Samuel de Champlain was a prominent French explorer who was the first European to map and describe various places in North America, mostly in present day Canada. He is famous as the founder of the area which was colonized by France and became known as New France or French North America. Here are 10 facts interesting facts about the ‘Father of New France‘.

 

#1 Samuel was born in a family of mariners

Samuel was born in Brouage, a small port town in France. Exact year of his birth is not known. It is most likely around 1570. His father and uncle were navigators and hence he had early exposure in the field. He learned to navigate, draw, make nautical charts, and write practical reports. He served the army of King Henry IV during the French religious wars in Brittany. He began as a caretaker of horses but was soon adept with firearms and even took part in combat.

#2 His first major voyage was with his uncle on the ship Saint-Julien

Henry IV of France
Henry IV of France

In 1598, Samuel’s uncle’s ship, Saint-Julien traveled to Cadiz to transport Spanish troops and then it accompanied a large Spanish fleet to the West Indies. Samuel accompanied his uncle during this journey and had the opportunity to see or hear about Spanish holdings from the Caribbean to Mexico City. He made an illustrated report of what he learned during the trip and presented it to King Henry. The King rewarded Champlain with an annual pension.

#3 He served in King Henry’s court as a geographer

From 1601 to 1603, Samuel served in the court of King Henry as a geographer. Part of his duty was to travel to French ports and during these visits he learned a lot about North America from the fishermen.

 

#4 He first landed in North America in 1603

Champlain’s first trip to North America was as an observer on a fur-trading expedition led by François Gravé Du Pont. They became close friends and Du Pont taught Champlain about navigation in North America and how to deal with the natives there. On his return Samuel wrote an account of his travels in New France or French North America made in the year 1603.

Painting of Arrival of Champlain on Quebec City
Painting showing the arrival of Champlain on Quebec City by George Agnew Reid (1909)

 

#5 Champlain is known as ‘The Father of New France’

Champlain made several trips to North America exploring various places including the Great Lakes. He wrote vivid descriptions of the areas he explored becoming the first person to write about the beautiful lakes, Ottawa River and other important areas in North America. After 1620, under the instructions of King Louis XIII, Samuel became administrator of New France and stopped further exploration. He was the de facto Governor of New France till his death in 1635. He is known as ‘The Father of New France’.

New France On Globe
New France (orthographic projection)

 

#6 Champlain founded the Canadian city of Quebec

In 1608, Champlain landed at the ‘point of Quebec’. Here he created an area to serve as a fort in which he erected three main wooden buildings, each two stories tall. This was the very beginning of Quebec City, which is now the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and occupies more than 480 kilometer squares of area. Champlain’s buildings are now located in Old Quebec.

Habitation Quebec
Habitation Quebec, 1608, erected by Samuel de Champlain

 

#7 He mapped Lake Champlain

Champlain made good relations with the natives who requested him to help them in their war against the Iroquois, who lived farther south. While looking for the Iroquois, Champlain became the first European to map a large body of water in the region which was later named Lake Champlain after him. He did encounter the Iroquois and even killed two of their chiefs with a single shot (as per his account of the battle).

A photo of Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain

 

Statue of Samuel de Champlain
Statue of Samuel de Champlain, Quebec City, Canada

#8 His wife was 31 years younger to him

After the assassination of King Henry in 1610, his wife Marie de’ Medici ruled France till their son grew up. She didn’t have any interest in Champlain’s pursuits. So, in order to gain access to the court, Champlain married the daughter of a prominent courtier. Her name was Helene Boullé. She was only twelve years old, 31 years younger to Champlain.

#9 His wife became a nun after his death

Though Samuel’s relationship with his wife was initially troubled, it improved with time. They didn’t have any children of their own although Champlain did adopt three Montagnais girls named Faith, Hope and Charity in the winter of 1627-28. After Champlain’s death in 1635, his wife became a nun.

#10 He remains a popular figure in Canada

Champlain remains an important figure in the history of Canada as he was the first to make an accurate map of the coast and helped in establishing the settlements. Several monuments have been established in his memory and many places have been named in his honor including Lake Champlain, Champlain Valley and Champlain Bridge.

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