Cartier, Jacques 1491–1557

Jacques Cartier was a sixteenth-century French explorer whose name is inextricably linked to the early colonial history of Canada. Born in 1491, he was the son of Jamet Cartier and Josseline Jansart. He grew up in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France, a seaport that assumed a dominant position in the North Atlantic economy. While little is known about his early life, not even his parents’ professions, Cartier’s marriage in 1520 to Catherine des Granges, the daughter of the local constable, bears witness to his respectable socioeconomic status at the time. In 1534, Cartier gained meteoric fame when Francis I, king of France, commissioned him to seek wealth and new territories in the vicinity of Newfoundland. His unofficial goal was to find a passage to Asia. Cartier’s experience as a sailor partially explains Francis’s choice. Jean Le Veneur de Telli¨re, an influential ecclesiastic with access to the king, had vouched for Cartier’s competence to handle such an enterprise. Indirect documentary evidence suggests that before this voyage, Cartier had sailed to Brazil and Newfoundland. French navigator Jacques Cartier was the first to explore and map the Gulf of St. Lawrence (1534) and the St. Lawrence River (1535), laying the groundwork for a French colonial presence in North America. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) Cartier left Saint-Malo on April 20, 1534. Barely a month later, he reached the Strait of Belle Isle, between Newfoundland and Labrador, convinced that it led to Asia. Following the corridor, Cartier entered unknowingly into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which he proceeded to explore. In search of a passage along the shores of present-day New Brunswick and Quebec, Cartier established contacts with Algonquin and Northern Iroquois peoples. Among the latter, he kidnapped two young men, Domagaya and Taignoagny, to assist him in his enterprise. As Cartier reached the estuary of the St. Lawrence River, deteriorating weather conditions prevented him from exploring the waterway. Fearing that seasonal storms would impede his return to Saint-Malo, Cartier proceeded back to his hometown, which he reached on September 5, 1534. Even though he had fallen short of his goals, he had claimed the newly explored territories for Francis I and had gathered an impressive array of information about a little-known region. The following year, Cartier received another royal commission to resume his exploration. He left Saint-Malo on May 19, 1535, accompanied by Domagaya and Taignoagny. With their assistance, he sailed down the St. Lawrence to Stadacona, a Northern Iroquois village near present-day Quebec City. While part of his crew erected a winter camp nearby, Cartier continued upriver to Hochelaga, another Northern Iroquois settlement standing where Montreal is today. Realizing that some rapids blocked the river farther south, Cartier retraced his steps to Stadacona, where he spent the winter. During this time, the explorer and his crew benefited from the material support of their native hosts, even though, over time, relations between the French and Native Americans began to deteriorate. From the Stadaconans, Cartier learned about the Kingdom of Saguenay and other fabulous lands that abounded with wealth and chimerical creatures. Before sailing back to France on May 6, 1536, Cartier abducted a number of Stadaconans, hoping that they would vouch for the existence of these fabled lands. Wars in Europe forced Francis I to postpone any ventures overseas, and it was only in 1541 that Cartier was able to return to the St. Lawrence. This time, the king intended to colonize the area, a task he had entrusted to Jean-Fran§ois de La Rocque de Roberval. On this occasion, Cartier commanded an advance force consisting of 1,500 colonists. Upon arrival in the region, he ordered the building of Charlesbourg-Royal, a settlement located near Stadacona, and explored the area south of Hochelaga. For unspecified reasons, Cartier returned to France with his contingent of colonists in June 1542, despite Roberval’s objections. As a consolation, he had aboard a large cargo of minerals that he wrongly estimated to be gold and diamonds. This fiasco sealed the fate of Cartier’s notoriety with the king. After 1542, the explorer sank into historical obscurity, even though he continued to be an active and noteworthy inhabitant of Saint-Malo. Cartier died on September 1, 1557. Despite his royal disgrace, Cartier’s influence should not be underestimated. While it is unclear whether Cartier was the first European to explore the St. Lawrence River, it is unquestionable that the earliest European maps of this waterway and its gulf rested on his detailed observations of the region. Furthermore, his three voyages set a historic precedent for further French colonial activities in North America. In the early seventeenth century, the St. Lawrence River Valley became the heart of the French colony in North America and the launching pad for French imperial ventures deep in the continent. Christophe J. M. Boucher See also: Canada; Exploration; French; French Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology); St. Lawrence River. Bibliography Bideaux, Michel. Relations. Montreal: Presses de l’Universit de Montral, 1986. Biggar, H. P., ed. A Collection of Documents Relating to Jacques Cartier and the Sieur de Roberval. Ottawa: Publications of the Public Archives of Canada, 1930. Biggar, H. P., ed. The Voyages of Jacques Cartier. Ottawa: Publications of the Public Archives of Canada, 1924. Braudel, Fernand, ed. Le monde de Jacques Cartier: L’aventure au XVIe si¨cle. Montreal: Libre Expression, 1984. Cook, Ramsay, ed. The Voyages of Jacques Cartier. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. Gagnon, Fran§ois-Marc, and Denise Ptel. Hommes effarables et bestes sauvaiges: images du Nouveau-Monde d’apr¨s les voyages de Jacques Cartier. Montreal: Borel, 1986. Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) Photograph by Granger Mapq8Presentation “Explorers Grade 4 Social Studies. Jacques Cartier … Mapq8Jacques Cartier – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Mapq8

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