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Samuel de Champlain's Voyages
Volume II, Part XXI, Chapter IV
The Voyages to the great river St. Lawrence...

The Journals of the intrepid French explorer who was the first European to discover Lake Champlain
 

This is the twenty-first in a continuing series of entries from the Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, first published in 1613. To view Part I, click here. For Champlain's account of the discovery of the lake that bears his name, click here...

Original translation from the French by Charles Pomeroy Otis, Ph.D. Republished by the Prince Society, Boston: 1878.

The voyages to the great river St. Lawrence, 
made by Sieur de Champlain,
Captain in ordinary to the King in the Marine, 
from the year 1608 to that of 1612

CHAPTER IV.

RETURN OF PONT GRAVÉ TO FRANCE. DESCRIPTION OF OUR QUARTERS AND THE PLACE WHERE JACQUES CARTIER STAYED IN 1535.

After all these occurrences, Pont Gravé set out from Quebec, on the 18th of September, to return to France with the three prisoners. After he had gone, all who remained conducted themselves correctly in the discharge of their duty.

I had the work on our quarters continued, which was composed of three buildings of two stories. Each one was three fathoms long, and two and a half wide. The storehouse was six fathoms long and three wide, with a fine cellar six feet deep. I had a gallery made all around our buildings, on the outside, at the second story, which proved very convenient. There were also ditches, fifteen feet wide and six deep. On the outer side of the ditches, I constructed several spurs, which enclosed a part of the dwelling, at the points where we placed our cannon. Before the habitation there is a place four fathoms wide and six or seven long, looking out upon the river-bank. Surrounding the habitation are very good gardens, and a place on the north side some hundred or hundred and twenty paces long and fifty or sixty wide. Moreover, near Quebec, there is a little river, coming from a lake in the interior, [310] distant six or seven leagues from our settlement. I am of opinion that this river, which is north a quarter north-west from our settlement, is the place where Jacques Cartier wintered, [311] since there are still, a league up the river, remains of what seems to have been a chimney, the foundation of which has been found, and indications of there having been ditches surrounding their dwelling, which was small. We found, also, large pieces of hewn, worm-eaten timber, and some three or four cannon-balls. All these things show clearly that there was a settlement there founded by Christians; and what leads me to say and believe that it was that of Jacques Cartier is the fact that there is no evidence whatever that any one wintered and built a house in these places except Jacques Cartier, at the time of his discoveries. This place, as I think, must have been called St. Croix, as he named it; which name has since been transferred to another place fifteen leagues west of our settlement. But there is no evidence of his having wintered in the place now called St. Croix, nor in any other there, since in this direction there is no river or other place large enough for vessels except the main river or that of which I spoke above; here there is half a fathom of water at low tide, many rocks, and a bank at the mouth; for vessels, if kept in the main river, where there are strong currents and tides, and ice in the winter, drifting along, would run the risk of being lost; especially as there is a sandy point extending out into the river, and filled with rocks, between which we have found, within the last three years, a passage not before discovered; but one must go through cautiously, in consequence of the dangerous points there. This place is exposed to the north-west winds; a half fathoms. There are no signs of buildings here, nor any indications that a man of judgment would settle in this place, there being many other better ones, in case one were obliged to make a permanent stay. I have been desirous of speaking at length on this point, since many believe that the abode of Jacques Cartier was here, which I do not believe, for the reasons here given; for Cartier would have left to posterity a narrative of the matter, as he did in the case of all he saw and discovered; and I maintain that my opinion is the true one, as can be shown by the history which he has left, in writing.

* * * * *

CHAMPLAIN'S EXPLANATION OF THE ACCOMPANYING MAP.

ABITATION DE QUEBECQ.

_A_. The storehouse.
_B_. Dove-cote.
_C_. A building where our arms are kept, and for lodging our workmen.
_D_. Another building for our workmen.
_E_. Dial.
_F_. Another building, comprising the blacksmith's shop and the lodgings of the mechanics.
_G_. Galleries extending entirely round the dwellings.
_H_. The dwelling of Sieur de Champlain.
_I_. Gate to the habitation where there is a drawbridge.
_L_. Promenade about the habitation ten feet wide, extending to the border of the moat.
_M_. Moat extending all round our habitation.
_N_. Platforms, of a tenaille form, for our cannon.
_O_. Garden of Sieur de Champlain.
_P_. The kitchen.
_Q_. Open space before the habitation on the bank of the river.
_R_. The great river St. Lawrence.

* * * * *

As still farther proof that this place now called St. Croix is not the place where Jacques Cartier wintered, as most persons think, this is what he says about it in his discoveries, taken from his history; namely, that he arrived at the Isle aux Coudres on the 5th of December, [312] 1535, which he called by this name, as hazel-nuts were found there. There is a strong tidal current in this place; and he says that it is three leagues long, but it is quite enough to reckon a league and a half. On the 7th of the month, Notre Dame Day, [313] he set out from this island to go up the river, in which he saw fourteen islands, distant seven or eight leagues from Isle aux Coudres on the south. He errs somewhat in this estimation, for it is not more than three leagues. [314] He also says that the place where the islands are is the commencement of the land or province of Canada, and that he reached an island ten leagues long and five wide, where extensive fisheries are carried on, fish being here, in fact, very abundant, especially the sturgeon. But its length is not more than six leagues, and its breadth two; a fact well recognized now. He says also that he anchored between this island and the main land on the north, the smallest passage, and a dangerous one, where he landed two savages whom he had taken to France, and that, after stopping in this place some time with the people of the country, he sent for his barques and went farther up the river, with the tide, seeking a harbor and place of security for his ships. He says, farther, that they went on up the river, coasting along this island, the length of which he estimates at ten leagues; and after it was passed they found a very fine and pleasant bay, containing a little river and bar harbor, which they found very favorable for sheltering their vessels. This they named St. Croix, since he arrived there on this day; and at the time of the voyage of Cartier the place was called Stadaca, [315] but we now call it Quebec. He says, also, that after he had examined this place he returned to get his vessels for passing the winter there.

Now we may conclude, accordingly, that the distance is only five leagues from the Isle aux Coudres to the Isle of Orleans, [316] at the western extremity of which the river is very broad; and at which bay, as Cartier calls it, there is no other river than that which he called St. Croix, a good league distant from the Isle of Orleans, in which, at low tide, there is only half a fathom of water. It is very dangerous for vessels at its mouth, there being a large number of spurs; that is, rocks scattered here and there. It is accordingly necessary to place buoys in order to enter, there being, as I have stated, three fathoms of water at ordinary tides, and four fathoms, or four and a half generally, at the great tides at full flood. It is only fifteen hundred paces from our habitation, which is higher up the river; and, as I have stated, there is no other river up to the place now called St. Croix, where vessels can lie, there being only little brooks. The shores are flat and dangerous, which Cartier does not mention until the time that he sets out from St. Croix, now called Quebec, where he left his vessels, and built his place of abode, as is seen from what follows.

On the 19th of September, he set out from St. Croix, where his vessels were, setting sail with the tide up the river, which they found very pleasant, as well on account of the woods, vines, and dwellings, which were there in his time, as for other reasons. They cast anchor twenty-five leagues from the entrance to the land of Canada; [317] that is, at the western extremity of the Isle of Orleans, so called by Cartier. What is now called St Croix was then called Achelacy, at a narrow pass where the river is very swift and dangerous on account of the rocks and other things, and which can only be passed at flood-tide. Its distance from Quebec and the river where Cartier wintered is fifteen leagues.

Now, throughout the entire extent of this river, from Quebec to the great fall, there are no narrows except at the place now called St. Croix; the name of which has been transferred from one place to another one, which is very dangerous, as my description shows. And it is very apparent, from his narrative, that this was not the site of his habitation, as is claimed; but that the latter was near Quebec, and that no one had entered into a special investigation of this matter before my doing so in my voyages. For the first time I was told that he dwelt in this place, I was greatly astonished, finding no trace of a river for vessels, as he states there was. This led me to make a careful examination, in order to remove the suspicion and doubt of many persons in regard to the matter. [318]

While the carpenters, sawers of boards, and other workmen, were employed on our quarters, I set all the others to work clearing up around our place of abode, in preparation for gardens in which to plant grain and seeds, that we might see how they would flourish, as the soil seemed to be very good.

Meanwhile, a large number of savages were encamped in cabins near us, engaged in fishing for eels, which begin to come about the 15th of September, and go away on the 15th of October. During this time, all the Savages subsist on this food, and dry enough of it for the winter to last until the month of February, when there are about two and a half, or at most three, feet of snow; and, when their eels and other things which they dry have been prepared, they go to hunt the beaver until the beginning of January. At their departure for this purpose, they intrusted to us all their eels and other things, until their return, which was on the 15th of December. But they did not have great success in the beaver-hunt, as the amount of water was too great, the rivers having overrun their banks, as they told us. I returned to them all their supplies, which lasted them only until the 20th of January. When their supply of eels gave out, they hunted the elk and such other wild beasts as they could find until spring, when I was able to supply them with various things. I paid especial attention to their customs.

These people suffer so much from lack of food that they are sometimes obliged to live on certain shell-fish, and eat their dogs and the skins with which they clothe themselves against the cold. I am of opinion that, if one were to show them how to live, and teach them the cultivation of the soil and other things, they would learn very aptly. For many of them possess good sense, and answer properly questions put to them. They have a bad habit of taking vengeance, and are great liars, and you must not put much reliance on them, except judiciously, and with force at hand. They make promises readily, but keep their word poorly. The most of them observe no law at all, so far as I have been able to see, and are, besides, full of superstitions. I asked them with what ceremonies they were accustomed to pray to their God, when they replied that they had none, but that each prayed to him in his heart, as he wished. That is why there is no law among them, and they do not know what it is to worship and pray to God, living as they do like brute beasts. But I think that they would soon become good Christians, if people would come and inhabit their country, which they are for the most part desirous of. There are some savages among them, called by them Pilotais, whom they believe have intercourse with the devil face to face, who tells them what they must do in regard to war and other things; and, if he should order them to execute any undertaking, they would obey at once. So, also, they believe that all their dreams are true; and, in fact, there are many who say that they have had visions and dreams about matters which actually come to pass or will do so. But, to tell the truth, these are diabolical visions, through which they are deceived and misled. This is all I have been able to learn about their brutish faith. All these people are well proportioned in body, without deformity, and are agile. The women, also, are well-formed, plump, and of a swarthy color, in consequence of certain pigments with which they rub themselves, and which give them a permanent olive color. They are dressed in skins: a part only of the body is covered. But in winter they are covered throughout, in good furs of elk, otter, beaver, bear, seals, deer, and roe, of which they have large quantities. In winter, when the snow is deep, they make a sort of snow-shoe of large size, two or three times as large as that used in France, which they attach to their feet, thus going over the snow without sinking in; otherwise, they could not hunt or walk in many places. They have a sort of marriage, which is as follows: When a girl is fourteen or fifteen years old, and has several suitors, she may keep company with all she likes. At the end of five or six years, she takes the one that pleases her for her husband, and they live together to the end of their lives. But if, after living some time together, they have no children, the man can disunite himself and take another woman, alleging that his own is good for nothing. Hence, the girls have greater freedom than the married women.

After marriage, the women are chaste, and their husbands generally jealous. They give presents to the fathers or relatives of the girls they have wedded. These are the ceremonies and forms observed in their marriages. In regard to their burials: When a man or a woman dies, they dig a pit, in which they put all their property, as kettles, furs, axes, bows, arrows, robes, and other things. Then they place the body in the pit and cover it with earth, putting, on top many large pieces of wood, and another piece upright, painted red on the upper part. They believe in the immortality of the soul, and say that they shall be happy in other lands with their relatives and friends who are dead. In the case of captains or others of some distinction, they celebrate a banquet three times a year after their death, singing and dancing about the grave.

All the time they were with us, which was the most secure place for them, they did not cease to fear their enemies to such an extent that they often at night became alarmed while dreaming, and sent their wives and children to our fort, the gates of which I had opened to them, allowing the men to remain about the fort, but not permitting them to enter, for their persons were thus as much in security as if they had been inside. I also had five or six of our men go out to reassure them, and to go and ascertain whether they could see any thing in the woods, in order to quiet them. They are very timid and in great dread of their enemies, scarcely ever sleeping in repose in whatever place they may be, although I constantly reassured them, so far as I could, urging them to do as we did; namely, that they should have a portion watch while the others slept, that each one should have his arms in readiness like him who was keeping watch, and that they should not regard dreams as the actual truth to be relied upon, since they are mostly only false, to which I also added other words on the same subject. But these remonstrances were of little avail with them, and they said that we knew better than they how to keep guard against all things; and that they, in course of time, if we continued to stay with them, would be able to learn it.

This is the conclusion of Volume II, Part XXI, Chapter 4 of Voyages
1608-1612
Click here for Voyages, Volume II, Part XXII, Chapter 5

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Sources/Notes:

Samuel de Champlain. 1567-1635. "Voyages of Samuel de Champlain" Edited by Edmund F. Slafter, (Boston: Prince Society 1878)

Samuel de Champlain image: Warwick Stevens Carpenter. The Summer Paradise in History. Albany: General Passenger Department, The Delaware and Hudson Company. 1914. Courtesy of John and Barbara Gallagher.

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