Jacques Cartier, explorer



For several years voyages for discovery from Europe to America ceased. Meanwhile, the brave Admiral de Brien (Chabot, Compte de Charni), who was a favorite at the French court, had urged his king to attempt making a settlement somewhere in New France, and so secure its possession for his crown. But it was not until ten years after Verazzani's voyage, that Francis yielded to the importunities of Chabot. Then a plan for making settlements in America was arranged under the direction of Chabot, and two ships, of sixty tons each, were fitted out at St. Malo, a fortified seaport of France, for that purpose, and placed in charge of Jacques Cartier (James Carter), a native of that port and then in the service of the French monarch.

After appropriate religious ceremonies in the cathedral of St. Malo, in which Chabot participated, Cartier sailed for America. He left St. Malo on a bright afternoon (April 20, 1534), with a crew of one hundred and twenty men in each of his vessels. The voyage was prosperous, and with generally fair winds he reached the eastern coast of Newfoundland in twenty days. Then he sailed northward, entered the Straits of Belle Isle, and touching the coast of Labrador, he formally took possession of the country in the name of his king by planting a cross and hanging upon it the arms of France. The natives, who had been fishing near, gathered around the Frenchmen in considerable numbers, with their chief, and looked with wonder as the mariners raised that symbol of the atonement made of the trunk of a tree, and thirty feet in height. The shield they hung upon it bore the lilies of France--the royal insignia--and over it they carved, in antique letters, Vive le Roi de France!--"Live the King of France." Then the mariners all knelt, and with hands stretched toward the skies, they thanked God for his mercies. The Indian chief faintly comprehending the significance of the shield with the Gallic arms as a token of claimed sovereignty, told Cartier, by signs, that he could not allow a cross to be set up without his consent, whereupon the mariner satisfied him by the assurance that it was only as a beacon to guide other voyagers in those waters.

After spending some weeks in exploring the great gulf west and southwest of Newfoundland, discovering the Magdalen Islands, the northern coasts of Cape Breton and the bays of Chaleurs and Gaspe, now at the eastern extremity of Canada, Cartier landed and held friendly intercourse with the Indians. There he set up a huge wooden cross, as before, with a shield and the French lilies, and took possession in the name of King Francis. His kindness inspired the natives with such confidence, that one of the chiefs offered to Cartier two of his sons to accompany him to France, on the condition that he should return them to their home the next year.

From Gaspe Bay Cartier sailed northeast, and doubling the east end of great Anticosti Island, he went up that branch of the St. Lawrence some distance, without suspecting that he was in the mouth on a great river whose chief sources were immense inland seas of fresh water. As the season of autumn storms was approaching, he turned back, passed through the Straits of Belle Isle, and sailed away for France, reaching St. Malo early in September. His voyage was considered successful. Chabot was delighted, and Francis was encouraged to make new efforts on a larger scale, in the same direction. Three ships were fitted out late in the following spring-La Grand Hermione, La Petite Hermione, L'Emerillon. The first was a vessel of one hundred and twenty tons burthen; the second was sixty tons, and the third was smaller. Cartier was commissioned "Captain and Pilot of the King." He gathered his companions and seamen in the cathedral at St. Malo, at the middle of May, where the whole company received absolution--pardon of their sins--from the Bishop, and also his blessing. It was Whit-Sunday--a festival when all newly-baptized persons appear in the church in white garments. Beautiful and picturesque was the scene, and joyous was the occasion; and impressions of the pageant remained on the memory of each mariner long after he left the holy fane that day, and embarked for his voyage.

Cartier sailed from St. Malo on his second voyage to New France, with several French noblemen, on the 19th of May, 1535--Le Grande Hermione was his flagship. Storms soon separated the vessels, but they met at an appointed rendezvous in the Straits of Belle Isle, on the 26th of July. Going westward, they entered the gulf on which Cartier had sailed the previous year; and on the day dedicated to St. Lawrence, they passed into the waters between Anticosti and the main, on the north, to which Cartier gave the name of St. Lawrence. This title was afterward given to the gulf and to the great river at whose mouth Anticosti lies. That island, Cartier named L'Assumption. Its Indian name was Natiscotec, the sound of which from the lips of the natives was, to English ears, Anticosti, and so they called it.

Voyaging on, Cartier found himself in a broad but narrowing and freshening river; and on the first of September, he was at the mouth of the dark and mysterious Saguenay River, where the St. Lawrence is ten miles in width. Proceeding more than a hundred miles further up the great stream, with high mountains a little way from its shores on his right and gentle slopes from the water's edge on his left, Cartier came to a large island which he called The Isle of Bacchus. It is now the Island of Orleans, in sight of Quebec. He went on shore with the two young men whom he had taken to France the year before, and the next day a handsome Algonquin chief, named Donnacona, who was "Lord of Canada," came to La Grande Hermione in a beautifully wrought canoe to confer with Cartier. The conference was easy, for the two young men were interpreters. "We have been to France," they said, "and have been well-treated. The whole country is full of riches. Great castles, great armies, great ships, great cities are there, and our master is a great man in his country." Donnacona was pleased. He asked Cartier to stretch out his bare arm. The king kissed it, and laid it about his own neck in token of affection. "Go to my village of Stadacona yonder," said the dusky prince. "You will find a safe harbor there and a welcome." Then entering his canoe he glided swiftly over the waters toward a bold, rocky promontory in sight, around which came sweeping into the St. Lawrence, from the West, a gentle stream. Cartier followed. Passing a high waterfall on his right, he was soon in the safe harbor, with scenery around him whose beauty and grandeur were enchanting. He was in the harbor of Quebec. The little stream which he called the St. Croix (Holy Cross) was the present St. Charles, and the lofty cascade was the famous Fall of Montmorenci. Stadacona, the capital of the "Lord of Canada," was, it is believed, on the site of the present suburb St. Roque in the city of Quebec, on the border of the St. Charles.

Cartier left his larger vessels at Quebec, and in the smaller one he ascended the St. Lawrence as far as Lake St. Peter, an expansion of the river. The two young men refused to go any further with him, because he had broken his promise to leave them at their home on Gaspe Bay. So Cartier had no interpreter on his voyage up the St. Lawrence. Obstructions in the stream near Lake St. Peter caused him to leave his ship and in a small boat, with three volunteers, make his way against the currents. They rowed up as far as the Indian town of Hochelaga, which, Cartier said, contained fifty houses, "about fifty paces long and twelve or fifteen broad, covered over with the bark of the wood as broad as any board, very finely and cunningly joined together," and having many rooms. On their tops were garrets, wherein they kept their corn. The town was circular in form, stockaded, and environed by three courses of ramparts made of timber and about thirty feet in height. There was only one gate or sally-port, which was closed with heavy timbers, stakes and bars. On the ramparts were magazines of stone for the defence of the city.

Dressed in his most brilliant attire, Cartier visited the town on the day following his arrival, where he was kindly received by the Huron king. With that monarch he climbed to the top of the lofty mountain back of the town, from which he beheld, with great admiration, a vast extent of level wooded country and the course of the mighty river for many miles. He called the great hill, Mont Real (royal mountain); and the city which lies upon the site of the Huron capital, bears the same name--Montreal. Such, also, is the name of the island containing the city and the mountain.

After enjoying the hospitalities of the Hurons two or three days, Cartier departed, carrying with him the pretty daughter of one of the chiefs, about eight years of age, whom her father lent to him to take to France. He joined his little vessel, returned to Stadacona, and as the season was far advanced, it being near the middle of October, he resolved to winter there. His vessels were moored in the St. Croix (St. Charles), and there the Frenchmen endured the terrible cold of a Canadian winter from November until late in March. Their sufferings were grievous. The scurvy which prevailed among the natives at Quebec, extended to the Frenchmen, and of the one hundred and ten Europeans there, eight died, and nearly all of the others were sick.

The ice remained so long in the St. Lawrence that Cartier could not depart until May. On the third of that month he erected a huge cross, thirty-five feet in height, on the site of Dalhousie Bastion, the highest point of Cape Diamond, the promontory at Quebec, and upon it he hung the arms of France with a Latin inscription: "Francis First, by the grace of God King of France, reigns." On the same day, Donnacona, whose unstinted kindness Cartier had enjoyed, was invited with nine of his chiefs to a feast on the French flag-ship, where they were treacherously detained, and were borne away captives three days afterward. Cartier sailed out of the St. Lawrence on the southern side of Anticosti. He reached the open sea from the gulf, between Cape Breton and Newfoundland, and reached St. Malo on the 6th of July, 1536. The Petite Hermione was found to be so unseaworthy that she was left in the St. Charles, where her remains were found in the year 1848, imbedded in the mud.

At about the time when Cartier sailed from Quebec, two English vessels, the Trinity and the Minion, sailed from Gravesend, with the good wishes of Henry the Eighth, bearing "thirty gentlemen and ninety seamen," to explore the region of the St. Lawrence, and to plant a colony in Newfoundland. The expedition was organized by "Master How, of London, a man of goodly stature, and of great courage, and given to the study of cosmography." His companions were young men of rank and fortune. The ships were two months on the voyage to Cape Breton, where they first touched and then sailed to Newfoundland. There the company came very near starving to death. The famine was so great that some of the stouter sailors killed weaker ones in the woods, and ate them. The "gentlemen" were about to cast lots to determine which of their number should become food for the rest, when a French fishing-vessel, amply provisioned, came into the port. The Englishmen seized her, and with that vessel and their own they returned to England. The Frenchmen laid their case before Henry, who, when he learned how great had been the necessities of his countrymen when they took possession of the vessel, did not punish them, but paid the foreigners the value of their property out of his private purse.

Cartier's report of his second voyage was not cheering. The rigors of the climate on the St. Lawrence in winter; the ice-bound condition of that stream for several months, and the barrenness of the land in precious stones and metals, were so discouraging that more than four years passed away before another like expedition from a French port was planned. The king was then fighting Charles with more intense hatred than ever under the impression that the emperor had caused the death of the eldest son of Francis, who died from the effects of poison. For two years the father could think of nothing but revenge, when through the intervention of the Pope and the Queen of Hungary, the two monarchs whose mutual exasperation was intense, became reconciled and embraced and kissed each other as friends. But the French treasury was drained by long wars, and Francis would not listen to propositions for colonization in America, until late in 1540. Then Francis de la Roque, Lord of Robertval, in Picardy, importuned the king for permission to make further discoveries and plant a colony in New France. The monarch had, meanwhile, talked with Donnacona and learned much about Canada which Cartier could not know. He told him of the large numbers of fur-bearing animals in its woods and waters; the delicious salmon in its rivers, and the richness of its soil and value of its pine timber. Francis was willing to make another trial, and he gave his consent to the fitting out of ships according to the plan of De la Roque. He commissioned that gentlemen Viceroy and Lieutenant-General of "Canada, Hochelaga, Saguenay, Newfoundland, Belle Isle, Cape Breton and Labrador;" and as the services of Cartier were indispensable, he was recommissioned "Captain and Pilot of the King," and appointed chief mariner of the expedition, in which six or seven ships were to be employed. De la Roque was authorized to make conquests in the name of France and to plant a colony. To obtain men for the latter purpose--for the founders of a State--the prisons of France were ransacked, and many desperate characters were mingled with good men in making up the required number. The work of preparation went vigorously on, and the harbor of St. Malo was alive with busy men in the spring of 1541. Every thing and every body were in readiness late in May excepting De la Roque.

Cartier was not pleased with being made subservient to the Lord of Robertval, in the enterprise before him, and when five vessels were ready, he was glad to find De la Roque dilatory. He gathered the whole company that were to go in them, in the cathedral, where all received absolution and blessings, and on the 23d of May they sailed from St. Malo for the St. Lawrence, leaving De la Roque to follow when he pleased. Storms arose when they approached the tracks of the polar icebergs as they were voyaging toward the tropics, and chilling fogs lay along their paths. It was late in August when the squadron entered the harbor of Stadacona or Quebec. The people there, led by King Agona, the successor of Donnacona, pressed eagerly to the ships to welcome their old monarch, for Cartier had assured them that he would bring him back. Alas! Donnacona was no more. He and his eight chiefs had been baptized in France, but had grieved themselves to death in slavery. All of them had died before Cartier's departure on his third voyage. The mariner dared not tell the whole truth to the people for fear of their resentment; he only acknowledged that Donnacona was dead, and then told them that the other chiefs had all become great lords in France, had remained there, and would never return. In token of his good faith he showed them the pretty little daughter of the Huron chief at Hochelaga, whom he had brought back. The people had grave doubts. They were sullen and unfriendly. The kidnapping--the inexcusable treachery--had left a bitter sting of wrong in their hearts. Their sullenness grew more cloudy, and very soon signs of absolute hostility were manifested.

Cartier sailed up the river a few leagues above Quebec, where he found a better anchorage; and at the beginning of September he sent two of his vessels back to France with an account of his doings, and to communicate the fact that De la Roque had not arrived. He again visited Hochelaga to ascertain whether there were serious obstructions to navigation above that town, and to give back to her father the little Indian princess. He gave to the chief a "cloak of Paris red, which cloak was set with yellow and white buttons of tin, and small bells." These acts made a favorable impression upon the Hurons, and they loaded him with favors. After visiting the rapids between Montreal and La Chine, he returned to Quebec, when the temper of the natives was so manifestly hostile that he was admonished to provide for the safety of himself and his followers. He accordingly built a fort on the island of Orleans, and made his winter quarters there, mooring his vessels in a cove. He waited patiently for the coming of the Viceroy, but he had not appeared when the St. Lawrence was bound with ice.

The winter was long, cold and gloomy. The Frenchmen were almost buried in the snow-drifts, and suffered much; and when the spring opened, the natives were evidently preparing to attack them. Their provisions being almost exhausted, and no tidings of De la Roque reaching him, Cartier left the St. Lawrence toward the end of May, 1542, and sailed for France. Running into the harbor of St. John near the southeastern extremity of Newfoundland, he there found De la Roque, Lord of Robertval, with three ships and two hundred men, and about twenty French fishing-vessels. De la Roque had left Rochelle in France on the 16th of April, and reached the harbor he was in on the 8th of June. He had been there several days when Cartier arrived. They held a conference, when the Pilot told the Viceroy that he had left the St. Lawrence because he could not withstand the natives, who were becoming very hostile. The country, he said, did not seem very fertile, and there were no mines of precious stones and valuable minerals. A few "diamonds"--quartz crystals--which he had gathered, and a small quantity of gold, were all that he had to show of mineral wealth, and he advised De la Roque to go no further, for he could never make a colony on the St. Lawrence profitable to himself or his king. The Viceroy regarded this advice as selfish, believing Cartier's object to be to bear all the honor of his discoveries, and the glory of founding a new empire, himself. De la Roque therefore determined to go on, and ordered Cartier to go with him to the St. Lawrence, not doubting that their united forces might overawe the Indians and secure peace and prosperity. But the Pilot resolved not to submit to the Viceroy. With apparent compliance with the commands of his superior, he returned to his ship. At twilight he secretly conferred with the captains of his two other vessels, and at midnight, when the heavens were cloudy and moonless and the darkness was intense, he escaped from the harbor with his little squadron and sailed for St. Malo. Cartier was then about fifty years of age, and seems to have abandoned the sea, for he afterward lived quietly at St. Malo and at a little village near, alternately. When and where he died is not known. It is believed that he lived in comparative poverty, and died soon after his return from his third voyage to Canada.

Toward the end of June, 1542 De la Roque left Newfoundland for the St. Lawrence, passing through the straits of Belle Isle. He did not stop at Quebec, for he found the natives very hostile, as Cartier had told him they were. He went further up the river, probably to the place where the Pilot's vessels were anchored when he sent the two ships back to France the previous year. There De la Roque built a fort, but there is no record of what else he did in Canada, excepting that he and his companions suffered severely during the following winter, and early in June, 1543, made an exploring voyage to the Saguenay, where one of his vessels was lost. In the autumn of that year he returned to France. Finding his king again warring fiercely with his old enemy Charles, against whose empire he had hurled five different armies at as many points, the Viceroy abandoned all projects of foreign colonization and re-entered the military service in which he had often before distinguished himself. Six years later, when Francis was dead (having perished because of his personal excesses at the age of fifty-three years), and Henry the Second, who had married Catharine de Medici, was on the throne of France, the Lord of Robertval again sailed for the St. Lawrence, and was never heard of afterward.







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