“Expedition of Captain Samuel Argall, afterwards governor of Virginia, knight,…to the French settlements in Acadia…1613”

Argall’s expedition, commissioned from Virginia, aimed to assert English territorial claims and encountered French colonists in Nova Scotia. They plundered French settlements and briefly visited Manhattan, encountering Dutch traders. However, English accounts downplayed the expedition’s significance, likely due to its aggressive nature and potential diplomatic repercussions.

Subsequent historians relied on accounts from Heylin’s Cosmography, which described Argall disputing Dutch possession of Manhattan. French accounts noted Argall’s attack on a French vessel, resulting in plunder and imprisonment. This raid disrupted French colonization efforts in Acadia and furthered English territorial ambitions.

The expedition’s success spurred further English action against French settlements in Nova Scotia, culminating in the destruction of Port Royal. Accusations of Jesuit involvement in guiding the English to French settlements sparked controversy. Despite storms dispersing Argall’s fleet, his actions significantly impacted French and Dutch colonial efforts in North America.

These events, though initially underreported or misrepresented, played a pivotal role in shaping early colonial dynamics in the region, impacting subsequent European colonization efforts and territorial disputes.

“The earliest indication of a permanent settlement within the present limits of New-York has been generally traced by historical writers to the alleged erection of a fort near Albany, in 1614. On a small alluvial island, one hundred and fifty miles above the mouth of the river, the foundations not only of a flourishing city, but of a great commonwealth, are supposed to have been laid by a few Dutch adventurers whose only aim was a gainful traffic with the natives of the country. Such a settlement was indeed made, but there seems to have been an error in regarding it as prior to all others.

It is known that the Dutch visited the river the year after its discovery, and that they continued to frequent it from year to year for the purposes of trade, until it was found necessary to erect forts for their protection. What their establishments were before the building of the forts, is not stated by any of the Dutch writers with in our knowledge but undoubted though incidental authority enables us to form a correct idea of the state of things on Manhattan Island in 1613, or four years after the discovery of the river. We refer to the accounts of the expedition of Captain Samuel Argall against the French colonists of Acadia, who, as he was returning to Virginia, made a passing visit to the Dutch on Manhattan Isle.

The following brief notice of this event is taken from an English publication, containing a description of the country granted by Charles I. to Sir Edmund Ployden, under the name of the Province of New Albion, in 1634, embracing an extensive territory north of Maryland.”

“Twede” (and “Argals Bay”, a reference to Samuel Argall) seen in this reproduction of the map accompanying Sir William Alexander’s pamphlet: “Encouragement to Colonies” 1630.

“Then Virginia being granted, settled, and all that part now called Maryland, New Albion, and New Scotland, (Nova-Scotia,) being part of Virginia, Sir Thomas Dale, and Sir Samuel Argall, Captains and Counsellors of Virginia, hearing of divers aliens and intruders, and traders without license, with a vessel and forty soldiers, landed at a place called Mount Desert in Nova-Scotia, near St. John’s river, or Tweed, possessed by the French there killed some French, took away their guns and dismantled the Fort, and in their return landed at Manhatas Isle in Hudson’s river, where they found four houses built, and a pretended Dutch governor under the West India Company of Amsterdam share or part, who kept trading boats and trucking with the [indigenous] but the said Knights told him their commission was to expel him and all alien intruders on his Majesty’s dominion and territories this being part of Virginia, and this river an English discovery of Hudson, an Englishman.

As the expedition was fitted out from the Virginia colony, for the purpose of vindicating the English title to the country, it would be natural to look to that quarter for a particular account of it. But there seems to have been a studied concealment on the part of the early writers upon the affairs of that colony in relation to this matter, which can only be explained on the ground that the wanton and destructive attack in a time of profound peace, without notice of any kind, on the infant settlements of the French colonists in Acadia, was viewed as at least impolitic, and likely to lead to serious consequences between the two governments, if openly proclaimed or justified. For this, or some other reason, only incidental or meagre notices of the expedition occur in the Virginia writers. Purchas has the following reference to the enterprise without date Captain Argall ‘s northward discoveries towards Sacadehoc, and beyond to Port Royal, Sancta Crux, and thereabout, may not be concealed; in which his adventures, if he had brought home no commodity to the colony, (which yet he did very much, both of apparel, victuals, and many other necessaries,) the honour which he hath done unto our nation by displanting the French, then beginning to seat and fortify within our limits, and taking of their ship and pinnace, which he brought to James town, would have been reward enough for his pains, and will ever speak loud his honor and approved valour.!

In another place the same author describes more at length the controversies with the French in respect to their title to the country, but nothing is said of the visit of Argall to our river! Smith, whose history of Virginia was published about the same period, is equally unsatisfactory he says— Sir Thomas Dale, understanding there was a plantation of Frenchmen in the north part of Virginia, about the degrees of 45, sent Captain Argall to Port Royal and Sancta Crux, where finding the Frenchmen abroad, dispersed in the woods, surprised their ship and pinnace, which was but newly come from France, wherein was much good apparel and other provision, which he brought to Jamestown, but the men escaped and lived among the [indigenous] of those countries.”

This is the only notice Smith takes of the expedition, and it will be seen that he is mistaken in supposing the French colonists to have escaped, as several of them were carried to Virginia. It may be likewise inferred from his statement, that the enterprise was undertaken during the administration of Sir Thomas Dale, as governor of Virginia, which would bring it within the year 1614 but this is equally erroneous, as the most conclusive evidence exists that it took place in the preceding year, under the administration of Sir Thomas Gates. Smith had no connection at that time with the Virginia colony, having left it several years before, and this portion of his his tory is compiled from the statements of others, instead of being the result of his own observation and knowledge, as is the case with the earlier part of it. It is remarked by a careful writer, that Smith is an unquestionable authority for what is related, whilst he staid in the country,” although vastly confused and perplexed but the latter part of his history is liable to some suspicion. No doubt is entertained of his integrity, but being himself absent in those times upon other projects, he depended upon others for his account of things.

The work from which subsequent historians seem to have chiefly taken their accounts of Argall’s visit to the Hudson, is Heylin’s Cosmography, published in 1652,—a work of great learning and of high reputation at that period. After mentioning the discovery of the river and its subsequent occupation by the Dutch, he adds—“ But they were hardly warm in their new habitations, when Sir Samuel Argall, governor of Virginia, specially so called, (having dispossessed the French of that part of Canada, now called Nova-Scotia, An. 1613,) disputed the possession with them alleging that Hudson, under whose sale they claimed that country, being an Englishman, could not alienate or dismember it, (being but a part or province of Virginia,) from the crown thereof. Hereupon the Dutch governor submits himself and his plantation to his Majesty of England, and the governor of Virginia, for and under him. But a new governor being sent from Amsterdam, in the year next following, not only failed in paying the conditioned tributes, but began to fortify himself, and entitle those of Amsterdam to a just propriety!

A contemporary French author, Champlain, (the founder of Quebec,) states that the English of Virginia were accustomed at that period to pursue the cod fishery sixteen leagues from the island of Monts Deserts, and that a party arrived there for that purpose in the year 1613, commanded by Samuel Argall , who being overtaken by a storm were driven on shore Small light vessels were then termed frigates, the present use of the word being of more recent origin.

Here they were told by the [indigenous] that a French ship was at the island of Monts Deserts, whereupon Argall, being in want of provisions, and his men in a shattered, half-naked condition, resolved after ascertaining the strength of the intruders to attack them. The French seeing a ship approaching under full sail, and discovering it to be an armed Englishman, without being aware that ten others were following, prepared to defend themselves. After a short resistance, being overpowered by a superior force, the French yielded, with the loss of a Jesuit father, Gilbert du Thet, who was killed by a musket ball. Several others were wounded, and all but five were made prisoners. The English then took possession of the French ship, and plundered it of whatever they could find, not excepting the commission from the king of France which the commander, La Saussaye, had in his cabin.

Such is the statement of Champlain.

Another French writer of the same period, Lescarbot, relates the affair in a manner less favourable to his countrymen. He says that the French vessel having recently arrived at Pemptegoet, information was given by the natives to some Englishmen who happened to be on the coast, and that the latter going to ascertain whether it was friend or foe, Gilbert du Thet, the Jesuit, on discovering them, cried out, Arm, arm; it is the English and there upon opened a fire upon them, which was vigorously returned, and with such effect that the English, having killed three persons, (of which number was Gilbert du Thet,) and wounded five, boarded the ship, and having plundered it, landed upon the island, where they met with no resistance.

The French commander who was on shore at the time of the at tack, had fled with fourteen of his men to a remote part of the island, but the next day came and surrendered himself on receiving an assurance of safety. On being required to show the commission under which he sailed, he failed to produce it, and the English therefore adjudged him to be a pirate, and caused his effects to be distributed among the soldiers. The English captain, continues Lescarbot, was named Samuel Argall , and his lieutenant, William Tumel. Having put the greater part of the prisoners on board a fishing vessel, and set them at liber ty, Argall returned to Virginia, taking with him three Jesuit priests, and fifteen other persons, among whom are named le Capitaine de wiarwie, Charles Fleuri d’Abbeville, and M. La Motte.

The party thus summarily dispersed by Argall , had left France for the purpose of establishing a colony within the limits of Acadia, under the auspices of the Jesuits, at the expense of Madame de Guercheville, a wealthy French lady, who was zealous for the conversion of the American natives lo Christianity. They had arrived at La Heve, a port in Nova-Scotia, on the 16th of May, 1613, and proceeded from thence to Port Royal, where they took on board two Jesuit missionaries who had incurred the displeasure of Biencourt, the governor of that colony. Leaving Port Royal, they went to the island of Monts Deserts, where they resolved to fix their settlement. The pilot conducted them to the east end of the island, where they set up a cross, celebrated mass, and named the place St. Sauveur. Scarcely, says Champlain, had they begun to provide themselves with accommodations in this retreat, and to clear the land for the purpose of improvement, when the English came, and frustrated their benevolent designs in the manner already described. The cross around which the faithful had gathered was thrown down,” and the liberal supplies which they had brought from France for the intended colony, the offerings of pious zeal, were plundered, and carried away to minister to the wants of the English heretics in Virginia.

The success of Argail, and the relief afforded by the booty he brought home to a starving colony, stimulated the authorities of Virginia to a fresh enterprise against their French neighbours, under the pretext of defending the English title to the country founded on the discovery of the Cabots. The settlements of St. Croix and Port Royal were commenced before the English had planted a single permanent colony in any part of the new world, although more than a century had elapsed since the discovery on which they based their claims to the whole North American continent north of Florida. To follow up the plunder and destruction of St. Sauveur by an immediate attack upon those places, was the policy of the Virginia government, and an armed expedition, consisting of three vessels, commanded by Argall, sailed forthwith for Acadia. Touching at the scene of their late outrage on the island of Monts Deserts, they set up there a cross bearing the name of the king of Great Britain, instead of the one erected by the Jesuits and then sailed to St. Croix, where they destroyed all the remains of a former settlement. Crossing the bay of Fundy, they next landed at Port Royal, (now Annapolis, Nova-Scotia,) and finding the town deserted, the governor being absent, and the people at work several miles from the fort, they met with no resistance in pillaging and stripping the place of whatever it contained, loading their ships with the spoil, and destroying what they could not carry away. The settlement had existed eight or nine years, and had cost its founders more than one hundred thousand crowns in money, beside the labour and anxiety that necessarily attended their efforts to plant civilization upon a desolate coast.

At the time of its destruction, Port Royal was under the government of Charles de Biencourt, as vice-admiral and lieu tenant-general of New-France, whose unkindness to the Jesuit missionaries excited their enmity to such a degree that they were accused of having piloted the English expedition on this occasion. The charge is denied by Champlain, but countenanced by Lescarbot, who publishes at length the formal complaint of the Sieur de Poutrincourt, (one of the founders of the colony and the father of Biencourt,) addressed to a French admiralty court, in which he distinctly charges Biart, one of the priests who accompanied Captain Argall to Virginia, with having plotted the destruction of Port Royal. This document is dated July 18, 1614 and an answer was put in by the accused two years after. Without entering into the merits of the controversy, it is sufficient for our purpose to refer to it as establishing the dates of the events described by the complain ant. Poutrincourt says, that he left Rochelle on the last day of the preceding December, [1613,] in a vessel of seventy tons or thereabout, for Port Royal, where he arrived on the seventeenth of March, and was informed by his son Biencourt, the lieutenant-general of New-France, that the governor of Virginia had sent thither a ship of two or three hundred tons, another of one hundred tons or thereabout, and a large bark, with a number of men, who, on the day of the feast of All saints last, [the 1st of November, 1613,] landed, and under the guidance of the said Biart, plundered the habitations of himself and the other French people who abode there, &c.

In was on his return from the last expedition, that Argall is stated by the English writers to have visited the Dutch settlement at the mouth of the Hudson and as, according to both Champlain and Lescarbot, he left Port Royal on the ninth of November, he probably arrived here during the same month. The three vessels composing the expedition sailed together from Port Royal, but a violent storm soon after dispersed them the bark was never again heard from the ship containing; the Jesuits arrived in England by the way of the Azores, while Argall reached Virginia in safety.”

Folsom, George. Expedition of Captain Samuel Argall, afterwards governor of Virginia, knight, etc. to the French settlements in Acadia and to Manhattan Island, A.D. 1613.  New York, New York, 1849. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/11022273