Builders of our Country Vol. I - G. Southworth

The Early French Explorers

I. Verrazano

When Columbus discovered America, all the kings of Europe belonged to the Catholic Church and looked to the Pope at Rome as their ruler. So, when the kings of Spain and Portugal began to quarrel about lands outside their kingdoms, it was the Pope who settled their disputes. He took a map and drew upon it a line from the north pole to the south pole, three hundred and seventy leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. All the land west of this line not belonging to some Christian prince was to belong to Spain; all east of it, to Portugal.

In making this remarkable decision the Pope little dreamed of the vast areas of undiscovered land, including our own country, which lay in the part of the world he granted to Spain.

When the French king heard about this line he said, "I would like to see the clause in Father Adam's will which divides the world between the Portuguese and the Spaniards. I think France shall have a share, too."

So he began to look about for a bold seaman to make discoveries and claims for France. In 1523 he heard of a sailor by the name of Verrazano.

The French king sent for Verrazano and told him that he wanted him to go in search of a passage westward to China. Verrazano consented and in 1524 started out.

Verrazano's Ship


After a journey of forty-nine days the voyagers reached a low shore on the coast of what is now North Carolina. Here a glad sight met their eyes. Fires were blazing on the sandy beach. Behind were tall forests of pine, laurel, and cypress. Along the beach surprised Indians, befeathered, and almost naked, ran like deer. They gave cries of welcome to the white men and showed them where to land.

But Verrazano did not loiter long. He sailed up the coast as far north as Newfoundland. By this time his supply of food had become scanty, so he went back to France.

When Verrazano got back to France, his brother, who had been one of the voyagers, drew a queer map of the coast along which they had traveled. This map is preserved in Rome to this day. Verrazano himself wrote a long letter to the King of France. In this letter he describes the appearance and habits of the Indians, and gives a very interesting account of the trees and plants along the coast. He tells of the fur-bearing animals which he found as he sailed north.

But even before Verrazano had finished writing his letter to the King, that monarch had gone to war with Italy. He was taken prisoner, and soon France was so busy fighting with her neighbors that she had no time to think about the lands across the sea.

II. Jacques Cartier

If you look at a map of France you will see on the western coast a large peninsula jutting into the sea. On a point of this peninsula is the very old and strongly built town of St. Malo. This town has always been famous for its hardy and skillful seamen.

One April day, in the year 1534, just ten years after Verrazano's voyage, the shore of St. Malo was crowded with people. They were waving a farewell to two ships that were sailing out of the harbor, bound westward. Once safely back in France after escaping from his captivity, the French King had remembered Verrazano's letter. Now he thought that it would be a fine thing to send some one over to seize the land which Verrazano had explored. And that is how the two ships happened to be sailing out of the harbor of St. Malo on that April morning of 1534. They were under the command of Jacques Cartier, the very bravest and most experienced of all the brave sailors of St. Malo.

Before long, Cartier's ships reached the coast of Newfoundland. They passed through the Straits of Belle Isle and entered the great gulf on the coast of North America, opposite Newfoundland. Landing at Cape Gaspe, Cartier set up a cross thirty feet high. Upon this was carved, in French, the words, "Long live the King of France." This meant that Cartier claimed the land for France.

Jacques Cartier


The chief of the neighboring Indians did not like the cross. When the Frenchmen had boarded their ships to start back to France, the chief, dressed in a bear's skin, came out to them in a canoe. With him were two of his sons. The chief began to complain to Cartier about the cross. He said that the land belonged to the Indians. Cartier and his men coaxed them to come close to the ship. Then several of the French sailors jumped into the canoe, and brought it alongside.

The French took the Indians on board the ship, thus frightening them very much. But the French pretended to be friendly. They told them that the cross was set up only as a beacon or landmark by which the French could find their way back to the port. Cartier promised that he would soon come again and bring a good supply of iron kettles and other things that the Indians prized. Then he told the chief that he must let his two sons go to France. The chief did not want to let them go, but he could not help himself. To make the Indian boys more willing to go, the French sailors dressed them in gay coats and red caps and put copper chains about their necks.

When Cartier had sailed back to France, and had given the King a fine account of what he had seen, the King decided to send him upon a second voyage.

In May, 1535, Cartier sailed with three ships and over a hundred men, besides the two Indian boys whom he had kidnapped on the first voyage. In August they reached the shores of Canada.

On the day which the Catholics call "St. Lawrence's Day," Cartier's ships entered the great gulf where he had been the year before. So they named this the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - I  by G. Southworth


Sailing on up the river, the French came to an Indian village, called Stadacone. This village stood on the very spot where the old rock-walled city of Quebec stands to-day.

Cartier persuaded the Indians that he had come for peace. So they allowed him to moor his vessel. They told him about another Indian village, many days' journey up the river. This town, they said, was far greater than Stadacone. It was called Hochelaga.

To Hochelaga Cartier resolved to go, in his smallest ship, with his two young Indians as guides. On they sailed, until they neared a shore swarming with Indians. The next morning these Indians guided the French through the woods to the great village they had come to see.

The travelers entered the town through the narrow gate. Within, they saw about fifty queer dwellings. Each house was fifty yards long and twelve or fifteen yards wide, and contained many fires and many families. These houses were made of poles covered with sheets of bark.

In the middle of the town was an open square. Here Cartier and his men stopped, while from the bark houses poured out crowds of men, women, and children. They came close to the visitors and felt of their beards and faces. They were trying to find out whether these strange-colored, strangely dressed beings, with gleaming guns and swords and helmets, were men or gods.

After a while the Indian warriors made the women and children go farther away, while they themselves squatted on the ground around the French. Some of the women brought mats for Cartier and his men to sit upon.

Next, a number of warriors went into once of the houses, and came out carrying upon a deerskin a very old Indian helpless with paralysis. He wore very dirty clothes, but on his straight black hair was a sort of red crown made of porcupine quills. This was the chief of the village. The Indians put him on the ground in front of Cartier and made signs of welcome for him. The poor old chief pointed at his helpless limbs and seemed to beg the French chief to touch and heal them. Cartier laid his hands upon the old man and pretended to heal him.

Then he began to distribute presents. To the women he gave beads. To the children he threw rings and other jewelry, made of tin. Then the French trumpeters put their trumpets to their lips and blew a mighty blast. This surprised and pleased the Indians very much.

The French now set forth, guided by a band of Indians, to explore the great mountain back of the village. When Cartier had climbed this mountain and looked gar out upon the forests below, with the river winding like a blue ribbon between them, he gave it the name of Montreal, the French for "Royal Mountain."

Going back to their ship, the French sailed down the St. Lawrence to Stadacone. Here they found that the Frenchmen who had stayed behind had built themselves a fort; and here Cartier and his men spent the long, severe winter, suffering great torture from cold and sickness.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - I  by G. Southworth


By spring the men were all well again. The ice which held the ships fast in the river melted away and set them free, and Cartier returned to France. He had discovered a mighty river and a great mountain.

The King of France heard Cartier's report and was much pleased. But trouble at home prevented him for several years from sending another expedition. When he did send it, he took men from prisons for colonists. These men made a great deal of trouble, and finally the hope of a colony was given up by the King.

III. Jean Ribaut

During the sixteenth century the Protestant faith made many converts in European countries; and because of the difference in their religious views, the Catholics and Protestants were continually at strife with one another.

In France the Protestants were called Huguenots. Their leader was a wise and good man named Admiral Coligny. He was very unhappy at seeing the Huguenots suffering torture and death for their religion, and thought it wise to send them to America to plant a Huguenot colony. Admiral Coligny selected a good and brave Huguenot named Jean Ribaut to sail in charge of the expedition. The colony started in February, 1562. First touching the coast of Florida they sailed north to what is now the coast of South Carolina.

After a while they came to a fine harbor, which they called Port Royal. Jean Ribaut decided to leave a colony here, while he went back to France for more men and supplies.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - I  by G. Southworth

At first the colonists were very happy. They built a fort. They passed the winter in hunting and fishing and trading with the Indians. When spring came they began to look for Ribaut's return.

But the spring and summer passed by, with no Jean Ribaut. When autumn set in, the colonists became homesick. They had planted no crops and had to depend upon the Indians for food.

The Huguenots made up their minds to go back to France. But how? Behind them lay the dense forest. Before them lay three thousand miles of ocean. Jean Ribaut had taken both of the ships. They must build a ship for themselves. They did not know a thing about shipbuilding, but where there's a will there's a way. Ribaut had left them some iron and a forge. Some of the men began to make nails and spikes and bolts, while others cut down trees. Some gathered pitch from the pine trees. The Indians made cordage. Everyone worked with a will. Finally the vessel was built, but it had no sails. They sewed together their sheets and shirts, and with these strange sails they rigged the ship. It was the queerest-looking craft that ever sailed from a port. It was not fit to navigate a duck pond, but it started bravely forth across the great Atlantic.

A fair wind filled the sails, and for several days the strange ship floated gallantly enough toward the home land. Then a calm came, and the vessel stood "like a painted ship upon a painted ocean." Next a terrible storm gashed the sails and twisted the ungainly timbers. The voyagers had endured many hardships when finally they were picked up by an English vessel and carried prisoners to Queen Elizabeth.

But why had not Jean Ribaut come back? When he got to France war was going on as usual. Admiral Coligny could not get another expedition ready before the spring of 1564. Then three ships sailed under Captain Laudonniere. They landed at the St. John's River in Florida.

Laudonniere and his men soon built a little town. Here they lived by hunting and fishing and farming. One evening, when this colony had been in America a little more than a year, they saw ships approaching.

The next morning everyone was up by daylight. Seven large ships were sailing up the river. Their decks were filled with men in armor. The colonists called to them, but they made no answer. Laudonniere had only two cannon. He ordered these to be aimed at the ships. He was just about to give the command to fire, when the strangers called out, "We are Huguenots!"

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - I  by G. Southworth


It was true. The ships were full of men, women, and children under Jean Ribaut. You may guess how happy the colonists were.

"Now," they said, "we have come to stay." Ah, yes, they had come to stay.

The rest of the Huguenots' story is soon told. While they had been preparing to make themselves a peaceful home in the New World, the Spaniards had heard of their settlement. The King of Spain sent some soldiers to Florida, under Pedro Menendez. These soldiers made a settlement at St. Augustine, south of the Huguenot colony. Not long after Jean Ribaut came with his seven ships, the Spaniards attacked the. French colony. Almost all of the Huguenots were killed, Jean Ribaut among the rest.

When the French king heard about this massacre, he did not seem to care. But there was a Frenchman by the name of De Gourgues, who hated the Spaniards. This De Gourgues sold all of his property and fitted out ships with the money. With some other Frenchmen he attacked the Spaniards on the St. John's and killed every one. Then he sailed back to France. He had not come to make a colony, but to take revenge upon the Spaniards for the murder of his countrymen.