Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain, known as The Father of New France, was a Frenchman with many titles including navigator, soldier, explorer, cartographer, and diplomat. Born Samuel Champlain in 1574 to a family of mariners, exploration was in his blood and he took his first voyage as a young man in 1603, led by François Gravé Du Pont. In his early years, Champlain learned to navigate, create nautical charts, draw, and make applied reports. From 1594 or 1595 to 1598, he learned fighting skills in the King Henry IV army during the late stages of France’s religious wars against Brittany, which would equip him with the necessary defense skills required to be at sea on a French vessel.

Some of Champlain’s early travels include a two-year trip aboard his uncle’s ship, the Saint-Julien, which he was given watch duty over while it traveled with a Spanish fleet to the West Indies. When he returned to Cadiz in 1600, his uncle asked him to take over his business affairs due to illness and a year later, after his uncle passed away, he inherited his estate, 150-ton ship, a yearly pension from the king, and his commercial properties located in Spain. This gave him the ability to explore without needing to please financial backers. Between the years of 1901 and 1903, he worked as a geographer for King Henry, traveling to French harbors and learning about North America from fishermen that traveled seasonally to an area ranging from Nantucket to Newfoundland.

Champlain took his first voyage to North America on a fur trading ship, although he did this only as a passenger. François Gravé Du Pont, who would later become a good friend to Champlain, led the expedition and taught Champlain how to navigate North America. He joined a second expedition to North America in 1604, promising to update the king if there were any new discoveries. Pierre Dugua de Mons, who owned the monopoly on fur trading in New France directly from the king, led this expedition and allowed Champlain to choose where the crew would stay during the winter. In 1608, Dugua requested that Champlain establish a French Colony along the St. Lawrence shore, where the two had previously explored. Three ships were attained for this mission, including the Don-de-Dieu, which was captained by Champlain and the Lévrier, which was captained by Du Pont. The city of Quebec was founded because of this expedition.

When King Henry was murdered in 1610, Champlain lost many of his financial backers, including Dugua, because the new king, then nine years old, and his regent Marie de’ Medici did not feel that exploration was important. Champlain was forced to return to France to make new connections within the court. It is thought that his marriage to twelve year old Marie de’ Medici, the daughter of an important man who helped carry out orders within the court, only occurred for this purpose. She eventually joined a convent and Champlain later adopted three Montagnais girls.

While exploring the area that would become New France, Champlain established relations with many native tribes including the Algonquin, the Montagnais, Wendat, and Etchemin tribes, all of whom lived in the St. Lawrence River area. These tribes requested aid from Champlain and his men to fight with the Iroquois, and after a short yet successful battle, Champlain returned to France to attempt to restore Dugua’s fur monopoly, but this failed.

When Champlain returned to New France in 1613, he decided to explore the Huron country and look for what is now considered Hudson Bay. With the help of native tribes who were threatened by the Iroquois, he was able to explore other areas and document his travels between the years of 1604 and 1612. In 1615, he helped wage a war against the Iroquois, against his better judgment, and ended up getting lost and wintering with another tribe, returning to France in 1616.

In 1620, Champlain returned to New France to strengthen the administration of the area and create more relationships with natives in the area. He spent the rest of his life working in the area, during which time he made a peace treaty with the Iroquois, tried to find a route to China, and published his book Voyages de la Nouvelle France. After an encounter with the Kirke brothers, which resulted in the surrender of Quebec and the removal of the people there, Champlain was forced to travel to London. Despite the fact that a peace treaty had been signed three months before this, Champlain would not rebuild Quebec until 1634.

Champlain passed away in 1635 from a severe stroke, but he did not leave any heirs. Records show that he left much of his property in France to his wife, Hélène, but his estate went to his cousin Marie Camaret after she challenged it in court. Champlain’s remains were buried in a church for a short time, but his permanent burial site remains unknown to this day.

Image Caption: 19th century artist’s conception of Champlain by E. Ronjat. Credit: Wikipedia