not forget that Duperry, Lizotte, Fournier and Sansfacon, had already preceded them, at the time they joined the Acadians in Fredericton.

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The Acadians had to wait five years for the deeds of their land, and not the three as was promised by officials of New Brunswick. Several left the colony on account of this delay. However, through Governor Carleton, on October 1, 1790, Joseph Mazerolle and 51 other pioneers, were given the documents they had been waiting for.

The first grant, known as the Mazerolle grant, comprised all the territory between the Indian Reservation and Green River, 16,000 acres equally divided into 77 lots on both sides of the river, with an average of 200 acres per lot. The West of the Madawaska River Plan of Surveyor Sproule, has the following note written in the margin: “New Brunswick has no jurisdiction here.”

Following is a list of grantees, the first tenants of Madawaska:

North Bank, or St. David, Madawaska, Maine;
Pierre Duperry, Augustin Dube, Pierre Lizotte, Simon Hebert, Paul Potier, Francois Albert, Jean-Baptiste Mazerolle, Joseph Auclair, Francois CYR, Joseph Daigle Sr., Jean-Baptiste Fournier, Joseph Daigle Jr., Jacques CYR, Firmin CYR Sr., Jean-Baptiste CYR Jr., Michel CYR, Joseph Hebert, Alexandre Ayotte, Antoine CYR, Jean Martin, Joseph CYR Jr., Jean-Marie Saucier, Zacharie Ayotte, Joseph Saucier, Joseph Ayotte, Mathurin Beaulieu, Louis Sansfacon, Jean-Baptiste CYR Sr., Firmin CYR Jr., Jean-Baptiste Thibodeau Sr. and Joseph Mazerolle.

In 1794 the following families received their grants:

Martin, Gauvin, Bellefleur, Mercure, CYR, Violette, Thibodeau, Gosselin, Vaillancourt, Amireault, Michaud, Racine, Lizotte, Laforest, Smith and Marquis.

The above noted is re-printed with permission from the L.A. Violette family (May 3, 1979) to the Madawaska Historical Society, who subsequently granted similar permission to this author in 1995.