Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Father of New France

While Englishmen were seeking the North-West Passage, Frenchmen were working to found New France, for after Cartier, other men tried to found colonies in the lands beyond the seas. Each failed as Cartier had failed. But at last there came a man who was so determined and so brave that he succeeded in doing what others had not been able to do. This man was Samuel de Champlain, often called the Father of New France.

After the discovery of Newfoundland, sailors had been quick to find out what a splendid place it was for fishing. So men from all countries came to fish in the waters there. Others came to trade with the Indians for furs. But they all came and went again. None thought of making their home in that far-off land.

At length a Frenchman, seeing what a lot of money might be made out of furs, asked the King of France to allow him alone to have the fur trade. This is called a monopoly. Monopoly comes from two Greek words, monos, alone, and polein, to sell. So if you yet a monopoly of anything it means that you are the only person who is allowed to sell that thing to others.

The King of France said this Frenchman might have a monopoly of furs if he would found a colony in New France. To this he agreed, and set sail with some friends. All the other fur merchants of France were, however, very angry, because they knew that if only one man was allowed to buy furs from the Indians and sell them to the French, he would become very rich and they poor.

But the colony, which was now founded, did not succeed any better than those before it had done. It was not until Champlain and some other adventurers came to help that things went better. Champlain was a soldier-sailor. He was brave, and wise, and kind too—just the very best sort of man to treat with savages and found a colony.

Champlain did not at first go as a leader, but only to help two gentlemen called Poutrincourt and De Monts. Soon, however, it became plain that he was the real leader, and later he was made Governor of New France.

Champlain and his friends landed first in Acadie. That is the part of the Dominion of Canada which we now call Nova Scotia. On an island at the mouth of the river St. Croix they built their fort, and prepared to spend the winter. But they soon found that they had chosen a very bad place. It was cold and barren. There was neither wood for fires nor fresh water to drink. So after passing a winter of pain and trouble, during which many died, they went over to the mainland, and there built their fort anew. There the city of Annapolis now stands. Then the colonists called it Port Royal.

The new colony had a hard struggle. The second winter was almost as bad as the first. The settlers had eaten all the food which they had brought with them from France, and as the ships which they expected with more did not arrive, they began to starve. Then Champlain made up his mind to take all his people home to France. For he knew that it would be impossible to live through another winter without help. Two brave men offered to remain behind to take care of the fort until the others returned, and a friendly old Indian chief promised too to stay near.

So good-byes were said; the little ship sailed out of the bay, and the two brave men prepared to spend the long autumn and winter alone between the forest and the sea, far from any white man, and with only savages near.

But about nine days after Champlain had sailed, the old chief saw a white sail far out to sea. The two Frenchmen were at dinner and did not notice it. The old chief stood for a little time watching the white sail as it came nearer and nearer. Then, in great excitement, he ran shouting to the fort, "Why do you sit here?" he cried, bursting in upon the two men. "Why do you sit here and amuse yourselves eating, when a great ship with white wings is coming up the river?"

In much astonishment and some dread the two men sprang up. One seized his gun and ran to the shore. The other ran to the cannon of the fort. Both were ready to fight as best they might should the strangers prove to be enemies. Eagerly they watched as the ship came on. Was it friend or was it foe, they asked themselves. At last it was quite near. At last they could see the white flag of France, with its golden fleur-de-lis, floating from the mast. With fingers which trembled with joy, the man at the cannon put a match to the muzzle, and a roar of welcome awoke the echoes of the bay.

Right glad were the newcomers to hear it, for they had been anxiously watching the fort which seemed so silent and deserted, and with thunder of guns and blare of trumpets they joyously replied.

Soon the little fort was full of busy life again, and Champlain, who had not gone far on his journey, hearing that help had come, turned back to join his friends again.

Among the colonists who came in this ship was a lawyer from Paris, called Marc Lescarbot. He was very merry and gay. Always in good spirits himself, he kept others in good spirits too. After the newcomers had settled down, Champlain and some of the men sailed away to explore the country, leaving the others to take care of the fort. They worked hard, felling trees and digging the ground, cutting paths through the forest, and planting barley, wheat, and rye. But when work was done there was plenty of fun, for Lescarbot kept them merry. Among other things he prepared a play with which to greet the travellers when they came back.

Champlain returned somewhat weary and disheartened. He had not succeeded in exploring much further than before. The Indians had proved unfriendly, and several of his men had been killed by them. So with the coming of winter he turned back to Port Royal. They arrived there one gloomy November afternoon. But those who had been left behind were watching for them. As Champlain and his men drew near they saw that the whole fort was a blaze of lights.

Over the gateway hung the arms and motto of the King of France, wreathed with laurels. On either side hung those of De Monts and Poutrincourt, two of the leaders. The gate, as the travellers came near to it, opened, and out came no less a person than old Neptune, sitting upon a chariot drawn by Tritons. His hair and beard were long, a blue veil floated about him, and in his hand he held his trident, and so with music and poetry he welcomed the travellers from the sea.

After Neptune came a canoe, in which were four savages, each with a gift in his hand. These they presented, each in turn making a speech in poetry. Poutrincourt, who entered into the game at once, listened to Lord Neptune, his Tritons and savages with drawn sword in hand. Then after he had made a speech of thanks, the Tritons and savages burst into song, and the returned travellers passed beneath the wreathed gateway to the sound of trumpets and the roar of cannon.

Lescarbot wrote a history of New France in which he tells about all this. He gives there the poetry which was said and sung, not because it is very good poetry, he says, but because it shows that in that unknown country, far from friends and home, they were not sad.

Thus the long, cold winter began, but Lescarbot had many devices for making the dark, dreary days pass merrily. He formed all the chief men of the colony into an order which he called the Order of Good Times. Each member was Grand Master of the order for one day. It was his duty to see to the meals during that day. Each Grand Master tried to manage better than the one before. He would hunt and fish and invent all sorts of dainties, so it came about that there was always enough to eat, and plenty of change, and as a result there was not so much sickness nor so many deaths as there had been during the winters before.

The officers of the Order of Good Times did everything with great ceremony. When dinner-time came the Grand Master marched into the hall wearing his fine chain of office round his neck, a napkin over his shoulder, and a staff in his hand. He was followed by the Brethren, each carrying a dish which he placed upon the table. Then they all sat down to dine. At supper there was much the same ceremony. Then when it was over and the great wood fire burned and roared up the chimney, its flames dancing and flickering and making strange shadows upon the wall, songs were sung and stories were told. And in the circle which gathered round the glowing hearth, many a time a dark-skinned chieftain, gay in paint and feathers, might be seen sitting side by side with the French gentlemen-adventurers, who listened with delight to the quaint tales he told. Then the wine cup and the pipe went round, and when the last pipe was smoked, the last bowl empty, the Grand Master of the day, his duties done, would give up his chain of office to the Brother who should succeed him. And so with laughter and with song the dark days passed and spring came once more.

With spring came bad news. The monopoly had been withdrawn. The colony must be given up. Sad at heart, the colonists left their new home, which they had worked so hard to found, and went back to France.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Story of Henry Hudson  |  Next: The Founding of Quebec
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.