December 31 – Happy Birthday, Jacques Cartier

Posted on December 31, 2014

Okay, he kidnapped some guys. Actually, he kidnapped the sons of the chief. But he did (eventually) return them!

French explorer Jacques Cartier, born on this date in 1491, had been sent to the New World in 1534, in search of a passage to “Cathay” (Asia). If he couldn't find a way to Cathay, he was supposed to look for....(Do you know what the French king wanted? What did EVERY king want, back then?)!

Actually, Cartier discovered neither a passage to the Indies and China NOR gold. He discovered what he considered barren, uninviting land (Newfoundland) a bit of greener land (Prince Edward Island), some islands with lots of birds (which he named Iles aux Oiseaux—Islands of the Birds—and he and his crew proceeded to shoot more than a thousand of the birds, because, you know, it's what you do!), and a large bay (actually, the mouth of a river, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence).

He encountered a fleet of five canoes full of friendly Native Americans and traded small things with them as tokens of friendship. But later, when other canoes approached, he had canon shots fired to scare them away.

Then he saw some more Native Americans on shore, and Cartier and his men rowed ashore. Cartier met with Chief Donnacona of the St. Lawrence Iroquois, and he exchanged more gifts and used hand signs to create a friendly alliance.

But when Cartier erected a 30-foot wooden cross on the land—a cross marked “Vive le Roi de France(Long live the King of France)—Chief Donnacona became concerned. He made some hand signs that seemed to indicate to the Frenchmen that the land that the cross stood on, and all the land around it, belonged to him and his people. Cartier agreed with him and assured the chief that the cross was a marker so he could find his way back. He invited the chief and his three sons aboard his ship.

But then Cartier took two of the sons hostage. He put the chief and the third son ashore, told them that he would be back, and he would bring the two kidnapped sons back, and off he sailed for France.

Oh, my! What a way to treat the “allies” you just made!

Chief Donnacona's sons learned some French and communicated with Cartier about their home. Their village was located where Quebec is now situated, and they indicated that their land was called “Kanata.” Cartier wrote Kanata on his charts and maps—and that is how the name Canada came to be.

Chief Donnacona
Cartier did return the chief's sons to Canada the following year. He also brought the chief some gifts from the French King. Apparently, Chief Donnacona didn't trust Cartier but didn't out-and-out attack him, either!

I don't know how wise the chief's restraint was! In 1535, Cartier again kidnapped the same two sons, Donnacona himself, three other adult Iroquois natives, and four children. All of those Iroquoian hostages had to stay in France for five years, between Cartier's second and third voyages—and all of them died except for one of the children!

So not how you should treat your allies!!

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