Location: Calais, Maine
Webpage: National Park
General Description: In 1604, Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons was granted the exclusive trading rights for North America from King Henri VI of France with the stipulation that he establish a permanent colony, bring Christianity to the Native Americans, and explore the New World for precious metals and other items of value. For years, the French and other European nations had been cod fishing in the rich waters of the Gulf of Maine and had attempted a few times to establish more permanent settlements, so the Native Americans had seen Europeans before, but only seasonally. The French searched along the coast of Nova Scotia for a good location, but wanted a spot that would be easily defensible. They settled on Saint Croix Island near the mouth of the Saint Croix River into Passamaquoddy Bay. There was fresh water available on shore and In June there was plenty of fish in the river, game in the woods, and shellfish at low tide. The local Passamaquoddy tribe was friendly and were only too happy to trade their furs for knives, axes, and hats, so everything looked good. They planted gardens, established a wooden stockade with cannons and built their homes. Cartographer Samuel de Champlain also began his career with the Saint Croix settlement providing detailed maps of the explorations leading up to the settlement and in September joined south and west where he named Mount Desert Island that is now the centerpiece of Acadia National Park. Also in September, Dugua sent the ships back to France for more supplies and manpower to return in the spring. The latitude of this settlement is roughly the same as France, so they expected the climate to be similar as well, however, they did not count on the arctic air flow from the north. In addition the winter of 1604-1605 was the worst in at least a decade with snowfall starting in October. Once the river became impassable due to dangerous ice flows, the small colony lost its source of freshwater, food, and wood for heating. Their diet consisted of dried fish and dried vegetables and heated wine for drinking. By February, a sickness killed over half of the 75 men in the colony by what is now believed to be scurvy, since they had no fresh fruits or vegetables. Once the harsh winter broke the local Indians brought relief and by June the supply ships from France arrived. Understanding their mistake they took apart their homes and moved to a location on Nova Scotia, Port Royal to establish a better colony prepared for the upcoming winter. Being on the US-Canadian border, Saint Croix Island is important to both nations and their is a small historic site on the shore of each country. The island itself remains uninhabited today and no physical evidence remains today, except archeological evidence found in three surveys over the years. This was the first successful European colony in the New World north of Florida.
1) The Visitor Center for the Saint Croix International Historic Site is a small building along the Saint Croix River south of Calais. It has only a few exhibits about the history of the site along with a very friendly volunteer that was only too happy to give us an oral account of the island. The historic site is only a couple of acres in size.
2) There is no access to the island and nothing to see there anyway. From the banks of the river you can see the island and that is about all.
3) The 400 yard path to the riverbank had a few interpretive signs giving the overview of the history of the settlement along with statues of the Native Americans and Frenchmen at various tasks.
4) Especially due to the extremely small size of the site, it took less than an hour to visit it.