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Samuel de Champlain's Voyages
Volume II, Part V

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

This is the fifth 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.

Volume II



After the departure of the vessels, Sieur de Monts, without losing time, decided to send persons to make discoveries along the coast of Norumbegue; and he intrusted me with this work, which I found very agreeable.

In order to execute this commission, I set out from St. Croix on the 2d of September with a patache of seventeen or eighteen tons, twelve sailors, and two savages, to serve us as guides to the places with which they were acquainted. The same day we found the vessels where Sieur de Poutrincourt was, which were anchored at the mouth of the river St. Croix in consequence of bad weather, which place we could not leave before the 5th of the month. Having gone two or three leagues seaward, so dense a fog arose that we at once lost sight of their vessels. Continuing our course along the coast, we made the same day some twenty-five leagues, and passed by a large number of islands, banks, reefs, and rocks, which in places extend more than four leagues out to Sea. We called the islands the Ranges, most of which are covered with pines, firs, and other trees of an inferior sort. Among these islands are many fine harbors, but undesirable for a permanent settlement. The same day we passed also near to an island about four or five leagues long, in the neighborhood of which we just escaped being lost on a little rock on a level with the water, which made an opening in our barque near the keel. From this island to the main land on the north, the distance is less than a hundred paces. It is very high, and notched in places, so that there is the appearance to one at sea, as of seven or eight mountains extending along near each other. The summit of the most of them is destitute of trees, as there are only rocks on them. The woods consist of pines, firs, and birches only. I named it Isle des Monts Déserts.[92] The latitude is 44° 30'.

The next day, the 6th of the month, we sailed two leagues, and perceived a smoke in a cove at the foot of the mountains above mentioned. We saw two canoes rowed by savages, which came within musket range to observe us. I sent our two Savages in a boat to assure them of our friendship. Their fear of us made them turn back. On the morning of the next day, they came alongside of our barque and talked with our savages. I ordered some biscuit, tobacco, and other trifles to be given them. These savages had come beaver-hunting and to catch fish, some of which they gave us. Having made an alliance with them, they guided us to their river of Pentegoüet, [93] so called by them, where they told us was their captain, named Bessabez, chief of this river. I think this river is that which several pilots and historians call Norumbegue, [94] and which most have described as large and extensive, with very many islands, its mouth being in latitude 43°, 43° 30', according to others in 44°, more or less. With regard to the deflection, I have neither read, nor heard any one say any thing. It is related also that there is a large, thickly settled town of savages, who are adroit and skillful, and who have cotton yarn. I am confident that most of those who mention it have not seen it, and speak of it because they have heard persons say so, who knew no more about it than they themselves. I am ready to believe that some may have seen the mouth of it, because there are in reality many islands, and it is, as they say, in latitude 44° at its entrance. But that any one has ever entered it there is no evidence, for then they would have described it in another manner, in order to relieve the minds of many of this doubt.

I will accordingly relate truly what I explored and saw, from the beginning as far as I went.

In the first place, there are at its entrance several islands distant ten or twelve leagues from the main land, which are in latitude 44°, and 18° 40' of the deflection of the magnetic needle. The Isle des Monts Déserts forms one of the extremities of the mouth, on the east; the other is low land, called by the savages Bedabedec, [95] to the west of the former, the two being distant from each other nine or ten leagues. Almost midway between these, out in the ocean, there is another island very high and conspicuous, which on this account I have named Isle Haute. [96] All around there is a vast number of varying extent and breadth, but the largest is that of the Monts Déserts. Fishing as also hunting are very good here; the fish are of various kinds. Some two or three leagues from the point of Bedabedec, as you coast northward along the main land which extends up this river, there are very high elevations of land, which in fair weather are seen twelve or fifteen leagues out at Sea. [97] Passing to the South of the Isle Haute, and coasting along the same for a quarter of a league, where there are some reefs out of water, and heading to the west until you open all the mountains northward of this island, you can be sure that, by keeping in sight the eight or nine peaks of the Monts Déserts and Bedabedec, you will cross the river Norumbegue; and in order to enter it you must keep to the north, that is, towards the highest mountains of Bedabedec, where you will see no islands before you, and can enter, sure of having water enough, although you see a great many breakers, islands, and rocks to the east and west of you. For greater security, one should keep the sounding lead in hand. And my observations lead me to conclude that one cannot enter this river in any other place except in small vessels or shallops. For, as I stated above, there are numerous islands, rocks, shoals, banks, and breakers on all sides, so that it is marvellous to behold.

Now to resume our course: as one enters the river, there are beautiful islands, which are very pleasant and contain fine meadows. We proceeded to a place to which the savages guided us, where the river is not more than an eighth of a league broad, and at a distance of some two hundred paces from the western shore there is a rock on a level with the water, of a dangerous character.[98] From here to the Isle Haute, it is fifteen leagues. From this narrow place, where there is the least breadth that we had found, after sailing some seven or eight leagues, we came to a little river near which it was necessary to anchor, as we saw before us a great many rocks which are uncovered at low tide, and since also, if we had desired to sail farther, we could have gone scarcely half a league, in consequence of a fall of water there coming down a slope of seven or eight feet, which I saw as I went there in a canoe with our savages; and we found only water enough for a canoe. But excepting the fall, which is some two hundred paces broad, the river is beautiful, and unobstructed up to the place where we had anchored. I landed to view the country, and, going on a hunting excursion, found it very pleasant so far as I went. The oaks here appear as if they were planted for ornament. I saw only a few firs, but numerous pines on one side of the river; on the other only oaks, and some copse wood which extends far into the interior.[99] And I will state that from the entrance to where we went, about twenty-five leagues, we saw no town, nor village, nor the appearance of there having been one, but one or two cabins of the savages without inhabitants. These were made in the same way as those of the Souriquois, being covered with the bark of trees. So far as we could judge, the Savages on this river are few in number, and are called Etechemins. Moreover, they only come to the islands, and that only during some months in summer for fish and game, of which there is a great quantity. They are a people who have no fixed abode, so far as I could observe and learn from them. For they spend the winter now in one place and now in another, according as they find the best hunting, by which they live when urged by their daily needs, without laying up any thing for times of scarcity, which are sometimes severe.

Now this river must of necessity be the Norumbegue; for, having coasted along past it as far as the 41° of latitude, we have found no other on the parallel above mentioned, except that of the Quinibequy, which is almost in the same latitude, but not of great extent. Moreover, there cannot be in any other place a river extending far into the interior of the country, since the great river St. Lawrence washes the coast of La Cadie and Norumbegue, and the distance from one to the other by land is not more than forty-five leagues, or sixty at the widest point, as can be seen on my geographical map.

Now I will drop this discussion to return to the savages who had conducted me to the falls of the river Norumbegue, who went to notify Bessabez, their chief, and other savages, who in turn proceeded to another little river to inform their own, named Cabahis, and give him notice of our arrival.

The 16th of the month there came to us some thirty savages on assurances given them by those who had served us as guides. There came also to us the same day the above named Bessabez with six canoes. As soon as the savages who were on land saw him coming, they all began to sing, dance, and jump, until he had landed. Afterwards, they all seated themselves in a circle on the ground, as is their custom, when they wish to celebrate a festivity, or an harangue is to be made. Cabahis, the other chief, arrived also a little later with twenty or thirty of his companions, who withdrew one side and enjoyed greatly seeing us, as it was the first time they had seen Christians. A little while after, I went on shore with two of my companions and two of our savages who served as interpreters. I directed the men in our barque to approach near the savages, and hold their arms in readiness to do their duty in case they noticed any movement of these people against us. Bessabez, seeing us on land, bade us sit down, and began to smoke with his companions, as they usually do before an address. They presented us with venison and game.

I directed our interpreter to say to our savages that they should cause Bessabez, Cabahis, and their companions to understand that Sieur de Monts had sent me to them to see them, and also their country, and that he desired to preserve friendship with them and to reconcile them with their enemies, the Souriquois and Canadians, and moreover that he desired to inhabit their country and show them how to cultivate it, in order that they might not continue to lead so miserable a life as they were doing, and some other words on the same subject. This our savages interpreted to them, at which they signified their great satisfaction, saying that no greater good could come to them than to have our friendship, and that they desired to live in peace with their enemies, and that we should dwell in their land, in order that they might in future more than ever before engage in hunting beavers, and give us a part of them in return for our providing them with things which they wanted. After he had finished his discourse, I presented them with hatchets, paternosters, caps, knives, and other little knick-knacks, when we separated from each other. All the rest of this day and the following night, until break of day, they did nothing but dance, sing, and make merry, after which we traded for a certain number of beavers. Then each party returned, Bessabez with his companions on the one side, and we on the other, highly pleased at having made the acquaintance of this people.

The 17th of the month I took the altitude, [100] and found the latitude 45° 25'. This done, we set out for another river called Quinibequy, distant from this place thirty-five leagues, and nearly twenty from Bedabedec. This nation of savages of Quinibequy are called Etechemins, as well as those of Norumbegue.

The 18th of the month we passed near a small river where Cabahis was, who came with us in our barque some twelve leagues; and having asked him whence came the river Norumbegue, he told me that it passes the fall which I mentioned above, and that one journeying some distance on it enters a lake by way of which they come to the river of St. Croix, by going some distance over land, and then entering the river of the Etechemins. Moreover, another river enters the lake, along which they proceed some days, and afterwards enter another lake and pass through the midst of it. Reaching the end of it, they make again a land journey of some distance, and then enter another little river, which has its mouth a league from Quebec, which is on the great river St. Lawrence. [101] All these people of Norumbegue are very swarthy, dressed in beaver-skins and other furs, like the Canadian and Souriquois savages, and they have the same mode of life.

The 20th of the month we sailed along the western coast, and passed the mountains of Bedabedec, [102] when we anchored. The same day we explored the entrance to the river, where large vessels can approach; but there are inside some reefs, to avoid which one must advance with sounding lead in hand. Our Savages left us, as they did not wish to go to Quinibequy, for the savages of that place are great enemies to them. We sailed some eight leagues along the western coast to an island [103] ten leagues distant from Quinibequy, where we were obliged to put in on account of bad weather and contrary wind. At one point in our course, we passed a large number of islands and breakers extending some leagues out to sea, and very dangerous. And in view of the bad weather, which was so unfavorable to us, we did not sail more than three or four leagues farther. All these islands and coasts are covered with extensive woods, of the same sort as that which I have reported above as existing on the other coasts. And in consideration of the small quantity of provisions which we had, we resolved to return to our settlement and wait until the following year, when we hoped to return and explore more extensively. We accordingly set out on our return on the 23d of September, and arrived at our settlement on the 2d of October following.

The above is an exact statement of all that I have observed respecting not only the coasts and people, but also the river of Norumbegue; and there are none of the marvels there which some persons have described. I am of opinion that this region is as disagreeable in winter as that of our settlement, in which we were greatly deceived. [104]


92. The natives called this island Pemetiq. _Isle que les Saunages appellent Pemetiq.--Vide Relation de la Nouvelle-France_, par F. Biard. 1616. Relations des Jésuites, Quebec ed. 1858. p. 44. When the attempt was made in 1613 to plant a colony there on the Marchioness de Guercheville, the settlement was named St. Sauveur. This island was also by the English called Mount Mansell. But the name given to it by Champlain has prevailed, and still adheres to it.

The description here given of the barrenness of the island clearly suggests the origin of the name. Desert should therefore be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. The latitude of the most northern limit of the island is 44° 24'.

93. Penobscot. The name of this river has been variously written Pentagoet, Pentagwet, Pemptegoet, Pentagovett, Penobskeag, Penaubsket, and in various other ways. The English began early to write it Penobscot. It is a word of Indian origin, and different meanings have been assigned to it by those who have undertaken to interpret the language from which it is derived.

94. The Abbé Laverdière is of the opinion that the river Norumbegue was identical with the Bay of Fundy. His only authority is Jean Alfonse, the chief pilot of Roberval in 1541-42. Alfonse says; "Beyond the cape of Noroveregue descends the river of the said Noroveregue, which is about twenty-five leagues from the cape. The said river is more than forty leagues broad at its mouth, and extends this width inward well thirty or forty leagues, and is all full of islands which enter ten or twelve leagues into the sea, and it is very dangerous with rocks and reefs." If the cape of Norumbegue is the present Cape Sable, as it is supposed to be, by coasting along the shores of Nova Scotia from that cape in a north-westerly direction a little more than twenty leagues, we shall reach St. Mary's Bay, which may be regarded as the beginning of the Bay of Fundy, and from that point in a straight line to the mouth of the Penobscot the distance is more than forty leagues, which was the breadth of the Norumbegue at its mouth, according to the statement of Alfonse. The Abbé Laverdière is not quite correct in saying that the river Norumbegue is the same as the Bay of Fundy. It includes, according to Alfonse, who is not altogether consistent with himself, not only the Bay of Fundy, but likewise the Penobscot River and the bay of the same name, with its numerous islands. Alfonse left a drawing or map of this region in his Cosmography, which Laverdière had not probably seen, on which the Bay of Fundy and the Penobscot are correctly laid down, and the latter is designated the "_Rivière de Norvebergue_." It is therefore obvious, if this map can be relied upon, that the river of Norumbegue was identical, not with the Bay of Fundy, but with the Penobscot, in the opinion of Alfonse, in common with the "plusieurs pilottes et historiens" referred to by Champlain.--_Vide copy of the Chart from the MS. Cosmography of Juan Alfonse_ in Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, in Mr. Murphy's Voyage of Verrazzano, New York, 1875.

95. An indefinite region about Rockland and Camden, on the western bank of the Penobscot near its mouth, appears to have been the domain of the Indian chief, Bessabez, and was denominated Bedabedec. The Camden Hills were called the mountains of Bedabedec, and Owl's Head was called Bedabedec Point.

96. Isle Haute, _high island_, which name it still retains. Champlain wrote it on his map, 1632, "Isle Haulte." It has been anglicized by some into Isle Holt. It is nearly six miles long, and has an average width of over two miles, and is the highest land in its vicinity, reaching at its highest point four hundred feet above the level of the sea.

97. Camden Hills or Mountains. They are five or six in number, from 900 to 1,500 feet high, and maybe seen, it is said, twenty leagues at sea. The more prominent are Mt. Batty, Mt. Pleasant, and Mt. Hosmer, or Ragged Mountain. They are Sometimes called the Megunticook Range. Colonel Benjamin Church denominates them "Mathebestuck's Hills,"--_Vide Church's History of King Philip's War_, Newport, 1772, p. 143. Captain John Smith calls them the mountains of Penobscot, "against whose feet doth beat the sea." which, he adds, "you may well see sixteen or eighteen leagues from their situation."

98. This narrow place in the river is just above Castine, where Cape Jellison stretches out towards the east, at the head of the bay, and at the mouth of the river. At the extremity of the cape is Fort Point, so called from Fort Pownall, erected there in 1759, a step rocky elevation of about eighty feet in height. Before the erection of the fort by Governor Pownall, it was called Wafaumkeag Point.--_Vide Pownall's Journal_, Col. Me. His. Soc., Vol. V. p. 385. The "rock" alluded to by Champlain is Fort Point Ledge, bare at half tide, south-east by east from the Point, and distant over half a mile. Champlain's distances here are somewhat overestimated.

99. The terminus of this exploration of the Penobscot was near the present site of the city of Bangor. The small river near the mouth of which they anchored was the Kenduskeag. The falls which Champlain visited with the Indians in a canoe are those a short distance above the city. The sentence, a few lines back, beginning "But excepting this fall" is complicated, and not quite logical, but the author evidently means to describe the river from its mouth to the place of their anchorage at Bangor.

100. The interview with the Indians on the 16th, and the taking of the altitude on the 17th, must have occurred before the party left their anchorage at Bangor with the purpose, but which they did not accomplish that year, of visiting the Kennebec. This may be inferred from Champlain's statement that the Kennebec was thirty-five leagues distant from the place where they then were, and nearly twenty leagues distant from Bedabedec. Consequently, they were fifteen leagues above Bedabedec, which was situated near the mouth of the river. The latitude, which they obtained from their observations, was far from correct: it should be 44° 46'.

101. The Indian chief Cabahis here points out two trails, the one leading to the French habitation just established on the Island of St. Croix, the other to Quebec; by the former, passing up the Penobscot from the present site of Bangor, entering the Matawamkeag, keeping to the east in their light bark canoes to Lake Boscanhegan, and from there passing by land to the stream then known as the river of the Etechemins, now called the Scoudic or St. Croix. The expression "by which they come to the river of St. Croix" is explanatory: it has no reference to the name of the river, but means simply that the trail leads to the river in which was the island of St. Croix. This river had not then been named St. Croix, but had been called by them the river of the Etechemins.--_Vide antea_, p. 31.

The other trail led up the north branch of the Penobscot, passing through Lake Pemadumcook, and then on through Lake Chefuncook, finally reaching the source of this stream which is near that of the Chaudière, which latter flows into the St. Lawrence, near Quebec. It would seem from the text that Champlain supposed that the Penobscot flowed from a lake into which streams flowed from both the objective points, viz. St. Croix and Quebec: but this was a mistake not at all unnatural, as he had never been over the ground, and obtained his information from the Indians, whose language he imperfectly understood.

102. Bedabedec is an Indian word, signifying cape of the waters, and was plainly the point known as Owl's Head. It gave name to the Camden Mountains also. _Vide antea_, note 95.

103. Mosquito and Metinic Islands are each about ten leagues east of the Kennebec. As the party went but four leagues further, the voyage must have terminated in Muscongus Bay.

104. An idle story had been circulated, and even found a place on the pages of sober history, that on the Penobscot, or Norumbegue, as it was then called, there existed a fair town, a populous city, with the accessories of luxury and wealth. Champlain here takes pains to show, in the fullest manner, that this story was a baseless dream of fancy, and utterly without foundation. Of it Lescarbot naïvely says, "If this beautiful town hath ever existed in nature, I would fain know who hath pulled it down, for there are now only a few scattered wigwams made of poles covered with the bark of trees and the skins of wild beasts." There is no evidence, and no probability, that this river had been navigated by Europeans anterior to this exploration of Champlain. The existence of the bay and the river had been noted long before. They are indicated on the map of Ribero in 1529. Rio de Gamas and Rio Grande appear on early maps as names of this river, but are soon displaced for Norumbega, a name which was sometimes extended to a wide range of territory on both sides of the Penobscot. On the Mappe-Monde of 1543-47, issued by the late M. Jomard, it is denominated Auorobagra, evidently intended for Norumbega. Thevet, who visited it, or sailed along its mouth in 1556, speaks of it as Norumbegue. It is alleged that the aborigines called it Agguncia. According to Jean Alfonse, it was discovered by the Portuguese and Spaniards.--_Vide His. de la N. France_, par M. Lescarbot, Paris, 1612, Qvat. Liv. p. 495. The orthography of this name is various among early writers, but Norumbegue is adopted by the most approved modern authors.

This is the conclusion of Chapter 5 of Voyages
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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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