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  • Bathurst
    – At Nepisiguit pirates made history
St. Pierre Street
St. Pierre Street, towards Bathurst West (photo credit: J-M. Agator)

Located at the bottom of Nepisiguit Bay, the city of Bathurst was named in 1826 in honor of Earl Henry Bathurst, British Secretary of State for War and Colonies. At that time, the English-speaking settlers, already forming the majority, had been able to impose their choice. They were not, however, the first settlers residing in this sheltered harbor bay with a narrow and deep entrance, formed by the flowing together of four rivers. The city’s first inhabitants were Acadian refugees who had escaped the mass deportation of their compatriots starting in 1755. Settled on the actual site of Bathurst West, their village was called Nepisiguit, a Mi’kmaq word meaning “rough waters”, but it was also known as Saint-Pierre. Here are the eventful beginnings of the village’s history, where pirates’ encounters were not always bad…

However, everything had started badly. At the end of October 1761, more than a year after the capitulation of Montreal, Captain Roderick MacKenzie led an attack against the Acadian establishments on the south shore of Chaleur Bay, in order to capture the settlers. The British were clearly exasperated by the relentless warfare being waged by the Acadian pirates and it did not matter to them if the Acadians whom they captured had nothing to do with it. According to Gamaliel Smethurst, a Massachusetts merchant who witnessed the Nepisiguit attack, MacKenzie did capture about 180 people, with all their vessels, eleven sloops and longboats. As a result, this coup put an end to the merchant’s lucrative trade in fish, fur skins and oils with the local Acadians and Mi’kmaq. Fortunately, MacKenzie had to release a large number of Acadian captives for lack of space on the captors’ boats…

A benevolent pirate

In 1768, when no English-speaking settler dared to live in the Nepisiguit region, one of the most famous British pirates of the time, Commodore George Walker, set up a trading and fishing post at the entrance to the Nepisiguit harbor bay (now Youghall point). Its installations quickly enjoyed successful commercial operations. Scottish in origin, Walker had distinguished himself in the British Navy with his spectacular successes, but he was also known for the attention he paid to his crews, who in turn paid him back solid loyalty. This is how Walker treated the Mi’kmaq, Acadian and British people of the region, and became the justice of the peace for the whole territory from Ristigouche to Cumberland. When the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, he knew that his installations would eventually be attacked…

Bathurst’s Holy Family Church
Bathurst’s Holy Family Church (image in the public domain)

In 1778, Walker’s installations, protected by a battery of cannons, were probably the last to be destroyed by American pirates. The fishing industry did not really resume until 1784 when Colonel Arthur Goold received almost all of the eastern shores of Nepisiguit Bay as a concession. In consequence, the new Acadian settlers had no choice but to settle again on its western shores. The Sainte-Famille parish was founded in 1798, a few years after the construction of the first chapel, under the patronage of Saint-Pierre, on the site of present-day Sainte-Famille (Holy Family) Church.

The story would not be complete without pointing out that it is probably a little further north, at Ferguson Point (current site of Gowan Brae Golf & Country Club), that Nicolas Denys, a nobleman of Acadia, had established his home and was buried in 1688. His colony was later abandoned, but we need not search further for the true founder of Bathurst.