Jacques Cartier, Explorer: Voyages, Facts & Route

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  • 0:00 Introduction
  • 0:41 First Voyage
  • 1:22 Second Voyage
  • 2:57 Third Voyage
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Crystal Daining

Crystal has a master's degree in history and loves teaching anyone ages 5-99.

Jacques Cartier was a French explorer and navigator. Learn more about his life and the three major voyages that he made to North America while trying to find wealth and a direct passage to Asia.

Jacques Cartier's Explorations

Jacques Cartier, who lived from 1491 to 1557, was a French explorer and navigator. He was sent to the New World by King Francis I of France to find both a direct route to Asia and an abundance of riches. Cartier had previously earned fame as an explorer; he had reportedly traveled to Brazil. He led three major North American voyages. His explorations of the St. Lawrence River and Canadian coast laid the foundation for French claims to North American land. Cartier is also credited with the naming of Canada. He derived the name of Canada from the Huron-Iroquois word kanata, meaning settlement.

Jacques Cartier

First Voyage to North America

In 1534, King Francis I decided to send an expedition to explore the eastern coast of North America. At the time, North America was called the 'northern lands,' and King Francis was eager to find a direct route to Asia through them. Cartier was also commissioned by the French king to find as much gold, riches, natural resources, and spices as possible.

Route of First Voyage to North America

On Cartier's first voyage, he set sail with two ships and 61 men. He explored the coast of Newfoundland, discovered Prince Edward Island, and explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While exploring the lands, he seized two Native Americans and took them with him back to France.

Cartier and Indians

Second Voyage to North America

King Francis I sent Cartier back to America in 1535, due to the excitement Cartier had brought to the royal court with his reports about the new lands. On Cartier's second voyage, he left with three ships and 110 men. Cartier also brought the two Indians that he had captured in his first trip to use as guides. They sailed up the St. Lawrence River to the area now known as Montreal.

Route of Second Voyage to North America

There, Cartier was welcomed by the local Iroquois Indians. The Iroquois told Cartier that there were other rivers in the land where gold and other riches could be found in great abundance. This excited Cartier and his men. However, before they could continue in their explorations, winter set in and the rivers became impassable.

They spent the winter at an Iroquois village near what is now the city of Quebec. Cartier and his men were shocked at the harsh winter conditions. Since Quebec lies at a lower latitude than Paris, France, the French explorers thought the winter would be milder than at home. However, by the end of the winter, Cartier lost 25 men to scurvy because of a lack of preparation.

Furthermore, Cartier and his men had also managed to anger the Indians. In a panic, Cartier kidnapped 12 of the Indians, including their chief, and set sail for France. When he returned, Cartier was only able to tell the French king that the Indians had told him about gold in the lands and that there was a rumored river in the area that possibly led to Asia. However, he had no proof of the wealth or the river, so the voyage was considered quite a disappointment.

Third Voyage to North America

In 1541, Cartier was sent out for a third expedition to North America in order to help found a colony in Canada. The French had pretty much abandoned the idea of finding direct passage to Asia and this time, Cartier was sent ahead with five ships to start a colony in Canada.

Jean-Francois Roberval, the colony leader, was supposed to be only a few months behind Cartier on the journey to the St. Lawrence River. However, Roberval had trouble finding French people who wanted to permanently settle in Canada. Roberval asked the French government for help, and the solution was to offer freedom to anyone in prison who was willing to permanently settle Canada. It took over a year for Roberval to gather his colony of robbers and murderers before he finally left France for Quebec.

Meanwhile, Cartier had started a base near Quebec, just like during their second expedition. Sadly, he was unable to explore further up the St. Lawrence River due to large rapids.

Roberval was held up longer than first anticipated, so that Cartier and his men once again faced a severe Canadian winter without enough supplies. In addition, just as before, Cartier and his men aroused the anger of the local Indians.

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