Discovery Of Lake Champlain

This beautiful lake owes its name to Samuel de Champlain, the founder of

Quebec. In 1609, long before the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth, he

joined a band of Huron and Algonquin warriors on an expedition against

their enemies, the Iroquois, since known as the Five Nations of New

York. While gratifying his own love of adventure, he expected to make

important geographical discoveries.

After a grand war dance at the infant settlement of Quebec, the allies

set out together. Champlain was in a boat, carrying, besides himself,

eleven men, chief among whom were one Marais and a pilot named La

Routte, all armed with the arquebuse, a species of firearm shorter than

the musket, and therefore better fitted for the woods.

They ascended the St. Lawrence and entered the Richelieu, which forms

the outlet of Lake Champlain. Here, to Champlain's great disappointment,

he found his farther progress barred by the rapids at Chambly, though

the Indians had assured him that his boat could pass all the way

unobstructed. He told them that though they had deceived him, he would

not abandon them, sent Marais with the boat and most of the men back to

Quebec, and, with two who offered to follow him, prepared to go on in

the Indian canoes.

The warriors lifted their canoes from the water, and in long procession

through the forest, under the flickering sun and shade, bore them on

their shoulders around the rapids to the smooth stream above. Here the

chiefs made a muster of their forces, counting twenty-four canoes and

sixty warriors. All embarked again, and advanced once more, by marsh,

meadow, forest, and scattered islands, then full of game, for it was an

uninhabited land, the war-path and battle-ground of hostile tribes. The

warriors observed a certain system in their advance. Some were in front

as a vanguard; others formed the main body; while an equal number were

in the forests on the flanks and rear, hunting for the subsistence of

the whole; for, though they had a provision of parched maize pounded

into meal, they kept it for use when, from the vicinity of the enemy,

hunting should become impossible.

Still the canoes advanced, the river widening as they went. Great

islands appeared, leagues in extent: Isle a la Motte, Long Island,

Grande Isle. Channels where ships might float and broad reaches of

expanding water stretched between them, and Champlain entered the lake

which preserves his name to posterity. Cumberland Head was passed, and

from the opening of the great channel between Grande Isle and the main,

he could look forth on the wilderness sea. Edged with woods, the

tranquil flood spread southward beyond the sight. Far on the left, the

forest ridges of the Green Mountains were heaved against the sun,

patches of snow still glistening on their tops; and on the right rose

the Adirondacks, haunts in these later years of amateur sportsmen from

counting-rooms or college halls, nay, of adventurous beauty, with

sketch-book and pencil. Then the Iroquois made them their

hunting-ground; and beyond, in the valleys of the Mohawk, the Onondaga,

and the Genesee, stretched the long line of their five cantons and

palisaded towns.

The progress of the party was becoming dangerous. They changed their

mode of advance, and moved only in the night. All day, they lay close in

the depth of the forest, sleeping, lounging, smoking tobacco of their

own raising, and beguiling the hours, no doubt, with the shallow banter

and obscene jesting with which knots of Indians are wont to amuse their

leisure. At twilight they embarked again, paddling their cautious way

till the eastern sky began to redden. Their goal was the rocky

promontory where Fort Ticonderoga was long afterward built. Thence, they

would pass the outlet of Lake George, and launch their canoes again on

that Como of the wilderness, whose waters, limpid as a fountain-head,

stretched far southward between their flanking mountains. Landing at the

future site of Fort William Henry, they would carry their canoes through

the forest to the River Hudson, and descending it, attack, perhaps, some

outlying town of the Mohawks. In the next century this chain of lakes

and rivers became the grand highway of savage and civilized war, a

bloody debatable ground linked to memories of momentous conflicts.

The allies were spared so long a progress. On the morning of the

twenty-ninth of July, after paddling all night, they hid as usual in the

forest on the western shore, not far from Crown Point. The warriors

stretched themselves to their slumbers, and Champlain, after walking for

a time through the surrounding woods, returned to take his repose on a

pile of spruce-boughs. Sleeping, he dreamed a dream, wherein he beheld

the Iroquois drowning in the lake; and, essaying to rescue them, he was

told by his Algonquin friends that they were good for nothing and had

better be left to their fate. Now, he had been daily beset, on

awakening, by his superstitious allies, eager to learn about his dreams;

and, to this moment, his unbroken slumbers had failed to furnish the

desired prognostics. The announcement of this auspicious vision filled

the crowd with joy, and at nightfall they embarked, flushed with

anticipated victories.

It was ten o'clock in the evening, when they descried dark objects in

motion on the lake before them. These were a flotilla of Iroquois

canoes, heavier and slower than theirs, for they were made of oak or elm

bark. Each party saw the other, and the mingled war-cries pealed over

the darkened water. The Iroquois, who were near the shore, having no

stomach for an aquatic battle, landed, and, making night hideous with

their clamors, began to barricade themselves. Champlain could see them

in the woods, laboring like beavers, hacking down trees with iron axes

taken from the Canadian tribes in war, and with stone hatchets of their

own making. The allies remained on the lake, a bowshot from the hostile

barricade, their canoes made fast together by poles lashed across. All

night, they danced with as much vigor as the frailty of their vessels

would permit, their throats making amends for the enforced restraint of

their limbs. It was agreed on both sides that the fight should be

deferred till daybreak; but meanwhile a commerce of abuse, sarcasm,

menace, and boasting gave unceasing exercise to the lungs and fancy of

the combatants,--"much," says Champlain, "like the besiegers and

besieged in a beleaguered town."

As day approached, he and his two followers put on the light armor of

the time. Champlain wore the doublet and long hose then in vogue. Over

the doublet he buckled on a breastplate, and probably a back-piece,

while his thighs were protected by cuisses of steel, and his head by a

plumed casque. Across his shoulder hung the strap of his bandoleer, or

ammunition-box; at his side was his sword, and in his hand his

arquebuse, which he had loaded with four balls. Such was the equipment

of this ancient Indian-fighter, whose exploits date eleven years before

the landing of the Puritans at Plymouth, and sixty-six years before King

Philip's War.

Each of the three Frenchmen was in a separate canoe, and, as it grew

light, they kept themselves hidden, either by lying at the bottom, or

covering themselves with an Indian robe. The canoes approached the

shore, and all landed without opposition at some distance from the

Iroquois, whom they presently could see filing out of their barricade,

tall, strong men, some two hundred in number, of the boldest and

fiercest warriors of North America. They advanced through the forest

with a steadiness which excited the admiration of Champlain. Among them

could be seen several chiefs, made conspicuous by their tall plumes.

Some bore shields of wood and hide, and some were covered with a kind of

armor made of tough twigs interlaced with a vegetable fibre supposed by

Champlain to be cotton.

(Drawn by himself)]

The allies, growing anxious, called with loud cries for their champion,

and opened their ranks that he might pass to the front. He did so, and,

advancing before his red companions-in-arms, stood revealed to the

astonished gaze of the Iroquois, who, beholding the warlike apparition

in their path, stared in mute amazement. But his arquebuse was levelled;

the report startled the woods, a chief fell dead, and another by his

side rolled among the bushes. Then there rose from the allies a yell,

which, says Champlain, would have drowned a thunder-clap, and the

forest was full of whizzing arrows. For a moment, the Iroquois stood

firm and sent back their arrows lustily; but when another and another

gunshot came from the thickets on their flank, they broke and fled in

uncontrollable terror. Swifter than hounds, the allies tore through the

bushes in pursuit. Some of the Iroquois were killed; more were taken.

Camp, canoes, provisions, all were abandoned, and many weapons flung

down in the panic flight. The arquebuse had done its work. The victory

was complete.

The victors made a prompt retreat from the scene of their triumph. Three

or four days brought them to the mouth of the Richelieu. Here they

separated; the Hurons and Algonquins made for the Ottawa, their homeward

route, each with a share of prisoners for future torments. At parting

they invited Champlain to visit their towns and aid them again in their

wars,--an invitation which this paladin of the woods failed not to


Thus did New France rush into collision with the redoubted warriors of

the Five Nations. Here was the beginning, in some measure doubtless the

cause, of a long suite of murderous conflicts, bearing havoc and flame

to generations yet unborn. Champlain had invaded the tiger's den; and

now, in smothered fury, the patient savage would lie biding his day of


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