Samuel de Champlain

From Academic Kids

Samuel de Champlainby Th鯰hile Hamel (1870)
Samuel de Champlain
by Th鯰hile Hamel (1870)

Samuel de Champlain (c.1567 25 December 1635) was a French geographer, draftsman, explorer and founder of Quebec City. He was also integral in opening North America up to French trade, especially the fur trade. His influence is still felt in the presence of French Canadians in Quebec, where he did most of his exploring. Champlain's pattern was to spend several months or years exploring North America and then he would have to head back to France to regain funding. This article covers his travels, as they have had the most lasting importance to World History.


Early Travels

Born in Brouage, France, much of Champlain's early life is unknown. His first trip to North America was on March 15, 1603 as part of a fur trading expedition. Although he had no official assignment on the voyage, he created a map of the St. Lawrence River and, on his return to France on September 20, wrote an account of his travels called Des sauvages (The Savages).

Instructed by Henry IV to make a report on his discoveries, Champlain joined another expedition to New France in the spring of 1604 led by Pierre Dugua Sieur de Monts. He helped found the Saint Croix Island settlement which was abandoned the following spring 1605 when the settlers moved across the Bay of Fundy to found the Habitation at Port-Royal (which had been located with Champlain's assistance), where Champlain lived until 1607 while he explored the Atlantic coast.

Founding of Quebec City

On July 3, 1608 Champlain landed at the "point of Quebec" and set about fortifying the area against attack by building three main buildings (each two stories tall) and also moat 15 feet wide. This was to become the city of Quebec. Fortifying Quebec City (which he referred to as his "Habitation") became one of his passions, which he embarked on periodically for the rest of his life.

The first winter was difficult for the colonists. Of the twenty-five people who stayed for the winter only 8 survived, most having died of scurvy and some of smallpox.

Relations and War with Indians

During the summer of 1608, Champlain attempted to form better relations with the local Indians. He made alliances with the Huron and Algonquins (who lived to the north of the St. Lawrence River) promising to help them in their war against the Iroquois. Champlain set off with 9 French soldiers and 300 Indians in order to explore the Rivière des Iroquois (now Richelieu) when he subsequently discovered Lake Champlain. Having had no encounters with the Iroquois at this point many of the men headed back, leaving Champlain with only 2 Frenchmen and 60 natives.

On July 29, at Ticonderoga (now Crown Point, New York) Champlain and his party encountered a group of Iroquois. A battle began the next day. Two hundred Iroquois advanced on Champlain's position as a native guide pointed out the three Iroquois chiefs. Champlain fired his arquebus and killed two of them with one shot. The Iroquois turned and fled. This was to set the tone for French-Iroquois relations for the next one hundred years.

After his victory, he returned to France in an unsuccessful attempt, with de Monts, to renew their fur trade monopoly. They did, however, form a society with some Rouen merchants in which Quebec would become an exclusive warehouse for their fur trade and, in return, the Rouen merchants would support the settlement. Champlain returned to Quebec on April 8, 1610.

Securing New France

During the summer of 1611, he traveled to the area which is now Montreal where he cleared the land and built a wall "to see how it would last during the winter." Then, in order to increase his prestige among the natives, he shot the Lachine Rapids with them, a feat that had only been done once before by a European.

That fall he returned once again to France to secure a future for his venture in the New World. Having lost the support of the merchants in 1610, he wrote a note to Louis XIII to ask him to intervene on his behalf. On October 8, 1612, Louis XIII named Charles de Bourbon, comte de Soissons his lieutenant-general in New France. Charles died almost immediately, and was succeeded in the office by [[Henry II, Prince of Cond靝. Champlain was given the title of lieutenant and received the power to exercise command in the lieutenant-general's name, to appoint “such captains and lieutenants as shall be expedient,” to “commission officers for administration of justice and maintenance of police authority, regulations and ordinances,” to make treaties and carry out wars with the natives, and to restrain merchants who did not belong to the society. His duties included finding the easiest way to China and the East Indies, as well as to find and exploit mines of precious metals in the area.

Exploration of "New France"

At the start of the year he published an account of his life from 1604-1612 called Voyages and on March 29, 1613, he arrived back in New France and proclaimed his new commission. Champlain set out on May 27th to continue his exploration of the Huron country and in hopes of finding the 'northern sea' he had heard about (probably Hudson Bay). He traveled the Ottawa River giving the first description of this area. It was in June that he met with Tessouat, the Algonkian chief of Allumette Island, and offered to build them a fort if they were to move from the area they occupied with its poor soil to the Lachine Rapids.

By August 26 Champlain was back in Saint-Malo. There he wrote an account of his journey up the Ottawa river and published another map of New France. In 1614 he formed the "Compagnie des Marchands de Rouen et de Saint-Malo" and "Compagnie de Champlain", which bound the Rouen and Saint-Malo merchants for eleven years. He returned to New France spring of 1615, this time with four Recollects in order to further religious life in the new colony.

Champlain continued to work to improve relations with the natives promising to help them in their struggles against the Iroquois. With his native guides he explored further up the Ottawa river and reached Lake Nipissing. He then followed the French River until he reached the fresh-water sea he called Lac Attigouautau (now Lake Huron).

In 1615, Champlain is brought through the Peterborough area by Huron. He used the ancient portage between Chemong Lake and Little Lake (now Chemong Road); stayed for a short period of time in Bridgenorth area.

Military Expedition

On September 1, at Cahiagué (on Lake Simcoe), he started a military expedition. They passed Lake Ontario at its eastern tip where they hid their canoes and continued their journey by land. They followed the Oneida River until they found themselves at an Iroquois fort. Pressured by the Hurons to attack prematurely, the assault failed. Champlain was wounded twice in the leg by arrows, one in his knee. The attack lasted three hours until they were forced to flee.

Although he didn't want to, the Hurons insisted that Champlain spend the winter with them. During his stay he set off with them in their great deer hunt, during which he became lost and was forced to wander for three days living off game and sleeping under trees until he met up with a band of Indians by chance. He spent the rest of the winter learning "their country, their manners, customs, modes of life". On May 22, 1616 he left the Huron country and was back in Quebec on July 11 before heading back to France on July 20.

Improving Administration in New France

Champlain returned to New France in 1620 and was to spend the rest of his life focusing on administration of the country rather than exploration.

Champlain spent the winter building Fort Saint-Louis on top of Cap Diamant. By mid-May he learned that the fur trade had been handed over to another company led by the Caen brothers. After some tense negotiations it was decided to merge the two companies under the direction of the Caens. Champlain continued to work on relations with the Indians and managed to impose a chief on them of his choice. He also managed to create a peace treaty with the Iroquois tribes.

Champlain continued to work on improving his fortification around what became Quebec City, laying the first stone on May 6, 1624. On August 15 he once again returned to France where he was encouraged to continue his work as well as to continue to look for a passage to China. At the time, most of the European powers believed that North America included a passage or land to China. By July 5th he was back at Quebec and continued expanding the city.

Things weren't to continue well for Champlain and his small village. Supplies were low during the summer of 1628 and English merchants had pillaged Cap Tourmente in early July. On July 10 Champlain received a summons from the Kirke Brothers, some English merchants. Champlain refused to deal with them and in response the English cut off supplies from going to the city. By the spring of 1629 supplies were dangerously low and Champlain was forced to send people to Gaspé to conserve rations. On July 19 the Kirke Brothers arrived and Champlain was forced to negotiate the terms of the cities' capitulation. By October 29 Champlain found himself in London.

During the next several years Champlain wrote 'Voyages de la Nouvelle France' dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu (who had helped him with funding in France) as well as 'Traitté de la marine et du devoir d’un bon marinier'. It wasn't until the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1632 that Quebec was given back to France and on March 1st, 1633 Champlain reclaimed his role as commander of New France on behalf of Richelieu.

Champlain returned to Quebec on May 22, 1633 after an absence of four years. On August 18, 1634 he send a report to Richelieu stating that he had rebuilt on the ruins of Quebec, enlarged its fortifications, constructed another habitation 15 leagues upstream, as well as another one at Trois-Rivi貥s. He had also begun an offensive against the Iroquois Indians stating he wanted them wiped out or "brought to reason".

Illness and Death

By October of 1635 Champlain was stricken with paralysis. He died December 25, 1635 childless. He was buried temporarily in an unmarked grave while construction was finished on the chapel of Monsieur le Gouverneur. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1640 and immediately rebuilt but nothing is known of it after 1640 although after 1674 it no longer existed. As such the exact burial site of Champlain is unknown.

There is no authentic portrait of Champlain. Paintings of Champlain have been shown to be actually of Michel Particelli d’Émery. The only surviving picture we have is an engraving of a battle at Lake Champlain in 1609, but the facial features are too vague to make out.


External links

  • Full text of Voyages of Samuel De Champlain from Project Gutenberg: Vol. 1 (, Vol. 2 (, Vol. 3 (


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