|The Real Kingdom of the Saguenay|
|The Edict of Nantes signed in 1598, resulted in a temporary lull in the religious wars that had plagued France for nearly half a century. Merchants could once again turn their attention to business matters and many looked toward Canada and the lucrative fur-trade. The wealthier financiers scrambled for trade monopolies, while others, who had been making a tidy profit for several years, demanded the right to continue their activities. The French court had little interest in the “frozen wilderness” after Jacques Cartier had failed to find a route to China, or the valuable gold and gemstones so coveted by the cash-strapped crown. Therefore, when Pierre Chauvin, Sieur de Tonnetuit, the governor of Honfleur, approached the king about establishing a colony there in exchange for the sole right of commerce, Henry IV, gladly granted him permission.
Chauvin, had been a staunch supporter in the king’s war against the Spanish, who had come to the aid of the Catholic League; so he owed him a favor. As long as he did so at his own risk and could guarantee that he would colonize the region, the King was certainly in favor. As for Chauvin, he needed this royal mandate, in order to take control of France’s interests in that part of the 'New World', and to protect his investment. Glowing reports of bustling commerce in a place called Tadoussac, made it the logical choice for his first base of operation.
Tadoussac, a term then used to describe nipples or breasts, was so named because of it’s pointed shape. Strategically located at the mouth of the Saguenay River, it had long been a major trading center of the Canadian people. Initially business was only conducted between the various nations residing in this part of the country, but for the past several decades; the Dutch, French, Spanish and others, had joined in the commerce there. They brought iron tools, copper pots, blankets and other manufactured goods, exchanging them for valuable pelts. Trade was conducted freely but at the desecration of the aboriginal people.
By the end of the 16th century there were roughly 1,000 Canadians, mostly from the Montagnais, who took up winter residence near Tadoussac. The majority were the natives of the country, but their numbers also included second and even third generation, Canadian born citizens of mixed blood; the offspring of the fishermen, trappers and traders, who frequented the area each year. Since line of descent followed through the mother, these children were raised in her village and absorbed into the native population.
Chauvin, himself a merchant and ship owner, and in his position as Lieutenant-General of “New France” , hoped to gain the confidence of the Canadian people; convince them that it would be in their best interest to deal exclusively with them; and stop the “free trading” he feared would jeopardize the future fur market. In the spring of 1600, he, along with Francois Grave du Pont (Pontgrave), one of his captains; and a former comrade, Pierre Du Gua, Sieur De Monts, the governor of Pons; set sail with four ships and sixteen colonists, for Tadoussac. Pontgrave had been to the area many times, so would lead the expedition.
|It is rather interesting to think of the French government sending someone to act as administrator and colonizer, of a territory that was only theirs because they said so. At the time, all European nations held the belief that if you saw land, planted your flag, and claimed it as your own; it was perfectly legal. You then had the right to place settlers there, tap the natural resources, and govern or drive off the indigenous people, until someone bigger or better armed, took that right from you.|
|Though the native people did not believe in land ownership, this was their country, and while they may have accepted the newcomers, recognizing that by doing business with them, they opened up new markets for their products; they certainly didn’t see them as being their governing body. They already had a Grand Council, to establish laws and hand out justice. They had their own towns and villages. They farmed, conducted business and enjoyed recreational activities. They battled the elements and sometimes each other, but were highly civilized, communal and hard working. They had a great respect for the land that gave them sustenance, the birds and animals who provided them with food and clothing and the Great Spirit who watched over them; guiding them in their day to day lives.
When the adventurous group arrived from France, the natives welcomed them, though not without some trepidation. Most of the young women and children were sent into the cover of the forests, until the men from the small village made first contact. All too often, the occupants of these ships had taken liberties with their maidens and even the young boys, so this had become a matter of routine.
No doubt they had already met Pontgrave, who had been there before, and once customary gifts were exchanged and each realized that the other posed no immediate threat, Chauvin had his men unload their cargo. The people from the village watched with interest as they set up camp. Some of the young men even came to help, offering their labor in exchange for knives and ironware, and before long the French Post took on the appearance of a habitation. Though crudely constructed, the little building would mark the beginning of French involvement in the region.
|When Chauvin returned to France in the fall of that year, he took with him a brimming cargo of valuable pelts and a determination to maintain his hold on this oasis. The sixteen colonists he left behind, however, lacked his enthusiasm. Left alone with only a few tools and a small quantity of food, they had to depend on their neighbors to provide them with most of their needs. Disillusioned and ill-prepared for the weather, most abandoned fort, joining the young men of the village as they went off on their hunt; took up with fellow Frenchmen living as Coureurs du Bois, or settled in with a Canadian family.
The following year, Pierre Chauvin sent the L’Esperance to Tadoussac with fresh supplies, but they found only five of the colonists still there. When the king got word of this, he nullified his contract for failing to honor the agreement. Perhaps, trying to settle only sixteen colonists, did not seem like a serious enough attempt, when they were bringing back so much bounty. In April of 1602, Chauvin took two ships with Pontgrave and made his last trip to the 'New World', trading for furs at Tadoussac. He died the following year.
Fortunately for our ancestors, who were future French immigrants, this would not be the end of the campaign. Sieur De Monts, who had been with Chauvin in 1600, still believed in the project and went in search of a new backer. In all likelihood, he brought the idea to his former commander, Aymar de Chastes, the Governor of Dieppe. Aymar de Clermont De Chastes was from a noble family, had enormous wealth, and was then in favor at the Royal Court.
In 1580, Cardinal Henry, King of Portugal, had died and since he was unable to marry, left no heirs. Seven claimants fought for the right to take the throne. The strongest was Philip II of Spain, whose mother Queen Isabella was the daughter of the late Portuguese King Manuel. However, while he may have been the strongest, Antoine, the Prior of Catro, was the most popular. Dubbed “Antoine the Pretender”, he was an illegitimate child, born into the Royal Family of Portugal. On August 25, 1580; the Spaniards, under the famous Admiral Santa Cruz, invaded Portugal and Antoine led the popular resistance. France, not wanting to see Spain in control of Portugal, backed him and sent a fleet under Philip Strozzi, a Florentine exile in the service of France. Among the group was Aymar de Clermont and under him, the Sieur De Monts. It was in the decisive battle off the Island of Terceire, that Aymar would first make a name for himself. Outnumbered and battered, the French made for home, but when escape was suggested to Aymar, he stated that he would rather “take a blow from a knife scraping my heart than flee.”
Though Spain won out in the end, and Philip was named King Philip I of Portugal, the heroics of De Clermont brought him to the attention of the French Court and on May 6, 1583, he was named Lieutenant-General of the Navy. Future triumphs in the Religious Wars maintained his reputation and on April 10, 1589, he was promoted vice-admiral of France and on April 19, 1591, named Governor of Dieppe.
|Therefore, it was not too difficult for the King to decide that De Chastes would be the best choice to back the settlement of “New France”. We have to remember that the crown had little interest in the area. It was mainly a trophy for the merchant class, so at least with a nobleman at the reins, there might be a chance of success. (the popular thinking at the time and not my own).
There may have also been another reason for the king’s choice. The truce was still fragile between the Catholics and the Huguenots, and De Chastes was a commander of the Order of St. John of Malta, which meant that he would have many Catholic supporters. This gesture could win him a few points with the powerful Catholic League, so in February of 1603, King Henri IV of France, named Aymer de Clermont de Chaste as “Lieutenant General of New France”.
This honor meant that he now held the trade monopoly for the future colony, and he formed the De Chaste Trading Company, to manage his interests. He obtained for his old friend, Pierre Du Gua de Monts, royal patents for the colonization, commercial exploitation and governing of Acadia (an area he had previously explored and taken an interest in), and appointed Francois Grave du Pont (Pontgrave) to be his representative in New France.
Of course, De Chastes did not underwrite the venture on his own, but had several partners among the merchants of St. Malo. Two ships were outfitted and on March 13, 1603; they received the proper documentation to begin the journey.
Regarding the petition submitted by the burgesses and inhabitants of St-Malo, that it please the king to make free, this year and in the future, the trade that was discovered in Canada at great expense by their predecessors. Notwithstanding the authorizations and prohibitions claimed by captains Prevert and Pont-Gravé. Having Faith in his Council has decreed and decrees, for good reason and after due consideration, that Captain Colombier of St-Malo, named by the said inhabitants of St-Malo, should fit out his vessel this year to engage in trade and discover lands in Canada and in the adjacent territory with the two ships of sieurs Prevert and Pont-Gravé, either jointly or separately, whichever is most appropriate. Responsibility for contributing one-third of the justified costs and expenses incurred in the said discovery, His Majesty inhibits and prohibits sieurs Prevert, Pont-Gravé and all other sieurs, subjects of whatever quality and condition, from troubling them with respect to the above-mentioned points. Prepared at the King’s Council held in Paris on this day of March 1603.
[Signed:] BELLIEVRE DESAULIFANT
A. DE BETHUNE
|Probably the most crucial decision made at this time though, was to allow a young man by the name of Samuel De Champlain, to join Pontgrave’s crew as a volunteer. Champlain had spent the last two years in the West Indies working for Don Francisco Coloma, a Spanish nobleman and also a Knight in the Order of Malta. If he gave the young man a letter of introduction, it would have bore a lot of weight with fellow knight, De Chastes. But regardless of the circumstances that brought him there; when Samuel boarded Pontgrave’s ship on March 15, 1603, it would mark the beginning of his long career in Canada.|
|The voyage itself was mostly uneventful. Early on they were hampered by severe thunderstorms, but the seasoned captain, Pontgrave, kept them on course. He had made this trip many times before and his confidence and good natured ribbing kept his crew at ease. Except for the occasional flare-ups of gout, which would cause him to scream out in pain, he was even tempered and had earned the respect of those who served under him.
Off the coast of Newfoundland they observed ice-floes and ran into heavy fog, but on the 24th of May, dropped anchor at Tadoussac, harboring at the mouth of the Saguenay. All around the men saw rocky mountains covered with pine, spruce, cedar and birch. There were two sandbars at the mouth of the harbor; named by Cartier, St. Matthew’s and All Devil’s Cape. De Monts planned to visit the village at St. Matthew’s once they got settled. The previous year he had taken two young boys from there to France, so was anxious to reunite them with their families. He also hoped that the boys could reassure the local people that the French came in peace.
|If we compare North America at the time to Europe, it too was made up of different nations; seven in all, and within those nations there co-existed several tribes or groups of people who shared common language, customs and beliefs. The story goes that when Jacques Cartier had visited the region of our ancestors he pointed to a community asking it’s name and was told “Canada”, which simply meant “village”. Since Cartier was looking for the name of the country, he mistakenly thought that it was Canada. From then on that term began to appear on maps to denote the area.
The two most powerful nations, in that part of North America, were the Algonquins and the Iroquois and just as in Europe, they were often at war. Each fought to gain control of natural resources and protect what was theirs, but often it was simply to prove who was the mightiest. The Canadian people who were then residing, or at least wintering, near Tadoussac, had been given the name "Montagnais", from the French word meaning "mountaineer"; understandably because of the mountain ranges that surrounded the harbor. However, they were actually part of the Algonquin race and referred to themselves as Innu, which means “human being”.
These Innu inhabited the Peninsula between Gaspe and Labrador, so had early and frequent contact with European fishermen and explorers. Eventually, the Innu east of Quebec were referred to as “Naspaki” or “Naspaki-Montagnais”, but only because once when asked who lived in that direction they answered the Naspaki, or “their relatives beyond the horizon”.
When De Chastes’ company of men arrived at Saguenay, there was a gathering of Algonquin people from many communities, celebrating a recent victory over their enemy; the Iroquois. Preparations were underway for a Tabagie, or feast, and everyone was in a party mood. Their Sagamo or Chief, Anadabijou, was sitting down with about a hundred allied warriors and leaders, preparing to eat, when it was announced that there were two Wameqtikosiu (meaning “Frenchmen” or “Builders of wooden boats”) who wished to have an audience with him. He was also told that they had two of his own young men with them, recently returned from their voyage to the Wameqtikosiu homeland.
|He ordered them in and had them sit down beside him, eager to hear what they had to say. His men assumed their positions on both sides of the lodge, and when one of the young native boys began to speak, there was utter silence; a show of respect common within the native communities.
He told the gathering that he had been treated fairly in France and that when he met with their sagamo, who went by the name of “King Henri”, he wished the Canadian people well. He also told the gathering that Henri had plans of settling some of his own people there to reside with them, and offer any assistance they might need. The arrangement could be mutually beneficial as the French wanted the furs and the Algonquins, this powerful ally.
When the speaker was through, Anadabajou puffed on his pipe and then passed it to De Monts and Champlain, the two Wameqtikosiu who had initiated the meeting. From them it was passed around to the other chiefs in attendance and when this ritual was over, Anadabajou began to speak. An intelligent man, though perhaps a bit too trusting, he had mulled over the idea and accepted the gesture made by the Grand Sagamo Henri of France. His people could prosper if they had a ready market for their furs, and feel more secure with the presence of a powerful French army.
When he announced that he would gladly call the French his friends and hoped that they would wage war on his enemy, the Iroquois, all those assembled shouted “ho ho ho” (yes, yes, yes) and the party began. Kettles full of moose, bear, beaver and seal were doled out to each person, eaten from birch bark bowls. Many of the Europeans would state that the “savages” had no manners, eating with their fingers and wiping them on their clothing or their dogs, but in actual fact, the people of this country, also found the Europeans to be uncivilized. They often joked that you could smell them before you saw them, because of their custom at the time of only bathing once a year. The native people bathed regularly and knew the importance of cleanliness. As a result, they had no disease prior to the arrival of the European immigrants.
They also found the custom of putting used handkerchiefs back in their pockets disgusting, wondering why they wanted to hold onto such a thing. They referred to the men in terms like Kiowa Bedalpago; meaning “hairy mouth”, and Takai; meaning “his ears stick out”. They wondered why they overdressed in summer, and underdressed in winter. Why they found the practice of dancing naked indecent but the striking of children acceptable.
However, natural prejudices aside, once the decision was reached to reside as neighbors, efforts were made on both sides, to understand and accept the differences of the other. Each may have had their own agenda, but worked hard to find common ground. They argued religion, ethics, politics and military strategy. Frenchmen would marry Canadian girls and in turn would be welcomed into her family. The Algonquins could teach the French how to survive in their climate and the French could provide iron tools and weaponry. It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time.
|Now that a verbal agreement had been reached, the celebrations continued, with singing, dancing and rejoicing. The scalps of the Iroquois that they had slain were proudly on display and symbolically offered to the Great Spirits who had brought them their good fortune. The following day, which was the 28th of May, the people moved their party down to the waterfront where the ships were harbored and announced that they would be relocating to Tadoussac, to be nearer their new neighbors.
With the place now a buzz with activity, Champlain began to explore the Saguenay River, and kept an account of things he saw. All along the waterfront he saw Indian encampments; people who had come to area to trade with the Montaignais. He found them all to be friendly and questioned many about the land further down river.
Though the many rocks and shoals made navigation tricky, he was very impressed with the natural beauty of the area and it’s potential for future French settlement. Anchoring at Kebec (meaning narrows), he wrote a glowing account of the soil, that would be easily cultivated. From there the Ste. Croix, the Batiscan, Trois-Rivieres, the St. Maurice and others, all peaked his interest and helped to fuel his optimism. The areas they couldn’t cover in their own boats, were easily managed by their native guides and their canoes.
To successfully conduct business in the area though, he knew they would have to first handle the hostilities between the Iroquois and Algonquins. He noted that a fort at Trois Rivieres might be a solution. They could make friends with the Iroquois currently residing on both banks of the St. Lawrence, while gaining the confidence of the Algonquin who were now afraid to travel that river.
Finally, in late July, 1603; Champlain and De Monts left Tadoussac. Before taking off, they were approached by one of the Montagnais chiefs, Bechourat, asking that they take his son along with them to see the wonders of France. They agreed, but only in exchange for a young Iroquois woman they held as hostage and intended to eat.
At Gaspe, they met up with a Sieur Prevert; a speculator in search of copper mines in Acadia, and he joined them on the return voyage, filling them in on the terrain and the people of that region. Champlain had made many notes and charts and was anxious to show them to their investors, especially De Chastes.
He also thought that he may have discovered a quicker route to Florida, but wrote “I must say however, that though Florida may have a more favorable climate than anything I’ve seen and it’s soil may be more fruitful, you could hardly hope to find a more beautiful country than Canada”. Touche!
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