Yarmouth Vanguard, March 7, 1989
This was Pierre Maisonnat, more commonly known, for no apparent reason, Pierre Baptiste, or Captain Baptiste, or simply and more often Baptiste. He was born in 1663, in Bergerac, France, some 60 miles east of Bordeaux. He is labelled in different documents as a soldier, a sailor, a pilot, a ship master, a captain, a privateer, a buccaneer, a freebooter, a filibuster, a pirate and a rascal.
In today’s language, we would add that he was also a “fourflusher” and a “playboy”. He was so cunning and shrewd, so deceitful at times, even with regard to his identity, that authors have wondered if there were not in Acadia, at the same time, two Baptistes of about the same age and of the same calibre. In Boston, he said that he was “not by birth a Subject of ye French King,” but a subject “of the Crown of England and, as a Protestant, was here (in Boston) received by the French church.”
Villebon, Governor of Acadia, had only to know him a couple of days to say of him that he was “a man of intelligence and enterprise … a man of great experience… a man well-spoken of and devoted to the cause of France.” Even among the English his reputation was such that one of their captains, in 1695, was asking Villebon to meet him, whom he called “a brave man”. Daring, nothing seemed to be too risky for him. Unscrupulous, all means were honest for him. Ambitious, everything seemed to succeed for him, at least ’til he himself would get caught in his own snares.
We meet him for the first time in May of 1690 at the defense of Port Royal which was seized by Sir William Phipps, who took to Boston a large number of prisoners, among whom was Baptiste. But Baptiste managed to get his freedom.
The year after, 1691, he was already cruising the waters of New England in quest of prizes. Frontenac, Governor of Quebec, was saying in 1693 that he knew “the coast of Acadia perfectly well, being already very familiar with the waters and the coasts from Placentia, Newfoundland, to Quebec, from the St. Lawrence River to the Bay of Fundy, from Port Royal to Minas, the St. John River, the Maine coast, Boston and even Manhattan. He seemed to have had a house in different places, Port Royal, the Amherst region, Placentia and Fredericton.
The number of enemy ships that he took from 1691 is countless. In the first four or five months of 1691, he had already taken eight of them. In 1694, within three months, he captured 10 of them. He quickly won the esteem and consideration of the French Governors and Officers. Around the end of 1693, Frontenac sent him to Paris to negotiate the affairs of Acadia. He came back the following year with a vessel.
His first serious defeat took place in may of 1695 when, entering Sydney harbour, he ran into an English frigate, which forced him to run his vessel ashore. But he managed to escape with his crew.
In the Spring of 1697, Villebon sent him on a raid along the New England coast with the order to destroy English property everywhere. But he was caught and taken to Boston where he was put in chains. When the other French prisoners were released six months later, he was detained because he was considered a pirate, charged with treason and murder. But he managed again to escape, just a few days later.
His liberty, though, was of short duration as he was caught and brought back to Boston to stand trial. In the meantime, Frontenac wrote to the new Governor, Earl of Bellemont, saying that “I am persuaded … that you will no longer tolerate the detention there (in Boston), in chains, of Capt. Baptiste.” A couple of weeks later, he arrived at Jemseg, on the St. John river, by way of Port Royal. He was then put in command of six companies of militia organized the previous year, 1697, by the people with such weapons as were at hand.
The four following years, he kept on molesting vessels from New England and managed all that time to avoid being captured. In the summer of 1702, he was taken for a third time to Boston as prisoner. This time, the Governor decided to do away with him entirely. When the Governor of Acadia heard that he was to be hanged, he sent words to the governor of Boston that he would retaliate if he was to follow his plans. And thus Baptiste’s life was spared. We are surprised, though, that in 1705 he was still in close captivity in the fort on Castle Island, just south of Boston.
When during this year came up the question of exchange of prisoners between Boston and Port Royal, the French governor made it clear that no exchange would take place unless Baptiste be also released. The governor of Boston answered that Baptiste is such “a rascal that he does not deserve that you ask for him again” and for the same reason “he is not worthy for me to keep him any longer … Therefore, this matter will be closed.” But it will be still a year before Baptiste will be set free.
Thus ended, it would seem, the adventures of Baptiste although his name is still mentioned a few times in documents. His name appears seemingly for the last time in 1714, in the census of Beaubassin (Chignecto), where we find him with his “third” wife.
Next week, I will let you know how many wives he really had.