Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Chapter III The Founding of Quebec

AFTER his return to France, as before described, Champlain had an interview with de Monts, and laid before him the journal which he had prepared of his explorations in America, together with plans of the ports and coasts which he had minutely examined during his visits. Champlain proposed to de Monts to continue his explorations, and advanced some reasons for prosecuting an enterprise upon which a large sum had been already expended, and which he was persuaded would ultimately afford the means of repairing their fortunes. De Monts, owing to the failure of his own efforts as a colonizer, was not at first inclined to listen to Champlain's proposals, but he was finally convinced of the wisdom of his suggestions, and appointed him lieutenant of an expedition to Quebec for the purpose of trading with the Indians. The expedition was to return to France during the same year. De Monts obtained another commission from the king, dated at Paris, January 9th, 1608, which gave him the monopoly of the fur trade in the lands, ports and rivers of Canada for a period of one year. Two vessels were equipped for this expedition, the Don de Dieu, captain Henry Couillard, and the Ltvrier, captain Nicholas Marion. Champlain was given the command of the former vessel, and Pont-Gravd was in command of the latter. The Lforier sailed from France on April 5th, and the Don de Dieu eight days later. The two vessels proceeded directly to Tadousac, without calling at Percd, according to the usual custom.

On the arrival of the Don de Dieu at Tadousac, Champlain found that Pont-Gravd had been attacked by Captain Darache, a Basque, who continued to trade furs with the Indians in spite of the king's commands. Darache had brought all his guns to bear upon the Levrier, and Pont-Gravd being unable to defend himself, had offered no resistance, whereupon Darache's crew had boarded the vessel and carried off the cannon and arms, at the same time intimating that they would continue to trade as they pleased. The arrival of Champlain, however, altered the situation, and Darache was compelled to sign an agreement by which he pledged himself not to molest Pont-Grave, or to do anything prejudicial to the interest of the king or of de Monts. It was also agreed that all differences should be settled by the authorities in France. After this agreement was effected through Champlain's intervention, the carpenters of the expedition fitted out a small barque to convey to Quebec all the articles necessary for the use of the future settlement.

In the meantime Champlain visited the river Saguenay, where he met some Indians from whom he gathered information concerning Lake St. John and its tributaries. The information did not differ greatly from that which he had obtained in the year 1603. Champlain set out from Tadousac on the last day of June and arrived at Quebec on July 3rd, "Where I searched," he says, "for a place suitable for our settlement, but I could find none more convenient or better situated than the point of Quebec, so called by the savages, which was covered with nut trees."

Champlain was accompanied by thirty men, amongst whom may be named Nicholas Marsolet, Etienne Bruld, Bonnerme, a doctor, Jean Duval, Antoine Natel and La Taille. These names are specially recorded. Champlain immediately employed some workmen to fell trees in order to commence the construction of an Habitation. One party was engaged in sawing timber, another in digging a cellar and some ditches, while another party was sent to Tadousac with a barque to obtain supplies which had been retained in the ships. Such was the beginning of Champlain's city. Nothing great, it will be admitted, for a settlement which its founder hoped before long would become the great warehouse of New France.

Until this date the merchants had traded with the Indians only in those places where they could easily be met, and even Chauvin, who was mentioned in a previous chapter, had not gone further than Tadousac. Neither Three Rivers, nor the islands of Sorel at the entrance of the Iroquois River, now called the Richelieu River, were known to French navigators at this period, and although these places were easily accessible to the aborigines, they were not so available as Quebec.

Champlain well understood the advantages of founding his city on a spot naturally fortified and where he could readily defend himself against the attack of an enemy, whose approach he expected sooner or later. The first foes, however, whom Champlain had to encounter were not the Indians, but his own countrymen, members of his crew who under various pretexts sought to kill their chief and give the command of the settlement to the Basques. Jean Duval, the king's locksmith, was the leader of this conspiracy against Champlain, and associated with him were four vicious sailors to whom he promised a part of the reward which had been offered for this treason. The conspirators agreed to preserve secrecy, and fixed the night of the fourth day for the assassination of their chief.

On the day upon which the plot was to be put into execution, Captain Le Testu arrived from Tadousac in command of a vessel laden with provisions, utensils, etc. After the vessel was unloaded, one of the conspirators, a locksmith named Natel, approached the captain and acquainted him with the details of the plot. Champlain also listened to the man's account and promised to observe secrecy, although he took precautions to frustrate the scheme by inviting the leader and the four conspirators to an entertainment on board Captain Le Testu's barque.

The men accepted the invitation, and as soon as they were on board they were seized and held in custody until the following day. The deposition of each man was then taken by Champlain in the presence of the pilot and sailors, and set down in writing, after which the "worthies" were sent to Tadousac, where Champlain requested Pont-Grav£ to guard them for a time. Some days after the men were returned to Quebec, where they were placed on trial for attempted murder.

The jury was composed of Champlain, Pont-Grav£, Le Testu, Bonnerme, the mate and the second mate, and some sailors. The verdict was unanimous. Duval was condemned to death on the spot as the instigator of the plot, and the others were also sentenced to death, but their sentence was to be carried out in France. Duval was strangled at Quebec, and his head was placed on a pike which was set up in the most conspicuous part of the fort. This was the second example of capital punishment in New France. The first case recorded was at Charlesbourg Royal, or Cap-Rouge, near Quebec, in the winter of 1542-3, when Michel Gaillon, one of Kobcrval's companions, was put to death.

Champlain. was invested with executive, legislative and judiciary powers, but the founder of Quebec never abused the authority intrusted to him. From this time every one fulfilled his duty day by day, and Champlain was able to continue his work in peace.

The habitation was composed of three buildings of two stories, each one of three fathoms long and two and a half wide. The storehouse was six fathoms long and three wide, with a cellar six feet deep. There was a gallery around the buildings, at the second story. There were also ditches fifteen feet wide and six deep. On the outer side of the ditches Champlain constructed several spurs, which enclosed a part of the dwelling, at the point where he placed a cannon. Before the habitation there was a square four fathoms wide and six or seven long, looking out upon the river bank. Surrounding the habitation were very good gardens, and an open space on the north side, sortie hundred and twenty paces long and fifty or sixty wide.

During the first weeks after his installation, Champlain made an investigation of the vicinity. "Near Quebec," he says, "there is a little river coming from a lake in the interior, distant six or-seven leagues from our settlement. I am of opinion that this river, which is north a quarter north-west from our settlement, is the place where Jacques Cartier wintered, since there are still, a. league up the river, remains of what seems to have been a chimney, the foundation of which has been found, and indications of there having been ditches surrounding their dwelling, which was small*. We found also, large pieces of hewn, worm-eaten timber, and some three or four cannon balls. All these things show clearly that there was a settlement there founded by Christians ; and what leads me to say and believe that it was that of Jacques Cartier is the fact that there is no evidence whatever that any one wintered and built a house in these places except Jacques Cartier at the time of his discoveries."

This "little river coming from a lake in the interior," is evidently the river St. Charles, called Ste. Croix by Cartier. Champlain's conjectures about the place where Jacques Cartier wintered, are certainly correct. It was near this spot also that the Jesuits erected their convent of Notre Dame des Anges in 1626, namely, at two hundred feet from the shore, where the river Lairet joins the St. Charles.

Pont-Gravd sailed for France on September 18th, 1608, leaving Champlain with twenty-seven men, and provisions for the approaching winter at Quebec. The carpenters, sawyers, and other workmen were employed in clearing up the place and in preparing gardens.

Many Indians were encamped in the vicinity, who proved troublesome neighbours, as they were constantly visiting the habitation, either to beg food for their families or to express their fear of invisible enemies. Champlain readily understood the character of these people, but he was too charitable to refuse them assistance in their need; besides he believed that they might easily be taught how to live and how to cultivate the soil. It was a difficult task, however, to induce the Indians to settle in any particular place. For generations they had led a wandering life, subsisting on the products of their hunting and fishing. This wild freedom was as necessary to their existence as the open air, and all attempts to make them follow the habits of civilized races seemed to tend towards their deterioration.

The early days of the French settlement at Quebec were distinguished by nothing remarkable. During the first winter scurvy and dysentery claimed many victims. Natel, the locksmith, died towards the end of November, and some time after Bon-nerme, the doctor, was attacked and succumbed. Eighteen others also suffered from scurvy of whom ten died, and there were five deaths from dysentery, so that by the spring there were only eight men living, and Champlain himself was seriously indisposed. This was the third time that the founder of Quebec had had to experience the effects of this terrible disease, and although he was beginning to understand its causes, he was still unaware of a specific, kt I am confident," he says, " that, with good bread and fresh meat, a person would not be liable to it."

Many trials had been experienced by the settlers during their first winter of 1608-09, and they welcomed the return of spring. Des Marets1 arrived at Quebec at this time, with tidings that Pont-Gravd, his father-in-law, had arrived at Tadousac on May 28th. Champlain at once repaired to Tadousac, where he received a letter from de Monts requesting him to return to France to acquaint him with the progress which he had made in the colony, and with the result of his explorations. Champlain returned to Quebec, and immediately fitted out an expedition to visit the country of the Iroquois, in the company of a party of Montagnais.

The Montagnais were anxious to carry on war against their ancient enemies, and although the wars had no attraction for Champlain, he hoped to be able to further his discoveries during the journey. Taking with him the twenty men placed at his disposal by Pont-Grave, Champlain sailed from Quebec on* June 18th, 1609. The command of the habitation was given to Pont-Gravd in the meantime. The expedition proceeded towards the island of St. Eloi, near the shores of which two or three hundred savages were encamped in tents. They proved to be Hurons and Algonquins who were on their way to Quebec to join Champlain's expedition to the territory of the Iroquois. Their chiefs were named Iroquet and Ochateguin, and Champlain explained to them the object of his voyage. The next day the two chiefs paid a visit to Champlain and remained silent for some time, meditating and smoking. After some reflection the chiefs began to harangue their companions on the banks of the river. They spoke for a long time in loud tones, and the substance of their remarks has been summed up in these words:—

"Ten moons ago Champlain had declared that he desired to assist them against their enemies, with whom they had been for a long time at warfare, on account of many cruel acts committed by them against their tribe, under colour of friendship. Having ever since longed for vengeance, they had solicited all the savages whom they had seen on the banks of the river to come and make an alliance. They had no children with them but men versed in war and full of courage, and well acquainted with the country and the rivers of the land of the Iroquois. They wanted to go to Quebec in order that they might see the French houses, but after three days they would return to engage in the war. As a token of firm friendship and joy, Champlain should have muskets and arquebuses fired."

Champlain replied that he was glad to be able to fulfil his* promise to them; he had no other purpose than to assist them in their wars; he had not come as a trader, but only with arms to fight. His word was given, and it was his desire that it should be kept. Thus was the alliance ratified which had been made in 1603 between the French and the Hurons, Algonquins and Montagnais, and the alliance was never broken.

Some historians have reproached Champlain for his intervention in the wars between the Indians of Canada, and have suggested that it would have been wiser to have preserved a strict neutrality, instead of taking up arms against the redoubtable and valiant Iroquois. In order to explain Champlain's actions, it is necessary to consider the relations of the French towards the other tribes. Many years before the period of which we are writing, certain French captains traded with the Montagnais Indians of Tadousac. These Indians were on friendly terms with the Hurons, the Algonquins Supdrieurs of the Ottawa river, and the Souriquois of Acadia, and were united in their desire to subdue the terrible Iroquois. As the Iroquois did not trade, Champlain had no relations with them of a business character, and therefore he was not bound towards them in the same manner as he was towards the Hurons and others.

The Iroquois at first resided at Montreal and Three Rivers, while their neighbours, the Algon-quins, were scattered along the shores of the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing and French River. The Al-gonquins, who were brave and very numerous, succeeded in driving the Iroquois back to Lake Erie, and afterwards to Lake Ontario, near Lake Champlain. Here the Iroquois were distributed in five tribes, forming a great confederation. (1.) The Tsonnontouans or Senecas. (2.) The Goyogouins or Cayugas. (3.) The Onontagues or Onondagas. (4.) The Onneyouts or Oneidas. (5.) The Agniers or Mohawks. The Tsonnontouans were the most numerous, but the Agniers were the bravest and wildest.

The Iroquois or confederate tribes had by constant warfare become the greatest warriors of New France, nor is this fact surprising when we consider that they had waged successful warfare, extending over a long period, against the vast coalition of Hurons, Algonquins, JMontagnais and Micmacs scattered from Lake Huron to Acadia.

Anadabijou, chief of the Montagnais, made a long speech, telling his men that they ought to feel proud of the friendship of the king of France and of his people, upon whom they could rely for assistance in their wars. It was from that date that the alliance between the Indians and the French commenced, and, as Champlain was obliged to live in the neighbourhood of the Montagnais and Algonquins, the only course open to him, if he desired to live in peace, was to fulfil his promise made to them.

In this year, 1609, Anadabijou reminded Champlain of the agreement made six years before. "Ten moons ago," he says, "the son of Iroquet had seen you. You gave him a good reception, and promised with Pont-Gravd to assist us against our enemies." To this Champlain replied, "My only desire is to fulfil what I promised then." Thus was sealed this solemn agreement.

If Champlain had refused to make an alliance with these Indians, they would have been a constant source of trouble, for although they were less ferocious than the Iroquois, they were still barbarians. Champlain and his few men could never have established a settlement at Quebec if they had been forced to encounter the hostility of the neighbouring Indians, for the whole of his work could have been overthrown by them in a single day.

The country of the Iroquois, on the contrary, was situated at a great distance, and consequently he had not so much to fear from them. It was Champlain's desire, however, to make a treaty with the Iroquois as well, for they were at this time even, and long after remained, the terror of North America. But war seemed necessary to the existence of the Iroquois, and Champlain, notwithstanding the exercise of his diplomacy, found it impossible to pacify these restless people.

It is true that the people of New Netherland had been able to maintain a neutral stand towards the Iroquois, and Champlain has been blamed for not following this example. It must be borne in mind, however, that the Dutch were powerful and numerous, and it was to their interest to live in harmony with their immediate neighbours, the Iroquois. The Dutch had also different intentions towards the Indians. They came to America simply to trade, and to establish themselves and live quietly along the shores of the Hudson River, while Champlain's idea was to civilize the Indians and bring them under the influence of the Catholic missionaries.

Champlain and the allied Indians left Quebec on June 28th, 1609. Des Marets, La Routte, a pilot, and nine men accompanied the expedition. On their voyage they passed certain rivers to which Champlain gave the following names, Ste. Suzanne (River du Loup), du Pont (Nicolet), de Genes (Yamaska), and the Three Rivers.1 The party stopped at the entrance of the Iroquois River. Continuing their journey southwards, they arrived at the Chambly Rapids. "No Christians had been in this place before us," says Champlain. Seeing no prospect of being able to cross the rapids alone, Champlain embarked with the Indians in their canoes, taking only two men with him. Champlain's army, comprising sixty men, then proceeded slowly towards Lake Champlain, and a few days after the party arrived'at Lake St. Sacrament (Lake George). On July 29th they encountered the Iroquois, who had come to fight, at the extremity of Lake Champlain, on the western bank. The entire night was spent by each army in dancing and singing, and in bandying words. At daybreak Champlain's men stood to arms. The Iroquois were composed of about two hundred men, stout and rugged in appearance, with their three chiefs at their head, who could be distinguished by their large plumes. The Indians opened their ranks and called upon Champlain to go to the front. The arrows were beginning to fly on both sides when Champlain discharged his musket, which was loaded with four balls, and killed two of the chiefs and mortally wounded the third. This unexpected blow caused great alarm among the Iroquois, who lost courage, abandoned their camp and took to flight, seeking shelter in the woods. Fifteen or sixteen men of Champlain's party were wounded, but the enemy had many wounded, and ten or twelve were taken prisoners.

This victory did not entail much hardship on the part of the French. Champlain and his two companions did more to rout the Iroquois than the sixty allies with their shower of arrows. The result of this day's proceedings was highly satisfactory to the Indians, who gathered up the arms and provisions left behind by the Iroquois, and feasted sumptuously amidst dancing and singing. "The spot where this attack took place," says Champlain, "is in the latitude of 43° and some minutes, and the lake is called Champlain." This place is now called Ticonderoga, or the Cheondoroga of the Indians.

Champlain returned to Quebec with the Montagnais, and a few days after he set out for Tadousac to see whether Pont-Grav£ had arrived from Gaspd. He met Pont-Grav£ on the morrow, and they both decided to sail for France, and to leave Quebec in the meantime under the command of Pierre de Chauvin,1 pending the decision of de Monts as to the future of the colony. Both visited Quebec in order to invest Chauvin with authority, and after leaving him everything necessary for the use of the settlement, and placing fifteen men under his command, the two commanders left Quebec on September 1st, 1609, and sailed from Tadousac for France on the fifth day of the same month.

Champlain had sojourned in New France since the beginning of July, 1608, and during that interval he had made good use of his time. He had chosen the most suitable place for a habitation which was destined to become the metropolis of the French colony; he had constructed a fort and a storehouse, and he had also explored- a very important tract of country. Champlain had also visited a part of the river Saguenay; he had made himself acquainted with the vicinity of Quebec, and with the rivers, streams and tributaries of the St. Lawrence and Ste. Croix. For the second time he had seen the river St. Lawrence as far as the Iroquois River over which he had sailed as far as Lake Champlain, whence it receives its waters. Besides his achievements in exploration Champlain had cemented friendly relations with the Montagnais, Algonquins and Hurons; he had renewed his acquaintance with Anadabijou and formed an alliance with Iroquet and Ochateguin, three of the most powerful chiefs of these tribes. He was also well versed in their methods of warfare and had studied their manners and customs and their treatment of their prisoners, so that when he returned to France he was in a position to give de Monts a great deal of valuable information, both as regards the inhabitants and the best means of promoting trade with them.'

On his arrival in France Champlain proceeded at once to Fontainebleau, where he met King Henry IV and de Monts. He had an audience with the king and gave His Majesty a satisfactory account of his proceedings. He also presented to the king a girdle made of porcupine quills, two little birds of carnation colour, and the head of a fish caught in Lake Champlain, which had a very long snout, and two or three rows of very sharp teeth.

To de Monts the visit of Champlain was of great importance, because the fate of Quebec was bound up with him. After hearing Champlain's narrative of his voyages in New France, de Monts decided to visit Rouen in order to consult Collier and Legendre, his associates. After deliberation they resolved to continue their efforts to colonize New France and to further explore the great river St. Lawrence. In order to realize means for defraying the expenses of the expedition, Pont-Gravd was authorized to engage in any traffic that would help to accomplish this end. In the meantime Lucas Legendre was ordered to purchase merchandise for the expedition, to see to the repairs of the vessels, and to obtain crews. After these details had been arranged de Monts and Champlain returned to Paris to settle the more important questions.

De Monts' commission, which had been issued for one year, had expired, but he hoped that it would be renewed. His requests, which appeared just and reasonable, were, however, refused, owing to protests on the part of merchants of Bretagne and Normandy, who claimed that this monopoly was ruinous to their commerce. Finally de Monts appealed to his former partners, who decided to furnish two vessels, at their own expense, with supplies and stores necessary for the settlement. Pont-Grave was given the command of a fur-trading vessel, and the other was laden with provisions and stores necessary for the use of the settlers. Champlain was informed that his services were dispensed with, but not believing that this news could be true, he saw de Monts and asked him frankly whether such was the case. De Monts told him that he could accompany the expedition, if he chose to do so. Champlain therefore set out from Paris on the last day of February, 1610, and proceeded to Rouen, where he remained for two days, and then left for Honfleur, to meet Pont-Grave and Legendre, who informed him that the vessels were ready to sail.

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