CHAPTER III. THE FOUNDING OF NEW FRANCE

The choice of St. Croix as a location proved singularly unfortunate; the winter was long and severe, and the preparations that had been made were soon found to be inadequate. Once more there were sufferings such as Cartier and his men had undergone during the terrible winter of 1534-1535 at Quebec. There were no brooks or springs close at hand, and no fresh water except such as could be had by melting snow. The storehouse had no cellar, and in consequence the vegetables froze, so that the company was reduced to salted meat as the chief staple of diet. Scurvy ravaged the camp, and before the snows melted nearly two-fifths of the party had died. Not until June, moreover, did a vessel arrive from France with, fresh stores and more colonists.

The experience of this first winter must have indeed "produced discontent," as Champlain rather mildly expressed it, but it did not impel De Monts to abandon his plans. St. Croix, however, was given up and, after a futile search for a better location on the New England coast, the colony moved across the bay to Port Royal, where the buildings were reconstructed. In the autumn De Monts went back to France, leaving Champlain, Pontgrave, and forty-three others to spend the winter of 1605-1606 in Acadia. During this hibernation the fates were far more kind. The season proved milder, the bitter lessons of the previous season had not gone unlearned, and scurvy did not make serious headway. But when June came and De Monts had not returned from France with fresh supplies, there was general discouragement; so much so that plans for the entire abandonment of the place were on the eve of being carried out when a large vessel rounded the point on its way into the Basin. Aboard were Poutrincourt and Marc Lescarbot, together with more settlers and supplies. Lescarbot was a Parisian lawyer in search of adventure, a man who combined wit with wisdom, one of the pleasantest figures in the annals of American colonization. He was destined to gain a place in literary history as the interesting chronicler of this little colony's all-too-brief existence. These arrivals put new heart into the men, and they set to work sowing grain and vegetables, which grew in such abundance that the storehouses were filled to their capacity. The ensuing winter found the company with an ample store of everything. The season of ice and snow passed quickly, thanks largely to Champlain's successful endeavor to keep the colonists in good health and spirits by exercise, by variety in diet, and by divers gaieties under the auspices of his Ordre de Bon Temps, a spontaneous social organization created for the purpose of banishing cares and worries from the little settlement. It seemed as though the colony had been established to stay.

But with the spring of 1607 came news which quickly put an end to all this optimism. Rival merchants had been clamoring against the monopoly of the De Monts company. Despite the fact that De Monts was a Huguenot and thus a shining target for the shafts of bigotry, these protests had for three years failed to move the King; but now they had gained their point, and the monopoly had come to an end. This meant that there would be no more ships with settlers or supplies. As the colony could not yet hope to exist on its own resources, there was no alternative but to abandon the site and return to France, and this the whole party reluctantly proceeded to do.

On arrival in France the affairs of the company were wound up, and De Monts found himself a heavy loser. He was not yet ready to quit the game, however, and Champlain with the aid of Pontgrave was able to convince him that a new venture in the St. Lawrence region might yield profits even without the protection of a monopoly. Thus out of misfortune and failure arose the plans which led to the founding of a permanent outpost of empire at Quebec.

In the spring of 1608 Champlain and Pontgrave once again set sail for the St. Lawrence. The latter delayed at the Saguenay to trade, while Champlain pushed on to the site of the old Stadacona, where at the foot of the cliff he laid the foundations of the new Quebec, the first permanent settlement of Europeans in the territory of New France. On the shore below the rocky steep several houses were built, and measures were taken to defend them in case of an Indian attack. Here Champlain's party spent the winter of 1608-1609.

With the experience gained at St. Croix and Port Royal it should have been possible to provide for all eventualities, yet difficulties in profusion were encountered during these winter months. First there was the unearthing of a conspiracy against Champlain. Those concerned in it were speedily punished, but the execution of the chief culprit gave to the new settlement a rather ominous beginning. Then came a season of zero weather, and the scurvy came with it. Champlain had heard of the remedy used by Cartier, but the tribes which had been at Stadacona in Cartier's time had now disappeared, and there was no one to point out the old-time remedy to the suffering garrison. So the scourge went on unchecked. The ravages of disease were so severe that, when a relief ship arrived in the early summer of 1609, all but eight of Champlain's party had succumbed.