She chose to follow the French custom of her time and not take her husband, Charles La Tour’s last name, so history doesn’t know her as Francoise Marie Jacquelin La Tour. Instead, she signed the name Francoise Marie Jacquelin to personal and business documents. The English people that she dealt with called her Frances Mary Jacquelin. Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony called her “the lady of La Tour.” Historians call her the Lioness of La Tour. She is not called “Lady La Tour” or “Marie La Tour.”
The story of Francoise Marie Jacquelin is better known in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, because her life played out and ended there. Fort La Tour, where she fought and died three days later, is located along the St. John River in St. John, New Brunswick, so she is technically a Canadian historical figure, but her courage and resourcefulness are an inspiration to women of any country and any time.
Francoise Marie Jacquelin - Born Into Religious Controversy
Like the circumstances of her birth, the nature and cause of Francois Marie Jacquelin’s death at Fort La Tour are ambiguous, but her life story is well documented. A woman far ahead of her time, she helped her father negotiate her marriage contract, secured a dowry from her husband, and did not take Charles de Saint Etienne de La Tour’s name when she married him. When she married Charles La Tour, Francois Marie Jacquelin became his fierce defender and in 1645, she defended Fort La Tour to her death against her husband’s rival Charles de Menou d’Aulnay de Charnizay, cousin of Cardinal Richelieu, France’s chief minister and a clever and capable although relentless aristocrat.
M.A. MacDonald, a journalist and research associate at the New Brunswick Museum, and one of her biographers, documents that Francois Jacquelin was the daughter of a Paris doctor. She had led a conventional upper middle class life until she accepted the marriage proposal of Charles La Tour.
Born into an upper middle class Huguenot family in Rochelle, France, in 1620, Francois Marie Jacquelin experienced the tensions of religious conflict and its aftermath in her birthplace. For centuries Rochelle had been a city of contention between Catholics and Huguenots. In 1627, the Siege of La Rochelle marked the climax of tensions between Catholics and Protestants and ended with the overwhelming victory of King Louis XIII and the Catholics.
Francoise Jacquelin’s father, Jacques Jacquelin, was a doctor of medicine and her mother, Helene Lerminier, was born in a town on the border of Normandy and the Loire called Nogent-le-Rotrou. Dr. Jacquelin provided Francois with an excellent education and training that would enable her to survive the eventful life that she would lead with her husband in Acadia. She and her sister Gabrielle learned to read and write in a convent school, which meant that she would have more responsibilities in managing her household. Reading also introduced her to the imaginary world of kings and knights and princesses and adventuring in faraway lands, both imaginary and in Francoise Marie’s case, eventually real.
Charles la Tour and His Rival Charles de Menou d’Aulnay de Charnizay.
Francoise Marie Jacquelin didn’t leave any diary or letters detailing how she met Charles La Tour, who had already lived a lifetime before he met Francoise Marie Jacquelin. Charles La Tour was born in France in 1593, and in 1610 at age seventeen, he accompanied his father Claude de Saint-Etienne de la Tour on an expedition to Port Royal in Acadia. Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt led the expedition which also included his 19 year old son, Charles de Biencourt de Saint Just, and a Catholic priest.
In 1613, Captain Samuel Argall led a group of colonists from Virginia in attacking Port Royal, and several settlers were killed or taken prisoner and the fort and goods destroyed. After Poutrincourt returned to France with the surviving settlers, his son Charles Biencourt and Charles de La Tour remained at Port Royal living with the local Mikmaq Natives and trading furs. Charles La Tour migrated from Port Royal and established himself at Cape de Sable, present day Port la Tour, Nova Scotia and St. John, New Brunswick. Charles La Tour married a Mikmaq woman and they had three daughters before she died young.
True to his entrepreneurial spirit, Charles La Tour helped build an import-export business with a Rochelle, France, company exporting pelts and salt fish and importing items including spices and salt. By 1631, Charles La Tour had also build Fort La Tour on the Saint John River. Charles La Tour also received a letter from Cardinal Richelieu, King Louis XIII’s chief minister, appointing him the Acadian governor and a lieutenant general for the King. At age 38, Charles La Tour had established himself firmly in Acadia.
Charles La Tour had also made enemies, and the most dedicated, persistent and unrelenting enemy was Charles Aulnay de Charnizay. Officials in France were either uncertain or lax in measuring land grants in Acadia and this ambiguity intensified the rivalry between Charles La Tour and Charles Aulnay de Charnizay. Officials in France decreed that La Tour had to share his governorship with aristocratic, ruthlessly ambitious naval officer Charnizay. Charnizay hated La Tour whom he considered his social inferior and he vowed to do whatever he had to do to become the sole governor of Acadia.
In 1636, Charnizay married Jeanne Motin, a devout Frenchwoman and soon began to produce heirs, eventually eight of them. Charnizay’s marriage and children made La Tour, now 46 years old, realize that although he had three daughters, he no longer had a wife, and he needed both a wife and a male heir. La Tour immediately commissioned Guilliame Desjardins, his friend and agent in France, to find him a bride.
La Tour already had someone in mind, Francoise Marie Jacquelin, whom he had probably met during one of his previous trips to France. He had been in France for several months in 1632, when the King awarded him l’Ordre du Roy, and he may have met Francoise Marie Jacquelin during this visit or during one of his other sojourns in France. He also may have had some family connections that made his courting easier.
Francoise Marie Jacquelin Married Charles La Tour
Charles La Tour instructed his agent Desjardins to offer a generous agreement to induce Francoise Marie Jacquelin, 18, to leave her settled, comfortable life in France for an uncertain pioneer life in Acadia. The provisions of his agreement included cash, a large inheritance fund, and a half share in his property.
According to Francoise’s biographer, M.A. MacDonald, another of La Tour’s close friends, Etienne De Mourron, was empowered to negotiate a marriage contract and conduct the bride and her company to Acadia for the wedding by the end of 1639 or the beginning of 1640. On December 31, 1639, the bride’s father, Jacques, her mother Helene, Desjardins and the bride herself signed the unique marriage contract in rooms at the Rue St. Honore in Paris.
Jacques Jacquelin sketched a paraph, a mark that professional men used to guard against forgery, next to his signature on his daughter Francoise Jacquelin’s marriage contract. She signed her name under his in clear penmanship, illustrating her excellent education. Although the marriage contract was constructed according to the customary laws of Paris, it contained some unusual provisions. Her marriage contract authorized Francois Marie Jacquelin to keep all her property and anything that she might inherit. She was entitled to a half share of anything that she or her husband acquired during their marriage, and as a widow she would be entitled to half her husband’s estate, with an inheritance fund and she would be the guardian of any children. She brought no dowry to the marriage, but Charles La Tour gave her 2,000 livres to buy jewelry or anything else she wanted before she traveled to Acadia. The marriage would take place when Francoise Marie arrived in Acadia and once married, Francoise Marie would become an equal partner in her husband’s life and concerns.
The fact that the concerned parties initialed changes in the contract demonstrated that they had thoroughly discussed it that New Year’s Eve. No one disputed the stipulations that the Jacquelins were to give Francoise Marie a trousseau that fit her social standing and that Charles La Tour would give her two maids and a manservant. The generosity of the groom shown throughout the contract, but just six years later Francoise Marie Jacquelin sacrificed her life for Charles La Tour.
While Desjardinas negotiated the wedding agreement with the bride and her family, Charles La Tour rebuilt his other fort at the mouth of the St. John River in New Brunswick, fortifying it against Charnizay and including features that would make it a suitable home for a bride accustomed to living a comfortable life in France.
Francoise Marie Jacquelin Arrived at Fort La Tour
Two months after the New Year’s Eve marriage contract signing, on March 26, 1640, 18-year-old Francoise Marie Jacquelin and her attendants sailed for Port Royal, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, aboard the L’Amitye de la Rochelle for Acadia. Desjardins owned half a share in L’Amitye, which carried eight passengers and a crew of 20, with Jacques Jamin as master. L’Amitye also carried a large arsenal including nine cannon, three mortars, sixteen muskets, two dozen pikes and ammunition. It is possible that Charles La Tour needed the arsenal to upgrade his forts and it is also possible that he intended to use the Amitye as a warship in the war with Charnizay that he thought inevitable. Francoise Marie Jacquelin and Charles La Tour were married when the L’ Amitye arrived in Port Royal, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in June, 1640, and soon they set off for Fort LaTour.
Charles La Tour’s fort stood at the mouth of the St. John River on the present site of St. John, New Brunswick, and this strategic location gave him control of the entire fur trade covering more than 50,000 square miles of territory and the forests, waters, and animals in that territory. Most of the time there were at least 200 men in Fort Latour and several small vessels plied the coast and traded with the Indians.
M.A. MacDonald, Francoise Marie Jacquelin’s biographer described Charles La Tour’s businesses and fort. “Down this river highway came fleets of canoes, bringing the richest fur harvest in all Acadia to Charles La Tour’s storehouses: Three thousand moose skins a year, uncounted beaver and otter. On this tongue of land his habitation stood, yellow-roofed, log palisaded, its cannon commanding the river and by.”
After her arrival in Acadia in June 1640, Francoise Marie Jacquelin quickly adjusted to life in a new country and a new marriage. Looking out from Fort La Tour, she could watch men netting salmon in the Saint John River. Native trappers came to the fort to trade furs. Inside of Fort La Tour, she supervised or at least kept an eye on the daily operating of the cookhouse, bakery, blacksmith shop, trading room, vegetable garden, and livestock.
Although Francoise Marie Jacquelin enjoyed a natural abundance of fish and game and the beauties of the forest, she had only her servants for female companionship. Charles La Tour often was away, roaming the coast, exploring the woods, or voyaging to France. In less than a month after her arrival, she also learned that her new husband was embroiled in a rivalry that would escalate into a civil war. Her strong personality and love for her husband compelled her to become an essential part of the struggle between her husband, Charles de Saint Etienne La Tour and Charles de Menou d’Aulnay Charnizay.
In July 1640, Francoise Marie and Charles La Tour voyaged across the Bay of Fundy to visit Charnizay at his Port Royal headquarters. The stated purpose of the journey was to introduce Francoise Marie to Jeanne d’ Aulnay Charnizay, but La Tour’s true purpose probably was to check on the amount of furs that his rival had taken. Charnizay refused to allow La Tour’s party to land and soon ships belonging to the rivals fired their cannons, killing one of Francoise Marie’s loyal guards. In his account of the skirmish, Charnizay blamed La Tour for taking the first shot.
Charnizay’s men defeated La Tour’s men and held Francoise Marie and Charles La Tour captive until La Tour signed an agreement to present their quarrel at the King’s court in France. Charnizay believed that his contacts at the court would decide matters in his favor. Observing the humiliation of her husband and Charnizay’s ruthlessness, Francoise Marie realized that the stakes in the Acadia War were high.
Francoise Marie Jacquelin Joined the Acadian Civil War
Historians sometimes call the power struggle between the competing Acadian governors the Acadian Civil War. Charnizay’s base was at Port Royal, present day Annapolis Royal, about 45 miles across the Bay of Fundy from Charles La Tour’s Fort La Tour at St. John, New Brunswick. The British colonists in adjoining New England supported La Tour’s claim because he allowed them to fish and harvest lumber along the Bay of Fundy while Charnizay made them pay for the privilege. Charles La Tour heard that Charnizay planned to attack his fort, so he traveled to Boston to ask Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop for help. Governor Winthrop used his influence to convince several merchants to unofficially loan Charles La Tour men and material to defend his fort from Charnizay’s attack. Between 1640 and 1642, Charles La Tour and Charles Aulnay de Charnizay ordered their forces back and forth across the Bay of Fundy attempting to capture each others’ garrisons.
Charnizay began complaining to French King Louis XIII about La Tour, and circulated rumors among the powerful men in Paris that Charles La Tour was a traitor. Soon the King and his men ordered Charnizey to capture La Tour and send him to France and they sent letters to La Tour, ordering him to return to France and explain himself to the King.
La Tour knew that if he returned to France he would be put in prison and charged with treason, so in 1642, Francoise Marie Jacquelin traveled to France and gracefully and with documentation advocated for her husband before the Grand Prior. Swayed by her appeal, the Grand Prior allowed Francoise Marie to return to Acadia with a warship to help her husband defend himself. Francoise Marie couldn’t return home, because Charnizay had blockaded the Bay of Fundy, but her husband stole aboard her ship under the cover of darkness. The two made their way to Boston where they negotiated for ships and supplies. Together, they ran the blockade and returned to Fort La Tour.
Francoise Marie Jacquelin- Equal and Able Warrior
Charles d’ Aulnay Charnizay continued to blockade the Bay of Fundy, confining the La Tours to their fort. In 1643, Francoise Marie gave birth to her only child, a son, Charles Francoise Marie, named after his mother and father. In early 1644, Francoise Marie Jaquelin traveled to Paris to once again present her husband’s case to the new king, Louis XIV and to the French courts. This time the authorities ruled against Charles La Tour, charging him with treason and crimes against Acadia, and ordered Francoise Marie to remain in France. Defying the order, she disguised herself and fled to England. In England, she contracted with Captain Bailly of the Gillyflower to voyage back to Fort La Tour.
Instead of speedily returning to Acadia, Captain Bailly fished off the Grand Banks for six months, and when the Gillyflower finally drew near Acadia, Charnizay, aboard his warship the Grand Cardinal, intercepted her. Charnizay and the Grand Cardinal guided the Gillyflower out of Acadia toward New England, while Francoise Marie hid below deck. Ironically, Charles La Tour was in Boston soliciting help for his battle against Charnizay and the Gillyflower carrying his wife arrived in Boston eight days after he left the harbor to return to Acadia.
Luckily for Francoise Marie, Charles La Tour had friends and supporters in Boston, because she had to remain in Boston until she could find a way to run Charnizay’s blockade to Acadia. Soon she made her own friends in Boston, partially because of her knowledge of reformed Anglicanism, the religion of most Bostonians of the time. She spent months fighting Captain Bailly in the courts over his breach of contract for the Gillyflower, finally winning a settlement of 2,000 pounds. Captain Bailly and the Gillyflower fled Boston before Francoise Marie could collect the entire settlement, but she had collected enough money to commission three ships to slip past Charnizay’s blockade in the dead of winter. She arrived safely at Fort La Tour to reunite with Charles, after a year of exhausting trials and tribulations.
Charnizay’s continuing blockade took a toll on the La Tours and the Fort grew low on supplies. Their men were hungry and some abandoned the fort and the La Tours. Charles La Tour ran out of furs for trading and the necessity to purchase weapons and warships soon landed him in serious debt. By spring of 1645, Charles La Tour and Francoise Marie Jacquelin realized that unless they could defeat Charnizay soon, they would have to surrender. Charles La Tour decided that his only option was returning to Boston to solicit friends for enough money for ships and soldiers to break the blockade. Charles La Tour left Francoise Marie in charge of 45 men at Fort Latour and in the spring of 1645, he set off for Boston.
The Siege of Fort La Tour
Almost as soon as Charles La Tour’s ships had disappeared over the horizon, eight of the 45 men he had left with Francois Marie deserted to Charnizay’s fort at Port Royal. One account of the siege states that after La Tour left for Boston, Francoise Marie and the Recollet fathers at the fort argued about her interest in Protestantism. The argument escalated, fueled by cold and scarce food, and the Recollets and several of the men left for Port Royal. Once they arrived at Port Royal, they informed Charnizay that La Tour and a number of his men had left for Boston.
Since Francois Marie Jacquelin was a Huguenot and had studied Protestantism in depth in Boston, perhaps the smoldering theological hostilities between some Catholic and Protestants flared under the stress of the siege and the fact that Francois Marie was in charge of the fort. Not questioning the reasons that brought him La Tour’s deserters, Charnizay took advantage of this good fortune. He marshaled his forces and sailed across the Bay of Fundy with a force of 200 men. Francoise Marie Jacquelin led the handful of La Tour soldiers in a valiant five day defense of Fort LaTour.
By Easter Sunday, April 13, 1645, the fourth day of the siege, Charnizay and his men had managed to destroy part of Fort La Tour’s parapet and land a force of men with two cannons. Another story about the siege concerned Hans Vandre, 47, a Swiss mercenary who helped defend Fort La Tour. He supposedly allowed Charnizay’s forces to creep up to the walls of the fort while the defenders rested and held Easter service. The garrison rushed to defend the fort after they heard the noise of Charnizay’s forces storming the palisade. Soldiers on both sides died in the intense hand to hand combat.
Charnizay pulled his ships and men out of the firing line to plan new strategies, and Francoise Marie encouraged her exhausted men to rest for a few minutes, leaving Hans Vandre as sentry. When Vandre saw Charnizay’s superior forces preparing to attack, he knew the fort was lost and allowed Charnizay’s forces to enter Fort Latour before Francoise Marie Jacquelin and her men realized what he had done.
Francoise Marie Jacquelin led her men in hand to hand combat with sword, pike point, hooked halberd and musket butt. Contemporary historian Nicholas Denys reported that she only yielded “at the last extremity, and under the condition that the said d’Aulnay should give quarter to all.”
Finally, Charnizay called off his men and promised that he would give quarter to all if Francoise Marie Jacquelin would surrender. She considered her options. Fort La Tour was heavily damaged and food and ammunition ran low. She didn’t want to see any more of her men, all of them her good friends die, so she surrendered to Charnizay in good faith.
As soon as Francoise Marie Jacquelin surrendered, Charnizay reneged on his promise of safety for the defenders of Fort La Tour and hanged the men in the garrison, except for Vandre and the man who carried out the hangings. He forced Francoise Marie Jacquelin to watch the hangings with a rope around her own neck. Despite his cruel treatment, Charnizay spared Francoise Marie, her young son Charles, and a woman servant, but when his men caught her smuggling a message to Charles La Tour through native traders, Charnizay imprisoned her. Three weeks later she died at age 24. Some people and historians speculated that she had been poisoned, but other believed that she died of a broken heart.
After Francoise Marie Jacquelin died, Charnizay sent her son, Charles La Tour, and a maidservant back to France. It would take centuries for French researcher Jean Marie Germe to discover his baptism records, dated December 26, 1645, in Nogent le Rotrou. Her sister Gabrielle and her husband had adopted Francoise Marie’s son. Germe also discovered records of Françoise-Marie's baptism on July 18, 1621, discounting the fictional story that she had been born in 1602, and had been a retired actress from the French stage when she married Charles La Tour.
Charles Le Tour and Charles d’Aulnay After the Acadia Civil War
Months later, Charles La Tour learned the fate of his fort and his wife. Charnizay had prevailed and Charles La Tour had lost everything. He sought refuge at the Chateau Saint Louis in Quebec City and Charles D’Aulnay Charnizay became governor general and seigneur of Acadia. In 1650, Charnizay died in a canoeing accident. Some accounts said that Charnizay had slapped a young Mikmaq warrior in the face during an argument and that the warrior had watched from the shore as Charnizay struggled in the frigid waters.
When he heardd that Charnizay had died, Charles La Tour traveled to France to mend fences. Then in an ironic twist of fate, he returned to Acadia and proposed to marry Jeanne Motin, the widow of Charles d’Aulnay Charnizay. Madam d’Aulnay, still in her mid-thirties, was heavily in debt because of her husband’s wars and she agreed to marry sixty- year- old Charles La Tour.
On February 24, 1653, Charles La Tour entered into his third marriage with Jeanne Motin d’Aulnay. They had five children and many of their direct descendants live in the Canadian Maritimes today. Charles La Tour died at Cap de Sable, present day, Port La Tour, Nova Scotia, in 1666.
Francoise Marie Jacquelin, a Woman in Her Own Right
Francoise Marie Jacquelin lived in Acadia for only five years, 1640-1645, but she was the first European woman to live in, make a home, and raise a family in New Brunswick. She braved the physical dangers of sea voyages, fought like a man in a man’s war, and faced hunger and pain with courage. She also possessed intellectual courage, acting on her religious and social beliefs and meeting and conquering the male dominions of courts and governments.
Nicolas Denys, a member of the Company of New France and an ally of Charles La Tour, described Francoise Marie Jacquelin’s defense of Fort La Tour and called her “La Commandante.”
Her biographer M.A. MacDonald called her The Lioness of La Tour and filmmaker Suzanne Poizner who filmed the story of her life called her the Lioness of Acadia. She called herself Francoise Marie Jacquelin, and she was a woman in her own right.
Dunn, Brenda. A History of Port Royal, Annapolis Royal: 1605-1800. Nimbus Publishing, 2004.
Griffiths, E. From Migrant to Acadian. McGill-Queens University Press, 2005.
Macdonald, M.A. Fortune and La Tour: The Civil War in Acadia. Methuen, 1983.
Poizner, Susan. The Lioness of Acadia. The Beaver: Canada’s History magazine, Feb/Mar 07
In The Beaver: ";Private War Over Acadia," by André Pelchat, Dec/Jan 2000–01, Vol.80:6. A vivid account of the rivalry and war between La Tour and d'Aulnay.