Francis Parkman

In the year 1562 a cloud of black and deadly portent was thickening over France. Surely and swiftly she glided towards the abyss of the religious wars. None could pierce the future, perhaps none dared to contemplate it: the wild rage of fanaticism and hate, friend grappling with friend, brother with brother, father with son; altars profaned, hearth-stones made desolate, the robes of Justice herself bedrenched with murder. In the gloom without lay Spain, imminent and terrible.

A LONELY ship sailed up the St. Lawrence. The white whales floundering in the Bay of Tadoussac, and the wild duck diving as the foaming prow drew near, - there was no life but these in all that watery solitude, twenty miles from shore to shore. The ship was from Honfleur, and was commanded by Samuel de Champlain. He was the AEneas of a destined people, and in her womb lay the embryo life of Canada.

ON the twenty-fifth of June, 1564, a French squadron anchored a second time off the mouth of the River of May. There were three vessels, the smallest of sixty tons, the largest of one hundred and twenty, all crowded with men. Rene de Laudonniere held command. He was of a noble race of Poiton, attached to the house of Chatillon, of which Coligny was the head; pious, we are told, and an excellent marine officer.

It was past the middle of June, and the expected warriors from the upper country had not come, - a delay which seems to have given Champlain little concern, for, without waiting longer, he set out with no better allies than a band of Montagnais. But, as he moved up the St. Lawrence, he saw, thickly clustered in the bordering forest, the lodges of an Indian camp, and, landing, found his Huron and Algonquin allies. Few of them had ever seen a white man, and they surrounded the steel-clad strangers in speechless wonder.

In the little world of Fort Caroline, a miniature France, cliques and parties, conspiracy and sedition, were fast stirring into life. Hopes had been dashed, and wild expectations had come to naught. The adventurers had found, not conquest and gold, but a dull exile in a petty fort by a hot and sickly river, with hard labor, bad fare, prospective famine, and nothing to break the weary sameness but some passing canoe or floating alligator. Gathered in knots, they nursed each other's wrath, and inveighed against the commandant.

Champlain and Pontgrave returned to France, while Pierre Chauvin of Dieppe held Quebec in their absence. The King was at Fontainebleau, - it was a few months before his assassination, - and here Champlain recounted his adventures, to the great satisfaction of the lively monarch. He gave him also, not the head of the dead Iroquois, but a belt wrought in embroidery of dyed quills of the Canada porcupine, together with two small birds of scarlet plumage, and the skull of a gar-fish.

While the mutiny was brewing, one La Roche Ferriere had been sent out as an agent or emissary among the more distant tribes. Sagacious, bold, and restless, he pushed his way from town to town, and pretended to have reached the mysterious mountains of Appalache. He sent to the fort mantles woven with feathers, quivers covered with choice furs, arrows tipped with gold, wedges of a green stone like beryl or emerald, and other trophies of his wanderings.

The arrangements just indicated were a work of time. In the summer of 1612, Champlain was forced to forego his yearly voyage to New France; nor, even in the following spring, were his labors finished and the rival interests brought to harmony. Meanwhile, incidents occurred destined to have no small influence on his movements. Three years before, after his second fight with the Iroquois, a young man of his company had boldly volunteered to join the Indians on their homeward journey, and winter among them.

The monk, the inquisitor, and the Jesuit were lords of Spain, - sovereigns of her sovereign, for they had formed the dark and narrow mind of that tyrannical recluse. They had formed the minds of her people, quenched in blood every spark of rising heresy, and given over a noble nation to a bigotry blind and inexorable as the doom of fate. Linked with pride, ambition, avarice, every passion of a rich, strong nature, potent for good and ill, it made the Spaniard of that day a scourge as dire as ever fell on man.

In New France, spiritual and temporal interests were inseparably blended, and, as will hereafter appear, the conversion of the Indians was used as a means of commercial and political growth. But, with the single-hearted founder of the colony, considerations of material advantage, though clearly recognized, were no less clearly subordinate.

Syndicate content