From the Spanish settlements northward to the pole, there was no domestic hearth, no lodgment of civilized men, save one weak band of Frenchmen, clinging, as it were for life, to the fringe of the vast and savage continent. Then was the east coast of Champlain’s 1604 voyage.
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De Monts, with one of his vessels, sailed from Havre de Grace on the seventh of April, 1604. Pontgrave, with stores for the colony, was to follow in a few days.
Scarcely were they at sea, when ministers and priests fell first to discussion, then to quarrelling, then to blows.
“I have seen our cure and the minister,” says Champlain, “fall to with their fists on questions of faith. I cannot say which had the more pluck, or which hit the harder; but I know that the minister sometimes complained to the Sieur de Monts that he had been beaten. This was their way of settling points of controversy. I leave you to judge if it was a pleasant thing to see.”
Sagard, the Franciscan friar, relates with horror, that, after their destination was reached, a priest and a minister happening to die at the same time, the crew buried them both in one grave, to see if they would lie peaceably together.
De Monts, who had been to the St. Lawrence with Chauvin, and learned to dread its rigorous winters, steered for a more southern, and, as he flattered himself, a milder region. The first land seen was Cap la Heve, on the southern coast of Nova Scotia. Four days later, they entered a small bay, where, to their surprise, they saw a vessel lying at anchor. here was a piece of good luck. The stranger was a fur-trader, pursuing her traffic in defiance, or more probably in ignorance, of De Monts’s monopoly. The latter, as empowered by his patent, made prize of ship and cargo, consoling the commander, one Rossignol, by giving his name to the scene of his misfortune. It is now called Liverpool Harbor.
In an adjacent harbor, called by them Port Mouton, because a sheep here leaped overboard, they waited nearly a month for Pontgrave’s store-ship. At length, to their great relief, she appeared, laden with the spoils of four Basque fur-traders, captured at Cansean. The supplies delivered, Pontgrave sailed for Tadoussac to trade with the Indians, while De Monts, followed by his prize, proceeded on his voyage.
He doubled Cape Sable, and entered St. Mary’s Bay, where he lay two weeks, sending boats’ crews to explore the adjacent coasts. A party one day went on shore to stroll through the forest, and among them was Nicolas Aubry, a priest from Paris, who, tiring of the scholastic haunts of the Rue de la Sorbonne and the Rue d’Enfer, had persisted, despite the remonstrance of his friends, in joining the expedition. Thirsty with a long walk, under the sun of June, through the tangled and rock-encumbered woods, he stopped to drink at a brook, laying his sword beside him on the grass. On rejoining his companions, he found that he had forgotten it; and turning back in search of it, more skilled in the devious windings of the Quartier Latin than in the intricacies of the Acadian forest, he soon lost his way. His comrades, alarmed, waited for a time, and then ranged the woods, shouting his name to the echoing solitudes. Trumpets were sounded, and cannon fired from the ships, but the priest did not appear. All now looked askance on a certain Huguenot, with whom Aubry had often quarrelled on questions of faith, and who was now accused of having killed him. In vain he denied the charge. Aubry was given up for dead, and the ship sailed from St. Mary’s Bay; while the wretched priest roamed to and fro, famished and despairing, or, couched on the rocky soil, in the troubled sleep of exhaustion, dreamed, perhaps, as the wind swept moaning through the pines, that he heard once more the organ roll through the columned arches of Sainte Genevieve.
The voyagers proceeded to explore the Bay of Fundy, which De Monts called La Baye Francoise. Their first notable discovery was that of Annapolis Harbor. A small inlet invited them. They entered, when suddenly the narrow strait dilated into a broad and tranquil basin, compassed by sunny hills, wrapped in woodland verdure, and alive with waterfalls. Poutrincourt was delighted with the scene. The fancy seized him of removing thither from France with his family and, to this end, he asked a grant of the place from De Monts, who by his patent had nearly half the continent in his gift. The grant was made, and Poutrincourt called his new domain Port Royal.
Thence they sailed round the head of the Bay of Fundy, coasted its northern shore, visited and named the river St. John, and anchored at last in Passamaquoddy Bay.
The untiring Champlain, exploring, surveying, sounding, had made charts of all the principal roads and harbors; and now, pursuing his research, he entered a river which he calls La Riviere des Etechemins, from the name of the tribe of whom the present Passamaquoddy Indians are descendants. Near its mouth he found an islet, fenced round with rocks and shoals, and called it St. Croix, a name now borne by the river itself. With singular infelicity this spot was chosen as the site of the new colony. It commanded the river, and was well fitted for defense: these were its only merits; yet cannon were landed on it, a battery was planted on a detached rock at one end, and a fort begun on a rising ground at the other.
At St. Mary’s Bay the voyagers thought they had found traces of iron and silver; and Champdore, the pilot, was now sent back to pursue the search. As he and his men lay at anchor, fishing, not far from land, one of them heard a strange sound, like a weak human voice; and, looking towards the shore, they saw a small black object in motion, apparently a hat waved on the end of a stick. Rowing in haste to the spot, they found the priest Aubry. For sixteen days he had wandered in the woods, sustaining life on berries and wild fruits; and when, haggard and emaciated, a shadow of his former self, Champdore carried him back to St. Croix, he was greeted as a man risen from the grave.
In 1783 the river St. Croix, by treaty, was made the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick. But which was the true St. Croix? In 1798, the point was settled. De Monts’s island was found; and, painfully searching among the sand, the sedge, and the matted whortleberry bushes, the commissioners could trace the foundations of buildings long crumbled into dust; for the wilderness had resumed its sway, and silence and solitude brooded once more over this ancient resting-place of civilization.
But while the commissioner bends over a moss-grown stone, it is for us to trace back the dim vista of the centuries to the life, the zeal, the energy, of which this stone is the poor memorial. The rock-fenced islet was covered with cedars, and when the tide was out the shoals around were dark with the swash of sea-weed, where, in their leisure moments, the Frenchmen, we are told, amused themselves with detaching the limpets from the stones, as a savory addition to their fare. But there was little leisure at St. Croix. Soldiers, sailors, and artisans betook themselves to their task. Before the winter closed in, the northern end of the island was covered with buildings, surrounding a square, where a solitary tree had been left standing. On the right was a spacious house, well built, and surmounted by one of those enormous roofs characteristic of the time. This was the lodging of De Monts. Behind it, and near the water, was a long, covered gallery, for labor or amusement in foul weather.
Champlain and the Sieur d’Orville, aided by the servants of the latter, built a house for themselves nearly opposite that of De Monts; and the remainder of the square was occupied by storehouses, a magazine, workshops, lodgings for gentlemen and artisans, and a barrack for the Swiss soldiers, the whole enclosed with a palisade. Adjacent there was an attempt at a garden, under the auspices of Champlain; but nothing would grow in the sandy soil. There was a cemetery, too, and a small rustic chapel on a projecting point of rock. Such was the “Habitation de l’Isle Saincte-Croix,” as set forth by Champlain in quaint plans and drawings, in that musty little quarto of 1613, sold by Jean Berjon, at the sign of the Flying Horse, Rue St. Jean de Beauvais.
Their labors over, Poutrincourt set sail for France, proposing to return and take possession of his domain of Port Royal. Seventy-nine men remained at St. Croix. Here was De Monts, feudal lord of half a continent in virtue of two potent syllables, “Henri,” scrawled on parchment by the rugged hand of the Bearnais. Here were gentlemen of birth and breeding, Champlain, D’Orville, Beaumont, Sourin, La Motte, Boulay, and Fougeray; here also were the pugnacious cure and his fellow priests, with the Hugnenot ministers, objects of their unceasing ire. The rest were laborers, artisans, and soldiers, all in the pay of the company, and some of them forced into its service.
Poutrincourt’s receding sails vanished between the water and the sky. The exiles were left to their solitude. From the Spanish settlements northward to the pole, there was no domestic hearth, no lodgment of civilized men, save one weak band of Frenchmen, clinging, as it were for life, to the fringe of the vast and savage continent. The gray and sullen autumn sank upon the waste, and the bleak wind howled down the St. Croix, and swept the forest bare. Then the whirling snow powdered the vast sweep of desolate woodland, and shrouded in white the gloomy green of pine-clad mountains. Ice in sheets, or broken masses, swept by their island with the ebbing and flowing tide, often debarring all access to the main, and cutting off their supplies of wood and water. A belt of cedars, indeed, hedged the island; but De Monts had ordered them to be spared, that the north wind might spend something of its force with whistling through their shaggy boughs. Cider and wine froze in the casks, and were served out by the pound. As they crowded round their half-fed fires, shivering in the icy currents that pierced their rude tenements, many sank into a desperate apathy.
Soon the scurvy broke out, and raged with a fearful malignity. Of the seventy-nine, thirty-five died before spring, and many more were brought to the verge of death. In vain they sought that marvelous tree which had relieved the followers of Cartier. Their little cemetery was peopled with nearly half their number, and the rest, bloated and disfigured with the relentless malady, thought more of escaping from their woes than of building up a Transatlantic empire. Yet among them there was one, at least, who, amid languor and defection, held to his purpose with indomitable tenacity; and where Champlain was present, there was no room for despair.
Spring came at last, and, with the breaking up of the ice, the melting of the snow, and the clamors of the returning wild-fowl, the spirits and the health of the woe-begone company began to revive. But to misery succeeded anxiety and suspense. Where was the succor from France? Were they abandoned to their fate like the wretched exiles of La Roche? In a happy hour, they saw an approaching sail. Pontgrave, with forty men, cast anchor before their island on the sixteenth of June; and they hailed him as the condemned hails the messenger of his pardon.
– Pioneers of France in the New World Part II, Chapter 3 by Francis Parkman
This was Champlain’s 1604 voyage.
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.