Who is Samuel de Champlain?

Two French vessels were fitted out in the spring of 1608, freighted with colonists and supplies, and were navigated under the direction of Pont-Greve, with Samuel de Champlain as governor. They were directed to form a settlement at Tadousac on the St. Lawrence, near the mouth of the Saguenay River. They arrived at that point on the 3d of June. Champlain perceived that it was not a good place for a colony, so he directed Pont-Greve to sail further up the river. They entered the St. Charles, where Cartier had left one of his vessels, and on its banks at the foot of a rocky promontory he chose as the place for a settlement, and there he laid the foundations of the City of Quebec. That name is an Indian word, signifying "the narrows," and is pronounced Kebec. That was the first permanent French settlement planted in America. It grew, for the little colony took firm root under the culture of Champlain. He opened a profitable fur trade with the Indians, and planted a small settlement at Montreal. The colonists were induced to build houses and plant seeds; yet there were malcontents among them, who conspired to murder the governor. The plot was discovered; the ringleader was hanged, and order and obedience were secured.

Champlain, regarding the Iroquois in northern New York as inimical to his colony because it was in the bosom of the Huron nation who were their enemies, allied himself to the Hurons and went out with them upon the war-path. In the summer of 1609, he, with a boat's crew, went with the Indian warriors up the Sorel or Richelieu River to the Falls of Chambly, where he left his boat and the crew, and with only two men pushed on in a canoe until he discovered a great lake between two distant mountain ranges-the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. He gave his name to the sheet of water, which is a beautiful, appropriate, and eternal monument to the memory of the mariner. On its shores he and his Indian allies had a fight with their enemies, and then returned to Quebec with fifty scalps as trophies of war. In September of that year Champlain returned to France, when he published an account of Canada and of his adventures.

The following spring Champlain returned, stopping at Tadousac, where he borrowed fifty warriors from a chief, with whom he penetrated the country to Lake Champlain to fight the enemies of the Hurons. He was defeated and wounded. So bad was his hurt that when he reached Quebec he found it necessary to return to France to have medical treatment. The aspect of affairs there was changed. The dagger of the fanatic Francois Ravaillac had killed his king; the fortune of De Monts was so much diminished that he could not continue the settlement at Montreal nor foster that at Quebec, and it appeared as if there were to be another ending of French settlements in America. At that moment the queen-regent, by a judicious act, saved the colony. She appointed Charles of Bourbon nominal governor of Canada, and the prince commissioned Champlain his lieutenant with large powers. So strengthened, the latter returned in 1612, and engaged vigorously in wars and explorations. Three years later he invited some Jesuit Fathers to the St. Lawrence, who accompanied him in expeditions of discovery extending up the Ottawa River and westward to Lake Huron. Turning east-ward, they traversed the wilderness to Lake Ontario, and exploring that magnificent sheet of water its whole length, and the St. Lawrence to a point below Montreal, they returned to Quebec.

With the vision of a statesman, Champlain saw that the country with which he had made himself acquainted was fitted to become the seat of a magnificent colonial empire of Frenchmen, and he resolved to do all in his power to lay the solid foundations of such an empire. He went home, and in 1620-the same year when the London Company planted a permanent settlement in New England-he returned to Canada vested with the authority of governor, and taking with him his family and other emigrants with their families. He had seen the amazing influence of the Jesuit fathers over the Indian mind. He had also perceived that an alliance with the red men would be essential in building up and making permanent his future empire. To make them good allies, it would be necessary to Christianize the Indians; so he invited more Jesuits to come. He had, very soon, as coadjutors, fifteen Jesuit priests and a considerable number of laymen. A college was established at Quebec for the instruction of the children of the Hurons in civilized modes of living, the French language, and the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. These Jesuits were peculiarly the men for the work;-sagacious, far-seeing, politic, zealous, obedient, devoted, industrious, persevering, long-suffering and self-sacrificing-men of the world who could adapt themselves to every condition and plane of life, from the pitiful suppliant as a beggar to the haughty bearing of a king. They worked with untiring energy and signal success for religion and the state.

So was wisely laid, by Samuel de Champlain, the foundation-stone of the French empire in America; a political structure which always displayed as its chief source of strength a firm alliance with the Indians cemented by the religious teachings of the Jesuits, which made the dusky tribes and the palefaces, to a remarkable extent, one in the Christian faith. So were secured those alliances in emergencies, between the French and Indians in America, already alluded to, which frequently gave the English colonists much and serious trouble.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I