Saint Croix Island (modern Saint Croix Island International Historic Site)
The de Monts expedition landed between the 24th and 26th of June, 1604 on an island in the Saint Croix River. From here they began exploring the coastline.
Champlain described Saint Croix in June, 1604:
(NPS Photo) Bricks from archeological investigations evidence the settlement.
"The island is covered with firs, birches, maples, and oaks. It is naturally very well situated, with but one place where it is low, for about forty paces, and that easy to fortify. The shores of the mainland are distant on both sides some nine hundred to a thousand paces, so that vessels could only pass along the river at the mercy of the cannon on the island. This place we considered the best we had seen, both on account of its situation, the fine country, and for the intercourse we were expecting with the Indians of these coasts and the interior, since we should be in their midst…this place was named by the Sieur de Monts the island of Saint Croix.
"After the Sieur de Monts had chosen the site for the storehouse, which was fifty-four feet long, eighteen broad, and twelve feet high, he settled the plan for his own house, which he had built quickly by good workmen. Then he assigned a place to each one, and immediately they began to collect in fives and sixes, according to their preferences. After that all set to work to clear the island, to fetch wood, to cut timber, to carry earth, and other things necessary for the construction of the buildings.
"An oven was also built, and a hand-mill for grinding our wheat, which gave much trouble and labour to most of us, since it was a painful task. Afterwards some gardens were made, both on the mainland and on the island itself."
Champlain's map of Saint Croix Island, 1604.
During the unrelentingly harsh winter of 1604–1605 at Saint Croix, a mysterious disease decimated the settlers. Champlain conducted autopsies on the deceased. Much later he learned of "land-sickness," or scurvy, a diagnosis confirmed in the 1960s by archeology at the burial ground.
After the initial French settlement in the early 17th century, Saint Croix Island fell into historical obscurity. In 1797, Robert Pagan, a commissioner charged with the task of relocating Saint Croix to set an international boundary between the United States and Canada, found piles of rocks as shown on Champlain's settlement map. Pagan found walls of stone set in clay mortar, charcoal, bricks, and a stoneware pitcher. The foundation of one building measured 20 by 66 feet. Several piles of brick and stone were tentatively identified as collapsed chimneys. This very early archeology provided important evidence in the boundary dispute.
In the 1950s, and again in 2002–2003, NPS archeologists investigated the site. They recovered artifacts of early 17th century French origin that give texture to our interpretation of life at the settlement. These include stoneware ceramic sherds, yellow brick, copper and iron metal objects, a musket ball, and blue and white glass beads.
Archeological investigations and historical research have also revealed what foods were available to the explorers. Stoneware containers were used for butter and salted meat. Other foods, such as grain and vegetables, were imported.
What to see and do
- Saint Croix Island International
- Visit the exhibits at Red Beach to learn about the French settlement of 1604-1605 and its occupants. Stand at the shore and compare Champlain's drawings with the island directly in view across the river. Follow an walking trail along the banks of the Saint Croix River, with exhibits and statues depicting the French settlers and members of the Passamaquoddy tribe. The island itself is only accessible by boat, and commercial tours are prohibited from landing.
- Located in Augusta, Maine, the museum contains exhibits on 12,000 years of history in Maine and several artifacts excavated at Saint Croix Island. The collection is on loan from the National Park Service.