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Samuel de Champlain

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Samuel de Champlain (?-1635)[1] was a French explorer and colonizer of New France, founder of Quebec City, discoverer of Lake Champlain, and governor of New France; and often called the Father of Canada.

Champlain was born in Brouage, France, about 1567. He learned seamanship from his father, the master of a fishing vessel. He fought in the army of King Henry IV during the civil wars in Brittany, from about 1593 to 1598, attaining the junior rank of maréchal des logis, or billeting officer. He went to Spain, and through the favor of his uncle, who was a shipmaster in the Spanish service, made a journey to the West Indies and Mexico. On returning to France in 1601 he wrote a picturesque account of his travels.[2]

Eager for travel and discovery, Champlain found a place on the 120-ton Bonne Renommée, which sailed for Canada in the spring of 1603 to explore the upper St. Lawrence River and to buy furs from the Indians. He ascended the river in a pinnace as far as the Lachine Rapids, at the present Montreal, where he dealt with the Algonquin Indians. On his return to France, he published a record of his journey, an appeal for exploration and colonization.

In 1604, Champlain joined the North American expedition of Pierre de Monts as geographer and cartographer. The first disastrous winter, in which 35 out of 79 men died of scurvy, was passed on Ste.-Croix Island, in the estuary that now marks the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick. The two following winters were spent at Port Royal, near Digby, Nova Scotia. Champlain and his party passed the summers exploring the rivers of Maine and charting the coast as far south as Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard; they were possibly the first Europeans to visit the site of Boston, but made no claims.

In 1608, he returned to New France to found a year-round trading post. On July 3, 1608, he landed at the present site of Quebec City and established there the first European settlement north of Florida which has been continuously occupied. The winter was brutal; only eight of the 24 colonists survived.

In the summer of 1609, Champlain with newcomers from France again ascended the St. Lawrence. With two other Frenchmen he joined a war party of Algonquins and allied Hurons. They went by canoe up the Richelieu River to the great lake to which Champlain gave his name, then southward to (probably) the site of Ticonderoga. Champlain and his companions were the first recorded white men to set foot on the soil of New York State, although Giovanni da Verrazano had visited New York Bay in 1524. When his party met the Iroquois Indians, the traditional enemies of the Algonquins, Champlain killed three of the enemy by a single discharge of his arquebus beginning almost a century of Iroquois-French enmity.

In 1615, with 12 French companions he made his way to the Huron country by Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. There he joined a Huron expedition against the Iroquois, crossed Lake Ontario at its eastern end, and attacked the Iroquois' Onondaga stronghold, which was probably situated on Lake Onondaga. He was defeated by the Iroquois and wintered with the Hurons. His detailed description of the Hurons was the first written record of this group's lifestyle.

In 1612, Champlain was appointed lieutenant of New France under an honorary governor. He later became governor of New France and ruled the little colony with wisdom and rectitude. His dream was to establish in the northern continent a self-sufficient Christian empire where French and Indians would mingle harmoniously. To further his ideas he returned often to France to importune the king and wealthy entrepreneurs for aid. His most important book, the Voyages of 1632, a history, a guide, and a prophecy of Canada's greatness, was effective propaganda for his cause and encouraged thousands of immigrants.

In 1629, when the English occupied Quebec, Champlain was carried, a prisoner, to England. When New France was restored to France, Champlain returned to his colony as governor. A man of adventure, courage and foresight, Champlain was also profoundly religious.


  1. Champlain's birth date is uncertain. The Nuttall Encyclopaedia (1907) says he was born in 1570, a calculation is used in Œuvres de Champlain (1870) preface to show that he was probably born in 1567.
  2. However some scholars believe it is a hoax.


Primary sources

  • Samuel de Champlain. Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, 1604-1618 (1907) 377 pages online edition

Secondary Sources

  • Bishop, Morris. Champlain: the life of fortitude (1948).
  • Dix, Edwin Asa. Champlain, the Founder of New France (1903), 246 pages complete edition online
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Samuel De Champlain, Father of New France (1972).
  • Trudel, Marcel. "Champlain, Samuel de," Dictionary of Canadian Biography.