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The Men Who Found America by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson


 

 

THE FATHER OF NEW FRANCE

[127] ABOUT three hundred years ago, there lived in France a man who wanted to find a new country. He loved France, its green fields and its cool forests, its rivers and quiet country roads, its cottages and its beautiful palaces; but what this man wanted was a New France, a country where Frenchmen could go and speak their own language and meet other Frenchmen.

This man's name was Samuel Champlain. Even as a little boy, when he played with other lads in the fields, he had this one plan—to find a new country for France. He knew that he could find this country in America, because America was so big; so he asked everybody he met to tell him what they knew about the great wild country beyond the sea.

He asked questions about the lakes of America, its rivers, its great forests and its wide plains. He asked questions about its gold and silver, its mines and fisheries, and the vegetables and fruits, and everything that grew there.

Now, in the little town in which Champlain grew up, there lived some fishermen who had [128] been to America. They had not been in the southern lands, like Mexico, Florida and Peru, where the Spaniards had gone for gold. The Spaniards did not like the French, and they would not let a Frenchman live in the countries that belonged to them; so these bold fishermen of France sailed further north. They used to start in the first warm days of spring, in their little fishing boats, and sail all the way across the ocean to America. Here, in the quiet, silent waters, off the coasts of Maine and Newfoundland, they would fish all summer, and when the weather got cold, they would sail back with their fish to their little homes in France.

They were very brave men, I can tell you, these French fishermen. Sometime one of them would get caught in a storm, and his little boat would go down to the bottom of the cold sea. Then a poor woman in France would sit by the window waiting for her husband to return—waiting, waiting, waiting. And sometimes these fishermen would land on the shore in America, or sail their boats up the rivers. They told Champlain of the wonderful sights they had seen; of the wide rivers rushing down from the north; of the deep quiet of the beautiful forests; [129] of the tall spruce and pine trees; of the clean, cold waters of the little lakes. They told how the naked Indians went about in light canoes, made of the bark of trees; how these Indians would carry their canoes on their backs from river to river and from lake to lake. They told Champlain of the beautiful brown and white furs that the Indians had—furs so soft and warm that any lady in France, even the Queen herself, would be happy to wear them.

When Champlain had heard all these stories, he became more eager than ever to make a new France in America. This cold country of the lakes and forests did not have gold and silver mines; but, after all, thought Champlain, "gold and silver are not the only things in the world." The Frenchmen who would live in this New France could get fish from the rivers, beautiful woods from the forests, and soft, warm furs from the Indians. Champlain dreamed of the, time when all this country would be filled with Frenchmen, living in beautiful new cities, and loving and obeying the King of France.

Now, Champlain was just the man to find a new country. He was very wise, and very, very brave. Of all the men who went to America, [130] Spaniards and Frenchmen, Dutchmen and Englishmen, I do not think there was anyone braver than Champlain. When he was still very young, he had sailed in the French ships and had learned to be a good sailor and a plucky soldier. He had fought in many battles for his King, and no one could ever say that Samuel Champlain was a coward.

Then later, after he had left the army, Champlain went to the West Indies and to Mexico. Here he saw the lands that Columbus had found, the lands that Cortez had conquered, and he watched all that the Spaniards were doing in these soft, warm lands to the south.

But as I told you, the bold Champlain wished to find his new country, not in the warm lands to the south, but in the cold countries to the north. So, after a while, he joined a little band of Frenchmen who were going to the great country which is now called Canada. Now, these Frenchmen with whom Champlain went were good, kind men. They did not kill the Indians nor rob them, as, I am sorry to say, so many other white men did, but they loved the Indians. There was one man among them who was very, very kind. His name was Poutrincourt. He [131] had been a great lord in his own country, but he did not want to go back to his beautiful France. He lived peacefully and happily with the Indians, taught them new ways of farming and many other things of which they had never heard before. And the Indians loved the French lord as they did their own father. Even the little Indian children used to come in and out of his house whenever they liked, and lie on the ground while he ate his dinner; and every now and then he threw them raisins and nuts, which they caught in their little brown hands.

Now, this life was very beautiful; but Champlain was not happy. He wanted this great country of America to belong to France, and he wanted to learn all about its rivers and lakes and forests, so that the other people who would come later would know the way to go and the best places to live in. Across great forests he went, looking at rivers and islands and lakes, till at last he reached the mighty St. Lawrence River, where another Frenchman had been a hundred years before. Here Champlain stayed for several months, and then he returned to France.

But the next year, which was 1608, Champlain came back again to the St. Lawrence [132] River. He began now to build a little city called Quebec, which was to be the great city of the new country; but even before his workmen were through putting up the first houses, there was trouble for good Champlain. Among the men whom he had brought with him from France, was a very wicked fellow named Duval. I do not know why Champlain let him come along, but I suppose that at first he did not know how wicked Duval really was. You see, many of the soldiers who first went to America were very cruel and very wicked. Anyway, this Duval made a plan with three other men to go to Champlain's bed while he slept. Then all the four men were to take Champlain's neck in their hands and squeeze it till he could not breathe, and so strangle him to death. It would have gone hard with Champlain if one of the men had not told him of this wicked plot. When Champlain heard it, he arrested the four men. He then had the wicked Duval hanged, and the other three men he sent back to France to be punished.

But this was not the last of Champlain's troubles. A great sickness called scurvy broke out among the men who were with him. Of the twenty-eight men, twenty died, and only eight [133] were left to bury the dead. Even these eight men were sick, and every day they came to Champlain and begged him to take them back to France. "Do you not remember," they said; "do you not remember how warm and sunny and beautiful it is at home; how the blue grapes hang in heavy bunches on the green vines; how the lovely women smile with joy, and the little children play about our knees and beg us for stories? Let us go back to our beautiful France and to our wives and children." But Champlain told them to be brave and patient; so they waited, and in the spring their courage was rewarded. More ships came with brave Frenchmen, and these ships were loaded down with food; so all the men with Champlain were again happy.

Champlain had learned that it was best to be kind to the Indians, and so it happened that all the Indians near Quebec were his friends. Now, one day Champlain heard of a great lake to the south, and he wanted to go there to find out all about it. So he asked the friendly Indians to take him; but they shook their heads. "We cannot go there in peace," they said, "because of the Five Nations." "Who are these Five Nations?" asked Champlain. Then the friendly [134] Indians answered him quickly: "They are our enemies, these Five Nations. They are Indian tribes who kill us when they can, and whom we kill when we can. We are always at war. "But," they told Champlain, "though we cannot go to the great lake in peace, we are going there in war. We are going to fight the Five Nations. Come with us, you and your men and your guns, and fight with us against these peoples."

So Champlain and two of his men went with the friendly Indians to fight the Five Nations. There were sixty Indians in all, and they traveled in light canoes, going down the rivers that emptied into the Great Lake. The Indians in front always held their bows in their hands, ready to shoot if they should see any of the warriors of the Five Nations, and those in the back canoes were always looking around for animals, so that they could shoot them and cook them, so that the little army would have enough food. Every night they sent a few canoes ahead to watch out for the enemy.

At last, one evening, as Champlain and his men were canoeing down the lake, they met the Indians of the Five Nations. There were two hundred Indians in this army; but the sixty friendly [135] Indians were not afraid, because they had Champlain with them. "When the Five Nations see the guns of the Frenchmen," said the chiefs among themselves, "and hear them speak noise and fire and death, they will be so afraid that they will run away and we will win the battle."

It was too late to fight that night, so both little armies waited until the sun rose on the lake the next morning. During all the long hours they stayed near each other, and in the darkness they each called the others cowards. They made a great noise, I can tell you.

Well, the fight began the next morning, and then the army of the Five Nations had a great surprise. The first thing they saw was a white man in gleaming armor, who held a gun in his hands, and had a gleaming sword in his belt. The Indians shot their arrows at this white man, but the arrows did not do any more harm than if they had been shot at a rock. Then Champlain aimed his gun and shot bullets, and two of the chiefs of the Five Nations fell down dead. Two other Frenchmen shot bullets and more chiefs fell dead. Now, the Five Nations had never seen men killed in this way before. They could not see the bullets that went so fast through [136] the air, and they thought that the white men had killed their chiefs with a noise; so the army of the Five Nations grew very much afraid. One of the Indians began to run, then another, then another, and soon their whole army was running away. The Indians who were with Champlain ran after them, shooting them with their arrows, killing and catching very many. I think that both sides were very cruel, and it seems to me sometimes that Champlain, though he was a brave man and a very wise man, would have done better if he had kept out of all their quarrels; for, from that day, the Five Nations were always the enemies of the French, and would never let the French go to the south, where they wanted to go.


[Illustration]

"CHAMPLAIN CAME BACK TO THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER AND BEGAN TO BUILD A LITTLE CITY CALLED QUEBEC."

After this, came busy years for the brave Samuel Champlain. He had found his new country for France, and every year he traveled over it and learned more about it. He traded with the Indians for their beautiful furs and sent them to France, where the fine ladies of the Court wore them in the winter. Champlain sent a young Frenchman to study the Indian languages, so that Champlain could talk to them in their own way, and he sent an Indian to France to learn to speak French.

[137] But Champlain was too brave to stay always in Quebec, and so every now and then he would go on a great trip. Once he went north to find a great salt sea that a Frenchman had told him about. It was one of the hardest and most dangerous trips that a man ever took. There were great swamps, where Champlain sank to his waist; and deep forests, where the bushes and brushwood were so thick and dense that he had to cut his way with a great knife before taking a step. And all these hardships were useless, for there really wasn't any great salt sea; so, of course, they never found it.

Then Champlain went on a second long journey to the west. He traveled with the friendly Indians for many weeks, till at last they came upon the town of the Five Nations. You would have been surprised to see that town. It was not like other cities, with streets, and stores, and brick houses, and electric cars. It was just a few plain, long, one-story houses, as big as theatres. In these houses were a lot of little rooms, and in each room a family of Indians. Around the town were four rows of stakes, like telegraph poles, and the Indians stood behind these poles when they shot their arrows.

[138] This time the Indians who were with Champlain were beaten in the fight, because they would not do as the Frenchman told them. Even Champlain himself was shot twice in the leg, and the Indians had to carry him away in a basket that they fastened to their backs. You see, they were friends of Champlain, and they did not want him to be caught and killed by the Indians of the Five Nations.

That was a hard winter for Champlain. The Indians who were friendly to him wanted him to stay with them, and when he asked for a guide to show him the way back to his home in Quebec, they would not let him go. You see, Champlain did not know this country as well as the Indians did, and he was afraid of getting lost in the forest; but the Indians treated him well, and when the spring came around again they took him home to his city of Quebec.

After this, Champlain worked day and night to build up his new country. He tried very hard to make it pleasant for the people who lived in Quebec, and always tried to get more Frenchmen to come from France and live in the new country. Every year he took the long journey across the ocean and told everybody there of the [139] wonderful land of America. Of all the things in the world, what Champlain most wanted was to make this new France even greater and more beautiful than the old France.

I think that if Champlain had not been a very patient man, he would have many a time given up Quebec and gone back to France to lead a peaceful, quiet life. Often things went very bad indeed. New people did not cross the ocean as fast as Champlain wanted them to, and those who did come grumbled and quarreled. Often, too, the food gave out and the people got sick and many starved. But Champlain, though he was now a pretty old man, would never give up. Once some English warships sailed into the harbor and asked Champlain to give up the city to them. The brave Frenchman had hardly any soldiers; but he said, "No; I will never give up my city of New France. As long as I have a man or a bullet left, I will never give up the city of Quebec." And after a while, the English captain became frightened because he thought that Champlain might have a big army, and so he sailed away; but the next year three more English vessels sailed up the harbor, and as this time Champlain had only sixteen half-starved [140] men, he had to surrender. But England did not long keep the city. It was handed back to France, and Champlain was again sent out to Quebec as commander over the little town.

So Samuel Champlain, the boy who had dreamed of New France, now went back once more to that country; but his days were almost over. He became very ill, and, after lying in bed for more than two months, he died an old man, at the age of sixty-eight years.

Many, many years later, there was a great war between France and England, and after the war was over the whole country of New France was given to England. The English changed the name of the country to Canada; but even now there are more than a million people living there who speak French, and who are the children of the children of the children for many generations, of the men who lived with Champlain. And even now, after three hundred years, these Frenchmen, and other people in Canada, and people all over the world for that matter, revere the name of the great and good Champlain, and call him, as they used to call him so long ago, "The Father of New France."


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