CHAMPLAIN, the issue of the marriage of Antoine Champlain and Marguerite
Le Roy, was born at Brouage, now Hiers Brouage, a small village in the
province of Saintonge, France, in the year 1570, or according to the
Saintongeoise in 1567. His parents belonged
to the Catholic religion, as their first names would seem to indicate.
When quite young Samuel Champlain was entrusted to the care of the
parish priest, who imparted to him the elements of education and
instilled his mind with religious principles. His youth appears to have
glided quietly away, spent for the most part with his family, and in
assisting his father, who was a mariner, in his wanderings upon the sea.
The knowledge thus obtained was of great service to him, for after a
while he became not only conversant with the life of a mariner, but also
with the science of geography and of astronomy. When Samuel Champlain
was about twenty years of age, he tendered his services to Marshal
d'Aumont, one of the chief commanders of the Catholic army in its
expedition against the Huguenots.
When the League had done its work and the army was disbanded in 1598,
Champlain returned to Brouage, and sought a favourable opportunity to
advance his fortune in a manner more agreeable, if possible, to his
tastes, and more compatible with his abilities. In the meantime
Champlain did not remain idle, for he resolved to find the means of
making a voyage to Spain in order 44 to acquire and cultivate
acquaintance, and make a true report to His Majesty (Henry IV) of the
particularities which could not be known to any Frenchmen, for the
reason that they have not free access there." He left Blavet at the
beginning of the month of August, and ten days after he arrived near
Cape Finisterre. Having remained for six days at the Isle of Bayona, in
Galicia, he proceeded towards San Lucar de Bara-meda, which is at the
mouth of the river Seville, where he remained for three months. During
this time he went to Seville and made surveys of the place. While
Champlain was at Seville, a
patache, or advice boat, arrived from Porto
Rico bearing a communication addressed to the king of Spain, informing
him that a portion of the English army had put out to sea with the
intention of attacking Porto Rico.
king fitted out twenty ships to oppose the English, one of which, the
Saint Julien, was commanded by Provent^al,
Champlain's uncle. Champlain prop<?sed to join the expedition under his
uncle, but Prove^al was ordered elsewhere, and General Soubriago offered
the command of the
to Champlain, which lie gladly accepted.
armada set sail in the beginning of January, 1599, and within six days,
favoured by a fresh breeze, the vessels sighted the Canary Islands. Two
months and six days later the armada drew near to the island called La
Ddsirade, which is the first island approached in this passage to the
Indies. The ships anchored for the first time at Nacou, which is one of
the finest ports of the Guadeloupe. After having passed Marguerite
Island and the Virgins, Champlain proceeded to San Juan de Porto Rico,1
where he found that both the town and the castle or fortress had been
abandoned, and that the merchants had either made their escape or had
been taken prisoners. The English army had left the town and had taken
the Spanish governor with them, as he had surrendered on the condition
that his life should be spared.
leaving Porto Rico the general divided the galleons into three
squadrons, and retained four vessels under his own command. Three were
sent to Porto Bello, and three, including Champlain's vessel, to New
Spain. Champlain arrived at Saint Jean de Luz eight days afterwards,
although the place is fully four hundred leagues from Porto Rico. This
fortress bore the name of San Juan d'Ulloa. Fifteen days afterwards we
find Champlain setting sail for Mexico, situated at a distance of over
one hundred leagues from San Juan.
Champlain was evidently very much interested in this country, and his
description is that of an enthusiast: "It is impossible to see or desire
a more beautiful country than this kingdom of New Spain, which is three
hundred leagues in length, and two hundred in breadth. . . . The whole
of this country is ornamented with very fine rivers and streams . . .
the land is very fertile, producing corn twice in the year . . . the
trees are never devoid of fruit and are always green." The voyage to
Mexico occupied a month, and Champlain gave an animated description of
the city of Mexico, of its superb palaces, temples, houses and
buildings, and well laid streets, as well as of the surrounding country.
After leaving Mexico, Champlain returned to San Juan de Luz, and from
there sailed in a
patache to Porto Bello, "the most pitiful and
evil residence in the world." The harbour, however, was good, and well
fortified. From Porto Bello to Panama, which is on the sea, the distance
is only seventeen leagues, and it is interesting to read Champlain's
"One may judge that if the four leagues of land which there are from
Panama to this river were cut through, one might pass from the South Sea
to the ocean on the other side, and thus shorten the route by more than
fifteen hundred leagues; and from, Panama 'to the Straits of Magellan
would be an island, and from Panama to the New-found-lands would be
another island, so that the whole of America would be in two islands."
is thus seen that the idea of connecting the Atlantic ocean with the
Pacific by cutting through the Isthmus of Panama is not a modern one, as
it was promulgated by Champlain over three hundred years ago.
this time Spain was in great need of a good transportation service at
the isthmus. The treasures of Peru were sent to Europe by the Panama
route to Porto Bello, from where the ships sailed to the old continent.
The route between the Pacific coast and the Gulf of Mexico was
exceedingly bad. Sometimes the merchants forwarded European goods to
Panama, having them transported to Chagres. Here they were landed in
boats and conveyed to Cruces. From Cruces to Panama mules were employed
for the remainder of the journey. It was, however, the route taken by
travellers visiting Peru, Chili, New Granada, Venezuela, and other
Spanish possessions on the Pacific coast. The most regular connection
between the two oceans was from Fort Acapulco to Vera Cruz, through
Mexico. If Spain had adopted a better line of communication with her
western territories in the New World she might have derived vast
treasure from that source. In the year 1551 Lopez de Gomara, the author
of a "History of Indies," a work written with care and displaying
considerable erudition, proposed to unite the two oceans by means of
canals at three different points, Chagres, Nicaragua and Tehuantepec.
Gomara's proposals were not acted upon, and the honour of carrying out
the project was reserved for France. Ferdinand de Lesseps, who succeeded
in connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, was the man who,
after the lapse of centuries, seriously interested his fellow-countrymen
in boring the Isthmus of Panama.
Champlain returned to San Juan de Luz, where he remained for fifteen
days, and he then proceeded to Havana, the rendezvous of the army and of
the fleet. Eighteen days later he embarked in a vessel bound for
Cartagena, where there was a good port, sheltered from all winds. Upon
his return to Havana Champlain met his general and spent four months in
collecting valuable information relating to the interesting island of
Cuba. From Havana he proceeded past the Bahama channel, approached
Bermuda Island, Terceira, one of the Azores, and sighted Cape St.
Vincent, where he captured two armed English vessels, which were taken
Champlain returned to France in March, 1601, having been absent on his
first voyage for a period of two years and two months, during which time
he collected much valuable information. He also published a small volume
containing plans, maps and engravings, fairly well executed for the*
time, and now exceedingly scarce. The manuscript of this volume
is still preserved; it covers one hundred and
fifteen pages with sixty-two drawings, coloured and surrounded with blue
and yellow lines. It appears to have been written between the years 1601
first voyage of Champlain across the Atlantic, though important from a
military standpoint, did not suffice to satisfy the ambition of a man
whose thoughts were bent upon discovery and colonization. Champlain was
a navigator by instinct, and in his writings he gave to nautical science
the first place.
all the most useful and excellent arts," he writes, "that of navigation
has always seemed to me to occupy the first place. For the more
hazardous it is, the greater the perils and losses by which it is
attended, so much the more is it esteemed and exalted above all others,
being wholly unsuited to the timid and irresolute. By this art we obtain
a knowledge of different countries, regions and realms. By it we attract
and bring to our own land all kinds of riches; by it the idolatry of
Paganism is overthrown and Christianity proclaimed throughout all the
regions of the earth. This is the art which won my love in my early
years and induced me to expose myself almost all my life to the
impetuous waves of the ocean, and led me to explore the coasts of a
portion of America, especially those of New France, where I have always
desired to see the lily flourish, together with the only religion,
Catholic, Apostolic and Roman."
After his return to France in the year 1601, Champlain received a
pension, together with the appointment of geographer to the king. Pierre
de Chauvin, Sieur de Tontuit, who had unsuccessfully endeavoured to
establish a settlement at Tadousac, died at this time, while Champlain
was residing in Paris. Here he had the good fortune to meet Aymar de
Chastes, governor of the town and^chateau of Dieppe, under whose orders
he had served during the latter years of the war with the League.
Chastes, who had resolved to undertake the colonization of Canada,
obtained a commission from the king, and formed a company, composed of
several gentlemen and the principal merchants of Rouen. Francis Gravd,
Sieur du Pont, who had already accompanied Chauvin to Tadousac, was
chosen to return there and to examine the Sault St. Louis and the
"Going from time to time to see the Sieur de Chastes," writes Champlain,
"judging that I might serve him in his design, he did me the honour to
communicate something of it to me, and asked me if it would be agreeable
to me to make the voyage, to examine the country, and to see what those
engaged in the undertaking should do. I told him that I was very much
his servant, but that I could not give myself license to undertake the
voyage without the commands of the king, to whom I was bound, as well by
birth as by the pension with which His Majesty honoured me to enable me
to maintain myself near his person, but that, if it should please him to
speak to the king about it, and give me his commands, that it should be
very agreeable to me, which he promised and did, and received the king's
orders for me to make the voyage and make a faithful report thereof; and
for that purpose M. de Gesvres, secretary of his commandments, sent me
with a letter to the said Du Pont-Gravd, desiring him to take me in his
ship and enable me to see and examine what could be done in the country,
giving me every possible assistance."
"Me voila expedie"
says Champlain, "I leave Paris and take passage on Pont-Gravd's ship in
the year 1603, the 15th of the month of March." The voyage was
favourable for the first fifteen days, but on the 30th a heavy storm
arose, "more thunder than wind," which lasted until April 16th. On May
6th the vessel approached Newfoundland, and arrived at Tadousac on the
24th. Here they met with about one hundred Indians, under the command of
Anadabijou, who were rejoicing on account of their recent victory over
the Iroquois. The chief made a long harangue, speaking slowly. He
congratulated himself upon his friendship with the French nation, and
stated that he was happy to learn that the king was anxious to send some
of his subjects to reside in the country and to assist them in their
wars. Champlain was also informed that the Etchemins, the Algonquins,
and the Montagnais, to the number of about one thousand, had lately been
engaged in warfare with the Iroquois, whom they had vanquished with the
loss of one hundred men.
June 9th following, Champlain witnessed the spectacle of a grand feast
given by the Indians in commemoration of their victory. The celebration
consisted of dances, songs, speeches and games. Tessouat, the
sagamo of-the Ottawas, was the chief captain,
and took a prominent part in the demonstration.
After a long description of these public festivities, Champlain gives
ample details of the manners and customs of the Indians, especially of
their superstitions. The Indians believed that a God existed who was the
creator of all things, but they had a curious manner of explaining the
creation of man. "When God had made everything," they said, "He took a
quantity of arrows and fixed them in the earth, whence came men and
women, who have increased ever since." The
sagamo said they believed in the existence of
a God, a son, a mother and a sun; that God was the greatest of the four;
that the son and the sun were both good; that the mother was a lesser
person, and so was the father, who was less bad.
Indians were convinced that their deity had held communication with
their ancestors. One day five Indians ran towards the setting sun where
they met God, who asked them, "Where are you going?" " We are going to
seek our life," they replied. Then God said, "You will find it here."
But they did not hear the divine word, and went away. Then God took a
stone and touched two of them, and they were immediately turned into
stones. Addressing the three other Indians, God asked the same question,
"Where are you going?" and He was given the same answer. "Do not go
further," said the divine voice, " you will find your life here." Seeing
nothing, however, they continued their journey. Then God took two sticks
and touched two of them, and they were at once turned into sticks. The
fifth Indian, however, paused, and God gave him some meat, which he,ate,
and he afterwards returned to his countrymen.
These Indian tribes had their jugglers, whom they called
pilotois, from the Basques, or
autmoins, which means a magician. These
jugglers exercised great sway over the Indians, who would not hesitate
to kill a Frenchman if the jugglers decided that it was necessary.
spite of their superstitions Champlain believed that it would be an easy
task to convert the Indians to Christianity, especially if the French
resided near them. This desirable end was not to be attained without
great difficulty, as Champlain soon realized, for the missionaries
toiled for many years before their efforts were crowned with success.
Champlain now proceeded to explore the river Saguenay for a distance of
twelve to fifteen leagues, and he thus describes the scenery:—
"All the land I have seen is composed of rocks, covered with fir woods,
cypress, birch, very unpleas-ing land, where I could not find a league
of plain land on each side." He also learned from the Indians of the
existence of Lake St. John, and of a salt sea flowing towards the north.
It was evidently Hudson Bay to which these northern tribes directed
Champlain's attention, and if they had not seen it themselves they had
probably heard of its existence from the Indians dwelling around the
southern or south-western shores of the bay, who came annually to
Nemiscau Lake to trade their furs. This lake was half way between Hudson
Bay and the river St. Lawrence. The Kilistinons and other Indians of the
north had regular communication with their
congeneres scattered along the shores of the
St. Maurice and the several rivers which flow into Lake St. John.
When the French arrived in Canada with Chauvin, in the year 1600, they
began to monopolize the fur trade of all the Indian nations, but some
years later the English established themselves on the shores of Hudson
Bay, and prosecuted the trade for their own benefit.
Champlain could not, evidently, have been in possession of any exact
information as to the existence of this large bay, as he was searching
for a northern passage to Cathay, the great
desideratum of all the navigators and
explorers of the time.
After having promised to aid the various tribes gathered at Tadousac in
their wars, Champlain and Pont-Grave proceeded to Sault St. Louis. This
expedition lasted fifteen days, during which they saw Hare Island, so
named by Jacques Cartier, and the Island of Orleans. The ship anchored
at Quebec where Champlain stopped to make a short description of the
country watered by the St. Lawrence, and they then proceeded to Sault
St. Louis. Here Champlain gathered much valuable information relating to
lakes Ontario and Erie, the Detroit River, Niagara Falls, and the rapids
of the St. Lawrence. Returning to Tadousac, he determined to explore
Gaspesia, and proceeded to visit Perce and Mai Bay, where he met Indians
at every turn. He also was informed by Prevert, from St. Malo, who was
exploring the country, of the existence of a copper mine.
Champlain carefully noted all the information he had received, and after
his return to Tadousac he sailed again for France on August 16th, 1603,
and reached Havre de Grace, after a passage of twenty-one days. On his
arrival in France, he heard that Aymar de Chastes had died a few weeks
previously, on August 13th. This was a great loss to Canada, and
especially to Champlain, for he was convinced that the noble and
enterprising de Chastes was seriously disposed to colonize New France.
"In this enterprise," he says, "I cannot find a single fault, because it
has been well inaugurated." With the death of de Chastes, the project of
colonizing would undoubtedly have fallen through had not Champlain been
present to promote another movement in this direction. Champlain had an
interview with the king, and presented him with a map of the country
which he had visited, and placed in his hands a relation of his voyage.
Henry IV was so favourably impressed that he promised to assist
Champlain in his patriotic designs.