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Samuel de Champlain's Voyages
Volume II, Part VI

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

This is the sixth 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.

MEMOIR OF SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN
Volume II
1604-1610

CHAPTER VI.

OF THE MAL DE LA TERRE, A VERY DESPERATE MALADY. HOW THE SAVAGES, MEN AND WOMEN, SPEND THEIR TIME IN WINTER. AND ALL THAT OCCURRED AT THE SETTLEMENT WHILE WE WERE PASSING THE WINTER.

When we arrived at the Island of St. Croix, each one had finished his place of abode. Winter came upon us sooner than we expected, and prevented us from doing many things which we had proposed. Nevertheless, Sieur de Monts did not fail to have some gardens made on the island. Many began to clear up the ground, each his own. I also did so with mine, which was very large, where I planted a quantity of foods, as also did the others who had any, and they came up very well. But since the island was all sandy, every thing dried up almost as soon as the Sun shone upon it, and we had no water for irrigation except from the rain, which was infrequent.

Sieur de Monts caused also clearings to be made on the main land for making gardens, and at the falls three leagues from our Settlement he had work done and some wheat sown, which came up very well and ripened. Around our habitation there is, at low tide, a large number of shell-fish, such as cockles, muscles, sea-urchins, and Sea-snails, which were very acceptable to all.

The snows began on the 6th of October. On the 3d of December, we saw ice pass which came from some frozen river. The cold was sharp, more severe than in France, and of much longer duration; and it scarcely rained at all the entire winter. I suppose that is owing to the north and north-west winds passing over high mountains always covered with snow. The latter was from three to four feet deep up to the end of the month of April; lasting much longer, I suppose, than it would if the country were cultivated.

During the winter, many of our company were attacked by a certain malady called the _mal de la terre_; otherwise scurvy, as I have since heard from learned men. There were produced, in the mouths of those who had it, great pieces of superfluous and drivelling flesh (causing extensive putrefaction), which got the upper hand to such an extent that scarcely anything but liquid could be taken. Their teeth became very loose, and could be pulled out with the fingers without its causing them pain. The superfluous flesh was often cut out, which caused them to eject much blood through the mouth. Afterwards, a violent pain seized their arms and legs, which remained swollen and very hard, all spotted as if with flea-bites; and they could not walk on account of the contraction of the muscles, so that they were almost without strength, and suffered intolerable pains. They experienced pain also in the loins, stomach, and bowels, had a very bad cough, and short breath. In a word, they were in such a condition that the majority of them could not rise nor move, and could not even be raised up on their feet without falling down in a swoon. So that out of seventy-nine, who composed our party, thirty-five died, and more than twenty were on the point of death. The majority of those who remained well also complained of slight pains and short breath. We were unable to find any remedy for these maladies. A _post mortem_ examination of several was made to investigate the cause of their disease.

In the case of many, the interior parts were found mortified such as the lungs, which were so changed that no natural fluid could be perceived in them. The spleen was serous and swollen. The liver was _legueux?_ and spotted, without its natural color. The _vena cava_, superior and inferior, was filled with thick coagulated and black blood. The gall was tainted. Nevertheless, many arteries, in the middle as well as lower bowels, were found in very good condition. In the case of some, incisions with a razor were made on the thighs where they had purple spots, whence there issued a very black clotted blood. This is what was observed on the bodies of those infected with this malady.[105]

Our surgeons could not help suffering themselves in the same manner as the rest. Those who continued sick were healed by spring, which commences in this country in May.[106] That led us to believe that the change of season restored their health rather than the remedies prescribed.

During this winter, all our liquors froze, except the Spanish wine. Cider was dispensed by the pound. The cause of this loss was that there were no cellars to our storehouse, and that the air which entered by the cracks was sharper than that outside. We were obliged to use very bad water, and drink melted snow, as there were no springs nor brooks; for it was not possible to go to the main land in consequence of the great pieces of ice drifted by the tide, which varies three fathoms between low and high water. Work on the hand-mill was very fatiguing, since the most of us, having slept poorly, and suffering from insufficiency of fuel, which we could not obtain on account of the ice, had scarcely any strength, and also because we ate only salt meat and vegetables during the winter, which produce bad blood. The latter circumstance was, in my opinion, a partial cause of these dreadful maladies. All this produced discontent in Sieur de Monts and others of the settlement.

It would be very difficult to ascertain the character of this region without spending a winter in it; for, on arriving here in summer, every thing is very agreeable, in consequence of the woods, fine country, and the many varieties of good fish which are found there. There are six months of winter in this country.

The savages who dwell here are few in number. During the winter, in the deepest snows, they hunt elks and other animals, on which they live most of the time. And, unless the snow is deep, they scarcely get rewarded for their pains, since they cannot capture any thing except by a very great effort, which is the reason for their enduring and suffering much. When they do not hunt, they live on a shell-fish, called the cockle. They clothe themselves in winter with good furs of beaver and elk. The women make all the garments, but not so exactly but that you can see the flesh under the arm-pits, because they have not ingenuity enough to fit them better. When they go a hunting, they use a kind of show-shoe twice as large as those hereabouts, which they attach to the soles of their feet, and walk thus over the show without sinking in, the women and children as well as the men. They search for the track of animals, which, having found, they follow until they get sight of the creature, when they shoot at it with their bows, or kill it by means of daggers attached to the end of a short pike, which is very easily done, as the animals cannot walk on the snow without sinking in. Then the women and children come up, erect a hut, and they give themselves to feasting. Afterwards, they return in search of other animals, and thus they pass the winter. In the month of March following, some savages came and gave us a portion of their game in exchange for bread and other things which we gave them. This is the mode of life in winter of these people, which seems to me a very miserable one.

We looked for our vessels at the end of April; but, as this passed without their arriving, all began to have an ill-boding, fearing that some accident had befallen them. For this reason, on the 15th of May, Sieur de Monts decided to have a barque of fifteen tons and another of seven fitted up, so that we might go at the end of the month of June to Gaspé in quest of vessels in which to return to France, in case our own should not meanwhile arrive. But God helped us better than we hoped; for, on the 15th of June ensuing, while on guard about 11 o'clock at night, Pont Gravé, captain of one of the vessels of Sieur de Monts, arriving in a shallop, informed us that his ship was anchored six leagues from our settlement, and he was welcomed amid the great joy of all.

The next day the vessel arrived, and anchored near our habitation. Pont Gravé informed us that a vessel from St. Malo, called the St. Estienne, was following him, bringing us provisions and supplies.

On the 17th of the month, Sieur de Monts decided to go in quest of a place better adapted for an abode, and with a better temperature than our own. With this view, he had the barque made ready, in which he had purposed to go to Gaspé.

ENDNOTES:

105. _Mal de la terre_. Champlain had bitter experiences of this disease in Quebec during the winter of 1608-9, when he was still ignorant of its character; and it was not till several years later that he learned that it was the old malady called _scurbut_, from the Sclavonic _scorb_. Latinized into _scorbuticus_. Lescarbot speaks of this disease as little understood in his time, but as known to Hippocrates. He quotes Olaus Magnus, who describes it as it appeared among the nations of the north, who called it _sorbet_, [Greek: kachexia], from [Greek: kakos], bad, and [Greek: exis], a habit. This undoubtedly expresses the true cause of this disease, now familiarly known as the scurvy. It follows exposure to damp, cold, and impure atmosphere, accompanied by the long-continued use of the same kind of food, particularly of salt meats, with bad water. All of these conditions existed at the Island of St. Croix. Champlain's description of the disease is remarkably accurate.

106. This passage might be read, "which is in this country in May:" _lequel commence en ces pays là est en May_. As Laverdière suggests, it looks as if Champlain wrote it first _commence_, and then, thinking that the winter he had experienced might have been exceptional, substituted _est_, omitting to erase _commence_, so that the sentence, as it stands, is faulty, containing two verbs instead of one, and being susceptible of a double sense.

This is the conclusion of Chapter 6 of Voyages
Click here for Chapter 7

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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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