HISTORY  OF  LA ROCHELLE            

 
 

 
 

 
 


 






DEPARTURE FROM FRANCE:
 

La Rochelle was during the long years the heart of commerce between New France and the Metropolis.  This port saw a large number of colonists leaving en route for America aboard vessels loaded with produce and articles which would become supplies upon setting foot on land in Quebec.

Until the embarkment at La Rochelle, in the 17th and 18th century, men, women and children passed time as they could.  The departure would happen if the winds permitted and if the captain judged that the vessel was sufficiently loaded. For certain, the delays prolonged for several weeks, to avert
catastrophies.  People would run into debt for living in poor hotels after having spent one's money or pawned one's meager possession.

The town which could boast having sent the most colonists to Canada was unquestionably La Rochelle.  It is true that people would come from all parts of France to embark on the destination of America. One researcher picked up the names of 600 people, originating for the most part, from La Rochelle or from the vicinity.

When they had decided to leave for the New World, it would sometimes happen that they were obliged to sell their goods, to give them up or to put them into share-cropping. Some would leave with women and children; others, the majority, would leave alone and, once well situated, would make their family come. Some people would neglect the same and remarry in New France. From which came accusations of bigamy.

The decision made, it was therefore necessary to return to the port of embarkment, very often the one of La Rochelle. The departures for New France would normally be carried out from mid-May to the end of the month of August.

In the old style of departure for the New World, the activity is great in the harbor towns.  One voyage would last more than three months, well assuming the precautions and preparations.

Merchants, passengers, crew members, everyone bustled about. There were anxious people, many days before the determined date for the departure, and there were also those who arrived at the last minute, late from road accidents.

Many immigrants received an advance salary, but some spend parth of this amount drinking and eating, before this departure. The inn La Tete dark from La Rochelle was reknown for its good food and wine. "The banquet, it's sacred, one eats, one drinks, one sings with a certain behavior, because there are ladies and noblemen present."  Unfortunately, it was found more than once that they became engaged, given to fantasy, were squandering their fortune on the inns of the town.

As the crossing consisted of multiple dangers, certain people, after having made good, would put themselves in order with God  and, before boarding the ship, would confess one's sins.

Around 1670, one constructs, in the region of La Rochelle, small rapid boats which served everywhere as scouts and which were called frigates.  Their total length often attained thirty meters and the height, eight meters. The crew of these boats rarely surpassed thirty sailors.  To assure their defense, the
vessels were prepared with about fifty cannons.

Even if everyone was then on board, it was necessary that the ship must not lift the anchor immediately. They had to wait for a favorable wind. Sometimes they waited for several days.
 


WHY did all these people decide to leave France?
 

The picture which one would sometimes sketch of the New World was  so pretty that the temptation to leave became more and more strong.  One spoke of a climate of liberty, of extraordinary hunting and fishing, of immense forests, but equally, harsh ways from those who existed there before the French arrived.

But at the moment France was agitated by a series of popular uprisings aiming to protest against absolutism of royal authority. This movement became baptised with the name "Fronde".

Several regions of France became devastated in the course of these engagements. Also in this troubled period, finances were in a precarious state, because the taxes were very often not paid. Representatives of royal authority and noblemen then seized the goods of the peasants.

The popular uprisings, in the country as well as in the towns, added to the general confusion.  This state of quasi continuous war engendered the epidemics which decimated the population.

A bruised France was marked by numerous wars with England, Spain, the Netherlands, and others. The confrontments between Catholics and Protestants were one rare violence at the beginning of the century. In 1627, Richelieu began the siege of the city of La Rochelle, considered to be like one of the strong castles of Protestantism. The town resisted for more than a year and had to surrender after fifteen thousand of its twenty thousand inhabitants were found dead.

The first reclaimers who came to take root in New France were often founders of the towns. There they carried out trades of blacksmiths, coopers, carpenters, surgeons, barbers or tailors. For the most part between themselves, there was no choice. To survive here, it was necessary to reclaim acres and acres of land, to roam the woods and occasionally, pursue the training of the trade from the beginning.
 


LA ROCHELLE
 

La Rochelle, Charente Maritime department, 95,300 inhabitants, ancient capital of Aunis, diocese, port of
fishing and commerce, is situated on a cove of the Atlantic Ocean.

>From the 14th to the 18th century, La Rochelle became one of the grand maritime cities of France and its marinas became the first to profit from the discovery of the New World.  It was in this port from which embarked the founders of Montreal and a large number of the first colonists of Canada.

In the 16th century, the town became one of the boulevards of the Reform. The royal army vainly took siege of the place for more than six months, in 1573, and the Calvinists took the liberty of exercising their cult. But under Louis XIII, the people of La Rochelle started a new revolt and made common cause with England (1627). This is therefore made the place of the memorable siege of La Rochelle (1628) which guided Louis XIII and Richelieu.  After a heroic resistance of 15 months, sustained by the indomitable
energy of Mayor Guiton, the town, closely blockaded by land and by sea, surrendered on October 28, 1629.

>From then on, La Rochelle carried all its efforts toward the colonization and its commerce took an extraordinary leap, but it became ruined by the defeat of Canada (1763) and by the Blocus Continental, under the Empire. The corsairs therefore guided a rough war against the English.

During the war of 1939-1945, the built-up area of the Pallice and of Laleu were subjected to severe devestations from the acts of the bombings, and the Germans remained in the "pocket" of La Rochelle until May 8, 1945.

The port and the beach, the center of La Rochelle for the tourists, is formed by the Duperre wharf and the courtyard of the Dames which border the Old Port, reserved by fishing boats, and therefore the entry is surrounded by all thetowers of the Chaine and Saint-Nicolas.  The ensemble is composed of an incomparable scene. At the junction of the Duperre quay and the courtyard of Dames, the port of the large Clock, from the 13th century, with coronation and decoration from the 18th century, serves as the entry to the town.  Facing it, one finds the statue of the Admiral Duperre (1775-1846).

The entry of the Old Port is encircled by two towers of the 14th centry; to the right, the tower of the Chaine, built around 1375, thus named because of the chain which one seals in order to close the port during the night; to the left, the Saint-Nicolas tower, built between 1350 and 1384, which to itself constitutes a strong fortress; the opening forms a pentagon of which four
angles are flanked by connected towers and the fifth by a square turret.

Crossing the port of the Dames, at the foot of the tower of Chaine, one finds to the right, a stairway climbing to the street of Sur les Murs, established on a fragment of ramparts from the Middle Ages.  It abuts at the tower of the Lanterne (1445-1468), magnificent cylindrical turret surmounted by a high octagonal spire and flanked by a stairway turret holding a lantern which formerly served as a lighthouse.
In the tower of la Lanterne, continuing to follow the rampart by foot, then crossing the enclosure fortified by Vauban by the port of the Deux Moulins, one arrives at the beach of la Concurrence, small expanse, but framed by the beautiful shaded promenades.

The town hotel, the most remarkable monument of La Rochelle, was constructed by one part under Francois I, around 1544, and also under Henri VI, between 1595 and 1607. It was preceded by an old wall of the 15th century, at battles and machicoulis, which connected two little belfries.  In the courtyard, the facade is a sumptuous work, very characteristic of the Saint-Ongenaise Renaissance, with an original gallery open at ground-level.  It is flanked on the left by a pavillion from the time of Henri II. The interior encloses interesting historic souvenirs.

 


 
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