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Samuel de Champlain's Voyages
Volume II, Part VIII

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

This is the eighth 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



The next day we doubled Cap St. Louis, [160] so named by Sieur de Monts, a land rather low, and in latitude 42° 45'. [161] The same day we sailed two leagues along a sandy coast, as we passed along which we saw a great many cabins and gardens. The wind being contrary, we entered a little bay to await a time favorable for proceeding. There came to us two or three canoes, which had just been fishing for cod and other fish, which are found there in large numbers. These they catch with hooks made of a piece of wood, to which they attach a bone in the shape of a spear, and fasten it very securely. The whole has a fang-shape, and the line attached to it is made out of the bark of a tree. They gave me one of their hooks, which I took as a curiosity. In it the bone was fastened on by hemp, like that in France, as it seemed to me, and they told me that they gathered this plant without being obliged to cultivate it; and indicated that it grew to the height of four or five feet. [162] This canoe went back on shore to give notice to their fellow inhabitants, who caused columns of smoke to arise on our account We saw eighteen or twenty savages, who came to the shore and began to dance. Our canoe landed in order to give them some bagatelles, at which they were greatly pleased. Some of them came to us and begged us to go to their river. We weighed anchor to do so, but were unable to enter on account of the small amount of water, it being low tide, and were accordingly obliged to anchor at the mouth. I went ashore, where I saw many others, who received us very cordially. I made also an examination of the river, but saw only an arm of water extending a short distance inland, where the land is only in part cleared up. Running into this is merely a brook not deep enough for boats except at full tide. The circuit of the bay is about a league. On one side of the entrance to this bay there is a point which is almost an island, covered with wood, principally pines, and adjoins sand-banks, which are very extensive. On the other side, the land is high. There are two islets in this bay, which are not seen until one has entered, and around which it is almost entirely dry at low tide. This place is very conspicuous from the sea, for the coast is very low, excepting the cape at the entrance to the bay. We named it the Port du Cap St. Louis, [163] distant two leagues from the above cape, and ten from the Island Cape. It is in about the same latitude as Cap St. Louis.
* * * * *



_The figures indicate fathoms of water_.

_A_. Indicates the place where vessels lie.
_B_. The channel.
_C_. Two islands. [Note: Clark's Island is now the sole representative of the two figured by Champlain in 1605. The action of the waves has either united the two, or swept one of them away. It was named after Clark, the master's mate of the "May Flower," who was the first to step on shore, when the party of Pilgrims, sent out from Cape Cod Harbor to Select a habitation, landed on this island, and passed the night of the 9th of December, O. S. 1620. _Vide_ Morton's Memorial, 1669, Plymouth Ed. 1826. p. 35: Young's Chronicles, p. 160; Bradford's His. Plym. Plantation, p. 87. This delineation removes all doubt as to the missing island in Plymouth Harbor, and shows the incorrectness of the theory as to its being Saquish Head, suggested in a note in Young's Chronicles, p. 64. _Vide_ also Mourt's Relation, Dexter's ed., note 197.]
_D_. Sandy downs. [Note: Saquish Neck]
_E_. Shoals.
_F_. Cabins where the savages till the ground.
_G_. Place where we beached our barque.
_H_. Land having the appearance of an island, covered with wood and adjoining the sandy downs. [Note: Saquish Head, which seems to have been somewhat changed since the time of Champlain. Compare Coast Survey Chart of Plymouth Harbor, 1857.]
_I_. A high promontory which may be seen four or five leagues at sea. [Note: Manomet Bluff.]

* * * * *

On the 19th of the month, we set out from this place. Coasting along in a southerly direction, we sailed four or five leagues, and passed near a rock on a level with the surface of the water. As we continued our course, we saw some land which seemed to us to be islands, but as we came nearer we found it to be the main land, lying to the north-north-west of us, and that it was the cape of a large bay, [164] containing more than eighteen or nineteen leagues in circuit, into which we had run so far that we had to wear off on the other tack in order to double the cape which we had seen. The latter we named Cap Blanc, [165] since it contained sands and downs which had a white appearance. A favorable wind was of great assistance to us here, for otherwise we should have been in danger of being driven upon the coast. This bay is very safe, provided the land be not approached nearer than a good league, there being no islands nor rocks except that just mentioned, which is near a river that extends some distance inland, which we named St. Suzanne du Cap Blanc, [166] whence across to Cap St. Louis the distance is ten leagues. Cap Blanc is a point of sand, which bends around towards the south some six leagues. This coast is rather high, and consists of sand, which is very conspicuous as one comes from the Sea. At a distance of some fifteen or eighteen leagues from land, the depth of the water is thirty, forty, and fifty fathoms, but only ten on nearing the shore, which is unobstructed. There is a large extent of open country along the shore before reaching the woods, which are very attractive and beautiful. We anchored off the coast, and saw some savages, towards whom four of our company proceeded. Making their way upon a sand-bank, they observed something like a bay, and cabins bordering it on all sides. When they were about a league and a half from us, there came to them a savage dancing all over, as they expressed it. He had come down from the high shore, but turned about shortly after to inform his fellow inhabitants of our arrival.

The next day, the 20th of the month, we went to the place which our men had seen, and which we found a very dangerous harbor in consequence of the shoals and banks, where we saw breakers in all directions. It was almost low tide when we entered, and there were only four feet of water in the northern passage; at high tide, there are two fathoms. After we had entered, we found the place very spacious, being perhaps three or four leagues in circuit, entirely surrounded by little houses, around each one of which there was as much land as the occupant needed for his support. A small river enters here, which is very pretty, and in which at low tide there are some three and a half feet of water. There are also two or three brooks bordered by meadows. It would be a very fine place, if the harbor were good. I took the altitude, and found the latitude 42°, and the deflection of the magnetic needle 18° 40'. Many savages, men and women, visited us, and ran up on all sides dancing. We named this place Port de Mallebarre. [167]

* * * * *



_The figures indicate fathoms of water_.

_A_. The two entrances to the harbor.
_B_. Sandy downs where the savages killed a sailor belonging to the barque of Sieur de Monts.
_C_. Places in the harbor where the barque of Sieur de Monts was.
_D_. Spring on the shore of the harbor.
_E_. A river flowing into the harbor.
_F_. A brook.
_G_. A small river where quantities of fish are caught.
_H_. Sandy downs with low shrubs and many vines.
_I_. Island at the point of the downs.
_L_. Houses and dwelling-places of the savages that till the land.
_M_. Shoals and sand-banks at the entrance and inside of the harbor.
_O_. Sandy downs.
_P_. Sea-coast,
_q_. Barque of Sieur de Poutrincourt when he visited the place two years after Sieur de Monts.
_R_. Landing of the party of Sieur de Poutrincourt.

NOTES. A comparison of this map with the Coast Survey Charts will show very great changes in this harbor since the days of Champlain. Not only has the mouth of the bay receded towards the south, but this recession appears to have left entirely dry much of the area which was flooded in 1605. Under reference _q_, on the above map, it is intimated that De Poutrincourt's visit was two years after that of De Monts. It was more than one, and was the second year after, but not, strictly speaking, "two years after."

* * * * *

The next day, the 21st of the month, Sieur de Monts determined to go and see their habitation. Nine or ten of us accompanied him with our arms; the rest remained to guard the barque. We went about a league along the coast. Before reaching their cabins, we entered a field planted with Indian corn in the manner before described. The corn was in flower, and five and a half feet high. There was some less advanced, which they plant later. We saw many Brazilian beans, and many squashes of various sizes, very good for eating; some tobacco, and roots which they cultivate, the latter having the taste of an artichoke. The woods are filled with oaks, nut-trees, and beautiful cypresses, [168] which are of a reddish color and have a very pleasant odor. There were also several fields entirely uncultivated, the land being allowed to remain fallow. When they wish to plant it, they set fire to the weeds, and then work it over with their wooden spades. Their cabins are round, and covered with heavy thatch made of reeds. In the roof there is an opening of about a foot and a half, whence the smoke from the fire passes out. We asked them if they had their permanent abode in this place, and whether there was much snow. But we were unable to ascertain this fully from them, not understanding their language, although they made an attempt to inform us by signs, by taking some sand in their hands. Spreading it out over the ground, and indicating that it was of the color of our collars, and that it reached the depth of a foot. Others made signs that there was less, and gave us to understand also that the harbor never froze; but we were unable to ascertain whether the snow lasted long. I conclude, however, that this region is of moderate temperature, and the winter not severe. While we were there, there was a north-cast storm, which lasted four days; the sky being so overcast that the sun hardly shone at all. It was very cold, and we were obliged to put on our great-coats, which we had entirely left off. Yet I think the cold was accidental, as it is often experienced elsewhere out of season.

On the 23d of July, four or five seamen having gone on shore with some kettles to get fresh water, which was to be found in one of the sand-banks a short distance from our barque, some of the savages, coveting them, watched the time when our men went to the spring, and then seized one out of the hands of a sailor, who was the first to dip, and who had no weapons. One of his companions, starting to run after him, soon returned, as he could not catch him, since he ran much faster than himself. The other savages, of whom there were a large number, seeing our sailors running to our barque, and at the same time shouting to us to fire at them, took to flight. At the time there were some of them in our barque, who threw themselves into the sea, only one of whom we were able to seize. Those on the land who had taken to flight, seeing them swimming, returned straight to the sailor from whom they had taken away the kettle, hurled several arrows at him from behind, and brought him down. Seeing this, they ran at once to him, and despatched him with their knives. Meanwhile, haste was made to go on shore, and muskets were fired from our barque: mine, bursting in my hands, came near killing me. The savages, hearing this discharge of fire-arms, took to flight, and with redoubled speed when they saw that we had landed, for they were afraid when they saw us running after them. There was no likelihood of our catching them, for they are as swift as horses. We brought in the murdered man, and he was buried some hours later. Meanwhile, we kept the prisoner bound by the feet and hands on board of our barque, fearing that he might escape. But Sieur de Monts resolved to let him go, being persuaded that he was not to blame, and that he had no previous knowledge of what had transpired, as also those who, at the time, were in and about our barque. Some hours later there came some savages to us, to excuse themselves, indicating by signs and demonstrations that it was not they who had committed this malicious act, but others farther off in the interior. We did not wish to harm them, although it was in our power to avenge ourselves.

All these savages from the Island Cape wear neither robes nor furs, except very rarely: moreover, their robes are made of grasses and hemp, scarcely covering the body, and coming down only to their thighs. They have only the sexual parts concealed with a small piece of leather; so likewise the women, with whom it comes down a little lower behind than with the men, all the rest of the body being naked. Whenever the women came to see us, they wore robes which were open in front. The men cut off the hair on the top of the head like those at the river Choüacoet. I saw, among other things, a girl with her hair very neatly dressed, with a skin colored red, and bordered on the upper part with little shell-beads. A part of her hair hung down behind, the rest being braided in various ways. These people paint the face red, black, and yellow. They have scarcely any beard, and tear it out as fast as it grows. Their bodies are well-proportioned. I cannot tell what government they have, but I think that in this respect they resemble their neighbors, who have none at all. They know not how to worship or pray; yet, like the other savages, they have some superstitions, which I shall describe in their place. As for weapons, they have only pikes, clubs, bows and arrows. It would seem from their appearance that they have a good disposition, better than those of the north, but they are all in fact of no great worth. Even a slight intercourse with them gives you at once a knowledge of them. They are great thieves and, if they cannot lay hold of any thing with their hands, they try to do so with their feet, as we have oftentimes learned by experience. I am of opinion that, if they had any thing to exchange with us, they would not give themselves to thieving. They bartered away to us their bows, arrows, and quivers, for pins and buttons; and if they had had any thing else better they would have done the same with it. It is necessary to be on one's guard against this people, and live in a state of distrust of them, yet without letting them perceive it. They gave us a large quantity of tobacco, which they dry and then reduce to powder. [169] When they eat Indian corn, they boil it in earthen pots, which they make in a way different from ours. [170]. They bray it also in wooden mortars and reduce it to flour, of which they then make cakes, like the Indians of Peru.

In this place and along the whole coast from Quinibequy, there are a great many _siguenocs_, [171] which is a fish with a shell on its back like the tortoise, yet different, there being in the middle a row of little prickles, of the color of a dead leaf, like the rest of the fish. At the end of this shell, there is another still smaller, bordered by very sharp points. The length of the tail-varies according to their size. With the end of it, these people point their arrows, and it contains also a row of prickles like the large shell in which are the eyes. There are eight small feet like those of the crab, and two behind longer and flatter, which they use in swimming. There are also in front two other very small ones with which they eat. When walking, all the feet are concealed excepting the two hindermost which are slightly visible. Under the small shell there are membranes which swell up, and beat like the throat of a frog, and rest upon each other like the folds of a waistcoat. The largest specimen of this fish that I saw was a foot broad, and a foot and a half long.

We saw also a sea-bird [172] with a black beak, the upper part slightly aquiline, four inches long and in the form of a lancet; namely, the lower part representing the handle and the upper the blade, which is thin, sharp on both sides, and shorter by a third than the other, which circumference is a matter of astonishment to many persons, who cannot comprehend how it is possible for this bird to eat with such a beak. It is of the size of a pigeon, the wings being very long in proportion to the body, the tail short, as also the legs, which are red; the feet being small and flat. The plumage on the upper part is gray-brown, and on the under part pure white. They go always in flocks along the sea-shore, like the pigeons with us.

The savages, along all these coasts where we have been, say that other birds, which are very large, come along when their corn is ripe. They imitated for us their cry, which resembles that of the turkey. They showed us their feathers in several places, with which they feather their arrows, and which they put on their heads for decoration; and also a kind of hair which they have under the throat like those we have in France, and they say that a red crest falls over upon the beak. According to their description, they are as large as a bustard, which is a kind of goose, having the neck longer and twice as large as those with us. All these indications led us to conclude that they were turkeys. [173] We should have been very glad to see some of these birds, as well as their feathers, for the sake of greater certainty. Before seeing their feathers, and the little bunch of hair which they have under the throat, and hearing their cry imitated, I should have thought that they were certain birds like turkeys, which are found in some places in Peru, along the sea-shore, eating carrion and other dead things like crows. But these are not so large; nor do they have so long a bill, or a cry like that of real turkeys; nor are they good to eat like those which the Indians say come in flocks in summer, and at the beginning of winter go away to warmer countries, their natural dwelling-place.


160. It will be observed that, after doubling this cape, they sailed two leagues, and then entered Plymouth Harbor, and consequently this cape must have been what is now known as Brant Point.

161. The latitude is 42° 5'.

162. This was plainly our Indian hemp, _Asclepias incarnata_. "The fibres of the bark are strong, and capable of being wrought into a fine soft thread; but it is very difficult to separate the bark from the stalk. It is said to have been used by the Indians for bow-strings."--_Vide Cutler in Memoirs of the American Academy_, Vol. I. p. 424. It is the Swamp Milkweed of Gray, and grows in wet grounds. One variety is common in New England. The Pilgrims found at Plymouth "an excellent strong kind of Flaxe and Hempe"--_Vide Mourt's Relation_, Dexter's ed. p. 62.

163. _Port du Cap St. Louis_. From the plain, the map in his edition of 1613, drawing of this Harbor left by Champlain, and also that of the edition of 1632, it is plain that the "Port du Cap St. Louis" is Plymouth Harbor, where anchored the "Mayflower" a little more than fifteen years later than this, freighted with the first permanent English colony established in New England, commonly known as the Pilgrims. The Indian name of the harbor, according to Captain John Smith, who visited it in 1614. was Accomack. He gave it, by direction of Prince Charles, the name of Plymouth. More recent investigations point to this harbor as the one visited by Martin Pring in 1603.-- _Vide Paper by the Rev Benj. F. De Costa, before the New England His. Gen. Society_, Nov. 7, 1877, New England His. and Gen. Register, Vol. XXXII. p. 79.

The interview of the French with the natives was brief, but courteous and friendly on both sides. The English visits were interrupted by more or less hostility. "When Pring was about ready to leave, the Indians became hostile and set the woods on fire, and he saw it burn 'for a mile space.'"--_De Costa_. A skirmish of some seriousness occurred with Smith's party. "After much kindnesse upon a small occasion, wee fought also with fortie or fiftie of those: though some were hurt, and some slaine, yet within an hour after they became friends."--_Smith's New England_, Boston, ed. 1865, p. 45.

164. Cape Cod Bay.

165. They named it "le Cap Blanc," the White Cape, from its white appearance, while Bartholomew Gosnold, three years before, had named it Cape Cod from the multitude of codfish near its shores. Captain John Smith called it Cape James. All the early navigators who passed along our Atlantic coast seem to have seen the headland of Cape Cod. It is well defined on Juan de la Cosa's map of 1500, although no name is given to it. On Ribero's map of 1529 it is called _C. de arenas_. On the map of Nic. Vallard de Dieppe of 1543, it is called _C. de Croix_.

166. Wellfleet Harbor. It may be observed that a little farther back Champlain says that, having sailed along in a southerly direction four or five leagues, they were at a place where there was a "rock on a level with the surface of the water," and that they saw lying north-north-west of them Cap Blanc, that is, Cape Cod; he now says that the "rock" is near a river, which they named St. Suzanne du Cap Blanc, and that from it to Cap St. Louis the distance is ten leagues. Now, as the distance across to Brant Point, or Cap St. Louis, from Wellfleet Harbor, is ten leagues, and as Cap Blanc or Cape Cod is north-northwest of it, it is plain that Wellfleet Harbor or Herring River, which flows into it, was the river which they named St. Suzanne du Cap Blanc, and that the "rock on a level with the water" was one of the several to be found near the entrance of Wellfleet Bay. It may have been the noted Bay Rock or Blue Rock.

167. _Port de Mallebarre_, Nauset Harbor, in latitude 41° 48'. By comparing Champlain's map of the harbor, it will be seen that important changes have taken place since 1605. The entrance has receded a mile or more towards the south, and this has apparently changed its interior channel, and the whole form of the bay. The name itself has drifted away with the sands, and feebly clings to the extremity of Monomoy Point at the heel of the Cape.

168. Not strictly a cypress, but rather a juniper, the Savin, or red cedar, _Juniparus Virginiana_, a tree of exclusively American origin; and consequently it could not be truly characterized by any name then known to Champlain.

169. The method of preparing tobacco here for smoking was probably not different from that of the Indian tribes in Canada. Among the Huron antiquities in the Museum at the University Laval are pipes which were found already filled with tobacco, so prepared as to resemble our fine-cut tobacco.--_Vide Laverdière in loco_.

170. The following description of the Indian pottery, and the method of its manufacture by their women, as quoted by Laverdière from Sagard's History of Canada, who wrote in 1636, will be interesting to the antiquary, and will illustrate what Champlain means by "a way different from ours:"--

"They are skilful in making good earthen pots, which they harden very well on the hearth, and which are so strong that they do not, like our own, break over the fire when having no water in them. But they cannot sustain dampness nor cold water so long as our own, since they become brittle and break at the least shock given them; otherwise they last very well. The savages make them by taking some earth of the right kind, which they clean and knead well in their hands, mixing with it, on what principle I know not, a small quantity of grease. Then making the mass into the shape of a ball, they make an indentation in the middle of it with the fist, which they make continually larger by striking repeatedly on the outside with a little wooden paddle as much as is necessary to complete it. These vessels are of different sizes, without feet or handles, completely round like a ball, excepting the mouth, which projects a little."

171. This crustacean, _Limulus polyphemus_, is still seen on the strands of New England. They are found in great abundance in more southern waters: on the shores of Long Island and New Jersey, they are collected in boat-loads and made useful for fertilizing purposes. Champlain has left a drawing of it on his large map. It is vulgarly known as the king-crab, or horse-foot; to the latter it bears a striking similarity. This very accurate description of Champlain was copied by De Laet into his elaborate work "Novvs Orbis," published in 1633, accompanied by an excellent wood-engraving. This species is peculiar to our Atlantic waters, and naturally at that time attracted the attention of Europeans, who had not seen it before.

172. The Black skimmer or Cut-water, _Rhynchops nigra_. It appears to be distinct from, but closely related to, the Terns. This bird is here described with general accuracy. According to Dr. Coues, it belongs more particularly to the South Atlantic and Gulf States, where it is very abundant; it is frequent in the Middle States, and only occasionally seen in New England. The wings are exceedingly long; they fly in close flocks, moving simultaneously. They seem to feed as they skim low over the water, the under-mandible grazing or cutting the surface, and thus taking in their food.--_Vide Coues's Key to North American Birds_, Boston, 1872, p. 324.

Whether Champlain saw this bird as a "stray" on the shores of Cape Cod, or whether it has since ceased to come in large numbers as far north as formerly, offers an interesting inquiry for the ornithologists. Specimens may be seen in the Museum of the Boston Society of Natural History.

173. Champlain was clearly correct in his conclusion. The wild Turkey, _Meleagris gallopavo_, was not uncommon in New England at that period. Wood and Josselyn and Higginson, all speak of it fully:--

"Of these, sometimes there will be forty, threescore and a hundred of a flocke; sometimes more, and sometimes lesse; their feeding is Acornes, Hawes, and Berries; some of them get a haunt to frequent our _English_ corne: In winter, when the snow covers the ground, they resort to the Sea shore to look for Shrimps, and such small Fishes at low tides. Such as love Turkie hunting, most follow it in winter after a new-falne Snow, when hee may followe them by their tracts; some have killed ten or a dozen in half a day; if they can be found towards an evening and watched where they peirch, if one come about ten or eleven of the clock, he may shoote as often as he will, they will sit, unlesse they be slenderly wounded. These Turkies remaine all the yeare long, the price of a good Turkey cocke is foure shillings; and he is well worth it for he may be in weight forty pound: a Hen, two shillings."--_Wood's New England Prospect_, 1634, Prince Society ed., Boston, p. 32.

"The _Turkie_, who is blacker than ours; I haue heard several credible persons affirm, they haue seen _Turkie Cocks_ that have weighed forty, yea sixty pound; but out of my personal experimental knowledge I can assure you, that I haue eaten my share of a _Turkie Cock_, that when he was pull'd and garbidg'd, weighed thirty [9] pound; and I haue also seen threescore broods of young _Turkies_ on the side of a marsh, sunning themselves in a morning betimes, but this was thirty years since, the _English_ and the _Indians_ having now destroyed the breed, so that 'tis very rare to meet with a wild _Turkie_ in the Woods: But some of the _English_ bring up great store of the wild kind, which remain about their Houses as tame as ours in _England_."--_New England's Rarities_, by John Josselyn, Gent., London, 1672, Tuckerman's ed., pp. 41, 42.

"Here are likewise abundance of Turkies often killed in the Woods, farre greater then our English Turkies, and exceeding fat, sweet, and fleshy, for here they haue aboundance of feeding all the yeere long, as Strawberriees, in Summer at places are full of them and all manner of Berries and Fruits."--_New England Plantation_, by Francis Higginson, London, 1630. _Vide_ also _Bradford's Hist. Plym. Plantation_, 1646, Deane's ed., Boston, 1856. p. 105.

It appears to be the opinion among recent ornithologists that the species of turkey, thus early found in New England, was the _Meleagris Americana_, long since extirpated, and not identical with our domesticated bird. Our domestic turkey is supposed to have originated in the West Indies or in Mexico, and to have been transplanted as tamed to other parts of this continent, and to Europe, and named by Linnaeus. _Meleagris gallopavo_.--_Vide Report on the Zoology of Pacific Railroad Routes_, by Baird, Washington, 1858. Vol. IX. Part II. pp. 613-618; _Coues's Key_, Boston, 1872, pp. 231, 232.

This is the conclusion of Chapter 8 of Voyages
Click here for Chapter 9


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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