The Founder of New France - A Chronicle of Champlain
by Charles W. Colby
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The monopoly granted to De Monts had now reached its close, and trade was open to all comers. From 1609 until 1613 this unrestricted competition ran its course, with the result that a larger market was created for beaver skins, while nothing was done to build up New France as a colony. On the whole, the most notable feature of the period is the establishment of close personal relations between Champlain and the Indians. It was then that he became the champion of the Algonquins and Hurons against the Iroquois League or Five Nations, inaugurating a policy which was destined to have profound consequences.

The considerations which governed Champlain in his dealings with the Indians lay quite outside the rights and wrongs of their tribal {69} wars. His business was to explore the continent on behalf of France, and accordingly he took conditions as he found them. The Indians had souls to be saved, but that was the business of the missionaries. In the state of nature all savages were much like wild animals, and alliance with one nation or another was a question which naturally settled itself upon the basis of drainage basins. Lands within the Laurentian watershed were inhabited mainly by Algonquins and Hurons, whose chief desire in life was to protect themselves from the Iroquois and avenge past injuries. The Five Nations dwelt far south from the Sault St Louis and did not send their furs there for the annual barter. Champlain, ever in quest of a route to the East, needed friends along the great rivers of the wilderness. The way to secure them, and at the same time to widen the trading area, was to fight for the savages of the St Lawrence and the Ottawa against those of the Mohawk.

And Champlain was a good ally, as he proved in the forest wars of 1609 and 1615. With all their shortcomings, the Indians knew how to take the measure of a man. The difference between a warrior and a trader was {70} especially clear to their untutored minds, they themselves being much better fighters than men of commerce. Champlain, like others, suffered from their caprice, but they respected his bravery and trusted his word.

In the next chapter we shall attempt to follow Champlain through the wilderness, accompanied by its inhabitants, who were his guides and friends. For the present we must pursue the fortunes of Quebec, whose existence year by year hung upon the risk that court intrigue would prevail against the determination of two brave men.

From 1608 till 1611 De Monts had two partners, named Collier and Legendre, both citizens of Rouen. It was with the money of these three that the post at Quebec had been built and equipped. Champlain was their lieutenant and Pontgrave the commander of their trading ships. After four years of experience Collier and Legendre found the results unsatisfactory. 'They were unwilling,' says Champlain, 'to continue in the association, as there was no commission forbidding others from going to the new discoveries and trading with the inhabitants of the country. Sieur de Monts, seeing this, bargained with them for what remained at the settlement at Quebec, {71} in consideration of a sum of money which he gave them for their share.'

Thus the intrepid De Monts became sole proprietor of the habitation, and whatever clustered round it, at the foot of Cape Diamond. But the property was worthless if the fur trade could not be put on a stable basis. Quebec during its first three years had been a disappointment because, contrary to expectation, it gave its founders no advantage over their competitors which equalled the cost of maintenance. De Monts was still ready to assist Champlain in his explorations, but his resources, never great, were steadily diminishing, and while trade continued unprofitable there were no funds for exploration. Moreover, the assassination of Henry IV in 1610 weakened De Monts at court. Whatever Henry's shortcomings as a friend of Huguenots and colonial pioneers, their chances had been better with him than they now were with Marie de Medicis.[1] Champlain states that De Monts' engagements did not permit him to prosecute his interests at court. {72} Probably his engagements would have been less pressing had he felt more sure of favour. In any event, he made over to Champlain the whole conduct of such negotiations as were called for by the unsatisfactory state of affairs on the St Lawrence.

Champlain went to France. What follows is an illuminating comment upon the conditions that prevailed under the Bourbon monarchy. As Champlain saw things, the merchants who clamoured for freedom of trade were greedy pot-hunters. 'All they want,' he says, 'is that men should expose themselves to a thousand dangers to discover peoples and territories, that they themselves may have the profit and others the hardship. It is not reasonable that one should capture the lamb and another go off with the fleece. If they had been willing to participate in our discoveries, use their means and risk their persons, they would have given evidence of their honour and nobleness, but, on the contrary, they show clearly that they are impelled by pure malice that they may enjoy the fruit of our labours equally with ourselves.' Against folk of this sort Champlain felt he had to protect the national interests which were so dear to him and De Monts. As things then {73} went, there was only one way to secure protection. At Fontainebleau a great noble was not habituated to render help without receiving a consideration. But protection could be bought by those who were able to pay for it.

The patron selected by Champlain was the Comte de Soissons, a Bourbon by lineage and first cousin of Henry IV. His kinship to the boy-king gave him, among other privileges, the power to exact from the regent gifts and offices as the price of his support. Possessing this leverage, Soissons caused himself to be appointed viceroy of Canada, with a twelve-year monopoly of the fur trade above Quebec. The monopoly thus re-established, its privileges could be sublet, Soissons receiving cash for the rights he conceded to the merchants, and they taking their chance to turn a profit out of the transaction.

Such at least was the theory; but before Soissons could turn his post into a source of revenue he died. Casting about for a suitable successor, Champlain selected another prince of the blood—Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Conde, who duly became viceroy of Canada and holder of the monopoly in succession to his uncle, the Comte de Soissons.

The part of Champlain in these transactions {74} is very conspicuous, and justly so. There was no advantage in being viceroy of Canada unless the post produced a revenue, and before the viceroy could receive a revenue some one was needed to organize the chief Laurentian traders into a company strong enough to pay Soissons or Conde a substantial sum. Champlain was convinced that the stability of trade (upon which, in turn, exploration depended) could be secured only in this way. It was he who memorialized President Jeannin[2]; enlisted the sympathy of the king's almoner, Beaulieu; appealed to the royal council; proposed the office of viceroy to Soissons; and began the endeavour to organize a new trading company. Considering that early in 1612 he suffered a serious fall from his horse, this record of activity is sufficiently creditable for one twelvemonth. Meanwhile the Indians at Sault St Louis grieved at his absence, and his enemies told them he was dead.

It was not until 1614 that the new programme in its entirety could be carried out. {75} This time the delay came, not from the court, but from the merchants. Negotiations were in progress when the ships sailed for the voyage of 1613, but Champlain could not remain to conclude them, as he felt that he must keep faith with the Indians. However, on his return to France that autumn, he resumed the effort, and by the spring of 1614 the merchants of Rouen, St Malo, and La Rochelle had been brought to terms among themselves as participants in a monopoly which was leased from the viceroy. Conde received a thousand crowns a year, and the new company also agreed to take out six families of colonists each season. In return it was granted the monopoly for eleven years. De Monts was a member of the company and Quebec became its headquarters in Canada. But the moving spirit was Champlain, who was appointed lieutenant to the viceroy with a salary and the right to levy for his own purposes four men from each ship trading in the river.

Once more disappointment followed. Save for De Monts, Champlain's company was not inspired by Champlain's patriotism. During the first three years of its existence the obligation to colonize was wilfully disregarded, while in the fourth year the treatment accorded {76} Louis Hebert shows that good faith counted for as little with the fur traders when they acted in association as when they were engaged in cut-throat competition.

Champlain excepted, Hebert was the most admirable of those who risked death in the attempt to found a settlement at Quebec. He was not a Norman peasant, but a Parisian apothecary. We have already seen that he took part in the Acadian venture of De Monts and Poutrincourt. After the capture of Port Royal by the English he returned to France (1613) and reopened his shop. Three years later Champlain was authorized by the company to offer him and his family favourable terms if they would emigrate to Quebec, the consideration being two hundred crowns a year for three years, besides maintenance. On this understanding Hebert sold his house and shop, bought an equipment for the new home, and set off with his family to embark at Honfleur. Here he found that Champlain's shareholders were not prepared to stand by their agreement. The company first beat him down from two hundred to one hundred crowns a year, and then stipulated that he, his wife, his children, and his domestic should serve it for the three years during which the grant {77} was payable. Even at the end of three years, when he found himself at liberty to till the soil, he was bound to sell produce to the company at the prices prevalent in France. The company was to have his perpetual service as a chemist for nothing, and he must promise in writing to take no part in the fur trade. Hebert had cut off his retreat and was forced to accept these hard terms, but it is not strange that under such conditions colonists should have been few. Sagard, the Recollet missionary, says the company treated Hebert so badly because it wished to discourage colonization. What it wanted was the benefit of the monopoly, without the obligation of finding settlers who had to be brought over for nothing.

A man of honour like Champlain could not have tricked Hebert into the bad bargain he made, and their friendship survived the incident. But a company which transacted its business in this fashion was not likely to enjoy long life. Its chief asset was Champlain's friendship with the Indians, especially after his long sojourn with them in 1615 and 1616. Some years, particularly 1617, showed a large profit, but as time went on friction arose between the Huguenots of La Rochelle {78} and the Catholics of Rouen. Then there were interlopers to be prosecuted, and the quarrels of Conde with the government brought with them trouble to the merchants whose monopoly depended on his grant. For three years (1616-19) the viceroy of Canada languished in the Bastille. Shortly after his release he sold his viceregal rights to the Duke of Montmorency, Admiral of France. The price was 11,000 crowns.

In 1619 Champlain's company ventured to disagree with its founder, and, as a consequence, another crisis arose in the affairs of New France. The cause of dispute was the company's unwillingness to keep its promises regarding colonization. Champlain protested. The company replied that Pontgrave should be put in charge at Quebec. Champlain then said that Pontgrave was his old friend, and he hoped they would always be friends, but that he was at Quebec as the viceroy's representative, charged with the duty of defending his interests. The leader of Champlain's opponents among the shareholders was Boyer, a trader who had formerly given much trouble to De Monts, but was now one of the associates. When in the spring of 1619 Champlain attempted to sail for Quebec as usual, Boyer {79} prevented him from going aboard. There followed an appeal to the crown, in which Champlain was fully sustained, and Boyer did penance by offering a public apology before the Exchange at Rouen.

It was shortly after this incident that Conde abdicated in favour of Montmorency. The admiral, like his predecessor, accepted a thousand crowns a year and named Champlain as his lieutenant. He also instituted an inquiry regarding the alleged neglect of the company to maintain the post at Quebec. The investigation showed that abundant cause existed for depriving the company of its monopoly, and in consequence the grant was transferred, on similar terms, to William and Emery de Caen. Here complications at once ensued. The De Caens, who were natives of Rouen, were also Huguenots, a fact that intensified the ill-feeling which had already arisen on the St Lawrence between Catholic and heretic. The dispute between the new beneficiaries and the company founded by Champlain involved no change in the policy of the crown towards trade and colonization. It was a quarrel of persons, which eventually reached a settlement in 1622. The De Caens then compromised by reorganizing the {80} company and giving their predecessors five-twelfths of the shares.

The recital of these intricate events will at least illustrate the difficulties which beset Champlain in his endeavour to build up New France. There were problems enough even had he received loyal support from the crown and the company. With the English and Dutch in full rivalry, he saw that an aggressive policy of expansion and settlement became each year more imperative. Instead, he was called on to withstand the cabals of self-seeking traders who shirked their obligations, and to endure the apathy of a government which was preoccupied with palace intrigues.

At Quebec itself the two bright spots were the convent of the Recollets[3] and the little farm of Louis Hebert. The Recollets first came to New France in 1615, and began at once by language study to prepare for their work among the Montagnais and Hurons. It was a stipulation of the viceroy that six of them should be supported by the company, and in the absence of parish priests they ministered to the ungodly hangers-on of the fur trade as well as to the Indians. Louis {81} Hebert and his admirable family were very dear to the Fathers. In 1617 all the buildings which had been erected at Quebec lay by the water's edge. Hebert was the first to make a clearing on the heights. His first domain covered less than ten acres, but it was well tilled. He built a stone house, which was thirty-eight feet by nineteen. Besides making a garden, he planted apple-trees and vines. He also managed to support some cattle. When one considers what all this means in terms of food and comfort, it may be guessed that the fur traders, wintering down below on salt pork and smoked eels, must have felt much respect for the farmer in his stone mansion on the cliff.

We have from Champlain's own lips a valuable statement as to the condition of things at Quebec in 1627, the year when Louis Hebert died. 'We were in all,' he says, 'sixty-five souls, including men, women, and children.' Of the sixty-five only eighteen were adult males fit for hard work, and this small number must be reduced to two or three if we include only the tillers of the soil. Besides these, a few adventurous spirits were away in the woods with the Indians, learning their language and endeavouring to exploit the beaver trade; but twenty years after the founding of Quebec the {82} French in Canada, all told, numbered less than one hundred.

Contrast with this the state of Virginia fifteen years after the settlement of Jamestown. 'By 1622,' says John Fiske, 'the population of Virginia was at least 4000, the tobacco fields were flourishing and lucrative, durable houses had been built and made comfortable with furniture brought from England, and the old squalor was everywhere giving way to thrift. The area of colonization was pushed up the James River as far as Richmond.'

This contrast is not to be interpreted to the personal disadvantage of Champlain. The slow growth and poverty of Quebec were due to no fault of his. It is rather the measure of his greatness that he was undaunted by disappointment and unembittered by the pettiness of spirit which met him at every turn. A memorial which he presented in 1618 to the Chamber of Commerce at Paris discloses his dream of what might be: a city at Quebec named Ludovica, a city equal in size to St Denis and filled with noble buildings grouped round the Church of the Redeemer. Tributary to this capital was a vast region watered by the St Lawrence and abounding 'in rolling plains, {83} beautiful forests, and rivers full of fish.' From Ludovica the heathen were to be converted and a passage discovered to the East. So important a trade route would be developed, that from the tolls alone there would be revenue to construct great public works. Rich mines and fat cornfields fill the background.

Such was the Quebec of Champlain's vision—if only France would see it so! But in the Quebec of reality a few survivors saw the hunger of winter yield to the starvation of spring. They lived on eels and roots till June should bring the ships and food from home.

[1] The second and surviving wife of Henry IV—an Italian by birth and in close sympathy with Spain. As regent for her son, Louis XIII, she did much to reverse the policy of Henry IV, both foreign and domestic.

[2] One of the chief advisers of Marie de Medicis. In the early part of his career he was President of the Parlement of Dijon and an important member of the extreme Catholic party. After the retirement of the Duc de Sully (1611) he was placed in charge of the finances of France.

[3] The Recollets were a branch of the Franciscan order, noted for the austerity of their rule.




Champlain's journeyings with the Indians were the holiday of his life, for at no other time was he so free to follow the bent of his genius. First among the incentives which drew him to the wilderness was his ambition to discover the pathway to China. In 1608 the St Lawrence had not been explored beyond the Lachine Rapids, nor the Richelieu beyond Chambly—while the Ottawa was known only by report. Beyond Lake St Louis stretched a mysterious world, through the midst of which flowed the Great River. For an explorer and a patriot the opportunity was priceless. The acquisition of vast territory for the French crown, the enlargement of the trade zone, the discovery of a route to Cathay, the prospect of Arcadian joys and exciting adventures—beside such promptings hardship and danger became negligible. And when exploring the wilderness Champlain was in full command. {85} Off the coast of Norumbega his wishes, as geographer, had been subject to the special projects of De Monts and Poutrincourt. At Fontainebleau he waited for weeks and months in the antechambers of prelates or nobles. But when conducting an expedition through the forest he was lord and master, a chieftain from whose arquebus flew winged death.

The story of Champlain's expeditions along these great secluded waterways, and across the portages of the forest, makes the most agreeable page of his life both for writer and reader, since it is here that he himself is most clearly in the foreground. At no point can his narrative be thought dull, compact as it is and always in touch with energetic action. But the details of fur trading at Tadoussac and the Sault St Louis, or even of voyaging along the Acadian seaboard, are far less absorbing than the tale of the canoe and the war party. Amid the depths of the interior Champlain reaped his richest experiences as an explorer. With the Indians for his allies and enemies he reached his fullest stature as a leader.

It is not important to dwell upon the minor excursions which Champlain made from his headquarters at Quebec into the country of the {86} Montagnais.[1] He saw little of the rocky northland which, with its myriad lakes and splendid streams, sweeps from the St Lawrence to Hudson Bay. Southward and westward lay his course to the cantons of the Iroquois south of Lake Ontario and the villages of the Hurons north of Lake Simcoe. Above all, the expeditions of 1609, 1613, and 1615 are the central episodes of his work as an explorer, each marked by a distinct motive and abounding with adventures. In 1609 he discovered Lake Champlain and fought his first battle with the Iroquois. In 1613 he was decoyed by a lying guide into a fruitless search for the North-West Passage by the route of the Ottawa. In 1615 he discovered Lake Huron, traversed what is now Central Ontario, and attacked the Iroquois in the heart of their own country. These three journeys make the sum of Champlain's achievements as a pioneer of the interior. For all three, likewise, we have his own story, upon which all other versions are based and from which they draw their most striking details.

The discovery of Lake Champlain had its root in Champlain's promise to the Algonquins {87} that he would aid them in their strife with the Iroquois. In turn this promise was based upon the policy of conciliating those savage tribes from whom the French derived their supply of furs, and with whom throughout the St Lawrence basin they most constantly came in contact.

It was the year which followed the founding of Quebec. Of the twenty-eight who entered upon the first winter eight only had survived, and half of these were ailing. On June 5 relief came in the person of Des Marais, who announced that his father-in-law, Pontgrave, was already at Tadoussac. Champlain at once set out to meet him, and it was arranged that Pontgrave should take charge of the settlement for the coming year, while Champlain fulfilled his promise to aid the Algonquins in their war with the Iroquois. The full plan required that Pontgrave should spend the winter in Canada, while Champlain, after his summer campaign, was to return to France with a report of his explorations.

The Indians had stated that the route to the land of the Iroquois was easy, and Champlain's original design was to proceed in a shallop capable of carrying twenty Frenchmen. Early in July he reached the mouth {88} of the Richelieu, but on arriving at Chambly he found it quite impossible to pass the falls with his shallop. Either the expedition must be abandoned or the plan be radically changed, with the consequence of incurring much greater risks. To advance meant sending back the shallop with its crew and stores, embarking in a canoe, and trusting wholly to the good faith of the savages. The decision was not easy. 'I was much troubled,' says Champlain. 'And it gave me especial dissatisfaction to go back without seeing a very large lake, filled with handsome islands and with large tracts of fine land bordering on the lake, where their enemies lived, according to their representations. After duly thinking over the matter I determined to go and fulfil my promise and carry out my desire. Accordingly I embarked with the savages in their canoes, taking with me two men, who went cheerfully. After making known my plan to Des Marais and others in the shallop, I requested the former to return to our settlement with the rest of our company, giving them the assurance that in a short time, by God's grace, I would return to them.'

Having convinced himself, Champlain was next forced to convince the Indians, whose {89} first impulse was to abandon the campaign when they found that they would be accompanied by only three of the Frenchmen. Champlain's firmness, however, communicated itself to them, and on July 12 they set out from Chambly Basin to commence the portage. At the top of the rapid a review of forces was held, and it proved that the Indians numbered sixty men, equipped with twenty-four canoes. Advancing through a beautifully wooded country, the little war-party encamped at a point not far below the outlet of Lake Champlain, taking the precaution to protect themselves by a rough fortification of tree trunks.

At this point Champlain introduces a graphic statement regarding the methods which the Indians employ to guard against surprise. On three sides they protect the camp by fallen trees, leaving the river-bank without a barricade in order that they may take quickly to their canoes. Then, as soon as the camp has been fortified, they send out nine picked men in three canoes to reconnoitre for a distance of two or three leagues. But before nightfall these scouts return, and then all lie down to sleep, without leaving any pickets or sentries on duty. When {90} Champlain remonstrated with them for such gross carelessness, they replied that they worked hard enough during the daytime. The normal formation of an Indian war-party embraced three divisions—the scouts, the main body, and the hunters, the last always remaining in the rear and chasing their game in a direction from which they did not anticipate the appearance of the enemy. Having arrived at a distance of two or three days' march from their enemies, they united in a single party (save for the scouts) and advanced stealthily by night. At this juncture their food became baked Indian meal soaked in water. They hid by day and made no fire, save that required to smoke their tobacco.

Thus does Champlain describe the savage as he is about to fall upon his foe. He gives special prominence to the soothsayer, who on the eve of battle enters into elaborate intercourse with the devil. Inside a wooden hut the necromancer lies prostrate on the ground, motionless. Then he springs to his feet and begins to torment himself, counterfeiting strange tones to represent the speech of the devil, and carrying on violent antics which leave him in a stream of perspiration. Outside the hut the Indians sit round on their {91} haunches like apes and fancy that they can see fire proceeding from the roof, although the devil appears to the soothsayer in the form of a stone. Finally, the chiefs, when they have by these means learned that they will meet their enemy and kill a sufficient number, arrange the order of battle. Sticks a foot long are taken, one for each warrior, and these are laid out on a level place five or six feet square. The leader then explains the order of battle, after which the warriors substitute themselves for the sticks and go through the manoeuvres till they can do them without confusion.

From this description of tactics we pass speedily to a story of real war. Reaching Lake Champlain, the party skirted the western shore, with fine views of the Green Mountains, on the summit of which Champlain mistook white limestone for snow. On July 29, at Crown Point, the Iroquois were encountered at about ten o'clock in the evening. Thus the first real battle of French and Indians took place near that remarkable spot where Lake Champlain and Lake George draw close together—the Ticonderoga of Howe, the Carillon of Montcalm.

The Algonquins were in good courage, for, {92} besides the muskets of the three Frenchmen, they were inspired by a dream of Champlain that he had seen the Iroquois drowning in a lake. As soon as the enemies saw each other, both began to utter loud cries and make ready their weapons. The Algonquins kept out on the water; the Iroquois went ashore and built a barricade. When the Algonquins had made ready for battle

they dispatched two canoes to the enemy to inquire if they wished to fight, to which the latter replied that they wished nothing else; but they said that at present there was not much light, and that it would be necessary to wait for day so as to be able to recognize each other; and that as soon as the sun rose they would offer us battle. This was agreed to by our side. Meanwhile the entire night was spent in dancing and singing, on both sides, with endless insults and other talk; as how little courage we had, how feeble a resistance we should make against their arms, and that when day came we should realize it to our ruin. Ours also were not slow in retorting, telling them that they would see such execution of arms as never before, together with an abundance of such talk as is not unusual in the siege of a town.

Care had been taken by the Algonquins that the presence of Champlain and his two companions should come to the Iroquois as a complete surprise. Each of the Frenchmen {93} was in a separate canoe, convoyed by the Montagnais. At daylight each put on light armour and, armed with an arquebus, went ashore. Champlain was near enough the barricade to see nearly two hundred Iroquois, 'stout and rugged in appearance. They came at a slow pace towards us, with a dignity and assurance which greatly impressed me, having three chiefs at their head.' Champlain, when urged by his allies to make sure of killing the three chiefs, replied that he would do his best, and that in any case he would show them his courage and goodwill.

Then began the fight, which must be described in Champlain's own words, for in all his writings there is no more famous passage.

As soon as we had landed, they began to run for some two hundred paces towards their enemies, who stood firmly, not having as yet noticed my companions, who went into the woods with some savages. Our men began to call me with loud cries; and in order to give me a passage way they opened in two parts and put me at their head, where I marched some twenty paces in advance of the rest, until I was within about twenty paces of the enemy, who at once noticed me and, halting, gazed at me, as I did also at them. When I saw them make a move to fire at us, I rested my musket against my cheek and aimed directly at one of the three chiefs. With the same shot two fell to {94} the ground; and one of their men was so wounded that he died some time after. I had loaded my musket with four balls. When our side saw this shot so favourable for them, they began to raise such loud cries that one could not have heard it thunder. Meanwhile the arrows flew on both sides. The Iroquois were greatly astonished that two men had been so quickly killed, although they were equipped with armour woven from cotton thread and with wood which was proof against their arrows. This caused great alarm among them. As I was loading again, one of my companions fired a shot from the woods, which astonished them anew to such a degree that, seeing their chiefs dead, they lost courage and took to flight, abandoning their camp and fort and fleeing into the woods, whither I pursued them, killing still more of them. Our savages also killed several of them and took ten or twelve prisoners. The remainder escaped with the wounded. Fifteen or sixteen were wounded on our side with arrow shots, but they were soon healed.

The spoils of victory included a large quantity of Indian corn, together with a certain amount of meal, and also some of the native armour which the Iroquois had thrown away in order to effect their escape. Then followed a feast and the torture of one of the prisoners, whose sufferings were mercifully concluded by a ball from Champlain's musket, delivered in such wise that the unfortunate did not see {95} the shot. Like Montcalm and other French commanders of a later date, Champlain found it impossible to curb wholly the passions of his savage allies. In this case his remonstrances had the effect of gaining for the victim a coup de grace—which may be taken as a measure of Champlain's prestige. The atrocious savagery practised before and after death is described in full detail. Champlain concludes the lurid picture as follows: 'This is the manner in which these people behave towards those whom they capture in war, for whom it would be better to die fighting or to kill themselves on the spur of the moment, as many do rather than fall into the hands of their enemies.'

Beyond the point at which this battle was fought Champlain did not go. At Ticonderoga he was within eighty miles of the site of Albany. Had he continued, he would have reached the Hudson from the north in the same summer the Half Moon[2] entered it from the mouth. But the Algonquins were content with their victory, though they candidly {96} stated that there was an easy route from the south end of Lake George to 'a river flowing into the sea on the Norumbega coast near that of Florida.' The return to Quebec and Tadoussac was attended by no incident of moment. The Montagnais, on parting with Champlain at Tadoussac, generously gave him the head of an Iroquois and a pair of arms, with the request that they be carried to the king of France. The Algonquins had already taken their departure at Chambly, where, says Champlain, 'we separated with loud protestations of mutual friendship. They asked me whether I would not like to go into their country to assist them with continued fraternal relations; and I promised that I would do so.' As a contribution to geographical knowledge the expedition of 1609 disclosed the existence of a noble lake, to which Champlain fitly gave his own name. Its dimensions he considerably over-estimated, but in all essential respects its situation was correctly described, while his comments on the flora and fauna are very interesting. The garpike as he saw it, with amplifications from the Indians as they had seen it, gave him the subject for a good fish story. He was deeply impressed, too, by the richness of the vegetation. His attack on the {97} Iroquois was not soon forgotten by that relentless foe, and prepared a store of trouble for the colony he founded. But the future was closed to his view, and for the moment his was the glorious experience of being the first to gaze with European eyes upon a lake fairer and grander than his own France could show.

Four years elapsed before Champlain was enabled to plunge once more into the depths of the forest—this time only to meet with the severest disappointment of his life. Much has been said already regarding his ambition to discover a short route to Cathay. This was the great prize for which he would have sacrificed everything save loyalty to the king and duty to the church. For a moment he seemed on the point of gaining it. Then the truth was brutally disclosed, and he found that he had been wilfully deceived by an impostor.

It was a feature of Champlain's policy that from time to time French youths should spend the winter with the Indians—hunting with them, living in their settlements, exploring their country, and learning their language. Of Frenchmen thus trained to woodcraft during Champlain's lifetime the most notable were Etienne Brule, Nicolas Vignau, Nicolas {98} Marsolet, and Jean Nicolet. Unfortunately the three first did not leave an unclouded record. Brule, after becoming a most accomplished guide, turned traitor and aided the English in 1629. Champlain accuses Marsolet of a like disloyalty.[3] Vignau, with more imagination, stands on the roll of fame as a frank impostor.

Champlain, as we have seen, spent the whole of 1612 in France, and it was at this time that Vignau appeared in Paris with a tale which could not but kindle excitement in the heart of an explorer. The basis of fact was that Vignau had undoubtedly passed the preceding winter with the Algonquins on the Ottawa. The fable which was built upon this fact can best be told in Champlain's own words.

He reported to me, on his return to Paris in 1612, that he had seen the North Sea; that the river of the Algonquins [the Ottawa] came from a lake which emptied into it; and that in seventeen days one could go from the Falls of St Louis to this sea and back again; that he had seen the wreck and debris of an English ship that had been wrecked, on board of which were eighty men who had escaped to the shore, and whom the savages killed because the English endeavoured to take from them by force their Indian corn and other necessaries of life; and that he had seen {99} the scalps which these savages had flayed off, according to their custom, which they would show me, and that they would likewise give me an English boy whom they had kept for me. This intelligence greatly pleased me, for I thought that I had almost found that for which I had for a long time been searching.

Champlain makes it clear that he did not credit Vignau's tale with the simple credulity of a man who has never been to sea. He caused Vignau to swear to its truth at La Rochelle before two notaries. He stipulated that Vignau should go with him over the whole route. Finally, as they were on the point of sailing together for Canada in the spring of 1613, he once more adjured Vignau in the presence of distinguished witnesses, saying 'that if what he had previously said was not true, he must not give me the trouble to undertake the journey, which involved many dangers. Again he affirmed all that he had said, on peril of his life.'

After taking these multiplied precautions against deceit, Champlain left the Sault St Louis on May 29, 1613, attended by four Frenchmen and one Indian, with Vignau for guide. Ascending the Ottawa, they encountered their first difficulties at the Long Sault, {100} where Dollard forty-seven years later was to lose his life so gloriously. Here the passage of the rapids was both fatiguing and dangerous. Prevented by the density of the wood from making a portage, they were forced to drag their canoes through the water. In one of the eddies Champlain nearly lost his life, and his hand was severely hurt by a sudden jerk of the rope. Having mounted the rapids, he met with no very trying obstacle until he had gone some distance past the Chaudiere Falls. His reference to the course of the Gatineau makes no sense, and Laverdiere has had recourse to the not improbable conjecture that the printer dropped out a whole line at this point. Champlain also over-estimates considerably the height of the Rideau Falls and is not very exact in his calculation of latitude.

The hardships of this journey were greatly and unnecessarily increased by Vignau, whose only hope was to discourage his leader. In the end it proved that 'our liar' (as Champlain repeatedly calls him) had hoped to secure a reward for his alleged discovery, believing that no one would follow him long, even if an attempt were made to confirm the accuracy of his report. But Champlain, undeterred by portages and mosquitoes, kept on. Some {101} savages who joined him said that Vignau was a liar, and on their advice Champlain left the Ottawa a short distance above the mouth of the Madawaska. Holding westward at some distance from the south shore, he advanced past Muskrat Lake, and after a hard march came out again on the Ottawa at Lake Allumette.

This was the end of Champlain's route in 1613. From the Algonquins on Allumette Island he learned that Vignau had wintered with them at the time he swore he was discovering salt seas. Finally, the impostor confessed his fraud and, falling on his knees, asked for mercy. The Indians would gladly have killed him outright, but Champlain spared his life, though how deeply he was moved can be seen from these words: 'Overcome with wrath I had him removed, being unable to endure him any longer in my presence.' After his confession there was nothing for it but to return by the same route. An astrolabe found some years ago near Muskrat Lake may have been dropped from Champlain's luggage on the journey westward, though he does not mention the loss.

Apart from disclosing the course of the Ottawa, the Voyage of 1613 is chiefly notable {102} for its account of Indian customs—for example, the mode of sepulture, the tabagie or feast, and the superstition which leads the Algonquins to throw pieces of tobacco into the cauldron of the Chaudiere Falls as a means of ensuring protection against their enemies. Of the feast given him by Tessouaet, an Algonquin chief, Champlain says:

The next day all the guests came, each with his porringer and wooden spoon. They seated themselves without order or ceremony on the ground in the cabin of Tessouaet, who distributed to them a kind of broth made of maize crushed between two stones, together with meat and fish which was cut into little pieces, the whole being boiled together without salt. They also had meat roasted on the coals and fish boiled apart, which he also distributed. In respect to myself, as I did not wish any of their chowder, which they prepare in a very dirty manner, I asked them for some fish and meat, that I might prepare it my own way, which they gave me. For drink we had fine, clear water. Tessouaet, who gave the tabagie, entertained us without eating himself, according to their custom.

The tabagie being over, the young men, who are not present at the harangues and councils, and who during the tabagie remain at the door of the cabins, withdrew, when all who remained began to fill their pipes, one and another offering me one. We then spent a full half-hour in this occupation, not a word being spoken, as is their custom.


But for the dexterous arrangement by which Champlain managed to cook his own food, the tabagie would have been more dangerous to health than the portage. In any case, it was an ordeal that could not be avoided, for feasting meant friendly intercourse, and only through friendly intercourse could Champlain gain knowledge of that vast wilderness which he must pierce before reaching his long-sought goal, the sea beyond which lay China.

As for Vignau, his punishment was to make full confession before all the French who had assembled at the Sault St Louis to traffic with the Indians. When Champlain reached this rendezvous on June 17, he informed the traders of all that had happened, including

the malice of my liar, at which they were greatly amazed. I then begged them to assemble in order that in their presence, and that of the savages and his companions, he might make declaration of his maliciousness; which they gladly did. Being thus assembled, they summoned him and asked him why he had not shown me the sea of the north, as he had promised me at his departure. He replied that he had promised something impossible for him, since he had never seen the sea, and that the desire of making the journey had led him to say what he did, also that he did not suppose that I would undertake it; and he begged them to be pleased to pardon him, as he also {104} begged me again, confessing that he had greatly offended, and if I would leave him in the country he would by his efforts repair the offence and see this sea, and bring back trustworthy intelligence concerning it the following year; and in view of certain considerations I pardoned him on this condition.

Vignau's public confession was followed by the annual barter with the Indians, after which Champlain returned to France.

We come now to the Voyage of 1615, which describes Champlain's longest and most daring journey through the forest—an expedition that occupied the whole period from July 9, 1615, to the last days of June 1616. Thus for the first time he passed a winter with the Indians, enlarging greatly thereby his knowledge of their customs and character. The central incident of the expedition was an attack made by the Hurons and their allies upon the stronghold of the Onondagas in the heart of the Iroquois country. But while this war-party furnishes the chief adventure, there is no page of Champlain's narrative which lacks its tale of the marvellous. As a story of life in the woods, the Voyage of 1615 stands first among all Champlain's writings.

As in 1609, there was a mutuality of interest between Champlain and the Indians who {105} traded at the Sault. His desire was to explore and theirs was to fight. By compromise they disclosed to him the recesses of their country and he aided them against the Iroquois. In 1615 the Hurons not only reminded him of his repeated promises to aid them, but stated flatly that without such aid they could no longer attend the annual market, as their enemies were making the route too unsafe. On their side they promised a war-party of more than two thousand men. A further proof of friendship was afforded by their willingness to receive a missionary in their midst—the Recollet, Father Joseph Le Caron.

Champlain's line of exploration in 1615-16 took the following course. He first ascended the Ottawa to the mouth of the Mattawa. Thence journeying overland by ponds and portages he entered Lake Nipissing, which he skirted to the outlet. French River next took him to Georgian Bay, or, as he calls it for geographical definition, the Lake of the Attigouautan [Hurons]. His own name for this vast inland sea is the Mer Douce. That he did not explore it with any degree of thoroughness is evident from the terms of his narrative as well as from his statement that its length, east and {106} west, is four hundred leagues. What he saw of Lake Huron was really the east shore of Georgian Bay, from the mouth of French River to the bottom of Matchedash Bay. Here he entered the country of the Hurons, which pleased him greatly in comparison with the tract before traversed. 'It was very fine, the largest part being cleared, and many hills and several rivers rendering the region agreeable. I went to see their Indian corn, which was at that time [early in August] far advanced for the season.'

Champlain's route through the district between Carmaron and Cahaigue can best be followed in Father Jones's map of Huronia.[4] The points which Champlain names are there indicated, in each case with as careful identification of the locality as we are ever likely to get. For those who are not specialists in the topography of Huronia it may suffice that Champlain left Matchedash Bay not far from Penetanguishene, and thence went to Carmaron at the very north of the peninsula. Returning, he passed through some of the largest of the Huron villages, and after sixteen days came out at Cahaigue, which was situated {107} close to Lake Simcoe and almost on the site of the modern Hawkestone. It was here that most of the Huron warriors assembled for the great expedition against the Onondagas. Setting out on their march, they first went a little to the northward, where they were joined on the shores of Lake Couchiching by another contingent. The party thus finally made up, Champlain's line of advance first took him to Sturgeon Lake. Afterwards it pursued that important waterway which is represented by the Otonabee river, Rice Lake, and the river Trent. Hence the warriors entered Lake Ontario by the Bay of Quinte.

This country between Lake Simcoe and the Bay of Quinte seems to have pleased Champlain greatly. He saw it in September, when the temperature was agreeable and when the vegetation of the forest could be enjoyed without the torment inflicted by mosquitoes. 'It is certain,' he says, 'that all this region is very fine and pleasant. Along the banks it seems as if the trees had been set out for ornament in most places, and that all these tracts were in former times inhabited by savages who were subsequently compelled to abandon them from fear of their enemies. Vines and nut trees are here very numerous. {108} Grapes mature, yet there is always a very pungent tartness, which is felt remaining in the throat when one eats them in large quantities, arising from defect of cultivation. These localities are very pleasant when cleared up.'

From the Bay of Quinte the war-party skirted the east shore of Lake Ontario, crossing the head of the St Lawrence, and thence following the southern shore about fourteen leagues. At this point the Indians concealed all their canoes and struck into the woods towards Lake Oneida. Though made up chiefly of Hurons, the little army embraced various allies, including a band of Algonquins. Whether from over-confidence at having Champlain among them or from their natural lack of discipline, the allies managed their attack very badly. On a pond a few miles south of Oneida Lake lay the objective point of the expedition—a palisaded stronghold of the Onondagas. At a short distance from this fort eleven of the enemy were surprised and taken prisoners. What followed was much less fortunate. Champlain does not state the number of Frenchmen present, but as his drawing shows eleven musketeers, we may infer that his own followers were distinctly {109} more numerous than at the battle on Lake Champlain.

The height of the palisade was thirty feet, and a system of gutters supplied abundant water for use in extinguishing fire. Champlain's plan of attack was to employ a cavalier, or protected scaffolding, which should overtop the palisade and could be brought close against it. From the top of this framework four or five musketeers were to deliver a fusillade against the Iroquois within the fort, while the Hurons kindled a fire at the foot of the palisade. Champlain's drawing shows the rest of the musketeers engaged in creating a diversion at other points.

But everything miscarried. Though the cavalier was constructed, the allies threw aside the wooden shields which Champlain had caused to be made as a defence against the arrows of the Iroquois while the fire was being kindled. Only a small supply of wood had been collected, and even this was so placed that the flames blew away from the palisade instead of towards it. On the failure of this attempt to fire the fort all semblance of discipline was thrown to the winds. 'There also rose such disorder among them,' says Champlain, 'that one could not understand {110} another, which greatly troubled me. In vain did I shout in their ears and remonstrate to my utmost with them as to the danger to which they exposed themselves by their bad behaviour, but on account of the great noise they made they heard nothing. Seeing that shouting would only burst my head and that my remonstrances were useless for putting a stop to the disorder, I did nothing more, but determined, together with my men, to do what we could and fire upon such as we could see.' The fight itself lasted only three hours, and the casualties of the attacking party were inconsiderable, since but two of their chiefs and fifteen warriors were wounded. In addition to their repulse, the Hurons suffered a severe disappointment through the failure to join them of five hundred allies who had given their solemn promise. Although Champlain had received two severe wounds, one in the leg and another in the knee, he urged a second and more concerted attack. But in vain. The most the Hurons would promise was to wait four or five days for the expected reinforcements. At the end of this time there was no sign of the five hundred, and the return began. 'The only good point,' says Champlain, 'that I have seen in their mode of {111} warfare is that they make their retreat very securely, placing all the wounded and aged in their centre, being well armed on the wings and in the rear, and continuing this order without interruption until they reach a place of security.'

Champlain himself suffered tortures during the retreat, partly from his wounds, but even more from the mode of transportation. The Indian method of removing the wounded was first to bind and pinion them 'in such a manner that it is as impossible for them to move as for an infant in its swaddling-clothes.' They were then carried in a kind of basket, 'crowded up in a heap.' Doubtless as a mark of distinction, Champlain was carried separately on the back of a savage. His wound was so severe that when the retreat began he could not stand. But the transportation proved worse than the wound. 'I never found myself in such a gehenna as during this time, for the pain which I suffered in consequence of the wound in my knee was nothing in comparison with that which I endured while I was carried bound and pinioned on the back of one of our savages. So that I lost my patience, and as soon as I could sustain myself got out of this prison, or rather gehenna.'


The enemy made no pursuit, but forced marches were kept up for twenty-five or thirty leagues. The weather now grew cold, as it was past the middle of autumn. The fight at the fort of the Onondagas had taken place on October 10, and eight days later there was a snowstorm, with hail and a strong wind. But, apart from extreme discomfort, the retreat was successfully accomplished, and on the shore of Lake Ontario they found the canoes intact.

It had been Champlain's purpose to spend the winter at Quebec, and when the Hurons were about to leave the east end of Lake Ontario for their own country he asked them for a canoe and an escort. Four Indians volunteered for this service, but no canoe could be had, and in consequence Champlain was forced reluctantly to accompany the Hurons. With his usual patience he accepted the inevitable, which in this case was only unpleasant because he was ill prepared for spending a winter among the Indians. After a few days he perceived that their plan was to keep him and his companions, partly as security for themselves and partly that he might assist at their councils in planning better safeguards against their enemies.


This enforced residence of Champlain among the Hurons during the winter of 1615-16 has given us an excellent description of Indian customs. It was also the means of composing a dangerous quarrel between the Hurons and the Algonquins. Once committed to spending the winter among the Indians, Champlain planned to make Huronia a point of departure for still further explorations to the westward. Early in 1616 there seemed to be a favourable opportunity to push forward in the direction of Lake Superior. Then came this wretched brawl of Hurons and Algonquins, which threatened to beget bitter hatred and war among tribes which hitherto had both been friendly to the French. Accepting his duty, Champlain gave up his journey to the far west and threw himself into the task of restoring peace. But the measure of his disappointment is found in these words:

If ever there was one greatly disheartened, it was myself, since I had been waiting to see this year what during many preceding ones I had been seeking for with great toil and effort, through so many fatigues and risks of my life. But realizing that I could not help the matter, and that everything depended on the will of God, I comforted myself, resolving to see it in a short time. I had such sure {114} information that I could not doubt the report of these people, who go to traffic with others dwelling in those northern regions, a great part of whom live in a place very abundant in the chase and where there are great numbers of large animals, the skins of several of which I saw, and which I concluded were buffaloes from their representation of their form. Fishing is also very abundant there. This journey requires forty days as well in returning as in going.

Thus Champlain almost had a chance to see the bison and the great plains of the West. As it was, he did his immediate duty and restored the peace of Huron and Algonquin. In partial compensation for the alluring journey he relinquished, he had a better opportunity to study the Hurons in their settlements and to investigate their relations with their neighbours—the Tobacco Nation, the Neutral Nation, les Cheveux Releves, and the Race of Fire. Hence the Voyage of 1615 not only describes the physical aspects of Huronia, but contains intimate details regarding the life of its people—their wigwams, their food, their manner of cooking, their dress, their decorations, their marriage customs, their medicine-men, their burials, their assemblies, their agriculture, their amusements, and their mode of fishing. It is Champlain's most {115} ambitious piece of description, far less detailed than the subsequent narratives of the Jesuits, but in comparison with them gaining impact from being less diffuse.

It was on May 20, 1616, that Champlain left the Huron country, never again to journey thither or to explore the recesses of the forest. Forty days later he reached the Sault St Louis, and saw once more his old friend Pontgrave. Thenceforward his life belongs not to the wilderness, but to Quebec.

[1] An Algonquin tribe dwelling to the north of the St Lawrence, for the most part between the Saguenay and the St Maurice.

[2] Henry Hudson, an English mariner with a Dutch crew, entered the mouth of the Hudson in a boat called the Half Moon on September 4, 1609. As named by him, the river was called the 'Great North River of New Netherland.'

[3] Marsolet's defence was that he acted under constraint.

[4] This map will be found in The Jesuit Missions in this Series, and also in vol. xxxiv of The Jesuit Relations, ed. Thwaites.




When Champlain reached the Sault St Louis on July 1, 1616, his career as an explorer had ended. The nineteen years of life that still remained he gave to Quebec and the duties of his lieutenancy.

By this time he had won the central position in his own domain. Question might arise as to the terms upon which a monopoly of trade should be granted, or as to the persons who should be its recipients. But whatever company might control the trade, Champlain was the king's representative in New France. When Boyer affronted him, the council had required that a public apology should be offered. When Montmorency instituted the investigation of 1620, it was Champlain's report which determined the issue. Five years later, when the Duc de Ventadour became viceroy in place of Montmorency, Champlain still remained lieutenant-general of New {117} France. Such were his character, services, and knowledge that his tenure could not be questioned.

Notwithstanding this source of satisfaction, the post was difficult in the extreme. The government continued to leave colonizing in the hands of the traders, and the traders continued to shirk their obligations. The Company of the De Caens did a large business, but suffered more severely than any of its predecessors from the strife of Catholic and Huguenot. Those of the reformed religion even held their services in the presence of the Indians, thus anticipating the scandals of Kikuyu. Though the Duc de Ventadour gave orders that there should be no psalm-singing after the outbound ships passed Newfoundland, this provision seems not to have been effective. It was a difficult problem for one like Champlain, who, while a loyal Catholic, had been working all his life with Huguenot associates.

The period of the De Caens was marked by the presence at Quebec of Madame Champlain. The romance of Champlain's life does not, however, revolve about his marriage. In 1610, at the age of forty-three, he espoused Helene Boulle, whose father was secretary of the King's Chamber to Henry IV. {118} As the bride was only twelve years old, the marriage contract provided that she should remain two years longer with her parents. She brought a dowry of six thousand livres, and simultaneously Champlain made his will in her favour. Probably De Monts had some part in arranging the marriage, for Nicholas Boulle was a Huguenot and De Monts appears as a witness to the notarial documents. Subsequently, Madame Champlain became an enthusiastic Catholic and ended her days as a nun. She had no children, and was only once in Canada, residing continuously at Quebec from 1620 to 1624. No mention whatever is made of her in Champlain's writings, but he named St Helen's Island after her, and appears to have been unwilling that she should enter a convent during his lifetime.

One need feel little surprise that Madame Champlain should not care to visit Canada a second time, for the buildings at Quebec had fallen into disrepair, and more than once the supply of food ran very low. During 1625 Champlain remained in France with his wife, and therefore did not witness the coming of the Jesuits to the colony. This event, which is a landmark in the history of Quebec and New France, followed upon the inability of {119} the Recollets to cover the mission field with any degree of completeness. Conscious that their resources were unequal to the task, they invoked the aid of the Jesuits, and in this appeal were strongly supported by Champlain. Once more the horizon seemed to brighten, for the Jesuits had greater resources and influence than any other order in the Roman Catholic Church, and their establishment at Quebec meant much besides a mere increase in the population. The year 1626 saw Champlain again at his post, working hard to complete a new factory which he had left unfinished, while the buildings of the Jesuit establishment made good progress under the hand of workmen specially brought from France. What still remained imperfect was the fortification. The English had destroyed the French settlements at Mount Desert and Port Royal. What was to hinder them from bombarding Quebec?

This danger soon clouded the mood of optimism that had been inspired by the coming of the Jesuits. The De Caens objected to any outlay on a fort, and would not give Champlain the men he needed. In reply Champlain sent the viceroy a report which was unfavourable to the company and its methods. But even without this {120} representation, the monopoly of the De Caens was doomed by reason of events which were taking place in France.

At the court of Louis XIII Richelieu had now gained an eminence and power such as never before had been possessed by a minister of the French crown. Gifted with imagination and covetous of national greatness, he saw the most desirable portions of other continents in the hands of the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the English, and the Dutch. The prospect was not pleasing, and he cast about for a remedy.

For Hanotaux,[1] Richelieu is 'the true founder of our colonial empire,' and La Ronciere adds: 'Madagascar, Senegal, Guiana, the Antilles, Acadia, and Canada—this, to be exact, was the colonial empire for which we were indebted to Richelieu.' Regarding his breadth of outlook there can be no doubt, and in his Memoirs he left the oft-quoted phrase: 'No realm is so well situated as France to be mistress of the seas or so rich in all things needful.' Desiring to strengthen maritime commerce and to hold distant {121} possessions, he became convinced that the English and the Dutch had adopted the right policy. Strong trading companies—not weak ones—were what France needed.

Henry IV could have given the French a fair start, or even a lead, in the race for colonies. He missed this great opportunity; partly because he was preoccupied with the reorganization of France, and partly because Sully, his minister, had no enthusiasm for colonial ventures. Twenty years later the situation had changed. Richelieu, who was a man of wide outlook, was also compelled by the activity of England and Holland to give attention to the problem of a New France. The spirit of colonization was in the air, and Richelieu, with his genius for ideas, could not fail to see its importance or what would befall the laggards. His misfortune was that he lacked certain definite qualifications which a greater founder of colonies needed to possess. Marvellous in his grasp of diplomatic situations and in his handling of men, he had no talent whatever for the details of commerce. His fiscal regime, particularly after France engaged in her duel with the House of Hapsburg, was disorganized and intolerable. Nor did he recognize that, {122} for the French, the desire to emigrate required even greater encouragement than the commercial instinct. He compelled his company to transport settlers, but the number was not large, and he kindled no popular enthusiasm for the cause of colonization. France had once led the crusade eastward. Under proper guidance she might easily have contributed more than she did to the exodus westward.

At any rate Richelieu, 'a man in the grand style, if ever man was,' had decided that New France should no longer languish, and the Company of One Hundred Associates was the result. In 1627 he abolished the office of viceroy, deprived the De Caens of their charter, and prepared to make Canada a real colony. The basis of the plan was an association of one hundred members, each subscribing three thousand livres. Richelieu's own name heads the list of members, followed by those of the minister of finance and the minister of marine. Most of the members resided in Paris, though the seaboard and the eastern provinces were also represented. Nobles, wealthy merchants, small traders, all figure in the list, and twelve titles of nobility were distributed among the shareholders to help in the enlistment of capital. The company received a {123} monopoly of trade for fifteen years, and promised to take out three hundred colonists annually during the whole period covered by the grant. It also received the St Lawrence valley in full ownership. One notable provision of the charter was that only Roman Catholics should be sent to New France, and the company was placed under special obligation to maintain three priests in each settlement until the colony could support its own clergy.

Champlain was now sixty years of age, and he had suffered much. Suddenly there burst forth this spontaneous enthusiasm of Richelieu the all-powerful. Was Champlain's dream of the great city of Ludovica to come true after all?

Alas, like previous visions, it faded before the glare of harsh, uncompromising facts. The year in which Richelieu founded his Company of New France was also the year of a fierce Huguenot revolt. Calling on England for aid, La Rochelle defied Paris, the king, and the cardinal. Richelieu laid siege to the place. Guiton, the mayor, sat at his council-board with a bare dagger before him to warn the faint-hearted. The old Duchesse de Rohan starved with the populace. {124} Salbert, the most eloquent of Huguenot pastors, preached that martyrdom was better than surrender. Meanwhile, Richelieu built his mole across the harbour, and Buckingham wasted the English troops to which the citizens looked for their salvation. Then the town yielded.

The fall of La Rochelle was a great personal triumph for Richelieu, but the war with England brought disaster to the Company of New France. At Dieppe there had lived for many years an Englishman named Jarvis, or Gervase, Kirke, who with his five sons—David, Lewis, Thomas, John, and James—knew much at first hand about the French merchant marine. Early in the spring of 1628 Kirke (who had shortly before moved to London) secured letters of marque and sent forth his sons to do what damage they could to the French in the St Lawrence. Champlain had spent the winter at Quebec and was, of course, expecting his usual supplies with the opening of navigation. Instead came Lewis Kirke, sent from Tadoussac by his brother David, to demand surrender.

Champlain made a reply which, though courteous, was sufficiently bold to convince the Kirkes that Quebec could be best captured {125} by starvation. They therefore sailed down the St Lawrence to intercept the fleet from France, confident that their better craft would overcome these 'sardines of the sea.' The plan proved successful even beyond expectation, for after a long cannonade they captured without material loss the whole fleet which had been sent out by the Company of New France. Ships, colonists, annual supplies, building materials—all fell into the hands of the enterprising Kirkes, who then sailed for England with their booty. Alike to Champlain and to the Hundred Associates it was a crippling blow.

Thus, but for the war with England, Quebec would have seen its population trebled in 1628. As it was, the situation became worse than ever. Lewis Kirke had been careful to seize the cattle pastured at Cap Tourmente and to destroy the crops. When winter came, there were eighty mouths to feed on a scant diet of peas and maize, imperfectly ground, with a reserve supply of twelve hundred eels. Towards spring anything was welcome, and the roots of Solomon's seal were esteemed a feast. Champlain even gave serious thought to a raid upon the Mohawks, three hundred miles away, in the hope that food could be brought back {126} from their granaries. Finally, on the 19th of July 1629, Lewis Kirke returned with a second summons to surrender. This time only one answer was possible, for to the survivors at Quebec the English came less in the guise of foes than as human beings who could save them from starvation. Champlain and his people received honourable treatment, and were promised a passage to France. The family Hebert, however, decided to remain.

We need not dwell upon the emotions with which Champlain saw the French flag pulled down at Quebec. Doubtless it seemed the disastrous end of his life-work, but he was a good soldier and enjoyed also the comforts of religion. A further consolation was soon found in the discovery that Quebec might yet be reclaimed. Ten weeks before Champlain surrendered, the two countries were again at peace, and the Treaty of Suza embodied a provision that captures made after the treaty was signed should be mutually restored. This intelligence reached Champlain when he landed in England on the homeward voyage. It is characteristic of the man, that before going on to France he posted from Dover to London, and urged the French ambassador that he should insistently claim Quebec.


As a result of the war Canada and Acadia were both in the possession of England. On the other hand, the dowry of Henrietta Maria was still, for the most part, in the treasury of France. When one remembers that 1628 saw Charles I driven by his necessities to concede the Petition of Right, it will be readily seen that he desired the payment of his wife's dowry. Hence Richelieu, whose talents in diplomacy were above praise, had substantial reason to expect that Canada and Acadia would be restored. The negotiations dragged on for more than two years, and were complicated by disputes growing out of the captures made under letter of marque. When all was settled by the Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye (March 1632) Quebec and Port Royal became once more French—to the profound discontent of the Kirkes and Sir William Alexander,[2] but with such joy on the part of Champlain as only patriots can know who have given a lifelong service to their country.

Having regained Canada, Richelieu was forced to decide what he would do with it. {128} In certain important respects the situation had changed since 1627, when he founded the Company of New France. Then Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedes were not a factor in the dire strife which was convulsing Europe.[3] In 1632 the political problems of Western and Central Europe had assumed an aspect quite different from that which they had worn five years earlier. More and more France was drawn into the actual conflict of the Thirty Years' War, impelled by a sense of new and unparalleled opportunity to weaken the House of Hapsburg. This, in turn, meant the preoccupation of Richelieu with European affairs, and a heavy drain upon the resources of France in order to meet the cost of her more ambitious foreign policy. Thus the duel with Austria, as it progressed during the last decade of the cardinal's life, meant a fresh check to {129} those colonial prospects which seemed so bright in 1627.

Richelieu's first step in resuming possession of Canada was to compose matters between the De Caens and the Company of New France. Emery de Caen and his associates were given the trading rights for 1632 and 79,000 livres as compensation for their losses through the revocation of the monopoly. Dating from the spring of 1633, the Company of New France was to be placed in full possession of Canada, subject to specific obligations regarding missions and colonists. Conformably with this programme, Emery de Caen appeared at Quebec on July 5, 1632, with credentials empowering him to receive possession from Lewis and Thomas Kirke, the representatives of England. With De Caen came Paul Le Jeune and two other Jesuits, a vanguard of the missionary band which was to convert the savages. 'We cast anchor,' says Le Jeune, 'in front of the fort which the English held; we saw at the foot of this fort the poor settlement of Quebec all in ashes. The English, who came to this country to plunder and not to build up, not only burned a greater part of the detached buildings which Father Charles Lalemant had {130} erected, but also all of that poor settlement of which nothing is now to be seen but the ruins of its stone walls.'

The season of 1632 thus belonged to De Caen, whose function was merely to tie up loose ends and prepare for the establishment of the new regime. The central incident of the recession was the return of Champlain himself—an old man who had said a last farewell to France and now came, as the king's lieutenant, to end his days in the land of his labours and his hopes. If ever the oft-quoted last lines of Tennyson's Ulysses could fitly be claimed by a writer on behalf of his hero, they apply to Champlain as he sailed from the harbour of Dieppe on March 23, 1633.

Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars until I die.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

It was Champlain's reward that he saw {131} Quebec once more under the fleur-de-lis, and was welcomed by the Indians with genuine emotion. The rhetorical gifts of the red man were among his chief endowments, and all that eloquence could lavish was poured forth in honour of Champlain at the council of the Hurons, who had come to Quebec for barter at the moment of his return. The description of this council is one of the most graphic passages in Le Jeune's Relations. A captain of the Hurons first arose and explained the purpose of the gathering. 'When this speech was finished all the Savages, as a sign of their approval, drew from the depths of their stomachs this aspiration, ho, ho, ho, raising the last syllable very high.' Thereupon the captain began another speech of friendship, alliance, and welcome to Champlain, followed by gifts. Then the same captain made a third speech, which was followed by Champlain's reply—a harangue well adapted to the occasion. But the climax was reached in the concluding orations of two more Huron chiefs. 'They vied with each other in trying to honour Sieur de Champlain and the French, and in testifying their affection for us. One of them said that when the French were absent the earth was no longer the earth, the river was {132} no longer the river, the sky was no longer the sky; but upon the return of Sieur de Champlain everything was as before: the earth was again the earth, the river was again the river, and the sky was again the sky.'

Thus welcomed by the savages, Champlain resumed his arduous task. He was establishing Quebec anew and under conditions quite unlike those which had existed in 1608. The most notable difference was that the Jesuits were now at hand to aid in the upbuilding of Canada. The Quebec of De Monts and De Caen had been a trading-post, despite the efforts of the Recollets and Jesuits to render it the headquarters of a mission. Undoubtedly there existed from the outset a desire to convert the Indians, but as a source of strength to the colony this disposition effected little until the return of the Jesuits in 1632.

With the re-establishment of the Jesuit mission the last days of Champlain are inseparably allied. A severe experience had proved that the colonizing zeal of the crown was fitful and uncertain. Private initiative was needed to supplement the official programme, and of such initiative the supply seemed scanty. The fur traders notoriously shirked their obligations to enlarge the colony, {133} and after 1632 the Huguenots, who had a distinct motive for emigrating, were forbidden by Richelieu to settle in Canada. There remained the enthusiasm of the Jesuits and the piety of those in France who supplied the funds for their work among the Montagnais, the Hurons, and the Iroquois. As the strongest order in the Roman Catholic Church, the Jesuits possessed resources which enabled them to maintain an active establishment in Canada. Through them Quebec became religious, and their influence permeated the whole colony as its population increased and the zone of occupation grew wider. Le Jeune, Lalemant, Brebeuf, and Jogues are among the outstanding names of the restored New France.

During the last two years of his life Champlain lived patriarchally at Quebec, administering the public affairs of the colony and lending its religious impulses the strength of his support and example. Always a man of serious mind, his piety was confirmed by the reflections of advancing age and his daily contact with the missionaries. In his household there was a service of prayer three times daily, together with reading at supper from the lives of the saints. In pursuance of a vow, he built a chapel named Notre Dame de la {134} Recouvrance, which records the gratitude he felt for the restoration of Quebec to France. He was, in short, the ideal layman—serving his king loyally in all business of state, and demeaning himself as a pilgrim who is about to set forth for the City of God.

It is not to be inferred from the prominence of Champlain's religious interests that he neglected his public duties, which continued to be many and exacting. One of his problems was to prevent the English from trading in the St Lawrence contrary to treaty; another was to discourage the Hurons from selling their furs to the Dutch on the Hudson. The success of the mission, which he had deeply at heart, implied the maintenance of peace among the Indians who were friendly to the French. He sought also to police the region of the Great Lakes by a band of French soldiers, and his last letter to Richelieu (dated August 15, 1635) contains an earnest appeal for a hundred and twenty men, to whom should be assigned the duty of marshalling the Indian allies against the English and Dutch, as well as of preserving order throughout the forest. The erection of a fort at Three Rivers in 1634 was due to his desire that the annual barter should take place at {135} a point above Quebec. A commission which he issued in the same year to Jean Nicolet to explore the country of the Wisconsins, shows that his consuming zeal for exploration remained with him to the end.

It was permitted Champlain to die in harness. He remained to the last lieutenant of the king in Canada. At the beginning of October 1635 he was stricken with paralysis, and passed away on Christmas Day of the same year. We do not possess the oration which Father Paul Le Jeune delivered at his funeral, but there remains from Le Jeune's pen an appreciation of his character in terms which to Champlain himself would have seemed the highest praise.

On the twenty-fifth of December, the day of the birth of our Saviour upon earth, Monsieur de Champlain, our Governor, was reborn in Heaven; at least we can say that his death was full of blessings. I am sure that God has shown him this favour in consideration of the benefits he has procured for New France, where we hope some day God will be loved and served by our French, and known and adored by our Savages. Truly he had led a life of great justice, equity, and perfect loyalty to his King and towards the Gentlemen of the Company. But at his death he crowned his virtues with sentiments of piety so lofty that he astonished us all. What tears he shed! how {136} ardent became his zeal for the service of God! how great was his love for the families here!—saying that they must be vigorously assisted for the good of the Country, and made comfortable in every possible way in these early stages, and that he would do it if God gave him health. He was not taken unawares in the account which he had to render unto God, for he had long ago prepared a general Confession of his whole life, which he made with great contrition to Father Lalemant, whom he honoured with his friendship. The Father comforted him throughout his sickness, which lasted two months and a half, and did not leave him until his death. He had a very honourable burial, the funeral procession being formed of the people, the soldiers, the captains, and the churchmen. Father Lalemant officiated at this burial, and I was charged with the funeral oration, for which I did not lack material. Those whom he left behind have reason to be well satisfied with him; for, though he died out of France, his name will not therefor be any less glorious to posterity.

[1] Gabriel Hanotaux, member of the French Academy, is the author of the most authoritative work on the life and times of Richelieu.

[2] Alexander had received grants from the British crown in 1621 and 1625 which covered the whole coast from St Croix Island to the St Lawrence.

[3] At this period the largest interest in European politics was the rivalry between France and the House of Hapsburg, which held the thrones of Spain and Austria. This rivalry led France to take an active part in the Thirty Years' War, even though her allies in that struggle were Protestants. Between 1627, when the Company of New France was founded, and 1632, when Canada was restored to France, the Swedes under Gustavus Adolphus had won a series of brilliant victories over the Catholic and Hapsburg forces in Germany. After the death of Gustavus Adolphus in 1632, Richelieu attacked the Emperor Ferdinand II in great force, thereby conquering Alsace.




There are some things that speak for themselves. In attempting to understand Champlain's character, we are first met by the fact that he pursued unflinchingly his appointed task. For thirty-two years he persevered, amid every kind of hardship, danger, and discouragement, in the effort to build up New France. He had personal ambitions as an explorer, which were kept in strict subordination to his duty to the king. He possessed concentration of aim without fanaticism. His signal unselfishness was adorned by a patience which equalled that of Marlborough. Inspired by large ideals, he did not scorn imperfect means.

Thus there are certain large aspects of Champlain's character that stand forth in the high light of deed, and do not depend for their effect either upon his own words or those of others. But when once we have paid tribute {138} to the fine, positive qualities which are implied by his accomplishment, we must hasten to recognize the extraordinary value of his writings as an index to his mind and soul. His narrative is not an epic of disaster. It is a plain and even statement of great dangers calmly met and treated as a matter of course. Largely it is a record of achievement. At points where it is a record of failure Champlain accepts the inevitable gracefully and conforms his emotions to the will of God. The Voyages reveal a strong man 'well four-squared to the blows of fortune.' They also illustrate the virtue of muscular Christianity.

At a time which, like ours, is becoming sated with cleverness, it is a delight to read the unvarnished story of Champlain. In saying that the adjective is ever the enemy of the noun, Voltaire could not have levelled the shaft at him, for few writers have been more sparing in their use of adjectives or other glowing words. His love of the sea and of the forest was profound, but he is never emotional in his expressions. Yet with all his soberness and steadiness he possessed imagination. In its strength and depth his enthusiasm for colonization proves this, even if we omit his picture of the fancied Ludovica. But {139} as a man of action rather than of letters he instinctively omits verbiage. In some respects we suffer from Champlain's directness of mind, for on much that he saw he could have lingered with profit. But very special inducements are needed to draw him from his plain tale into a digression. Such inducements occur at times when he is writing of the Indians, for he recognized that Europe was eager to hear in full detail of their traits and customs. Thus set passages of description, inserted with a sparing hand, seemed to him a proper element of the text, but anything like conscious embellishment of the narrative he avoids—probably more through mere naturalness than conscious self-repression.

From Marco Polo to Scott's Journal the literature of geographical discovery abounds with classics, and standards of comparison suggest themselves in abundance to the critic of Champlain's Voyages. Most naturally, of course, one turns to the records of American exploration in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—to Ramusio, Oviedo, Peter Martyr, Hakluyt, and Purchas. No age can show a more wonderful galaxy of pioneers than that which extends from Columbus to La Salle, and among the great explorers of this era {140} Champlain takes his place by virtue alike of his deeds and writings. In fact, he belongs to the small and distinguished class of those who have recorded their own discoveries in a suitable and authentic narrative, for in few cases have geographical results of equal moment been described by the discoverer himself.

Among the many writings which are available for comparison and contrast one turns, singularly yet inevitably, to Lescarbot. The singularity of a comparison between Champlain and Lescarbot is that Lescarbot was not a geographer. At the same time, he is the only writer of importance whose trail crosses that of Champlain, and some light is thrown on Champlain's personality by a juxtaposition of texts. That is to say, both were in Acadia at the same time, sat together at Poutrincourt's table, gazed on the same forests and clearings, met the same Indians, and had a like opportunity of considering the colonial problems which were thrust upon the French in the reign of Henry IV.

It would be hard to find narratives more dissimilar,—and the contrast is not wholly to the advantage of Champlain. Or rather, there are times when his Doric simplicity of style {141} seems jejune beside the flowing periods and picturesque details of Lescarbot. No better illustration of this difference in style, arising from fundamental difference in temperament, can be found than the description which each gives of the Ordre de Bon Temps. To Champlain belongs the credit of inventing this pleasant means of promoting health and banishing ennui, but all he tells of it is this: 'By the rules of the Order a chain was put, with some little ceremony, on the neck of one of our company, commissioning him for the day to go a-hunting. The next day it was conferred upon another, and thus in succession. All exerted themselves to the utmost to see who would do the best and bring home the finest game. We found this a very good arrangement, as did also the savages who were with us.'

Such is the limit of the information which we receive from Champlain regarding the Ordre de Bon Temps, his own invention and the life of the company. It is reserved for Lescarbot to give us the picture which no one can forget—the Atoctegic, or ruler of the feast, leading the procession to dinner 'napkin on shoulder, wand of office in hand, and around his neck the collar of the Order, which was worth more than four crowns; after him all the {142} members of the Order, carrying each a dish.' Around stand the savages, twenty or thirty of them, 'men, women, girls, and children,' all waiting for scraps of food. At the table with the French themselves sits the Sagamos Membertou and the other Indian chiefs, gladdening the company by their presence. And the food!—'ducks, bustards, grey and white geese, partridges, larks, and other birds; moreover moose, caribou, beaver, otter, bear, rabbits, wild-cats, racoons, and other animals,' the whole culminating in the tenderness of moose meat and the delicacy of beaver's tail. Such are the items which Champlain omits and Lescarbot includes. So it is throughout their respective narratives—Champlain ever gaining force through compactness, and Lescarbot constantly illuminating with his gaiety or shrewdness matters which but for him would never have reached us.

This difference of temperament and outlook, which is so plainly reflected on the printed page, also had its effect upon the personal relations of the two men. It was not that Lescarbot scandalized Champlain by his religious views, for though liberal-minded, Lescarbot was not a heretic, and Champlain knew how to live harmoniously even with Huguenots. {143} The cause of the coolness which came to exist between them must be sought rather in fundamental contrasts of character. To Champlain, Lescarbot doubtless seemed a mere hanger-on or protege of Poutrincourt, with undue levity of disposition and a needless flow of conversation. To Lescarbot, Champlain may well have seemed deficient in literary attainments, and so preoccupied with the concerns of geography as to be an uncongenial companion. To whatever cause conjecture may trace it, they did not become friends, although such lack of sympathy as existed shows itself only in an occasional pin-prick, traceable particularly in the later editions of their writings. For us it is the more needful to lay stress upon the merits of Lescarbot, because he tends to be eclipsed by the greater reputation of Champlain, and also because his style is sometimes so diffuse as to create prejudice. But at his best he is admirable, and without him we should know much less than we do about that Acadian experience which holds such a striking place in the career of Champlain.

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