Quad Cheat Sheets

The who, what, and why behind this year’s 400th hoopla.


(page 3 of 4)

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain

Cause to celebrate: First European to set eyes on the 120-mile-long lake bordering present-day New York, Vermont, and Canada.

The basics: Joining a force of Montagnais, Huron, and Algonquin Indians on an expedition against the Iroquois in July 1609, Champlain ascended Canada’s Richelieu River via canoe until it ran into the lake, which he named after himself. Encountering a large force of Iroquois (historians surmise either near present-day Crown Point or Ticonderoga), Champlain and his allies hastily felled trees to erect a barricade. The following day they defeated the Iroquois, Champlain killing three chiefs with a single shot. (According to Champlain’s own account, his gun was loaded with four balls.)

Vital statistics: Born circa-1567 in Brouage, France; died December 25, 1635, in Quebec City. His wife, Hélène Boullé, was 12 years old when they married in 1610. (He named St. Helen’s Island, in the St. Lawrence River near Montreal, after her.) Following his death, she became a nun. Amazingly, despite making some two dozen transatlantic voyages, Champlain could not swim.

Life before: Honored as the “Father of New France,” Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608. Despite his zeal and skill, his less-than-noble birth prevented him from ever becoming the colony’s official leader. An accomplished navigator, cartographer, and writer, he conceived the plan for a canal across the Isthmus of Panama after traveling there in 1600.

Life after: Champlain’s expeditions took him into six future Canadian provinces and five American states, making him among the first Europeans to view Lake Ontario, Niagara Falls, and Lake Huron. His detailed maps were invaluable to future colonizers, while the voluminous accounts of his journeys have greatly aided historians.

Lasting importance: Champlain’s skirmish with the Iroquois on Lake Champlain forged an enmity between the powerful Indian nation and the French that lasted 150 years. Possession of the lake became of crucial importance during subsequent wars between the French, English, and Americans. On a lighter note, Champlain was the first to record seeing a large serpent in the lake. Purported sightings of the creature (dubbed “Champ” in the 20th century) persist to this day.

Quote: “By instinct and temperament he was more impelled to the adventurous toils of exploration than to the duller task of building colonies. The profits of trade had value in his eyes only as means to these ends, and settlements were important chiefly as a base of discovery.” — Historian Francis Parkman

Next page: Robert Fulton


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