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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 1

The Roma Settlement at Brudenell Point, Prince Edward Island

by Margaret Coleman

On July 17, 1731, a grant authorized by King Louis XV of France and his Minister of the Marine, the Comte de Maurepas, was made to Sieurs Claude Cotterel, merchant at Rouen, Joseph du Bocage of Blansville, Joseph Philippe Narcis and Jean Pierre Roma of Paris. [1] The grant was of 3,500 arpents (about 127 miles) frontage and 40 arpents (about 1.5 miles) depth on the eastern coast of lie Saint-Jean, now Prince Edward Island. It included the lands drained by the three rivers now known as the Brudenell, the Montague and the Cardigan, but was not to touch any lands already granted to inhabitants or cleared by them. The grant was to be held en franc aleu noble, with no royal dues, but "in homage" to Louisbourg. Justice was reserved for the king to be administered by the sub-delegate of the Intendant ef New France in Ile Saint-Jean.

The only other obligations placed on the company, La Compagnie de l'Est de I'lle Saint-Jean, were those of reporting any mines or minerals to the king or his appropriate officer, of having its tenants conserve oak suitable for ship building, and of allowing the king any land he needed for posts or government buildings. The company was to bring out 80 persons with the necessary stock in 1732, and 30 annually in succeeding years. These settlers were to be encouraged to clear lands and construct both public and private buildings and roads. The company was to establish churches, in which its members would be honoured as patrons. It was also permitted to establish fish-drying stations and stores on the north coast, where it would be given land in proportion to the number of shallops used there in fishing. If the company failed to fulfil its obligations, the land was to revert to the Royal Domain.

Up until this time, there had been only one attempt by a chartered company to establish permanent settlement in Ile Saint-Jean, that of the Comte de Saint Pierre and his associates in the early 1720s. Some colonists were brought from France at that time, but the venture was soon abandoned because of the financial failure of the company in France. [2] In 1730, there were on the island about 325 settlers, the majority of whom had come out under the Comte de Saint Pierre or had emigrated from British-held Acadia to be under French rule. These were scattered around the island but were most heavily concentrated at St. Peter's on the north, and at Port La Joye and the Northeast River (Charlottetown Harbour and the Hillsborough River). [3]

Jean Pierre Roma was appointed director of the company. He arrived in Ile Saint-Jean in June, 1732, and began at once to lay the foundations of what he hoped would become a thriving colony. The exact site chosen was at Brudenell Point, the point between the Brudenell and Montague rivers. Because of its proximity to the Cardigan River as well as the Brudenell and the Montague, the site was known as Three Rivers.

Almost immediately Roma ran into difficulties. His relations with the chaplain of the company, Abbé Bierne, deteriorated rapidly. Roma, as Commandant and Director of the company, regarded himself as having complete control of the affairs of the colony: the abbé, on the other hand, saw his authority as emanating from Heaven and therefore superior to any lay power Roma might have. [4] When Roma gave him a written congé on the grounds that he was plotting behind his back to destroy the company, Bierne appealed to Dubuisson, the sub-delegate of the Intendant in Ile Saint-Jean. Dubuisson tended to side with the abbé because he felt Roma had acted im properly when speaking to the priest, [5] but he lacked the power to enforce his opinion and was therefore reduced to attempting conciliation. As for Roma, he had on his side De Pensens, the Commandant in Ile Saint-Jean, Le Normant, Commissaire Ordonnateur, and St. Ovide de Brouillan, Governor in Ile Royale, now Cape Breton Island. [6] The conflict was eventually resolved by St. Ovide, who arranged for the abbé to become a missionary to the Micmacs, and when this proved unsatisfactory, to return to France.

Roma's difficulties with the clergy were not yet over, however. In 1737, he was complaining that two girls whom he had brought over from France had been enticed away from him in Louisbourg by people wanting servant girls, and that these people had been aided by the Father Superior of the Récollets at Louisbourg. [7]

Roma's relations with his partners back in France were also somewhat stormy. The partners were interested only in profits from the fisheries, and were unconcerned with the general welfare of the colony. Ignoring the fact that Roma's initial outlay in establishing the colony, in setting up fishing operations on the north shore and in building shallops for the fisheries must have consumed a considerable amount of the advance of 91,000 livres, they refused further financial assistance when the company failed to realize a profit in its first year of operation. [8] In his own defence Roma sent a letter to the Governor and Intendant of Ile Royale and Ile Saint-Jean and to the Lieutenant du Roi in Ile Saint-Jean. [9] He denied that any losses resulted from any fault of his own, indicated that he had in fact accomplished a surprising amount considering the financial backing he had had, and pointed out the deterrent effect the failure of such an enterprise would have on any other company contemplating a similar venture. Following the letter he drew up a detailed account of "Travaux de l'Etablissement de la Compagnie de I'lle Saint-Jean depuis le 18 juin, 1732 jusqu'au 18 août 1734." Here he set out each work, its purpose, and the manner in which it was constructed.

A cape 36 ft. high, sloping down to a length of 60 ft. and a width of 80 ft. formed the point which Roma chose as the site of his settlement. To protect the point from being washed into the sea, he levelled it off by reducing the peak and building up the base with rocks and timber. A pier 45 ft. long and 10 ft. wide was built out from the slope to facilitate the loading and unloading of boats. About 300 tons of stones were required for its construction. At the end of this pier at high tide, the water was 11 ft. deep. At one side, Roma had built a smaller wooden pier 40 ft. long by 12 ft. wide for the use of smaller shallops and canoes. Roma then cleared the cape for an area of about 1,700 ft. by 1,200 ft. Trees were cut down and the branches burned, and about 6,000 stumps of at least half a foot in diameter were removed. The whole area was then levelled to make way for buildings and walks.

Nine buildings were erected. Of the three main houses, one 80 ft. long with a store room was to house the company, another was for the fishermen, and the third was for the employees of the company and strangers. These buildings were divided into rooms, offices and alcoves in order to sleep 36 people comfortably and to enable Roma to lock up anything of value. Another building 50 ft. long was built for the ships' officers and their men, while a second one of the same length was to be a storehouse. For the master workmen and their assistants a building 62 ft. long was provided. Here Roma hoped, in the future, to establish a brewery for beer made from grain. Finally, three smaller buildings were erected for a bakery, a forge, and a stable. This construction called for 3,000 posts, 450 rafters, 200 rails, 50 flagstones, 170 beams, 5,000 planks and 1,500 joists. Any small openings were plugged with moss and clay. Some of this material was taken from the woods surrounding the settlement but some was brought from greater distances. Stones were collected and clay was transported about three-quarters of a league to build 13 chimneys and an oven of bricks.

To keep food, Roma had an ice-house built, and to supply it two wells were dug and four pumps installed. So that the ships might obtain fresh water more easily, he built up a spring near the shore which had been covered by six feet of water at high tide. When the winter ice destroyed this source, however, another abundant one was found six or seven hundred paces from the cape. Arrangements were made to carry water to the shallops at the shore.

Five small gardens surrounded by fences were laid out beside the houses, and two larger ones were set out beside the forge and the bakery. Such vegetables as cabbage and turnips were grown. Land was cleared and stumps removed for two more fields of about two and a half arpents each, one for peas and the other for wheat. These, too, were surrounded by fences. For future use, the land was cleared back from the cape about three-quarters of a league (two miles).

To preserve food from the heat in summer and excessive cold in winter, a large cellar 120 ft. long, 16 to 20 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. deep was built beside the company house. Forty heavy beams supported by piquets and trees serving as uprights were crossed by large logs and rafters. This was covered by brush and the earth removed from the cellar, and doors were built at either end. Much of the material was brought some distance from the woods.

Up to the time of writing (1734), Roma estimated that 800 quintals of flour had been used in the bakery, and about 1,200 barrels of water were drawn for drinking, washing, making beer and watering the horses. A large amount of wood was used to keep fires going in the 13 fireplaces night and day for 7 months of the year.

In addition to the buildings, two large reservoirs for water, two small flat boats, two canoes and six shallops for fishing were built, as well as three small boats to carry supplies and a framework for operating the sail on a ship. Food for the animals in the form of coarse marsh grass was brought from the area around the Rivière d'Esturgeons (Sturgeon Creek).

To facilitate transportation from the woods and other settlements, roads were constructed. The first road to St. Peter's, about 8 leagues away, included a bridge 75 ft. long by 12 ft. wide. This road was subsequently abandoned because, although it crossed two rivers, there were still two leagues of water to be traversed. It was replaced by a road of eight and one half leagues which avoided the rivers. A road to St. Peter's was vital because of the important fishing station there, and because the voyage by water was 22 leagues long and uncertain in an emergency in a wind-propelled vessel.

Roads were also built to the Rivière d'Esturgeons, about 1,200 paces; to Port a la Rivière du Nord, about one league; to Souris, four or five leagues away; and to Port La Joye to assure the Lieutenant du Roi in Ile Saint-Jean of communication in case of a war with England. The road to St. Peter's was the best one. Many trees were left lying across the road to Port La Joye. The road to Souris was made in the hope of establishing a fishing centre there, but this plan did not materialize because the harbour was more rocky than anticipated.

Roma described in detail the considerable progress made in clearing the land and setting up a fishing station at St. Peter's. Storehouses, drying platforms, and buildings to house the men were built and about 55 people were involved in fishing operations there. Supplies of commodities like bread, salt, spirits and molasses were sent to St. Peter's from Three Rivers.

Roma envisaged the colony as a center for the fishing industry, and as the hub of a three-cornered trade between Quebec, Ile Saint-Jean and the West Indies. [10] Not only would the company's five large ships be used to take fish to France, but also they would carry food from Quebec to Ile Saint-Jean until the latter colony became self sufficient. Then they would proceed to the West Indies, loaded with fish and lumber, and return with sugar, molasses and coffee.

Despite his detailed account of his achievements, Roma's partners in France continued to feel that he was not doing his best and that the company was suffering unnecessary losses. By way of comment it should be noted that those on the spot, De Pensens, [11] St. Ovide and Le Normant, [12] all wrote in praise of Roma's work. In the fail of 1736, Roma began negotiating with his partners in France and the Minister of the Marine, and the next May, after his partners decided to cede to him the grant in eastern Ile Saint-Jean, he became sole proprietor and Commandant of his concession, under the aegis of Louisbourg. [13]

On his return from his visit to France in 1737, Roma wrote a report to the Minister of Affairs in the colony, [14] in which he described progress in his settlement. In his absence his son had been forced to distribute part of the seed wheat for food, so the crop of wheat was small, although the crop in oats and peas had been successful. He had authorized the marriage of two of his people and was planning to establish them in such a way as to make others desire similar treatment.

The Father Superior of the Récollets was still a subject of complaint: not only had he enticed away the two girls and a cooper, but also he had lured away three of Roma's men, who took a fully rigged shallop and sailed for Louisbourg. Roma asked for seed from Louisbourg, and begged the Minister to consider his action favourably, because now that he was alone in the venture, it was more difficult for him to defend his position.

Further difficulties beset Roma. In 1738, a plague of field mice completely ruined crops throughout the island. [15] Another problem was that of attracting settlers to the colony. Because newcomers to the island tended to prefer to take up free land from the Crown rather than settle under a seigneur, Roma was forced to bring in as settlers convicted salt smugglers who had been allowed to choose between the galleys and the colonies. [16]

In the spring of 1741, Roma was again writing of difficulties, this time the loss of a ship and all its cargo in a shipwreck. [17] By the next fall he found himself forced to ask for an advance of 500 livres which he hoped to repay the following year from a more successful crop and fishing season. [18]

Roma's venture in Ile Saint-Jean came to an end on June 20, 1745, when English troops from the victorious expedition to Louisbourg landed at Three Rivers and completely destroyed the establishment there. According to the account of Prevost, Commissaire-Ordonnateur at Ile Royale, Roma, his son, daughter and five servants escaped to the woods while the enemy looted and destroyed by fire all that remained. The company's defences consisted of one small six-pounder which must have been useless against the invaders. Besides the buildings, Roma lost 60 bushels of wheat, 10 bushels of oats, 8 bushels of peas, 4 horses, 50 sheep, 10 cows, 10 calves, 20 pigs and about 100 fowl. [19] Having no alternative but starvation, Roma made his way to St. Peter's and from there to Quebec. The settlement at Three Rivers ceased to exist.

Roma spent the remaining war years in Quebec where he was employed with the Royal Magazines. In 1752, he was suggested as a possible replacement for M. des Goutins as Sub-Delegate of the intendant in Ile Saint-Jean, but was not appointed, perhaps on Prevost's advice. [20]

Roma spent some time in Martinique after leaving New France. Although he never returned to Ile Saint-Jean, his interest in it continued. From Martinique he sent to the Minister an elaborate plan for the development of that island and Ile Royale [21]

Roma's settlement was completely destroyed. In the 1740s and early 1750s as tension built up between the French and the English over possession of Nova Scotia, more and more Acadians were finding their way to French territory in Ile Saint-Jean. Settling them on lands not already ceded was a problem, however. De Bonnaventure and des Goutins, Commandant and sub-delegate of the intendant, were eventually instructed to cede lands unoccupied or only partly occupied to these new settlers. If the owners objected and could produce good claims, the newcomers would be required to pay cens et rentes on the same scale used in Canada. [22] This ruling applied to Roma's territory, but no new settlement appears to have been made on it before 1755.

In the summer of 1751, Colonel Franquet, an officer of the Engineers who had been sent out to supervise the new fortifications at Louisbourg, visited Ile Saint-Jean and produced a detailed report describing the situation there making various recommendations for its development. During the course of his tour, he inspected the very fine harbour and good soil at Three Rivers. [23] He remarked that there were neither inhabitants nor buildings at the site of the establishment destroyed in 1745. Although it appeared that Roma was never going to take up his land again, his charter was still in force. For this reason, settlers preferred, instead of settling on these lands, to take up Crown lands where their titles would be more secure. Franquet recommended that this situation be resolved so that full use might be made of the advantages offered by the site. He considered Three Rivers as a strategic area for defence and shelter, and so recommended the construction of a masonry redoubt. This recommendation was not implemented, however. [24]

At the time of the census of the Sieur de la Roque in 1753, there were no inhabitants at Three Rivers. [25] in 1755, however, missionaries reported to the Abbé de i'lle Dieu, Vicar General, that there were 101 persons at Three Rivers, that more were arriving, and that a missionary was badly needed. [26] (it was in 1755 that the French Fort Beauséjour in the Isthmus of Chignecto fell and Acadian inhabitants of Nova Scotia were expelled from the province. Many Acadians who had escaped the expulsion made their way to Ile Saint-Jean, and it was these refugees who now appeared at Three Rivers.) After the final capitulation of Louisbourg in 1758, the English policy with regard to Ile Saint-Jean was one of deportation, and it appears that the residents of Three Rivers went to the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. [27]

In 1765, as part of his general survey of British North America, Captain Samuel Holland surveyed the island. The island was to be divided into counties, parishes and township lots, and Brudenell Point fell into lot 53 of St. George's Parish in King's County. In his remarks about the boundaries of the lots, however, Holland said that there were no cleared lands nor houses in lot 53. [28]

It has been difficult to find records detailed enough to indicate whether or not any actual building took place at Brudenell Point after the destruction of Roma's settlement in 1745. If the refugees undertook any construction between 1755 and 1758, no record of it is known. Holland found no houses or cleared lots in 1765. D. C. Harvey, in his introduction to Walter Johnstone's Letters, says that in 1803, 22 newcomers settled at Brudenell. [29] There is, however, a town called Brudenell a few miles back from the point and it could have been to this site that the settlers came. John Stewart, describing Prince Edward Island in 1806, said that the Earl of Selkirk, the Earl of Westmoreland and the Honourable Robert Dundas Saunders, who owned lot 53, were starting settlement there. [30] in his chapter entitled "Discovery and Settlement," however, Stewart [31] referred to the French settlement which had been abandoned on Brudenell Point, and said that "on this there seems to have been about 200 acres of cleared land." It would appear, therefore, that the settlers of 1803 mentioned by Harvey were not at the point. In 1926, Harvey wrote that the only reminder of the 13 years Roma had spent at Brudenell Point was a solitary depression in the ground. [32] Helen Jean Champion, in 1939, saw one long and three smaller depressions marking the site of the settlement at Three Rivers although these could represent the remains of building of a later period. [33]

At the site now there are what appear to be remains of several foundations, a well and some brick debris back from the shore. Until 1968, there has been no proper excavation done at the site, although there is evidence that amateurs have been digging haphazardly. There has been considerable shoreline recession over the years on the point, and it is possible that part of the site is now under water. A professionally conducted archaeological investigation begun in 1968 is expected to reveal much more accurately how much of the original site remains.

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