An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter VII.—Discovery of the Great West—To 1687


Frontenac, Governor—1672. Founds Fort Frontenac (Kingston)— Jesuit Explorers—Marquette Discovers the Mississippi—1673. La Salle launches the Griffin—1679. Reaches the Mouth of the Mississippi—1682. Attempts to Colonize Louisiana and is slain -1687.

In the year 1672, Louis de Buade, Count de Frontenac, was appointed Governor, and M. Duchesneau, Intendant of Canada. Frontenac's imperious temper soon involved him in disputes with Laval, and with the Intendant, and rendered his whole administration one of tumult and strife.

One of the first acts of the new Governor was the planting of a fort and trading post at the foot of Lake Ontario,1 both long known by his name, in order to check the interference of the English from Albany and New York with the fur trade of the Indian allies of the French.

The chief glory of Frontenac's administration was the spirit of daring exploration and discovery by which it was characterized. The pathfinders of empire in the New World were the Jesuit missionaries. With breviary and crucifix, at the command of the Superior of the Order at Quebec, they wandered all over this great continent from the forests of Maine to the Rocky Mountains, from the regions around Hudson's Bay to the mouth of the Mississippi. "Not a cape was turned, not a river was entered, but a Jesuit led the way."

In 1640, Peres Brebeuf and Shaumont explored the southern shore of Lake Erie. In 1641, Peres Jogues and Raymbault told the story of the Cross to the wondering assembly of two thousand red men, beside the rushing rapids of Ste. Marie, five years before Eliot had preached to the Indians within gunshot of Boston town. In 1646, P&re de Quen threaded the gloomy passes of the Saguenay to teach the way of salvation to savage northern hordes. In 1660, Renne Mesnard reached Keweenew Bay, on Lake Superior, and perished in the wilderness. The zeal of Laval

burned to tread in the same path of trial and glory. In 1665, Pere Alloiiez paddled his frail canoe over the crystal waters of Superior, beneath the pictured rocks, the columned palisades, the rolling sand dunes of its southern shore, to its furthest extremity, and heard of the vast prairies and great rivers beyond.

In 1673, under the patronage of Talon, Pere Marquette, with Joliet, a native of Quebec, and five others, glided down the winding Wisconsin to the mighty Father of Waters. Day after day they sailed down the solitary stream for over a thousand miles, past the rushing Missouri, the turbid Ohio, and the sluggish Arkansas. Learning that the mighty river flowed onward to the Gulf of Mexico, Joliet returned to Quebec to tell the story of the fair and virgin lands of the west, while Marquette remained to preach the gospel to the Indians, among whom he soon died.

The glory of Joliet's discovery fired the ambition of another adventurer, Robert la Salle. He obtained a commission for exploration in the far west, with authority to erect forts, and a monopoly of the traffic in buffalo skins. In November, 1678, accompanied by Tonti, an Italian veteran, by Pere Hennepin, and a motley crew, he sailed for the Niagara River, and erected a fort above the great cataract. During the winter, La Salle returned on foot to Frontenac for additional naval supplies. By midsummer, 1679, a vessel of forty-five tons was built and launched amid the chanting of the Te Deum and the firing of her little armament of small cannon. On the 7th of August, the Griffin spread her wings to the breeze, and in three weeks reached the entrance to Lake Michigan. La Salle freighted this pioneer vessel with a cargo of furs in order to appease the clamours of his creditors, and sent her back to Niagara. She must, have foundered in an autumnal storm, as she was never heard of again.

Weary of waiting her return, he resolved to explore the interior. At Lake Peoria, in the heart of Illinois, amid the despondency, mutiny and desertion of his men, he built a fort to which, in allusion to his disasters and disappointments, he gave the name of Crevecceur—Heart-break. After many adventures, he at length, with his little company, launched his frail canoes on the broad bosom of the Mississippi. For sixty days he glided down the giant stream, and reaching its mouth he claimed the vast mid-continent for France, under the name, in honour of his sovereign, of Louisiana.

To meet the detractions of his enemies, he returned to Canada, and sailed to France. He was received with favour at court, and despatched with a hundred soldiers and a hundred and eighty settlers to colonize Louisiana. He missed the mouth of the Mississippi. His store-ship was wrecked two hundred miles out of his course. Disaster dogged his footsteps. Disease, famine, and savage foes made havoc among his followers. Treachery and mutiny corrupted the survivors. His colony being reduced to forty persons, La Salle set out with sixteen men for Canada to procure recruits. His companions mutinied, and barbarously murdered their leader, leaving his naked body on the prairies to be devoured by buzzards and wolves. After superhuman toils and sufferings, seven men of the ill-fated band reached Canada to tell the tragic story; the rest perished miserably in the wilderness.

The animating spirit of La Salle was not the religious enthusiasm of the Jesuit missionaries, nor the patriotic devotion of Champlain, but rather a vast ambition, a passion for discovery, an intense energy of character which courted difficulty and defied danger. His splendid services to France and civilization merited a better fate than his tragic and treacherous death, at the early age of forty-three, upon the Texan plains.


Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast