Abraham “The Scot” Martin: He Helped Found Quebec …

Monument de des premiers Pionniers de la Nouvelle France [Monument of the first Pioneers of New France]

Monument de des premiers Pionniers de la Nouvelle France
[Monument of the first Pioneers of New France]

We are going to take a trip from Europe to the Great White North of the New World with Abraham Montpellier Martin dit L’ecossais. His life is not all that straight forward and different sources record various accounts of Abraham, his family, and his homeland.

Abraham Martin is Found in French Canadian History Books

Abraham Martin is Found in French Canadian History Books

Most sources accept him as having been born about 1589 in Montpellier, LaRochelle, France. His father was Jean Galleran Martin, known as “The Merchant of Metz”, and Jean was likely born at Metz, Lorraine, France. His mother was Isabel Cote.

The difficulty of the colonial undertaking has led some historians to assert that poverty was the main cause of migration. French historian Robert Mandrou is in this camp. He explains departures from La Rochelle by referring to periods of trouble, famine or crisis: “The indentured therefore only came voluntarily to the port of La Rochelle during difficult years.”

La Rochelle, France

La Rochelle, France

Analyzing the same departures, Louis Pérouas, a specialist in urban history, links them instead to “periods when La Rochelle was experiencing both a moderate cost of living and expanding maritime commerce.” As a result, he comes to the opposite conclusion: “the colonial exodus would almost be an indicator of prosperity.”

Le Port de La Rochelle

Le Port de La Rochelle

While the modest circumstances of most immigrants cannot be denied, Pérouas is certainly right about the economic context of colonization, that is, a period of expanding French Atlantic trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is also significant that the few documented immigrants who formulated their motives emphasized the opportunities offered by emigration rather than their desperate situation. This is reflected in the testimony from Jean Galon, son of a Norman mason and roofer who left for Louisbourg “in the hope of earning a better living,” or Jean-Baptiste Lascorret, a young clerk working for a merchant in Bayonne, who thought it “more advantageous to come to this island (Cape Breton) where he was led to hope to soon make a small fortune.”

The crossing to New France was subject to all sorts of perils: weather, pirates, and illness among the crew and passengers. With these uncertainties, the duration of the crossing varied. In 1665, it took New France’s new Intendant, Jean Talon, 117 days to reach Québec; in 1678, the Arc-en-ciel made the trip in 35 days. Taking into account the requirements of the navigational season, it was better to set sail from France before May 1 and from Québec before the end of September. Since ships were not larger than 200 tonnes in the 17th century, accommodations on board were quite modest, and space was limited. Often, food and merchandise were spoiled by water seepage, and passengers had to make do with cold meals and soggy bedding. So great were the risks involved in reaching these far-off destinations, that surviving the dangers and perils of the sea depended as much on chance as on luck.

Abraham Montpellier Martin dit L'Ecossais

Abraham Montpellier Martin dit L’Ecossais

As for Abraham Montpellier Martin dit L’ecossais, I think he was interested in adventure. Why I believe this is in all in his name. Notice the end of his name, “dit L’ecossais”. In French, especially in this period, many men had their Christian names and a nickname: a “dit”. L’ecossais mean Scot or Scottish. So Anraham’s nickname was “the Scot”. This may come just from a street he lived on, he might have used the sobriquet if he had been enrolled in military service, or he might have been a member of an illegal organization: such names were used to avoid detection by officials looking for deserted soldiers or in case the records of an illegal organization were seized. It is also possible that he acquired the name because he had made several voyages to Scotland as a young man. It may also have been given to him because he assisted the Scottish settlers who began arriving in Port Charles (Port Royal) about 1628. Regardless, he was an adventurer, and seeking adventure brought him to New France.

Abraham arrived in New France with his wife, his sister, and his brother-in-law. They landed aboard the ship “Le Sallemandie” on August 30, 1620. This, however, was not his first trip to the New World. He had arrived before 1610, according to Cyprien Tanguay’s Dictionary Geneologique des Familles Canadiennes. He was employed, first, by the Company of Rouen as a pilot, and his payments from this allowed him to keep the assets he brought with him until needed. Afterward, he would apply himself to cultivating his lands.

In New France there were no privileged orders. This, indeed, was the most marked difference between the social organization of the home land and that of the colony. There were social distinctions in Canada, to be sure, but the boundaries between different elements of the population were not rigid; there were no privileges based upon the laws of the land, and no impenetrable barrier separated one class from another. Men could rise by their own efforts or come down through their own defaults; their places in the community were not determined for them by the accident of birth as was the case in the older land. Some of the most successful figures in the public and business affairs of New France, some of the social leaders, some of those who attained the highest rank in the “noblesse”, came of relatively humble parentage.

In France of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the chief officials of state, the seigneurs, the higher ecclesiastics, even the officers of the army and the marine, were always drawn from the nobility. In the colony this was very far from being the case. Some colonial officials and a few of the seigneurs were among the numerous “noblesse” of France before they came, and they of course retained their social rank in the new environment. Others were raised to this rank by the King, usually for distinguished services in the colony and on the recommendation of the governor or the intendant. But, even if taken all together, these men constituted a very small proportion of the people in New France. Even among the seigneurs the great majority of these landed gentlemen came from the ranks of the people, and not one in ten was a member of the “noblesse”. There was, therefore, a social solidarity, a spirit of fraternity, and a feeling of universal comradeship among them which was altogether lacking at home.

The pivot of social life in New France was the settlement at Quebec. This was the colonial capital, the seat of the governor and of the council, the only town in the colony large enough to have all the trappings and tinsel of a well-rounded social set. Here, too, came some of the seigneurs to spend the winter months. The royal officials, the officers of the garrison, the leading merchants, the judges, the notaries and a few other professional men–these with their families made up an elite which managed to echo, even if somewhat faintly, the pomp and glamor of Versailles. Quebec, from all accounts, was lively in the long winters. Its people, who were shut off from all intercourse with Europe for many months at a time, soon learned the art of providing for their own recreation and amusement. The knight-errant La Hontan speaks enthusiastically of the events in the life of this miniature society, of the dinners and dances, the salons and receptions, the intrigues, rivalries, and flirtations, all of which were well suited to his Bohemian tastes. But the clergy frowned upon this levity, of which they believed there was far too much. On one or two occasions they even laid a rigorous and restraining hand upon activities of which they disapproved, notably when the young officers of the Quebec garrison undertook an amateur performance of Moliere’s “Tartuffe” in 1694. At Montreal and Three Rivers, the two smaller towns of the colony, the social circle was more contracted and correspondingly less brilliant. The capital, indeed, had no rival.

View of Quebec

View of Quebec

Only a small part of the population, however, lived in the towns. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the census (1706) showed a total of 16,417, of whom less than 3000 were in the three chief settlements. The others were scattered along both banks of the St. Lawrence, but chiefly on the northern shore, with the houses grouped into “cotes” or little villages which almost touched elbows along the banks of the stream. In each of these hamlets the manor-house or home of the seigneur, although not a mansion by any means, was the focus of social life. Sometimes built of timber but more often of stone, with dimensions rarely exceeding twenty feet by forty, it was not much more pretentious than the homes of the more prosperous and thrifty among the seigneur’s dependents. Its three or four spacious rooms were, however, more comfortably equipped with furniture which in many cases had been brought from France. Socially, the seigneur and his family did not stand apart from his neighbors. All went to the same church, took part in the same amusements upon days of festival, and not infrequently worked together at the common task of clearing the lands. Sons and daughters of the seigneurs often intermarried with those of habitants in the seigneury or of traders in the towns. There was no social “impasse” such as existed in France among the various elements in a community.

Habitans de Canada [Inhabitants of Canada]

Habitans de Canada [Inhabitants of Canada]

As for the habitants, the people who cleared and cultivated the lands of the seigneuries, they worked and lived and dressed as pioneers are wont to do. Their homes were commonly built of felled timber or of rough-hewn stone, solid, low, stocky buildings, usually about twenty by forty feet or thereabouts in size, with a single doorway and very few windows. The roofs were steep-pitched, with a dormer window or two thrust out on either side, the eaves projecting well over the walls in such manner as to give the structures a half-bungalow appearance. With almost religious punctuality the habitants whitewashed the outside of their walls every spring, so that from the river the country houses looked trim and neat at all seasons. Between the river and the uplands ran the roadway, close to which the habitants set their conspicuous dwellings with only in rare cases a grass plot or shade tree at the door. In winter they bore the full blast of the winds that drove across the expanse of frozen stream in front of them; in summer the hot sun blazed relentlessly upon the low roofs. As each house stood but a few rods from its neighbor on either side, the colony thus took on the appearance of one long, straggling, village street. The habitant liked to be near his fellows, partly for his own safety against marauding redskins, but chiefly because the colony was at best a lonely place in the long cold season when there was little for any one to do.

Behind each house was a small addition used as a storeroom. Not far away were the barn and the stable, built always of untrimmed logs, the intervening chinks securely filled with clay or mortar. There was also a root-house, half-sunk in the ground or burrowed into the slope of a hill, where the habitant kept his potatoes and vegetables secure from the frost through the winter. Most of the habitants likewise had their own bake-ovens, set a convenient distance behind the house and rising four or five feet from the ground. These they built roughly of boulders and plastered with clay. With an abundance of wood from the virgin forests they would build a roaring fire in these ovens and finish the whole week’s baking at one time. The habitant would often enclose a small plot of ground surrounding the house and outbuildings with a fence of piled stones or split rails, and in one corner he would plant his kitchen-garden.

Within the dwelling-house there were usually two, and never more than three, rooms on the ground floor. The doorway opened into the great room of the house, parlor, dining-room, and kitchen combined. A “living” room it surely was! In the better houses, however, this room was divided, with the kitchen partitioned off from the rest. Most of the furnishings were the products of the colony and chiefly of the family’s own workmanship. The floor was of hewn timber, rubbed and scrubbed to smoothness. A woolen rug or several of them, always of vivid hues, covered the greater part of it. There were the family dinner-table of hewn pine, chairs made of pine saplings with, seats of rushes or woven underbark, and often in the corner a couch that would serve as an extra bed at night. Pictures of saints hung on the walls, sharing the space with a crucifix, but often having for ominous company the habitant’s flint-lock and his powder-horn hanging from the beams. At one end of the room was the fireplace and hearth, the sole means of heating the place, and usually the only means of cooking as well. Around it hung the array of pots and pans, almost the only things in the house which the habitant and his family were not able to make for themselves. The lack of colonial industries had the advantage of throwing each home upon its own resources, and the people developed great versatility in the cruder arts of craftsmanship.

Upstairs, and reached by a ladder, was a loft or attic running the full area of the house, but so low that one could touch, the rafters everywhere. Here the children, often a dozen or more of them, were stowed away at night on mattresses of straw or feathers laid along the floor. As the windows were securely fastened, even in the coldest weather this attic was warm, if not altogether hygienic. The love of fresh air in his dwelling was not among the habitant’s virtues. Every one went to bed shortly after darkness fell upon the land, and all rose with the sun. Even visits and festivities were not at that time prolonged into the night as they are nowadays. Therein, however, New France did not differ from other lands. In the seventeenth century most of the world went to bed at nightfall because there was nothing else to do, and no easy or inexpensive artificial light. Candles were in use, to be sure, but a great many more of them were burned on the altars of the churches than in the homes of the people. For his reading, the habitant depended upon the priest, and for his writing, upon the notary.

The great speckled loon from Newfoundland, 1735

The great speckled loon from Newfoundland, 1735

Clothing was almost wholly made at home. It was warm and durable, as well as somewhat distinctive and picturesque. Every parish had spinning wheels and handlooms in some of its homes on which the women turned out the heavy druggets or “etoffes du pays” from which most of the men’s clothing was made. A great fabric it was, this homespun, with nothing but wool in it, not attractive in pattern but able to stand no end of wear. It was fashioned for the habitant’s use into roomy trousers and a long frock coat reaching to the knees which he tied around his waist with a belt of leather or of knitted yarn. The women also used this “etoffe” for skirts, but their waists and summer dresses were of calico, homemade as well. As for the children, most of them ran about in the summer months wearing next to nothing at all. A single garment without sleeves and reaching to the knees was all that covered their nakedness. For all ages and for both sexes there were furs in plenty for winter use. Beaver skins were cheap, in some years about as cheap as cloth. When properly treated they were soft and pliable, and easily made into clothes, caps, and mittens.

Most of the footwear was made at home, usually from deerhides. In winter every one wore the “bottes sauvages”, or oiled moccasins laced up halfway or more to the knees. They were proof against cold and were serviceable for use with snowshoes. Between them and his feet the habitant wore two or more pairs of heavy woolen socks made from coarse homespun yarn. In summer the women and children of the rural communities usually went barefoot so that the soles of their feet grew as tough as pigskin; the men sometimes did likewise, but more frequently they wore, in the fields or in the forest, clogs made of cowhide.

On the week-days of summer every one wore a straw hat which the women of the household spent part of each winter in plaiting. In cold weather the knitted “tuque” made in vivid colors was the great favorite. It was warm and picturesque. Each section of the colony had its own color; the habitants in the vicinity of Quebec wore blue “tuques”, while those around Montreal preferred red. The apparel of the people was thus in general adapted to the country, and it had a distinctiveness that has not yet altogether passed away.

On Sundays and on the numerous days of festival, however, the habitant and his family brought out their best. To Mass the men wore clothes of better texture and high, beaver hats, the women appeared in their brighter plumage of dresses with ribbons and laces imported from France. Such finery was brought over in so large a quantity that more than one “memoire” to the home government censured the “spirit of extravagance” of which this was one outward manifestation. In the towns the officials and the well-to-do merchants dressed elaborately on all occasions of ceremony, with scarlet cloaks and perukes, buckled slippers and silk stockings. In early Canada there was no austerity of garb such as we find in Puritan New England. New France on a “jour de fete” was a blaze of color.

As for his daily fare, the habitant was never badly off even in the years when harvests were poor. He had food that was more nourishing and more abundant than the French peasant had at home. Bread was made from both wheat and rye flour, the product of the seigneurial mills. Corn cakes were baked in Indian fashion from ground maize. Fat salted pork was a staple during the winter, and nearly every habitant laid away each autumn a smoked supply of eels from the river. Game of all sorts he could get with little trouble at any time, wild ducks and geese, partridges, for there were in those days no game laws to protect them. In the early winter, likewise, it was indeed a luckless habitant who could not also get a caribou or two for his larder. Following the Indian custom, the venison was smoked and hung on the kitchen beams, where it kept for months until needed. Salted or smoked fish had also to be provided for family use, since the usages of the Church required that meat should not be used upon numerous fast-days.

Vegetables of many varieties were grown in New France, where the warm, sandy, virgin soil of the St. Lawrence region was splendidly suited for this branch of husbandry. Peas were the great stand-by, and in the old days whole families were reared upon “soupe aux pois”, which was, and may even still be said to be, the national dish of the French Canadians. Beans, cucumbers, melons, and a dozen other products were also grown in the family gardens. There were potatoes, which the habitant called “palates” and not “pommes de terre”, but they were almost a rarity until the closing days of the Old Regime. Wild fruits, chiefly raspberries, blueberries, and wild grapes, grew in abundance among the foothills and were gathered in great quantities every summer. There was not much orchard fruit, although some seedling trees were brought from France and had managed to become acclimated.

On the whole, even in the humbler homes there was no need for any one to go hungry. The daily fare of the people was not of great variety, but it was nourishing, and there was plenty of it save in rare instances. More than one visitor to the colony was impressed by the rude comfort in which the people lived, even though they made no pretense of being well-to-do. “In New France,” wrote Charlevoix, “poverty is hidden behind an air of comfort,” while the gossipy La Hontan was of the opinion that “the boors of these seigneuries live with, greater comfort than an infinity of the gentlemen in France.” Occasionally, when the men were taken from the fields to serve in the defense of the colony against the English attacks, the harvests were small and the people had to spend the ensuing winter on short rations. Yet, as the authorities assured the King, they were “robust, vigorous, and able in time of need to live on little.”

As for beverages, the habitant was inordinately fond of sour milk. Tea was scarce and costly. Brandy was imported in huge quantities, and not all this “eau-de-vie”, as some writers imagine, went into the Indian trade. The people themselves consumed most of it. Every parish in the colony had its grog-shop; in 1725 the King ordered that no parish should have more than two. Quebec had a dozen or more, and complaint was made that the people flocked to these resorts early in the morning, thus rendering themselves unfit for work during most of the day, and soon ruining their health into the bargain. There is no doubt that the people of New France were fond of the flagon, for not only the priests but the civil authorities complained of this failing. Idleness due to the numerous holidays and to the long winters combined with the tradition of hospitality to encourage this taste. The habitants were fond of visiting one another, and hospitality demanded on every such occasion the proffer of something to drink. On the other hand, the scenes of debauchery which a few chroniclers have described were not typical of the colony the year round. When the ships came in with their cargoes, there was a great indulgence in feasting and drink, and the excesses at this time were sure to impress the casual visitor. But when the fleet had weighed anchor and departed for France, there was a quick return to the former quietness and to a reasonable measure of sobriety.

Tobacco was used freely. “Every farmer,” wrote Kalm, “plants a quantity of tobacco near his house because it is universally smoked. Boys of twelve years of age often run about with the pipe in their mouths.” The women were smokers, too, but more commonly they used tobacco in the form of snuff. In those days, as in our own, this French-Canadian tobacco was strong stuff, cured in the sun till the leaves were black, and when smoked emitting an odor that scented the whole parish. The art of smoking a pipe was one of several profitless habits which, the Frenchman lost little time in acquiring from his Indian friends.

This convivial temperament of the inhabitants of New France has been noted by more than one contemporary. The people did not spend all their energies and time at hard labor. From October, when the crops were in, until May, when the season of seedtime came again, there was, indeed, little hard work for them to do. Aside from the cutting of firewood and the few household chores the day was free, and the habitants therefore spent it in driving about and visiting neighbors, drinking and smoking, dancing and playing cards. Winter, accordingly, was the great social season in the country as well as in the town.

The chief festivities occurred at Michaelmas, Christmas, Easter, and May Day. Of these, the first and the last were closely connected with the seigneurial system. On Michaelmas the habitant came to pay the annual rental for his lands; on May Day he rendered the Maypole homage which, has been already described. Christmas and Easter were the great festivals of the Church and as such were celebrated with religious fervor and solemnity. In addition, minor festivals, chiefly religious in character, were numerous, so much so that their frequency even in the months of cultivation was the subject of complaint by the civil authorities, who felt that these holidays took altogether too much time from labor. Sunday was a day not only of worship but of recreation. Clad in his best raiment, every one went to Mass, whatever the distance or the weather. The parish church indeed was the emblem of village solidarity, for it gathered within its walls each Sunday morning all sexes and ages and ranks. The habitant did not separate his religion from his work or his amusements; the outward manifestations of his faith were not to his mind things of another world; the church and its priests were the center and soul of his little community. The whole countryside gathered about the church doors after the service while the “capitaine de la cote”, the local representative of the intendant, read the decrees that had been sent to him from the seals of the mighty at the Chateau de St. Louis. That duty over, there was a garrulous interchange of local gossip with a retailing of such news as had dribbled through from France. The crowd then melted away in groups to spend the rest of the day in games or dancing or in friendly visits of one family with another.

Especially popular among the young people of each parish were the “corvees recreatives”, or “bees” as we call them nowadays in our rural communities. There were the “epuchlette” or corn-husking, the “brayage” or flax-beating, and others of the same sort. The harvest-home or “grosse-gerbe”, celebrated when the last load had been brought in from the fields, and the “Ignolee” or welcoming of the New Year, were also occasions of goodwill, noise, and revelry. Dancing was by all odds the most popular pastime, and every parish had its fiddler, who was quite as indispensable a factor in the life of the village as either the smith or the notary. Every wedding was the occasion for terpsichorean festivities which lasted all day long.

The habitant liked to sing, especially when working with others in the woods or when on the march. The voyageurs relieved the tedium of their long journeys by breaking into song at intervals. But the popular repertoire was limited to a few folksongs, most of them songs of Old France. They were easy to learn, simple to sing, but sprightly and melodious. Some of them have remained on the lips and in the hearts of the French-Canadian race for over two hundred years. Those who do not know the “Claire fontaine” and “Ma boule roulant” have never known French Canada. The “foretier” of today still goes to the woods chanting the “Malbrouck s’en va-t-en guerre” which his ancestors caroled in the days of Blenheim and Malplaquet. When the habitant sang, moreover, it was in no pianissimo tones; he was lusty and cheerful about giving vent to his buoyant spirits. And his descendant of today has not lost that propensity.

The folklore of the old dominion, unlike the folk music, was extensive. Some of it came with the colonists from their Norman firesides, but more, perhaps, was the outcome of a superstitious popular imagination working in the new and strange environment of the wilderness. The habitant had a profound belief in the supernatural, and was prone to associate miraculous handiwork with every unusual event. He peopled the earth and the air, the woods and the rivulets, with spirits of diverse forms and varied motives. The red man’s abounding superstition, likewise, had some influence upon the habitant’s highstrung temperament. At any rate, New France was full of legends and weird tales. Every island, every cove in the river, had one or more associated with it. Most of these legends had some moral lessons attached to them: they were tales of disaster which came from disobeying the teachings of the Church or of miraculous escape from death or perdition due to the supernatural rewarding of righteousness. Taken together, they make up a wholesome and vigorous body of folklore, reflecting both the mystic temper of the colony and the religious fervor of its common life. A distinguished son of French Canada has with great industry gathered these legends together, a service for which posterity will be grateful.(Sir J.M. Lemoine, Legends of the St. Lawrence (Quebec, 1878).)

Various chroniclers have left us pen portraitures of the habitant as they saw him in the olden days. Charlevoix, La Hontan, Hocquart, and Peter Kalm, men of widely different tastes and aptitudes, all bear testimony to his vigor, stamina, and native-born vivacity. He was courteous and polite always, yet there was no flavor of servility in this most benign trait of character. It was bred in his bone and was fostered by the teachings of his church. Along with this went a “bonhomie” and a lightheartedness, a touch of personal vanity, with a liking for display and ostentation, which unhappily did not make for thrift. The habitant “enjoys what he has got,” writes Charlevoix, “and often makes a display of what he has not got.” He was also fond of honors, even minor ones, and plumed himself on the slightest recognition from official circles. Habitants who by years of hard labor had saved enough to buy some uncleared seigneury strutted about with the airs of genuine aristocrats while their wives, in the words of Governor Denonville, “essayed to play the fine lady.” More than one intendant was amused by this broad streak of vanity in the colonial character. “Every one here,” wrote Meulles, “begins by calling himself an esquire and ends by thinking himself a nobleman.”

Yet despite this attempt to keep up appearances, the people were poor. Clearing the land was a slow process, and the cultivable area available for the support of each household was small. Early marriages were the rule, and families of a dozen or more children had to be supported from the produce of a few “arpents”. To maintain such a family as this every one had to work hard in the growing season, and even the women went to the fields in the harvest-time. One serious shortcoming of the habitant was his lack of steadfastness in labor. There was a roving strain in his Norman blood. He could not stay long at any one job; there was a restlessness in his temperament which would not down. He would leave his fields unploughed in order to go hunting or to turn a few “sous” in some small trading adventure. Unstable as water, he did not excel in tasks that required patience. But he could do a great many things after a fashion, and some that could be done quickly he did surprisingly well.

Abraham Martin Land Grant, 1635

Abraham Martin Land Grant, 1635

One racial characteristic which drew comment from observers of the day was the litigious disposition of the people. The habitant would have made lawsuits his chief diversion had he been permitted to do so. “If this propensity be not curbed,” wrote the intendant Raudot, “there will soon be more lawsuits in this country than there are persons.” The people were not quarrelsome in the ordinary sense, but they were very jealous each one of his private rights, and the opportunities for litigation over such matters seemed to provide themselves without end. Lands were given to settlers without accurate description of their boundaries; farms were unfenced and cattle wandered into neighboring fields; the notaries themselves were almost illiterate, and as a result scarcely a legal document in the colony was properly drawn. Nobody lacked pretexts for controversy. Idleness during the winter was also a contributing factor. But the Church and the civil authorities frowned upon this habit of rushing to court with every trivial complaint. “Cures” and seigneurs did what they could to have such difficulties settled amicably at home, and in a considerable measure they succeeded.

Instructional Report on the Method for Catching and Drying Fish on Isle Percée and eEsewhere, by Monsieur De Meull

Abraham was a seaman and fisherman when he arrived, and he took up his trade on the St. Lawrence River. By the 16th century, many French ships were crossing the ocean each year to fish the cod-rich waters of Canada’s Atlantic coast. Producers of morue verte [salt cod] fished on the high seas, gutting and salting their catch onboard ship. In the much more common sedentary fishery, which resulted in morue sèche [dried cod], the catch, taken just offshore, was cleaned and dried in buildings on the coast. During the 17th century, the French ran such operations in the Gaspé Peninsula, Acadia and on the largest scale, in Newfoundland. In 1660, the King established a fortified settlement and administrative headquarters on the southern part of the island, at Plaisance (Placentia), with the aim of supporting the cod industry, which was by this time a significant source of revenue for France. The labor, supplies and capital involved in these Atlantic fishing operations, together with the markets they supplied, remained primarily European. He rose to the rank of pilot and master of a company barque. He also did the first mapping of the St. Lawrence, although he could neither read or write. He was friends with Samuel de Champlain and Pierre Desportes. These men were well-born and well-educated, but Abraham could not even sign his name. He must have had a winning personality and a great work ethic. Abraham and his wife, Margaret, had a son in 1621, and this child is said to be the first birth in New France.

Articles Requested by Samuel de Champlain and Francois Grave Du Pont for the Capitulation of Quebec and Articles Granted, July 19 and August 19, 1629

Articles Requested by Samuel de Champlain and Francois Grave Du Pont for the Capitulation of Quebec and Articles Granted, July 19 and August 19, 1629

Back in 1629 England and France were still fighting for control of the North American lands. In that year the Kirke brothers captured Quebec for England. Champlain, Letardif, Martin and Langlois sailed to France, returning to Quebec in 1633 when Quebec was once again under French control. There are 9 children recorded for Abraham and Marguerite, but there is a gap between 1627 and 1635. Fichier Origine indicates that they also had a child in 1616 in France before they arrived on our shores, and then another in 1630 when they were back in France.

Abraham’s family, back in the new world, also became one of the first three families in New France to be granted land in Quebec City when they were presented with twelve acres by the Company of New France in 1635. He built his family a home on this land. The land is well-situated in the upper-town, but north of St-Genevive Hill (Grande Allee). It is said, “should a man take his animals down to the Charles River to drink, in taking the road of descent he would come to the Coast of Abraham”. This coast is where Abraham brought his animals to drink. His descendants sold two parcels of this land to the Ursuline Nuns after his death. Later in history, the Plains of Abraham, connected to this road, was the scene of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. This battle was part of the French and Indian War, which was, itself, part of the Seven Years’ War, and took place in 1759. Back in our story, in 1647, Abraham received the title of Royal Pilot. In the Jesuit Journals, in June 1647, is recorded:

“Master Abraham and two sons-in-law went to fish for seals. On the Eve of Saint-Jean, they caught four at I’lle Rouge [Red Island] of which they obtained six small barrels of oil.

“On new year’s day [1646], we gave four handkerchiefs to the wife of Abraham and to him a bottle of spirits.”

On January 19, 1649, the pioneers of New France were preparing for the first woman to be executed there. It is not clear what she was accused of, but before she was executed she managed to accuse someone else. In February, 1649, Quebec heard her accusation. It was announced the 60-year-old Abraham Martin, friend of the famed Champlain, and father of a large, respected family, was accused of a heinous crime. He was accused, by the 16-year-old girl being executed, of “conduite incorrecte enuvers une jeune fille”. He was accused of taking her honor by force. He also spent some time in prison for this, but how long is not clear. He likely did not spend long there, since the accuser had been convicted and his family did not suffer any decrease status or respect of the community.

Monument to Abraham Martin on the Plains of Abraham

Monument to Abraham Martin on the Plains of Abraham

Abraham also received 20 more parcels of land, making his plot 32 acres total, as a gift from Sieu Adrien du Chesne, a well-paid ship surgeon. Champlain, himself, bequeathed to Abraham 1,200 livres to clear land and settle his family. This will of Champlain, leaving the money to Abraham, is controversial. Champlain signed it is 1635, but the original was not discovered until 324 years later, in August of 1959 by an archivist. 600 livres was to be given to Abraham, directly, “with the charge of using it to clear land in this country of New France”, and the additional 600 to Abraham’s daughter, “to support her in marrying a man of this country and no other.” Having powerful friends helped Abraham have a much less difficult transition to the new world than most.

The Monument to Abraham Martin on the St. Lawrence River

The Monument to Abraham Martin on the St. Lawrence River

Abraham was 75-years-old, when he died on September 8, 1664. His wife died the following year, at 63-years-old. He had many children, at least two wives, and his descendants have populated much of North America, including Canada and the United States. Most of the French-speaking people in North America can trace their lines to Abraham and his son-in-law, Jean Coste Cote, including myself.



Abraham is my 11th Great Grandfather. He was the father of Anne Martin Cote.
Anne was the mother of Mathieu Cote.
Mathieu was the father of Mathieu Cote.
Mathieu was the father of Pierre Cote.
Pierre was the father of Louis Joseph Cote.
Louis was the father of Amable Cote.
Amable was the father of Louis Alexander Cote.
Louis Alexander was the father of Leon Cote.
Leon was the father of Joseph Cote.
Joseph was the father of Francis Xavier “Pete” Cote.
Francis was the father of Gertrude Cote.
Gertrude was the mother of William Kenneth Morrison, and William is my father.

Baptismal record of Anne Martin (Daughter of Abraham, and my ancestor) from Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967, Québec, Notre-Dame (baptêmes 1621-1679) image 10 of 93

Baptismal record of Anne Martin (Daughter of Abraham, and my ancestor) from Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967, Québec, Notre-Dame (baptêmes 1621-1679) image 10 of 93


2 thoughts on “Abraham “The Scot” Martin: He Helped Found Quebec …

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