CHAMPLAIN, SAMUEL DE, draftsman, geographer, explorer, founder of Quebec in 1608, lieutenant to Lieutenant-General Pierre Du Gua de Monts 1608–12, to Lieutenant-General Bourbon de Soissons in 1612, to Viceroy Bourbon de Condé 1612–20, to Viceroy de Montmorency 1620–25, to Viceroy de Ventadour 1625–27; commandant at Quebec in 1627 and 1628, between de Ventadour’s resignation and the creation of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés; commander in New France “in the absence of my Lord the Cardinal de Richelieu” 1629–35; member of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés; probably b. at Brouage, in Saintonge (Charente-Maritime); d. 25 Dec. 1635 at Quebec.
Nothing is known of the date of Champlain’s birth or of his baptism; he may have been born c. 1570, perhaps in 1567, or later, c. 1580. Some have been inclined to see in Champlain the son of poor fisherfolk or of a naval captain, or even the bastard of a great family. Haunted by the mystery of Champlain’s birth, Florian de La Horbe has endeavoured to solve it after the manner of an Alexandre Dumas; Champlain, he conjectures, was Guy Eder de La Fontanelle, a renowned ruffian who was sentenced to be broken on the wheel, and who is presumed to have escaped this punishment and to have turned up again as an honest man, under the name of Champlain. It is fruitless to seek in this hypothesis any serious proof which would lead one to doubt the traditional story; we are dealing here with nothing more than a very inferior detective novel.
We do not know whether Champlain was baptized a Roman Catholic or a Protestant; his biblical first name, which in Saintonge was seldom given except in Protestant families, and the fact that Brouage was then a Huguenot town, make it probable that Champlain was born a Protestant. His struggle against the Catholic League proves nothing, for opposition to the League was common among monarchists, Catholic or Protestant; his choice of a Protestant wife proves nothing either. If he was born a Protestant, Champlain very soon passed over to Catholicism, like the Jesuit Paul Le Jeune, who was born a Huguenot and later became a Catholic. In any case, when he began his Canadian career in 1603 Champlain was a Catholic; this is proved by the doctrine he expounded at that time to the Tadoussac Indians.
According to his marriage contract, Champlain was the son “of the late Anthoine de Complain, in his lifetime Captain in the Navy, and of Dame Margueritte Le Roy.” We know nothing further about his parents, and the mystery of the “Provençal uncle” who played such an important role at the beginning of the explorer’s career still remains to be cleared up. Was Champlain of noble birth? The little that we know of his family does not enlighten us any more than does the name he bears; his 1603 volume gives “Samuel Champlain” and the dedication to Admiral Montmorency is signed “S. Champlain,” whereas in the privilège, in the same edition, there are the words “Sieur de Champlain,” just as in the marriage contract of 1610 and in the 1613, 1619, and 1632 volumes. However, the particle proves nothing, for nobility was conferred only by direct noble descent or by letters of nobility. In the absence of the latter (whether they did not exist or have been lost), one must accept with considerable caution the titles that Champlain assumed or allowed himself to be given. In the 1610 marriage contract he was styled “noble homme,” a title given to commoners of importance. In a notarial contract of 1615 Champlain was named an esquire; only nobles had a right to this title, although in practice quite a few bourgeois accepted it without demur. Further, in an agreement of 1617, he was called “noble homme,” and likewise in a document of 1621; but in a notarial contract of 1625, and in 1626, at the time of the registration of this document, Champlain had once more his title of esquire; what is more, in the official list of the Cent-Associés in 1627, drawn up before the king bestowed upon the company letters of nobility for 12 associates who were commoners, Champlain was again styled an esquire. If it were possible to disregard the 1617 and 1621 documents, one might perhaps conclude that Champlain, a “noble homme” in 1610, acceded to the nobility before 1615; in that case his elevation would have occurred in 1612, when Champlain became lieutenant to a viceroy: it is difficult to imagine a Bourbon de Condé allowing himself to be represented in New France by a mere commoner, who was granted extensive powers that in theory only a noble could exercise. This is a hypothesis. The discovery of new documents will be necessary if it is to be supported more convincingly.
We have little reliable information about Champlain’s pre-Canadian career. He may have practised an art necessary for a geographer, that of painter or draftsman. A factum drawn up by the merchants of Saint-Malo c. 1613 noted, concerning Champlain as he was in 1603: “He went [on this voyage] only as a passenger, his profession as a painter, as well as the money, inviting him to see the said country.” In fact Champlain was an excellent draftsman. To him are attributed the very felicitous drawings of the Brief discours (they appear to be originals, whereas the text is only a copy). And the maps that he later drew of New France, particularly that of 1632, were magnificently executed.
He must have begun his sailing early, since he informed the queen in 1613 that the art of navigation had attracted him from his “tender youth.” In 1632 he stated that he had served against the League in the army of Henri IV until 1598, with the title of sergeant; when the Spanish troops maintained in Brittany by Philip II left Port-Blavet (Port-Louis, in Morbihan), Champlain embarked with them. From Spain, according to what he told the king in 1630 and 1632, he went as far as the West Indies, on a voyage that took him two years and a half. His presence at Cadiz was noted in July 1601, after which he returned to France.
Champlain wrote on two occasions that he had travelled in the West Indies; there is no good reason why one should reject this declaration by a man near the end of his career. What does complicate the problem is a work that Champlain never published but that is attributed to him, the Brief discours des choses plus remarquables que Samuel Champlain de Brouage a reconnues aux Indes occidentales. Claude de Bonnault and Jean Bruchési have been the first to cast doubt upon the authenticity of this document, and consequently upon the sincerity of Champlain. A recent study by L.-A. Vigneras re-examines the question, while retaining a few hypotheses: Vigneras notes that the Brief discours sometimes gives an itinerary incompatible with that of Coloma’s armada, which Champlain is supposed to have accompanied; one must in addition, continues Vigneras, “entertain the most serious reservations about the alleged voyages to Mexico City, Porto-Bello and Carthagena.” How are the gross errors of the Brief discours to be explained? According to Vigneras, Champlain did not make this trip (or all of it) with Coloma’s fleet; again, he drew up the Brief discours from information collected in Spain, if not from the papers of the famous “Provençal uncle”; or else he recounted his journey only at a time when his memory was no longer reliable.
To be just towards Champlain, we must first remember that he did not publish this Brief discours; the work is not by him, or if it is he did not judge it worthy of publication. Another observation: what was published under Champlain’s name, and that only after 1859, was not the original but a copy. To what extent is this copy accurate? The same fate has befallen the relation of Verrazzano, which was long known only through a truncated copy studded with errors. The Cèllere manuscript had to be discovered before historians could finally accord Verrazzano his proper merit. Until the original is found, we have no right to include the Brief discours among Champlain’s works.
After his return from Spain, Champlain had the benefit of a pension at the court of Henri IV. It was then that Commander Aymar de Chaste, the holder of the trade monopoly in New France, invited Champlain to follow François Gravé Du Pont, whom he was sending on an expedition. On 15 March 1603, as a private passenger, Champlain went on board the Bonne-Renommée at Honfleur. He had no precise function; he was not yet a naval captain. When he published his account of the voyage, on his return, no title follows his name. Was he the king’s geographer, as Lescarbot was to hail him in a sonnet of 1607? Nowhere does Champlain bear this title, and no one but Lescarbot gives it to him; there is no confirmation that Champlain, while acting as a geographer, held the official post of king’s geographer. He sailed in 1603 as a mere observer, and his presence on this voyage would have passed unnoticed had he not published his account; he is, moreover, the only one to give us an account of this voyage.
On 26 May, Gravé Du Pont’s ships reached Tadoussac; there Champlain witnessed the “tabagies” (native feasts), during which the Algonkin women danced naked and the Algonkin men took part in races, for which presents were awarded. While the fur-trading was going on, from 26 May to 18 June, Champlain had time to study the natives’ customs. He even gave them a course in religion. On 11 June, he went some 12 leagues up the Saguenay; he listened to descriptions of the whole Saguenay basin and its waterways, learned of the existence of a saltwater sea to the north, and without assuming, like all the travellers concerned, that this was the Asian Sea, he concluded with a confidence that surprises us: “It is some gulf of this our sea, which overflows in the north into the midst of the continent.” In 1603, seven years before its discovery by the English, Champlain divined in some fashion the existence of Hudson Bay.
When the feasts and trading were over, Gravé, on 18 June, started to go up the St. Lawrence River, which Champlain was still calling, as in the time of Cartier, the “rivière de Canada.” Champlain went with him; he discovered nothing. What was new for him was not so for the French of his day; Levasseur, in 1601, had determined the configuration of the river as we know it, and his map mentions the place-names Tadoussac, Quebec, and Trois-Rivières. This 1603 journey did, however, furnish us with a more detailed and clearer description of the river than is to be found in Cartier’s accounts. As he passed in front of Quebec, where his destiny was to be unfolded, Champlain showed little interest, merely remarking that if the lands were cultivated they would be as good as those of France. It was at Trois-Rivières that the future colonizer began to reveal himself; he saw there a place suitable for a “habitation,” which at that time, however, he visualized only in its relationship to the safety of the fur-trading route. Did Champlain add to the list of place-names? It was probably he who christened Montmorency Falls. He gave a new name to “lac Angoulême,” Saint-Pierre. He went up the Richelieu as far as the Saint-Ours Rapids, and got from the natives a good description of the upper reaches of the river. He was no more fortunate than Cartier, being blocked by the rapids at Hochelaga (Montreal). By questioning the natives, he made an amazing reconstruction of the network of the Great Lakes (including Niagara Falls), with measurements that often corresponded to actual fact, but he allowed himself to be persuaded that the Asian Sea was not far away.
He returned to Tadoussac on 11 July, and re-embarked with François Gravé Du Pont for Gaspé, where he stayed from 15 to 19 July – days of respite which permitted him to obtain a general notion of the region; he heard about Acadia, where he hoped to find the route to Asia, and the mines that Sarcel de Prévert was looking for in that area. These two Acadian possibilities, the route to Asia and the mines, fascinated Champlain in 1603 more than the St. Lawrence. When one reads him, one senses that Acadia would perhaps supersede the St. Lawrence, and that if the French returned, it would be principally in order to pursue the promises of that mysterious Acadia.
When Champlain went back to France, 20 September, he learned that de Chaste was dead. He presented a map of the St. Lawrence (which has not been found) to the king, delivered to him a “discourse” on what he had seen, and published his account, Des sauvages, the privilège of which is dated 15 November. The Protestant de Monts, who succeeded de Chaste, had seen nothing of the St. Lawrence except Tadoussac; he wanted to find a warmer country. Through his propaganda for Acadia in 1603, Champlain has his share of responsibility for the temporary abandonment of the St. Lawrence in favour of Acadia. Invited by de Monts and authorized by Henri IV, who apparently instructed him to make a report on his discovery, Champlain embarked once again in March 1604; he still had no official title, but the role he was to play and the completed tasks that he was to leave show that, without having the title, he did perform the duties of a geographer.
In early May 1604, the expedition stopped at Port-au-Mouton, on the east shore of Acadia. De Monts instructed Champlain to choose a temporary base for the settlement, until a site combining the most suitable conditions could be located. Champlain therefore set off on 19 May, sailed round the Cap de Sable, entered the Baie Sainte-Marie where he chose a harbour for the largest ship, noticed some mines, added to the toponymy, and came back to Port-au-Mouton after three weeks. De Monts took his ship into the safety of the Baie Sainte-Marie, and they went off in a bark to explore the Baie Française (the name given by de Monts to the Bay of Fundy). They first visited a bay that Champlain named Port-Royal (now Annapolis Royal, N.S.), went to the end of the Baie Française to look for Prévert’s mines, and examined the mouth of the Saint John River; then, as they had to obtain temporary shelter, de Monts stopped at the Île Sainte-Croix (now Dochet Island, in the St. Croix River), which was Champlain’s choice; the site and the summer season seemed to make it the best place. De Monts decided to have separate buildings constructed, and Champlain built himself a dwelling to be shared with MM. d’Orville and Pierre Angibault, dit Champdoré.
Before the winter, Champlain busied himself with exploration. After looking again for mines in the Baie Française, on 2 September he went back along the coast, in order to seek the ideal site for a permanent abode. He entered the Penobscot River and tried to reach the Kennebec, but he could not get beyond Pemaquid. On this month-long trip he covered some 150 miles, and penetrated as much as 50 miles into the lands adjoining the Penobscot River. Although not the first European to visit this region, he has given us the first precise description of it. He returned somewhat disappointed with what he had seen.
The winter season spent at Sainte-Croix, 1604–5, was disastrous because of scurvy and the exceptional severity of the cold. In the spring, de Monts, having received fresh supplies from Gravé Du Pont, set out again in search of a more favourable district, and with Champlain, on 17 June 1605, took the route southwards once more. On 1 July they entered the Kennebec River and continued towards the south, visiting various points on the coast: Baie des Sept-Îles (Casco Bay), Baie de Chouacouët (Saco Bay), Cap-aux-Îles (Cape Ann), Baie des Îles (Boston Bay), Port Saint-Louis (Plymouth Bay), and finally Cap Blanc (Cape Cod). De Monts rounded this and made a stop at Mallebarre (Nauset Harbour). After a journey of about 400 miles, he returned to Sainte-Croix without finding the ideal site for a settlement. Gosnold and Weymouth had preceded him at some points on this coast, but the geographer Champlain has left us a set of such precise maps that he deserves the title of first cartographer of New England.
While waiting for something better to turn up, de Monts transported his colony to Port-Royal; experience led him to adopt this time the closed quadrilateral dwelling, and they settled in with a certain degree of comfort. For his part Champlain fitted himself up with a work-room among the trees, and built a sluice in order to stock his own trout; he took “a particular pleasure” in gardening. At Port-Royal Champlain’s role was still that of a mere observer. When de Monts returned to France it was not Champlain whom he named to command in his absence: it was first d’Orville, then Gravé Du Pont. Before the winter started Champlain set off again, unsuccessfully, to look for mines. The winter season of 1605–6, even though made miserable by scurvy, was less painful than the preceding one. During the summer of 1606, Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt turned up with a new contingent (among them the lawyer Marc Lescarbot and the pharmacist Louis Hébert) and replaced Gravé Du Pont, but Champlain remained for a third winter. In September 1606 Poutrincourt, in his turn, searched southward for the site of a permanent settlement; Champlain went with him. Instead of making for Cap Blanc immediately, they lost time re-examining known places; it was only in October, therefore very late, that they got beyond the point they had reached at Mallebarre, but Port Fortuné, where they stopped, was the scene of a massacre of Frenchmen; they therefore returned without being able to get further than Martha’s Vineyard. This voyage added little to the toponymy; Champlain gave his name to a small river, the Nashpee, east of Rhode Island.
The winter of 1606–7 was a most merry one: pleasant temperature, food and wine in abundance. Champlain added to the high spirits by founding the Order of Good Cheer, a sort of carefree order of chivalry, whose members had to take their turn in providing game for the table and maintaining a joyful humour. In May 1607 it was learned that the trading privilege had been revoked; de Monts gave orders to his colony to return to France. Before leaving, however, Champlain went back to the Baie Française to look for a copper mine, but found only nuggets. When Champlain sailed, 11 August 1607, for Canseau (Canso), he took the opportunity to reconnoitre the coast in detail and to make a map of it. And it was thus that in 1607, thanks to him, all the Atlantic coastline, from Cape Breton to the south of Cap Blanc, was charted and decked out with French place-names. The English, who returned in 1607 to winter on the Kennebec, did nothing comparable in this domain.
The Acadian venture having been broken off, what was to become of Champlain? In 1603 he had influenced de Monts in the choice of Acadia rather than of the St. Lawrence; and he was the one, it seems, who was responsible for the return to the St. Lawrence in 1608. This time he received the first official function of his Canadian career; he became lieutenant to the Sieur de Monts. On 13 April 1608 he set out a third time for New France; he arrived on 3 June at Tadoussac, where he had not been for five years. It was in a bark, and not on board the Don-de-Dieu, that he went up the river to establish a habitation, on 3 July, at the “point of Quebec.” “I at once employed a part of our workmen,” he wrote, “in cutting them [the trees] down to make a site for our settlement, another part in sawing planks, another in digging the cellar and making ditches.” He had built, along with a storehouse for provisions, three main buildings; the whole was surrounded by moats 15 feet wide and by stockades of stakes. Quebec was beginning its history.
A few days later, Champlain escaped a plot led by the locksmith Jean Duval, who had been with him in Acadia. To try out the soil, Champlain turned his attention to sowing wheat and rye; he planted vines, and made a vegetable garden. Like the first winter season in Acadia, the one at Quebec was marked by a severe onset of scurvy; of the 25 winterers, 16 died, including the surgeon Bonnerme [see Duval]. Champlain received fresh supplies from Gravé Du Pont in the spring of 1609, and set out on 28 June to discover the country of the Iroquois; he entered the Rivière des Iroquois (Richelieu) where he had already been in 1603; from the Chambly Rapids, taking with him only two Frenchmen, he pushed upriver with some Algonkin, Huron, and Montagnais Indians, and reached a great lake to which he was to give his name.
On the evening of 29 July, at Ticonderoga (Crown Point, N.Y.), his party encountered the Iroquois, and the next day the battle began; as the two sides clashed, the allies opened their ranks, Champlain advanced, fired with his arquebus, and killed two enemy chiefs; a shot fired into the woods by a companion produced panic among the Iroquois. Champlain was taking part for the first time in military operations in New France: although he was not responsible for the long Franco-Iroquois conflict, since the French had contracted an offensive alliance before 1603, he consolidated the prestige of the French; to honour Champlain, the allies reserved for him a brace of firearms and the head of one of the enemy. As a result of his voyage of exploration, Champlain enlarged the map of New France and opened up a route that was to be a strategic one for Europeans for two centuries; had he lingered on until September and gone a few miles farther south, he would have encountered the Englishman Henry Hudson, who was introducing Dutch supremacy into this region.
After his victory, Champlain left the command of Quebec to Pierre Chauvin de La Pierre, and returned to France with Gravé Du Pont; on 13 Oct. 1609 he was at Honfleur, whence he was to go and make a report to de Monts and the king. Although he did not manage to get his monopoly renewed, de Monts formed a society with some Rouen merchants: the latter would support the Quebec habitation, but on condition that it served as a warehouse for the fur trade; as a temporary compromise, Quebec would be exclusively a storage point for furs. After a false start and a month of illness, Champlain re-embarked with some artisans on 8 April 1610, and reappeared at Quebec 28 April, after an unusually rapid voyage.
The allies were awaiting Champlain, to start another expedition against the Iroquois. They had agreed upon a rendezvous at the mouth of the Richelieu; the Iroquois were already there, and well stockaded. Champlain led the attack, although wounded by an arrow which “split the tip of my ear and pierced my neck”; the assault was launched and the Iroquois fled. It was Champlain’s last triumph over this enemy. Following this combat, Champlain entrusted to the chief Iroquet a young man, Étienne Brûlé, who wanted to learn the Algonkin language; as a hostage he accepted the Huron Savignon, who wanted to see France. Before he left for France, Champlain discovered that the fur trade that year was ruinous for those supporting him, and he learned that Henri IV had been assassinated. In that unfortunate combination of circumstances he set out from Quebec, 8 Aug. 1610, leaving 16 men under the orders of Jean de Godet Du Parc [see Claude de Godet]; he was at Honfleur by 27 September.
Without making any allusion to it in his writings, Champlain took an important step at the beginning of the winter; on 27 Dec. 1610, at about 40 years of age, he signed a marriage contract with a twelve-year-old girl, Hélène Boullé. Because of the future bride’s youthfulness, it was stipulated that the marriage would not be put into effect for two years. The betrothal took place two days later, and on 30 December the marriage was celebrated in the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois in Paris. Of the promised dowry (6,000 livres), Champlain received 4,500 livres the day before the ceremony, which was a valuable contribution to his undertaking.
He sailed again 1 March 1611, and arrived at Quebec 21 May. Forced by a mistake of the Indians to abandon his plan of exploring the St. Maurice River, he went to the Saint-Louis Rapids (Lachine); while waiting for the arrival of the native fur-traders he landed, and, 31 years before the founding of Montreal, he looked on that island for “the ground for building”; he finally chose what was to be Pointe Callières, a place where Indians had tilled the soil in Cartier’s time. He ordered “the trees of the Place Royale to be cut down and cleared off, in order to level the ground and make it ready for building”; on an adjoining island, he had a wall constructed out of heavy earth, 10 fathoms long by 3 or 4 high, “to see how it would last during the winter.” He noticed an island where it would be possible to “build a good strong town,” and gave it the name of Sainte-Hélène in honour of his wife. Champlain’s Montreal projects were never to go any further. At last, on 13 June, some Indians came down from the hinterland, and after parleys with them Champlain carried out a feat calculated to increase his prestige among the natives: with them, he shot the rapids in a canoe. Brûlé was the only white man to have done this before him. As soon as he returned to Quebec, he made repairs to the Habitation, planted rose-bushes, and put on board a cargo of “split oak” to be tried out in France. He arrived at La Rochelle 10 Sept. 1611.
Because they did not succeed in securing a monopoly, the Sieur de Monts’s partners no longer wanted to support the Quebec venture; for their part the Saint-Malo merchants, finding their justification in Cartier’s discoveries, demanded freedom of trade, which led Champlain to compare his work with that of the famous pilot of Saint-Malo; it was right, he asserted, “that we should enjoy the fruits of our labours.” He drew up reports, published a map (the first that has come down to us), and begged the king to intervene. Finally, 8 Oct. 1612, Louis XIII named as his lieutenant-general in New France Charles de Bourbon, Comte de Soissons, who on the fifteenth of the month chose Champlain as his lieutenant to continue the Quebec undertaking. Champlain received power to exercise command in the lieutenant-general’s name, to appoint “such captains and lieutenants as shall be expedient,” to “commission officers for administration of justice and maintenance of police authority, regulations and ordinances,” to make treaties with the natives or to wage war upon them, and to restrain merchants who did not belong to the society. It was also his duty to “find the easiest way to go through the said country to the Kingdom of China and the East Indies,” to seek out the locations of mines of precious metals, and to exploit them. Shortly afterwards Bourbon de Soissons died. The king transferred the appointment to Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, who on 22 November confirmed Champlain in his office. The supporters of the freedom of trade would try none the less to deprive Champlain of the support of a society of merchants; they would seek every expedient to prevent Champlain from publishing his commission. Champlain was to overcome this opposition only through the personal intervention of the king.
The autumn of 1612 had thus brought Champlain an important advancement. Since 1608, the year that marked his first access to an official position, he had been only the lieutenant to a lieutenant-general who possessed relatively little influence, the Sieur de Monts; in October 1612 he became the lieutenant of an important personage, the Comte de Soissons, who at that period, it is true, seems to have borne only the title of lieutenant-general; but the following November Champlain became lieutenant to a viceroy, the Prince de Condé. Moreover, he obtained the real powers of a governor, without however having either the title or the commission.
Shortly after, he added to his reputation by publishing his Voyages (an account that goes from 1604 to 1612), the privilège for which was dated 9 Jan. 1613.
On 6 March of the same year, on board François Gravé Du Pont’s ship, he left Honfleur with his assistant, the Sieur L’Ange; on 29 April he arrived at Tadoussac, where he proclaimed his new commission; after a brief stop at Quebec, he reached the Saint-Louis rapids on 21 May. As in 1611, the fur trade yielded little profit. Disgusted by the tactics of the unauthorized merchants, the natives came only in small numbers. Champlain then decided to extend his exploration into the Huron country; with an Indian guide and four men (among them the Nicolas de Vignau, who in 1612 in Paris had boasted that he had seen Hudson Bay by going up the Ottawa River), Champlain set out on 27 May. He was the first European to give us a description of this “rivière des Outaouais” (Ottawa), which for two centuries was to be the main trade route to the Canadian west. Beyond the Chaudière Falls, to avoid rapids and a long meandering portion of the river, he went across country from one lake to the other (it was in one of these lakes, Green Lake, that in 1867 an astrolabe dated 1603 was found; it was attributed to Champlain, but without conclusive proof). He rejoined the river at the end of Allumette Island. In June he visited the home of Tessouat (fl. 1603–13), whom he had known at Tadoussac, and he invited the Algonkins to leave their land with its poor soil and settle at the Saint-Louis rapids. They accepted on condition that the French would build a fort there, an item which was already on Champlain’s immediate programme. On the other hand, they tried to dissuade Champlain from going as far as the territory of the Nipissings. The Algonkins, for whom the tolls that they imposed upon the Indian tribes were a lucrative source of income, wanted to prevent the French from going farther up the river. During an interrogation to which they subjected Vignau, they induced him to declare that what he had said about the northern sea was false. This put an end to Champlain’s voyage. Beside the Lac aux Allumettes, he erected a cross bearing the arms of France, and went back down the river with one of Tessouat’s sons. The French route to the West had been opened up.
On the following 26 August Champlain was already back at Saint-Malo. Towards the end of that year, 1613, he published an account of the journey that he had just made, as well as a map of New France (it included only one addition to the preceding map: the upper part of the Ottawa River). In 1614, at Fontainebleau, where he went to make a report to the king, he formed a society with the merchants of Rouen and Saint-Malo for the support of the Canadian undertaking; this company, which bound the partners for 11 years, bore the name of Compagnie des Marchands de Rouen et de Saint-Malo, and also that of Compagnie de Champlain, because of the important role played by the lieutenant of the Prince de Condé. Despite an attempt by the merchants of La Rochelle to corner the Tadoussac fur trade, business was excellent in 1614. Champlain could indulge in the fondest hopes. He was also concerned with the furtherance of religious life; with the backing of Condé and of Louis Houel, a king’s secretary, he secured four Recollets, among them Denis Jamet, their first superior in Canada, and the company undertook to feed them. With them Champlain set sail from Honfleur, on 24 April 1615, and as soon as he arrived at Tadoussac, on 25 May, he set out for the Saint-Louis rapids to meet the natives. Bound by repeated promises to help them against the Iroquois, and wanting to push on with his “discoveries,” Champlain, with two Frenchmen, one of whom was perhaps Étienne Brûlé, undertook his great voyage to the Huron country. This was on 9 July 1615. He went up the Ottawa River, continuing this time beyond Allumette Island, and reached the Rivière Mataouan; then, via the Lac des Népissingues (Nipissing) and the Rivière des Français (French River), he got to the great Lac Attigouautau (Huron), which he called a freshwater sea. On 1 August he at last arrived among the Hurons, in a country whose beauty and fertility amazed him.
The military rendezvous was at Cahiagué (on Lake Simcoe); he went there by easy stages, visiting the villages enclosed by their wooden stockades. After sending a delegation of 12 Huron braves – to whose number Brûlé was added – to warn their allies the Susquehannahs to the south of the Iroquois country, the expedition started out on 1 September. Passing through a country where the trees seemed to have been planted for the joy of it, they crossed Lake Ontario at its eastern tip; 14 leagues farther on they hid their canoes and struck into the interior. On 10 October, after following the Oneida River, they found themselves before an Iroquois fort (in a spot situated on the east side of Lake Onondaga, or, according to a reputable theory, at Nichols Pond, near Perryville, N.Y., to the south of Lake Oneida).
It was a fort protected by four stockades 30 feet high, and provided with galleries, in the form of a parapet, in which the Iroquois had fitted up troughs for putting out fires. Champlain was obliged by his allies’ impatience to attack prematurely. He had to resort to the strategy used for besieging a fortress; a cavalier for shooting into the interior of the fort, mantlets to protect the besiegers, and wood to set fire to the stockade. The Hurons lacked discipline; their disorder caused the assault to fail, and Champlain himself was wounded twice in one leg by arrows, one of them striking his knee. After three hours it was necessary to withdraw. The allies waited in vain until 16 October for help from the Susquehannahs; seeing nothing arrive, they began their long retreat. Because of his knee, Champlain was carried for some days, trussed up in a basket on the back of a Huron, like “a little child in its swaddling clothes.”
He wished to return to Quebec, but the Hurons were anxious for him to winter among them; he accepted, with much reluctance. Soon he set off with them on a great hunt during which, like the priest Aubry in 1604, he got lost in the forest, stalking a strange bird from tree to tree; without a compass, living on game and sleeping under a tree, he wandered for three days before finally meeting up with the band by chance. The hunt being over, they returned to Cahiagué on 23 December; he spent Christmas and New Year’s Day there; on 5 Jan. 1616 he met the Recollet Le Caron again at Carhagouha. On the fifteenth, Champlain set off with the Recollet to visit the Tobacco Nation (to the south of Nottawasaga Bay), then the Cheveux-Relevés (Ottawas) (to the south of Georgian Bay), calling at the villages and inviting the natives to come to Quebec. He took advantage of this winter “to study their country, their manners, customs, modes of life”; he has left us a detailed description of them, which is an ethnographical compendium of the Huron country. He could, however, get only scant information about the mysterious west; because of the wars the Hurons had travelled little in that direction.
Finally, on 22 May 1616, Champlain left the Huron country; 40 days later, at the Saint-Louis rapids, he encountered Gravé Du Pont, who thought he was dead. Champlain again declared to the Hurons that he planned to build a habitation at the Saint-Louis rapids, and they pledged themselves to come and live there. On 11 July he was at Quebec; he enlarged the Habitation, and had the wheat cut to show it in France. He embarked 20 July and was at Honfleur 10 September.
There he learned that the Prince de Condé had just been arrested; which “made me infer,” he wrote, “that our enviers would not be very slow in spewing out their venom.” Indeed, Maréchal de Thémines had himself granted the office of viceroy; Champlain nevertheless remained a lieutenant, and the partners went so far as to show a sudden zeal for the colony. But everything “went up in smoke,” and when Champlain decided to embark at Honfleur in 1617, the partner Daniel Boyer notified him that he was no longer the viceroy’s lieutenant. Champlain left notwithstanding for New France, where he made only a brief stay (doubt has been cast on this 1617 voyage, but it remains possible, even if we find Champlain in Paris again on 22 July).
In February 1618, he attempted a major move by addressing two reports, one to the king and the other to the Chamber of Commerce, outlining his whole programme. He wrote to the king that by way of New France one could easily reach “the Kingdom of China and the East Indies, whence great riches could be drawn”; the customs duties that would be collected at Quebec on all goods coming from or proceeding to Asia “would surpass in value at least ten times all those levied in France”; the French would be masters of a country “nearly eighteen hundred leagues in length, watered by the fairest rivers in the world,” and the Christian faith would be established among countless numbers of souls. To place New France on a solid footing, Champlain proposed that there be established at Quebec, in the valley of the St. Charles River, “a town almost as large as St. Denis, which town shall be called, if it please God and the king, Ludovica”; a fort would overlook this town; another would be built on the south bank of the river, a third at Tadoussac. To the country would be brought 15 Recollets, 300 families of 4 persons, and 300 soldiers; the king would send someone from his council to “establish and ordain fundamental laws of the State” and a free system of justice.
This programme of civilization was of a kind that would please the king. Champlain would interest the big speculators by enumerating the wealth that could be extracted from the country; this “great and permanent trade” would comprise the following items: fisheries of cod, salmon, sturgeon, eel, and herring; whale-oil and whale-wattles; timber “of marvellous height”; gum, ashes, tar; dye roots, hemp; mines of silver, iron, and lead; coarse cloths, pelts, gems, vines, livestock; finally, profits to be obtained from the “short route to China,” via the St. Lawrence. In all, Champlain estimated the annual income at some 5,400,000 livres. In this estimate, the yield from agriculture had very little importance (for France could not be interested in Canadian agricultural products); furs amounted to only 400,000 livres. Like Talon subsequently, Champlain did not want all the economy of the country to be based on the one item of furs, and we notice that this evaluation by Champlain is fairly close to what they were to bring in on an average each year. Thus Champlain was dreaming of a country with a diversified economy. A wide-ranging programme! It is in the year 1618 that we find outlined for the first time a great colonizing policy.
The Chamber of Commerce was immediately convinced by it: on 9 Feb. 1618 it submitted to the king a request that Champlain be given the means to establish 300 families a year in New France, and that the partners be assured the monopoly of the trade in furs; on 12 March 1618 the king instructed the partners to assist Champlain “with things requisite and necessary” for the execution of the command that he had received, and to “carry on all work that he shall judge necessary for establishing the colonies that we wish to found in the said country.” Armed with the king’s support, Champlain embarked 24 May 1618, with his brother-in-law Eustache Boullé, who was 18 years old; he reached Tadoussac on 24 June. At Quebec, three days later, he noticed that some progress had been made with cultivation, but he had to go to Trois-Rivières to pass judgement on the murder of two Frenchmen by two Montagnais in 1616, or more probably in 1617. Champlain preferred to “settle this affair amicably, and to pass things over quietly,” in order to keep the friendship of the natives. When the fur-trading was finished, Champlain sailed again for Tadoussac on 26 July, hoping to return the following year “bringing a good number of families to people this country.” He was at Honfleur by 28 August.
In France legal proceedings were now in full swing. From the king’s Council the States of Brittany obtained freedom of trade; Champlain managed to have it revoked. The partners had been refusing up to that time to ensure the populating of the colony, fearing that they would then obtain furs only through the settlers, and that they would subsequently be ejected by those whom they had themselves established; but they realized that they would have to honour the population commitment. On 21 Dec. 1618 Champlain made them sign a statement whereby the partners undertook to convey to Quebec and maintain there 80 persons, with animals and seed; furthermore, on the twenty-fourth of the same month Champlain drew a pension of 600 livres provided for him by the king; and on the following 14 January he received the 1,500 livres owing to him from his wife’s dowry. Everything seemed set fair for success. But now the partners, prompted by Boyer, sought to restrict Champlain to exploring and to entrust the command of Quebec to Gravé Du Pont. Champlain refused: “They thought . . . they were setting up a sort of republic there according to their own notions”; he claimed his right to command at Quebec and to devote his attention to the explorations that he deemed appropriate.
Sure of what he was doing, he set off for Rouen with his wife, in order to sail for Quebec. He showed the king’s letter and the articles signed by the partners, and proved that he was the Prince de Condé’s lieutenant. To no purpose: the partners refused point blank; the boat set sail; and Champlain returned to Paris to plead his case before the king’s Council. “Now began our pettifoggery.” A judgement confirmed him in his command (“which decree I make known to them in the open Exchange at Rouen”), but the 1619 trip nevertheless could not take place. During this enforced leisure, Champlain had written up the account of his Voyages from 1615 to 1618; the privilège is dated 18 May 1619.
The Prince de Condé was liberated in October 1619, and yielded his rights as viceroy to Henri II, Duc de Montmorency, admiral of France. The latter confirmed Champlain in his office, and appointed the Sieur Dolu, the Grand Usher of the kingdom, as an intendant to put the society “into a better condition of prosperity than it had been.” On 7 May 1620, Louis XIII wrote to Champlain to enjoin him to maintain the country “in obedience to me, making the people who are there live as closely in conformity with the laws of my kingdom as you can.” From that moment Champlain was to devote himself exclusively to the administration of the country; he was to undertake no further great voyages of discovery; his career as an explorer had ended.
In this spring of 1620 Champlain set out again for New France, this time with his wife (aged c. 22 years), whose first ocean journey it was; unfortunately it was a “rough passage.” Arriving at Quebec in July, he had his commission read in public, and took possession of the country in the name of the viceroy de Montmorency. He undertook repairs: rain was coming into the Habitation and the storehouse was falling to pieces; despite the partners’ aversion, he had a start made on Fort Saint-Louis, on the south cliff of the Cap aux Diamants. The construction lasted all autumn and all winter. In mid-May 1621, he learned that the fur trade had been handed over to the de Caën brothers, and that he was to take possession of the former society’s goods. Champlain allowed the clerks, who were growing anxious, to continue trading meanwhile. Then, in June, Gravé Du Pont, who belonged to the earlier society, arrived at the same time as the de Caëns; a conflict was imminent, and Champlain braced himself. Parleys were held with both parties, but in the meantime it was ascertained that the king was allowing both companies to trade for that year. Guillaume de Caën planned, however, to seize Gravé’s ship, and Champlain went down to Tadoussac to “render justice.” De Caën seized the ship; then, changing his mind, he pretended that the vessel was, after all, not fully armed and returned it to François Gravé. This conflict and the rivalry of the two companies were very indicative of the colony’s unsettled state, and there were, moreover, various other complaints to be dealt with. On 18 Aug. 1621, with Champlain’s permission, a general meeting of the settlers instructed the Recollet Le Baillif to go as their delegate and present the country’s grievances in France. In the report that Le Baillif presented to the king, we find repeated the same arguments put forward by Champlain in 1618, including the reference to the route to Asia. The Recollet submitted the following requests: the exclusion of the Huguenots from the colony, the founding of a seminary for Indians, more power in the exercising of justice, a stronger military defence, and an increase in Champlain’s pension. The king replied by merging the two companies, under the direction of the de Caëns. The latter committed themselves to support six Recollets and to settle six families; as for Champlain’s pension, it was increased. Shortly after this general meeting, about which Champlain does not utter a word in his writings, the first ordinances were published at Quebec, 21 Sept. 1621. The texts of this first legislation in New France have not been found.
As a legislator, Champlain applied himself also to playing a political role among the natives. In order to “begin to assume a certain control over them,” he succeeded in imposing on them a chief of his choice, Miristou, and it was agreed that thenceforth only a chief acceptable to the French should be elected. The Indians, persuaded by Champlain to settle and till the land, began to clear ground near Quebec in the spring of 1622. In addition, in June, Champlain received a visit from some Iroquois who had come for peace parleys; he convinced his allies of the advantages of peace, and got them to send four of their men to the Iroquois country; he continued his efforts towards pacification when in July 1623, at the mouth of the Richelieu, he smoothed out a quarrel between some Hurons and Algonkins, and pardoned an Indian guilty of having killed some Frenchmen.
The material progress of the colony also concerned him. In August 1623 he went to visit the meadows at the Cap Tourmente, where he had 2,000 bales of hay put up, and from then on he thought of making of the spot “a good place for the pasturing of cattle.” In November he opened up a road to give easier access to the Cap aux Diamants. During the winter of 1623–24, he drew up plans for a new Habitation, collected the materials, and had the timber cut and hauled in. He laid the first stone on 6 May 1624. On 15 August, the construction being “in a forward state,” Champlain left Quebec with his wife (who was not to return there again). On 1 October he landed at Dieppe, and from there went to Saint-Germain to make a report to the king.
The viceroyalty once more changed hands; Montmorency resigned in favour of Henri de Lévis, Duc de Ventadour. On 15 Feb. 1625 Champlain was confirmed by Ventadour in his office of viceroy’s lieutenant, and received as his own lieutenant his brother-in-law Boullé. Ventadour instructed Champlain to “commission officers for the administration of justice, the maintenance of police, and the carrying out of regulations and ordinances,” and encouraged him to look for the route to China. This last objective seems to have interested Champlain less and less, or else he no longer had the leisure to concern himself with it. After staying a year and a half in France, Champlain sailed again, 15 April 1626. He was at Quebec on 5 July, finding there the Jesuits who had arrived the previous year at the invitation of the Recollets. Champlain had the Habitation completed, and decided, despite the de Caëns and the partners, to raze the fort in order to build a larger one. For those attending to cattle-raising and hay-making, he personally supervised the construction of a habitation at the Cap Tourmente: two main buildings and a stable after the Normandy style. In the spring of 1627, faithful to his policy of peace, he prevented the allies from declaring war on the Iroquois by sending a French ambassador into the latter’s country, a mission which was however to end in tragedy.
It was in 1627 also that Cardinal Richelieu, after suppressing the post of admiral and securing the resignation of the viceroy de Ventadour, took New France under his immediate supervision. He established the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, of which Champlain at once became a member. This new régime brought advancement to Champlain; since 1612 he had been lieutenant to a viceroy who, despite his rank, did not have the supreme control of the affairs of France. But on 21 March 1629 Champlain became the lieutenant and representative of Richelieu himself; the texts of this period refer to him as commander of New France “in the absence of my Lord the Cardinal de Richelieu.” He had thus reached the height of his career. Yet though Champlain did exercise the functions of a governor, and though the Relations gave him this title, yet he never received a governor’s commission.
The setting up of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés encouraged Champlain to hope for unqualified success, but meanwhile the colony continued to eke out its existence. At the beginning of 1628, Champlain noted an event of some importance. He tells us that on 27 April the land was “broken by the plough drawn by oxen,” a labour which previously had had to be carried out by human strength. This advance took place a year after Louis Hébert’s death. As the annual assistance was slow in coming, and a shortage of food was making itself felt, Champlain had a bark made ready to take some of the settlers to Gaspé. It was discovered early in July that the English had pillaged the Cap Tourmente habitation; then, on the tenth, some Basques brought Champlain a summons from the Kirke brothers. Quebec was in a very bad way; each person was restricted to seven ounces of peas a day, and there remained only 50 pounds of gunpowder. Certain that help would arrive shortly, Champlain made a show of bravado, saying that one must “put on a bold countenance,” and replied to the Kirkes that he was well provided for: “We are now waiting from hour to hour to receive you.” The Kirkes did not press the point, but made arrangements to cut off all relief. On 8 July they had intercepted the first reinforcements sent by the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, a fleet of four ships carrying about 400 persons. Quebec found itself reduced to stark necessity. Frantic attempts were made to find means of subsistence; the inhabitants even went so far as to grind peas into pease-meal, and increase in this way the strength of the “soup.”
As help still did not arrive in the spring of 1629, Champlain sent more people to Gaspé in order to have fewer mouths to feed, and those remaining turned to cultivation so as to have enough to exist on the following winter. Now, on 19 July, English ships appeared behind Pointe-Lévy, and a sloop came to present a summons from the Kirkes. This time Champlain could not put up a false front. He was forced to hand over Quebec, after obtaining the best terms of capitulation he could. On 24 July he left Quebec. On the way down to Tadoussac, Champlain, who was sailing with the Kirkes, met a ship commanded by Émery de Caën: Champlain was ordered to go below decks, and the English and French joined battle. The English general later made Champlain come up and obliged him to serve as an intermediary; de Caën then announced that he was bringing help pending the coming of Razilly, and that peace must be made between French and English. The English refused to believe it. Champlain reached Tadoussac on 1 August, and he had to make a lengthy stay there. He had the opportunity to rebuke sharply Étienne Brûlé and Nicolas Marsolet, who had gone over to the enemy, and he tried in vain to get permission to take to France the Montagnais girls Charité and Espérance, whom he had adopted.
Travelling on board an English ship, Champlain reached London on 29 October. He went immediately to the French ambassador and pointed out to him that the capture of Quebec had taken place two months after the signing of peace; he presented the original of the capitulation, some reports, and a map of Canada (this map has not been traced). At the beginning of December he was back in France, after an absence of three and a half years. He met the members of the company, Richelieu, and the king himself, and urged them to hasten the restitution of New France. In 1630, he submitted an appeal to the king which restated the arguments of 1618: the importance of a vast country; its usefulness “both for trade outside it and for the comforts of life inside it”; the “great and wonderful commerce” that would be carried on if the way to China were found; and the “infinite number of savage peoples” to be converted. He enumerated the wide variety of resources in New France, and after his experience of the years 1628 and 1629 he added a new idea: to oblige the French “to cultivate the land, before all things, in order to have the basic foodstuffs on the spot, without being obliged to bring them from France.” As early as April 1630, Louis XIII decided to demand the restitution of the country, but the negotiations were to drag on, in fact until the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1632. But, when everything was settled, it was Émery de Caën who, on 4 March 1632, was provisionally appointed commandant of Quebec, and on 20 April Isaac de Razilly was offered the lieutenancy of New France. He refused because he considered Champlain more competent, and finally, on 1 March 1633, Champlain was again instructed to take over command of New France in Richelieu’s absence.
What did he do during this three-year stay in France, besides make moves to hasten the restitution of the colony? He is known to have been at Brouage on 27 Sept. 1630, when he sold two houses there. On 13 Feb. 1632 Champlain and his wife made over their property to each other. During 1632 he published the Voyages de la Nouvelle-France, dedicated to Richelieu. This work contains an historical retrospect from 1504, his own voyages of 1603–29, and an account of what occurred in 1631. To this he attached a map of New France and his Traitté de la marine et du devoir d’un bon marinier.
Champlain reappeared at Quebec 22 May 1633, after an absence of nearly four years. Soon after his arrival, he had built at the expense of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés a chapel “in honour of our Lady.” This was to be Notre-Dame-de-la-Recouvrance, near the fort, on the Cap aux Diamants (its foundations were unearthed in 1958, within the quadrilateral formed by the rues du Fort, Buade, du Trésor, and Sainte-Anne).
On 15 Aug. 1633, he wrote to Richelieu requesting him to terminate the English trading concession at Tadoussac and launch a great offensive against the Iroquois country. He wrote to him again, 18 Aug. 1634, to make a report: I have rebuilt the ruins of Quebec, enlarged the fortifications, constructed a habitation 15 leagues upstream from Quebec on an islet named Richelieu, whence one can command the river; I have had another one started at Trois-Rivières. He might have added that he had just sent Jean Nicollet on a mission of peace and discovery amongst the tribes bordering on the Great Lakes. He wanted the Iroquois to be wiped out, or to be “brought to reason.” This document, the last that we have from Champlain, is optimistic; the zeal of the company in fulfilling its obligations, and the arrival of those numerous families who came in 1634, gave Champlain “new courage.”
In 1635 his health declined rapidly, which no doubt explains why, without any intimation of what had happened at Quebec at the beginning of the winter, Paris named a successor to Champlain in the person of Charles Huault de Montmagny, 15 Jan. 1636. In October 1635 Champlain had been stricken with paralysis. It was then that Champlain, in a gesture typical of that period, and forgetful of the agreements already entered into with his wife, appointed the Virgin Mary his heiress, thus leaving his furniture and his share in the company to the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Recouvrance. This will, confirmed in Paris in 1637, was to be annulled two years later on the petition of a first cousin, Marie Camaret.
Attended until his last moments by the Jesuit Charles Lalemant, Champlain died on 25 Dec. 1635 or rather, according to Father Paul Le Jeune’s colourful expression, “was reborn in Heaven.” At the solemn funeral rites, Father Le Jeune pronounced the funeral oration: “I did not lack material,” wrote the Jesuit; “although he died out of France, his name will not therefor be any less glorious to Posterity”; perhaps that was the theme of the address. Champlain was then buried temporarily in an unmarked grave, to be transferred later (probably in 1636, after Montmagny had enlarged the church) to a chapel built as an annex to the church, and called first the chapel of Monsieur le Gouverneur, and afterwards the chapel of Champlain. It was destroyed by a fire in 1640, at the same time as the church and residence of the Jesuits, and was immediately rebuilt, but nothing more was heard of it after 1664, and apparently in 1674 it no longer existed. The supposition is that the bodies interred beneath it were moved and placed beneath the new parish church (today Notre-Dame de Québec). As a consequence of the work done on the basement in 1877, any further possibility of tracing the remains of Champlain seems to have vanished.
Champlain wrote a great deal, but his works, which are extensive and abound in detail, reveal nothing of his private life. He kept silent about his background, his conversion (if he was born a Protestant), his marriage, and his wife. Once only does he speak to us, briefly, about an illness that he had undergone. On the other hand, his writings are almost the only source of information about the development of his career; from 1607 to 1625, the only facts we know about Champlain are those he has told us himself. When the Relations des Jésuites appeared, Champlain was a well-established man whom one respected and did not criticize, so that they merely add official details to the biography of the personage. Under these conditions it is difficult to construct an image of Champlain that conforms to reality.
From his written work we can deduce some dominant characteristics. First, a physical trait: a healthy, robust, resilient nature. He seems never to have suffered from scurvy, either in Acadia or at Quebec; the long sea voyages (from 1603 on, he crossed the Atlantic 21 times), the hazardous expeditions, the sojourns among the natives do not appear to have affected him at all; he was indomitable, and ran any kind of risk to win prestige for himself (for example, he shot the Lachine Rapids in a canoe). His health and energy were reflected in his moral qualities. Eager to see everything, to know everything, he was always out to make discoveries, whether it was a matter of examining a harbour, studying a type of soil or a tribe, or looking for a mine. He was observant; it was while stalking a strange bird that he lost his way in the forests of the Huron country. He moved doggedly towards his goal; when de Monts withdrew, it was Champlain who, despite the most odious vexations, resisted those merchants who opposed every attempt at colonization. It was moreover in this conflict that the whole drama of Champlain’s career lay. One would consequently expect to find in him an unbending man, hard towards others. On the contrary, he was jovial, a lover of good food and drink, the founder of the Order of Good Cheer. He behaved towards the natives with the greatest amiability, making them laugh continually, forgiving their offences in circumstances which surprise us. He preferred winning them over to punishing them. This kindliness was not however to prevent him from letting fly a few shafts when necessary (as he did against Lescarbot), or from manoeuvring skilfully in order to apply a policy of domination. He prevailed upon the natives to adopt as their chief only a person who had been chosen by the French.
Champlain was a religious man. His zeal was revealed when in 1615, for example, the Recollets came to New France. It was also revealed in his writings, but here it is important to make distinctions. We must first set aside the dedications that cannot be by Champlain, because of their style (and it is in one of these dedications that the salvation of a soul is placed above the conquest of an empire). We must then distinguish between the early works and the last one. The writings of 1603–19 offer nothing distinctive from the religious point of view; besides, the Champlain of Acadia, concerned chiefly with discovering mines, had nothing of the apostle about him, and in the absence of a priest during the winter 1606–7, it was not he who was chosen to teach the catechism, but Lescarbot. It is not until the 1632 volume that Champlain’s works disclose an obvious concern for spreading the gospel; this was the period when, according to the Relations, Champlain was leading the life of a devout man, having the lives of the saints read to him at supper, presiding over the self-examination and prayers that took place in common each evening. It would however be ridiculous to attempt to rank Champlain’s writings alongside the letters of a Marie de l’Incarnation [see Guyart], or on a level with the work of Bishop Laval*. Champlain was no mystic.
Champlain did not have the humanist’s preoccupation with describing man or his depth of meditation or refinement of style. He was a man of action, a geographer and ethnographer, who recounted what he had done and seen as one composes a work of information. Certainly one can regret that Champlain did not take care to describe for us society as it was in the early days of New France, its mentality and institutions, and this is the more regrettable because for the first 15 years of Quebec he is our only source of enlightenment. But he has left us, written with many technical details and sometimes in a picturesque style, a geographic inventory of Acadia, the St. Lawrence, and the Great Lakes, a compendium of native ethnography, and records as valuable as the Relations des Jésuites.
What was Champlain trying to do? By putting together phrases gathered at random, and insisting on his liking for gardening, some have sought to see in Champlain the founder of an agricultural colony. One could just as well, by the same unsound procedure, make of Champlain a man entirely dedicated to looking for mines! Champlain’s programme is in the proposals of 1618: agriculture appears in it as a supporting element, for the colony had obviously to sustain itself as far as possible on what the country could produce; but Champlain, a realist, knew that France would have no use for an agricultural colony; he did not cease to assert that the greatness of France depended on the “great and permanent trade” of a colony of which all the natural wealth would be exploited. It is in this setting of large-scale commerce, and not in an agricultural setting, that Champlain is, before Talon, our first great colonizer.
Champlain was a man of ever-reviving plans: in Acadia, he hoped to discover several mines and the route to Asia; in the St. Lawrence, he wanted also to find the route to Asia, and to set up at Quebec a customs post between Europe and China; he had planned to build a habitation at Montreal; he wanted to move the Algonkins of Allumette Island and even the Hurons into the St. Lawrence valley; one item of his 1618 programme was the establishing of a great city, Ludovica, on the banks of the St. Charles River. He did not carry out these projects, but to him belongs the much greater merit of having established New France. If, despite the indifference of the authorities, he had not persisted in maintaining the presence of the French in the St. Lawrence region, one may suppose that foreigners would have filled the vacuum, so that there would not have been a New France. Furthermore, it was he who built up the great fur-trading organization, and who ensured the French hold on the Montagnais, Algonkin, and Huron tribes. Undoubtedly, when he died, the St. Lawrence colony was of little consequence (150 settlers, whereas Boston, five years old, already had 2,000), but thanks to Champlain the foundations were laid. At the starting-point of the uninterrupted history of Canada, we find Champlain. He is at its origin by his own choice and because of the principles in which he believed. In him we must salute the founder of Canada.
We know of no authentic portrait of Champlain. A likeness has been circulated which is said to be a true one; but, as Biggar has shown, it represents an unscrupulous comptroller of finances, Particelli d’Émery. According to Lanctot, this “portrait of a stout, flabby man is a forgery which is an insult to the soldier and to the energetic and vigorous sailor” that Champlain was. The latter appears in an engraving illustrating the victory at Lake Champlain in 1609, but his facial features are much too vague, and it is not certain that the engraver intended to make a good likeness. By dint of ingenious deductions, the biographer Bishop conjectures that Champlain was thin and wiry, of a height below the average. The face is still to be recovered.
The works of Champlain, first edited in six volumes, Quebec, 1870 [see General Bibliography: Champlain, Œuvres (Laverdière)], were re-edited 1922–35 at Toronto by H. P. Biggar in the Champlain Society unnumbered series [see General Bibliography: Champlain, Works (Biggar)]. The latter edition, which includes the French text with an English translation, consists of six volumes, with a folder of maps, and is the edition chiefly used in the above article. It contains the Brief discours; the Des sauvages of 1603; the Voyages of 1613; the Quatriesme voyage; the Voyages of 1619; the Voyages of 1632; and the Traité de la marine. The editor also published, in an appendix, documents which, until that date, had not been published, belonging to the years 1610–19 and 1629–34. Unpublished documents have also been given in NF, I (1925), 80–85; and in RHAF, III (1949–50), 594–97; IX (1955–56), 571–78.
Various manuscript sources have proved useful: AN, V6, 62, no.13; Col., C11A, 1; Col., F3, 3.
Among the contemporary printed sources which must be consulted, the following are cited: JR (Thwaites), IV, V, VI, IX, et passim.; Lescarbot, Histoire (Tross), II, III; Sagard, Histoire du Canada (Tross), III, IV; “La minute notariée du contrat de mariage de Champlain,” éd. Emmanuel de Cathelineau, NF, V (1930), 142–55. The following studies include source material: [Samuel de Champlain], Champlain, éd. Marcel Trudel (Classiques canadiens, V, Montréal et Paris, 1956). [Samuel de Champlain], Les voyages de Samuel Champlain, saintongeois, père du Canada, éd. Hubert Deschamps (Colonies et Empires, 2e série, Paris, 1951), 1–45.
There are numerous studies on Champlain but only those of special interest are mentioned here. On the voyage to the Indies consult: Claude de Bonnault, “Encore le Brief discours: Champlain a-t-il été à Blavet en 1598?” BRH, LX (1954), 59–69; Jean Bruchési, “Champlain a-t-il menti?” Cahiers des Dix, XV (1950), 39–53; Marcel Delafosse, “L’oncle de Champlain,” RHAF, XII (1958–59), 208–16; Jacques Rousseau, “Samuel de Champlain, botaniste mexican et antillais,” Cahiers des Dix, XVI (1951), 39–61; L.-A. Vigneras, “Le voyage de Samuel Champlain aux Indes occidentales,” RHAF, XI (1957–58), 163–200; “Encore le capitaine provençal,” ibid., XIII (1959–60), 544–49.
For information on Champlain’s astrolabe, see A. J. Russell, On Champlain’s astrolabe . . . (Montréal, 1879); Charles Macnamara, “Champlain’s astrolabe,” The Canadian Field Naturalist, XXXIII (1918–19), 103–9.
Concerning the portraits of Champlain, see H. P. Biggar, “The portrait of Champlain,” CHR, I (1920), 379f.; V. H. Paltsits, “A critical examination of Champlain’s portraits,” BRH, XXXVIII (1932), 755–59; Lanctot, Histoire du Canada, I, 207.
On the grave of Champlain, see Silvio Dumas, La chapelle Champlain et Notre-Dame de la Recouvrance (SHQ Cahiers d’histoire, X, 1958).
For Champlain’s will, found in 1959, see Robert Le Blant, “Le testament de Samuel Champlain, 17 novembre 1635,” RHAF, XVII (1963–64), 269–86.
Recent short studies include Lucien Campeau, “Les Jésuites ont-ils retouchés les écrits de Champlain?” RHAF, V (1951–52), 340–61; Florian de La Horbe, L’incroyable secret de Champlain (Paris, 1959); A. Tessier, “France nouvelle ou simple colonie commerciale,” Cahiers des Dix, XXII (1957), 43–51; A. Z. Zeller, The Champlain-Iroquois battle of 1615 (Oneida, N.Y., 1962). Finally, there are two important biographies: Dionne, Champlain [see General Bibliography] and Morris Bishop, Champlain: the life of fortitude (New York, 1948).
[For Champlain’s birthdate see Jean Liebel, “On a vieilli Champlain,” RHAF, XXXII (1978), 229–37.]
Revisions based on:
Samuel de Champlain, Premiers Récits de voyages en Nouvelle-France, 1603–1619, Mathieu d’Avignon, édit. (Québec, 2009). D. H. Fischer, Champlain’s dream (New York and Toronto, 2008).
© 1966–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Marcel Trudel, “CHAMPLAIN, SAMUEL DE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 20, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/champlain_samuel_de_1E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Marcel Trudel|
|Title of Article:||CHAMPLAIN, SAMUEL DE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1966|
|Year of revision:||2014|
|Access Date:||March 20, 2023|