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The Denys Story

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Nicolas Denys, son of Jacques Denys and Marie Cosnier, was baptized 2 June 1603 at Tours, a French city along the Loire River. He was sixth of ten children. His father was a member of French nobility - a counselor to Henry IV and accredited in the jurisdiction of Tours (écuyer, conseillir du roi et licencié en l’élection de Tours). Nicolas’ maternal grandfather was a furrier and Gentleman of the Bed Chamber (pelletier et valet de chambre du roi) to Henri IV.

Children of Jacques & Marie (Cosnier) Denys






bp. 24 Mar 1596

(1) ca. 1620 Antoine de Nervéeze (2) 13 Oct 1633 René Robin



bp. 10 Sep 1597

22 Feb 1646 Anne Pelou/Pellou

18 Mar 1648


bp. 26 Dec 1598




bp. 12 Jan 1600

(1) 26 May 1628 Jeanne Dubreuil
(2) 15 Jun 1643  Françoise Dutertre

11 Nov 1678


bp. 17 Sep 1601




bp. 2 Jun 1603

1 Oct 1642 Marguerite LaFitte

Jul 1688


bp. 27 Dec 1604

8 Jun 1627 Louis Robin de Mongenault

1 Jan 1679


bp. 15 Sep 1607




bp. 19 Nov 1608



bp. 25 Oct 1610


Many contemporary sources tell us that Nicolas Denys was born in 1598. I have been unable to substantiate that date with any primary source. In his Dictionnaire Généalogique Des Familles acadiennes, généalogiste Stephen White does not address Denys’ birth date - only his date of baptism. However, if one studies the Denys family chart above, the baptisms of these children derived from primary sources portray a fairly clear chronological order of birth. As a result, one might suggest that Nicolas was more likely born in 1603.

Denys emerges as a merchant in La Rochelle in the 1630’s, with apparent interest in mercantile trade beyond France. In Impressions of Cape Breton, Brian Tennyson suggests that Nicolas may have been a descendant of John Denys, the famous explorer who is said to have made a map of Canada in 1506. Should this be the case, Nicolas comes by his trade and colonization interests naturally.

To understand the life of Nicolas Denys in Acadia, one needs to have some understanding of the times in which he lived, the politics of those times and the people who had both positive and adverse affects on his goals and accomplishments. So the story begins with the Denys’ experiences in Acadia, moves to his successes on Cape Breton Island and ends with his final settlement in today’s New Brunswick.

As you read this, you will find some information that contradicts material already appearing on the Internet about Nicolas Denys and his compatriots. Simply, every possible effort has been made to confirm this biography with either primary source documents or material that accredits itself to primary source material. Additional research will take place during Winter 2004 with access to an appropriate facility. In the meantime, we’ll begin with Nicolas Denys’ first Acadian venture in 1632.

Isaac de Razilly: Isaac de Razilly was a French naval hero and a Commander of the Order of Malta. Peter Landry tells us in his History of Nova Scotia that, by 1626, de Razilly was an advisor to his cousin, Louis François Armand Jean du Plessis, Duc of Richelieu, Cardinal and Statesman of France. And Cardinal Richelieu, of course, was Chief Minister to France’s Louis XIII.

Together Richelieu and de Razilly founded the Company of New France, later called the Company of 100 Associates, a trading and colonizing group established in 1627 for the purpose of developing French colonial interests in North America. Its shareholders included merchants and court officials whose goal was to transport 4,000 settlers to New France by 1653 and to financially support their settlement effort over a period of three years. In return, the Company was granted a perpetual monopoly of the fur trade and a limited monopoly of other trade in French-controlled areas. Cardinal Richelieu, Samuel Champlain and Isaac de Razilly were among the founding members.

After its initial five-year operation, little progress had been made by the Company in establishing settlements in Acadia. Some support had been given to Champlain in Quebec and to the remnants of an earlier fur trade operation originally led by Charles Biencourt, a deceased naval commander and sieur of Poutrincourt. However, the 1632 Treaty of St-Germain-en-Laye returned undisputed ownership of Acadia to France, and this provided sufficient impetus for a renewed effort in Acadia. Company shareholders agreed that France should definitely step up new and more permanent settlements in North America, but it was a question of how to further fund the overseas operation. The solution was to split up massive territories and sell them off to smaller, private entrepreneurs.

Cardinal Richlieu appointed his cousin, Isaac de Razilly, Governor of Acadie and lieutenant- governor of all of New France. His mission, after three years of Scotish occupation, was to set up a seigneurial regime and re-establish the Acadian colony for France. This time de Razilly intended to establish a true French settlement in North America, instead of earlier temporary forts, trading posts, and fish depots.

To finance the operation, de Razilly, his brother Claude de Launay-Razilly and a financier named Jean Condonnier formed their own company named the Razilly-Condonnier Company.

Ships were chartered and colonists and engagées were recruited. De Razilly sailed 4 July 1632 from Auray, France, aboard l'Esperance de Dieu. (This fact was related in the Gazette of Théophraste Renaudot.) With him were two transports carrying 300 people, livestock, seeds, tools, arms, and everything needed to establish and maintain a community.

Two lieutenants came with de Razilly to Acadie: Charles de Menou d’Aulnay de Charnizay, said to be a relative of de Razilly, and Nicolas Denys, also reported to be related to de Razilly. D’Aulnay’s responsibility was to settle the new émigrés on the land and oversee their farming effort. Denys’ charge was to begin building up Acadian fisheries, the fur trade, and an export lumber trade with France. The group landed on the west shore of the La Hève river in September 1632. Once in Acadia, de Razilly took possession of Port Royal, drove the British away and sent home all of the Scots who had not yet left Nova Scotia.

Charles (Turgis) de Saint-Étienne, sieur de La Tour: By agreement, de Razilly and his group shared the area with Charles (Turgis) de Saint-Étienne, sieur de La Tour, (more commonly referred to these days as Charles La Tour.) La Tour came to Acadia in 1608 with his father, Claude and Jean
de Biencourt, sieur of Poutrincourt. He remained in the area with Poutrincourt’s son, Charles Biencourt, after the English raid in 1613. The pair lived among the natives and it is said that the men were cousins.

Eventually, La Tour established a fur trading operation at the mouth of the Penobscot River in today’s state of Maine, but was unseated by the English in 1626. Biencourt settled in Port Royal. La Tour is said to have inherited the property of Charles Biencourt when he died in 1623 and France named him administrator of the colony the same year. During this early period, La Tour married an Amérindienne and had three known daughters and, at least, two sons. Shortly thereafter, he established a fur trading operation at Cape Sable.

The La Tour family was Protestant and, although his father entered the service of England and pleaded with his son to do the same, Charles refused. Instead, in February 1632 he was further appointed Governor and the French King’s general representative in Acadia. The same year, La Tour sailed to France to clarify the boundaries between his territory and that of Isaac de Razilly who had also been named Governor of Acadia.

Although La Tour is sometimes portrayed to be subordinate to de Razilly, he was still his own boss in possession of prior territorial rights and not directly accountable to De Razilly. De Razilly was more of a Royal Governor - an overseer for Richelieu and Louis XIII and, in this capacity, kept an eye on La Tour’s activities but more closely managed the efforts of d’Aulnay and Denys. De Razilly and La Tour, having separate interests, worked peaceably together in Acadia. La Tour was given the Seigneurie of Jemseg, a rich hunting and fishing area along the St. John River in New Brunswick. Additionally, he received financial backing to build another fort at the mouth of the Saint John River and by 1635 had moved part of his operation to that area. La Tour also made an alliance with the Denys family. These people were businessmen. As long as no one over-reached, the profit potential was significant for everyone and it was in their best interest to maintain the peace for France.

The Settlement at La Hève: Nicolas Denys’ older brother, Simon, accompanied him on the 1632 voyage to Acadia. Although Nicolas was single at this time, Simon was married, leaving behind a wife and three children under three years old. Initially, the brothers established a shore fishery at La Hève. Their next step was to select a location for their first permanent fishing station and the two brothers chose Port Rossignol (today’s Brooklyn.) Their eldest brother, Jacques, having also sailed from Auray in 1633, joined them there. The Denys operation exported cod to Brittany and Portugal and their efforts were successful for a couple of years. However, the war between France and Spain also affected Portugal and they lost a year’s catch causing them to sustain large financial losses. Although, the brothers remained at La Hève focusing on lumber interests in the forestry there, the first fishery was deemed a failure. Despite setbacks, de Razilly’s group was successful in establishing the first permanent Acadian colony and had a large hand in resolving conflicts not only with their British neighbors, but also within their French ranks.

De Razilly’s primary focus was agriculture, an obvious necessity if he hoped to sustain the settlement. Some of his people were sent up river to establish the first farms and in 1635 his brother, Claude de Launay-Razilly, was granted the seigneurie of Port Royal. Lumber ran a close second in terms of importance, not only for housing, but for profit which purchased the necessities to expand and maintain the colony. During the Summer months, French ships brought additional men and supplies to the colony. By 1635 the colony was ready for more settlers and de Razilly sent Nicolas Denys back to France to recruit them. He also sent La Tour and d’Aulnay down to Penobscot to oust the English from La Tour’s original fort.

Things were going fairly well until de Razilly died suddenly at La Hève 2 Jul 1636. He was 49 years old. Isaac de Razilly had provided sensible leadership and was a steady influence in France’s recolonization effort. Peter Landry says “...de Razilly established the root culture of the Canadian people and a number of people in the United States...” Nicolas Denys tells us “he had no other desire than to people this land, and every year he had brought here as many people as he could for those purposes." It is said that Denys was still in France when de Razilly died. De Razilly’s untimely death followed that of Champlain who had died in Quebec six months earlier. The loss of both men in such a short time frame was a significant blow to leadership in New France. Both men were highly respected individuals, but de Razilly will be remembered as the “Father of Acadie.” .
Charles de Menou d’Aulnay de Charnizay: Charles de Menou d’Aulnay took control of the La Hève and Port Royal operation after the death of de Razilly. He was the lieutenant of Isaac’s brother and heir, Claude de Launay-Razilly and by February 1638, had a Letter from Louis XIII appointing him lieutenant-general of all Acadia with authority over Port Royal and La Hève.

Under the terms of an earlier legal contract, D’Aulnay and La Tour were to share power in separate sections of Acadia. According to Peter Landry....

  “Though the vacuum created by de Razilly's death was to be felt in 1636, La Tour and d'Aulnay did not immediately lock horns. No direct conflict can be seen from a reading of the historical accountings, until after d'Aulnay laid charges against La Tour in the French courts in 1641. During this first five year period, 1636-1641, we see that both adversaries had fortified their positions. Certainly they put all their men to work to build ever stronger fortifications. In addition, they both returned it seems yearly to France to recruit more friends and more backers. Both La Tour and d'Aulnay were successful in this regard, to a degree. Settlers were recruited and brought out, though not many.

“Also, each of these Acadian barons contracted for an influential wife: La Tour for Françoise Jacquelin; and.....d'Aulnay for Jeanne Motin. On the 26th of March, 1640, La Tour and Françoise had set sail for Acadia aboard the L'Amitye de la Rochelle; she carried eight passengers and a crew of 20. La Tour had entered into a formal contract at Paris for his wife.

“As for d'Aulnay and his Jeanne Motin; well, she was a young and available French girl (a scarce commodity in the early years) who was already in the colony having come out in 1636. She came out with her married sister, who was the wife of the Sieur du Breuil, Razilly's lieutenant at Canso. At some point a romance blossomed between d'Aulnay and Motin; and, undoubtedly, proper arrangements would have been made with her father, Louis Motin, Sieur de Courcelles, who in addition to owning shares in the Razilly-Condonnier Company, was the controller of salt stores located at one of France's colonies, perhaps in the Caribbean.“

However, d’Aulnay was looking for quick profit and was not in a sharing mood. Unlike de Razilly, who found a way to work with Charles LaTour, D’Aulnay was not at all interested in competition. So, the battle for Acadia began anew but this time amongst French interests struggling for mercantile and financial supremacy.

D’Aulnay moved the center of his operation to Port Royal and took on Charles LaTour for control of the entire region. With the de Razilly family’s backing, d’Aulnay’s authority and future seemed assured. Nevertheless, to further secure his position, he married Jeanne Motin, a daughter of Louis Motin, one of the senior members of the Razilly-Condonnier Company

Additionally, d’Aulnay forbade the Denys brothers to continue exporting lumber to France, so Nicolas and his brothers decided to let La Tour and d’Aulnay fight it out. The brothers returned to France. Simon Denys had undoubtedly made a few earlier trips home as he had a total of four known children by 1635.

We learn from a summary of Jean Daigle’s earlier work, The Acadians of the Maritimes, that “the development of the colony was delayed for several years as a result of internal quarrels that consumed energies. Both Charles de Menou d'Aulnay, who was now established at Port-Royal, and Charles La Tour, who was based on the Saint John River and at Cape Sable, requested that the king of France settle the boundaries of their respective jurisdictions. Far from settling the matter, the court issued a strange document which illustrated the vague notion officials in France had of the geography of Acadia: each man was given command of the other's economic territory. As a result, the two lieutenants carried out a ruthless struggle until 1645.”
Eventually LaTour’s commission was revoked, his wife, Françoise Jacquelin, dies as a result and d’Aulnay was named Governor and Lieutenant-General of Acadie. La Tour, his three daughters, and his four year old son retired to Quebec.

The Denys Family in France: While in France, Nicolas Denys became engaged to Marguerite LaFitte, daughter of Pierre and Béatrix Cabèce. They were married 1 October 1642 at Notre Dame de la Rochelle. Although deceased at the time of her marriage, Marguerite’s father had been a merchant of Bordeau. Nicolas’ father had died in 1631, the year before he accompanied de Razilly to Acadia.

During their time in France, Nicolas and Marguerite’s first two children were born. His sister-in-law, Jeanne Dubreuil, died leaving his brother Simon with seven children. Simon remarried Françoise Dutertre while there and they had three additional children.

Aside from personal changes, there were political ones as well. Cardinal Richelieu had died during the winter of 1642 and Louis XIII April 1643. Although five year old Louis XIV would succeed his father, for the present his mother, Anne of Austria acted as regent and Cardinal Jules Mazarin was Chief Minister.
La Compagnie Miscou: Despite his earlier experiences, Nicolas wanted to return to Acadie. He recognized opportunity there and approached the Company of 100 Associates to acquire commercial rights for one of its subsidiaries, la Compagnie Miscou, in an area apart from d’Aulnay and LeTour. About 1645, with court papers in hand, the Denys family returned to Acadia. They established a dry cod fishery and trading post at Miscou, at the entrance to Chaleur Bay.

The Denys’ endeavor was again short-lived. In addition to d’Aulnay’s 1638 authority from the King, between January/February 1642, Claude de Launay-Rasilly had transferred all of his inherited rights to d’Aulnay. In April 1645, d’Aulnay further captured Fort Sainte-Mary on the St. John River and La Tour took refuge in Quebec. D’Aulnay became master of Acadia and, from his viewpoint, his papers were superior to those of Denys. Thus, he also seized the Miscou post in 1647 and once again forced Denys to abandon his trade.

It seems that Denys may have returned to France, although it’s not clear exactly when or for how long the family remained there. His daughter, Marguerite, was probably born in Acadia in June 1645. Looking at the parish registers of St-Barthélemy in La Rochelle, son Jacques, appears to have been born there in the Fall of 1646. And Marguerite, Jacques, and Richard were all baptized at La Rochelle 20 August 1647. His brother, Jacques, who had married there in 1646, also died there in 1648.

The Denys Family on Cape Breton Island: We know that Nicolas Denys and his family were back in Acadia by 1650. Charles d’Aulnay drowned May 1650 as a result of a boating accident, leaving his widow, Jeanne Motin, with eight children. Nicolas and his brother, Simon, took advantage of this opportunity and restored an abandoned fort on Cape Breton Island near the former site of San Pedro. The Mi’kmaq had long traveled this area portaging their canoes across a narrow strip of land which separated the Bras d’Or Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean. Denys renamed the area St-Pierre. He built a trading post there, as well as constructed a haulover road across the isthmus so that his boats could pass from the ocean to the lakes and visa versa. They established a fishery consisting of cod which they dried before shipping to France. Trade was between the Denys establishment and the Mi’kmaq, who supplied furs in exchange for European goods. Simon Denys rebuilt Capain Charles Daniel’s post at St. Ann. Nicholas, Simon, and their group of colonists became the first permanent French settlers on Cape Breton Island.

In 1651, Jeanne Motin, the widow d’Aulnay (probably on the advice of her lieutenants), and with the help of Denys’ own people, captured the fort at St-Pierre. At the time, Denys was away on a trading trip at Fort Ann. She seized his goods and broke up his fishing establishment. When Denys returned he was robbed of his vessel, his merchandise, and equipment valued at 53,000 livres. Simon Denys was also captured and Madame d’Aulnay’s “team” transported both brothers to a prison in Port Royal. Eventually they were permitted to leave Acadia and sailed to Quebec on a ship belonging to the Jesiuts. This time, Simon Denys had had enough and he chose to remain in Quebec with his family. A determined Nicolas, on the other hand, went to establish a settlement and rebuild a home for his family at Nipisiguit (Bathurst, NB).

La Tour Returns: After Charles D’Aulnay’s death, Charles LaTour seized the opportunity to return to Acadia. D’Aulnay had used his considerable influence to misrepresent La Tour in France and convinced the courts that La Tour was a traitor to French interests. In 1650, La Tour went to France and was able to clear his name and recover his property. In February 1651, La Tour is made Governor & Lieutenant-General of all of Acadia and in September of that year, he returns to Acadia.

Stephen White, genealogist, tells us that “he (La Tour) went to France and recovered both his property in Acadia and his commission as Governor” and “in order to put an end to the disastrous rivalry between their factions, he contracted marriage with d’Aulnay’s widow, 24 Feb 1653.”

And Jean Daigle tells us that by marrying d'Aulnay's widow, La Tour sought to ensure "peace and tranquility in the land and harmony and union among the two families...while at the same time consolidating his position and recovering his establishments in Saint John and Cape Sable.” Bottom line: this marriage was a political and financially expedient move on both parts to solidify their claims and holdings in the colony.

During the same year, Nicolas Denys is granted a seigneury of all lands between Cape Canso and Cape Rosier (just north of the Gaspe Peninsula) and a monopoly on the right to establish fixed fisheries in Acadia. Under this arrangement Denys became Lord Proprietor and Governor of Cape Breton Island. Things were looking up! Denys and La Tour had managed to work together in the past.

Emmanuel Le Borgne Arrives in Acadia: In the meantime, another player enters the complicated Acadian scene. This time it’s a man named Emmanuel Le Borgne. Le Borgne was a merchant banker of La Rochelle and a charter-holder and creditor of the late Charles D’Aulnay. Le Borgne had heavily invested in D’Aulnay, but news traveled slowly in those days and he did not receive word of D’Aulnay’s death until 1653, three years after it occured. Alarmed, he immediately set sail for Acadia, determined to recoup his investment. His sons, Emmanuel and Alexandre, accompanied him.

Le Borgne’s arrival changed the power structure in Port Royal. He proceeded on the basis that all of Acadia was in the hands of the late Charles d’Aulnay and that La Tour and Denys were interlopers on that territory. Unable to reach any monetary agreement with the d’Aulnay/La Tour family, Le Borgne forced La Tour’s now wife, Jeanne Motin, to sign a document acknowledging d’Aulnay’s debts. As a result, Le Borgne simply took over Port-Royal in 1653, where most of his financial interests were located.

His next move was to attack the posts belonging to Nicolas Denys. Miscou Island, Nipisiquit, St-Pierre and St. Ann were all looted of goods and provisions. He captured Denys at Nipisiguit and brought him to Port Royal where he was imprisoned aboard Le Borgne’s ship. The fact that Denys had papers apart from the d’Aulnay holdings, did not impress Le Borgne one iota.

Enter Robert Sedgwick: Le Borgne was trumped in July 1654 by the unexpected arrival of a British fleet commanded by Major General Robert Sedgwick. Sedgwick, under the orders of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, had undertaken an expedition against the Dutch in New York. However, when he arrived in New York, he found that peace had been already made. From there, and without British orders or French provocation, Sedgwick attack Acadia instead.

During this attack, Charles La Tour was forced to surrender to the English expedition. He was sent to England where he was held until he took an oath of allegiance to that country in 1656. Madame La Tour was permitted to remain in Acadia with her children. Emmanuel Le Borgne was transported to France, but left his eldest son, also named Emmanuel, as a hostage at Port Royal. His son, Alexander Le Borgne, eventually married a daughter of Charles La Tour and Jeanne Motin. Le Borgne was not to return to Acadia and died in France in 1675. For whatever reason, Sedgwick freed Nicolas Denys from Le Borgne’s prison.

Denys later blamed Le Borgne for the British defeat of Acadia. Compatriot or not, Le Borgne refused supplies and ammunition to La Tour and is said to have aided in the British attack on Port Royal. After a two-week siege, the French surrendered and Acadia was held by the British until the Treaty of Breda in 1667, yet not totally turned back to France until 1670.

Major General Robert Sedgwick returned to Boston, leaving Captain John Leverett behind at Port Royal as Governor and Commander of the forts at Port Royal, St. John and Penobscot.Acadia without establishing a garrison.

Denys Experiences Peace: Once released from Port Royal, Nicolas Denys set out directly for France to his strengthen his Acadian claims and protect his financial interest in both the fishery and the fur trade. He arrived back in Acadia in 1654 armed with 120 men and a commission from the Compagnie of New France giving him the entire coast, the islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from Cap-Canso to Cap-Rosiers, just north of the Gaspé Peninsula. He was named Governor and Lieutenant-Governor and carried Letters of Patent from the King of France which were posted in all ports and harbors of Acadia:

“governor and general representative [of the King] in the whole country, Cape Breton, Île St-Jean, and other neighboring islands and direct seigneur and owner of said country.”


Everyone seemed to leave Nicolas Denys alone during this period. Emmanuel Le Borgne is granted Royal commission as governor of Acadia but he was handily addressed and was in France. Things remained stable for Denys during the next 14 years. From St-Pierre he managed all his distant operations which included fisheries, lumber mills and farms.

The Company of 100 Associates is Disolved: The company had not been as successful as it had hoped. In 1628 its ships were captured by the English, who the next year siezed parts of French Canada. By 1631 the company was forced to cede its trade monopoly to subsidiary companies.

Ten years later with the failure of these subsidiaries, the company resumed the fur trade only to relinquish it again in 1645. The company maintained an administration, made land grants, and brought settlers to New France until the 1650s when war with the Iroquois disrupted the fur trade and threatened the French colony. Overwhelmed by these difficulties, the company surrendered its charter in 1663 and Louis XIV assumed control of all French territory in North America. This had more or less put an end to the “baronial wars.”

La Tour Retires: In 1656 Oliver Cromwell granted Acadia to Thomas Temple, William Alexander, and Charles La Tour. However, La Tour was about 63 years old by this time and sold his interests to Temple and Alexander. He decided to retire to Cape Sable where he and Jeanne Motin raised their five children. Jeanne died at Cape Sable before March 1663. Charles died about 1664, around age 72. La Tour is considered one of the founding fathers of Acadia. He had spent fifty-six years of his life in North America.

Fire Destroys Denys Establishment at St-Pierre: During the winter of 1668-1669, a fire destroyed the buildings and businesses Nicolas and his son, Richard, had established at St-Pierre. Nicolas was now in his 70s and this was a final defeat. He was financially ruined. The family retired to a small farm at Nipisiquit (Bathurst, NB). Here Nicolas maintained a garden and grew fruit trees. He left journals about fruit propagation in the area.

Nicolas Denys, Author: Not one to sit around apparently, Nicolas spent his time at Nipisiquit writing about his years in North America. Despite his many reversals, he continued to support the development of Acadia. In 1672 his Description Geographique et Historique Des Costes De l’Amerique Septentrionale was published in Paris. This was followed by an additional work.

In the Fall of 1682 he passed on his Letters patent to his son, Richard.

The Descendants: Nicolas and Marguerite had seven children. The following is a chart representing what we know about them.

His oldest daughter married a seigneur of Beaubassin, Commandant and Governor of Acadia & Town Major of Montréal. One of his grandsons was a Lieutenant in the later Port Toulouse garrison and Town Major at Louisbourg. One thinks he might have been pleased that his family extended their roots in North America.

The Children of Nicolas & Marguerite (Lafitte) Denys







v 1666 Michel Le Neuf de LA Vallière



bp. 14 Sep 1644




b.v. Jun 1645, bp. 29 Aug 1647


4 Jan 1654


b. 10 Sep 1646, bp. 29 Aug 1647




bp. 29 Aug 1647

(1) Anne Patarabego
(2) Françoise Cailleteau



bp 13 Sep 1648



Jacques bp. 17 Dec 1650    

Nicolas Denys died in 1688. Many sources say he died at Nipisiquit. In his Dictionnaire Généalogique Des Familles acadiennes, Stephen White says “probably Paris before July 1688.” His brother Simon had died 10 years earlier at La Rochelle. We do not have a death date for his wife, Marguerite Lafitte.

Denys spent the greater part of 50 years in Acadia. Although he was never quite successful in bringing new colonists, he certainly succeeded in the area of trade. He was one of the principals of Acadian beginnings, a dynamic individual and certainly one of courage and tenacity.

He encountered many difficulties with rival merchants. His business establishments were never included in the censuses of the times - probably because he was at odds with those in authority. Much of Nicolas’ business was done with Quebec. There he had numerous associates and friends.

Brian Tennyson believes that Denys’ greatest achievement was neither commercial nor political, but literary. In Impressions of Cape Breton Tennyson says:


  “His Description Geographique et Historique Des Costes De l’Amerique Septentrionale, intended to encourage settlement in Acadia, was not successful in its day but is now considered to be one of the most valuable accounts of Acadia produced in the 17th century.”
In the Fall of 1691, Nicolas’ son, Richard, died at sea. The ship on which he had embarked for Québec, Le Saint- François-Xavier, was lost with all hands. He left three known children. His widow, Françoise Cailleteau, remarried Pierre Rey-Gaillard at Quebec, June 1694.

Nicolas Denys settled on Cape Breton Island some 63 years before France conducted its initial survey of Isle Royale in 1713. Nonetheless, the members of that first commission found distinct remnants of his presence there, as did Nicolas when he rebuilt the early Portuguese camp of San Pedro. Each of us makes contributions and leaves our mark.

Copyright © June 2004, All Rights Reserved

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