Samuel de Champlain


Age of Discovery

Quick Facts:

Discovered and charted the Ottawa River, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and founded Quebec; the first French colony in Canada

Name: Samuel de Champlain

Birth/Death: 1570 CE - 1635 CE

Nationality: French

Birthplace: France

Samuel de Champlain by Ronjat

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635), most likely styled after a portrait by Moncornet, 19th century.
Source: A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Vol. 6, Chapter 53, p. 190. {{PD-Art}

Early Life

  • Samuel de Champlain was born around August 13, 1570, in Brouage in southwestern France.

  • He was the son of Antoine de Champlain and Marguerite Le Roy.

  • Born into a mariner family, Champlain was well educated with navigation, map-making, drawing and writing practical reports.


  • Samuel de Champlain sailed in 1598 to Cádiz, Spain, and later the West Indies aboard his uncle’s ship, the Saint-Julien. The two year voyage to the West Indies gave Champlain a chance to observe Spanish holdings from the Caribbean to Mexico City. Champlain took notes and created an illustrated report of his findings along the journey which was given to King Henry IV upon his return. The pension given to him for his report, along with inheriting his uncle’s assets upon his death in June 1601, gave Champlain the freedom to travel as he wanted.

  • Champlain studied the failures of previous attempts at colonization in the New World and received the King’s consent to join a fur-trading expedition to the New World with François Gravé Du Pont. Du Pont taught Champlain about navigation in the New World and advised him on how to deal with the natives, which would help Champlain on his subsequent voyages.

  • On March 15, 1603, Champlain and Du Pont sailed to the New World and Champlain mapped the Saint Lawrence River. He found the areas previously mentioned by Jacques Cartier to be abandoned.

  • He established a positive relationship with Begourat, a chief of the Montagnais tribe at Tadoussac, and several Algonquin natives before he returned to France on September 20, 1603.

  • On April 7, 1604, he made a second journey, led by Pierre Dugua de Mons. De Mons planned to develop a fur trading monopoly and Champlain wanted to establish a French settlement in the area now called Acadia (L’Acadie). Champlain and Dugua sailed on La Bonne Renommee, while du Pont commanded a second ship, and a third sailed to Tadoussac, Quebec. They landed in Nova Scotia on May 8, where Champlain charted the harbors.

  • On May 19, Champlain received orders to explore the coast of Nova Scotia and Maine for a location to establish a colony, and received his first command of an 8-ton pinnace, or ship’s boat. Eventually Champlain and Dugua decided to create the settlement on Sainte-Croix Island in the Sainte-Croix River.  From this island Champlain made multiple trips in the pinnace and found copper ore, met with the local Micmac tribe and sailed down the Maine coast, during which he discovered and named a majority of the islands there today.

  • On this expedition, Champlain explored and charted most of the coast of New England, including the Kennebec River and its estuaries, the Saco Bay, the Boston Bay, Charles River, Plymouth, and Cape Cod. When they returned to Sainte-Croix, because of the harsh winter, Dugua decided to sail north instead of south and make the new colony at Port-Royal in the Annapolis Basin. They built a colony at Port-Royal and established good relations with the local tribe, the Souriquois led by Membertou. Port Royal became Champlain’s base until 1607.

  • Du Pont and Champlain attempted two more expeditions down the east coast but were stopped both times, once by weather and once by shipwreck. After a relatively easy winter de Monts returned with Poutrincourt. Champlain and Poutrincourt then sailed down the east coast one more time to find another spot for a colony. They sailed as far south as modern-day Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket but after trouble with the local tribe, they turned around and sailed back to Port Royal.

  • Champlain and du Pont sailed up the St. Lawrence River and landed at the Rock of Quebec on July 3 where they began to build a colony. The winter was harsh and several men died of scurvy. By winter’s end, only eight of the original twenty-four explorers had survived.

  • In order to gain the support of the local Huron population, Champlain sailed south with their war party to fight against the Iroquois nation. At Lake Champlain, Champlain and the Huron encountered a war party of Mohawks.

  • After the death of King Henry, Champlain left Quebec under the command of Captain Pierre Chauvin and left for France with Pont-Grave on September 5, 1609, to increase royal support for the colony.

  • Champlain returned to Quebec in early May 1610. After finding that his men had enjoyed a mild winter, Champlain was once again on the warpath with his new Huron allies. This time the war party attacked an Iroquois fort at the mouth of the Richelieu River, and again massacred the Iroquois with the help of the French.

  • On March 1, 1611 Champlain and du Pont sailed back to Quebec. The incredibly cold winter and unusually thick ice thick in Newfoundland delayed their arrival, but they finally landed at Tadoussac on May 13, which made this Champlain’s longest Atlantic crossing. After finding his colony at Quebec fit, Champlain continued down the rapids to the site of Montreal.  Here he charted the rapids that had stopped Cartier, and established a trading post between the up-river Native Americans and the French fur-traders. Champlain then returned to France on August 11.

  • Back in France, Champlain published his first book and created a new company where it was given another fur-trading monopoly. On March 6, 1613, Champlain returned to Quebec with du Pont.  On May 27, Champlain set out down the river to explore the Ottawa river in canoes.  They passed by the spot of modern day Ottawa and continued inland, until they finally turned back when convinced by local natives that he could travel no further. Champlain returned to Quebec and on September 26, returned to France.

  • Champlain decided that the best way to establish a permament colony at Quebec was to convert the locals to Christianity. On April 24,1615, Champlain sailed from France in the Sainte-Etienne with du Pont and four Franciscan monks. Champlain again went on the warpath, but this time he followed the Ottawa river, and travelled further than before to discover Lake Nipissing, the French River, and Lake Huron. Gathering a huge war party of Hurons, Champlain moved south and discovered Lake Ontario. Here they attacked an Onondaga fort, but their allies never showed up to the battle and the French and Huron were forced to retreat with Champlain wounded in the leg. This retreat was long and hard and Champlain was forced to winter at Lake Huron to recover. Champlain spent this time studying the Hurons and writing about their mannerisms and society. Champlain was finally able to leave in May and arrived in Quebec on July 11, 1616. He returned to France with du Pont on September 10, 1616.

  • The winter of 1625 was extremely hard on Quebec. Du Pont almost died of gout and most of the men were close to starvation. The same was true of the winter of 1626 and the men were only kept alive by moose meat brought in by local natives. There were more problems with the locals, and war was almost a constant threat between the Hurons and the Iroquois.

  • In June 1628, an English fleet under the command of Captain Jacques Michel sailed down the St. Lawrence and blockaded Quebec. The French relief fleet, already low on food, was destroyed by the English. Quebec, the colony, was near starvation in May when Champlain sent out three separate expeditions to scrape together what little food they could find from other French forces. These desperate missions failed and when the English finally sailed down the river, the French were forced to surrender Quebec to the English on July 22, 1629, and Champlain left Quebec as their prisoner. He was taken to England, but when they arrived they learned that the war over Quebec was over and Champlain was released in November 1629.

  • As a provision of the peace treaty the French regained control of Canada and Quebec, and the King gave command of this territory to Cardinal Richelieu even though most of the area was burned by the English. In Quebec, Champlain had problems with the natives, allies who wanted to trade with the British, and the Iroquois who continually made raids on the settlement.  Champlain spent a majority of his time building new forts to protect Quebec and repairing the damage done by the British. The last few years of his life were quiet and peaceful and he died December 25, 1635, from the aftermath of a paralytic stroke.

Notable Ships

  • La Bonne Renommee (captained by Pont-Grave and used on Champlain’s first two voyages to Canada)

  • Le Don de Dieu (commanded by Champlain; used during establishment of Quebec)

  • Lévrier (commanded by Du Pont; used during the establishment of Quebec)


  • While Samuel de Champlain never returned to Acadia, his charts were incredibly accurate and influential on the settling of the area and many of the name he chose are still in use today.

  • Champlain established lasting relations with several local native tribes and even adopted three Montagnais girls, which further cemented French/Indian alliances that would lead to cooperation with food, trade and war.


  • Brief Discours des Choses plus remarquables que Sammuel Champlain de Brouage a reconneues aux Indes Occidentalles au voiage qu’il en a faict en icettes en l’année 1599 et en l’année 1601, comme ensuite (first French publication 1870, first English publication 1859 as Narrative of a Voyage to the West Indies and Mexico 1599–1602)

  • Des Sauvages: ou voyage de Samuel Champlain, de Brouages, faite en la France nouvelle l’an 1603 (first French publication 1604, first English publication 1625)

  • Voyages de la Nouvelle France (first French publication 1632)

  • Traitté de la marine et du devoir d’un bon marinier (first French publication 1632)


Morison, Samuel E. Samuel de Champlain: Father of New France. Little, Brown, and Company. Boston. 1972. Print.