Chapter Title: Early French Adventure in North America
Today we begin a new series by one of the greatest American historians, Francis Parkman. Here is the definitive account of how France settled Canada. Skipping the lengthy introduction and Part I, we begin with Part Two.
Our special project presenting the definitive account of France in Canada by Francis Parkman, one of America’s greatest historians.
It was he who crushed French Protestantism in America. To plant religious freedom on this western soil was not the mission of France. It was for her to rear in northern forests the banner of absolutism and of Rome; while among the rocks of Massachusetts England and Calvin fronted her in dogged opposition, long before the ice-crusted pines of Plymouth had listened to the rugged psalmody of the Puritan, the solitudes of Western New York and the stern wilderness of Lake Huron were trodden by the iron heel of the soldier and the sandaled foot of the Franciscan friar. France was the true pioneer of the Great West. They who bore the fleur-de-lis were always in the van, patient, daring, indomitable. And foremost on this bright roll of forest chivalry stands the half-forgotten name of Samuel de Champlain
When America was first made known to Europe, the part assumed by France on the borders of that new world was peculiar, and is little recognized. While the Spaniard roamed sea and land, burning for achievement, red-hot with bigotry and avarice, and while England, with soberer steps and a less dazzling result, followed in the path of discovery and gold-hunting, it was from France that those barbarous shores first learned to serve the ends of peaceful commercial industry.A French writer, however, advances a more ambitious claim. In the year 1488, four years before the first voyage of Columbus, America, he maintains, was found by Frenchmen. Cousin, a navigator of Dieppe, being at sea off the African coast, was forced westward, it is said, by winds and currents to within sight of an unknown shore, where he presently descried the mouth of a great river. On board his ship was one Pinzon, whose conduct became so mutinous that, on his return to Dieppe, Cousin made complaint to the magistracy, who thereupon dismissed the offender from the maritime service of the town. Pinzon went to Spain, became known to Columbus, told him the discovery, and joined him on his voyage of 1492
from Modern Europe to the Newfoundland Fishing Banks
To leave this cloudland of tradition, and approach the confines of recorded history. The Normans, offspring of an ancestry of conquerors, — the Bretons, that stubborn, hardy, unchanging race, who, among Druid monuments changeless as themselves, still cling with Celtic obstinacy to the thoughts and habits of the past, — the Basques, that primeval people, older than history, — all frequented from a very early date the cod-banks of Newfoundland. There is some reason to believe that this fishery existed before the voyage of Cabot, in 1497; there is strong evidence that it began as early as the year 1504; and it is well established that, in 1517, fifty Castilian, French, and Portuguese vessels were engaged in it at once; while in 1527, on the third of August, eleven sail of Norman, one of Breton, and two of Portuguese fishermen were to be found in the Bay of St. John.From this time forth, the Newfoundland fishery was never abandoned. French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese made resort to the Banks, always jealous, often quarrelling, but still drawing up treasure from those exhaustless mines, and bearing home bountiful provision against the season of Lent.On this dim verge of the known world there were other perils than those of the waves. The rocks and shores of those sequestered seas had, so thought the voyagers, other tenants than the seal, the walrus, and the screaming sea-fowl, the bears which stole away their fish before their eyes, and the wild natives dressed in seal-skins. Griffius — so ran the story — infested the mountains of Labrador. Two islands, north of Newfoundland, were given over to the fiends from whom they derived their name, the Isles of Demons. An old map pictures their occupants at length, — devils rampant, with wings, horns, and tail. The passing voyager heard the din of their infernal orgies, and woe to the sailor or the fisherman who ventured alone into the haunted woods.
“True it is,” writes the old cosmographer Thevet, “and I myself have heard it, not from one, but from a great number of the sailors and pilots with whom I have made many voyages, that, when they passed this way, they heard in the air, on the tops and about the masts, a great clamor of men’s voices, confused and inarticulate, such as you may hear from the crowd at a fair or market-place whereupon they well knew that the Isle of Demons was not far off.”
And he adds, that he himself, when among the Indians, had seen them so tormented by these infernal persecutors, that they would fall into his arms for relief; on which, repeating a passage of the Gospel of St. John, he had driven the imps of darkness to a speedy exodus. They are comely to look upon, he further tells us; yet, by reason of their malice, that island is of late abandoned, and all who dwelt there have fled for refuge to the main.
While French fishermen plied their trade along these gloomy coasts, the French government spent it’s energies on a different field. The vitality of the kingdom was wasted in Italian wars. Milan and Naples offered a more tempting prize than the wilds of Baccalaos. Eager for glory and for plunder, a swarm of restless nobles followed their knight-errant King, the would-be paladin, who, misshapen in body and fantastic in mind, had yet the power to raise a storm which the lapse of generations could not quell. Under Charles the Eighth and his successor, war and intrigue ruled the day; and in the whirl of Italian politics there was no leisure to think of a new world.Yet private enterprise was not quite benumbed. In 1506, one Denis of Honfleur explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence; 2 two years later, Aubert of Dieppe followed on his track; and in 1518, the Baron de Lery made an abortive attempt at settlement on Sable Island, where the cattle left by him remained and multiplied.The crown passed at length to Francis of Angouleme. There were in his nature seeds of nobleness, — seeds destined to bear little fruit. Chivalry and honor were always on his lips; but Francis the First, a forsworn gentleman, a despotic king, vainglorious, selfish, sunk in debaucheries, was but the type of an era which retained the forms of the Middle Age without its soul, and added to a still prevailing barbarism the pestilential vices which hung fog-like around the dawn of civilization. Yet he esteemed arts and letters, and, still more, coveted the eclat which they could give. The light which was beginning to pierce the feudal darkness gathered its rays around his throne. Italy was rewarding the robbers who preyed on her with the treasures of her knowledge and her culture; and Italian genius, of whatever stamp, found ready patronage at the hands of Francis. Among artists, philosophers, and men of letters enrolled in his service stands the humbler name of a Florentine navigator, John Verrazzano.
He was born of an ancient family, which could boast names eminent in Florentine history, and of which the last survivor died in 1819. He has been called a pirate, and he was such in the same sense in which Drake, Hawkins, and other valiant sea-rovers of his own and later times, merited the name; that is to say, he would plunder and kill a Spaniard on the high seas without waiting for a declaration of war.The wealth of the Indies was pouring into the coffers of Charles the Fifth, and the exploits of Cortes had given new luster to his crown. Francis the First begrudged his hated rival the glories and profits of the New World. He would fain have his share of the prize; and Verrazzano, with four ships, was dispatched to seek out a passage westward to the rich kingdom of Cathay.Some doubt has of late been cast on the reality of this voyage of Verrazzano, and evidence, mainly negative in kind, has been adduced to prove the story of it a fabrication; but the difficulties of incredulity appear greater than those of belief, and no ordinary degree of skepticism is required to reject the evidence that the narrative is essentially true.Towards the end of the year 1523, his four ships sailed from Dieppe; but a storm fell upon him, and, with two of the vessels, he ran back in distress to a port of Brittany. What became of the other two does not appear. Neither is it clear why, after a preliminary cruise against the Spaniards, he pursued his voyage with one vessel alone, a caravel called the “Dauphine.” With her he made for Madeira, and, on the seventeenth of January, 1524, set sail from a barren islet in its neighborhood, and bore away for the unknown world. In forty-nine days they neared a low shore, not far from the site of Wilmington in North Carolina, “a newe land,” exclaims the voyager, “never before seen of any man, either auncient or moderne.” Verrazzano steered southward in search of a harbor, and, finding none, turned northward again. Presently he sent a boat ashore. The inhabitants, who had fled at first, soon came down to the strand in wonder and admiration, pointing out a landing-place, and making gestures of friendship. “These people,” says Verrazzano, “goe altogether naked, except only certain skinnes of beastes like unto marterns [martens], which they fasten onto a narrowe girdle made of grasse. They are of colour russet, and not much unlike the Saracens, their hayre blacke, thicke, and not very long, which they tye togeather in a knot behinde, and weare it like a taile.”He describes the shore as consisting of small low hillocks of fine sand, intersected by creeks and inlets, and beyond these a country “full of Palme [pine?] trees, Bay trees, and high Cypresse trees, and many other sortes of trees, vnknowne in Europe, which yeeld most sweete sanours, farre from the shore.” Still advancing northward, Verrazzano sent a boat for a supply of water. The surf ran high, and the crew could not land; but an adventurous young sailor jumped overboard and swam shoreward with a gift of beads and trinkets for the Indians, who stood watching him. His heart failed as he drew near; he flung his gift among them, turned, and struck out for the boat. The surf dashed him back, flinging him with violence on the beach among the recipients of his bounty, who seized him by the arms and legs, and, while he called lustily for aid, answered him with outcries designed to allay his terrors. Next they kindled a great fire,–doubtless to roast and devour him before the eyes of his comrades, gazing in horror from their boat. On the contrary, they carefully warmed him, and were trying to dry his clothes, when, recovering from his bewilderment, he betrayed a strong desire to escape to his friends; whereupon, “with great love, clapping him fast about, with many embracings,” they led him to the shore, and stood watching till he had reached the boat.It only remained to requite this kindness, and an opportunity soon occurred; for, coasting the shores of Virginia or Maryland, a party went on shore and found an old woman, a young girl, and several children, hiding with great terror in the grass. Having, by various blandishments, gained their confidence, they carried off one of the children as a curiosity, and, since the girl was comely, would fain have taken her also, but desisted by reason of her continual screaming.-
Pioneers of France in the New World Part 2, Chapter 1 by Francis Parkman. This was how France first contacts Canada.
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.