Today’s installment concludes Cartier Explores Canada,
our selection from The History of Canada under French Regime by Henry H. Miles published in 1881.
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Previously in Cartier Explores Canada.
Place: Canadian Coast
Winter came, but not Roberval with the expected supplies of warlike stores and men, now so much needed, in order to curb the insolence of the natives. Of the incidents of that winter passed at Cap-Rouge, there is but little reliable information extant. It is understood, however, that the Indians continued to harass and molest the French throughout the period of their stay, and that Cartier, with his inadequate force, found it difficult to repel their attacks. When spring came round, the inconveniences to which they had been exposed, and the discouraging character of their prospects, led to a unanimous determination to abandon the station and return to France as soon as possible.[*]
* Early in the spring of 1542 Cartier seems to have made several small excursions in search of gold and silver. That these existed in the country, especially in the region of the Saguenay, was intimated to him by the Indians; and this information probably led Roberval afterward to undertake his unfortunate excursion to Tadousac. Cartier did find a yellowish material, which he styled “poudre d’or,” and which he took to France, after exhibiting it to Roberval when he met him at Newfoundland. It is likely that this was merely fine sand intermixed with particles of mica. He also took with him small transparent stones, which he supposed to be diamonds, but which could have been no other than transparent crystals of quartz.
At the very time that Cartier, in Canada, was occupied in preparations for the re-embarkation of the people who had wintered at Cap-Rouge, Roberval, in France, was completing his arrangements for departure from Rochelle with three considerable ships. In these were embarked two hundred persons, consisting of gentlemen, soldiers, sailors, and colonists, male and female, among whom was a considerable number of criminals taken out of the public prisons. The two squadrons met in the harbor of St. John’s, Newfoundland, when Cartier, after making his report to Roberval, was desired to return with the outward-bound expedition to Canada. Foreseeing the failure of the undertaking, or, as some have alleged, unwilling to allow another to participate in the credit of his discoveries, Cartier disobeyed the orders of his superior officer. Various accounts have been given of this transaction, according to some of which, Cartier, to avoid detention or importunity, weighed anchor in the night-time and set sail for France.
Roberval resumed his voyage westward, and by the close of July had ascended the St. Lawrence to Cap-Rouge, where he at once established his colonists in the quarters recently vacated by Cartier.
It is unnecessary to narrate in detail the incidents which transpired in connection with Roberval’s expedition, as this proved a signal failure, and produced no results of consequence to the future fortunes of the country. It is sufficient to state that, although Roberval himself was a man endowed with courage and perseverance, he found himself powerless to cope with the difficulties of his position, which included insubordination that could be repressed only by means of the gallows and other extreme modes of punishment; disease, which carried off a quarter of his followers in the course of the ensuing winter; unsuccessful attempts at exploration, attended with considerable loss of life; and finally famine, which reduced the surviving French to a state of abject dependence upon the natives for the salvation of their lives. Roberval had sent one of his vessels back to France, with urgent demands for succor; but the King, instead of acceding to his petition, despatched orders for him to return home. It is stated, on somewhat doubtful authority, that Cartier himself was deputed to bring home the relics of the expedition; and, if so, this distinguished navigator must have made a fourth voyage out to the regions which he had been the first to make known to the world. Thus ended Roberval’s abortive attempt to establish a French colony on the banks of the St. Lawrence.
Of the principal actors in the scenes which have been described, but little remains to be recorded. Roberval, after having distinguished himself in the European wars carried on by Francis I, is stated to have fitted out another expedition, in conjunction with his brother, in the year 1549, for the purpose of making a second attempt to found a colony in Canada; but he and all with him perished at sea. The intrepid Cartier, by whose services in the western hemisphere so extensive an addition had been made to the dominions of the King of France, was suffered to retire into obscurity, and is supposed to have passed the remainder of his days on a small estate possessed by him in the neighborhood of his native place, St. Malo. The date of his decease is unknown.[*]
* Cartier was born December 31, 1494. He was therefore in the prime of life when he discovered Canada, and not more than forty-nine years of age at the time when he returned home from his last trip to the west.
This ends our series of passages on Cartier Explores Canada by H. H. Miles. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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