Champlain, Samuel de

Champlain, Samuel de

Samuel de Chаmplain

“The Father of New France”, Samuel de Champlain (c. 1570 - 1635) was a French navigator, cartographer, diplomat, and the founder of Quebec City (1608) of which he was the administrator for the rest of his life. After his first voyage to Canada in 1603 as an observer at a fur-trading expedition, he created a map of the St. Lawrence River and published its first detailed description since Jacques Cartier’s explorations.

He also wrote a book Concerning the Savages: or travels of Samuel Champlain, of Brouages, made in New France the year 1603 (Des Sauvages: ou voyage de Samuel Champlain, de Brouages, faite en la France nouvelle l’an 1603). In 1604, Champlain sailed to Acadia with the Sieur de Monts, who planned to establish a French colony there. As a cartographer, Champlain was charged with a search of an ideal location for settlement.

Twice, in 1605 and 1606, he explored the coastline of what is now New England. The first permanent white settlement in America, North of Mexico, was Port Royal, built in 1605 by De Monts, from plans by Champlain.

Finally deciding on the St. Lawrence instead, in 1608, de Monts sent Champlain to establish a settlement at Quebec, where the fur trade with native peoples could be controlled more easily. In the spring of 1608, three ships left France, one of them commanded by Champlain. In June, the small group of settlers arrived at Tadoussac.

They left the ships and continued to Quebec in small boats. On July 3, 1608, Champlain landed at the “point of Quebec” and set three main two-stories buildings. That is how the city of Quebec started. Fortifying Quebec City became one of Champlain’s passions, which he pursued for the rest of his life. In 1613, Champlain continued his exploration of the Huron country hoping to find the “northern sea” he had heard about (probably Hudson Bay). He traveled the Ottawa River and later accounted of his journey in his Voyages and published another map of New France.

In 1614, when in France, he formed form a society with Rouen and Saint-Malo merchants for eleven years. Quebec would become an exclusive warehouse for their fur trade and, in return, the Rouen merchants would support the settlement. He returned to New France in the spring of 1615 with four Franciscan missionaries to promote Catholicism in the new colony. The Roman Catholic Church would be given large and valuable tracts of land, nearly 30% of all the lands granted by the French Crown in New France. Champlain established and developed a vast trade network by forming alliances with the Montagnais of the St Lawrence, the nations on the Ottawa River, and the Hurons of the Great Lakes.

These nations demanded Champlain’s support in their war against the Iroquois, whose territory was to the south of Lake Ontario. Champlain explored the Richelieu River (then called Iroquois River, Rivière des Iroquois) and mapped the lake (now called Lake Champlain).

During this campaign, in 1615, left only with a few of his compatriots and a group of indigenous people, he and his party encountered a group of Iroquois. In a battle, Champlain managed to kill two of the three Iroquois chiefs, and another member of the expedition killed the third. Defeated, the Iroquois fled. This battle set the tone for French-Iroquois relations for the next one hundred years. With his native guides, Champlain explored further up the Ottawa River and reached Lake Nipissing. He then followed the French River and reached the fresh-water sea he called Lac Attigouautau (now Lake Huron). In 1615, at Cahiague (on Lake Simcoe), Champlain started a military expedition with the the Hurons. At an Onondaga fort, Champlain was wounded in the leg by arrows during a battle with the Iroquois. The Hurons insisted that Champlain spent the winter with them, and he stayed for the winter learning “their country, their manners, customs, modes of life”. In sping of 1616, he left the Huron country and was back in Quebec before heading to France in the summer.

Champlain returned to New France in 1620, and for the rest of his life he focused on administration of the region rather than exploration. He continued to work on relations with the Native people and managed to negociate a peace treaty with the Iroquois tribes. The various merchant companies that employed Champlain found it more profitable to deal only with the fur trade. Champlain, however, dreamed of turning Quebec into the centre of a powerful colony. In his 1618 report, he outlined its commercial, industrial and agricultural opportunities. His dream almost came true in 1627 when the Compagnie Des Cents-Associés was founded. But then war (1629-32) broke out and Quebec was occupied by the English. Champlain had to leave the New France. In 1633, Champlain returned to Quebec.

Paralysed in the fall of 1635, he died the following December leaving no immediate heirs. In 1640, the church where he had been buried was destroyed by fire. That is why the exact burial site of Champlain is unknown. Champlain left behind a considerable body of writing. His works are the only account of the Laurentian colony during the first quarter of the 17th century.

As a geographer and cartographer, he illustrated his accounts with numerous maps presenting everything known about North America at that time.

champlain monument

Monument to Champlain in Quebec City. Photo : © ProvinceQuebec

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