Builders of Our Country: Book I  by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth


Founding of Quebec

IN the year 1603, two little French ships sailed up the St. Lawrence. Upon the deck of one of these ships stood a young and fearless-looking man, Samuel Champlain.

Past the high rock where Quebec now stands, past the broad lake of St. Peter, the ships sailed steadily on, until a high mountain rose before the voyagers. Champlain had read of Cartier's voyage, and he knew that this was the same Montreal which Cartier had explored. With his comrades Champlain landed and looked for the village of Hochelaga. It was gone, and there were only a few wandering Algonquin Indians to greet the French voyagers.

The French explorers spent the summer in looking over the country near the St. Lawrence River. When autumn came they returned to France.

The next year the two ships came again. This time the voyagers were determined to make a settlement upon the shores of the New World. First they tried a rocky island in Passamaquoddy Bay. Then they moved to a place that they named Port Royal. They spent three winters in these two places. When spring came after the third winter, it brought bad news from France. The French king would no longer support the colony in America.

With heavy hearts the colonists prepared to go home. Their Indian friends followed them to the water's edge and cried bitterly.

For a year after this, Champlain stayed in France. He grew homesick for the foggy coasts of Canada, for the sound of the sea and the smell of the pine woods. When King Henry decided to send another colony to America, there was no happier man in all France than Champlain.

By the summer of 1608 a gang of choppers was at work where the city of Quebec is to-day. They were clearing a place for Champlain's new colony. The little town was soon built. It consisted of three houses and a courtyard. Around this little town was a wooden wall, and upon the inside of the wall was a gallery. In the gallery were loopholes, through which the colonists might shoot upon their enemies. Around the wall was a moat, or ditch, and near by was a garden.

One morning, while Champlain was overseeing the work in the garden, one of the pilots came to him and told him that he had heard of a plot against his life. Near the French colony were some Spaniards. Some men in Champlain's colony were planning to kill him and give the colony up to the Spaniards. Champlain considered for a little while. Then he said, "I have a plan." He had a small vessel anchored in front of the town. On this boat he put a young man whom he could trust. To this man he gave two bottles of wine. "Tell the four ringleaders of the plot," he said, "that their friends have sent you some wine."

The young man told the ringleaders and invited them on board to spend the evening. As soon as they were once on the ship they were arrested. The worst one was hanged. The other three were sent to France for punishment.

When autumn came, one ship sailed for France. Champlain stayed behind with twenty-eight men.

With the cold weather, a band of roving Indians came and built their birch huts beside Champlain's colony. All winter long they did nothing but eat, and sleep on piles of branches in their smoky huts. This would have been a very happy life for them, had it not been for one thing. When they slept they dreamed fearful dreams of war with their dreaded enemies, the Iroquois. Night after night these dreams were repeated. The Indians believed that dreams were a sign of what was going to happen. They were afraid that the Iroquois were coming, and they begged the French to let them come inside the wooden walls at night. The French let the women and children come in, but they made the warriors stay outside.

The French had their difficulties as well as the Indians. Disease swept through the colony. When spring came there were only eight men left. Never was ship more welcome than the one that now arrived bearing friends and supplies from France.

The Attack on the Iroquois

CHAMPLAIN now decided that, while part of the men stayed at Quebec, he and the others would go to look for a water passage to China. The Europeans could not give up hope of finding such a passage. But what could this handful of men do among the thousands of warlike Indians scattered through the forests they must cross? Champlain thought over this for a long while. Finally he hit upon a scheme.

You remember how the Indians were frightened by their dreams about the Iroquois. The Iroquois were the fiercest and most powerful Indians in America. They were a league of five nations, living in what is now the State of New York. The other Indians east of the Mississippi belonged to the Algonquins or to the Hurons. The Iroquois hated the Algonquins and the Hurons, and oftentimes these enemies started out to make savage war against each other.

Champlain's plan was to join one of the Algonquin-Huron war parties. By doing this he would make the Algonquins and the Hurons firm friends of the French. Besides, the Algonquins had told Champlain of a great lake in the land of the Iroquois, and he was eager to see this lake.

Champlain sent for some of the Algonquins he knew, and told them that he would help them against their enemies. They soon spread the news.

A great band of warriors assembled at Quebec. Most of them had never before seen white men. They wondered at the Frenchmen's white faces, at their beards, and at their suits of steel. They stuffed themselves with the white men's food and yelled with terror at the roar of guns and cannon. They pitched their camps and got ready for the war dance.

At night, when all was still, a bright fire was built. The Indians formed a circle around this fire. Their faces were streaked with paint, and in their hands they swung stone war clubs and hatchets. Then a drum began to beat, and away they whirled in the wildest dance. After this was over they held the war feast.

It was almost July when the party started. Champlain and eleven other white men were in a small boat, each with gun and sword and armor. Around them were one hundred birch canoes full of Indians.

Swish, swish went the water, as hundreds of paddles rushed up the river. Through a lake and between islands they went, till they came to the mouth of the Richelieu River which flows into the St. Lawrence. Here they encamped. But the Indians continually quarreled with one another, until at last three-fourths of them got angry and paddled home.

Again the allies got under way—this time up the river at whose mouth they had encamped. Soon they came to a place where the river was full of rocks. No boat could cross such rapids. So nine of the white men went back to Quebec with Champlain's boat, while he and the other two went on with the Indians in their canoes.

After a time the river grew wider again, and at last they came to the great lake that the Indians had told Champlain about. He named it Lake Champlain.

The travelers now had to proceed more carefully, for they were near the home of the Iroquois. All day they would hide quietly in the woods. At night they would launch their canoes and skim over the lake.

On the night of July 29th, they started full of hope. At about ten o'clock they saw dark objects on the lake in front of them. They were the canoes of the Iroquois. Each party saw the other, and the lake rang with war cries.

The Iroquois did not like to fight on the water, so they landed and began to hack down trees for a barricade. Champlain and his party stayed on the lake and fastened their canoes together with poles.

Before daylight Champlain and the other white men put on their armor. Over their shoulders they hung their ammunition boxes; they fastened their swords to their belts and took their guns in hand. The three Frenchmen were in separate canoes. When it grew light they kept hidden under Indian robes. The canoes were pulled up close to the shore, and the Algonquin-Huron party landed, the Frenchmen hiding behind the Indians.

When two hundred of the straightest and fiercest of the Iroquois braves came marching toward them from their barricade, the Hurons and Algonquins began to feel anxious. So Champlain stepped out in front of them. The Iroquois stood thunderstruck. They had never seen a white man. He aimed his gun. Bang! A chief fell dead, and another rolled wounded into the bushes. Champlain's Indians gave a terrible yell, and the woods were full of whizzing arrows. For a moment the Iroquois shot back. But from among their enemies came another gunshot, and another.

They could stand it no longer. They broke rank and fled in terror through the bushes, like deer. Like hounds went the Hurons and Algonquins in hot pursuit. Some of the Iroquois were killed, many were taken prisoners. The rest ran away. Camp, canoes, provisions—all were left behind. The white man's gun had done its work.

In after years the Iroquois were always the enemies of the French, and this was only the first of many wars between them.

As the years went by, Champlain pushed farther west from Quebec. He discovered Lake Huron. He planted the French people firmly in Canada. Even to-day you will find the French language spoken in the parts of Canada which Champlain settled. His settlement at Quebec became the center, not only of military operations, but also of a large fur trade. From there, the fur traders made their way into the Indian lands and bought furs for beads, purses, and trinkets of many sorts. Much of the profits of this trade went to the King of France and much to the government of Canada.

On Christmas Day, 1635, one hundred years after Cartier had discovered the site of Montreal, there was great sadness at Quebec. The French had lost their greatest explorer, and the Indians had lost their best friend. Champlain was dead.