|Through the Narrow Passage|
|The First Kebec Habitation|
|When Champlain returned to Paris in October of 1607, he sought out Sieur De Monts to discuss the future plans for 'New France'. Acadia, though beautiful, was not strong enough to stand on itís own and Tadoussac, was far too busy. Therefore, he suggested that they begin their settlement at Quebec, where there was more potential for trade.|
|They approached the King, who was still eager to settle the New World, and convinced him to reinstate their position on a trial basis for one year. He agreed, but stated emphatically that they had better take it seriously. De Monts immediately went to work, reorganizing his company and equipping three ships for the expedition. One would be going to Acadia, another to Tadoussac, and the third was loaded with everything required to build a new fort and trading post on the St. Lawrence.
That same year the Virginia Company attempted to establish a settlement on the Kennebec River, but abandoned the idea soon after, because the native people refused to trade. However, the population of Jamestown was now 45, which included 5 settlers from Poland, so it was becoming increasingly important to lay down French roots. Champlain, in command of the ship Le Don De Dieu, departed Honfleur on April 13, 1608, with just that purpose in mind. The entourage reached Newfoundland by May 16, 1608; and while one of the ships went ahead to Acadia to reopen the post at Port Royal, Champlain and Pont Grave, who was in command of the Le Levrier, headed for Tadoussac.
Pont Grave was the first to arrive and encountered a group of Basque traders who had set up shop there, conducting a flourishing business with the native people. He showed them the official papers granting De Monts a monopoly in the region, but was met with only scorn. Some of the leaders of the group cornered Pont Grave, stating that they would trade wherever they pleased and did not have to answer to the French Court. A scuffle ensued where the French captain was shot and wounded and one of his men killed.
The Basques then completely disarmed the French ship and were holding the men hostage when Champlain arrived. Fortunately, he was able to negotiate a peace settlement, and continued his quest for the best possible place to land his settlers. He chose a spot beneath the cliffs of Cape Diamond, which the Canadians had named Kebec, meaning ďnarrow passageĒ. From there they would be able to keep an eye on all movement, making it easier to enforce their trade monopoly, though their experience with the Basques made it clear that it was going to be a challenge. (The Canadian people were still in power, and it was up them who would get their business).
Stepping ashore on July 3, 1608; Champlain took a long look around, unfurled the fleur-de-lys, and planted his feet and flag firmly on the ground. He was home. And though he would spend the next quarter century (minus a brief period of English occupation), scuttling back and forth between Canada and France; arranging finances, getting supplies and recruiting settlers; he would never abandon his Quebec.
|Before long everyone was busy, as the ships were unloaded and construction begun. A storehouse and three main buildings were erected, gardens planted and defense secured. This habitation would be much more elaborate than the one designed for Tadoussac, looking more like a permanent home.|
|Built three stories high, it was large and pretentious, but would give a message to anyone seeing it from the water, that the French live here! And if that didnít convince them, there was a gallery running around the outside, complete with dovecoting, denoting the presence of noblemen, and even a moat with drawbridge. A fair wooden replica of a French Chateau.
However, before the building was even completed, a group of disgruntled workmen planned a mutiny to oust the high-handed Champlain. If they could turn the habitation over to the Basques, they too could profit from the venture and not have to hand everything over to De Monts company. Headed by Jean Duval, a locksmith, who was able to convince four others to assist him, a time and place was agreed upon where the unsuspecting Champlain would meet his demise. However, one of the conspirators, Antoine Natel, got cold feet and went to the authorities to confess. The men were put on trial and Jean Duval was hanged; his head severed and placed on a pike at the opening to the habitation, as a deterrent to others who might be bribed by the Basque or other Europeans to try the same thing. His accomplices were returned to France in chains when Pont Grave left for there on the 19th of September. Nothing like this ever happened again.
|That first winter at Kebec would be severe, and food was in short supply. They were not able to turn to their neighbours for fresh meat, since they too were suffering. Though the weathered Canadians plodded through the woods on their snowshoes; hunting beaver, deer and moose; game was scarce and many were dying of hunger.
By early February, ten of Champlainís men had died of scurvy, and another eighteen were ill. But on February 20, the men were roused from their own suffering by the screams of men, woman and children, who had found themselves trapped on Pointe Levis not far from the habitation. The ice floes that were roaring down the river crushed their canoes and the survivors had managed to swim to one of the floes, which led them to the shore at Kebec.
They were little more than skeletons, and Champlain doled out what little food they had, beginning with the nursing mothers and small children. He then ordered his men to assist in building small dwellings nearby, covering them with layers of bark to keep out the cold. Still more perished. Mothersí milk dried up, resulting in the deaths of many infants, and the residents resorted to eating their dogs and even the bait left out by the French to trap wild game. By the time the spring shad began to run, ending the famine, there was nothing left to do but bury the dead and comfort the living.
The French had suffered as well, and only eight of the original twenty-eight men, made it through the winter. Fourteen had died of scurvy and the other six as a result of dysentery. Another failed attempt at a permanent French settlement. Meanwhile, Henry Hudson, in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, sailed up his namesake Hudson River as far as Albany, New York; claiming the land for Holland and making friends when he could, among the natives. Unfortunately this also included trading liquor with the Mohawks, an action that would later spell disaster for the indigenous people of North America.
With the dreadful winter behind them, Champlain also looked to forging trade relations and securing a monopoly for De Monts company. To do this, he knew that it would take more than bread, so meetings were arranged and a deal put on the table. What he offered was his own trade monopoly to the Algonquin nations, in exchange for their loyalty to the French. To sweeten the pot, he also promised a military alliance, supporting them in their territorial disputes with the Iroquois and their allies. Understandably, this infuriated the Iroquois leaders and the rest of the Five Nation Alliance, whose finances also depended, in part, on trade with the Europeans. Though this action may have made sense to Champlain at the time, it set the tone for Iroquois-French relations for the next 100 years, and many future settlers would pay the price.
|Though Champlain would have much preferred remaining neutral in the wars between the various North American nations, he would soon have to put his money where his mouth was and prove his loyalty to his new allies. Believing that a good offense was the best defense, the Algonquins made plans to raid enemy villages all along the St. Lawrence. Feeling confident with the support of French fire power, the war cry went out and armies were mustered.
Champlain was able to obtain some new recruits from Pont Grave at Tadoussac, and led the campaign in two shallops with twenty men; only four of them with guns. If they could even be called guns. The archaic firearm, known as an arguebus, was not very accurate and only effective if fired from a very close range. Triggered by a slow burning match, it was said that even an expert would often have to shoot his weight in ammunition before actually killing anyone. And to make matters worse, the kick was so heavy that at times it dislocated the shoulder or collar-bone of the shooter. Champlain met up with his army near present day Sainte-Anne de la Perade, and from there they plotted their next move. His Algonquin warriors were comprised of three groups, the Huron (Wendat), Montagnais and Algonkin.
However, before he could lead them into battle, he first had to invite them to Kebec for five days of feasting and dancing; a customary and necessary prelude to war. Finally underway on July 3, 1609, they traveled as far as the Richelieu River, but by this time many of his men had lost interest and went home to their families. By mid-July only about sixty of the original two hundred remained, filling twenty-four canoes. They traveled by day and camped at night, until they reached the Adirondacks, the place where they felt sure they would encounter the enemy; and they were not mistaken.
On the evening of July 29, they spotted their encampment near Fort Ticonderoga and all through the night, the Algonquins remained in their canoes exchanging insults, threats and boasts; a normal custom during the siege a city. At daybreak the soldiers in the fort emerged from their barricades and led by three chiefs, approached their invaders in a calm but grave manner. Champlainís men ran forward about 200 yards and held fast, waiting for their leader to get the ball rolling. Clad in a plate corset with plumed metal helmet, he loaded four bullets into his arquebus and fired at the Mohawk chiefs, reportedly killing two and wounding the third.
|Arrows then began to fly from both sides, but when one of Champlainís marksmen, who had come up from behind enemy lines, fired on the crowd, they panicked and fled into the forest, with the Algonquin-French forces in hot pursuit. Several Mohawks were killed and ten more taken prisoner, while the allies lost no men at all. However, this would not mean victory but only fueled a war that had been going on for years.|
|This account is from Champlainís book, and is probably embellished. Though his troops may have numbered only sixty, there were probably not two hundred mohawks. Also, he claims to have killed the two chiefs and wounded the third from a distance of 27 metres. However, the Arquebus took several minutes to prime, load and fire, so it is more likely that he fired from an ambush position, and the sound frightened his enemies, causing them all to flee, at which time the allies pursued them into the forests.
Regardless, it resulted in a victory, and that was enough for now, although the reasons behind the French not following the century old rules of conduct between rivals in North America, was probably debated in council for some time and the Algonquin Nations would eventually pay the price for his actions.
On September 5, Champlain headed back to France to lend support for De Montís claim to have his monopoly extended. He left Captian Pierre De Chauvin in charge of the settlement during his absence and arrived back home on October 10, 1609. It had been an eventful year.
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