Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history


The fierce strifes which raged between Catholic and Protestant during the latter half of the sixteenth century engrossed the mind of France to the exclusion of all that concerned her remote and discouraging possession. But while the strong hand of Henry IV. held the reins of government, these strifes were calmed. The hatred remained, ready to break forth when circumstances allowed; but meantime the authority of the King imposed salutary restraint upon the combatants, and the country had rest. During this exceptional quiet the project of founding a New France on the gulf and river of St. Lawrence again received attention.

Among the favourite servants of the King was Samuel de Champlain. This man was a sailor from his youth, which had been passed on the shores of the Bay of Biscay. He had fought for his King on sea and on land. He was brave, resolute, of high ability, of pure and lofty impulses, combining the courage with the gentleness and courtesy of the true knight-errant. In him there survived the passionate love of exploring strange lands which prevailed so widely among the men of a previous generation. He foresaw a great destiny for Canada, and he was eager to preserve for France the neglected but magnificent heritage. Above all, he desired to send the saving light of faith to the red men of the Canadian forests; for although a bigoted Catholic, he was a sincere Christian. The salvation of one soul, he was accustomed to say, is of more value than the conquest of an empire.

This man was the founder of Canada. During thirty years he toiled incessantly to plant and foster settlements, to send out missionaries, to repel the inroads of the English, to protect the rights of France in the fur-trade and in the fisheries of Newfoundland. The immediate success which attended his labours was inconsiderable. His settlements refused to make progress; the savage tribes for whose souls he cared were extirpated by enemies whose hostility he had helped to incur; the English destroyed ships which were bringing him supplies; they besieged and captured Quebec itself. He died without seeing the greatness of the colony which he loved, but which, nevertheless, owed the beginnings of its greatness to him.

One of the earliest concerns of Champlain was to choose a site for the capital of the French empire in the West. As Cartier had done three-quarters of a century before, he chose the magnificent headland of Quebec. 1608 A.D. At the foot of the rock he erected a square of buildings, enclosing a court, surrounded by a wall and a moat, and defended by a few pieces of cannon. This rude fort became the centre of French influence in Canada during the next hundred and fifty years, till the English relieved France of responsibility and influence on the American continent.

Champlain received cordial welcome from the Huron Indians, who were his neighbours. These savages were overmatched by their ancient enemies the Iroquois, and they besought the Frenchmen to lend them the help of their formidable arms.

Champlain consented moved in part by his love of battle, in part by his desire to explore an unknown country. He and some of his men accompanied his new allies on their march. The Iroquois warriors met them confidently, expecting the customary victory. They were received with a volley of musketry, which stretched some on the ground, and caused panic and flight of the whole force. But Champlain had reason to regret the foreign policy which he had adopted. The Hurons took many prisoners, whom, as their practice was, they proceeded to torture to death. In a subsequent expedition the allies were defeated, and Champlain himself was wounded circumstances which, for a time, sensibly diminished his authority. And the hostility of the Iroquois, thus unwisely provoked, resulted in the utter destruction of the Hurons, and involved the yet unstable colony in serious jeopardy.

Champlain enjoyed the support of King Henry IV., who listened to his glowing accounts of the country in which he was so profoundly interested, who praised the wisdom of his government, and encouraged him to persevere. But despite of royal favour, his task was a heavy one. There were in his company both Romanists and Calvinists, who bore with them into the forest the discords which then made France miserable. Champlain tells that he has seen a Protestant minister and a cur? attempting to settle with blows of the fist their controversial differences. Such occurrences, he points out, were not likely to yield fruit to the glory of God among the infidels whom he desired to convert. At home his prerogatives were the playthings of political parties. To-day he obtained vast powers and rich grants of land; to-morrow some court intrigue swept these all away. There was an Association of Merchants who had received a valuable trading monopoly under pledge that they would send out men to colonize and priests to instruct. But the faithless merchants sought only to purchase furs at low prices from the Indians. It was to their advantage that the Indian and the wild creatures which he pursued should continue to occupy the continent, undisturbed by the coming in of strangers. And thus they thwarted to the utmost all Champlains efforts. In defiance of authority, they paid in fire-arms and brandy for the furs which were brought to them; and the red men, whose souls Champlain so earnestly desired to save, were being corrupted and destroyed by the greed of his countrymen.

Some years after Champlains first expedition, a few Englishmen landed in mid-winter on the coast of Massachusetts, and, without help of kings or nobles, began to grow strong by their own inherent energy and the constant accession to their number of persons dissatisfied at home. It was not so with the French settlements on the St. Lawrence. Champlain was continually returning to France to entreat the King for help; to seek a new patron among the nobles; to compel the merchants to fulfill their compact by sending out a few colonists. No Frenchman was desirous to find a home beyond the sea; all bore in quietness a despotism worse than that from which the more impatient Englishmen had fled. The natural inaptitude of France for the work of colonizing was vividly illustrated in the early history of Canada.

1629 A.D. Near the close of Champlains life the capital of the State which he had founded was torn away from him. An English ship, commissioned by Charles I. and commanded by a piratical Scotchman, appeared before the great rock of Quebec, and summoned the city to surrender. Champlain, powerless to resist, yielded to fate and gave up his capital. When the conquerors landed to seek the plunder for which they had come, they found a few old muskets and cannon and fifty poorly-fed men. The growth of twenty years had done no more for Quebec than this.

The loss of Canada caused no regret in France. There were public men who regarded that loss as in reality a gain, and advised that France should make no effort to regain her troublesome dependency. But Champlain urged upon the Government the great value of the fur trade and fisheries; he showed that the difficulties of the settlement were now overcome, and that progress in the future must be more rapid than in the past; he pled that the savages who were beginning to receive the light of the true faith should not be given over to heretics. 1632 A.D. His urgency prevailed; and England, not more solicitous to keep than France was to regain this unappreciated continent, readily consented that it should be restored to its former owners.

Three years afterwards Champlain died. He saw nothing of the greatness for which he had prepared the way. The colonists numbered yet only a few hundreds. The feeble existence of the settlement depended upon the good-will of the Englishmen who were their neighbours on the south, and of the fierce savages who lived in the forests around them. But Champlain was able to estimate, in some measure, the results of the work which he had done. He sustained himself to the end with the hope that the Canada which he loved would one day be prosperous and strong peopled by good Catholics from France, and by savages rescued from destruction by baptism and the exhibition of the cross.

The Canada of Champlains day was a region stretching thirteen hundred miles northward from the frontier line of the New England settlements, and seven hundred miles westward from the mouth of the St. Lawrence. Besides Canada, France possessed Newfoundland and Nova Scotia; and she claimed all the unknown territory to the north, the character and extent of which were veiled from human knowledge by cold so intense that men had not yet dared to encounter it. The great river with its tributaries, and the vast lakes out of which it flows, opened convenient access into the heart of the country, and made commerce easy. On the high lands were dense forests of oak and pine and maple; beech, chestnut, and elm. In the plains were great areas of rich agricultural land capable of supporting a large population, but useless as yet; for the Indians deemed agriculture effeminate, and chose to live mainly by the chase. The climate is severe and the winter long, especially towards the mouth of the St. Lawrence, where at certain seasons the cold becomes greater than the human frame can endure. Everywhere the heat of summer is great, and the transition from the fierce extreme of cold to the warmth of the delightful Canadian spring is sudden. The desolate woods burst into rich green foliage; the valleys clothe themselves as by magic with grass and flowers. The great heat of summer follows with equal suddenness, and the harvest of grain or of fruits ripens as quickly as it sprang.

The cold of the Canadian winter was greatly more influential than the heat of the Canadian summer in fixing the character and pursuits of the savages who occupied the country. In a climate where frost rends asunder rocks and trees, and gives to iron power to burn as if it were red hot, life could not be sustained without a special defence against the intolerable severity. Nature had amply provided for the welfare of the wild creatures which she had called into being. The buffalo and musk ox which wandered over the plains were endowed with masses of shaggy hair which defied the cold even of a Canadian winter. The bear which prepared for himself a resting-place in the hollow trunk of an old tree, where he could sleep out the tedious months of frost, was clothed suitably to his circumstances. The beaver which built his house in the centre of Canadian streams was wrapped in rich, warm, glossy fur. The fox, the wolverine, the squirrel, and many others, enjoyed the same effective protection. The Indians needed the skins of these creatures for clothing, their flesh for food. And thus it came to pass that the French found in Canada only wild things, which walked the forests in coverings of beautiful and valuable fur; and human beings, but one degree higher in intelligence, who lived by slaying them. One of the strongest impulses which drew Europeans to Canada was not her rich soil, nor the timber of her inexhaustible forests, nor her treasures of copper and of iron, but the skins of the beasts which frequented her valleys and her woods.

Numerous tribes of savages inhabited the Canadian wilderness. They ordinarily lived in villages built of logs, and strongly palisaded to resist the attack of enemies. They were robust and enduring, as the climate required; daring in war, friendly and docile in peace. The torture of an enemy was their highest form of enjoyment: when the victim bore his sufferings bravely, the youth of the village ate his heart in order that they might become possessed of his virtues. They had orators, politicians, chiefs skilled to lead in their rude wars. Most of their weapons were of flint. They felled the great pines of their forests with stone axes supplemented by the use of fire. Their canoes were made of the bark of birch or elm. They wore breastplates of twigs. It was their habit to occupy large houses, in some of which as many as twenty families lived together without any separation. Licentiousness was universal and excessive. Their religion was a series of grovelling superstitions. There was not in any Indian language a word to express the idea of God: their heaven was one vast banqueting-hall where men feasted perpetually.

The origin of the American savage awakened at one time much controversy among the learned. Had there been a plurality of creative acts? Had Europeans at some remote period been driven by contrary winds across the great sea? If not, where did the red man arise, and by what means did he reach the continent where white men found him? When these questions were debated, it was not known how closely Asia and America approach each other at the extreme north. A narrow strait divides the two continents, and the Asiatic savage of the far north-east crosses it easily. The red men are Asiatics, who, by a short voyage without terrors to them, reached the north-western coasts of America, and gradually pushed their way over the continent. The great secret which Columbus revealed to Europe had been for ages known to the Asiatic tribes of the extreme north.


The Reformation had made so large progress in France that at the beginning of the seventeenth century the Protestants were able to regard themselves as forming one-half of the nation. They had accomplished this progress in the face of terrible difficulties. The false maxim prevailed in France, as in other countries, that as there was but one king and one government, there should be but one faith. Vast efforts were made to regain this lost uniformity. The vain pursuit cost France thirty-five years of civil war, and two million French lives. At its close half her towns were in ashes; her industries had perished; her fields were desolated. The law gave no protection to Protestants: a Catholic noble riding with his followers past a Protestant meeting-place occasionally paused to slaughter the little congregation, and then resumed his journey, not doubting that he had done to God and to the State an acceptable service. The Protestants undertook their own armed defence; made laws for themselves; maintained in so far as it was possible a government distinct from that of their persecutors. There were two nations of not extremely unequal strength living on the soil of France, with fierce mutual hatred raging in their hearts, and finding expression in incessant war, assassination, massacre. 1598 A.D. At length these horrors were allayed by the Edict of Nantes, which conceded full liberty of conscience. The Pope cursed this hateful concession; but the strong arm of Henry IV. maintained it. For a time the ferocity of religious strife was mitigated, and the adherents of the new faith enjoyed unwonted calm.

The sword was no longer a weapon of theological war; the deep and irrepressible antagonism of the old and the new beliefs found now its inadequate expression by pen and by speech. The interest which prevailed regarding disputed ecclesiastical questions became exceptionally strong. Theological dogmas filled an influential place in the politics of the time. The Protestant Synod adopted in its Confession of Faith an article which charged the Pope with being Antichrist. His Holiness manifested a grand irritation; the King declared that this article threatened to destroy the peace of the kingdom. For four years a fierce contest raged, till another Synod withdrew the offending article by express order of the King, after having with unanimous voice declared that the charge was true. Philippe de Mornay, one of the Kings most trusted advisers, and a devoted adherent of Protestantism, had written a treatise against the Real Presence, supporting his argument by five or six thousand quotations, which he had laboriously gathered from the writings of the early Fathers. One of the bishops impugned his accuracy, and Mornay challenged him to a public discussion. The meeting-place was the grand hall of the palace of Fontainebleau. The combatants debated in presence of the King, before a brilliant audience of great officers of State, of lords and ladies who formed the royal court, of all great dignitaries of the kingdom. So effectively, for the time, had the Reformation and its consequences dispelled the religious apathy of France.

It had, indeed, left unaffected the manners of a large portion of French society. The great lords retained professional assassins among their followers. It was as easy then to get the address of a stabber or a poisoner as it is now to get that of a hotel. In the highest places licentiousness was unconcealed and unrebuked. Crime associated itself with superstition, and the courtiers made wax figures of their enemies, which they transfixed with pins, hoping thus to destroy those whom the figures represented. The religious zeal which burned in every heart and retained its vigour amidst this enormous wickedness was nowhere stronger than among the members of the Society of Jesus. It moulded into very dissimilar forms, and guided into widely different lines of action, those sworn servants of the Church. For the most part it revealed itself in nothing higher than a readiness to serve the purposes of the Church, however unworthy, by any conduct, however criminal. But among the Jesuits too there were men of pure and noble nature, whose religious zeal found its sole gratification in toil and danger and self-sacrifice to promote the glory of God and save perishing heathen souls.

Champlain had never ceased to press upon the spiritual chiefs of France the claims of those savages for whose welfare he himself cared so deeply. For many years he spoke almost in vain, and his toilsome and frustrated career had nearly reached its close before the Jesuits entered in good earnest upon the work of Indian conversion. 1632 A.D. Six priests and two lay-brothers, sworn to have no will but that of their superiors, laid the foundation of the great enterprise. Under the shadow of the rock on which Quebec stands arose a one-story building of planks and mud, thatched with grass, and affording but poor shelter from rain and wind. This was the residence of Our Lady of the Angels the cradle of the influence which was to change the savage red men of Canada into followers of the Cross. The Father Superior of the Mission was Paul le Jeune, a man devoted in every fibre of mind and heart to the work on which he had come. He utterly scorned difficulty and pain. He had received the order to depart for Canada with inexpressible joy at the prospect of a living or dying martyrdom. Among his companions was Jean de Br?b?uf, a man noble in birth and aspect, of strong intellect and will, of zeal which knew no limit, and recognized no obstacle in the path of duty.

The winter was unusually severe. The snow-drift stood higher than the roof of the humble Residence; the fathers, sitting by their log-fire, heard the forest trees crack with loud report under the power of intense frost. Le Jeunes earliest care was to gain some knowledge of the savage tongue spoken by the tribes around him. He was commended, for the prosecution of that design, to a withered old squaw, who regaled him with smoked eels while they conversed. After a time, he obtained the services of an interpreter, a young Indian known as Pierre, who could speak both languages. Pierre had been converted and baptized; but the power of good influences within him was not abiding, and his frequent backslidings grieved the Father Superior. A band of savages invited Le Jeune to accompany them on a winter hunting expedition; and he did so, moved by the hope that he might gain their hearts as well as acquire their language. Among the supplies which his friends persuaded him to carry, was a small keg of wine. Scarcely had the expedition set out when the apostate Pierre found opportunity to tap the keg, and appeared in the camp hopelessly and furiously intoxicated. The sufferings of the good father from hunger and from cold were excessive.1313
One must be ready, wrote this devout priest, full of faith, to abandon life and all he has; contenting himself, as his only riches, with a cross very large and very heavy.

His success in instructing the savages was not considerable. He endured much from Pierres brother, who followed the occupation of sorcerer. This deceptive person, being employed to assist Le Jeune in preparing addresses, constantly palmed off upon him very foul words, which provoked the noisy mirth of the assembled wigwam and grievously diminished the efficacy of his teaching. The missionary regained his home at Quebec after five months of painful wandering. He had accomplished little; but he had learned to believe that his labour was wasted among these scanty wandering tribes, and that it was necessary to find access to one of the larger and more stable communities into which the Indians were divided.

Far in the west, beside a great lake of which the Jesuits had vaguely heard, dwelt the Hurons, a powerful nation with many kindred tribes over which they exercised influence. The Jesuits resolved to found a mission among the Hurons. Once in every year a fleet of canoes came down the great river, bearing six or seven hundred Huron warriors, who visited Quebec to dispose of their furs, to gamble and to steal. 1634 A.D. Br?b?uf and two companions took passage with the returning fleet, and set out for the dreary scene of their new apostolate. The way was very long scarcely less than a thousand miles; it occupied thirty toilsome days. The priests journeyed separately, and were able to hold no conversation with one another or with their Indian companions. They were barefooted, as the use of shoes would have endangered the frail bark canoe. Their food was a little Indian corn crushed between two stones and mixed with water. At each of the numerous rapids or falls which stopped their way, the voyagers shouldered the canoe and the baggage and marched painfully through the forest till they had passed the obstacle. The Indians were often spent with fatigue, and Br?b?uf feared that his strong frame would sink under the excessive toil.