She was Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, originally from a place called Nogent-le-Rotrou, in France, the daughter of a doctor by the name of Jacques Jacquelin. Late in 1639, Charles de La Tour asked his secretary and administrator Desjardins to go to France to get him a wife. He came back the following year with Mademoiselle Jacquelin. Both, herself and La Tour, were complete strangers to each other. Shortly after her arrival in early Spring, the wedding took place at Fort St-Louis, which stood on the Sand Hill, at Villagedale, Shelburne County; it was performed by the Capucin Fathers, with a large audience, including Claude de La Tour, father of Charles, and his wife.
Charles de La Tour, at the time, was Governor of Acadia. He had shared this title with Issac de Razilly, the one who founded La Have in 1932. Razilly died in 1636. He had designated as his successor the Sieur de Poincy, who had been his administrator. But what happened is that one of his relatives, the very ambitious and haughty Charles d’Aulnay, Sieur de Menou and de Charnisay, seized the power and brought the colony from La Have to Port Royal.
He was not satisfied of sharing the administration of Acadia with Charles de La Tour and vowed to trample him even to death, if necessary. Charles de La Tour had two forts, the one at Villagedale, just mentioned, and one at the mouth of the Saint John river, New Brunswick, Fort Ste-Marie. In the Fall of 1642, d’Aulnay, on his way from France to Port Royal, taking advantage of the absence of La Tour and his wife, stopped at Fort St-Louis, got the best of its guards and set it on fire; all was consumed, including the church that the Recollet Fathers had here. It was the first and largest of the forts that Cardinal Richelieu, Secretary of State in France, had asked to be erected in what was then New France, including Acadia.
Although he had made of La Tour a lame duck, the greedy d’Aulnay had not yet crushed him to his satisfaction. La Tour still had a fortified stronghold at the mouth of the St. John River, where he had some 50 soldiers. After burning Fort St-Louis, d’Aulnay stayed a few months at Port Royal to take fresh supplies, and proceeded to Fort Ste-Marie. He put the fort under seige. La Tour was in the fort at the time, ready to defend himself at the first assault from the enemy. But d’Aulnay chose to block all entrances to the fort and reduce the occupants to starvation.
But lo and behold! There were two months that d’Aulnay was anchored at the mouth of the river, when arrived from France the Saint Clement, a vessel of 120 tons, that Desjardins had equipped for La Tour. La Tour managed to get on board. They went to Boston for help and came back with four other armed vessels, to which d’Aulnay was no match; instead, he speeded towards Port Royal. The seige had lasted close to five months.
Charles d’Aulnay was too proud to admit that he had been frustrated and too eager to get rid of La Tour to call it quits. All this time, the most faithful and courageous Françoise-Marie Jacqueline was giving a very precious helping hand to her husband. In Boston, she had so much success that an author tells us that when d’Aulnay learned about it, “his rage knew no bounds.” He wrote an insolent and abusive letter to Governor Winthrop.
When Françoise-Marie came back to the fort at St. John River, her husband left for Boston on business with seven of his men, leaving the fort in her hands. Charles d’Aulnay learning of it, left immediately for the St. John River. Here is what happened, as it has been told by Nicolas Denys, an Acadian pioneer of the time: “(Lady La tour), after having sustained for there days and three nights all the attacks of d’Aulnay, and after having compelled him to withdraw beyond range of her cannon, was in the end obliged to surrender on the fourth day, which was Easter Day (April 16, 1645), having been betrayed by a Swiss who was then on guard (Hans Vaner), while she was making her men rest, hoping for some respite. The Swiss yielded to bribery by the men of D’Aulnay and allowed them to mount to the assault, which was again resisted for some time by the Lady commandant at the head of her men. She only yielded at the last extremity and under the condition that they said d’Aulnay should give quarter to all.”
Unfaithful to his words, the barbarian d’Aulnay asked which one of the captives wanted to have his life spared by hanging the others. A certain André Bernard came forward, choosing to be the hangman of his companions in order to save his skin. The nauseating and cruel d’Aulnay put a rope around Françoise-Marie’s neck, set her up probably on a platform, tied her fast to a post, in front of a number of scaffolds to which mounted one after the other 40 of the soldiers who had so valiantly defended the fort of their master, under the command of his wife, until all 40 of them were hung by the neck till they died. Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, strong of character as she was, could not bear the sight of such a slaughter; she died of horror and grief a few days later. She is known in history as “The Heroine of Acadia.”
This is one of the saddest episodes in the history of Acadia. Even the Expulsion, which was to take place 110 to 115 years later, inhuman as it was, we do not find such cruelties as that of hanging innocent people. The English, indeed, hung two Acadians and three Indians in Boston, as I said in Sketch No. 5, but it was after they were tried and found guilty of piracy. Did the Indians go that far? A very ancient author wrote, referring to d’Aulnay: “To dishonesty he adds an excess of barbarity which would be hard to believe, if it was said of an Indian.”