Father Pierre Biard (ca. 1567-1622) was a French missionary whose experiences in North America emphasize the fierce competition for profit and territory at stake in overseas expansion. His early writings on Acadia and New France, and the accusations against him in Lescarbot’s important Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, reveal his prominent role in the history of the French in North America.
Born in Grenoble, Biard joined the Society of Jesus in 1583. He was ordained in 1599, after study at Billom and Avignon. He served as a professor of theology for the first years of the seventeenth century. In 1608, the provincial of the Jesuits ordered him to take over the missionary effort in Acadia.
Biard did not sail immediately, however. Opposition to the Catholic presence by the Calvinist backers of the colony meant that the Jesuits were delayed. They were finally able to sail on a ship owned by Charles de Biencourt after financial intervention on their behalf by the Marquis de Guercheville. However, the partnership with Biencourt proved a major liability, as Biard and Biencourt butted heads repeatedly.
Biard and his party, including Father Énemond Massé, finally sailed from Dieppe on January 26, 1611. They were driven into Newport, Isle of Wight, by bad weather, eventually reaching Port Royal on May 22. Port Royal had been named the capital of Acadia colony in 1605. However, the British colony of Virginia was granted for 400 miles along the coast, encompassing much of the southern reaches of French Acadia. This led to conflict between the imperial powers.
Biard struggled to make many conversions due to a new Jesuit policy of limiting baptisms to those who fully understood Christian practices. This angered Biencourt, who wanted to use the conversion rate as a way to raise money for future voyages back in France. In 1613, the Marquis de Guercheville ordered a ship commanded by René le Coq de La Saussaye to extract the Jesuits from Port Royal. They sought to found a new colony farther south, which they called Saint Sauveur (today it is Bar Harbor, Maine).
The Jesuits and their companions had barely begun to order their new settlement when Samuel Argall sailed into the harbor. Argall was an employee of the Virginia Company who had already sailed on the coast of Maine on a fishing expedition; his charts of the area were later used by John Smith. The Virginia Company had been alarmed when Biard and his companions were forced into Newport. They had named Argall Admiral of Virginia and ordered him to expel the French from the territory claimed by the Company. En route to Acadia, Argall abducted Pocahontas to use as bargaining chip for eight English men held by her father, Powhatan.
The French began Saint Sauveur in May; Argall arrived in July. He quickly took control and declared the French pirates. He let La Saussaye sail away in a shallop; Father Massé went with him, but Baird and a Father Jacques Quentin were among the 14 prisoners kept by the English. In Jamestown, Biard faced a possible hanging. However, Argall intervened, revealing that the priests and their compatriots did have French authorization and were not, therefore, actually pirates.
After escaping the gallows, Biard was made to accompany Argall and his men as they returned to Maine. There, they destroyed the French outpost of Sainte-Croix and burned Port Royal. Biancourt was livid and blamed Biard and his fellow missionaries for the sacking. Upon sailing for Jamestown, however, the small fleet was caught in a storm. The ship carrying Biard was carried far east, stopped at the Azores for water, and then landed in Wales.
Biard faced suspicions for his role in the burning of Port Royal. Biencourt was friends with the prominent writer Marc Lescarbot, who had accompanied Biencourt on a voyage to Acadia in 1606-7. Lescarbot wrote in the expanded edition of his influential Histoire de la Nouvelle-France that the Jesuits were the ones to tell Argall the location of Port Royal. Biard maintained that a local Native American leader told the English of the settlement. Father Biard was eventually vindicated by Samuel Champlain and others. He also defended himself in a series of letters, typical of Jesuit missionary writing, some of which were published in 1616 as Relation de la Nouvelle France. He returned to a quiet life as a theology professor. Later, he again served as a missionary, this time in the south of France, and was also a military chaplain.