Jacques Carrier

Jacques Carrier

(1491-1557)

Jacques Carrier was born in 1491 at St. Malo, a French port along the coast of Britanny. Little is known of Carrier’s early years but he seems to have become prosperous through his skill as a master navigator. What is known for certain is that in 1534, Cartier was commissioned by King Francis I of France to sail to North America.

His mission was not only to find gold and other precious metals but to find the fabled “Northwest Passage” from the Atlantic Ocean to Asia and the East Indies.In April 1534, Cartier sailed from St. Malo with two ships. They arrived in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and for the next 12 weeks they explored the gulf and its various islands. They went ashore frequently and hunted birds and mammals.

They also met some Native Americans with whom they exchanged goods and gifts. Since Cartier had found neither gold nor a passage way to China, he needed some proof of his visit to show his king on his return to France. Cartier convinced one chieftain, Donnaconna, to let him take his two teenage sons to France, on condition that they would be safely returned.

Early in August, Cartier and his men returned to St. Malo, where their tales of plentiful food and gentle natives encouraged many to want to settle this new world.In May 1535, Cartier set sail with three ships. With Donnaconna’s sons as guides, he sailed up the St. Lawrence River and visited the Indian village of Stadacona at the site of what would later become Quebec City.

Here the two Indian boys were reunited with their father. Cartier then sailed on to visit the large village named Hochelaga at the site of what would become Montreal. With winter closing in, the French chose to stay near Stadacona. During the miserable winter, 25 of the 1 1 in their party died from scurvy and other ailments. The others survived only because the Indians showed them how to brew tea from tree bark.

Returning to France in 1 536, Cartier was commissioned for a third time by King Francis I. In May 1541, Cartier sailed with five ships and at least 200 people, including 50 convicts who were forced to emigrate. Cartier’s expedition easily made it to the St. Lawrence and to Stadacona, but relations with the natives quickly deteriorated.

Over the winter of 1541-1542, many of the French were either killed or died from scurvy. In June 1542, Cartier abandoned his attempt at establishing a colony near Quebec and returned to France. He lived out his final years as a respected mariner and explorer of Canada.