FRANK FENLASON
“ST. CROIX ISLAND”

April 20, 1982
 

(Names and other words that could not be transcribed exactly are in italics. Unknown voices are referred to as “man” or “woman.” Comments, explanations, and additional names are in parentheses. I found two spellings for the first grantee of St. Croix Island, Pierre Dugua Sieur de Mons, and Pierre du Gast, Sieur de Monts.)

Harold Fenlason: I think I’m part of the Fenderson, Fenlason family and between Frank and Ellen someday they’ll straighten it out. I don’t know if they’ll ever get to it or not, but it’s a good thought. But, I am quite proud of that thing and I know that Frank has put in a tremendous amount of work on the historical records of this island. So, I turn it over to you.

Frank Fenlason: Thank you very much Harold. First, when Jane called me about speaking on St. Croix Island, I thought kind of - it was going to be kind of a piece of cake. I’d just sit down and take some of the important dates and then ad-lib on the situation. When I did it the other night, I found it was going to take much longer than it should have if I were to ad-lib on it the way I wanted to do it. In fact probably half way through my talk, why Pokey Dam would have rotted out and you’d all been looking out in the lake to see if the lake was going to dry up first or me. So, I’m going to talk just from my notes without any ad-libbing. It almost means like reading it. I hate to do it, but this is the way I feel I have to do it to give it to you in a short period of time. I’d like to talk about some brave Frenchmen who made history in the year 1604 and 5. For some years prior to 1604, the Region to the north of the Passamaquoddy had been visited by European fishermen, explorers and fur traders. So, it was not entirely new to them, but no successful attempt had been made to make a permanent settlement. In 1603, Pierre du Gast, Sieur de Monts, a Huguenot, or French Protestant, who had participated in the religious wars on the Protestant side and had been to North America with earlier expeditions received a commission for colonizing and governing the region from the 40th to the 46th degree north latitude. Now that is roughly from Pennsylvania to Cape Breton. This grant was given to him by his friend the king, King Henry, IV of France, and this was the beginning of the colonial periods. Extensive grants had also been given by other Kings to subjects in their realms. King Henry, like other rulers, wanted to establish colonies in the new world but saddled with heavy debts from his late religious wars was not able to finance the expedition for de Monts, so de Monts, having received the grant, was able to get his wealthy Huguenot friends to back and finance his expedition. de Monts departed France on April 7, 1604 with about 120 men and two ships. With him was the king’s geographer and an historian, one of the great men of France, Samuel de Champlain. In the company also was a Catholic priest and a Huguenot minister as there were many men of both faiths in the crew. The vessel carrying de Monts and Champlain arrived in Cape Le Havre in Nova Scotia on May 8, 1604. The other ship first landed at Canso and then proceeded to Port Mouton all on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. de Monts remained with his ship and sent Champlain along the coast to find a suitable place for a settlement and one that could be easily fortified and defended. Champlain sailed around the southern end of Nova Scotia and entered the Bay of Fundy but failed to find a suitable location so he finally ended in Passamaquoddy and found an island that he thought de Monts would approve of. de Monts arrived on the island on about June 27, 1604. He liked what he saw and he named it Isle of St. Croix or in English, Island of the Holy Cross. This name he chose because of the resemblance of the meeting of the rivers above the island to a cross. Now, I’ve brought a photo of the island which looks north - south to north and this goes up into Oak Bay. Over to the left, to the east, it goes into the St. Croix river and over to the right, to the we--, the east, it goes into Warwick. So this according to Champlain formed a cross and that’s why he named the island St. Croix. Champlain described the island as easy to fortify and pointed out that vessels could not pass up the river only at the mercy of their guns. Work was done immediately on defenses, building of houses, barracks, bake ovens and a hand operated grist mill. Gardens were planted on both the island and on the main land. In August de Monts sent his vessels back to France for additional supplies. This left him with 78 men to finish the necessary buildings and do the gardening to supply them with the vegetables to go along with their salt meat, hopefully enough to get them through the winter and await the arrival of his vessels return from France with new supplies. It was soon discovered that the soil was very poor on the island to raise the crops because it was mostly sandy. If you will again look at the picture, you can see the sand bank that existed on the whole south side of the island. So with short supplies, de Monts did not have long to wait for winter. The first snow fell about October 6 and from then on things got progressively worse. The cold was severe, much more than they had witnessed in France, and there being no spring on the island, they soon became short of fresh water. It was impossible to get to the main land for water because of the floating ice cakes. And Champlain, in his writings, he said, “It would be very difficult to associate the character of this region without spending a winter on it. For, having arrived in summer, everything is very agreeable.” He concluded that there is six months of winter in this country. They were also very short of firewood as they had cut down most of the trees on the island for the fortifications and lumber for the buildings. Now, this coupled with poor food, mostly salt meat, and the lack of fresh water, many soon became ill. Scurvy broke out and almost everyone suffered to some degree. Of the 79 men, 35 died, two of them being the priest and the minister. It is said that the two were buried in a common grave hoping that they could get along better in heaven than they did on earth. On June 16, 1605 one of the vessels arrived from France with provisions. On the 18th de Monts and Champlain set out to find a more suitable abode, but the search was not successful so de Monts returned to the St. Croix determined that he would return with this group to France. The arrival of another French supply ship with 40 men changed his mind. He decided to move the settlement to a place called Port Royal, a location Champlain had explored prior to the settlement on the St. Croix. Most of the buildings were dismantled and moved to Port Royal, So here on the St. Croix began the chain of events that led to the solid French community in the Maritime Provinces and Quebec. Our next date of importance was 1613 when Captain Samuel Argyle of Virginia visited the island while destroying the French settlements in the area and he burned what remained of the settlement. No further interest was shown in the island until after the Revolutionary War. The Treaty of Paris which ended the war contained provisions that the St. Croix river was to be the boundary between the United States and the British territory. This was long disputed over where the St. Croix was located as it was known locally as the Schoodic. The British claiming every river from the St. Croix to the Penobscot and the Americans claiming every river from the St. Croix to the St. John. But, Ward Chipman, a Loyalist who had settled in New Brunswick finally obtained a copy of Champlain’s map and gave it to Robert Pagan of St. Andrews, and using this map, Pagan did some archeological work on the island and discovered the remains of the French settlement. As a result, in 1798 a decision was finally made. The Schoodic was the true St. Croix as named by de Monts. This settled the southwest boundary between the two countries. Later the island was owned by different people from Red Beach and Robbinston. In 1856 two thirds of it was sold to the U.S. Coast Guard for a light house. On June 25, 1904, the 300th anniversary was commemorated. Several hundred gathered on the island to celebrate the event. This was sponsored by the Maine Historical Society. There were representatives from France, Canada, the United States, along with many warships from these three countries. A plaque was unveiled to commemorate the occasion. And, if you want to read the account of that, there must have been a tremendous celebration in the area at that time because the island could not accommodate all the people so there was also a large observance conducted on the Canadian mainland opposite the island. A resolve was passed at that gathering on the mainland which deplored the use of any other name for the island other than that given by de Monts, St. Croix Island. Now the island has been known locally and on many maps for different years under different names. A few of them - at one time it was known as Neutral Island and that was due to the War of 1812 when the British and the Americans were at each other again so the boats from Eastport would go up to St. Croix Island, or Neutral Island, drop the provisions, and boats from St. Andrews would go up and pick them up and they carried the trade back and forth as if no war existed. Then it was later known as Bone Island and that I believe because the graveyard of the 30 odd men was on this southern end of the island over the sand pits and due to the erosion from storms and rains and so forth bones started to appear on that slope of the island. Then it was also known as Docia’s Island, and that name has stuck locally. It’s pretty hard to eradicate. Professor Ganong, in trying to derive where the name Docia Island came from, he says that there was a girl by the name of Ladocia - Theodocia who lived in Bayside and used to be quite popular with the young men of the area and used to take them over to the island for a visit, so the island was locally known as “Doshie,” “going up to see Doshie.” And the French feeling that that was a - must have been a French derivation, they called it D-o-u-c-e-t-t to make it sound French. So, that name stuck quite a while. One of the interesting parts about this Docia island when the commemoration was held over on the main land, in Bayside, the mayor of St. Andrews, they passed a resolve for the use of this name and so from then on they were going to call it St. Croix Island. So, back a few years ago, St. Andrews or somebody down there, erected a sign along Bayside, “Historic View, St. Croix Island” and in great big brackets underneath, “Doucett Island.” So, they weren’t going to forget it.

Woman: Frank, when did the island become definitely American?

Frank Fenlason: It never was Canadian. Let’s put it that way.

Woman: When my mother was a little girl, she - her - she lived in Chamcook, New Brunswick, and her mother - my grandmother’s cousin - her mother’s cousin and her husband were tending the light on Docia’s Island and they were Canadian.

Frank Fenlason: Well, to my knowledge, St. Croix Island was never Canadian unless you assume that all of North America was part of the British Colonies, but when the Revolutionary war and the Treaty of Paris was settled, the St. Croix was named the boundary line and the channel was declared the boundary and the island is well on the American side so essent - -

Woman: That would be in the - that would be in the 1880s probably. My mother was born in 1870 and the - the - she used to tell us about rowing over in a boat to visit and stay over the weekend on the island, and it was Docia’s Island at that time - called Docia’s Island at that time.

Frank Fenlason: Well, it was - it was. The lighthouse was built by the American Coast Guard and so I assume that - - -

Woman: Well, he might have been American, I suppose.

Frank Fenlason: He may have been American.

Woman: She was Canadian.

Jack Dudley: There was quite a little bit of trading back and forth and nobody paid any attention to it (several people talking together and can’t be transcribed) Years ago one of our local city officials in Calais was up for reelection and his opposition claimed he should be defeated because he wasn’t an American citizen. He was a Canadian. But, he won again.

Woman: Well, actually my mother’s family were really American because they went to New Brunswick at the time of the Revolution so - my great grandfather went over there after that in the late 1700s so they might well have been (indistinct words) American, I don’t know.

Frank Fenlason: Well, this brings up to 1932 when William H. Parker and members of his family wanted the National Park Service to approve the island as a national historic site, but as the Park Service did not have full title to the island, they refused. In 1935 Senator Wallace White of Maine introduced a bill in congress to authorize St. Croix as a national monument. No action was taken on that and I assume it was for the same reason. They didn’t own the island. In 1949 Senator Owen Brewster introduced a similar bill and this was approved with the exception that they would receive full title to the island before it became a national monument. That same year a second commemoration was held in Calais at the new Calais High School and again dignitaries from France, Canada and the U.S. gathered for the occasion. Judge Harold Murchie was master of ceremonies at that occasion. William Parker who owned part of the island, or his family, had a friend, an attorney from Augusta, Ernest L. McLean, start the necessary title search. This work was later turned over to two local attorneys, our own Elbridge Davis and Francis Brown and their voluntary effort required extensive work because some of the fractional titles were as small as 1/240th. So, they must have had a tremendous amount of work to research the titles on that island. In 1967 the deed was finally turned over and accepted by the U.S. government. On June 30, ‘68 a formal dedication of the island as a national monument was held at Red Beach, again with many dignitaries from both countries at hand. The last event was the dedication of the new Interpretive Shelter on the main land at Red Beach on October 2, last year, 1981 with the usual dignitaries present. That brings up pretty much to date on the island. I would like to just add a little bit of a commercial to the end of this. An organization has been formed in Calais and we call it the St. Croix Island Association and it’s main purpose is to work with the Park Association on affairs such as the dedication that we had of the Interpretive Shelter where we - we wanted to build it. They didn’t have any money in the National Park Service account for the construction of it. The Canadians were pushing for it. So with the help of the Georgia-Pacific Company with some money and materials, the Thomas DiCenzo Company with some Red Beach granite, the Votech School (Washington County Vocational Technical School) - we were able to get the Votech School’s carpentry course crew to go down and work - we were able to build the building with a minimum of cost to anybody through the generosity of these people. We also after the dedication - the St. Croix Island Association entertained the visiting dignitaries for coffee and tea and snacks and so forth after that. The same as we did in 1968 when the dedication was made - the acceptance of the island. So, we have - to raise our money for these affairs and we expect another one will be coming up later this fall. We have been selling copies of the dedication booklet which gives a complete history of the island and all of the speeches that were made at the dedication. We’ve been selling them at $2.00 a copy or we’ve been giving a copy to any member who wants to join the association for $5.00. So, there’s the end of my talk on St. Croix Island and if you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them.

Woman: Now, here’s the end of it right here (indistinct words)

Other Woman: I told Ruth Brogan last summer I’d join the association. I forgot all about it so I’ll join with you.

Frank Fenlason: Good. And, I would like to give the Society here a copy of this booklet for their library if they don’t already have one.

Man: I suspect they don’t.

Frank Fenlason: Well, fine, there’s the - - -

Man: (indistinct words) would be very appreciative. Thank you very much.