In the early 1600s, the race to settle the New World was under way.
King Henry IV wanted to make sure that France staked a solid claim. He made Pierre Dugua a lieutenant governor and granted him a fur trading monopoly in exchange for his promise to colonize North America and convert the natives to Christianity.
Dugua carefully selected a group of 120 men with skills in farming, mining, health care, and exploration. They crossed the Atlantic in five ships and arrived in 1604 at a small island situated at the junction of two rivers. Dugua dubbed the island “Ste. Croix.”
The island’s isolation and exposure to the elements, however, proved deadly as a harsh winter set in. The rivers iced over, stranding the settlers and cutting off access to fresh water and trade with the Indians.
By the spring of 1605, 35 of the 79 men who stayed on St. Croix had died. They were buried on the island.
Those who survived, including Samuel Champlain, moved on to found the first permanent French settlement at Port Royal, Nova Scotia.
Saint Croix Island International Historic Site preserves this first stopping point for the French settlers. Visits to the island are restricted, but an interpretive trail on the mainland recalls the events of 1604-1605 and their place in history.