Thomas B. Costain
"The First Settler"

By Juliana L’Heureux

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An interesting account of Louis Hebert, Quebec's first prominent settler, written by Thomas B. Costain was found in a garage sale of old books. 

Costain is the author of many historic novels, including. "The White and the Gold", about the brave people who settled New France in the 17th century. Unfortunately, Costain's books are somewhat difficult to find outside of libraries. Consequently, finding "Vignettes of French Canada", a series of historic stories, was a special discovery found buried in a 1956 anthology of Canadian writers, "Cavalcade of the North", by George E. Nelson. 

Although most historic accounts about Hebert are written in French, Costain's vignette, "The First Settler", is a rare English language account about his life. 

Hebert was a French apothecary who learned about the colonization of New France from his father who was an attending physician at the French court. Hebert's father provided medical attention to the controversial French Queen Catherine de Medici (1519-1589). Apparently, the Queen fell ill as a result of her brutal force in French politics during the 30 years of Roman Catholic-Huguenot wars. She is known as an instigator of the bloody Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day, when 50,000 people were murdered and French Protestants were expelled from France. 

As a result of witnessing this intrigue and tragedy, Hebert was eager to accept an offer in 1616 by the French explorer Samuel Champlain to serve as a paid physician for an expedition to Acadia. In a strange twist, the circumstances of this arrangement changed. Instead of accompanying the famous explorer Champlain to Acadia, Hebert and his family landed on a warm summer day on the mosquito ridden shores of Quebec.

Hebert believed he was blessed to witness the settling of a New World. He began immediately to claim ten acres of land allotted to him by the French government. Hebert's first night in Quebec was spent sleeping under a tree with his family on their newly acquired land. In fact, the spot where the tree stood is still pointed out to curious visitors, writes Costain.

In spite of Hebert's comfortable upbringing in France, he soon demonstrated his pioneering spirit in the hostile Quebec environment. He set to work clearing a considerable stretch of land where he built a temporary house for his family and the one domestic servant who accompanied them. Later, Hebert built the first real house to be constructed on Canadian soil. The house he built was one story, thirty-eight feet long and nineteen feet wide. At this home, Hebert entertained his old friend Champlain who visited the family with his dog Matelot at his heels, writes Costain. 

As the first physician to Quebec, Hebert was rewarded for his help with the love and gratitude of the people he cared for. Eventually, the good will of his neighbors helped him to prosper. Today, the Hebert family prevails in Quebec through the marriage of his second daughter Marie Guillaumette, to Quebec carpenter, Guillaume Couillard in 1621. Modern descendents of this marriage continue to be prominent Quebec citizens.

Sadly, it was a severe loss to the colony of Quebec when Hebert suffered a fall and died on January 25, 1627. 

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Published May 25, 2000
Copyright 1999-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux