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This beautiful lake owes its name to Samuel de Champlain, t...
Infancy Of Quebec
Champlain was the founder of this old capital of French Can...
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Siege And Massacre Of Fort William Henry
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The River Niagara was known to the Jesuits as early as 1640...
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For more than a century after the death of Jogues, Lakes Ge...
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While Johnson was building Fort William Henry at one end of...
Infancy Of Quebec
Champlain was the founder of this old capital of French Canada, whose
existence began in 1608. In that year he built a cluster of fortified
dwellings and storehouses, which he called "The Habitation of Quebec,"
and which stood on or near the site of the marketplace of the Lower
The settlement made little progress for many years. A company of
merchants held the monopoly of its fur-trade, by which alone it lived.
It was half trading-factory, half mission. Its permanent inmates did not
exceed fifty or sixty persons,--fur-traders, friars, and two or three
wretched families, who had no inducement and little wish to labor. The
fort is facetiously represented as having two old women for garrison,
and a brace of hens for sentinels. All was discord and disorder.
Champlain was the nominal commander; but the actual authority was with
the merchants, who held, excepting the friars, nearly every one in their
pay. Each was jealous of the other, but all were united in a common
jealousy of Champlain. From a short-sighted view of self-interest, they
sought to check the colonization which they were pledged to promote. The
few families whom they brought over were forbidden to trade with the
Indians, and compelled to sell the fruits of their labor to the agents
of the company at a low, fixed price, receiving goods in return at an
inordinate valuation. Some of the merchants were of Rouen, some of St.
Malo; some were Catholics, some were Huguenots. Hence unceasing
bickerings. All exercise of the Reformed Religion, on land or water, was
prohibited within the limits of New France; but the Huguenots set the
prohibition at nought, roaring their heretical psalmody with such vigor
from their ships in the river, that the unhallowed strains polluted the
ears of the Indians on shore. The merchants of Rochelle, who had refused
to join the company, carried on a bold, illicit traffic along the
borders of the St. Lawrence, eluding pursuit, or, if hard pressed,
showing fight; and this was a source of perpetual irritation to the
Champlain, in his singularly trying position, displayed a mingled zeal
and fortitude. He went every year to France, laboring for the interests
of the colony. To throw open the trade to all competitors was a measure
beyond the wisdom of the times; and he aimed only so to bind and
regulate the monopoly as to make it subserve the generous purpose to
which he had given himself. He had succeeded in binding the company of
merchants with new and more stringent engagements; and, in the vain
belief that these might not be wholly broken, he began to conceive fresh
hopes for the colony. In this faith he embarked with his wife for Quebec
in the spring of 1620; and, as the boat drew near the landing, the
cannon welcomed her to the rock of her banishment. The buildings were
falling to ruin; rain entered on all sides; the court-yard, says
Champlain, was as squalid and dilapidated as a grange pillaged by
soldiers. Madame de Champlain was still very young. If the Ursuline
tradition is to be trusted, the Indians, amazed at her beauty and
touched by her gentleness, would have worshipped her as a divinity. Her
husband had married her at the age of twelve; when, to his horror, he
presently discovered that she was infected with the heresies of her
father, a disguised Huguenot. He addressed himself at once to her
conversion, and his pious efforts were something more than successful.
During the four years which she passed in Canada, her zeal, it is true,
was chiefly exercised in admonishing Indian squaws and catechising their
children; but, on her return to France, nothing would content her but to
become a nun. Champlain refused; but, as she was childless, he at length
consented to a virtual, though not formal, separation. After his death
she gained her wish, became an Ursuline nun, founded a convent of that
order at Meaux, and died with a reputation almost saintly.
A stranger visiting the fort of Quebec would have been astonished at its
air of conventual decorum. Black Jesuits and scarfed officers mingled at
Champlain's table. There was little conversation, but, in its place,
histories and the lives of saints were read aloud, as in a monastic
refectory. Prayers, masses, and confessions followed each other with an
edifying regularity, and the bell of the adjacent chapel, built by
Champlain, rang morning, noon, and night. Godless soldiers caught the
infection, and whipped themselves in penance for their sins. Debauched
artisans outdid each other in the fury of their contrition. Quebec was
become a Mission. Indians gathered thither as of old, not from the
baneful lure of brandy, for the traffic in it was no longer tolerated,
but from the less pernicious attractions of gifts, kind words, and
politic blandishments. To the vital principle of propagandism the
commercial and the military character were subordinated; or, to speak
more justly, trade, policy, and military power leaned on the missions as
their main support, the grand instrument of their extension. The
missions were to explore the interior; the missions were to win over
the savage hordes at once to Heaven and to France.
Years passed. The mission of the Hurons was established, and here the
indomitable Brebeuf, with a band worthy of him, toiled amid miseries and
perils as fearful as ever shook the constancy of man; while Champlain at
Quebec, in a life uneventful, yet harassing and laborious, was busied in
the round of cares which his post involved.
Christmas day, 1635, was a dark day in the annals of New France. In a
chamber of the fort, breathless and cold, lay the hardy frame which war,
the wilderness, and the sea had buffeted so long in vain. After two
months and a half of illness, Champlain, at the age of sixty-eight, was
dead. His last cares were for his colony and the succor of its suffering
families. Jesuits, officers, soldiers, traders, and the few settlers of
Quebec followed his remains to the church; Le Jeune pronounced his
eulogy, and the feeble community built a tomb to his honor.
The colony could ill spare him. For twenty-seven years he had labored
hard and ceaselessly for its welfare, sacrificing fortune, repose, and
domestic peace to a cause embraced with enthusiasm and pursued with
intrepid persistency. His character belonged partly to the past, partly
to the present. The preux chevalier, the crusader, the romance-loving
explorer, the curious, knowledge-seeking traveller, the practical
navigator, all claimed their share in him. His views, though far beyond
those of the mean spirits around him, belonged to his age and his creed.
He was less statesman than soldier. He leaned to the most direct and
boldest policy, and one of his last acts was to petition Richelieu for
men and munitions for repressing that standing menace to the colony,
the Iroquois. His dauntless courage was matched by an unwearied
patience, a patience proved by life-long vexations, and not wholly
subdued even by the saintly follies of his wife. He is charged with
credulity, from which few of his age were free, and which in all ages
has been the foible of earnest and generous natures, too ardent to
criticise, and too honorable to doubt the honor of others. Perhaps in
his later years the heretic might like him more had the Jesuit liked him
less. The adventurous explorer of Lake Huron, the bold invader of the
Iroquois, befits but indifferently the monastic sobrieties of the fort
of Quebec and his sombre environment of priests. Yet Champlain was no
formalist, nor was his an empty zeal. A soldier from his youth, in an
age of unbridled license, his life had answered to his maxims; and when
a generation had passed after his visit to the Hurons, their elders
remembered with astonishment the continence of the great French
His books mark the man,--all for his theme and his purpose, nothing for
himself. Crude in style, full of the superficial errors of carelessness
and haste, rarely diffuse, often brief to a fault, they bear on every
page the palpable impress of truth.
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