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Samuel de Champlain -French navigator, born in Brouage, Saintonge, on the bay of Biscay, in 1567 ; died in Quebec, 25 Dec., 1635. -  Copyright Stan Klos

Samuel de Champlain

1567-1635

Samuel de Champlain

CHAMPLAIN, Samuel de, French navigator, born in Brouage, Saintonge, on the bay of Biscay, in 1567 ; died in Quebec, 25 Dec., 1635. His father was a ship-captain, and the son received a careful education as a navigator. Early in life he entered the army and became quartermaster of cavalry. His uncle, acting as pilot-general of the Spanish fleets, conducted back to their own country the Spanish soldiers who had served in France, and was accompanied by his nephew, who took command of the "St. Julien." In January, 1599, he sailed in command of this vessel for the West Indies, and during two years and a half visited many of the islands, landed at Vera Cruz, proceeded inland as far as the city of Mexico, and returned by way of Panama, where he conceived the plan of a ship-canal across the isthmus, reaching Spain in March, 1601. A record of this voyage, with views and charts, was written by him, and was first printed under the title of "Bref discours" (Quebec, 1870), though a translation had been previously printed in the publications of the Hakluyt society. 

On his return to France he received a pension from Henry IV., and, upon being urged by commander De Chaste, governor of Dieppe, to explore territory granted to him in North America by the king, with a view to founding a colony, he sailed, on 15 March, 1603, in the ship of Pontgrave. On 24 May they anchored at Tadoussac, where the Saguenay joins the St. Lawrence; and soon afterward he, Pontgrave, and a few men, proceeded up the river in a boat, until stopped by the rapids of St. Louis above Montreal, which was the limit of Cartier's discoveries in 1535. Returning to Tadoussac, Champlain examined both sides of the river, and subsequently explored the St. Lawrence down to Gasp& He sailed for France in August, and published the same year his first volume, "Des sau-rages," giving an account of his explorations and discoveries. 

The commander, De Chaste, having died in the mean time, his privileges were transferred to Du Guay, Sieur de Monts, who made an engagement with Champlain, with the intention of founding a settlement in Acadia, and they sailed together, arriving at Sable island 1 May, 1604. Coasting along Nova Scotia, they finally determined to form a settlement on the island of St. Croix, so named by De Monts, in the river of the same name, which divides New Brunswick from the United States. Not finding the place suitable, after passing a winter there they removed to Port Royal, adjacent to the present Annapolis. During 1604-'6 Champlain explored the coast as far as Cape Cod, making careful surveys and maps as he progressed. 

He returned to France in 1607, and, having suggested to De Monts the importance of establishing a trading-post on the St. Lawrence, he and Pontgrave were sent out in 1608, and, after reaching Tadoussac, they continued up the St. Lawrence to a place called by the Algonquins Quebec, or the Narrows. Champlain decided upon forming a settlement here, but had scarcely begun to clear the ground for the erection of buildings when a plot to assassinate him was discovered. At Quebec he erected houses, sowed grain, and did all he could to develop the fur trade, and in a short time the settlement began to grow. Having become friendly with the Montagnais, an Indian tribe on the St. Lawrence, in 1609 he joined them in an expedition against the Iroquois. While in pursuance of this project, they were met by a party of Algonquins and Hurons, and, accompanied by them, ascended Sorel river until they arrived at the Chambly rapids. Having at this point sent back his boat and crew, Champlain proceeded in a canoe, and entering a lake, gave it his own name. 

Champlain and his Indians meeting a large force of the Iroquois on the lake, both parties landed and threw up barricades of trees. On the following day they engaged in battle, which resulted in the defeat of the hostile Indians. This result was largely due to Champlain, who killed two Iroquois chiefs with his arquebus, and mortally wounded another. The war, thus begun by the French and their allies against the Iroquois, continued with occasional intermissions until the French supremacy in Canada was ended. 

In September, Champlain returned to France, and in March, 1610, sailed again for America, taking with him a number of mechanics. Soon after his arrival he and his Montagnais allies made war again upon the Iroquois, but, while attacking and demolishing their fort on the Sorel, he was severely wounded by an arrow. Leaving Du Pare in his place, he returned to France in 1611, and while there married Helen Boulle, a Protestant, who, after his death, became an Ursuline nun. De Monts having lost his influence in consequence of the death of Henry IV., and the merchants who had previously interested themselves in the colonization scheme having concluded to spend no more money on it, Champlain induced the Count de Soissons to take an interest in the project. That nobleman obtained, 8 Oct., 1612, a commission appointing him governor and lieutenant-general of New France, and Champlain was appointed his lieutenant, which office he retained, when the Prince de Conde succeeded shortly afterward to the rights of De Soissons. 

A short time after his appointment he sent several vessels to Canada, and in 1613 sailed himself, principally with the intention of exploring the Ottawa, which a sailor named Vignaud had claimed to have ascended to a lake and thence reached the North sea. On 27 May, 1613, he left St. Helen's island near Montreal, and, upon entering the Ottawa, discovered that Vignaud's statements were false. After arranging more favorable terms for the fur trade, he returned to France, formed a trading company, and returned to the colony in 1615, taking with him Pere Denis Jamay and two other Recollect priests, together with a lay brother. Pere Caron, one of these ecclesiastics, soon after his arrival, proceeded to the country of the Hurons on the Georgian bay. Champlain the same year ascended the Ottawa for some distance, and, leaving the river, went partly overland and partly by canoe to the eastern shore of Lake Huron, where, embarking, he sailed to its southern extremity; then going overland to the western extremity of Lake Ontario, he explored that lake and the St. Lawrence until he arrived at the Sorel. Soon afterward, on territory now included in the state of New York, he attacked a town held by a tribe belonging to the Iroquois league; but, through the insubordination of the Hurons, was repelled and received two severe wounds. 

He was carried back to a town of the Hurons, and after his recovery visited several tribes of Indians, and returned to France in the spring. Notwithstanding the endeavors of Champlain, both in Canada and in France, the colony did not flourish, and the indifference of the authorities at home threatened it with ultimate extinction. At this critical period (1620) the Duke de Montmorency succeeded Condo, and Champlain, becoming more hopeful, brought over his wife, who remained with him until 1624, though often forced to submit to great hardships. The trade had now been acquired by the merchants, and Quebec was fortified, began to enlarge its boundaries, and increased in population, entering upon a career of prosperity. In 1625 the Duke de Ventadour became viceroy, and at once set to work to develop the country, and sent over the first Jesuit missionaries to aid in converting the natives. In July, 1628, a British fleet under Sir David Kirk and his two brothers appeared before Quebec and summoned Champlain to surrender.

His answer was a defiance, and the British retired, after committing some depredations. The Canada company, which had been organized by Cardinal Richelieu, sent out provisions and settlers at this time" but the fleet conveying them was captured by Kirk, and, as Champlain had depended upon the intercepted vessels for his supplies, he, after passing the winter in great distress in Quebec, surrendered to Louis and David Kirk on 19 July, 1629. Champlain was conveyed to England as a prisoner, and was not set at liberty until 1632. By the treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, concluded in that year, between Great Britain and France, Canada, together with Acadia and Cape Breton, was restored to France, and Champlain, being at once reinstated as governor, in 1633 sailed with three well-equipped vessels from Dieppe. On his arrival he was warmly welcomed by the settlers and Indians, and, the Jesuit missionaries having resumed their labors among the natives, he did all in his power to strengthen and develop the colony, and erected a fort at Richelieu island and founded Three Rivers. He also established a college at Quebec, in which the children of the Indians were trained and taught the use of the French language. 

In addition to the volume "Des sauvages" (1603) and his "Voyages" (1613 and 1619), he published a volume containing an indifferently executed abridgment of his previous voyages, which included a continuation from 1619 to 1632. Interesting features of this volume were prayers and a catechism in two of the languages of the aborigines. Some copies bear the date of 1640. In 1830 it was reprinted in Paris. The Abbes Laverdier and Casgrain, of Quebec, have published the whole series of his works, including his Mexican voyage, with notes and fat-similes of all the maps and illustrations (4 vols., 4to, 1870). The "Mercure Francais," vol. xix., contains also what is apparently an account of the voyage of 1633.

Edited Appleton's American Biography Copyright© 2000 by StanKlos.comTM


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