Friday, July 17, 2015

Champlain and New France - Rough Draft

Champlain and New France

             While there were no attempts to found permanent colonies for about thirty years, the French returned to the St. Lawrence River in the 1570s to trade for furs. This was profitable because beaver pelts were increasingly used to make hats. Trade for furs was competitive and unruly. As a result the French king granted monopolies. It was the fur trade that brought new attempts to colonize. Among those journeying to North America was Samuel de Champlain. He first sailed in 1603, landing at a trading settlement at Tadoussac in what is now Canada. He wanted to establish good relationships with the native people and find a place to establish a permanent settlement. In 1605 and 1606 he explored the American coast as far south as Cape Cod in what is now Massachusetts.
            He tried to establish a settlement near the coast, but the area was low and damp. In 1608 he founded Quebec at the “foot of a great rock wall.” There were difficulties and he returned to France for help. He befriended the Algonquin who aided his exploration. He paddled endless miles in a canoe through lakes and up rivers, seeking a passage to Asia. He didn’t find it, of course, but he made his way up the Ottawa River and across Lake Huron. His native guides led him overland from Lake Huron to Lake Ontario. [Find these on a map.] His explorations established fur trade routs.
He made alliances with native tribes. Some of these asked for his help against the Iroquois. After some days without encountering them, most of Champlain’s force of nine Frenchmen returned to Quebec leaving him with two Frenchmen and about sixty Huron (Wendat) warriors. Somewhere near Crown Point, New York, they were attacked by about 200 Iroquois. Champlain fired his arquebus killing two of the Iroquois chiefs with a single shot. One of the other Frenchmen killed the third chief, and the Iroquois fled. It was on this trip that Champlain mapped the lake since named for him.
As always in this era, events in Europe determined what happened in North America. A series of brutal wars called the Thirty Years Wars, begun as a war between Protestant and Catholic states was renewed in 1627 when Catholics renewed their attack on French Protestants. This ended a brief alliance between England and France, and there was a brief war in which the English did not fare well in France. But in North America Champlain and the French were in trouble. David Kirke (c. 1597 – 1654), a knight and merchant, and his brothers, attacked the French, first capturing a supply ship, then sending messengers to Champlain demanding the surrender of Quebec. Champlain thought help was on the way and refused to surrender. The Kirke brothers starved them out, and Champlain surrendered. He was taken prisoner. England and France signed a peace treaty, and French lands in America were returned, though slowly.
Champlain is important to American history because he established a stable French presence in America, exploring areas now part of this country. He was an extraordinary man. He befriended the Algonquin, and he paddled endless miles exploring what is now part of Canada and the United States. He never found a passage to Asia, but he found a rich land. His native guides brought him to natural wonders such as Lake Huron and Lake Ontario, and Lake Champlain. Few in France were interested in America, and French settlement was sparse. But Champlain persisted for thirty years.

French Fur Traders

            France didn’t find a passage to the riches of Asia, but she found furs. Fish and Fur made some very rich. Coureur de bois [French for “Runner of the Forest], were independent traders without a royal license. They journeyed into the deep forests, trading for furs. Licensed traders sent out voyageurs, men who were bound to serve for some years, to transport furs to settlements. These men would paddle up rivers and streams as far as they could, then carry their supplies and canoes until they found another stream. This was called a portage. They reached places few Europeans visited.

Illustration: The Thirty Years War was Brutal.

            The best furs came from animals trapped in winter when their coats were thickest. In spring the Forest Runners and natives gathered at Mackinac Island, now part of Michigan, to trade. There were as many as thirteen hundred natives and two hundred white men. A great trading fair was held. Dancing and drinking went on until the native tribes traded away their furs. One hundred thousand beaver skins changed hands. The French traders would return to Montreal, which had become the center of the fur trade, arriving in late summer. French ships carrying beads, blankets, kettles, guns and brandy waited for them. The cycle would begin anew.
            Increasing demand for furs and Native American desire for French goods had unexpected bad effects. The French expanded into native lands, and by the end of the seventeenth century, they had moved from the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers into the Great Lakes. Later they established posts in the heart of the Hudson Bay region. They explored the rivers to the south including the Mississippi, establishing a trading post where New Orleans is now. Animal population decreased. It would never recover. The fur trade led to conflicts among tribes, and these were more violent than previously. The nature of Native American societies changed from agriculture and hunting to trade.

Task: Explore this on your own. Write a short report telling how trade changed native cultures.

            Only about fifty new settlers arrived in New France each year. After fifty years there were only about twenty-five hundred French living along the St. Lawrence River. There was little agriculture. New France was a series of small trading posts rather than a real colony. They were there to fish or trade for furs, not to settle. They didn’t add to the land; they took from it. By the end of the 17th Century (1600s) the St. Lawrence could no longer meet their needs. Trading moved west and south. The journeys home were longer, more dangerous. The French in America were “constantly wearing out or using up the natural resources of the country.”


  1. I am curious--at the end of your history book will you set the stage for the America Civil War with commentary on how colonial immigration ethnicity directly impacted who went to war with whom?

  2. This book ends with the Constitutional Convention. Plan is to write another next year that takes the story up to the Civil War. The classes are Colonial History I-II 4-6 Gifted, and same for 6-8 American Lit and History.

  3. Several WA schools similar to ours are dissatisfied with the textbooks that cover the period. They're sanitized, boring and inaccurate. We can do better on our own.

  4. I'm simply curious how forward the data goes or if you leave that type of analysis for books on that later time period.

    It is a major topic that I did not see presented (as a student of WA public schools) until I did my own research in my thirties.

  5. Well, this is a semi-sanitized history. Because it is for young ones from diverse backgrounds, some things won't be considered in detail. But we can't escape and don't want to ignore the role ethnicity played in the development of America. In fact, the non-English settlers established the post Revolution American personality. American's were antithetic toward England. There was a strong Scots and Irish presence here, few of whom liked England. The so-called 'special relationship' didn't exist until World War 2, and then only because the Roosevelt was an anglophile. We almost went to war with the UK in the mid 1930s. We had cause to, probably should have. The rise of Hitler changed that.

    In the colonial era, largely ignored by text book writers, there was an influx of non-English people, Germans, Central Europeans, French protestants. These helped develop America's personality. An example would be the German-Dutch families who settled in the Carolinas and who pushed into the frontier areas in the mid to late 1700s. These were families who had both Dutch and German ancestry, and who felt free to ignore the English government's prohibition on settlement in those areas.

  6. Very interesting.