History Timeline 1500s

Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s


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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1534

    June 9, 1534 - French explorer Jacques Cartier, searching for the northwest passage to Asia, becomes the first European to discover the St. Lawrence River area, encountering natives of the Iroquois Confederacy until turning back at Anticosti Island.

    Jacques Cartier and Indians

    There's a good chance that Jacques Cartier did not know what he was getting into. The French explorer had been commissioned to find that elusive path through the New World to gain access going west to Asia, and explored into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the St. Lawrence River over three voyages. Cartier did not know that he would engage the Iroquois, eventually not too pleased with the eventual crush of Europeans that were to come. Cartier did not know that two hundred years later a complicated battle for territory between the French, British, and Indian tribes would splash through the French and Indian War. He just wanted to get a quick route to those Orient spices and please the King.

    Cartier had been introduced to King Francis I in early 1534, ten years after the first foray into the New World for France had been let by Giovanni da Verrazzano during his exploration of the American east coast from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. Jacques Cartier received a commission to explore west, find Asia, and discover lands of gold. It was a commission filled with lofty goals, paid to Cartier in a sum of six thousand livres tournois for his efforts. He was given two ships of sixty tons each, and set sail for the Americas from St. Malo on April 20, 1534 with sixty-one men.

    Cartier and his crew sailed due west. Twenty days later, on May 10, they reached Newfoundland before eventually passing through the Strait of Belle Isle, and sailing into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The waters were filled, upon arrival, with ice flows through the date of their leaving Belle Isle on May 27, 1534. On June 10, he entered a harbor which he named Port de Brest. By July, Cartier had reached a bay that separated New Brunswick from the southwest of Quebec Province. He named that the Bay of Chaleurs. At the head of an inlet, Cartier landed and planted a cross on July 24, ten meters high with the words, ""Long Live the King of France," in today's village of Gaspe'. He claimed Canada for King Francis I and the nation of France, although he considered it Asia and the passage to Cathay.

    It is assumed that Cartier met with the tribe of the Mi'kmaq, an indigenous tribe of the First Nations who inhabited the Atlantic Provinces of Canada and the Gaspe Peninsula. They traded with the tribe in two brief exchanges on the north side of Chaleur Bay. The third encounter with natives of the region occurred after the planting of the cross claiming the land for France. The St. Lawrence Iroquois seemed to understand the meaning of this claim and were not pleased. However, the Indian chief, Donnacona, eventually allowed two of his sons, Taignoagny and Dom Agaya, to be taken back to France, as long as they would be returned with goods to trade.

    Cartier was anxious to tell the king of his discovery and wished to depart quickly before autumn storms hit, so he sailed back for France on August 15, with the two Indians, reaching St. Malo on September 5. The King and country greeted him with excitement. There would be additional voyages.

    Subsequent Voyages of Cartier

    May 19, 1535 - Jacques Cartier sailed on his second voyage for French Canada under a new October 31, 1834 charter on three ships with one hundred and ten men in his crew. He took along fifteen months of provisions. His route was the same as the first until reaching the Strait of Belle Isle where he deviated from the 1834 mission, reaching the bay near Anticosti Island. On August 10, 1835, he named the small bay St. Lawrence, then later applied it to the Gulf and River. Cartier still believed that he had found a path to the Orient and would soon see open sea leading to India. Cartier continued west until reaching the fresh water of the narrowing St. Lawrence River. At this point, Cartier should have known that his suspicions of a sea route to Asia were incorrect, but some still think that he thought a Northwest passage was not far distant.

    The voyage met with Chief Donnacona, returning his two sons, pushing west toward their main village of Hochelaga by October 3, 1535. The town was home to two to three thousand people, much larger than Stadacona (Quebec City), the Iroquois village to the east that was first encountered. Cartier, blocked on the river by rapids, marched from the town to a nearby mountain, Mount Royal, today's Montreal. Cartier and his men would stay in the Quebec area for the winter, in a fort at Stadacona; it was the first time Europeans had remained in northern North America for the season. Twenty-five men of the voyage died during the winter. They returned to St. Melo, France on July 6, 1536. It is stated in some sources that the Iroquois Indian chief Donnacona accompanied Cartier back to France, but did not return.

    May 23, 1541 - The third voyage. Cartier was told by King Francis I on October 17, 1540 that he would be leading a colonization project back to Canada. He was supplanted, however, before they sailed, by friend Jean Frangois de la Roque, Sieur de Roberval, and would be the chief navigator by the King under Roberval, now named the first lieutenant governor of French Canada and given forty-five thousand livres to establish a settlement along the St. Lawrence.

    One year later, Cartier would return with five ships, with the King still under the illusion that a path to Asia lie not far afield, although some historians now believe he, Cartier, knew that Asia was not the goal.

    The King also wanted to send settlers who would remain in the New World, but had trouble finding willing recruits; he thus chose criminals to be part of the crew, impressed into service. The Pope, meanwhile, had stated that all of the Americas were to be the property of Spain. Although disapproving of this expedition, the Pope allowed it to continue. Roberval did not accompany Cartier, although it was assumed he would follow later. Cartier and the settlers reached Quebec again, choosing a site for the settlement at today's Cap-Rouge.

    They built two forts, named the settlement Charlesbourg-Royal, with Cartier seaching for the Saguenay Kingdom, which the Iroquois had previously stated was a kingdom of riches to the north. Cartier did not find the kingdom and upon his return to the forts, noticed a change in the attitude of the Iroquois toward the settlement. They would spend the winter at Charlesbourg-Royal. There are some reports that during the winter, the settlement was attacked by the Iroquois with thirty-five casualties. Many of the new colonists wanted to return to France. Cartier sailed for home in June 1542 with part of his crew, stopping in St. John's, Newfoundland, where he found Roberval. Roberval ordered Cartier to return to Canada, but Cartier refused. He returned to St. Malo. Roberval continued to the settlement at Charlesbourg-Royal with additional settlers, however the settlement would be abandoned in 1543.

    No permanent European settlement would be made in Canada until 1605 with the founding of Port Royal by Samuel Champlain. In 2006, archeologists found the remnants of the settlement at Charlesbourg-Royal.

    Image above: Drawing of Jacques Cartier with Indians at Hochelaga, 1850, Sarony. Courtesy Library of Congress. Image below: Map of Cartier's exploration, circa 1543, Dauphin Map, Project Gutenberg. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Source info: "The Tercentenary History of Canada," 1908, Frank Basil Tracy; jstory.org; "The Voyages of Jacques Cartier," 1993, introduction by Ramsay Cook; "A Memoir of Jacques Cartier, Sieur de Limoilou, His Voyages to the St. Lawrence, a Bibliography and a Facsimile of the Manuscript of 1534 with Annotations, Etc," 1905, James Phinney Baxter, Jean Francois de La Roque Roberval (sieur de), Jean Alfonce (i.e. Jean Fonteneau, known as); Wikipedia.

    Map of Cartier exploration

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