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The Marguerite Legend
By Sharon Chubbs-Ransom
Here is the intriguing story of a young French noblewoman during the earliest years of French exploration in the New World. Left a young orphan she had been placed in the charge of her Uncle, Jean-Francois de la Roque, Sieur de Roberval. Jean-Francois was a friend of (Francis I) then King of France, who was responsible for an expedition sent in 1542 to colonize Canada following Jacque Cartier's explorations. While on board, the girl known to us only as Marguerite de la Roque, fell in love with a young nobleman whose name is not known. Several writings of this legend give him the name of Etienne. Enraged by his ward's conduct aboard his ship, Roberval ordered her to be abandoned on an island called Isle of Demons by the natives, by the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, near Labrador. Her lover jumped ship to join the girl and her elderly nurse, Damienne, who had also been left behind. After eight months her lover died, shortly afterwards Marguerite had a baby, the first European child since the Norsemen, born on American soil. In a matter of months, the elderly woman died, followed by the baby. Daily fighting for her life against bears and wolves, and battling her own demons, Marguerite persevered until she was rescued by a fishing fleet in the summer of 1544 and returned to her native France. She was the first European to survive more than one winter on American soil. Following her rescue she returned to France and led a reclusive life under the shelter of Queen Marguerite of Navarre, sister to King Francis I and a working sovereign who earned money through the sale of explicit stories of courtly intrigue called “The Heptameron Tales”.
In history there have been a number of islands referred to as the Isle of Demons. Some of the most noted ones are Isle Ste. Marthe or Harrington Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence so named by Jacque Cartier because he explored it on the feast of this Catholic Saint. Others are Fogo Island, Quirpon and Belle Isle off the Northern coast of Newfoundland and lately Caribou Island a small Island near Riviere St. Paul on the extreme end of the Quebec Lower North Shore. Isle Damoiselle is another name that has been used in reference to Harrington Island and much later referred to in some sources as Hospital Island, following the advent of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell and the building of the first hospital in that area. It is the largest island of the Petit Mecatina Archipelago.
When I was a small girl, my mother (Myrtle Jones) who had been born and raised in Harrington often related the story of a young girl, Marguerite, being left alone by her Uncle on Harrington Island. This story so intrigued me, maybe because my mother’s second name was Marguerite and I somehow related her to my mother. I would ask “what happened” and why was she left there? The story was that she had angered her Uncle by having a “secret love affair” with a man aboard the ship. The Captain had left her alone with her lover on the Island expecting them to die. They had a baby but sadly with the cold and not enough food and shelter the baby had died. There they had survived under much hardship until the man died but Marguerite had survived in “Margaret’s Cave” and been rescued and returned to her home. Mom would explain where the cave was located in the cliffs above the “marsh”. At the time when the story was first told to me I had never been to my Mom’s home in Harrington! Later as a child in the hospital there I asked my friend “Joey” where the “Marsh” was? I remember pressing my nose to the window to try and see the cave.
Harrington Island, as the location where Marguerite and her little colony spent their ill fated 2 winters and 3 summers is supported in its claim by the book “Great Explorers” by Samuel Eliot Morrison, and by Elizabeth Boyer’s books, “A Colony of One” and “Story of Survival”. For more then one hundred and fifty years the story of Marguerite has been recounted by the people of Harrington. Her story is common knowledge in the history of this tiny island community. Everyone knows where Margaret’s cave is located and surmised in their growing up where her log shelter might have been. This story has been passed from grandparent to grandchild on this island and so much discussed that it is legendary in Harrington and unknown in most other places that today lay claim to it!
Date Entered on the Web: 27 December 2004
Thank you to the previous coordinators,
Sharon Ransom and Marc-André Gosselin, for their excellent work !
We are looking forward to reading your suggestions and comments. / Il nous fera plaisir de lire vos suggestions et commentaires.
Dernière mise à jour: 13/10/2016
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