Thursday, September 8, 2011

1933 letter to the editor about St. Croix Island, settled in 1604 by deMonts & Champlain - by Mrs. Ida Vose Woodbury

July 27, 1933 newspaper clipping describing a letter to the editor written by Mrs. Ida Vose Woodbury in which she objects to the fact that St. Croix Island was misidentified as Dochet Island in Senator Wallace H. White's bill proposing that the island become a national park.

St. Croix Island is the site chosen by French explorers Sieur deMonts and Samuel de Champlain to establish a settlement in 1604.  The island is located in the St. Croix River not far from where it empties into Passamaquoddy Bay near St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada.  

Sadly, the island proved to be a site poorly suited for what would be an unusually harsh winter.  On the island, the party of 79 had felt they would be safer from the Wabanaki natives, in case of conflict, and yet it was the Wabanakis whose help and know-how they came to rely on, albeit too late for many of the men, 35 of whom succumbed to scurvy, sickness and cold.  

The following year the party moved its settlement to Port-Royal, Nova Scotia.

Today St. Croix island is regarded as a site of international significance.  The United States and Canada operate historic parks on their sides of the river facing the island.  
     US side, Red Beach section of Calais, Maine 
     Canada side, Bayside, New Brunswick 


In a recent letter to a Portland newspaper Mrs. Ida Vose Woodbury voices a strong protest against the use of the name "Dochet" as applied to the historic islet in the St. Croix River where DeMonts and Champlain spent that disastrous winter in 1604.  Her letter was prompted by the introduction of a bill in Congress by Senator Wallace H. White of Maine asking that the island be made a national park and a monument erected there, and she writes:

"My object in writing this article  is a protest against the name which Mr. White used in speaking of the island.  He called it Douchet.  That was one of the many names applied to it.  Another was Dosia, connected with a local tragedy on the island.  It was also called Big Island, Great Island, Neutral Island and many other things.  But when DeMonts and Champlain first came to the island they named it St. Croix for the river in which it is located.  The river takes its name from a crude cross which is readily distinguishable from the river itself or from the "English side" (so called) especially at high tide.  Oak Bay forms the head, and the Waweig, flowing from New Brunswick with the river itself which is the Maine boundary, make the arms of a cross which give a reasonable foundation for the name St. Croix.  When DeMonts came to the island, he named it the same.  Champlain, the geographical member of the expedition, corroborated it.

"In 1904, a ter-centenary celebration of the settlement of the island was held.  There were two assemblies; one on the island itself and the other in the Opera House in Calais.  Representatives from Maine, from New Brunswick, and from France were present.  The secretary of the committee brought a petition from the historical town of St. Andrews, which took the form of a resolution that the island should henceforth and forever be known by the name of St. Croix.  This resolution was unanimously adopted.  Later the city of Calais, on the Maine side of the river, and the city of St. Stephen on the New Brunswick side, by official action confirmed this resolution.  It seems to me that we should not go back of these actions.  I approve heartily of Senator White's plan if the country ever has money enough to indulge in parks and monuments, but I plead for the name of St. Croix, the only legal name for the island."

That is straightforward and conclusive enough to set straight the record which has gone somewhat astray since the celebration nearly 30 years ago.  It is rather surprising that the name Dochet clings so tenaciously when the name of the river is a constant reminder of the proper, legal name of the island.

Interestingly, I once read a school report of a Robbinston, Maine schoolgirl on the tercentenary celebration mentioned in Mrs. Woodbury's letter.  She mentioned that three French warships attended the celebration.  Robbinston abuts the Red Beach section of Calais where St. Croix Island is located.        

In 2004, a ten-day quadrennial celebration marked the event.  Unfortunately, it was hampered by unending torrential rain and fog, perhaps an echo of the harsh weather of 1604.  

Thanks for stopping by!

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