« ForrigeFortsett »
tans called Brownists, hoping to enjoy in the wild forests of the New World that liberty of conscience which was not allowed them in civilised countries, established themselves at Plymouth in Massachusetts, and thus laid the foundation of the most industrious and powerful colonies in the world. The French had preceded the English in the attempt to establish a dominion over the boundless regions of North America; but from want of perseverance they were soon outstripped by their vigorous competitors. In 1534, Jaques Cartier sailed from St. Malo to examine the coast of Newfoundland. He returned in safety, and the following year set forth again to prosecute his researches. He entered a great gulf, to which he gave the name of St. Lawrence. Here the savages informed him that the great river Hochelega (the St. Lawrence), which conducted to Canada, was before him. They affirmed that it penetrated so far inland, that they had never heard of any one who had reached its source. Cartier proceeded to ascend the river, and found anchorage near the Isle of Orleans; to which, from the beauty, variety, and luxuriance of its vegetation, and particularly for the great number of vines, which clustered over it in profusion, he named the Island of Bacchus. He ascended the river in boats, till he came to the village of Stadacona, (called also by the natives Canada, or the town,) which stood, he says, upon as fine a piece of ground as could be seen in France, surrounded by noble trees, such as oaks, elms, walnut, maple, and others, loaded with fruit. The Indian chief Donnacona pronounced a long oration to the French, the women at the same time dancing and singing for delight in the water. When he and Cartier pledged mutual friendship to each other, the Indians who surrounded them gave the warcry, or three horrible yells, which almost terrified their visiters. The French ships were now brought up to Stadacona, while Cartier made preparations to explore the Hochelega in his boats. But he learned that the Indian chief was averse to this attempt. When the French,
however, still persisted in their intention, the Indians endeavoured to shake their resolution by a stratagem which strongly portrays their superstition and simplicity. They dressed up three men like devils, in black and white dog-skins, with their faces blackened, and horns on their heads a yard in length. These men were placed in a canoe, in such a situation as to be carried near the ships by the flowing of the tide. The Indians lay in the woods, watching their appearance. When the canoe approached the ships, one of the three devils stood up, and made a long harangue; and as soon as they reached the land, they fell down as if dead, and were carried off by the Indians into concealment. Some of the Indians immediately came on board to Cartier, and, feigning the greatest consternation, explained to him the meaning of what had been seen. Their god Cudruaigny, they said, had spoken in Hochelega, and had sent these three demons to declare that there was so much ice and snow in that country, that whoever ventured there would surely pelish. Undismayed by their predictions, the Frenchman made an excursion up the river, and was charmed as he advanced by the richness and majesty of the landscapes that opened before him. Whenever he approached the shore he met with the kindest and most hospitable treatment from the natives. For nine days he sailed up this great river; and found the country the whole way as fertile, as well wooded, and as agreeable, as could be desired. At length he came to a wide lake or enlargement of the river (now called St. Peter's Lake), twelve leagues long and six in breadth, which he called the Lake of Angoulême. Beyond this he found some difficulty in navigating the river, from its rapids, and the number of its channels: four days' sail, however, now brought him to Hochelega, forty-five leagues above the Lake of Angoulême. The city of Hochelega, as he calls the Indian hamlet, was six miles from the river side, and the road to it was as well beaten and as well frequented as any in France; leading through a country planted with noble oaks, the ground being strewed over with fine acorns. Close to the Indian village was a fertile and cultivated hill, to which Cartier gave the name of Montreal, and which subsequently became the site of one of the principal Canadian colonies. From his description of the dwellings of the Indians and of their rural industry, it may be concluded that those simple races have wofully degenerated since their acquaintance with Europeans. In speaking of their ornaments, he relates a circumstance which has hitherto been thought inexplicable, and too hastily censured as a ridiculous story. “That which they hold,” he says, “in highest estimation among all their possessions is a substance which they call esurgny or cornibotz, which is as white as snow, and is procured in the following manner:—When any one is adjudged to death for a crime, or when they have taken any of their enemies in war, having first slain the person, they make deep gashes in the flanks, shoulders, and thighs of the dead body, which is then sunk to the bottom of the river in the place where the esurgny abounds. After remaining there ten or twelve hours, the body is drawn up, and the esurgny or cornibotz is found in the gashes. Of this they make beads, which they wear about their necks as we do chains of gold and silver, accounting it their most precious riches.” In this account we find perhaps the earliest allusion to that peculiar substance called adipocire or factitious spermaceti, of which a manufactory was established a few years back in the neighbourhood of Bristol. Cartier or his Indian informants erred only in supposing that the esurgny or white substance was not formed by the subaqueous decomposition of the animal matter, but collected by it from natural depositions at the bottom of the river. In Cartier's narrative also we find the first description of tobacco, with a ludicrous caricature of the mode of using it. “The Indians,” he says, “ have a certain herb, of which they lay up a store every summer, having first dried it in the sun. It is used only by the men, who always carry some of it in a small bag hanging from their necks, in which they keep also a hollow piece of stone or wood like a pipe. When they use this herb, they bruise it to powder, put it into one end of the pipe, and laying a small piece of burning coal upon it, they suck at the other end so long that they fill their bodies full of smoke till it comes out of their mouth and nostrils as from the chimney of a house. They allege that this practice is conducive to health: we tried to use this smoke, but on putting it into our mouths it seemed as hot as pepper.” From the summit of Montreal the eye could trace the river about fifteen leagues, till it terminated in a broad and glittering rapid. The natives were acquainted with three more such falls; and said, that after passing these, a man might sail for three months up the river without interruption. They intimated that gold and silver abounded toward the south, and copper in the opposite direction. They spoke also of three or four great lakes, and an inland sea of fresh water, the end of which had never been explored. But the Indians of Hochelega were an agricultural tribe, who wandered but a short distance from their habitations, and chiefly owed their geographical knowledge to the hunting tribes of Saguenay in the north. The chief Donnacona, who had travelled much when he was young, had visited the country of Saguenay, which he described as rich and abundant. He had travelled among the Picquemians, who were probably the Picquagamies dwelling round Lake St. John, at the head of the Saguenay river. He also said that there were white men in the country of Saguenay, whose dresses were of woollen cloth like that worn by the French. Those who are unwilling to believe that this relation was an invention of the old chief (and it has not much the internal character of fiction) may be inclined to suppose that the Cortereals, with their companions, had fallen into the hands of the Indians of Labrador, by whom they were conducted into the interior. Cartier and his companions wintered in the St. Lawrence, opposite the Indian town of Stadacona, from November till March. The ship was enclosed by ice two fathoms in thickness, and the snow lay above four feet deep on the decks; liquors were all frozen ; and, to complete the misery of the crew, the scurvy, a disease with which they were wholly unacquainted, broke out among them. There were not above three sound men in the whole company. Those who died were buried in the snow, the survivors wanting strength to dig a grave for them in the earth. An Indian at length pointed out a tree, with the leaves and bark of which they made a decoction, by drinking which they were soon completely cured. The ice being at length melted, Cartier put to sea, and arrived at St. Malo in July, 1536. In consequence of the favourable account which Cartier gave of the country which he had surveyed, of its magmificent river, its apparent fertility, and the tractability of its inhabitants, an expedition was undertaken to settle and cultivate it. A gentleman named Roberval obtained a patent, and proceeded, in 1540, to plant a colony in Canada ; but no success attended this and other subsequent weak attempts. It was not till 1608 that Quebec was founded; and already, in 1629, the English, who were now rapidly acquiring strength in Virginia, threatened the existence of the new settlement. In 1609, the Dutch planted their first colony in the Hudson.