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First French Colony Commemorated in Maine

June 27, 2004|From Associated Press

ST. CROIX ISLAND, Maine — Delegates from three nations gathered Saturday on a rain-swept outcropping to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first French colony in North America.

The tiny island settlement lasted about a year at the confluence of two rivers that form a cross, giving it the name St. Croix.

Explorers Pierre Dugua and Samuel Champlain founded the settlement in 1604, joined by 77 other men. They abandoned it after nearly half of the colonists died during a harsh winter.

"We have to remember that this is one of the places where it all started. There's a huge French presence in North America," said Paul Cellucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada. "A lot of citizens in the United States can trace their roots back to this very island."

During a ceremony, Cellucci and representatives of Canada, France and the Passamaquoddy Indian tribe remembered the arrival of the French on two galleons in Passamaquoddy Bay.

"We remember that the first French to come here were welcomed by the Passamaquoddy Indians, and we want to say that we still share a friendship," said Xavier Darcos, the French representative.

The French reached St. Croix three years before the British colonists who landed at Jamestown and 16 years before the Pilgrims sailed the Mayflower to Plymouth. The Spanish had the first European settlement on the continent, establishing St. Augustine, Fla., in 1565.

Dugua chose the island because it appeared defensible and well-suited to his planned settlement. The settlers cleared a site, planted gardens and erected dwellings: a kitchen, a storehouse, a blacksmith shop and a chapel.

The first snow fell that October, starting an unusually harsh winter. With the river choked by ice, the settlers lost access to the mainland and ran low on drinking water, food and firewood. Thirty-five of them died and were buried on the island.

After a ship arrived in June, Dugua moved the settlement to Nova Scotia at a site Champlain named Port Royal.

The abandoned settlement became known as Bone Island in the 1700s when erosion exposed the remains of many of the buried settlers.

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