CHAPTER IX. THE FRENCH IN AMERICA

While English, Dutch, and Swedes were settling on the Atlantic seaboard of North America, the French took possession of the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi. Though the attempt of Cartier to plant a colony on the St. Lawrence failed (p. 30), the French never lost interest in that part of the world, and new attempts were made to plant colonies.

THE FRENCH IN NOVA SCOTIA. - All failed till De Monts (d'mawng) and Champlain (sham-plan') [1] came over in 1604 with two shiploads of colonists. Some landed on the shore of what is now Nova Scotia and founded Port Royal. The others, led by De Monts, explored the Bay of Fundy, and on an island at the mouth of a river planted a colony called St. Croix. The name St. Croix (croy) in time was given to the river which is now part of the eastern boundary of Maine. One winter in that climate was enough, and in the spring (1605) the coast from Maine to Massachusetts was explored in search of a better site for the colony. None suited, and, returning to St. Croix, De Monts moved the settlers to Port Royal.

QUEBEC FOUNDED. - This too was abandoned for a time, and in 1607 the colonists were back in France. Champlain, however, longed to be again in the New World, and soon persuaded De Monts once more to attempt colonization. In 1608, therefore, Champlain with two ships sailed up the St. Lawrence and founded Quebec. Here, as was so often the case, the first winter was a struggle for life; when spring came, only eight of the colonists were alive. But help soon reached them, and France at last had secured a permanent foothold in America. The drainage basin of the St. Lawrence was called New France (or Canada); the lands near Port Royal became another French colony, called Acadia.

EXPLORATION OF NEW FRANCE. - Champlain at once made friends with the Indians, and in 1609 went with a party of Hurons to help fight their enemies, the Iroquois Indians who dwelt in central New York. [2] The way was up the St. Lawrence and up a branch of that river to the lake which now bears the name of Champlain. On its western shore the expected fight took place, and a victory, due to the fire-arms of Champlain and his companions, was won for the Hurons. [3] Later Champlain explored the Ottawa River, saw the waters of Lake Huron, and crossed Lake Ontario. But the real work of French discovery and exploration in the interior was done by Catholic priests and missionaries.

THE CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES. - With crucifixes and portable altars strapped on their backs, these brave men pushed boldly into the Indian country. Guided by the Indians, they walked through the dense forests, paddled in birch-bark canoes, and penetrated a wilderness where no white man had ever been. They built little chapels of bark near the Indian villages, and labored hard to convert the red men to Christianity. It was no easy task. Often and often their lives were in danger. Some were drowned. Some were burned at the stake. Others were tomahawked. But neither cold nor hunger, nor the dangers and hardships of life in the wilderness, could turn the priests from their good work. One of them toiled for ten years among the Indians on the Niagara River and the shores of Lake Huron; two others reached the outlet of Lake Superior; a fourth paddled in a canoe along its south shore.

THE KING'S MAIDENS. - For fifty years after the founding of Quebec few settlers came to Canada. Then the French king sent over each year a hundred or more young women who were to become wives of the settlers. [4] Besides encouraging farming, the government tried to induce the men to engage in cod fishing and whaling; but the only business that really nourished in Canada was trading with the Indians for furs.

THE FUR TRADE. - Each year a great fair was held outside the stockade of Montreal, to which hundreds of Indians came from the far western lakes. They brought canoe loads of beaver skins and furs of small animals, and exchanged them for bright-colored cloth, beads, blankets, kettles, and knives.

This great trade was a monopoly. Its profits could not be enjoyed by everybody. Numbers of hardy young men, therefore, took to the woods and traded with the Indians far beyond the reach of the king's officers. By so doing these wood rangers (coureurs de bois), as they were called, became outlaws, and if caught, might be flogged and branded with a hot iron. They built trading posts at many places in the West, and often married Indian women, which went a long way to make the Indians friends of the French. [5]

THE MISSISSIPPI. - When the priests and traders reached the country about Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, they heard from the Indians of a great river called the Mississippi - that is, "Big Water" or "Father of Waters." Might not this, it was asked, be the long-sought northwest passage to the Indies? In hopes that it was, Father Marquette (mar-ket'), a priest who had founded a mission on the Strait of Mackinac (mack'i-naw) between Lakes Huron and Michigan, and Joliet (zho-le-a'), a trapper and soldier, were sent to find the river and follow it to the sea.

They started in the spring of 1673 with five companions in two canoes. Their way was from the Strait of Mackinac to Green Bay in Wisconsin, up the Fox River, across a portage to the Wisconsin River, and down this to the Mississippi, on whose waters they floated and paddled to a place probably below the mouth of the Arkansas. There the travelers stopped, and turned back toward Canada, convinced that the great river [6] must flow not to the Pacific, but to the Gulf of Mexico.