400th Anniversaries of Champlain’s Voyages



Next year will mark the first of many 400th anniversaries of some very historic events in the founding of New France.  Samuel de Champlain, the “father of New France,” began his voyages of North American exploration in 1603 when he traveled with François Pont-Gravé up the St. Lawrence to the site of present day Montréal.  There had been several French sponsored explorers who came before him including: Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, Jacques Cartier from 1534-42 (wintering over in 1535-36, and 1541-42), Jean-François de la Roque, sieur de Roberval in 1542-43, as well as many fisherman and traders.  It was, however, Champlain who realized he must make friends with the natives to avoid attack and publicize his voyages back home in order to gain support from the French people.  Some of the events listed below deserve to have commemorative coins minted in their honor.  I thus encourage those interested to lobby their congressional representatives in this cause.


1603 Champlain’s makes his first voyage to Canada in March of this year. He travels with Pont-Gravé up the St. Lawrence River to the site of present day Montreal.  Although Pont-Gravé had made this voyage several times before it is Champlain who is remembered best.  He travels back to France in September and publishes Des Sauvages, ou Voyage de Samuel Champlain, de Brouage.


1604-1605 Champlain and Pont-Gravé voyaged with de Monts fleet to Acadia where Champlain made the first of his excellent harbor charts. He explored the Bay of Fundy, and founded Saint Croix where buildings were erected using sawn timbers, doors, and windows brought from France.  He explored and charted the coast of Maine naming Mt. Desert Island, and going as far west as the Kennebec River before turning back, due to foul weather on September 23rd.  A very hard winter was in store at Saint Croix for Champlain and the would-be founders of New France as 35 of the 79 died of scurvy and other maladies.  The island they had chosen was cut off from the mainland by ice floes, keeping them from their garden, fresh water and firewood.


1605    Late spring brought the return of Pont-Gravé as the party was ready to abandon Saint Croix and return to France.  Instead Champlain turned west again and explored the coast and some rivers from Maine to Cape Cod.  At the Chouacoit (Saco) River he found the first evidence of cultivation as the Indians used horseshoe crabs to manure their corn.  His chart of the river mouth and Saco Bay is one of his best.  He entered Boston Bay and we can only speculate what it would have been like if the French had establish themselves there.  Traveling further south he charted Plymouth, and then after rounding Cape Cod, Nauset Harbor, the latter being the spot where one of the Frenchmen was killed by the Indians.  Soon after they returned to Saint Croix.


1605-1606  All the buildings, except one, were taken down and re-erected at Port Royal, Nova Scotia where the party spent the next winter.  Again there was a difficult winter and they lost 12 of the 45 from Saint Croix to scurvy, even though they were much better supplied.


1606    Champlain and Pont-Gravé tried several times to head for Cape Cod and explore all the way to Florida but bad luck met them each time.  Eventually a late voyage was made, but Poutrincourt, apparent owner of the pinnace, wanted to explore the Maine coast first and the party only made it as far south as Chatham on Cape Cod, where the Indians killed several more of the party.


1606-1607  Returning to Port Royal Champlain is greeted by lawyer Marc Lescarbot, who had prepared masque, or symbolic play, the words of which were printed after his return to Paris.  Also meeting them was the Parisian apothecary and cousin of Poutrincourt, Louis Hébert, who was to become the first Quebec Habitant in 1618, two years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth.  The first social club in North America, “L’Ordre de Bon Temps”, was founded in Acadia that winter.  While most translate it as the “Order of Good Cheer” it seems to me that this was the first “Order of the Good Times” from which we get “Let the Good Times Roll”.  Each gentleman in turn assumed the stewardship of dinner and attempted to outdo the others in the game, wine and song offered.  While the winter was mild four Frenchman and the black interpreter, thought to be the first black to visit New France, died.


1607  Word arrives from France that Sieur de Mont’s fur trading monopoly, between the latitudes of Philadelphia and Newfoundland, has been revoked.  Champlain and Poutricourt make their last Acadian voyage of exploration.  Champlain’s remarkably accurate map of the coast of Nova Scotia and New England is published and will become the standard for years to come.  Champlain and most of the others returned to France in September.


1608 - July 8th - Champlain steps ashore and unfurls the fleur-de-lys over the site of present day Québec City.  This is considered by many to be the founding day for the city, the province and Canada the nation.  The previous October he had convinced the Sieur de Monts to write off his Acadian losses and reorganize.  He and Champlain persuaded the King to give them one more year’s monopoly.  They determined that their venture would be safer from attack by competitors and closer to the pelts at Québec.  A habitation was begun soon after landing with a cellar and storehouse to hold the supplies.  A near mutiny of the workers was stifled, the ringleader tried and hung, and 4 others were brought back to France in irons by Pont-Gravé.


1608-1609  The first winter at Québec is as severe as those at Maine and Acadia with nearly half the French dying and the Montagnais Indians losing many in their tribe.


1609 Champlain traveled with a large war party of Huron, Algonkin, and Montagnais Indians up the St. Lawrence to the Richeleau River where most of them quit the cause and left for home.  A smaller party continues on and Champlain “discovers” and names Lake Champlain that we in Vermont live by.  The party continues and finds a group of Mohawks that they engage in battle.  Aided by the French arquebus, a type of handgun, the Mohawks were routed and the battle won.  Champlain returned to Québec and left for France with Pont-Gravé in September.  We end our list here since the founding of Lake Champlain is an anniversary date that is as far off in the future as we wish to delve into.


Champlain made many more trips between Canada and France before his death on 25 December 1635.  In all he crossed the Atlantic 29 times, 23 of these voyages were between France and Canada.


While many of the dates above deserve commemoration through coins, stamps or special ceremonies I feel the discovery of Lake Champlain is the most meaningful for those of us who live or have roots nearby.  I am therefore asking all of you to contact your US Congressional representatives and request that coins commemorating the event be minted.  The proceeds should go towards research on preserving Lake Champlain as a great natural resource.


Those of us of “Northern Extraction” can proudly look forward to many anniversaries of Champlain’s and our ancestors’ accomplishments over the next few years.


The accounts of Champlain’s voyages were extracted from the book “Samuel de Champlain: Father of New France” by Samuel Eliot Morison, Little Brown and Company, 1972, a copy of which is in the VT-FCGS library.



Mike Sevigny

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