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

incensed monopolists.

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.

Discovery Of Lake George Introductory facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail