International delegates converged last weekend on a small island off the coast of Maine and New Brunswick. The occasion was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first French settlement in the New World. Representatives from the United States, Canada, France, and the Passamaquoddy Indians attended the ceremonies.
Sainte Croix Island is located at the mouth of the Ste. Croix River, which forms part of the international boundary between Maine and New Brunswick. In 1604, French nobleman-courtier Pierre Dugua Sieur de Mons chose this site for the first colony because of its ideal situation. It was centrally located between two banks, with easy mooring and a very defensible position; the French were concerned with being able to defend themselves against both Indians and other Europeans. That was three years before English colonists landed in Jamestown and 16 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Even though it preceded the English colonies further south, the St. Croix settlement has received little mention in history books.
Sainte Croix Island marked the initiation of French settlement in North America. In the first few months, the French residents built a communal kitchen, a storehouse, a blacksmith shop, and a chapel. Winter arrived early that year. Many residents died the first winter as the French were unprepared for the harsh climate. Food became scarce, and disease wiped out many of the first inhabitants. In fact, the island was settled for only one year: in 1605 the residents moved to what became Port Royal. Many of them later moved again to a permanent location in the St. Lawrence region, now known as Quebec City.
Windswept Sainte Croix Island is slowly disappearing. The tides in the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world and are eroding the land at a rate of 1 to 2 inches a year. The island now is only about two-thirds the size it was in 1604. Today, Sainte Croix Island has no visible traces of the early settlement.
Ste. Croix Island was known in the 18th century as Bone Island because the cemetery where early settlers were buried was eroding away, exposing old bones. Last year, archaeologists and anthropologists reburied the bones of 23 settlers, which were removed in 1969 and taken to Temple University in Philadelphia for analysis.
The settlement's Roman Catholic priest and Huguenot minister were among the 35 buried on the island. Because they were constantly at odds, local lore has it that the two were buried face to face so they could carry on their theological disputes in the hereafter.
In 1984, the United States Congress designated Saint Croix Island an international historic site. The distinction recognizes the historical significance of the island to both the United States and Canada. An estimated 20 million North American residents, including this author, can trace their ancestry to the six-and-a-half acre island that lies between the United States and Canada.
For more information about Sainte Croix Island, look at the extensive information available at http://collections.ic.gc.ca/saintcroixisland/english/quotefile.html. Other sites about Ste. Croix Island include http://www.stecroix2004.org/, http://www.umoncton.ca/maum/IleSteCroix_an.html, http://www.nps.gov/sacr/pphtml/eventdetail12744.html and http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/nb/stcroix/index_e.asp.
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