Sunday, July 3, 2016

Champlain Founds a Habitation on the Bluffs

This fanciful depiction of the arrival of Samuel de Champlain at the site of the future Quebec City was painted in 1808 by George Agnew Reid.  The local Algonquian tribes did not adorn themselves in Plains Indian war bonnets and were not known to have dispatched such a welcoming committee.

On June 3, 1608 French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded Ville de Québec—Quebec City at the site of Stadacona, a long abandoned St. Lawrence Iroquoian settlement.  It was the first permanent settlement in North America built outside of Spanish possessions.  The town was built in an easily fortified position on the top of bluffs on the north side of the St. Lawrence River where it narrows considerably.  It is surrounded by a low plain—later named The Plains of Abraham—that comprise some of the richest agricultural land in Canada. 
The site was already familiar to the French.  Early explorer Jacques Cartier built a crude palisade fort to protect him from the natives and wintered on the site in 1535.  He returned to France the next year with news of his discoveries and to raise money and gather settlers for a permanent settlement.  He returned in 1541 to try to raise a colony there but was driven off within a year by hostile natives and a harsh winter. 
Champlain was a member of a family of mariners.  He made his first voyages to the New World with François Gravé Du Pont in 1503 and participated in the exploration of Acadia and helped build the early trading post and fort at Port Royal.  On a subsequent voyage he explored the eastern seaboard as far south as Cape Cod.  

No life portraits exist of Champlain, a non-noble merchant and trader.  This 1870 rendering by
Théophile Hamel was based on three earlier inauthentic portraits going back to 1650.
In 1608 he was outfitted for settlement of the St. Lawrence by the Protestant merchant Pierre Dugua de Mons.  Champlain was in command of the largest of three ships which carried in addition to trade goods a compliment of working men intended as permanent settlers.  Champlain and his men landed at the site of Quebec in early July. 
He immediately began fortifying the position and building the Habitation.  By the end of the summer he had built three main wooden buildings, each two stories tall inside a palisade.  He made this his base for further exploration of the area.  The next summer he made peace with local Huron and other Algonquin speaking tribes, the basis for a hoped for fur trade.  

The Habitation of Quebec.

As a condition of the alliance they required him to help make war on their traditional Iroquoian enemies to the south.  On the journey he explored and mapped Lake Champlain.  With three other Frenchmen and a party of about 50 warriors, he encountered a large party of as many as 200 Iroquois near the later site of Ft. Ticonderoga.  When they attacked Champlain fired his arquebus, an early fuse fired gun, killing two chiefs and scattering the rest of the astonished enemy which never seen or heard anything like it. 
The skirmish set the pattern of alliances that would mark the next 150 years—the Hurons and their allies with the French and the Iroquois aligning with the eventual English colonists. 

Champlain himself drew the sketch on which this wood block illustation of him firing his arquebus in a skirmish with the Iroquois near Lake Champlain in 1609.

In 1610 Champlain returned to France to find new support when the Court turned against Protestants like his patron.  He returned in 1613 with the backing of new merchants from Rouen with the proper connections at Court and Catholic bona fides.  From that point on Champlain was the de facto governor of New France. 
He personally explored deep into the continent in search of a fabled passage to the “northern sea”—now known as Hudson’s Bay. 
On another trip back to France maps, illustrations, and a detailed account of his explorations which were published as his Voyages.  He also formed his own merchant company, Compagnie
When he returned he brought with him the first of the Black Robes, the Roman Catholic Jesuit missionary priests who would be supported by a new seigneurie consisting of 30% of the best land in Canada.  For the next 20 Champlain would explore, trade, and build a stable and prosperous colony around his bastion at Quebec City between periodic trips to France.  He explored and mapped much of the Great Lakes and many of the rivers feeding into them. 

Powerful Cardinal Richelieu became Champlain's patron and protector at Court when he muscled his way into the partnership underwriting Champlain's lucrative fur trade.
In 1627 powerful Cardinal Richelieu broke the previous trading monopoly and formed a new company with himself at his head.  Champlain was given a share and given the title of Commander of New France in the absence of my lord the Cardinal of Richelieu.
In 1628 Quebec was captured by a company of armed British merchants, the Kirke Brothers as part of a larger war between England and France.  Many of the Quebec colonists were captured and sent to England and eventually repatriated to France.  Champlain stayed in London while working to regain the colony because the city had been captured three months after peace had been settled in Europe.  It was not, however, until the 1632 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye that Quebec was formally given back to France.  Kirke was knighted by the English monarch and awarded the Charter for Newfoundland. 
After an absence of five years Champlain returned to Quebec with a new title bestowed by the Cardinal, Lieutenant General of New France. He could not officially be governor because he was not a noble.  He had to rebuild Quebec City on the ruins left by the Kirke Brothers and strengthen its fortifications.  He also established to other Habitations and launched a war against the Iroquois, who had abetted the English. 
The next year, 1634 Champlain suffered a stroke in October and died on Christmas Day.  He left no direct heirs and his will was successfully contested by distant relatives.  In a real sense, Canada was his heir.


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