Champlain, Samuel de c. 1570–1635

Samuel de Champlain, a French military officer, is best known for his explorations of North America from Nova Scotia through the Bay of Fundy to New Brunswick and down to Cape Cod. Besides creating charts that aided the westward expansion of Europeans, Champlain established the colonies of Acadia and Quebec. He spent the remainder of his life as the royal governor of New France. Born about 1570 in Brouage, Saintonge, France, into a seafaring family, Champlain learned navigation, draftsmanship, and cartography as a youth. He served in the army of Henry IV against the Catholic League in the French Wars of Religion until 1598 and then joined a voyage to the West Indies and Mexico. Champlain’s popular illustrated account of this trip, Brief Discours (1601), helped establish his reputation as an explorer. More than a quarter of the book focused on native plants that were potentially profitable. In 1603, Champlain began his long association with North America by becoming an observer on Fran§ois Grav Du Pont’s expedition to the St. Lawrence Valley to trade furs with the Montagnais Indians. His Des Sauvages (1603) described the customs of the Native Americans and the region from Tadoussac to Montreal, including an area that Champlain named Acadia. On this trip, Champlain first developed the notion that these lands could be colonized, and he probably brought samples of plants, animals, and minerals back to France to show the wealth of the New World. Once in France, he began to champion the exploration of Acadia and theorized that the area held a route to the Great Lakes that would, in turn, lead to a Northwest Passage to Asia. Champlain’s skills as a naturalist and a mapmaker attracted the notice of the lieutenant general of New France, who invited him to explore and chart the Atlantic Coast from La Have, Nova Scotia, to Martha’s Vineyard, off Cape Cod. This expedition, led by Pierre de Monts, lasted from 1604 to 1607 and established a colony in Acadia, which had to return to France when de Monts lost his trading privileges. Champlain’s next journey would lead to the establishment in July 1608 of Quebec on the St. Lawrence River at a point where the waters narrowed enough to ensure that cannons could control passage. Quebec began on behalf of a fur trading company, but the colony would be marred by tragedy due to incomplete medical knowledge about the causes of scurvy and inadequate preparations to treat the disease. Although Champlain knew that a native medicinal remedy had helped save another French expedition, he could not locate the ingredients in time, and scurvy decimated the settlement. Only nine of the twenty-five men at Quebec survived the winter. Despite this setback, Champlain continued his career as an explorer. The Algonquin and Huron allies of the French allowed him to traverse the interior rivers of Ottawa, Richelieu, and Trent, as well as Georgian Bay, in return for aid against their enemies. Beginning in 1612, Champlain cemented these friendly ties with the Native Americans by sending some of his men to winter with the tribes to learn their languages and customs. In that same year, he was chosen by the French king to govern the new settlement. Champlain’s governorship did not enjoy a resounding success. In 1615, the French joined with the Huron to attack an Iroquois fort. The attack failed, and Champlain was badly wounded. On his return to France, court politics cost him his position. Determined to regain his post, Champlain submitted a plan to the king to colonize Quebec with 400 families protected by 300 soldiers, to establish agriculture, and to search for the Northwest Passage. In 1620, he became the official commander of Quebec. In 1627, the king’s first minister, Cardinal Richelieu, created the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France (commonly called the Company of One Hundred Associates) to rule New France and named Champlain as acting governor. The few settlers in New France, however, proved no match for English invaders. After the English conquered the territory and took Champlain prisoner in 1629, he again returned to France. In 1633, following the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, he returned to Quebec once again as governor. Weakened by various infirmities, Champlain died there on December 25, 1635. Champlain’s publications did much to stimulate European interest in the New World. His maps greatly aided navigation by incorporating native geographical knowledge, while his descriptions of potentially profitable minerals, plants, and animals helped spark mercantile interest. His constant promotion of French settlement also makes him one of the founding fathers of Canada. Caryn E. Neumann See also: Canada; Exploration; French; French Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology); Quebec City; St. Lawrence River. Bibliography Armstrong, Joe C. W. Champlain. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1987. Fischer, David Hackett. Champlain’s Dream. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Samuel de Champlain – Diplomat, Explorer – Mapq8Samuel de Champlain – Wikiwand Mapq8New France Powerpoint Mapq8

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