Samuel de Champlain (ca. 1567–1635) explorer, businessman

2011-02-08 10:54:31

Samuel de Champlain was the principal founder of New France and the first European explorer of much of modern Quebec and Ontario.
Champlain was born in the Atlantic French seaport of Brouage. Little is known of his early life, but he became a devout Roman Catholic as French Catholics and Huguenots battled for his hometown. Champlain’s skill as a cartographer, artist, and author of his first journey to the Americas with a Spanish expedition in 1599 led to his commission by Henry IV, king of France (r. 1589–1610) to establish a French colony in North America. Although Jacques Cartier had claimed Acadia and the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1530s, the bitter winters had restricted French interest to fishing along coastal waters. Champlain founded ill-fated colonies at St. Croix Island (1604) and Port Royal, Nova Scotia (1606), before establishing the first permanent French settlement in North America at Quebec (1608), where only eight of the original 24 Frenchmen survived the first winter. In 1627, he became head of the Compagnie de la Nouvelle France, often known as the Company of One Hundred Associates, which was granted title to all French lands and a monopoly on all economic activity except fishing, in return for settling 4,000 French Catholics in Canada. Although the fur trade flourished, Frenchmen paid little attention to Champlain’s calls to establish farming settlements. At the time of his death in 1635, the population of Quebec was only about 200. His own wife had returned to France after four years, disliking the hardship and isolation. For more than a quarter of a century, Champlain worked strenuously to hold Canada against British incursions, to maintain close relations with the Algonquians and Hurons, and to convert the Native Americans to Christianity.