Raymond J. Lahey
For some 50 years in the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Placentia area was the scene of an attempt by gallant French colonists to establish in this province a stronghold for their colonial enterprise. This endeavour was continued in the face of hardships of all sorts: climate, terrain, poverty, privation, and above all, war. It was an attempt, as we shall see, which brought out the best and the worst in these early adventurers. Placentia had its share alike of exploiters and profiteers, and of men who were dedicated to building up a new land. Unlike the English, who often looked upon Newfoundland as one great fishing ship anchored in the North Atlantic, the French were interested in establishing not merely fishing premises, but a true colony - a permanent settlement with full civil government, a stable economic basis, and every amenity.
Placentia, of course, pre-existed the French settlers. Plaisance, the name that they gave it, is found on the chart of Nicholas Vallard of Dieppe as early as 1547. It seems that Plaisance was the French version of the name taken over from the Spanish town of Placentia on the Basque coast. We do not know when "the island of Placentia", as it was then often called, was first settled, but we do know that there were English settlers there before the French arrived in 1662. The account exists of a man named Issac Dethick who was settled here and saw the French arrive in force. He testified that he was forced to move from his plantation in Placentia and settle on the northeast coast at the Bay of Ards (Bay de Verde). Another man named Mulins who was also an inhabitant of Placentia at this time was similarly forced to vacate his premises and move to the northern coast.
The founder of Placentia was Nicholas Gargot, who first visited Newfoundland in 1650, and who in 1660 was named Compte de Plaisance and governor of the island of Newfoundland. (He had the less dignified nickname of "peg-leg".) Opposition from French mercantile interests, however, forced Gargot to postpone his colonizing efforts in Newfoundland for several years after the royal grant. His choice of Placentia as a capital for his new colony was a logical one. Placentia lay outside that territory between Cape Race and Cape Bonavista that was actively claimed by the English. Although there were English settlers there, Placentia was already used by some French fishermen as a wintering spot. It was close to bait supplies in the form of the schools of herring that abounded upon the Cape Shore. Needless to say, there was plenty of room for the splitting and drying of fish not only in Placentia itself, but in the outlying settlements of Little Placentia (Petit Plaisance) and Point Verde. The beach of Placentia with its acres of pebble could easily become the base of the great Placentia Bay fishery, whose fish was reputed to be "more delicate and tasty than in any other place" on the island. The port facilities were well sheltered and provided a good anchorage for vast numbers of ships. Placentia had the added advantage of being almost totally ice free, allowing fishermen there to have an earlier start in their fishery than the English fishermen on the north and east coasts, who were sometimes bothered by ice well into April and May. Militarily, the new French capital was within striking distance of the English centre of St. John's, which at this time was weak and without fortification of any kind. It afforded protection to the French fishing vessels on the Grand Banks, and stood as an outpost guarding the St. Lawrence River basin and thus the settlements of New France. For the defense of the town itself, the hills which rose above the beach provided suitable ground for fortification and gun emplacements. All things considered, Gargot must have been well satisfied.
In October 1662, according to the English settler Dethick, a great French ship full of men and women (probably the Aigle d'Or, the "Golden Eagle") put into the harbour of Great Placentia and landed a large number of soldiers and settlers. The harbour was soon fortified with 18 pieces of ordinance, and the English settlers were shown the governor's commission under the Great Seal of France for the command of the whole country of Newfoundland. The season was late, and Gargot himself soon went on to Quebec City for the winter. However, he left behind him as governor one Thalour du Perron, a native of Nantes, together with Perron's brother, and an unnamed priest to serve as chaplain to his new colony. Gargot's chaplain was not the first Catholic priest to be regularly settled in Newfoundland; there were priests stationed in Lord Baltimore's colony at Ferryland between 1627 and 1629. He was, however, the first resident priest since that time, and it is with his appointment that the story of religion in Placentia had its beginning.
If even in later years Placentia's was a history of constant hardship, the first days of the colony were marred by nothing less than stark tragedy. Contemporary evidence indicates that the party of colonists organized by Gargot had been recruited in a very casual fashion, and that du Perron, his brother, and the chaplain were all three young and inexperienced. Although the colony was apparently well supplied with amunition and provisions, the garrison there suddenly mutinied during the winter. When the three men who had been entrusted with the care of the infant colony returned one day to the settlement from a hunting expedition, they were attacked by several of their own soldiers. The two du Perron brothers were immediately shot to death. The chaplain, who bravely tried to resist, was forced to flee into the woods. The rebels then took command of the fort. They molested several women, but soon took to fighting among themselves, so that a dozen or fifteen of the original garrison were left dead. Several days later, the poor priest, by now dying of hunger in the woods, had no choice but to throw himself at the mercy of the rebels. His efforts to save himself, however, were in vain. The rebels cut off his hands and split his head open with a hatchet. Only this record of his brutal death today marks the memory of Placentia's first incumbent.
His assassins, however, fared even worse. In the spring of 1663, fearing the consequences of their dastardly act, they boarded fishing boats, and with spoils taken from the fort they set out for the English colonies of America. There they thought to escape punishment for their crime. Twice they tried, but were forced each time to return to the fort for new provisions. By this time, however, Capt. Jean Guillon, Gargot's deputy, had arrived at Placentia with new colonists and fresh supplies. As soon as he had unloaded his ship he was able to capture several of the rebels and take them into custody. At sea he came across several others whom he also took prisoner. The rebels were transported to Quebec where they were placed in irons aboard Gargot's command ship. Only eight of thirty were still alive. Since Placentia was a separate colony from that of New France, the prisoners were not tried by the courts at Quebec, but by Gargot himself as governor of Placentia. He assembled aboard ship a council composed of officers from both his vessel and Guillon's, but it took few formalities to find the men guilty of killing the chaplain. For such a black crime they themselves were condemned to have their hands cut off and then to be hung and burned. So that there would be no dispute with the Quebec authorities about the executions, they were carried out on a large raft which was especially constructed and floated in the middle of the St. Lawrence River immediately in front of the city. The poor unfortunates were even forced to serve as executioners for their fellow rebels.
Thus ended that dark first chapter in the religious history of Placentia. From this time onwards, especially in the first years of its existence, the colony was beset with difficulties, but a brighter future was in store. In 1663, twenty new families were landed, with much better support than had been given to the earlier colonists. The major difficulties appeared to stem from the almost total dependence of the new colony upon the fisheries it was set up to protect. All attempts to broaden the colony's economic base failed, and raw material for every requirement had always to be imported from abroad. In these conditions, even necessities of life were often in short supply. Disputes, too, between the local inhabitants and the fishermen from the mother country were a frequent threat to the colony's security.
Despite this the colony grew and gradually became more stable. As regards the church establishment, we are fairly sure that there was a constant succession of priests at Placentia from the arrival of the Recollect fathers in 1689 to the departure of the French in 1714. Whether priests were regularly stationed there between 1662 and 1689 is less clear. The Vatican Archives do, however, record faculties given to the priest at Placentia in the year 1668. On this occasion, the name of the priest is given as being Pierre de Neufville, and he is described as missionary to Newfoundland. Again the census of Placentia for 1671 lists among the residents a Father Martin D'Hurte, who is recorded as being priest and chaplain to the garrison.
On balance, although there may not have been strict continuity, it is more than likely that even in this earlier period Placentia enjoyed the regular ministrations of resident priests. Testimony given by two English visitors to Placentia in 1681 includes the following statement: "They let no English live among them except they turn Roman Catholics: and there is a priest in every ship and they leave some behind to keep the people steadfast in their religion." We do not know when the first church was constructed at Placentia, but we do know that a church existed in Placentia well before the Recollect Fathers legally established a parish there in 1689. In fact, the census of the French population of Newfoundland in 1687 lists churches not only at Placentia and St. Pierre, but also in Hermitage, Grand Bank, Fortune Bay, Havre Bertrand (probably Harbour Breton), and possibly in St. Mary's. There is still extant an order of the King for 1688 showing that a priest was sent from France to Newfoundland in that year, and there was certainly a chaplain to the garrison already established at Placentia when the Recollect Fathers arrived one year later.
The establishment of a Recollect monastery on the beach at Placentia in 1689, however, represented a new era of stability for the church in the area. Newfoundland had come under the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Quebec with the French settlement at Placentia in 1662. In fact, the first bishop, Bishop Laval, sailed to Canada in 1662 on one of the ships accompanying Gargot, but he bypassed Placentia and went on to Quebec. It was Bishop Jean St. Vallier, the second bishop of Quebec, however, who was instrumental in placing the church at Placentia on a more solid foundation. The evidence indicates that the Bishop attempted to recruit priests from France for the colonies of Canada, including Placentia, when he went to France to be consecrated a bishop in 1688. He was an energetic and forceful figure, and seems to have taken a keen interest in this most isolated settlement of his vast diocese. In April of 1689 he prepared to visit Newfoundland himself, and directed the superior of the Recollect Fathers at Quebec City to supply two priests for the new mission that he would establish at Placentia. The Recollects were a branch of the Franciscan order, the word of Recollect being the title commonly used in France to denote a religious of the Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M.). At the same time the Bishop gave his own formal permission for the establishment of a regular parish at Placentia to be cared for by the Recollect priests who would go there. The permission of the King, which by French law was also required for the establishment of any new parish, was applied for at the same time.
The letter that Bishop St. Vallier addressed to the Recollect Fathers at Quebec still survives. The Bishop said that he was motivated particularly by the interests of the salvation and spiritual profit of the inhabitants of Newfoundland, both permanent residents and those who came there for the fishing season. He continued by saying: "we have proposed to take you with us as the companions of our travels and our labours, with the intention that in the town commonly called Placentia you may have a hospice or even a convent the better to facilitate your labours for the salvation of the inhabitants of that place." The Bishop further spelled out the responsibilities of the priests who would go to Placentia; "We allow you," he said, "to erect in the said town, a hospice or even a convent with whatever means are furnished by pious persons; and there to exercise the usual duties of your order. The chapel also, which has been consecrated to God in the said town; the sacred vessels destined for divine worship, and the ecclesiastical vestments which shall be in the said chapel at the time of our visitation shall belong to you there being and residing, as far as the statutes of your order allow. It is our will also that you discharge the duties of the mission to the faithful and towards the unbelievers in the said town and other places adjacent." (Presumably the Bishop was here referring to the neighbouring settlements of Little Placentia and Pointe Verde.) The Recollects from Quebec would have the perpetual care of the new parish as long as they provided one clergyman permanently assigned to parish duties. As the Bishop put it, "Since it is our intention to assist you in the work so conducive to the salvation of souls, we have desired that the parish either already erected in the said town or to be erected by us, since the care of it has hitherto been entrusted to some pastor not fixed, as not being installed by us or by our illustrious predecessor, be united and attributed to your order on condition that the care of it be deputed to one individual selected from among the religious who dwell in the said hospice or convent approved by us." The financial arrangements for the new parish were to be quite straightforward. All the royal bounties and any charitable donations would go to the Recollect Fathers, as would all dues, tithes and offerings.
Bishop St. Vallier became the first Roman Catholic Bishop to set foot in Newfoundland when he arrived in Placentia in a ship he had chartered for the purpose on June 21, 1689. He stayed there exactly one month, leaving for St. Pierre on the 21st of July. The evidence is conclusive that Placentia was already supplied with a priest, for the Bishop's first official act was to request the governor, Parat, to relieve the existing chaplain of his duties, and to replace him with the Recollects whom Bishop St. Vallier had brought with him. The Bishop further requested, and Governor Parat agreed, that the new priests would be paid the remainder of the chaplain's salary for the present year.
With Bishop St. Vallier had come two Recollect Fathers, Father Sixtus (Sixte) Le Tac and Father Joseph Denys. It appears that they were also accompanied by the famous Recollect lay brother and carpenter, Brother Didaché (born Claude Pelletier) with whom numerous miracles were said to have been associated, and for whom proceedings were later started with a view to his canonization as a saint. Father Le Tac was appointed by the Bishop as superior of the monastery, and as chaplain to the fort on the Jersey Side. Father Denys was to be his Vicar General and assistant in these capacities, and also parish priest for the civil population, thus becoming the first regularly established pastor of Placentia.
Father Le Tac had been born in Rouen in France in 1650, but came to Canada in 1676. He is reputed to be the author of the famous Histoire Chronologique de la Nouvelle France. The editor of this posthumously published work says that Le Tac completed at least a part of this history while he was stationed at Placentia. If this were the case, his work would be the second published book to have been written in Newfoundland, (after Robert Hayman's Quodlibets written in Conception Bay some 60 years earlier). Apparently, however, Le Tac stayed on in Placentia for only a few months - until the middle of September, 1689, when he returned to France. He died in France in 1718.
His companion, Placentia's first regular parish priest, Father Joseph Denys, was not in fact a Frenchman, but a native Canadian, having been born in 1657 at Three Rivers in Quebec. He had been ordained in 1682 and had spent six years serving the parish of Percé on the Gaspé peninsula. How long he remained in Placentia is uncertain, although his stay lasted at least several years. He later served at Montreal, as superior of the Recollects at Quebec, in Three Rivers, and as Vicar-General of the Bishop of Quebec in Louisburg, on Cape Breton. He died at Quebec in 1736.
Having set up the Recollects in Placentia, Bishop St. Vallier went on his ship to St. Pierre to establish a similar foundation there. Since the Bishop was still travelling within the boundaries of the territory of the Governor of Newfoundland, the Governor sent with him as an escort the Lieutenant Governor Philippe Pastour de Costabelle. One of the two priests from Placentia apparently went along as well, as did a contingent of soldiers for protection, and Governor Parat was a bit put out that he had to supply a warship to bring the group back to Placentia. Apart from accompanying the bishop, the party had the secondary mission of buying some bread, which apparently was quite scarce in the Placentia of that day.
It was Lieutenant Governor Pastour de Costabelle who acted as syndic or trustee for the Recollect Fathers when they purchased a property for their house on September 7th of the same year. This arrangement was necessary since the Recollect priests, as members of a religious order with a solemn vow of poverty, could not hold property in their own names. Their new property was purchased from a settler named Jean-Georges Jougla, who was obliged to return to France because of constant illness, and was located on the beach at Placentia, or as the French referred to it, the Great Beach. The property purchased was adjacent to the church land and consisted of a house and the surrounding land, a strip of beach, a stage, an oil press and also a bunk house which served as lodging for fishermen. The purchase price of the whole property was 1200 pounds, almost half of which had been received in donations since the arrival of the priests in Placentia.
The nature of the property purchase, which was in fact, fishing premises, raised an interesting sidelight to the history of the Recollects at Placentia. Despite the Bishop's permission allowing them to keep all dues, tithes and offerings received, there are indications that the Recollect priests at Placentia may to some extent have been supported by the prosecution of the fishery. The Governor stated that the priests had acquired four fishing boats with their premises. Presumably fishing crews worked these boats on behalf of the parish, just as other crews manned boats owned by the more affluent planters of the place. Later correspondence mentions that if the Recollects managed their affairs well, they could expect to get 6 pounds per quintal for their fish, and could also benefit from both the royal bounty given by France for all fish from Newfoundland, and the free shipment of fish that was provided.
The establishment of the Recollect Fathers at Placentia was not, however, an event that received acclaim from every quarter. Almost immediately, there were serious difficulties between the priests and Governor Parat. His own conduct had apparently been the cause of considerable comment and scandal, in that he had set up a house on the beach where he lived with a lady who was not his wife and by whom he had several children. When he came, Bishop St. Vallier saw to it that mother and children were quickly transported back to France. On these circumstances, Governor Parat could hardly be blamed for his complaint to the Minister of marine of the expense of his having to provide an escort ship in connection with the Bishop's voyage. He had also some questions concerning the Bishop's authority to remove the chaplain already assigned to the garrison at Placentia (with whom Parat apparently got along), and to replace him with the Recollects.
It seems that Governor Parat's dispute with the Bishop spilled over into his dealings with the new priests. In the middle of September Father Le Tac returned to France, apparently with the double purpose of forwarding letters from the Bishop requesting more missionaries for Canada, and to report to the French authorities on the state of affairs of the government of Placentia. The Governor himself wrote at the same time a strong defense of his position to the Minister of Marine, a document which aired the serious differences he seems to have had with the two priests, although without mentioning the Bishop's removal of his mistress. He told the Minister "Father Sixte Le Tac is returning to France. He will tell you that I have created great difficulties, because their property takes up the finest beach and the plan they have to fence in everything will be a great disturbance to public convenience." He continued with a statement that with regard to Placentia has to be considered an exaggeration, telling the Minister: "Beach is scarce and without beach I am unable to get more settlers...." In an earlier letter, he had already complained to the Minister of the great disadvantage for the military not to have a chaplain at the fort, since the soldiers had to cross the Gut to get to church. He felt that the priests were established on the beach only for their own convenience. He now wrote even more pointedly to the Minister, expressing his dislike of religious orders generally, and the Recollects in particular: "I assure you, my Lord, that two secular priests, one on the beach and the other at the fort, would be all that would be required.... You know that religious clergy are never satisfied and that they are always reaching out for something. They say that having purchased the ground it is permissible for them to do with it what they will, but the interest of any third party is ignored, and in the way in which they buy and pay, it is easy to acquire things...."
Nor were the Recollect Fathers the only persons who had trouble with the Governor. At this time also, Pastour de Costabelle, his deputy, wrote to France to explain to the Minister his own difficulties. The letter testifies to his lack of confidence in the Governor's abilities or judgement. As he wrote to the Minister, "I tell you, my Lord, that because M. Parat knows nothing less well than the work in which chance has placed him, everything causes him to take offence, especially myself; he would like to have as few witnesses as possible to his actions in a distant land, by which he treated me in the most shameful manner possible at the door of the church." Costabelle explained that "the only cause for this was a pew that the Bishop permitted me to place in the church, as he could have done for any private individual. To tell you the truth, all this came about only because the Bishop deprived him of the married woman he was keeping and shamed him greatly about his way of life, and he believed I was the cause of this, as if everybody were not ready to speak out against him when the Bishop arrived." Pastour de Costabelle felt that the Governor had singled him out because of his association with the priests, or as he put it, "because I aided with my backing the Recollect Fathers whom the Bishop stationed here, having done this only at his request, and for my part in the purchase of a dwelling for their convent, as they were no more exempt than I was from his brusqueness, even in church, as you will learn from the superior, who will call on you at Versailles." The complaints of Costabelle, Father Le Tac, and perhaps other colonists as well seem to have had an effect, for the following year Parat was obliged to resign as Governor and withdraw from the affairs of Newfoundland.
In the meantime, the state of affairs in the colony had reached one of the lowest ebbs of its history. In February 1690, forty-five English privateers took Placentia by surprise. They captured the Governor and the Commandant of the fort, and quickly disarmed the garrison. The whole population was shut up in the church while the English pillaged houses and raided stores. It was only when the English left almost six weeks later that the people were released, but even this left them defenceless and without adequate food supplies in the middle of winter.
Nor was this the only disaster to visit Placentia in 1690. During the month of August there were constant fights and disagreements between the local inhabitants and the Basque fishermen who had come over for the summer. So numerous were the Basques that it proved impossible for the Governor and the troops present in Placentia to maintain order, and for a while there was near anarchy in the town. This very nasty situation was cooled down only by the efforts of Father Denys, still the Pastor of the parish, and apparently the only priest now in Placentia. He was obliged to risk his life to disarm a murderer who threatened to kill whoever dared to approach him. Costabelle was loud in his praise of the priest's gallantry; he wrote in his account of the affair, "If it were not for his intervention many would have been killed or wounded."
A letter from Father Denys himself to the Minister of Marine in France illustrates the dire straits to which the people of Placentia were reduced at this time. Father Denys said that as the missionary of the Bishop of Quebec in the town, he felt obliged "to take the liberty of addressing this little word to you to beg you...to take pity on a poor people exposed to the fury of a thousand English brigands and pirates, as well as renegades deserted from the ships from St. Malo, who are spread throughout this island and threatened nothing less than the entire destruction of this poor colony. We have every reason, my Lord, to learn from the distressing trial that we suffered this past winter, and after having been robbed of all our goods and the imprisonment of six weeks in the church during the worst rigors of the winter, that if our lives were preserved it was not through the good intentions of the English inhabitants who wanted to spare only the women so that they could bring them with them to their settlements, but (because) God, who does not wish the death of sinners, did not permit the pirates to carry out their will." He asked the minister for any assistance he could give, saying: "I beg your excellency in the depths of charity and in the compassion of Our Lord and His Holy Mother to take pity on the nearly thirty families exposed not only to the usual cruelty of the English, but also to the inhumanity of wretches who respect neither faith nor law."
At this time Governor Parat left for France to report on the perilious state of affairs in the colony and to tender his resignation. In the interim which preceeded the appointment of a new Governor, his place was taken by Costabelle, who maintained his excellent relations with the Recollect Fathers. As acting Governor, Costabelle stressed to the minister of marine in 1690 "the necessity that exists, for the glory of God and the salvation of a number of souls who until now have lived in great blindness with regard to Christianity, to sustain the establishment of the Recollect Fathers whom his Lordship the Bishop of Quebec has sent as missionaries to this land. You can well believe, my Lord, the good that would be done if there were a total of three or five religious, because of the distant location of several inhabitants who live worse than the savages...." Costabelle was apparently referring to the French population scattered in the tiny settlement throughout Placentia and St. Mary's Bays and along the south coast of the island. No immediate action to provide additional priests seems to have resulted, however, for Costabelle repeated his request the following year. Again he stressed the good work that was being done by the Recollect Fathers, and said that nothing better could be done than to add to their number and so to enable them to continue to bear fruit in their labours.
By 1692 some semblence of stability had been restored, and Placentia's fortunes had taken a turn for the better. On the 1st of April, the new Governor of Placentia, M. De Brouillan, was placed under the authority of the Governor of New France at Quebec, Count Frontenac. At the same time it was confirmed that in matters spiritual too, Placentia would remain under the jurisdiction of Quebec and its bishops.
It is obvious that a colony as impoverished as Placentia appears to have been throughout this period could not easily support its parish without outside support. Some discussion took place with officials of the government in France of financial arrangements adequate to place the parish at Placentia on a sound footing. The interviews held at this time indicate that the government was more than eager to do whatever was necessary to secure this end. It was then that the suggestion was made that a major part of the priests' subsistence might come from the prosecution of the fisheries and the profits to be made on this.
It was probably as a result of these discussions in France that a month or so later, in April, 1692, King Louis XIV by royal decree confirmed the establishment of the parish at Placentia and its entrustment to the Recollects. The parish of Our Lady of the Angels, as it was known - presumably so called after the Recollect monastery of the same name at Quebec City - thus became the first legally established Roman Catholic parish in Newfoundland. Presumably the Recollect Fathers were conducting themselves in a manner acceptable to the government, for the royal decree spoke for "all the spiritual succors which might be expected from their zeal and piety." The decree noted the presence of the Order in other Canadian settlements. The King mentioned that the Recollects were permitted "to continue their establishments as well in the said city of Quebec, as in Ville Marie, Montreal, and the island of Placentia. In the said places they shall discharge the functions of chaplains to our troops, and shall exercise the parochial functions wherever the Bishop shall judge necessary." It was provided that the Recollect priests were to receive the allowances paid by the government to military chaplains. They also received a grant of money from the King and exemption from taxation.
Some authors have suggested that Father Joseph Denys returned to Quebec in 1690, and that during 1691 there was no priest stationed at Placentia. However, it seems somewhat more likely that Father Denys remained at Placentia until 1692, when he was transferred to Montreal to head a new Recollect parish there. It is also likely that he was replaced at Placentia by other members of his order, whose names are not now known to us.
Later that same year, most likely in December, Bishop St. Vallier directed to the inhabitants of Newfoundland the first pastoral letter of a Bishop ever known to be addressed to this island. He proclaimed the jubilee in honour of the election of the new Pope, Innocent XII. The text of his letter well illustrates the awareness of the bishop of the unfortunate situation of his flock in these parts, and his concern for their welfare:
For your consolation, my very dear children, in Our Lord, I would very much like to inform you by this letter that I have not forgotten you before Him. I believe I am unable to give you a greater proof of this than in testifying to you that I have taken every possible care to provide for you several good Recollects to live among you. How much am I convinced that our worldly sufferings come only from the lack of care that we take to put an end to our sins. I ask you now to make a real act of penance to enter into the Spirit of the Church and the Soverign Pontiff, whom Our Lord has willed to give us in this unhappy time of war, for the solace of the Christian world. Prepare yourself, therefore...to receive the graces that he wishes to obtain for you by the Jubilee. There is no sin for which you cannot have forgiveness; there is no abundant grace which you cannot receive. I ask Our Lord to comfort you in your present poverty by making you rich in his graces and his gifts; I implore Him with all my heart to give you holy fear of offending Him and His sacred love. These are the wishes that I extend, and that I will continue to extend on your behalf, with all the affection and all the fondness of which I am capable.
Jean, Bishop of Quebec.
With the new governor, M. de Brouillan, the Recollect priests did not by any means seem to have experienced the same difficulties as they had under Governor Parat's regime. In 1693, Bishop St. Vallier was able to write to the superiors of the Recollect province of St. Denis in France, the headquarters of the priests then stationed in Placentia, declaring that the Governor and the inhabitants of Placentia appeared to have great esteem and affection for their priests. The following year, Governor de Brouillan gave the priests an additional section of land so as they could add onto their residence and at the same time open a new cemetery. The census of Placentia for 1694 shows that the Recollect Fathers were in possession of a church, a house with a garden and courtyard, as well as the cemetery. As regards the location of the church in contemporary terms, it is very likely that it was on or near the site of the present Anglican church. When the English occupied Placentia in 1714 they used the old French church for Anglican services. It was in a decayed state in 1759, and demolished sometime before 1770; it seems however, that succeeding buildings were constructed on the same site. It is from the cemetery that we have some of our few reminders of the French colony at Placentia still preserved, in the form of several of the original tomb stones, the earliest dating to 1676. It is notable that a sizeable number of them were not in the French language but were inscribed in Basque, indicative of the substantial proportion of Basque fishermen and settlers who must have lived and worked in Placentia.
Regarding the actual parish life of the day, we have unfortunately only a minimum of information. We do know that the church, which was in fact at first more of a chapel than a large church, was enlarged by Governor de Brouillan. The Governor requested for his purpose a donation from the King to decorate the interior. The King responded by a gift of up to 400 pounds for the purchase of a picture portraying his ancestor, St. Louis of France, and several other ornaments. We do know also that the parish had one unusual custom. It became a practice that the two captains who were first to arrive in the harbour of Placentia for the fishing season - the fishing Admiral and the Vice-Admiral - were given a place of honour in all ceremonies and processions and on the feast of Corpus Christi carried the platform for the blessed sacrament together with the two churchwardens of the parish.
In 1701 the Recollect province of St. Denis in France ceased to have responsibility for serving Placentia. By order of the King this responsibility was transferred instead to the Recollect province of Trittany. The King wrote at the time to Sieur de Monic, the assistant governor of Placentia, to inform him of the change, and to notify him that Recollect Fathers from the province of Brittany would soon be arriving at Placentia, one to undertake the functions of chaplain in the fort, and two others to act as parish priests to the inhabitants. By this time then, the number of priests resident in Placentia had increased to three. The king insisted that all the usual contributions and fees should be paid, both by the inhabitants and by the garrison. The Recollect Fathers from Brittany continued to serve Placentia until the departure of its French inhabitants in 1714. Unfortunately, however, we know relatively little of their activities in this period.
During the last two decades of its existence as a French colony Placentia was plagued by the very worst of its enemies - war. The French and the English were engaged in almost continuous hostilities throughout the 1690's and up until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1714. Consequently the function of the priests as military chaplains became, if not their most important, at least their most frequently recorded, role. A number of the chaplains accompanied the French troops in their various attacks on St. John's and other English settlements. Father Jean Baudoin, chaplain to Le Moyne d'Iberville left behind a very full account of the attacks made by the French in Newfoundland in 1696-1697, including the successful attack on St. John's. Baudoin, however, was not permanently attached to Placentia, but was a temporary chaplain to the troops who were brought there for the campaign against the English. His account contains several notable comments on the state of the English colonies; the lack of religion there apparently scandalized him. He wrote: "They have not a single minister of religion in these establishments; though more than twenty of them are larger settlements than Placentia. They do not know what religion they belong to. The greater part of them, born in this country, have never received any instruction, and never make any act of religion, no more than mere savages. Drunkenness and impurity are common and public among them, even among the women.... They endeavoured even to entice our men to evil." We know too that a man described as a Jesuit missionary and whose name was given as Goulding, almost certainly incorrectly on both counts - it was probably Father Antoine Gaulin, a priest of the Foreign Mission Society - accompanied Subercase's troops in their successful attack on St. John's in January 1705. He was a noted missionary among the Micmacs of Nova Scotia, and apparently accompanied the Indians who were included among Subercase's troops.
However, although the French won the battles in Newfoundland, they lost the war elsewhere. During that whole time the settlement at Placentia must have suffered constant hardship, not only from attack and threat of attack, but because of lack of adequate provisioning due to wartime conditions. There was a consequent drop in the French population from a peak of 520 in 1705 to only 225 in 1711.
It was on September 27, 1714, that the French colonists left Placentia for a new life on Cape Breton Island. The Peace of Utrecht had been a humane one, and the inhabitants of Placentia were given a year after its signing to settle their affairs. For many there was a chance to sell their premises to the officers of the English occupying force. A few families remained, since they were allowed to do so even retaining the practice of their religion, if they would simply declare their allegiance to the English Crown, but these were not many, at least from the Placentia area, for Costabelle had discouraged this as tantamount to treason. (The only family whose name is recorded as having remained is that of Charles Henri Mahier). Now the fishery over, and the fish cured for another season, the vast majority of the French settlers prepared to evacuate the colony begun fifty-two years earlier. The notices regarding the Treaty which dispossesed them were attached to the doors of the churches in the French settlements, a morbid reminder that they were abandoning everything that so many had laboured so hard to build. The figures of the past must have loomed large to them then: Bishop St. Vallier, who took such an interest in the mission of Placentia, Father Denys, their first parish priest, Pastour de Costabelle, who had worked so much on their behalf and who was now Governor himself and responsible for the move to Cape Breton. There must have been other figures too, whose names are now lost to us. We can only admire the attempt of these men and women to carve out a community here in spite of hardships. The chapel they left behind them eventually disappeared, but it is their faith and their dedication which remain as a much truer and more lasting memorial to their efforts.