On Cartier’s third voyage he pursued his course, sailed three leagues and a half up the St. Lawrence, and anchored off the mouth of the River of Cap Rouge.
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A rigorous climate, a savage people, a fatal disease, and a soil barren of gold were the allurements of New France. Nor were the times auspicious for a renewal of the enterprise. Charles the Fifth, flushed with his African triumphs, challenged the Most Christian King to single combat. The war flamed forth with renewed fury, and ten years elapsed before a hollow truce varnished the hate of the royal rivals with a thin pretence of courtesy. Peace returned; but Francis the First was sinking to his ignominious grave, under the scourge of his favorite goddess, and Chabot, patron of the former voyages, was in disgrace.
Meanwhile the ominous adventure of New France had found a champion in the person of Jean Francois de la Roque, Sieur de Roberval, a nobleman of Picardy. Though a man of high account in his own province, his past honors paled before the splendor of the titles said to have been now conferred on him, Lord of Norembega, Viceroy and Lieutenant-General in Canada, Hochelaga, Saguenay, Newfoundland, Belle Isle, Carpunt, Labrador, the Great Bay, and Baccalaos. To this windy gift of ink and parchment was added a solid grant from the royal treasury, with which five vessels were procured and equipped; and to Cartier was given the post of Captain-General. “We have resolved,” says Francis, “to send him again to the lands of Canada and Hochelaga, which form the extremity of Asia towards the west.” His commission declares the objects of the enterprise to be discovery, settlement, and the conversion of the Indians, who are described as “men without knowledge of God or use of reason,” — a pious design, held doubtless in full sincerity by the royal profligate, now, in his decline, a fervent champion of the Faith and a strenuous tormentor of heretics. The machinery of conversion was of a character somewhat questionable, since Cartier and Roberval were empowered to ransack the prisons for thieves, robbers, and other malefactors, to complete their crews and strengthen the colony.
“Whereas,” says the King, “we have undertaken this voyage for the honor of God our Creator, desiring with all our heart to do that which shall be agreeable to Him, it is our will to perform a compassionate and meritorious work towards criminals and malefactors, to the end that they may acknowledge the Creator, return thanks to Him, and mend their lives. Therefore we have resolved to cause to be delivered to our aforesaid lieutenant (Roberval), such and so many of the aforesaid criminals and malefactors detained in our prisons as may seem to him useful and necessary to be carried to the aforesaid countries.”
Of the expected profits of the voyage the adventurers were to have one third and the King another, while the remainder was to be reserved towards defraying expenses.
With respect to Donnacona and his tribesmen, basely kidnapped at Stadacone, their souls had been better cared for than their bodies; for, having been duly baptized, they all died within a year or two, to the great detriment, as it proved, of the expedition.
Meanwhile, from beyond the Pyrenees, the Most Catholic King, with alarmed and jealous eye, watched the preparations of his Most Christian enemy. America, in his eyes, was one vast province of Spain, to be vigilantly guarded against the intruding foreigner. To what end were men mustered, and ships fitted out in the Breton seaports? Was it for colonization, and if so, where? Was it in Southern Florida, or on the frozen shores of Baccalaos, of which Breton cod-fishers claimed the discovery? Or would the French build forts on the Bahamas, whence they could waylay the gold ships in the Bahama Channel? Or was the expedition destined against the Spanish settlements of the islands or the Main? Reinforcements were dispatched in haste, and a spy was sent to France, who, passing from port to port, Quimper, St. Malo, Brest, Morlaix, came back freighted with exaggerated tales of preparation. The Council of the Indies was called.
“The French are bound for Baccalaos,” — such was the substance of their report; “your Majesty will do well to send two caravels to watch their movements, and a force to take possession of the said country. And since there is no other money to pay for it, the gold from Peru, now at Panama, might be used to that end.”
The Cardinal of Seville thought lightly of the danger, and prophesied that the French would reap nothing from their enterprise but disappointment and loss. The King of Portugal, sole acknowledged partner with Spain in the ownership of the New World, was invited by the Spanish ambassador to take part in an expedition against the encroaching French. “They can do no harm at Baccalaos,” was the cold reply; “and so,” adds the indignant ambassador, “this King would say if they should come and take him here at Lisbon; such is the softness they show here on the one hand, while, on the other, they wish to give law to the whole world.”
The five ships, occasions of this turmoil and alarm, had lain at St. Malo waiting for cannon and munitions from Normandy and Champagne. They waited in vain, and as the King’s orders were stringent against delay, it was resolved that Cartier should sail at once, leaving Roberval to follow with additional ships when the expected supplies arrived.
On the twenty-third of May, 1541, the Breton captain again spread his canvas for New France, and, passing in safety the tempestuous Atlantic, the fog-banks of Newfoundland, the island rocks clouded with screaming sea-fowl, and the forests breathing piny odors from the shore, cast anchor again beneath the cliffs of Quebec. Canoes came out from shore filled with feathered savages inquiring for their kidnapped chiefs. “Donnacona,” replied Cartier, “is dead;” but he added the politic falsehood, that the others had married in France, and lived in state, like great lords. The Indians pretended to be satisfied; but it was soon apparent that they looked askance on the perfidious strangers.
Cartier pursued his course, sailed three leagues and a half up the St. Lawrence, and anchored off the mouth of the River of Cap Rouge. It was late in August, and the leafy landscape sweltered in the sun. The Frenchmen landed, picked up quartz crystals on the shore and thought them diamonds, climbed the steep promontory, drank at the spring near the top, looked abroad on the wooded slopes beyond the little river, waded through the tall grass of the meadow, found a quarry of slate, and gathered scales of a yellow mineral which glistened like gold, then returned to their boats, crossed to the south shore of the St. Lawrence, and, languid with the heat, rested in the shade of forests laced with an entanglement of grape-vines.
Now their task began, and while some cleared off the woods and sowed turnip-seed, others cut a zigzag road up the height, and others built two forts, one at the summit, and one on the shore below. The forts finished, the Vicomte de Beaupre took command, while Cartier went with two boats to explore the rapids above Hochelaga. When at length he returned, the autumn was far advanced; and with the gloom of a Canadian November came distrust, foreboding, and homesickness. Roberval had not appeared; the Indians kept jealously aloof; the motley colony was sullen as the dull, raw air around it. There was disgust and ire at Charlesbourg-Royal, for so the place was called.
Meanwhile, unexpected delays had detained the impatient Roberval; nor was it until the sixteenth of April, 1542, that, with three ships and two hundred colonists, he set sail from Rochelle. When, on the eighth of June, he entered the harbor of St. John, he found seventeen fishing-vessels lying there at anchor. Soon after, he descried three other sail rounding the entrance of the haven, and, with anger and amazement, recognized the ships of Jacques Cartier. That voyager had broken up his colony and abandoned New France. What motives had prompted a desertion little consonant with the resolute spirit of the man it is impossible to say, — whether sickness within, or Indian enemies without, disgust with an enterprise whose unripened fruits had proved so hard and bitter, or discontent at finding himself reduced to a post of subordination in a country which he had discovered and where he had commanded. The Viceroy ordered him to return; but Cartier escaped with his vessels under cover of night, and made sail for France, carrying with him as trophies a few quartz diamonds from Cap Rouge, and grains of sham gold from the neighboring slate ledges. Thus closed the third Canadian voyage of this notable explorer. His discoveries had gained for him a patent of nobility, and he owned the seigniorial mansion of Limoilou, a rude structure of stone still standing. Here, and in the neighboring town of St. Malo, where also he had a house, he seems to have lived for many years.
Roberval once more set sail, steering northward to the Straits of Belle Isle and the dreaded Isles of Demons. And here an incident befell which the all-believing Thevet records in manifest good faith, and which, stripped of the adornments of superstition and a love of the marvelous, has without doubt a nucleus of truth. I give the tale as I find it.
The Viceroy’s company was of a mixed complexion. There were nobles, officers, soldiers, sailors, adventurers, with women too, and children. Of the women, some were of birth and station, and among them a damsel called Marguerite, a niece of Roberval himself. In the ship was a young gentleman who had embarked for love of her. His love was too well requited; and the stern Viceroy, scandalized and enraged at a passion which scorned concealment and set shame at defiance, cast anchor by the haunted island, landed his indiscreet relative, gave her four arquebuses for defense, and, with an old Norman nurse named Bastienne, who had pandered to the lovers, left her to her fate. Her gallant threw himself into the surf, and by desperate effort gained the shore, with two more guns and a supply of ammunition.
The ship weighed anchor, receded, vanished, and they were left alone. Yet not so, for the demon lords of the island beset them day and night, raging around their hut with a confused and hungry clamoring, striving to force the frail barrier. The lovers had repented of their sin, though not abandoned it, and Heaven was on their side. The saints vouchsafed their aid, and the offended Virgin, relenting, held before them her protecting shield. In the form of beasts or other shapes abominably and unutterably hideous, the brood of hell, howling in baffled fury, tore at the branches of the sylvan dwelling; but a celestial hand was ever interposed, and there was a viewless barrier which they might not pass. Marguerite became pregnant. Here was a double prize, two souls in one, mother and child. The fiends grew frantic, but all in vain. She stood undaunted amid these horrors; but her lover, dismayed and heartbroken, sickened and died. Her child soon followed; then the old Norman nurse found her unhallowed rest in that accursed soil, and Marguerite was left alone. Neither her reason nor her courage failed. When the demons assailed her, she shot at them with her gun, but they answered with hellish merriment, and thenceforth she placed her trust in Heaven alone. There were foes around her of the upper, no less than of the nether world. Of these, the bears were the most redoubtable; yet, being vulnerable to mortal weapons, she killed three of them, all, says the story, “as white as an egg.”
It was two years and five months from her landing on the island, when, far out at sea, the crew of a small fishing-craft saw a column of smoke curling upward from the haunted shore. Was it a device of the fiends to lure them to their ruin? They thought so, and kept aloof. But misgiving seized them. They warily drew near, and descried a female figure in wild attire waving signals from the strand. Thus at length was Marguerite rescued and restored to her native France, where, a few years later, the cosmographer Thevet met her at Natron in Perigord, and heard the tale of wonder from her own lips.
Having left his offending niece to the devils and bears of the Isles of Demons, Roberval held his course up the St. Lawrence, and dropped anchor before the heights of Cap Rouge. His company landed; there were bivouacs along the strand, a hubbub of pick and spade, axe, saw, and hammer; and soon in the wilderness uprose a goodly structure, half barrack, half castle, with two towers, two spacious halls, a kitchen, chambers, storerooms, workshops, cellars, garrets, a well, an oven, and two watermills. Roberval named it France-Roy, and it stood on that bold acclivity where Cartier had before intrenched himself, the St. Lawrence in front, and on the right the River of Cap Rouge. Here all the colony housed under the same roof, like one of the experimental communities of recent days,–officers, soldiers, nobles, artisans, laborers, and convicts, with the women and children in whom lay the future hope of New France.
Experience and forecast had both been wanting. There were storehouses, but no stores; mills, but no grist; an ample oven, and a dearth of bread. It was only when two of the ships had sailed for France that they took account of their provision and discovered its lamentable shortcoming. Winter and famine followed. They bought fish from the Indians, and dug roots and boiled them in whale-oil. Disease broke out, and, before spring, killed one third of the colony. The rest would have quarrelled, mutinied, and otherwise aggravated their inevitable woes, but disorder was dangerous under the iron rule of the inexorable Roberval. Michel Gaillon was detected in a petty theft, and hanged. Jean de Nantes, for a more venial offence, was kept in irons. The quarrels of men and the scolding of women were alike requited at the whipping-post, “by which means,” quaintly says the narrative, “they lived in peace.”
Thevet, while calling himself the intimate friend of the Viceroy, gives a darker coloring to his story. He says that, forced to unceasing labor, and chafed by arbitrary rules, some of the soldiers fell under Roberval’s displeasure, and six of them, formerly his favorites, were hanged in one day. Others were banished to an island, and there kept in fetters; while, for various light offences, several, both men and women, were shot. Even the Indians were moved to pity, and wept at the sight of their woes.
And here, midway, our guide deserts us; the ancient narrative is broken, and the latter part is lost, leaving us to divine as we may the future of the ill-starred colony. That it did not long survive is certain. The King, in great need of Roberval, sent Cartier to bring him home, and this voyage seems to have taken place in the summer of 1543. It is said that, in after years, the Viceroy essayed to repossess himself of his Transatlantic domain, and lost his life in the attempt. Thevet, on the other hand, with ample means of learning the truth, affirms that Roberval was slain at night, near the Church of the Innocents, in the heart of Paris.
With him closes the prelude of the French-American drama. Tempestuous years and a reign of blood and fire were in store for France. The religious wars begot the hapless colony of Florida, but for more than half a century they left New France a desert. Order rose at length out of the sanguinary chaos; the zeal of discovery and the spirit of commercial enterprise once more awoke, while, closely following, more potent than they, moved the black-robed forces of the Roman Catholic reaction.
– Pioneers of France in the New World Part II, Chapter 1 by Francis Parkman
This was Cartier’s third voyage and Roberval’s voyage of discovery.
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.