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Samuel de Champlain: Biography, Timeline & Accomplishments

Samuel de Champlain: Biography, Timeline & Accomplishments
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  • 0:03 Roots of a Maritime Explorer
  • 1:17 Champlain Reaches Canada
  • 2:39 Life in Quebec
  • 3:22 Relations with Native…
  • 4:37 Trouble in Paradise
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Hill
Samuel de Champlain was a mariner, cartographer, explorer, adventurer, and governor in New France. He is best known as the founder of Quebec, Canada, and is called the 'Father of New France.'

Roots of a Maritime Explorer

Samuel de Champlain wore many hats, including mariner, explorer, cartographer, and geographer, but he is best known as the founder of Quebec, Canada. Champlain reportedly was born in August 1574, in Brouage, France, a major port city in the province of Saintonge.

His father, Antoine Champlain, was a mariner in the French navy, so Champlain grew up around this trade. Very little else is known about Champlain's childhood. The exact year of his birth is even unconfirmed. There's also a long-running dispute about whether he was Protestant or Catholic. Saintogne was largely a Huguenot community. The Huguenots were French Protestants who emerged during the Reformation, and Champlain fought against the Catholic League, an organization that aimed to push Huguenots out of France. However, he converted to Catholicism before reaching Canada.

Champlain's maritime training started young, when he traveled with his uncle to various ports in Spain, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Impressed, King Henry IV hired the young mariner as a naval cartographer which brought him to the immediate attention of others.

Champlain Reaches Canada

In 1603, Samuel de Champlain joined the expedition of Francois Grave du Pont to North America. Champlain and du Pont, an experienced French navigator, sailed up the Saint Lawrence and Saguenay rivers, through the Gaspe Peninsula, and landed in Montreal, Canada. Champlain played a marginal role on this voyage.

In 1604, he traveled on the Pierre Du Gua de Mons expedition in a more active role as a geographer. This expedition landed in Nova Scotia, where the explorers spent their first winter in a makeshift fort. Champlain spent the next three years mostly in the Acadia colony, exploring, mapping, and seeking suitable land sites and harbors for further settlement.

Champlain eventually returned home to France, but in 1608, de Mons, at his own expense, funded a return trip for Champlain to found a new colony on the St. Lawrence River. On July 3, 1608, Champlain founded Quebec City with around 30 colonists. In time, the entire surrounding province became known as Quebec. Quebec was a strategic location given its situation on the St. Lawrence River and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. It soon became the center of the French Empire in Canada, also known as New France. However, the winters could be harsh and took their toll on the colony.

Life in Quebec

Part of Champlain's goal was to retrace the steps of his French predecessor, Jacques Cartier, who had explored New France more than 50 years before him and given Canada its name. As such, Champlain was not the first European to see these places, but he was the first to describe and map them out in such detail.

He was also the first recorded European to spot Lake Champlain and the first to travel in the northern part of the future United States. He served as governor of Quebec, battling scurvy, planting crops, managing the fur trade, forming alliances with Indian tribes, recruiting missionaries, and building up the economy to attract more French settlers and investors.

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