Crusaders of New France by William Bennett Munro

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  • 1918
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To my good friend
(_Henri d’Arles_)
this tribute to the men
of his race and faith is
affectionately inscribed.






France, when she undertook the creation of a Bourbon empire beyond the seas, was the first nation of Europe. Her population was larger than that of Spain, and three times that of England. Her army in the days of Louis Quatorze, numbering nearly a half-million in all ranks, was larger than that of Rome at the height of the imperial power. No nation since the fall of Roman supremacy had possessed such resources for conquering and colonizing new lands. By the middle of the seventeenth century Spain had ceased to be a dangerous rival; Germany and Italy were at the time little more than geographical expressions, while England was in the throes of the Puritan Revolution.

Nor was it only in the arts of war that the hegemony of the Bourbon kingdom stood unquestioned. In art and education, in manners and fashions, France also dominated the ideas of the old continent, the dictator of social tastes as well as the grim warrior among the nations. In the second half of the seventeenth century France might justly claim to be both the heart and the head of Europe. Small wonder it was that the leaders of such a nation should demand to see the “clause in Adam’s will” which bequeathed the New World to Spain and Portugal. Small wonder, indeed, that the first nation of Europe should insist upon a place in the sun to which her people might go to trade, to make land yield its increase, and to widen the Bourbon sway. If ever there was a land able and ready to take up the white man’s burden, it was the France of Louis XIV.

The power and prestige of France at this time may be traced, in the main, to three sources. First there were the physical features, the compactness of the kingdom, a fertile soil, a propitious climate, and a frontage upon two great seas. In an age when so much of a nation’s wealth came from agriculture these were factors of great importance. Only in commerce did the French people at this time find themselves outstripped by their neighbors. Although both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean bathed the shores of France, her people were being outdistanced on the seas by the English and the Dutch, whose commercial companies were exploiting the wealth of the new continents both east and west. Yet in France there was food enough for all and to spare; it was only because the means of distributing it were so poor that some got more and others less than they required. France was supporting at this time a population half as large as that of today.

Then there were qualities of race which helped to make the nation great. At all periods in their history the French have shown an almost inexhaustible stamina, an ability to bear disasters, and to rise from them quickly, a courage and persistence that no obstacles seem able to thwart. How often in the course of the centuries has France been torn apart by internecine strife or thrown prostrate by her enemies only to astonish the world by a superb display of recuperative powers! It was France that first among the kingdoms of Europe rose from feudal chaos to orderly nationalism; it was France that first among continental countries after the Middle Ages established the reign of law throughout a powerful realm. Though wars and turmoils almost without end were a heavy drain upon Gallic vitality for many generations, France achieved steady progress to primacy in the arts of peace. None but a marvellous people could have made such efforts without exhaustion, yet even now in the twentieth century the astounding vigor of this race has not ceased to compel the admiration of mankind.

In the seventeenth century, moreover, France owed much of her national power to a highly-centralized and closely-knit scheme of government. Under Richelieu the strength of the monarchy had been enhanced and the power of the nobility broken. When he began his personal rule, Louis XIV continued his work of consolidation and in the years of his long reign managed to centralize in the throne every vestige of political power. The famous saying attributed to him, “The State! I am the State!” embodied no idle boast. Nowhere was there a trace of representative government, nowhere a constitutional check on the royal power. There were councils of different sorts and with varied jurisdictions, but men sat in them at the King’s behest and were removable at his will. There were _parlements_, too, but to mention them without explanation would be only to let the term mislead, for they were not representative bodies or parliaments in the ordinary sense: their powers were chiefly judicial and they were no barrier in the way of the steady march to absolutism. The political structure of the Bourbon realm in the age of Louis XIV and afterwards was simple: all the lines of control ran upwards and to a common center. And all this made for unity and autocratic efficiency in finance, in war, and in foreign affairs.

Another feature which fitted the nation for an imperial destiny was the possession of a united and militant church. With heresy the Gallican branch of the Catholic Church had fought a fierce struggle, but, before the seventeenth century was far advanced, the battle had been won. There were heretics in France even after Richelieu’s time, but they were no longer a source of serious discord. The Church, now victorious over its foes, became militant, ready to carry its missionary efforts to other lands–ready, in fact, for a new crusade.

These four factors, rare geographical advantages, racial qualities of a high order, a strongly centralized scheme of government, and a militant church, contributed largely to the prestige which France possessed among European nations in the seventeenth, century. With all these advantages she should have been the first and not the last to get a firm footing in the new continents. Historians have recorded their reasons why France did not seriously enter the field of American colonization as early as England, but these reasons do not impress one as being good. Foreign wars and internal religious strife are commonly given and accepted as the true cause of French tardiness in following up the pioneer work of Jacques Cartier and others. Yet not all the energy of nearly twenty million people was being absorbed in these troubles. There were men and money to spare, had the importance of the work overseas only been adequately realized.

The main reason why France was last in the field is to be found in the failure of her kings and ministers to realize until late in the day how vast the possibilities of the new continent really were. In a highly centralized and not over-populated state the authorities must lead the way in colonial enterprises; the people will not of their own initiative seek out and follow opportunities to colonize distant lands. And in France the authorities were not ready to lead. Sully, who stood supreme among the royal advisers in the closing years of the sixteenth century, was opposed to colonial ventures under all circumstances. “Far-off possessions,” he declared, “are not suited to the temperament or to the genius of Frenchmen, who to my great regret have neither the perseverance nor the foresight needed for such enterprises, but who ordinarily apply their vigor, minds, and courage to things which are immediately at hand and constantly before their eyes.” Colonies beyond the seas, he believed, “would never be anything but a great expense.” That, indeed, was the orthodox notion in circles surrounding the seat of royal power, and it was a difficult notion to dislodge.

Never until the time of Richelieu was any intimation of the great colonial opportunity, now quickly slipping by, allowed to reach the throne, and then it was only an inkling, making but a slight impression and soon virtually forgotten. Richelieu’s great Company of 1627 made a brave start, but it did not hold the Cardinal’s interest very long. Mazarin, who succeeded Richelieu, took no interest in the New World; the tortuous problems of European diplomacy appealed far more strongly to his Italian imagination than did the vision of a New France beyond the seas. It was not until Colbert took the reins that official France really displayed an interest in the work of colonization at all proportionate to the nation’s power and resources.

Colbert was admirably fitted to become the herald of a greater France. Coming from the ranks of the _bourgeoisie_, he was a man of affairs, not a cleric or a courtier as his predecessors in office had been. He had a clear conception of what he wanted and unwearied industry in moving towards the desired end. His devotion to the King was beyond question; he had native ability, patience, sound ideas, and a firm will. Given a fair opportunity, he would have accomplished far more for the glory of the fleur-de-lis in the region of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes of America. But a thousand problems of home administration were crowded upon him, problems of finance, of industry, of ecclesiastical adjustment, and of social reconstruction. In the first few years of his term as minister he could still find a little time and thought for Canada, and during this short period he personally conducted the correspondence with the colonial officials; but after 1669 all this was turned over to the Minister of Marine, and Colbert himself figured directly in the affairs of the colony no more. The great minister of Louis XIV is remembered far more for his work at home than for his services to New France.

As for the French monarchs of the seventeenth century, Louis XIV was the first and only one to take an active and enduring interest in the great crusade to the northern wilderness. He began his personal reign about 1660 with a genuine display of zeal for the establishment of a colony which would by its rapid growth and prosperity soon crowd the English off the new continent. In the selection of officials to carry out his policy, his judgment, when not subjected to sinister pressure, was excellent, as shown in his choice of Frontenac. Nor did the King’s interest in the colony slacken in the face of discouragement. It kept on to the end of his reign, although diminishing somewhat towards the close. It could not well do otherwise than weaken during the European disasters which marked his later years. By the death of Louis XIV in 1715 the colony lost its most unwavering friend. The shrewdest of French historians, De Tocqueville, has somewhere remarked that “the physiognomy of a government may be best judged in the colonies…. When I wish to study the spirit and faults of the administration of Louis XIV,” he writes, “I must go to Canada, for its deformity is there seen as through a microscope.” That is entirely true. The history of New France in its picturesque alternation of sunshine and shadow, of victory and defeat, of pageant and tragedy, is a chronicle that is Gallic to the core. In the early annals of the northland one can find silhouetted in sharp relief examples of all that was best and all that was worst in the life of Old France. The political framework of the colony, with its strict centralization, the paternal regulation of industry and commerce, the flood of missionary zeal which poured in upon it, the heroism and courage of its priests and voyageurs, the venality of its administrative officials, the anachronism of a feudal land-tenure, the bizarre externals of its social life, the versatility of its people–all these reflected the paternity of New France.

The most striking weakness of French colonial policy in the seventeenth century was its failure to realize how vastly different was the environment of North America from that of Central Europe. Institutions were transplanted bodily, and then amazement was expressed at Versailles because they did not seem to thrive in the new soil. Detailed instructions to officials in New France were framed by men who had not the slightest grasp of the colony’s needs or problems. One busybody wrote to the colonial Intendant that a bake-oven should be established in every seigneury and that the _habitants_ should be ordered to bring their dough there to be made into bread. The Intendant had to remind him that, in the long cold winters of the St. Lawrence valley, the dough would be frozen stiff if the habitants, with their dwellings so widely scattered, were required to do anything of the kind. Another martinet gravely informed the colonial authorities that, as a protection against Indian attacks “all the seigneuries should be palisaded.” And some of the seigneurial estates were eight or ten miles square! The dogmatic way in which the colonial officials were told to do this and that, to encourage one thing and to discourage another, all by superiors who displayed an astounding ignorance of New World conditions, must have been a severe trial to the patience of those hard-working officials who were never without great practical difficulties immediately before their eyes.

Not enough heed was paid, moreover, to the advice of men who were on the spot. It is true that the recommendations sent home to France by the Governor and by the Intendant were often contradictory, but even where the two officials were agreed there was no certainty that their counsel would be taken. With greater freedom and discretion the colonial government could have accomplished much more in the way of developing trade and industry; but for every step the acquiescence of the home authorities had first to be secured. To obtain this consent always entailed a great loss of time, and when the approval arrived the opportunity too often had passed. From November until May there was absolutely no communication between Quebec and Paris save that in a great emergency, if France and England happened to be at peace, a dispatch might be sent by dint of great hardship to Boston with a precarious chance that it would get across to the French ambassador in London. Ordinarily the officials sent their requests for instructions by the home-going vessels from Quebec in the autumn and received their answers by the ships which came in the following spring. If any plans were formulated after the last ship sailed in October, it ordinarily took eighteen months before the royal approval could be had for putting them into effect. The routine machinery of paternalism thus ran with exasperating slowness.

There was, however, one mitigating feature in the situation. The hand of home authority was rigid and its beckonings were precise; but as a practical matter it could be, and sometimes was, disregarded altogether. Not that the colonial officials ever defied the King or his ministers, or ever failed to profess their intent to follow the royal instructions loyally and to the letter. They had a much safer plan. When the provisions of a royal decree seemed impractical or unwise, it was easy enough to let them stand unenforced. Such decrees were duly registered in the records of the Sovereign Council at Quebec and were then promptly pigeonholed so that no one outside the little circle of officials at the Chateau de St. Louis ever heard of them. In one case a new intendant on coming to the colony unearthed a royal mandate of great importance which had been kept from public knowledge for twenty years.

Absolutism, paternalism, and religious solidarity were characteristic of both France and her colonies in the great century of overseas expansion. There was no self-government, no freedom of individual initiative, and very little heresy either at home or abroad. The factors which made France strong in Europe, her unity, her subordination of all other things to the military needs of the nation, her fostering of the sense of nationalism–these appeared prominently in Canada and helped to make the colony strong as well. Historians of New France have been at pains to explain why the colony ultimately succumbed to the combined attacks of New England by land and of Old England by sea. For a full century New France had as its next-door neighbor a group of English colonies whose combined populations outnumbered her own at a ratio of about fifteen to one. The relative numbers and resources of the two areas were about the same, proportionately, as those of the United States and Canada at the present day. The marvel is not that French dominion in America finally came to an end but that it managed to endure so long.



The closing quarter of the fifteenth century in Europe has usually been regarded by historians as marking the end of the Middle Ages. The era of feudal chaos had drawn to a close and states were being welded together under the leadership of strong dynasties. With this consolidation came the desire for expansion, for acquiring new lands, and for opening up new channels of influence. Spain, Portugal, and England were first in the field of active exploration, searching for stores of precious metals and for new routes to the coasts of Ormuz and of India. In this quest for a short route to the half-fabulous empires of Asia they had literally stumbled upon a new continent which they had made haste to exploit. France, meanwhile, was dissipating her energies on Spanish and Italian battlefields. It was not until the peace of Cambrai in 1529 ended the struggle with Spain that France gave any attention to the work of gaining some foothold in the New World. By that time Spain had become firmly entrenched in the lands which border the Caribbean Sea; her galleons were already bearing home their rich cargoes of silver bullion. Portugal, England, and even Holland had already turned with zeal to the exploration of new lands in the East and the West: French fishermen, it is true, were lengthening their voyages to the west; every year now the rugged old Norman and Breton seaports were sending their fleets of small vessels to gather the harvests of the sea. But official France took no active interest in the regions toward which they went. Five years after the peace of Cambrai the Breton port of St. Malo became the starting point of the first French voyageur to the St. Lawrence. Francis I had been persuaded to turn his thoughts from gaming and gallantries to the trading prospects of his kingdom, with the result that in 1534 Jacques Cartier was able to set out on his first voyage of discovery. Cartier is described in the records of the time as a corsair–which means that he had made a business of roving the seas to despoil the enemies of France. St. Malo, his birthplace and home, on the coast of Brittany, faces the English Channel somewhat south of Jersey, the nearest of the Channel Islands. The town is set on high ground which projects out into the sea, forming an almost landlocked harbor where ships may ride at ease during the most tumultuous gales. It had long been a notable nursery of hardy fishermen and adventurous navigators, men who had pressed their way to all the coasts of Europe and beyond.

Cartier was one of these hardy sailors. His fathers before him had been mariners, and he had himself learned the way of the great waters while yet a mere youth. Before his expedition of 1534 Jacques Cartier had probably made a voyage to Brazil and had in all probability more than once visited the Newfoundland fishing-banks. Although, when he sailed from St. Malo to become the pathfinder of a new Bourbon imperialism, he was forty-three years of age and in the prime of his days, we know very little of his youth and early manhood. It is enough that he had attained the rank of a master-pilot and that, from his skill in seamanship, he was considered the most dependable man in all the kingdom to serve his august sovereign in this important enterprise.

Cartier shipped his crew at St. Malo, and on the 20th of April, 1534, headed his two small ships across the great Atlantic. His company numbered only threescore souls in all. Favored by steady winds his vessels made good progress, and within three weeks he sighted the shores of Newfoundland where he put into one of the many small harbors to rest and refit his ships. Then, turning northward, the expedition passed through the straits of Belle Isle and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Coasting along the northern shore of the Gulf for a short distance, Cartier headed his ships due southward, keeping close to the western shore of the great island almost its whole length; he then struck across the lower Gulf and, moving northward once more, reached the Baie des Chaleurs on the 6th July. Here the boats were sent ashore and the French were able to do a little trading with the Indians. About a week later, Cartier went northward once more and soon sought shelter from a violent gulf storm by anchoring in Gaspe Bay. On the headland there he planted a great wooden cross with the arms of France, the first symbol of Bourbon dominion in the New Land, and the same symbol that successive explorers, chanting the _Vexilla Regis_, were in time to set aloft from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. It was the augury of the white man’s coming.

Crossing next to the southerly shore of Anticosti the voyageurs almost circled the island until the constant and adverse winds which Cartier met in the gradually narrowing channel forced him to defer indefinitely his hope of finding a western passage, and he therefore headed his ships back to Belle Isle. It was now mid-August, and the season of autumnal storms was drawing near. Cartier had come to explore, to search for a westward route to the Indies, to look for precious metals, not to establish a colony. He accordingly decided to set sail for home and, with favoring winds, was able to reach St. Malo in the early days of September.

In one sense the voyage of 1534 had been a failure. No stores of mineral wealth had been discovered and no short route to Cipango or Cathay. Yet the spirit of exploration had been awakened. Carrier’s recital of his voyage had aroused the interest of both the King and his people, so that the navigator’s request for better equipment to make another voyage was readily granted. On May 19, 1535, Cartier once more set forth from St. Malo, this time with three vessels and with a royal patent, empowering him to take possession of new lands in his sovereign’s name. With Cartier on this voyage there were over one hundred men, of whom the majority were hardened Malouins, veterans of the sea. How he found accommodation for all of them, with supplies and provisions, in three small vessels whose total burden was only two hundred and twenty tons, is not least among the mysteries of this remarkable voyage.[1]

[Footnote 1: The shipbuilders old measure for determining tonnage was to multiply the length of a vessel minus three-quarters of the beam by the beam, then to multiply the product by one-half the beam, then to divide this final product by 94. The resulting quotient was the tonnage. On this basis Cartier’s three ships were 67 feet length by 23 feet beam, 57 feet length by 17 feet beam, and 48 feet length by 17 feet beam, respectively.]

The trip across the ocean was boisterous, and the clumsy caravels had a hard time breasting the waves. The ships were soon separated by alternate storms and fog so that all three did not meet at their appointed rendezvous in the Straits of Belle Isle until the last week in July. Then moving westward along the north, shore of the Gulf, they passed Anticosti, crossed to the Gaspe shore, circled back as far as the Mingan islands, and then resumed a westward course up the great river. As the vessels stemmed the current but slowly, it was well into September when they cast anchor before the Indian village of Stadacona which occupied the present site of Lower Quebec.

Since it was now too late in the season to think of returning at once to France, Cartier decided to spend the winter at this point. Two of the ships were therefore drawn into the mouth of a brook which entered the river just below the village, while the Frenchmen established acquaintance with the savages and made preparations for a trip farther up the river in the smallest vessel. Using as interpreters two young Indians whom he had captured in the Gaspe region during his first voyage in the preceding year, Cartier was able to learn from the Indians at Stadacona that there was another settlement of importance at Hochelaga, now Montreal. The navigator decided to use the remaining days of autumn in a visit to this settlement, although the Stadacona Indians strenuously objected, declaring that there were all manner of dangers and difficulties in the way. With his smallest vessel and about half of his men, Cartier, however, made his way up the river during the last fortnight in September.

Near the point where the largest of the St. Lawrence rapids bars the river gateway to the west the Frenchman found Hochelaga nestling between the mountain and the shore, in the midst of “goodly and large fields full of corn such as the country yieldeth.” The Indian village, which consisted of about fifty houses, was encircled by three courses of palisades, one within the other. The natives received their visitors with great cordiality, and after a liberal distribution of trinkets the French learned from them some vague snatches of information about the rivers and great lakes which lay to the westward “where a man might travel on the face of the waters for many moons in the same direction.” But as winter was near Cartier found it necessary to hurry back to Stadacona, where the remaining members of his expedition had built a small fort or _habitation_ during his absence.

Everything was made ready for the long season of cold and snow, but the winter came on with unusual severity. The neighboring Indians grew so hostile that the French hardly dared to venture from their narrow quarters. Supplies ran low, and to make matters worse the pestilence of scurvy came upon the camp. In February almost the entire company was stricken down and nearly one quarter of them had died before the emaciated survivors learned from the Indians that the bark of a white spruce tree boiled in water would afford a cure. The Frenchmen dosed themselves with the Indian remedy, using a whole tree in less than a week, but with such revivifying results that Cartier hailed the discovery as a genuine miracle. When spring appeared, the remnant of the company, now restored to health and vigor, gladly began their preparations for a return to France. There was no ardor among them for a further exploration of this inhospitable land. As there were not enough men to handle all three of the ships, they abandoned one of them, whose timbers were uncovered from the mudbank in 1843, more than three centuries later. Before leaving Stadacona, however, Cartier decided to take Donnacona, the head of the village, and several other Indians as presents to the French King. It was natural enough that the master-pilot should wish to bring his sovereign some impressive souvenir from the new domains, yet this sort of treachery and ingratitude was unpardonable. Donnacona and all these captives but one little Indian maiden died in France, and his people did not readily forget the lesson of European duplicity. By July the expedition was back in the harbor of St. Malo, and Cartier was promptly at work preparing for the King a journal of his experiences.

Cartier’s account of his voyage which has come down to us contains many interesting details concerning the topography and life of the new land. The Malouin captain was a good navigator as seafaring went in his day, a good judge of distance at sea, and a keen observer of landmarks. But he was not a discriminating chronicler of those things which we would now wish to understand–for example, the relationship and status of the various Indian tribes with which he came into contact. All manner of Indian customs are superficially described, particularly those which presented to the French the aspect of novelty, but we are left altogether uncertain as to whether the Indians at Stadacona in Cartier’s time were of Huron or Iroquois or Algonquin stock. The navigator did not describe with sufficient clearness, or with a due differentiation of the important from the trivial, those things which ethnologists would now like to know.

It must have been a disappointment not to be able to lay before the King any promise of great mineral wealth to be found in the new territory. While at Hochelaga Cartier had gleaned from the savages some vague allusions to sources of silver and copper in the far northwest, but that was all. He had not found a northern Eldorado, nor had his quest of a new route to the Indies been a whit more fruitful. Cartier had set out with this as his main motive, but had succeeded only in finding that there was no such route by way of the St. Lawrence. Though the King was much interested in his recital of courage and hardships, he was not fired with zeal for spending good money in the immediate equipping of another expedition to these inhospitable shores.

Not for five years after his return in 1536, therefore, did Cartier again set out for the St. Lawrence. This time his sponsor was the Sieur de Roberval, a nobleman of Picardy, who had acquired an ambition to colonize a portion of the new territory and who had obtained the royal endorsement of his scheme. The royal patronage was not difficult to obtain when no funds were sought. Accordingly in 1540 Roberval, who was duly appointed viceroy of the country, enlisted the assistance of Cartier in carrying out his plans. It was arranged that Cartier with three ships should sail from St. Malo in the spring of 1541, while Roberval’s part of the expedition should set forth at the same time from Honfleur. But when May arrived Roberval was not ready and Cartier’s ships set sail alone, with the understanding that Roberval would follow. Cartier in due course reached Newfoundland, where for six weeks he awaited his viceroy. At length, his patience exhausted, he determined to push on alone to Stadacona, where he arrived toward the end of August. The ships were unloaded and two of the vessels were sent back to France. The rest of the expedition prepared to winter at Cap Rouge, a short distance above the settlement. Once more Cartier made a short trip up the river to Hochelaga, but with no important incidents, and here the voyageur’s journal comes to an end. He may have written more, but if so the pages have never been found. Henceforth the evidence as to his doings is less extensive and less reliable. On his return he and his band seem to have passed the winter at Cap Rouge more comfortably than the first hibernation six years before, for the French had now learned the winter hygiene of the northern regions. The Indians, however, grew steadily more hostile as the months went by, and Cartier, fearing that his small following might not fare well in the event of a general assault, deemed it wise to start for France when the river opened in the spring of 1542.

Cartier set sail from Quebec in May. Taking the southern route through the Gulf he entered, early in June, the harbor of what is now St. John’s, Newfoundland. There, according to Hakluyt, the Breton navigator and his belated viceroy, Roberval, anchored their ships side by side, Roberval, who had been delayed nearly a year, was now on his way to join Cartier at Quebec and had put into the Newfoundland harbor to refit his ships after a stormy voyage. What passed between the two on the occasion of this meeting will never be known with certainly. We have only the brief statement that after a spirited interview Cartier was ordered by his chief to turn his ships about and accompany the expedition back to Quebec. Instead of doing so, he spread his sails during the night and slipped homeward to St. Malo, leaving the viceroy to his own resources. There are difficulties in the way of accepting this story, however, although it is not absolutely inconsistent with the official records, as some later historians seem to have assumed.[1]

[Footnote 1: Justin Winsor, _Narrative and Critical History of America_, vol. iv., 58.]

At any rate it was in no pleasant humor that Roberval now proceeded to the St. Lawrence and up to Cap Rouge, where he took possession of Carrier’s post, sowed some grain and vegetables, and endeavored to prepare for the winter. His company of followers, having been recruited from the jails of France, proved as unruly as might have been expected. Discipline and order could only be maintained by the exercise of great severity. One of the malefactors was executed; others were given the lash in generous measure. The winter, moreover, proved to be terribly cold; supplies ran low, and the scurvy once again got beyond control. If anything, the conditions were even worse than those which Cartier had to endure seven years before. When spring arrived the survivors had no thought of anything but a prompt return to France. But Roberval bade most of them wait until with a small party he ventured a trip to the territory near what is now Three Rivers and the mouth of the St. Maurice. Apparently the whole party made its way safely back to France before the autumn, but as to how or when we have no record. There is some evidence that Cartier was sent out with a relief expedition in 1543, but in any case, both he and Roberval were in France during the spring of the next year, for they then appeared there in court to settle respective accounts of expenses incurred in the badly managed enterprise.

Of Carrier’s later life little is known save that he lived at St. Malo until he died in 1557. With the exception of his journals, which cover only a part of his explorations, none of his writings or maps has come down to us. That he prepared maps is highly probable, for he was an explorer in the royal service. But diligent search on the part of antiquarians has not brought them to light. His portrait in the town hall at St. Malo shows us a man of firm and strong features with jaws tight-set, a high forehead, and penetrating eyes. Unhappily it is of relatively recent workmanship and as a likeness of the great Malouin its trustworthiness is at least questionable. Fearless and untiring, however, his own indisputable achievements amply prove him to have been. The tasks set before him were difficult to perform; he was often in tight places and he came through unscathed. As a navigator he possessed a skill that ranked with the best of his time. His was an intrepid sailor-soul. If his voyages resulted in no permanent establishment, that was not altogether Cartier’s fault. He was sent out on his first two voyages as an explorer, to find new trade routes, or stores of gold and silver or a rich land to exploit. On his third voyage, when a scheme of colonization was in hand, the failure of Roberval to do his part proved the undoing of the entire plan. There is no reason to believe that faint-heartedness or lack of courage had any place in Carrier’s sturdy frame.

For sixty years following the ill-starred ventures of 1541-1542 no serious attempts were made to gain for France any real footing in the regions of the St. Lawrence. This is not altogether surprising, for there were troubles in plenty at home. Huguenots and Catholics had ranged themselves in civil strife; the wars of the Fronde were convulsing the land, and it was not until the very end of the sixteenth century that France settled down to peace within her own borders. Norman and Breton fishermen continued their yearly trips to the fishing-banks, but during the whole latter half of the sixteenth century no vessel, so far as we know, ever made its way beyond the Saguenay. Some schemes of colonization, without official support, were launched during this interval; but in all such cases the expeditions set forth to warmer lands, to Brazil and to Florida. In neither direction, however, did any marked success attend these praiseworthy examples of private initiative.

The great valley of the St. Lawrence during these six decades remained a land of mystery. The navigators of Europe still clung to the vision of a westward passage whose eastern portal must be hidden among the bays or estuaries of this silent land, but none was bold or persevering enough to seek it to the end. As for the great continent itself, Europe had not the slightest inkling of what it held in store for future generations of mankind.



In the closing years of the sixteenth century the spirit of French expansion, which had remained so strangely inactive for nearly three generations, once again began to manifest itself. The Sieur de La Roche, another Breton nobleman, the merchant traders, Pontgrave of St. Malo and Chauvin of Honfleur, came forward one after the other with plans for colonizing the unknown land. Unhappily these plans were not easily matured into stern realities. The ambitious project of La Roche came to grief on the barren sands of Sable Island. The adventurous merchants, for their part, obtained a monopoly of the trade and for a few years exploited the rich peltry regions of the St. Lawrence, but they made no serious attempts at actual settlement. Finally they lost the monopoly, which passed in 1603 to the Sieur de Chastes, a royal favorite and commandant at Dieppe.

It is at this point that Samuel Champlain first becomes associated with the pioneer history of New France. Given the opportunity to sail with an expedition which De Chastes sent out in 1603, Champlain gladly accepted and from this time to the end of his days he never relaxed his whole-souled interest in the design to establish a French dominion in these western lands. With his accession to the ranks of the voyageurs real progress in the field of colonization was for the first time assured. Champlain encountered many setbacks during his initial years as a colonizer, but he persevered to the end. When he had finished his work, France had obtained a footing in the St. Lawrence valley which was not shaken for nearly a hundred and fifty years.

Champlain was born in 1567 at the seaport of Brouage, on the Bay of Biscay, so that he was only thirty-six years of age when he set out on his first voyage to America. His forbears belonged to the lesser gentry of Saintonge, and from them he inherited a roving strain. Long before reaching middle manhood he had learned to face dangers, both as a soldier in the wars of the League and as a sailor to the Spanish Main. With a love of adventure he combined rare powers of description, so much so that the narrative of his early voyages to this region had attracted the King’s attention and had won for him the title of royal geographer. His ideas were bold and clear; he had an inflexible will and great patience in battling with discouragements. Possessing these qualities, Champlain was in every way fitted to become the founder of New France.

The expedition of 1603 proceeded to the St. Lawrence, where some of the party landed at the mouth of the Saguenay to trade with the Indians. The remainder, including Champlain, made their way up the river to the Indian village at Hochelaga, which they now found in ruins, savage warfare having turned the place into a solitude. Champlain busied himself with some study of the country’s resources and the customs of the aborigines; but on the whole the prospects of the St. Lawrence valley did not move the explorers to enthusiasm. Descending the great river again, they rejoined their comrades at the Saguenay, and, taking their cargoes of furs aboard, the whole party sailed back to France in the autumn. There they found that De Chastes, the sponsor for their enterprise, had died during their absence.

The death of De Chastes upset matters badly, for with it the trade monopoly had lapsed. But things were promptly set right again by a royal act which granted the monopoly anew. This time it went to the Sieur de Monts, a prominent Huguenot nobleman, then governor of Pons, with whom Champlain was on friendly terms. To quiet the clamors of rival traders, however, it was stipulated that Monts should organize a company and should be bound to take into his enterprise any who might wish to associate themselves with him. The company, in return for its trading monopoly, was to transport to the new domains at least one hundred settlers each year.

Little difficulty was encountered in organizing the company, since various merchants of St. Malo, Honfleur, Rouen, and Rochelle were eager to take shares. Preparations for sending out an expedition on a much larger scale than on any previous occasion were soon under way, and in 1604 two well-equipped vessels set forth. One of them went to the old trading-post at the Saguenay; the other went southward to the regions of Acadia. On board the latter were De Monts himself, Champlain as chief geographer, and a young adventurer from the ranks of the _noblesse_, Biencourt de Poutrincourt. The personnel of this expedition was excellent: it contained no convicts; most of its members were artisans and sturdy yeomen. Rounding the tip of the Nova Scotian peninsula, these vessels came to anchor in the haven of Port Royal, now Annapolis. Not satisfied with the prospects there, however, they coasted around the Bay of Fundy, and finally reached the island in Passamaquoddy Bay which they named St. Croix. Here on June 25, 1604, the party decided to found their settlement. Work on the buildings was at once commenced, and soon the little colony was safely housed. In the autumn Poutrincourt was dispatched with one vessel and a crew back to France, while Champlain and the rest prepared to spend the winter in their new island home.

The choice of St. Croix as a location proved singularly unfortunate; the winter was long and severe, and the preparations that had been made were soon found to be inadequate. Once more there were sufferings such as Cartier and his men had undergone during the terrible winter of 1534-1535 at Quebec. There were no brooks or springs close at hand, and no fresh water except such as could be had by melting snow. The storehouse had no cellar, and in consequence the vegetables froze, so that the company was reduced to salted meat as the chief staple of diet. Scurvy ravaged the camp, and before the snows melted nearly two-fifths of the party had died. Not until June, moreover, did a vessel arrive from France with, fresh stores and more colonists.

The experience of this first winter must have indeed “produced discontent,” as Champlain rather mildly expressed it, but it did not impel De Monts to abandon his plans. St. Croix, however, was given up and, after a futile search for a better location on the New England coast, the colony moved across the bay to Port Royal, where the buildings were reconstructed. In the autumn De Monts went back to France, leaving Champlain, Pontgrave, and forty-three others to spend the winter of 1605-1606 in Acadia. During this hibernation the fates were far more kind. The season proved milder, the bitter lessons of the previous season had not gone unlearned, and scurvy did not make serious headway. But when June came and De Monts had not returned from France with fresh supplies, there was general discouragement; so much so that plans for the entire abandonment of the place were on the eve of being carried out when a large vessel rounded the point on its way into the Basin. Aboard were Poutrincourt and Marc Lescarbot, together with more settlers and supplies. Lescarbot was a Parisian lawyer in search of adventure, a man who combined wit with wisdom, one of the pleasantest figures in the annals of American colonization. He was destined to gain a place in literary history as the interesting chronicler of this little colony’s all-too-brief existence. These arrivals put new heart into the men, and they set to work sowing grain and vegetables, which grew in such abundance that the storehouses were filled to their capacity. The ensuing winter found the company with an ample store of everything. The season of ice and snow passed quickly, thanks largely to Champlain’s successful endeavor to keep the colonists in good health and spirits by exercise, by variety in diet, and by divers gaieties under the auspices of his _Ordre de Bon Temps_, a spontaneous social organization created for the purpose of banishing cares and worries from the little settlement. It seemed as though the colony had been established to stay.

But with the spring of 1607 came news which quickly put an end to all this optimism. Rival merchants had been clamoring against the monopoly of the De Monts company. Despite the fact that De Monts was a Huguenot and thus a shining target for the shafts of bigotry, these protests had for three years failed to move the King; but now they had gained their point, and the monopoly had come to an end. This meant that there would be no more ships with settlers or supplies. As the colony could not yet hope to exist on its own resources, there was no alternative but to abandon the site and return to France, and this the whole party reluctantly proceeded to do.

On arrival in France the affairs of the company were wound up, and De Monts found himself a heavy loser. He was not yet ready to quit the game, however, and Champlain with the aid of Pontgrave was able to convince him that a new venture in the St. Lawrence region might yield profits even without the protection of a monopoly. Thus out of misfortune and failure arose the plans which led to the founding of a permanent outpost of empire at Quebec.

In the spring of 1608 Champlain and Pontgrave once again set sail for the St. Lawrence. The latter delayed at the Saguenay to trade, while Champlain pushed on to the site of the old Stadacona, where at the foot of the cliff he laid the foundations of the new Quebec, the first permanent settlement of Europeans in the territory of New France. On the shore below the rocky steep several houses were built, and measures were taken to defend them in case of an Indian attack. Here Champlain’s party spent the winter of 1608-1609.

With the experience gained at St. Croix and Port Royal it should have been possible to provide for all eventualities, yet difficulties in profusion were encountered during these winter months. First there was the unearthing of a conspiracy against Champlain. Those concerned in it were speedily punished, but the execution of the chief culprit gave to the new settlement a rather ominous beginning. Then came a season of zero weather, and the scurvy came with it. Champlain had heard of the remedy used by Cartier, but the tribes which had been at Stadacona in Cartier’s time had now disappeared, and there was no one to point out the old-time remedy to the suffering garrison. So the scourge went on unchecked. The ravages of disease were so severe that, when a relief ship arrived in the early summer of 1609, all but eight of Champlain’s party had succumbed.

Yet there was no thought of abandoning the settlement. The beginnings of Canada made astounding demands upon the fortitude and stamina of these dauntless voyageurs, but their store of courage was far from the point of exhaustion. They were ready not only to stay but to explore the territory inland, to traverse its rivers and lakes, to trudge through its forests afoot that they might find out for the King’s information what resources the vast land held in its silent expanses. After due deliberation, therefore, it was decided that Champlain and four others should accompany a party of Huron and Algonquin Indians upon one of their forays into the country of the Iroquois, this being the only way in which the Frenchmen could be sure of their redskin guides. So the new allies set forth to the southeastward, passing up the Richelieu River and, traversing the lake which now bears his name, Champlain and his Indian friends came upon a war party of Iroquois near Ticonderoga and a forest fight ensued. The muskets of the French terrified the enemy tribesmen and they fled in disorder. In itself the incident was not of much account nor were its consequences so far-reaching as some historians would have us believe. It is true that Champlain’s action put the French, for the moment in the bad graces of the Iroquois; but the conclusion that this foray was chiefly responsible for the hostility of the great tribes during the whole ensuing century is altogether without proper historical foundation.

Revenge has always been a prominent trait of redskin character, but it could never of itself have determined the alignment of the Five Nations against the French during a period of nearly eight generations. From the situation of their territories, the Iroquois were the natural allies of the English and Dutch on the one hand, and the natural foes of the French on the other. Trade soon became the Alpha and the Omega of all tribal diplomacy, and the Iroquois were discerning enough to realize that their natural role was to serve as middlemen between the western Indians and the English. Their very livelihood, indeed, depended on their success in diverting the flow of the fur trade through the Iroquois territories, for by the middle of the seventeenth century there were no beavers left in their own country. Such a situation meant that they must promote trade between the western Indians and the English, at Albany; but to promote trade with the English meant friendship with the English, and friendship with the English meant enmity with the French. Here is the true key to the long series of quarrels in which the Five Nations and New France engaged. Champlain’s little escapade at Ticonderoga was a mere incident and the Iroquois would have soon forgotten it if their economic interests had required them to do so. “Trade and peace,” said an Iroquois chief to the French on one occasion, “we take to be one thing.” He was right; they have been one thing in all ages. As companions, trade and the flag have been inseparable in all lands. The expedition of 1609 had, however, some results besides the discomfiture of an Iroquois raiding party. It disclosed to the French a water-route which led almost to the upper reaches of the Hudson. The spot where Champlain put the Iroquois to flight is within thirty leagues of Albany. It was by this route that the French and English came so often into warring contact during the next one hundred and fifty years.

Explorations, the care of his little settlement at Quebec, trading operations, and two visits to France occupied Champlain’s attention during the next few years. Down to this time no white man’s foot had ever trodden the vast wilderness beyond the rapids above Hochelaga. Stories had filtered through concerning great waters far to the West and North, of hidden minerals there, and of fertile lands. Champlain was determined to see these things for himself and it was to that end that he made his two great trips to the interior, in 1613 and 1616, respectively.

The expedition of 1613 was not a journey of indefinite exploration; it had a very definite end in view. A few years previously Champlain had sent into the villages of the Algonquins on the upper Ottawa River a young Frenchman named Vignau, in order that by living for a time among these people he might learn their language and become useful as an interpreter. In 1612 Vignau came back with a marvelous story concerning a trip which he had made with his Algonquin friends to the Great North Sea where he had seen the wreck of an English vessel. This striking news inflamed Champlain’s desire to find out whether this was not the route for which both Cartier and he himself had so eagerly searched–the western passage to Cathay and the Indies. There is evidence that the explorer from the first doubted the truth of Vignau’s story, but in 1613 he decided to make sure and started up the Ottawa River, taking the young man with him to point the way.

After a fatiguing journey the party at length reached the Algonquin encampment on Allumette Island in the upper Ottawa, where his doubts were fully confirmed. Vignau, the Algonquins assured Champlain, was an impostor; he had never been out of their sight, had never seen a Great North Sea; the English shipwreck was a figment of his imagination. “Overcome with wrath.” writes Champlain, “I had him removed from my presence, being unable to bear the sight of him.” The party went no further, but returned to Quebec. As for the impostor, the generosity of his leader in the end allowed him to go unpunished. Though the expedition had been in one sense a fool’s errand and Champlain felt himself badly duped, yet it was not without its usefulness, for it gave him an opportunity to learn much concerning the methods of wilderness travel, the customs of the Indians and the extent to which they might be relied upon. The Algonquins and the Hurons had proved their friendship, but what they most desired, it now appeared, was that the French should give them substantial aid in another expedition against the Iroquois.

This was the basis upon which, arrangements were made for Champlain’s next journey to the interior, the longest and most daring enterprise in his whole career of exploration. In 1615 the Brouage navigator with a small party once again ascended the Ottawa, crossed to Lake Nipissing and thence made his way down the French. River to the Georgian Bay, or Lake of the Hurons as it was then called. Near the shores of the bay he found the villages of the Hurons with the Recollet Father Le Caron already at work among the tribesmen. Adding a large band of Indians to his party, the explorer-now struck southeast and, by following the chain of small lakes and rivers which lie between Matchedash Bay and the Bay of Quinte, he eventually reached Lake Ontario. The territory pleased Champlain greatly, and he recorded his enthusiastic opinion of its fertility. Crossing the head of Lake Ontario in their canoes the party then headed for the country of the Iroquois south of Oneida Lake, where lay a palisaded village of the Onondagas. This they attacked, but after three hours’ fighting were repulsed, Champlain being wounded in the knee by an Iroquois arrow.

The eleven Frenchmen with their horde of Indians then retreated cautiously; but the Onondagas made no serious attempt at pursuit, and in due course Champlain with his party recrossed Lake Ontario safely. The Frenchmen were now eager to get back to Quebec by descending the St. Lawrence, but their Indian allies would not hear of this desertion. The whole expedition therefore plodded on to the shores of the Georgian Bay, following a route somewhat north of the one by which it had come. There the Frenchmen spent a tedious winter. Champlain was anxious to make use of the time by exploring the upper lakes, but the task of settling some wretched feuds among his Huron and Algonquin friends took most of his time and energy. The winter gave him opportunity, however, to learn a great deal more about the daily life of the savages, their abodes, their customs, their agriculture, their amusements, and their folklore. All this information went into his journals and would have been of priceless value had not the Jesuits who came later proved to be such untiring chroniclers of every detail.

When spring came, Champlain left the Huron country and by way of Lake Nipissing and the Ottawa once more reached his own people at Quebec. It took him forty days to make the journey from the Georgian Bay to the present site of Montreal.

Arriving at Quebec, where he was hailed as one risen from the dead, Champlain found that things in France had taken a new turn. They had, in fact, taken many twists and turns during the nine years since De Monts had financed the first voyage to the St. Lawrence. In the first place, De Monts had lost the last vestige of his influence at court; as a Huguenot he could not expect to have retained it under the stern regency which followed the assassination of Henry IV in 1610. Then a half-dozen makeshift arrangements came in the ensuing years. It was always the same story faithfully repeated in its broad outlines. Some friendly nobleman would obtain from the King appointment as viceroy of New France and at the same time a trading monopoly for a term of years, always promising to send out some settlers in return. The monopoly would then be sublet, and Champlain would be recognized as a sort of viceroy’s deputy. And all for a colony in which the white population did not yet number fifty souls!

Despite the small population, however, Champlain’s task at Quebec was difficult and exacting. His sponsors in France had no interest in the permanent upbuilding of the colony; they sent out very few settlers, and gave him little in the way of funds. The traders who came to the St. Lawrence each summer were an unruly and boisterous crew who quarreled with the Indians and among themselves. At times, indeed, Champlain was sorely tempted to throw up the undertaking in disgust. But his patience held out until 1627, when the rise of Richelieu in France put the affairs of the colony upon a new and more active basis. For a quarter of a century, France had been letting golden opportunities slip by while the colonies and trade of her rivals were forging ahead. Spain and Portugal were secure in the South. England had gained firm footholds both in Virginia and on Massachusetts Bay. Even Holland had a strong commercial company in the field. This was a situation which no far-sighted Frenchman could endure. Hence Cardinal Richelieu, when he became chief minister of Louis XIII, undertook to see that France should have her share of New World spoils. “No realm is so well situated as France,” he declared, “to be mistress of the seas or so rich in all things needful.” The cardinal-minister combined fertility in ideas with such a genius for organization that his plans were quickly under way. Unhappily his talent for details, for the efficient handling of little things, was not nearly so great, and some of his arrangements went sadly awry in consequence.

At any rate Richelieu in 1627 prevailed upon the King to abolish the office of viceroy, to cancel all trading privileges, and to permit the organization of a great colonizing company, one that might hope to rival the English and Dutch commercial organizations. This was formed under the name of the Company of New France, or the Company of One Hundred Associates, as it was more commonly called from the fact that its membership was restricted to one hundred shareholders, each of whom contributed three thousand _livres_. The cardinal himself, the ministers of state, noblemen, and courtesans of Paris, as well as merchants of the port towns, all figured in the list of stockholders. The subscription lists contained an imposing array of names.

The powers of the new Company, moreover, were as imposing as its personnel. To it was granted a perpetual monopoly of the fur trade and of all other commerce with rights of suzerainty over all the territories of New France and Acadia. It was to govern these lands, levy taxes, establish courts, appoint officials, and even bestow titles of nobility. In return the Company undertook to convey to the colony not less than two hundred settlers per year, and to provide them with subsistence until they could become self-supporting. It was stipulated, however, that no Huguenots or other heretics should be among the immigrants.

The Hundred Associates entered upon this portentous task with promptness and enthusiasm. Early in 1628 a fleet of eighteen vessels freighted with equipment, settlers, and supplies set sail from Dieppe for the St. Lawrence to begin operations. But the time of its arrival was highly inopportune, for France was now at war with England, and it happened that a fleet of English privateers was already seeking prey in the Lower St. Lawrence. These privateers, commanded by Kirke, intercepted the Company’s heavily-laden caravels, overpowered them, and carried their prizes off to England. Thus the Company of the One Hundred Associates lost a large part of its capital, and its shareholders received a generous dividend of disappointment in the very first year of its operations.

A more serious blow, however, was yet to come. Flushed with his success in 1628, Kirke came back to the St. Lawrence during the next summer and proceeded to Quebec, where he summoned Champlain and his little settlement to surrender. As the place was on the verge of famine owing to the capture of the supply ships in the previous year, there was no alternative but to comply, and the colony passed for the first time into English hands. Champlain was allowed to sail for England, where he sought the services of the French ambassador and earnestly advised that the King be urged to insist on the restoration of Canada whenever the time for peace should come. Negotiations for peace soon began, but they dragged on tediously until 1632, when the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye gave back New France to its former owners.

With this turn in affairs the Company was able to resume its operations. Champlain, as its representative, once more reached Quebec, where he received a genuine welcome from the few Frenchmen who had remained through the years of Babylonian captivity, and from the bands of neighboring Indians. With his hands again set to the arduous tasks, Champlain was able to make substantial progress during the next two years. For a time the Company gave him funds and equipment besides sending him some excellent colonists. Lands were cleared in the neighborhood of the settlement; buildings were improved and enlarged; trade with the Indians was put upon a better basis. A post was established at Three Rivers, and plans were made for a further extension of French influence to the westward. It was in the midst of these achievements and hopes that Champlain was stricken by paralysis and died on Christmas Day, 1635.

Champlain’s portrait, attributed to Moncornet, shows us a sturdy, broad-shouldered frame, with features in keeping. Unhappily we have no assurance that it is a faithful likeness. No one, however, can deny that the mariner of Brouage, with his extraordinary perseverance and energy, was admirably fitted to be the pathfinder to a new realm. Not often does one encounter in the annals of any nation a man of greater tenacity and patience. Chagrin and disappointment he had to meet on many occasions, but he was never baffled nor moved to concede defeat. His perseverance, however, was not greater than his modesty, for never in his writings did he magnify his difficulties nor exalt his own powers of overcoming them, as was too much the fashion of his day. As a writer, his style was plain and direct, with, no attempt at embellishment and no indication that strong emotions ever had much influence upon his pen. He was essentially a man of action, and his narrative is in the main a simple record of such a man’s achievements. His character was above reproach; no one ever impugned his honesty or his sincere devotion to the best interests of his superiors. To his Church he was loyal in the last degree; and it was under his auspices that the first of the Jesuit missionaries came to begin the enduring work which the Order was destined to accomplish in New France.

On the death of Champlain the Company appointed the Sieur de Montmagny to be governor of the colony. He was an ardent sympathizer with the aims of the Jesuits, and life at Quebec soon became almost monastic in its austerity. The Jesuits sent home each year their _Relations_, and, as these were widely read, they created great interest in the spiritual affairs of the colony. The call for zealots to carry the cross westward into the wilderness met ready response, and it was amid a glow of religious fervor that the settlement at Montreal was brought into being. A company was formed in France, funds were obtained, and a band of forty-four colonists was recruited for the crusade into the wilderness. The Sieur de Maisonneuve, a gallant soldier and a loyal devotee of the Church, was the active leader of the enterprise, with Jeanne Mance, an ardent young religionist of high motives and fine character, as his principal coadjutor. Fortune dealt kindly with the project, and Montreal began its history in 1642.

A few years later Montmagny gave up his post and returned to France. With the limited resources at his disposal, he had served the colony well, and had left it stronger and more prosperous than when he came. His successor was M. D’Ailleboust, who had been for some time in the country, and who was consequently no stranger to its needs. On his appointment a council was created, to consist of the governor of the colony, the bishop or the superior of the Jesuits, and the governor of Montreal. Henceforth this body was to be responsible for the making of all general regulations. It is commonly called the Old Council to distinguish it from the Sovereign Council by which it was supplanted in 1663.

The opening years of the new administration were marked by one of the greatest of forest tragedies, the destruction of the Hurons. In 1648 a party of Iroquois warriors made their way across Lake Ontario and overland to the Huron country, where they destroyed one large village. Emboldened by this success, a much larger body of the tribesmen returned in the year following and completed their bloody work. A dozen or more Huron settlements were attacked and laid waste with wanton slaughter. Two Jesuit priests, Lalemant and Brebeuf, who were laboring among the Hurons, were taken and burned at the stake after suffering atrocious tortures. The remnants of the tribe were scattered: a few found shelter on the islands of the Georgian Bay, while others took refuge with the French and were given a tract of land at Sillery, near Quebec. To the French colony the extirpation of the Hurons came as a severe blow. It weakened their prestige in the west, it cut off a lucrative source of fur supply, and it involved the loss of faithful allies.

More ominous still, the Iroquois by the success of their forays into the Huron country endangered the French settlement at Montreal. Glorying in their prowess, these warriors now boasted that they would leave the Frenchmen no peace but in their graves. And they proceeded to make good their threatenings. Bands of confederates spread themselves about the region near Montreal, pouncing lynx-like from the forest upon any who ventured outside the immediate boundaries of the settlement. For a time the people were in despair, but the colony soon gained a breathing space, not by its own efforts, but from a diversion of Iroquois enmity to other quarters.

About 1652 the confederated tribes undertook their famous expedition against the Eries, whose country lay along the south shore of the lake which bears their name, and this enterprise for the time absorbed the bulk of the Iroquois energy. The next governor of New France, De Lauzon, regarded the moment as opportune for peace negotiations, on the hypothesis that the idea of waging only one war at a time might appeal to the Five Nations as sound policy. A mission was accordingly sent to the Iroquois, headed by the Jesuit missionary Le Moyne, and for a time it seemed as if arrangements for a lasting peace might be made. But there was no sincerity in the Iroquois professions. Their real interest lay in peaceful relations with the Dutch and the English; the French were their logical enemies; and when the Iroquois had finished with the Eries their insolence quickly showed itself once more.

The next few years therefore found the colony again in desperate straits. In its entire population there were not more than five hundred men capable of taking the field, nor were there firearms for all of these. The Iroquois confederacy could muster at least three times that number; they were now obtaining firearms in plenty from the Dutch at Albany; and they could concentrate their whole assault upon the French settlement at Montreal. Had the Iroquois known the barest elements of siege operations, the colony must have come to a speedy and disastrous end. As the outcome proved, however, they were unwise enough to divide their strength and to dissipate their energies in isolated raids, so that Montreal came safely through the gloomy years of 1658 and 1659.

In the latter of these years there arrived from France a man who was destined to play a large part in its affairs during the next few decades, Francois-Xavier de Laval, who now came to take charge of ecclesiastical affairs in New France with the powers of a vicar apostolic. Laval’s arrival did not mark the beginning of friction between the Church and the civil officials in the colony; there were such dissensions already. But the doughty churchman’s claims and the governor’s policy of resisting them soon brought things to an open breach, particularly upon the question of permitting the sale of liquor to the Indians. In 1662 the quarrel became bitter. Laval hastened home to France where he placed before the authorities the list of ecclesiastical grievances. The governor, a bluff old soldier, was thereupon summoned to Paris to present his side of the whole affair. In the end a decision was reached to reorganize the whole system of civil and commercial administration in the colony. Thus, as we shall soon see, the power passed away altogether from the Company of One Hundred Associates.



Louis XIV, the greatest of the Bourbon monarchs, had now taken into his own hands the reins of power. Nominally he had been king of France since 1642, when he was only five years old, but it was not until 1658 that the control of affairs by the regency came to an end. Moreover, Colbert was now chief minister of state, so that colonial matters were assured of a searching and enlightened inquiry. Richelieu’s interest in the progress of New France had not endured for many years after the founding of his great Company. It is true that during the next fifteen years he remained chief minister, but the great effort to crush the remaining strongholds of feudalism and to centralize all political power in the monarchy left him no time for the care of a distant colony. Colbert, on the other hand, had well-defined and far-reaching plans for the development of French industrial interests at home and of French commercial interests abroad.

As for the colony, it made meager progress under Company control: few settlers were sent out; and they were not provided with proper means of defense against Indian depredations. Under the circumstances it did not take Colbert long to see how remiss the Company of One Hundred Associates had been, nor to reach a decision that the colony should be at once withdrawn from its control. He accordingly persuaded the monarch to demand the surrender of the Company’s charter and to reprimand the Associates for the shameless way in which they had neglected the trust committed to their care. “Instead of finding,” declared the King in the edict of revocation, “that this country is populated as it ought to be after so long an occupation thereof by our subjects, we have learned with regret not only that the number of its inhabitants is very limited, but that even these are daily exposed to the danger of being wiped out by the Iroquois.”

In truth, the company had little to show for its thirty years of exploitation. The entire population of New France in 1663 numbered less than twenty-five hundred people, a considerable proportion of whom were traders, officials, and priests. The area of cleared land was astonishingly small, and agriculture had made no progress worthy of the name. There were no industries of any kind, and almost nothing but furs went home in the ships to France. The colony depended upon its mother country even for its annual food supply, and when the ships from France failed to come the colonists were reduced to severe privations. A dispirited and nearly defenseless land, without solid foundations of agriculture or industry, with an accumulation of Indian enmity and an empty treasury–this was the legacy which the Company now turned over to the Crown in return for the viceroyal privileges given to it in good faith more than three decades before.

When the King revoked the Company’s charter, he decided upon Colbert’s advice to make New France a royal domain and to provide it with a scheme of administration modeled broadly upon that of a province at home. To this end a royal edict, perhaps the most important of all the many decrees affecting French colonial interests in the seventeenth century, was issued in April, 1663. While the provisions of this edict bear the stamp of Colbert’s handiwork, it is not unlikely that the suggestions of Bishop Laval, as given to the minister during his visit of the preceding year, were accorded some recognition. At any rate, after reciting the circumstances under which the King had been prompted to take New France into his own hands, the edict of 1663 proceeded to authorize the creation of a Sovereign Council as the chief governing body of the colony. This, with a larger membership and with greatly increased powers, was to replace the old council which the Company had established to administer affairs some years previously.

During the next hundred years this Sovereign Council became and remained the paramount civil authority in French America. At the outset it consisted of seven members, the governor and the bishop _ex officio_, with five residents of the colony selected jointly by these two. Beginning with the arrival of Talon as first intendant of the colony in 1665, the occupant of this post was also given a seat in the Council. Before long, however, it became apparent that the provision relating to the appointment of non-official members was unworkable. The governor and the bishop could not agree in their selections; each wanted his own partisans appointed. The result was a deadlock in which seats at the council-board remained vacant. In the end Louis Quatorze solved this problem, as he solved many others, by taking the power directly into his own hands. After 1674 all appointments to the Council were made by the King himself. In that same year the number of non-official members was raised to seven, and in 1703 it was further increased to twelve.[1] At the height of its power, then, the Sovereign Council of New France consisted of the governor, the intendant, the bishop, and twelve lay councilors, together with an attorney-general and a clerk. These two last-named officials sat with the Council but were not regular members of it.

[Footnote 1: Its official title was in 1678 changed to Superior Council.]

In the matter of powers the Council was given by the edict of 1663 jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters under the laws and ordinances of the kingdom, its procedure in dealing with such matters to be modeled on that of the Parliament of Paris. It was to receive and to register the royal decrees, thus giving them validity in New France, and it was also to be the supreme tribunal of the colony with authority to establish local courts subordinate to itself. There was no division of powers in the new frame of government. Legislative, executive, and judicial powers were thrown together in true Bourbon fashion. Apparently it was Colbert’s plan to make of the governor a distinguished figurehead, with large military powers but without paramount influence in civil affairs. The bishop was to have no civil jurisdiction, and the intendant was to be the director of details. The Council, according to the edict of 1663, was to be the real pivot of power in New France.

Through the long years of storm and stress which make up the greater part of the history of the colony, the Sovereign Council rendered diligent and faithful service. There were times when passions waxed warm, when bitter words were exchanged, and when the urgent interests of the colony were sacrificed to the settlement of personal jealousies. Many dramatic scenes were enacted around the long table at which the councilors sat at their weekly sessions, for every Monday through the greater portion of the year the Council convened at seven o’clock in the morning and usually sat until noon or later. But these were only meteoric flashes. Historians have given them undue prominence because such episodes make racy reading. By far the greater portion of the council’s meetings were devoted to the serious and patient consideration of routine business. Matters of infinite variety came to it for determination, including the regulation of industry and trade, the currency, the fixing of prices, the interpretation of the rules relating to land tenure, fire prevention, poor relief, regulation of the liquor traffic, the encouragement of agriculture–and these are only a few of the topics taken at random from its calendar. In addition there were thousands of disputes brought to it for settlement either directly or on appeal from the lower courts. The minutes of its deliberations during the ninety-seven years from September 18, 1663, to April 8, 1760, fill no fewer than fifty-six ponderous manuscript volumes.

Though, in the edict establishing the Sovereign Council, no mention was made of an intendant, the decision to send such an official to New France came very shortly thereafter. In 1665 Jean Talon arrived at Quebec bearing a royal commission which gave him wide powers, infringing to some extent on the authority vested in the Sovereign Council two years previously. The phraseology was similar to that used in the commissions of the provincial intendants in France, and so broad was the wording, indeed, that one might well ask what other powers could be left for exercise by any one else. No wonder that the eighteenth-century apostle of frenzied finance, John Law, should have laconically described France as a land “ruled by a king and his thirty intendants, upon whose will alone its welfare and its wants depend.” Along with his commission Talon brought to the colony a letter of instructions from the minister which, gave more detailed directions as to what things he was to have in view and what he was to avoid.

In France the office of intendant had long been in existence. Its creation in the first instance has commonly been attributed to Richelieu, but it really antedated the coming of the great cardinal. The intendancy was not a spontaneous creation, but a very old and, in its origin, a humble post which grew in importance with the centralization of power in the King’s hands, and which kept step in its development with the gradual extinction of local self-government in the royal domains. The provincial intendant in pre-revolutionary France was master of administration, finance, and justice within his own jurisdiction; he was bound by no rigid statutes; he owed obedience to no local authorities; he was appointed by the King and was responsible to his sovereign alone.

From first to last there were a dozen intendants of New France. Talon, whose ambition and energy did much to set the colony in the saddle, was the first. Francois Bigot, the arch-plunderer of his monarch’s funds, who did so much to bring the land to its downfall, was the last. Between them came a line of sensible, earnest, hard-working officials who served their King far better than they served themselves, who gave the best years of their lives to the task of making New France a bright jewel in the Bourbon crown. The colonial intendant was the royal man-of-all-work. The King spoke and the intendant forthwith transformed his words into action. As the King’s great interest in New France, coupled with his scant knowledge of its conditions, moved him to speak often, and usually in broad generalities, the intendant’s activity was prodigious and his discretion wide. Ordinances and decrees flew from his pen like sparks from a blacksmith’s forge. The duty devolved upon him as the overseas apostle of Gallic paternalism to “order everything as seemed just and proper,” even when this brought his hand into the very homes of the people, into their daily work or worship or amusements. Nothing that needed setting aright was too inconsequential to have an ordinance devoted to it. As general regulator of work and play, of manners and morals, of things present and things to come, the intendant was the busiest man in the colony.

In addition to the governor, the council, and the intendant, there were many other officials on the civil list. Both the governor and the intendant had their deputies at Montreal and at Three Rivers. There were judges and bailiffs and seneschals and local officers by the score, not to speak of those who held sinecures or received royal pensions. There were garrisons to be maintained at all the frontier posts and church officials to be supported by large sums. No marvel it was that New France could never pay its own way. Every year there was a deficit which, the King had to liquidate by payments from the royal exchequer.

The administration of the colony, moreover, fell far short of even reasonable efficiency. There were far too many officials for the relatively small amount of work to be done, and their respective fields of authority were inadequately defined. Too often the work of these officials lacked even the semblance of harmony, nor did the royal authorities always view this deficiency with regret. A fair amount of working at cross-purposes, provided it did not bring affairs to a complete standstill, was regarded as a necessary system of checks and balances in a colony which lay three thousand miles away. It prevented any chance of a general conspiracy against the home authorities or any wholesale wrong-doing through collusion. It served to make every official a ready tale-bearer in all matters concerning the motives and acts of his colleagues, so that the King might with, reasonable certainty count upon hearing all the sides to every story. That, in fact, was wholly in consonance with Latin traditions of government, and it was characteristically the French way of doing things in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Louis XIV took a great personal interest in New France even to the neglect at times of things which his courtiers deemed to be far more important. The governor and the intendant plied him with their requests, with their grievances, and too often with their prosy tales of petty squabbling. With every ship they sent to Versailles their _memoires_, often of intolerable length; and the patient monarch read them all. Marginal notes, made with his own hand, are still upon many of them, and the student who plods his way through the musty bundles of official correspondence in the _Archives Nationales_ will find in these marginal comments enough to convince him that, whatever the failings of Louis XIV may have been, indolence was not of them. Then with the next ships the King sent back his budget of orders, counsel, reprimand, and praise. If the colony failed to thrive, it was not because the royal interest in it proved insincere or deficient.

The progress of New France, as reported in these dispatches from Quebec, with their figures of slow growth in population, of poor crops, and of failing trade, of Indian troubles and dangers from the English, of privations at times and of deficits always, must often have dampened the royal hopes. The requests for subsidies from the royal purse were especially relentless. Every second dispatch contained pleas for money or for things which were bound to cost money if the King provided them: money to enable some one to clear his lands, or to start an industry, or to take a trip of exploration to the wilds; money to provide more priests, to build churches, or to repair fortifications; money to pension officials–the call for money was incessant year after year. In the face of these multifarious demands upon his exchequer, Louis XIV was amazingly generous, but the more he gave, the more the colony asked from him. Until the end of his days, he never failed in response if the object seemed worthy of his support. It was not until the Grand Monarch was gathered to his fathers that the officials of New France began to ply their requests in vain.

So much for the frame of government in the colony during the age of Louis XIV. Now as to the happenings during the decade following 1663. The new administration made a promising start under the headship of De Mezy, a fellow townsman and friend of Bishop Laval, who arrived in the autumn of 1663 to take up his duties as governor. In a few days he and the bishop had amicably chosen the five residents of the colony who were to serve as councilors, and the council began its sessions. But troubles soon loomed into view, brought on in part by Laval’s desire to settle up some old scores now that he had the power as a member of the Sovereign Council and was the dominating influence in its deliberations. Under the bishop’s inspiration the Council ordered the seizure of some papers belonging to Peronne Dumesnil, a former agent of the now defunct Company of One Hundred Associates. Dumesnil retorted by filing a _dossier_ of charges against some of the councilors; and the colonists at once ranged themselves into two opposing factions–those who believed the charges and those who did not. The bishop had become the stormy petrel of colonial politics, and nature had in truth well fitted him for just such a role.

Soon, moreover, the relations between Mezy and Laval themselves became less cordial. For a year the governor had proved ready to give way graciously on every point; but there was a limit to his amenability, and now his proud spirit began to chafe under the dictation of his ecclesiastical colleague. At length he ventured to show a mind of his own; and then the breach between him and Laval widened quickly. Three of the councillors having joined the bishop against him, Mezy undertook a _coup d’etat_, dismissed these councilors from their posts, and called a mass-meeting of the people to choose their successors. On the governor’s part this was a serious tactical error. He could hardly expect that a monarch who was doing his best to crush out the last vestige of representative government in France would welcome its establishment and encouragement by one of his own officials in the New World. But Mezy did not live to obey the recall which speedily came from the King as the outcome of this indiscretion. In the spring of 1665 he was taken ill and died at Quebec. “He went to rest among the paupers,” says Parkman, “and the priests, serenely triumphant, sang requiems over his grave.”

But discord within its borders was not the colony’s only trouble during these years. The scourge of the Iroquois was again upon the land. During the years 1663 and 1664 bands of Mohawks and Oneidas raided the regions of the Richelieu and penetrated to the settlement at Three Rivers. These _petites guerres_ were making things intolerable for the colonists, and the King was urged to send out a force of troops large enough to crush the bothersome savages once for all. This plea met with a ready response, and in June, 1665, Prouville de Tracy with two hundred officers and men of the Regiment de Carignan-Salieres disembarked at Quebec. The remaining companies of the regiment, making a force almost a thousand strong, arrived a little later. The people were now sure that deliverance was at hand, and the whole colony was in a frenzy of joy.

Following the arrival of the troops came Courcelle, the new governor, and Jean Talon, who was to take the post of intendant. These were gala days in New France; the whole colony had caught the spirit of the new imperialism. The banners and the trumpets, the scarlet cloaks and the perukes, the glittering profusion of gold lace and feathers, the clanking of swords and muskets, transformed Quebec in a season from a wilderness village to a Versailles in miniature. But there was little time for dress parades and affairs of ceremony. Tracy had come to give the Iroquois their _coup de grace_, and the work must be done quickly. The King could not afford to have a thousand soldiers of the grand army eating their heads off through the long months of a Canadian winter.

The work of getting the expedition ready, therefore, was pushed rapidly ahead. Snowshoes were provided for the regiment, provisions and supplies were gathered, and in January, 1666, the expedition started up the frozen Richelieu, traversed Lake Champlain, and moved across to the headwaters of the Hudson. It was a spectacle new to the northern wilderness of America, this glittering and picturesque cavalcade of regulars flanked by troops of militiamen and bands of fur-clothed Indians moving on its errand of destruction along the frozen rivers. But the French regular troops were not habituated to long marches on snowshoes in the dead of winter; and they made progress so slowly that the Dutch settlers of the region had time to warn the Mohawks of the approach of the expedition. This upset all French plans, since the leaders had hoped to fall upon the Mohawk villages and to destroy them before the tribesmen could either make preparations for defense or withdraw southward. Foiled in this plan, and afraid that an early thaw might make their route of return impossible, the French gave up their project and started home again. They had not managed to reach, much less to destroy, the villages of their enemies.

But the undertaking was not an absolute failure. The Mohawks were astute enough to see that only the inexperience of the French had stood between them and destruction. Here was an enemy which had proved able to come through the dead of winter right into the regions which had hitherto been regarded as inaccessible from the north. The French might be depended to come again and, by reason of greater experience, to make a better job of their coming. The Iroquois reasoning was quite correct, as the sequel soon disclosed. In September of the same year the French had once again equipped their expedition, more effectively this time. Traveling overland along nearly the same route, it reached the country of the Mohawks without a mishap. The Indians saved themselves by a rapid flight to the forests, but their palisaded strongholds were demolished, their houses set afire, their _caches_ of corn dug out and destroyed. The Mohawks were left to face the oncoming winter with nothing but the woods to shelter them. Having finished their task of punishment, Tracy and his regiment made their way leisurely back to Quebec.

The Mohawks were now quite ready to make terms, and in 1667 they sent a delegation to Quebec to proffer peace. Two raids into their territories in successive years had taught them that they could not safely leave their homes to make war against the tribes of the west so long as the French were their enemies. And the desire to dominate the region of the lakes was a first principle of Iroquois policy at this time. An armistice was accordingly concluded, which lasted without serious interruption for more than a decade. One of the provisions of the peace was that Jesuit missions should be established in the Iroquois territory, this being the usual way in which the French assured themselves of diplomatic intercourse with the tribes.

With its trade routes once more securely open, New France now began a period of marked prosperity. Tracy and his staff went back to France, but most of his soldiers remained and became settlers. Wives for these soldiers were sent out under royal auspices, and liberal grants of money were provided to get the new households established. Since 1664, the trade of the colony had been once more in the hands of a commercial organization, the Company of the West Indies, whose financial success was, for the time being, assured by the revival of the fur traffic. Industries were beginning to spring into being, the population was increasing rapidly, and the King was showing a lively interest in all the colony’s affairs. It was therefore a prosperous and promising colony to which Governor Frontenac came in 1672.



The ten years following 1663 form a decade of extraordinary progress in the history of New France. The population of the colony had trebled, and now numbered approximately seven thousand; the red peril, thanks to Tracy’s energetic work, had been lessened; while the fur trade had grown to large and lucrative proportions. With this increase in population and prosperity, there came a renaissance of enthusiasm for voyages of exploration and for the widening of the colony’s frontiers. Glowing reports went home to the King concerning the latent possibilities of the New World. What the colony now needed was a strong and vigorous governor who would not only keep a firm hold upon what had been already achieved, but one who would also push on to greater and more glorious things.

It was in keeping with, this spirit of faith and hope that the King sent to Quebec, in 1672, Louis de Buade, Count Frontenac, naming him governor of all the French domains in North America. Fifty-two years of age when he came to Canada, Frontenac had been a soldier from his youth; he had fought through hard campaigns in Italy, in the Low Countries, and with the Venetians in their defense of Candia against the Turks. In fact, he had but shortly returned from this last service when he was chosen to succeed Courcelle as the royal representative in New France.

To Frontenac’s friends the appointment seemed more like a banishment than a promotion. But there were several reasons why the governor should have accepted gladly. He had inherited only a modest fortune, and most of this had been spent, for thrift was not one of Frontenac’s virtues. His domestic life had not been happy, and there were no strong personal ties binding him to life in France.[1] Moreover, the post of governor in the colony was not to be judged by what it had been in the days of D’Avaugour or De Mezy. The reports sent home by Talon had stirred the national ambitions. “I am no courtier,” this intendant had written, “and it is not to please the King or without reason that I say this portion of the French monarchy is going to become something great. What I now see enables me to make such a prediction.” And indeed the figures of growth in population, of acreage cleared, and of industries rising into existence seemed to justify the intendant’s optimism. Both the King and his ministers were building high hopes on Canada, as their choice of Frontenac proves, and in their selection of a man to carry out their plans they showed, on the whole, good judgment. Frontenac proved to be the ablest and most commanding of all the officials who served the Bourbon monarchy in the New World. In the long line of governors he approached most nearly to what a Viceroy ought to be.

[Footnote 1: Saint-Simon, in his _Memoires_, prints the current Parisian gossip that Frontenac was sent to New France to shield him from the imperious temper of his wife and to afford him a means of livelihood.]

It is true that in New France there were conditions which no amount of experience in the Old World could train a man to handle. Nor was Frontenac particularly fitted by training or temperament for all of the duties which his new post involved. In some things he was well-endowed; he had great physical endurance, a strong will, with no end of courage, and industry to spare. These were qualities of the highest value in a land encircled by enemies and forced to depend for existence upon the strength of its own people. But more serviceable still was his ability in adapting himself to a new environment. Men past fifty do not often show this quality in marked degree, but Frontenac fitted himself to the novelty of colonial life exceedingly well. In his relations with, the Indians he showed amazing skill. No other colonial governor, English, French, or Dutch, ever commanded so readily the respect and admiration of the red man. But in his dealings with the intendant and the bishop, with the clergy, and with all those among the French of New France who showed any disposition to disagree with him, Frontenac displayed an uncontrollable temper, an arrogance of spirit, and a degree of personal vanity which would not have made for cordial relations in any field of human effort. He had formed his own opinions and was quite ready to ride rough-shod over those of other men. It was this impetuosity that served to make the official circles of the colony, during many months of his term, a “little hell of discord.”

But when the new viceroy arrived at Quebec he was in high fettle; he was pleased with the situation of the town and flattered by the enthusiastic greeting which he received from its people. His first step was to familiarize himself with the existing machinery of colonial government, which he found to be far from his liking. He proceeded, accordingly, in his own imperious way, to make some startling changes. For one thing, he decided to summon a representative assembly made up of the clergy, the seigneurs, and the common folk of New France. This body he brought together for his inauguration in October, 1672. No such assembly had ever been convened before, and nothing like it was ever allowed to assemble again. Before another year had passed, the minister sent Frontenac a polite reprimand with the intimation that the King could not permit in the colony an institution he was doing his best, and with entire success, to crush out at home. The same fate awaited the governor’s other project, the establishment of a municipal government in the town of Quebec. Within a few months of his arrival, Frontenac had allowed the people of the town to elect a syndic and two aldermen, but the minister vetoed this action with the admonition that “you should very rarely, or, to speak more correctly, never, give a corporate voice to the inhabitants, for … it is well that each should speak for himself, and no one for all.” In the reorganization of colonial administration, therefore, the governor found himself promptly called to a halt. He therefore turned to another field where he was much more successful in having his own way.

From the day of his arrival at Quebec the governor saw the pressing need of extending French, influence and control into the regions bordering upon the Great Lakes. To dissipate the colony’s efforts in westward expansion, however, was exactly what he had been instructed not to do. The King and his ministers were sure that it would be far wiser to devote all available energies and funds to developing the settled portions of the land. They desired the governor to carry on the policy of encouraging agriculture which Talon had begun, thus solidifying the colony and making its borders less difficult to defend. Frontenac’s instructions on this point could hardly have been more explicit. “His Majesty considers it more consistent with the good of his service,” wrote Colbert, “that you apply yourself to clearing and settling the most fertile places that are nearest the seacoast and the communication with France than to think afar of explorations in the interior of the country, so distant that they can never be inhabited by Frenchmen.” This was discouraging counsel, showing neither breadth of vision nor familiarity with the urgent needs of the colony. Frontenac courageously set these instructions aside, and in doing so he was wise. Had he held to the letter of his instructions, New France would never have been more than a strip of territory fringing the Lower St. Lawrence. More than any other Frenchman he helped to plan the great empire of the West.

Notwithstanding the narrow views of his superiors at Versailles, Frontenac was convinced that the colony could best secure its own defense by controlling the chief line of water communications between the Iroquois country and Montreal. To this end he prepared to build a fort at Cataraqui where the St. Lawrence debouches from Lake Ontario. He was not, however, the first to recognize the strategic value of this point. Talon had marked it as a place of importance some years before, and the English, authorities at Albany had been urged by the Iroquois chiefs to forestall any attempt that the French might make by being first on the ground. But the English procrastinated, and in the summer of 1673 the governor, with an imposing array of troops and militia, made his way to Cataraqui, having first summoned the Iroquois to meet him there in solemn council. In rather high dudgeon they came, ready to make trouble if the chance arose; but Frontenac’s display of armed strength, his free-handed bestowal of presents, his tactful handling of the chiefs, and his effective oratory at the conclave soon assured him the upper hand. The fort was built, and the Iroquois, while they continued to regard it as an invasion of their territories, were forced to accept the new situation with reluctant grace.

This stroke at Cataraqui inflamed the governor’s interest in western affairs. During his conferences with the Indians he had heard much about the great waters to the West and the rich beaver lands which lay beyond. He was ready, therefore, to encourage in every way the plans of those who wished to undertake journeys of exploration and trade into these regions, even although he was well aware that such enterprises would win little commendation from his superiors at the royal court. Voyageurs ready to undertake these tasks there were in plenty, and all of them found in the Iron Governor a stalwart friend. Foremost among these pioneers of the Far Country was Robert Cavelier de La Salle, whom Frontenac had placed for a time in command of the fort at Cataraqui and who, in 1678, was commissioned by the governor to forge another link in the chain by the erection of a fort at Niagara. There he also built a small vessel, the first to ply the waters of the upper lakes, and in this La Salle and his lieutenants made their way to Michilimackinac. How he later journeyed to the Mississippi and down that stream to its mouth is a story to be told later on in these pages. It was and will remain a classic in the annals of exploration. And without Frontenac’s vigorous support it could never have been accomplished. La Salle, when he performed his great feat of daring and endurance, was still a young man under forty, but his courage, firmness, and determination were not surpassed by any of his race. He had qualities that justified the confidence which the governor reposed in him.

But while La Salle was the most conspicuous among the pathfinders of this era, he was not the only one. Tonty, Du Lhut, La Foret, La Mothe-Cadillac, and others were all in Frontenac’s favor, and all had his vigorous support in their work. Intrepid woodsmen, they covered every portion of the western wilderness, building forts and posts of trade, winning the friendship of the Indians, planting the arms of France in new soil and carrying the _Vexilla Regis_ into parts unknown before. If Frontenac could have had his way, if the King had provided him with the funds, he would have run an iron chain of fortified posts all along the great water routes from Cataraqui to the Mississippi–and he had lieutenants who were able to carry out such an undertaking. But there were great obstacles in the way,–the lukewarmmess of the home government, the bitter opposition of the Jesuits, and the intrigues of his colleagues. Yet the governor was able to make a brave start, and before he had finished he had firmly laid the foundations of French trading supremacy in these western regions.

During the first three years after his coming to Canada, the governor had ruled alone. There was no intendant or bishop to hamper him, for both Talon and Laval had gone to France in 1672. But in 1675 Laval returned to the colony, and in the same year a new intendant, Jacques Duchesneau, was appointed. With this change in the situation at Quebec the friction began in earnest, for Frontenac’s imperious temper did not make him a cheerful sharer of authority with any one else. If the intendant and the bishop had been men of conflicting ideas and dispositions, Frontenac might easily have held the balance of power; but they were men of kindred aims, and they readily combined against the governor. United in their opposition to him, they were together a fair match for Frontenac in ability and astuteness. It was not long, accordingly, before the whole colony was once more aligned in two factions. With the governor were the merchants, many of the seigneurs, and all the _coureurs-de-bois_. Supporting the intendant and the bishop were many of the subordinate officials, all of the priests, and those of the tradesmen and habitants with whom the clerical influence was paramount.

The story of the quarrels which went on between these two factions during the years 1675-1680 is neither brief nor edifying. The root of it all lay in the governor’s western policy, his encouragement of the forest traders or _coureurs-de-bois_, and his connivance at the use of brandy in the Indian trade. There were unseemly squabbles about precedence at council meetings and at religious festivals, about trivialities of every sort; but the question of the brandy trade was at the bottom of them all. The bishop flayed the governor for letting this trade go on; the missionaries declared that it was proving the ruin of their efforts; and the intendant declared that Frontenac allowed it to continue because he was making a personal profit from the traffic. Charges and countercharges went home to France with every ship. The intendant wrote dispatches of wearisome length, rehearsing the governor’s usurpations, insults, and incompetence. “Disorder,” he told the minister, “rules everywhere. Universal confusion prevails; justice is openly perverted, and violence supported by authority determines everything.” In language quite as unrestrained Frontenac recounted in detail the difficulties with which he had to contend owing to the intendant’s obstinacy, intrigue, and dishonesty. The minister, appalled by the bewildering contradictions, could only lay the whole matter before the King, who determined to try first a courteous reprimand and to that end sent an autograph letter to each official. Both letters were alike in admonishing the governor and the intendant to work in harmony for the good of the colony, but each concluded with the significant warning: “Unless you harmonize better in the future than In the past, my only alternative will be to recall you both.”

This intimation, coming straight from their royal master, was to each a rebuke which could not be misunderstood. But it did not accomplish, much, for the bitterness and jealousy existing between the two colonial officers was too strong to be overcome. The very next vessels took to France a new budget of complaints and recriminations from both. The King, as good as his word, issued prompt orders for their recall and the two officials left for home, but not on the same vessel, in the summer of 1682.

The question as to which of the two was the more at fault is hardly worth determining. The share of blame to be cast on each by the verdict of history should probably be about equal. Frontenac was by far the abler man, but he had the defects of his qualities. He could not brook the opposition of men less competent than he was, and when he was provoked his arrogance became intolerable. In broader domains of political action he would soon have out-generaled his adversary, but in these petty fields of neighborhood bickering Duchesneau, particularly with the occasional nudgings which he received from Laval, proved no unequal match. The fact remains that neither was able or willing to sacrifice personal animosities nor to display any spirit of cordial cooperation even at the royal command. The departure of both was regarded as a blessing by the majority of the colonists to whom the continued squabbles had become wearisome. Yet there was not lacking, in the minds of many among them, the conviction that if ever again New France should find itself in urgent straits, if ever there were critical need of an iron hand to rule within and to guard without, there would still be one man whom, so long as he lived, they could confidently ask to be sent out to them again. For the time being, however, Frontenac’s official career seemed to be at an end. At sixty-two he could hardly hope to regain the royal favor by further service. He must have left the shores of New France with a heavy heart.

Frontenac’s successor was La Barre, an old naval officer who had proved himself as capable at sea as he was now to show himself incompetent on land. He was the antithesis of his headstrong predecessor, weak in decision, without personal energy, without imagination, but likewise without any of Frontenac’s skill in the art of making enemies. With La Barre came Meulles, an abler and more energetic colleague, who was to succeed Duchesneau as intendant. Both, reached Quebec in the autumn of 1682, and problems in plenty they found awaiting them. Shortly before their arrival a fire had swept through the settlement at Quebec, leaving scarcely a building on the lands below the cliff. To make matters worse, the Iroquois had again thrown themselves across the western trade route and had interrupted the coining of the colony’s fur supply. As every one now recognized that the protection of this route was essential, La Barre decided that the Iroquois must be taught a lesson. Preparations in rather ostentatious fashion were therefore made for a punitive expedition, and in the summer of 1684 the governor with his troops was at Cataraqui. At this point, however, he began to question whether a parley might not be a better means of securing peace than the laying waste of Indian lands. Accordingly, it was arranged that a council with the Iroquois should be held across the lake from Cataraqui at a place which later took the name of La Famine from the fact that during the council the French supplies ran low and the troops had to be put on short rations. After negotiations which the cynical chronicler La Hontan has described with picturesque realism, an inglorious truce was patched up. The new governor was sadly deficient in his knowledge of the Indian temperament. He had given the Iroquois an impression that the French were too proud to fight. For their part the Iroquois offered him war or peace as he might choose, and La Barre assured them that he chose to live at peace. When the expedition returned to Quebec there was great disgust throughout the colony, the echoes of which were not without their effect at Versailles, and La Barre was forthwith recalled.

In his place the King sent out the Marquis de Denonville in 1685 with power to make war on the tribesmen or to respect the peace as he might find expedient upon his arrival. The new governor was an honest, well-intentioned soul, neither mentally incapable nor lacking in personal courage. He might have served his King most acceptably in many posts of routine officialdom, but he was not the man to handle the destinies of half a continent in critical years. His mission, to be sure, was no sinecure, for the Iroquois had grown bolder with the assurance of support from the English. Now that they were securing arms and ammunition from Albany it was probable that they would carry their raids right to the heart of New France. Denonville was therefore forced to the conclusion that he had better strike quickly. In making this decision he was right, for in dealing with savage races a thrust is almost always the best defense.

Armed preparations were consequently once more placed under way, and in the summer of 1687 a flotilla of canoes and batteaux bearing soldiers and supplies was again at Cataraqui. This time the expedition was stronger in numbers and better equipped than ever before. Down the lakes from Michilimackinac came a force of _coureurs-de-bois_, among them seasoned veterans of the wilderness like Du Lhut, Tonty, La Foret, Morel de la Durantaye, and Nicholas Perrot, each worth a whole squad of soldiers when it came to fighting the Iroquois in their own forests. At the rendezvous across the lake from Cataraqui the French and their allies mustered nearly three thousand men. Denonville had none of his predecessor’s bravado coupled with cowardice; his plans were carried forward with a precision worthy of Frontenac. Unlike Frontenac, however he had a scant appreciation of the skill with which the red man could get out of the way in the face of danger. By moving too slowly after he had set out overland towards the Seneca villages, he gave the enemy time to place themselves out of his reach. So he burned their villages and destroyed large areas of growing corn. After more than a week had been spent in laying waste the land, Denonville and his expedition retired slowly to Cataraqui. Leaving part of his force there, the governor went westward to Niagara, where he rebuilt in more substantial fashion La Salle’s old fort at that point and placed it in charge of a garrison. The _coureurs-de-bois_ then continued on their way to Michilimackinac while Denonville returned to Montreal.

The expedition of 1687 had not been a fiasco like that of 1685, but neither was it in any real way a success. It angered the whole Iroquois confederacy without, having sufficiently impressed the Indians with the punitive power of the French. Denonville had stirred up the nest without destroying the hornets. It was all too soon the Indians’ turn to show what they could do as ravagers of unprotected villages; within a year after the French expedition had returned, the Iroquois bands were raiding the territory of the French to the very outskirts of Montreal itself. The route to the west was barred; the fort at Niagara had to be abandoned; Cataraqui was cut off from succor and ultimately had to be destroyed by its garrison; not a single canoe-load of furs came down from the lakes during the entire summer. The merchants were facing ruin, and the whole colony was beginning to tremble for its very existence. The seven years since Frontenac left the land had indeed been a lurid interval.

It was at this juncture that tidings of the colony’s dire distress were hurried to the King, and the Grand Monarch moved with rare good sense. He promptly sent for that grim old veteran whom he had recalled in anger seven years before. In all the realm Frontenac was the one man who could be depended upon to restore the prestige of France along the great trade routes.

The Great Onontio, as Frontenac was known to the Indians, reached the St. Lawrence in the late autumn of 1689, just as the colony was about to pass through its darkest hours. Quebec greeted him as a _Redemptor Patriae_; its people, in the words of La Hontan, were as Jews welcoming the Messiah. Nor was their enthusiasm without good cause, for in a few years Frontenac demonstrated his ability to put the colony on its feet once more. He settled its internal broils, opened the channels of trade, restored the forts, repulsed the English, and brought the Iroquois to terms.

Now that his mission had been achieved and he was no longer as robust as of old, the Iron Governor asked the minister to keep him in mind for some suitable sinecure in France if the opportunity came. This the minister readily promised, but the promise was still unfulfilled when Frontenac was stricken with his last illness. On November 28, 1698, the greatest of the Onontios, or governors, passed away. “Devoted to the service of his king,” says his eulogist, “more busied with duty than with gain; inviolable in his fidelity to his friends, he was as vigorous a supporter as he was an untiring foe.” Had his official career closed with his recall in 1682, Frontenac would have ranked as one of the singular misfits of the old French colonial system. But the brilliant successes of his second term made men forget the earlier days of petulance and petty bickerings. In the sharp contrasts of his nature Frontenac was an unusual man, combining many good and great qualities with personal shortcomings that were equally pronounced. In the civil history of New France he challenges attention as the most remarkable figure.



The greatest and most enduring achievement of Frontenac’s first term was the exploration of the territory southwestward of the Great Lakes and the planting of French influence there. This work was due, in large part, to the courage and energy of the intrepid La Salle. Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, like so many others who