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My next sixteenth-century digression takes us to Nova Scotia, where, in the 1560s or '70s, French sailors met a Micmac chief named Messamoet, and agreed to take him back to France. The chief spent an unspecified period, perhaps as long as several years, with Msr. de Grandmont, Governor of the City of Bayonne, and learned the French language and some of their customs. Upon his return to Canada Messamoet used his experience and training to become a fur trader and an interpreter for French explorers. He helped Samuel de Champlain map the coast of Maine in 1604, and helped Jean de Biencourt establish Port Royal, the first French settlement in Acadia, two years later.
Harold Prins believes Messamoet may have commanded a crew of Micmacs who acquired a Basque fishing vessel early in the seventeenth century, and who used it to fish and trade up and down the coast from Newfoundland to Maine. English mariners encountered this vessel in 1602 and said that its captain wore a serge waistcoat, European-style breeches, shoes, stockings, and a banded hat, and knew a fair amount of "Christian words."
However successful he might have become as a trader and translator, Messamoet's close contact with Europeans ultimately undid him. In 1610 he accepted baptism from Jesuit missionaries, and shortly thereafter died of an unspecified European illness, which he probably caught from those same missionaries or other Frenchmen at Port Royal. It's surprising, though, that Messamoet still lacked immunity to Old World diseases following several months' or years' residence in France. Perhaps simple age was also to blame: assuming Messamoet was in his twenties when he first traveled to France, and that he did so no later than 1580, he would have been in his late fifties or sixties by the time he died. (Harold Prins, "To the Land of the Mistigoches," 188; see also Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes [1625; reprint, Glasgow, 1906], 18:265)
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