For most of us, the history of Canada, especially that of New France (French Canada), is
a chapter of world history that was covered so superficially, if at all, during our school
years that it has been all but erased from our memories. Therefore, a brief review of the
major individuals and events that influenced the early years of the new world may help to
put into perspective the coming to Canada of the Pelletier ancestors. Most of the material
for this review is taken from an interesting history of Canada published by Macmillan in
1938, The Canadians, The Story of a People, by George M. Wrong.
When the news of Christopher Columbus' early trip and discoveries in the new world in
1492 spread through the courts of Europe, England and France see the opportunity to claim
for themselves some of the potential vast wealth that these new lands have to offer.
England is the first to respond to the challenge when, on May 2, 1497, with some help
from Henry VII, John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), an Italian at Bristol, sails out on his
tiny ship, the Mathew, and a crew of eighteen. He returns to Bristol on August 6th of the
same year, having planted a huge cross and raised the flag of England on what is now Cape
Breton, New Brunswick. He sails away again the following May, this time with two ships. On his return
he brings back stories of rugged shores, with plenty of fish in the sea, and of furs
from wild animals on land.
France's earliest thrust to claim some of the new world for itself is in the Spring
of 1534, when Francis I sends a French sailor, Jacques Cartier, from St-Malo in Brittany
on April 20, with sixty-one men. Arriving in less than three weeks to the Baie des
Chaleurs off the Gaspe peninsula, Cartier disembarks and plants a 30 foot wooden cross
to which he has attached a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis and on which he has carved
the words Vive le Roy de France (Long Live the King of France). He does not linger long
in the new land, leaving quickly for France, bringing back with him two young Indian
braves, sons of the local chief.
The following year, on May 19,1535, Cartier leaves France with three ships, the Grande
Hermine, the Petite Hermine, and the tiny Emerillon. He leaves with 110 men and the two
Indian braves he had brought to France the previous year.
Sketch of the Grande Hermine as it was reconstructed for the
1967 World Expo in Montreal
Cartier's mission is to spend the winter in the new land. He arrives at the mouth of
the St-Lawrence River in July, and begins the journey up the great river in search of
new routes to China and India. When he arrives at the Indian village of Stadacona, built
on the high promontory of what is now Quebec City, Cartier is warned by the local Indian
chief of the perils that await him farther up the river. Cartier decides to proceed on
the Petite Hermine, leaving the other two ships at Stadacona. Toward the end of September,
Cartier nears the important Indian trading center at Hochelaga, now Montreal, and the
Lachine Rapids that prevent any farther advance along the St-Lawrence. Cartier and his
party go ashore at Hochelaga, visit with the local Indian tribe, exchanging trinkets
for safe passage in the area and gaining information about the land beyond the Rapids.
By mid-October Cartier is back at Stadacona to prepare for the winter stay. The winter
proves disastrous for the French; many die of scurvy and are buried in the drifted snow.
In the Spring of 1536, Cartier leaves for France with the Grande Hermine and the Emerillon,
abandoning the Petite Hermine at Stadacona because so many of his sailors have been lost
during the bitter winter.
Cartier makes a third trip to the new world in 1541, with the hope of establishing
a permanent French colony. He returns to the area of Stadacona and establishes a
settlement, Charlesbourg Royal. The attempt at colonization at Charlesbourg is a failure
due to the discord among the settlers, many of whom are misfits, and to the disagreements
between Cartier and the Lord of Roberval, who had been named to head the settlement by
the King. Cartier returns to France the same year, and the settlement is finally abandoned
the following year.
No other serious attempt at colonization is made by France in the 16th century,
although fishing and fur trading expeditions continue.
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Samuel de Champlain
Samuel de Champlain is born Samuel Champlain near La Rochelle
and spends his early
years in the army. After the death of Philip II of Spain and peace between Spain and
France, Champlain finds employment on a French ship in the service of Spain. In 1599,
he sails to the Spanish colonies, visits Mexico City, makes his way to the Pacific Ocean,
all the time keeping copious notes and plotting numerous charts.
In 1601, Champlain returns to France where he seeks an/d receives an audience with
the king, Henry IV. Champlain describes to the king the greatness and the wealth that
he has seen in the Spanish colonies. Henry IV is so impressed that he keeps Champlain
at court as the royal geographer, gives him a pension, and ennobles him. It is then that
Champlain adds the de to his name, a sign of nobility, and becomes Samuel de Champlain.
In 1603, Champlain is sent by Henry IV to chart the territories that France claims in
the northern part of the new world. Champlain executes his mandate faithfully, bringing
back to the court and to the commercial sponsors detailed charts of the territories from
the mouth of the St-Lawrence River to Hochelaga (Montreal).
The following year, in March of 1604, Champlain leaves Le Havre with two ships and 120
workmen to establish a permanent colony for France. The expedition is sponsored
financially by Henry IV and the Sieur de Monts, the governor of Pons in the Saintonge
region of France. The ships make their way to the coast of Nova Scotia where Champlain
begins to look for the best site on which to establish the settlement. The convoy
finally enters the Bay of Fundy where Champlain finds a spacious and landlocked harbor
he calls Port Royal. In June, at the end of the bay, at the mouth of the St-Croix River,
Champlain founds the colony on a small island that provides security from any sudden
attack. The colony endures until it is destroyed in May 1613, by Samuel Argall who sails
up the eastern coast from the English Protestant colony at Jamestown, Virginia seeking
out French Catholic settlements. Argall captures some settlers and sails away with them
after destroying Port Royal. Other settlers scatter into the woods. They will be the
ancestors of later Acadians.
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The Founding of Quebec City
Earlier, in the Spring of 1608, the Sieur de Monts sends out three ships from France
to the new world. One is destined to revitalize the then thriving colony at St-Croix
in Port Royal, while the other two, under the command of Champlain, head up the
St-Lawrence River. On July 2, 1608, a historic date in the evolution of French Canada,
Champlain lands under the towering cliffs of what is now Quebec City,
. It is here,
in the shadow of the cliff, Cap-aux-Diamants, that he builds the habitation, a permanent
settlement. Champlain and his men build three buildings, each of two stories in height,
with a deck around the second story. Ditches are dug around these buildings, fifteen feet
wide and six feet deep (see illustration).
Drawing, apparently done by Chanplain himself, of the
"Abitation de Quebecq", built in 1608 at the foot of the Cap-aux-Diamants
The ships that brought the founding colonists sails away to France on September 18,
leaving Champlain and a company of twenty-eight men, fifteen of whom die of scurvy
during the winter. The little settlement struggles through its first winter with the
help of the friendly local Indian tribes. The following Spring, help arrives from France
with added supplies and the colony's future becomes more secure. The first settler to
build his own independent house at Quebec is Louis Hebert, pharmacist, who, in 1617,
builds a house on the cliffs overlooking the original habitation and begins to cultivate
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A Deadly Blow
Champlain loses one of his major financial supporters when Henry IV is assassinated
by a religious fanatic in 1610. This event, coupled with the fall of the Sieur de Monts
from favor in the royal court, places a strain on Champlain's ability to keep the budding
colony at Quebec growing. From 1610, until the ascent to power of Cardinal Richelieu and
the formation of the Company of New France in 1627, Champlain makes numerous trips across
the Atlantic to seek financial support for Quebec. It is also during this period, in 1611,
that Champlain establishes a trading post on the frontier site of the Indian village of
Hochelaga, now Montreal
Many missionaries come to the new world in those early days. Both Jesuit and Recollet
missionaries come to the territories claimed by France with the "mission"
of converting the "savages" to Christianity. Missions are scattered from the shores of
the St-Lawrence River to those of the Great Lakes. One of these, at
Fort Sainte Marie au Pays des Hurons, is visited briefly by Jean Pelletier, son
of Guillaume Pelletier, one of the major Pelletier ancestors. Its story
will be told later.
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The Company of New France - La Compagnie des Cent-Associes
Cardinal Richelieu begins his rise to power in 1616. Politics at home in France keep
him from looking across the Atlantic to France's colonies until much later. Finally, in
1627, Richelieu organizes La Compagnie des Cent-Associes
, the Company of New France,
with one hundred associates or partners, made up mainly of trade leaders. As organized,
the Company is to own and exploit the vast regions of New France. It is to have perpetual
monopoly of the fur trade and monopoly of all other trades for fifteen years. Two or
three hundred settlers are to be sent yearly from France to the new colony. The Company is to
support each new colonist for three years in return for his labor, and each settlement
is to have three priests.
The Company owns all the land and has the right to grant estates to "Seigneurs" under
the feudal laws of France. Many such grants are made, some to religious orders of priests
and nuns, mostly to lay Seigneurs who, it is hoped, will settle on their estates and
gather about them a community under feudal rule. One such grant is made to Robert Giffard,
a pharmacist from the Perche region. Giffard originally comes to Quebec in 1621 on his own,
returning to France in 1628. Later that year, after getting married, he signs on with the
Company as Navy Surgeon and begins a voyage back to Quebec. The English, however, seize
the ships, capture the passengers and bring them to England. After the 1632 Treaty of
St-Germain-en-Laye, France formalizes its peace with England which guarantees France's
rights in New France, and all prisoners are exchanged. Giffard returns to France. In 1634,
Giffard is named Seigneur of Beauport, just northeast of Quebec City on the St-Lawrence
River, across from the Ile d'Orleans. Giffard recruits settlers from his own French
Province of Perche. Among his associates and principal recruiters are the Juchereau
brothers, Noel, Jean, and Pierre, from the town of Tourouvre in Perche. They are very
active in their work for the Seigneur Giffard. Up to eighty families are recruited for
New France from the Tourouvre area, among them Guillaume Pelletier, one of the major
Pelletier ancestors, as well as the families of Gagnon, Giguere, Tremblay, and Cloutier.
In the Spring of 1628, La Compagnie des Cent-Associes sends out its first group of
two hundred settlers from Dieppe. Over a dozen ships make the voyage, with Giffard as
Navy Surgeon, as noted previously. Two English sailors, David and Lewis Kirke, with
three armed ships and two hundred men, are poised at the mouth of the St-Lawrence River
searching for French vessels, meet the French convoy between Gaspe and Tadoussac. After
a fierce battle, won by the Kirkes, the French ships and their contents become spoils
of war. Prisoners are returned to England. The Kirkes continue to raid French fishing
and trading ships during the summer, depriving Champlain at Quebec City of much needed
supplies for the ensuing winter.
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The First Fall of Quebec City
No supplies reach Quebec the following winter due to the persistent raids by the
Kirke brothers. Finally, in July 1629, the Kirkes land at Quebec with a hundred and
fifty men. The English capture the capital of New France on July 20th. They drive
out the settlers and the missionaries, burn the habitation, and build a fort on the
cliffs of the Cap-aux-Diamants overlooking the St-Lawrence River. Champlain is carried
off as a prisoner of war and lands in Plymouth, England on October 24, 1629. It is
then that learns that England and France had signed a peace accord on April 24, 1629,
before the capture of Quebec, a fact the Kirkes were well aware of at the time of
their attack. Champlain crosses over to France and convinces both Richelieu and the
King that France has lost a vast and rich empire. France demands from England the
return of New France and Acadia, a demand that is finally acknowledged by the Treaty
of St-Germain-en-Laye in 1632. Champlain returns to Quebec City on May 23, 1633,
as Governor of New France. With him come two hundred new colonists recruited by the
reactivated Company of New France, Jesuit missionaries, and soldiers to defend the
renewed French colony. Champlain himself never returns to France, dying at Quebec
on Christmas Day, 1635. He is replaced as Governor of New France by the Sieur de
Montmagny who arrives at Quebec on June 6, 1636.
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The Western Frontiers - The Spread of Catholicism and the Fur Trade
France has two main interests in the new world, exploiting the land for monetary
gain, principally through the trade in furs, and converting "the pagan savage souls"
to Catholicism. As mentioned earlier, missionaries had come with Champlain to New
France as early as 1615. The Recollet Fathers make contact with the Hurons, the
nobility of the savages, shortly thereafter. Later it was the Jesuits, following
their return to New France in 1632, who direct their attention to the converting
of the Hurons to Catholicism. The most famous example of these endeavours is the
establishment of the mission to the Hurons by Father Jerome Lalemant in 1639 in the
area of present day Midland, Ontario, on Georgian Bay
. The mission, referred to as Sainte-Marie
au Pays des Hurons, reaches its zenith in the late 1640's when it includes stables,
workshops, medical facilities and lodgings. At one time it houses as many as
66 Europeans as well as visiting Hurons. In 1648 and 1649 the Iroquois from Upper
New York State, the dreaded enemy of the Hurons and the French Americans, begin
a systematic destruction of Huron villages in what is now southern Ontario, killing
the inhabitants and torturing and killing the French missionaries. On June 14, 1649
the Jesuits set fire to Sainte-Marie to avoid its desecration by the Iroquois.
It is during this Iroquois reign of terror that six of North America's eight
martyrs are killed, among them St-Jean de Brebeuf and St-Gabriel Lalement who are
canonized in 1930. The remnants of the Hurons flee to Lorrette near Quebec City,
to the islands in Georgian Bay, to the northern shores of Lake Huron and Lake
Michigan and even to Wisconsin. The Government of Ontario reconstructed
Sainte-Marie in 1964 and today it stands as a Heritage Project near the Shrine
to the North American martyrs.
Jesuit missionaries Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant
being tortured and martyred by the Iroquois during the systematic destruction of Huronia
From Historiae Canadensis, by Francois du Creux, Paris, 1664.
(For an account taken from Jesuit documents, click here)
Medal struck in 1690 commemorating Frontenac's victory over Phips
Forgetting for the moment the desire for empire and land, the other motivating
force for opening up the frontiers of the new world is the lure of profits from the
fur trade and from providing supplies and services to the French colonial regime
and its military. In particular, trading furs offers the opportunity for enterprising
individuals to obtain wealth not otherwise available from the trades or in farming.
The quest for this wealth and perhaps the quest for the greater individual freedom
to be enjoyed on the frontiers lead to the establishment of a vast empire on the
"western frontiers" of New France. Voyageurs and fur traders from the St Lawrence
settlements, principally Québec City, Trois Rivières and Montréal, first open up
much of the continent by following the northern water routes through much of Québec,
Ontario and into the northern great lakes of Superior, Huron and Michigan.
By the late 1600's they establish a trading network which extended westward
to the prairies of Canada and the United States, some say as far as the Rocky
Mountains, and northward to James Bay and to Hudson's Bay. Following military
campaigns against the Iroquois in 166/67 by de Tracy and his regular French troops,
principally the Carignan Salières regiment, a period of peace ensues between
the French and the Iroquois nation. As a result, the southern trade route along
the St Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, hitherto too dangerous, now becomes
available to the French voyageurs and traders. By the mid 1700's primary trade
routes are firmly established linking the French settlements on the St Lawrence River
to a string of forts and trading posts located on the western plains, the northern
lakes and south along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico.
Troops from the colonial regulars, les troupes de la marine, militia and at various
times French regulars are needed to protect the forts and these trade routes.
The principal forts and trading posts along the east west route are at Kingston,
Ontario (Fort Frontenac), Fort Niagara, Pontchartrain (present day Detroit, Michigan
and Windsor, Ontario). It is envisioned at one time that Detroit, which is
officially founded in 1701, would form the hub for French commerce and influence
in the west. From here, there was ready access for traders and the military to the
principal eastern routes, the northern lakes, the western plains and the southern
territories extending to Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico. French areas of influence,
circa 1750, encompass all of known North America east of the Rocky Mountains
excluding only the British settlements on the Atlantic coast and inland in the area
of the Hudson River and Spanish presence in Florida. The commercial history of
New France is inextricably linked to the western frontiers. Similarly much of its
military history is written in "la petite guerre" of countless skirmishes along
its trade routes during the extended French and Indian Wars and the Seven Years War
which result in the fall of New France. The frontier legacy of the voyagers,
fur traders, missionaries, soldiers and latterly farmers and bourgeoisie exists
to this day in the person of the many descendants of these early French Americans,
in the pockets of the French language, and in the names of places, rivers,
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A Second Assault on Quebec City
Throughout most of New France's history, France and England are at war. This is the
case once again in 1689, when Protestant William III ascends to the throne of England.
At that time the Governor of New France is Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, an able governor and
soldier, who has previously served as governor from 1672 to 1682. He had been recalled to
France by the King because of open and violent quarrels with the then Intendant,
Duchesneau and replaced as governor in 1682 by a blustering weakling,
Lefebvre de la Barre, who in turn is recalled and replaced in 1685 by the Marquis
Denonville proves ineffective, unable to vanquish or achieve peace with the Iroquois
and unable to take any of the land in the New England area claimed by France. Now, in 1689,
with war one again declared, Louis XIV of France returns the old warrior Frontenac to
New France with orders to seize New York City, then Boston, thereby driving the English
out of America. Arriving too late in 1689 to mount an offensive against New York City,
Frontenac does however successfully raid Schenectady in upper New York State, and
Salmon Falls, near Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Not to be outdone, the English begin to mount a counteroffensive designed to drive
the French out of the New World. Sir William Phips, an English colonist from Boston, on orders from
the Massachusetts General Court,
sets out in the Spring of 1690 to capture Quebec City. He sails up the Bay of Fundy
and forces Port Royal to surrender without firing a shot. He then plunders the conquered
fort and sets fire to the church before sailing back to Boston with his impressive booty. He then recruits more men for the
trip back up to Quebec. As he sails up the St-Lawrence River toward Quebec, Phips sends
small raiding parties ashore to terrorize and plunder. One such raiding party lands at
Riviere-Ouelle, where it is successfully repulsed by the local settlers under the
leadership of the local priest and with the participation of one of my ancestors, Jean
On October 16, 16990, Phips anchors off Quebec City with a fleet of thirty-four ships
and over two thousand men. He tries to send some of his troops ashore at Beauport but
they are driven back. Phips then sends an envoy to Frontenac demanding
his immediate surrender. Frontenac responds that his rank is above answering to a lowly
envoy, and sends him away with the phrase that is committed to every French Canadian
schoolboy's memory: "Je n'ai point de reponse a faire a votre general que par
la bouche de mes canons...", "My answer to your general will be given by the
mouths of my cannons...".
After a week of battle by sea and by land, Phips makes an exchange of prisoners
and sails away to Boston. On the return voyage, Phips encounters several storms and he loses four ships. Peace is signed between the two warring countries in 1697, and all captured territories are returned.
The inscription (in Latin) on the face, where one sees Louis XIV in profile, reads:
"Louis, the great Christian king"
On the reverse, where one sees an allegorical figure trampling the British flag:
"France victorious in the New World" and "Quebec, liberated in 1690 "
On-again Off-again Wars
War is declared in 1702, and once again French and English colonists raid each others
territories. In 1710, English troops capture Port Royal for the second time. Acadia is
renamed Nova Scotia and Port Royal to Annapolis, for the then Queen Anne of England.
Peace returns briefly in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht, wherein France cedes Acadia
and Newfoundland to England. Despite the peace in Europe, the two countries' colonists
continue to harass each other with the help of the Indian tribes: the Iroquois allied
with the English, and most of the other tribes with the French.
France and England are formally at war again in 1744. In 1745, a force of three thousand
men and one hundred ships sets sail from Boston, under the leadership of William Pepperell,
to attack and subsequently capture Louisbourg, the French fortress on Cape Breton. Peace
is restored with the Treaty of Aix-laChapelle in 1748, and Louisbourg is returned to the
French. As a result, the English are quick to build a fortress of their own in the same
area at Halifax.
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Quebec: The Second and Final Fall
Despite the 1748 peace accord, England and France each plot and prepare for the
other's defeat in North America. War is finally declared in 1756, although the colonists
from both sides have been at each other for over a year.
It is also in 1755 that the English scatter nearly six thousand Acadians to destinations
so widely dispersed as to make their return to Acadia impossible. Some are sent to England,
some to the French West Indies, but most to the other English colonies along the eastern
coast of North Amrica. Many make their way to the French settlements in Louisiana to become
the ancestors of today's Cajuns. The sad plight of the Acadians is depicted poignantly in
Longfellow's epic poem Evangeline.
From the Public Archives of Canada:
"Exile of the Acadians from Grand Pre"
In 1755, over 6,000 Acadians were exiled by the English. Among them was Longfellow's
The two opponents at Quebec in 1759:
Once war officially declared, French troops under the Marquis de Montcalm earn early
victories in New York State at Oswego and Lake George in 1757 and 1758. Later in 1758
William Pitt, the English secretary for war, sends two generals , Amherst and Wolfe, to
capture Louisbourg and Quebec City.
The siege of Louisbourg begins on June 2, 1758, and the fortress surrenders on July 27.
Amherst and Wolfe disagree on when best to attack Quebec City. Wolfe wants to follow the
victory at Louisbourg with a quick attack on Quebec. The older Amherst feels that a
prolonged siege at Quebec could leave the English troops stranded in a frozen St-Lawrence
River. Wolfe returns to England while Amherst remains in America as commander-in-chief.
The next year, in May and June 1759, Wolfe returns to the New World, sailing up the
St-Lawrence River toward Quebec City with an armada of two hundred and fifty ships,
forty-nine of which are men-of-war. He has with him nearly thirty thousand men, a
third of them from the regular army, the rest marines and sailors.
| The Marquis de Montcalm, France
|| Major-General James Wolfe, England
The disposition of the French and English troops on
the Plains of Abraham, September 13, 1759.
On June 26, Wolfe makes camp on the Ile d'Orleans, five miles across from Quebec City.
He also establishes a battery at Levis, directly across the River from the city, and a
third camp near the Montmorency River. Throughout the summer, Montcalm is able to repulse
Wolfe's attacks from his high position on the cliffs of Quebec City. Finally, in September,
Wolfe is made aware of a path that leads from the River to an area behind the city heights
at l'Anse-au-Foulon. Quietly, during the night of September 12-13, Wolfe and two thousand
men climb the path to the Plains of Abraham behind the fortress at Quebec.
Foulon, where Wolfe and his men climbed the secret path is at the lower left
of the illustration.
The ensuing battle on the morning of September 13 lasts less than thirty minutes.
Both generals are mortally wounded, Wolfe dies on the field of battle, Montcalm a
few hours later. Quebec City formally surrenders on September 18, 1759.
| The Marquis de Montcalm, France
|| Major-General James Wolfe, England
Artists' renditions of the deaths of the generals at
Quebec City,September 13, 1759
The final surrender of French Canada is signed in 1760, by the Marquis de Vaudreuil
in Montreal. Definitive English rule begins with the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
The surrender of New France to the English,