CHAPTER III. THE FOUNDING OF NEW FRANCE

In the closing years of the sixteenth century the spirit of French expansion, which had remained so strangely inactive for nearly three generations, once again began to manifest itself. The Sieur de La Roche, another Breton nobleman, the merchant traders, Pontgrave of St. Malo and Chauvin of Honfleur, came forward one after the other with plans for colonizing the unknown land. Unhappily these plans were not easily matured into stern realities. The ambitious project of La Roche came to grief on the barren sands of Sable Island. The adventurous merchants, for their part, obtained a monopoly of the trade and for a few years exploited the rich peltry regions of the St. Lawrence, but they made no serious attempts at actual settlement. Finally they lost the monopoly, which passed in 1603 to the Sieur de Chastes, a royal favorite and commandant at Dieppe.

It is at this point that Samuel Champlain first becomes associated with the pioneer history of New France. Given the opportunity to sail with an expedition which De Chastes sent out in 1603, Champlain gladly accepted and from this time to the end of his days he never relaxed his whole-souled interest in the design to establish a French dominion in these western lands. With his accession to the ranks of the voyageurs real progress in the field of colonization was for the first time assured. Champlain encountered many setbacks during his initial years as a colonizer, but he persevered to the end. When he had finished his work, France had obtained a footing in the St. Lawrence valley which was not shaken for nearly a hundred and fifty years.

Champlain was born in 1567 at the seaport of Brouage, on the Bay of Biscay, so that he was only thirty-six years of age when he set out on his first voyage to America. His forbears belonged to the lesser gentry of Saintonge, and from them he inherited a roving strain. Long before reaching middle manhood he had learned to face dangers, both as a soldier in the wars of the League and as a sailor to the Spanish Main. With a love of adventure he combined rare powers of description, so much so that the narrative of his early voyages to this region had attracted the King's attention and had won for him the title of royal geographer. His ideas were bold and clear; he had an inflexible will and great patience in battling with discouragements. Possessing these qualities, Champlain was in every way fitted to become the founder of New France.

The expedition of 1603 proceeded to the St. Lawrence, where some of the party landed at the mouth of the Saguenay to trade with the Indians. The remainder, including Champlain, made their way up the river to the Indian village at Hochelaga, which they now found in ruins, savage warfare having turned the place into a solitude. Champlain busied himself with some study of the country's resources and the customs of the aborigines; but on the whole the prospects of the St. Lawrence valley did not move the explorers to enthusiasm. Descending the great river again, they rejoined their comrades at the Saguenay, and, taking their cargoes of furs aboard, the whole party sailed back to France in the autumn. There they found that De Chastes, the sponsor for their enterprise, had died during their absence.

The death of De Chastes upset matters badly, for with it the trade monopoly had lapsed. But things were promptly set right again by a royal act which granted the monopoly anew. This time it went to the Sieur de Monts, a prominent Huguenot nobleman, then governor of Pons, with whom Champlain was on friendly terms. To quiet the clamors of rival traders, however, it was stipulated that Monts should organize a company and should be bound to take into his enterprise any who might wish to associate themselves with him. The company, in return for its trading monopoly, was to transport to the new domains at least one hundred settlers each year.

Little difficulty was encountered in organizing the company, since various merchants of St. Malo, Honfleur, Rouen, and Rochelle were eager to take shares. Preparations for sending out an expedition on a much larger scale than on any previous occasion were soon under way, and in 1604 two well-equipped vessels set forth. One of them went to the old trading-post at the Saguenay; the other went southward to the regions of Acadia. On board the latter were De Monts himself, Champlain as chief geographer, and a young adventurer from the ranks of the noblesse, Biencourt de Poutrincourt. The personnel of this expedition was excellent: it contained no convicts; most of its members were artisans and sturdy yeomen. Rounding the tip of the Nova Scotian peninsula, these vessels came to anchor in the haven of Port Royal, now Annapolis. Not satisfied with the prospects there, however, they coasted around the Bay of Fundy, and finally reached the island in Passamaquoddy Bay which they named St. Croix. Here on June 25, 1604, the party decided to found their settlement. Work on the buildings was at once commenced, and soon the little colony was safely housed. In the autumn Poutrincourt was dispatched with one vessel and a crew back to France, while Champlain and the rest prepared to spend the winter in their new island home.