Samuel De Champlain

Samuel De Champlain books and biography


Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlainby Théophile Hamel (1870)
Samuel de Champlain
by Théophile Hamel (1870)

Samuel de Champlain (c. 1567 – 25 December 1635) was a French geographer, draftsman, explorer and founder of Quebec City earning him the nickname "Father of New France". He was also integral in opening North America up to French trade, especially the fur trade. His influence is still felt in the presence of French Canadians in Quebec, where he did most of his exploring. Champlain's pattern was to spend several months or years exploring North America and then to head back to France to raise more funds for further explorations.


Early travels

That he was born in Brouage, France is reported in the title of his 1603 book but much of Champlain's early life is unknown: it is speculated by some that his mother was a Haguenot. He arrived on his first trip to North America March 15, 1603, a member of a fur-trading expedition. Although he had no official assignment on the voyage, he created a map of the St. Lawrence River and after his return to France on September 20, wrote an account published as Des Sauvages: ou voyage de Samuel Champlain, de Brouages, faite en la France nouvelle l'an 1603 ("Of Savages: or travels of Samuel Champlain, of Brouages, made in New France the year 1603").[1]

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

In 1605 and 1606, Champlain explored the land that is now Chatham, Cape Cod as a prospective settlement but small skirmishes with the resident Monomoyick Indians dissuaded him from the idea. He named the area Port Fortune.

Founding of Quebec City

On July 3, 1608, Champlain landed at the "point of Quebec" and set about fortifying the area against attack by building three main buildings (each two stories tall) and also a moat 15 feet (5 m) wide. This was to become the city of Quebec. Fortifying Quebec City (which he referred to as his "Habitation") became one of his passions, which he embarked on periodically for the rest of his life.

The first winter was difficult for the colonists. Of the twenty-eight people who stayed for the winter only eight survived, [citation needed] most having died of scurvy and some of smallpox and some of the extreme cold weather.

Relations and War with Natives

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

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

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

Securing New France

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

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

Exploration of New France

On March 29, 1613, he arrived back in New France and proclaimed his new royal commission. Champlain set out on May 27 to continue his exploration of the Huron country and in hopes of finding the "northern sea" he had heard about (probably Hudson Bay). He traveled the Ottawa River, later giving the first description of this area. It was in June that he met with Tessouat, the Algonkian chief of Allumette Island, and offered to build the tribe a fort if they were to move from the area they occupied, with its poor soil, to the locality of the Lachine Rapids.

By August 26 Champlain was back in Saint-Malo. There he wrote an account of his life from 1604 to 1612 and his journey up the Ottawa river, his Voyages[2] and published another map of New France. In 1614 he formed the "Compagnie des Marchands de Rouen et de Saint-Malo" and "Compagnie de Champlain", which bound the Rouen and Saint-Malo merchants for eleven years. He returned to New France in the spring of 1615 with four Recollects in order to further religious life in the new colony. The Roman Catholic Church would be given en seigneurie large and valuable tracts of land estimated at nearly 30% of all the lands granted by the French Crown in New France. [3]

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

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

Military Expedition

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

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

Improving Administration in New France

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

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

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

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

A member of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, from 1629 to 1635 Champlain was commander in New France "in the absence of my Lord the Cardinal de Richelieu". [2] During the next several years Champlain wrote Voyages de la Nouvelle France dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu as well as Traitté de la marine et du devoir d’un bon marinier. It wasn't until the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1632 that Quebec was given back to France and on March 1, 1633 Champlain reclaimed his role as commander of New France on behalf of Richelieu.

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

Illness and Death

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

However, Jesuit records tell us he died in the hands of his friend Charles Lallemant who also heard his last confession, a reassuring point for a Catholic of the period.

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

Champlain remains, to this day, a prominent historical figure in many parts of Acadia, Ontario, Quebec, New York, and Vermont. There are two communities in New York named Champlain as well as a township in Ontario. There is also Lake Champlain, Champlain Valley, The Champlain Trail Lakes, and Champlain Sea, a glacial sea which disappeared 6000 years before Champlain was born.


  1. ^ By 1613, when it was reprinted, he was credited as "sieur de Champlain" [1].
  2. ^ Les voyages du Sieur de Champlain, Saintangeois, capitaine ordinaire pour le Roy en la Marine.
  3. ^ Dalton, Roy. The Jesuit Estates Question 1760-88, p. 60. University of Toronto Press, 1968.


  • Samuel Eliot Morison, Samuel de Champlain: Father of New France (Little Brown, 1972) ISBN 0-316-58399-5
  • Champlain : the birth of French America / edited by Raymonde LItalien and Denis Vaugeois. (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004) ISBN 0-7735-2850-4
  • Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online


Preceded by:
Henry II, Prince of Condé
Lieutenant General of New France
Succeeded by:
Champlain as Governor of New France


Preceded by:
new title
Governor of New France
Succeeded by:
Charles de Montmagny

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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