Chronicles of America 

Richelieu's Colonizing Company, 1629-1635

Arriving at Quebec, where he was hailed as one risen from the dead, Champlain found that things in France had taken a new turn. They had, in fact, taken many twists and turns during the nine years since De Monts had financed the first voyage to the St. Lawrence. In the first place, De Monts had lost the last vestige of his influence at court; as a Huguenot he could not expect to have retained it under the stern regency which followed the assassination of Henry IV in 1610. Then a half-dozen makeshift arrangements came in the ensuing years. It was always the same story faithfully repeated in its broad outlines. Some friendly nobleman would obtain from the King appointment as viceroy of New France and at the same time a trading monopoly for a term of years, always promising to send out some settlers in return. The monopoly would then be sublet, and Champlain would be recognized as a sort of viceroy's deputy. And all for a colony in which the white population did not yet number fifty souls!

Despite the small population, however, Champlain's task at Quebec was difficult and exacting. His sponsors in France had no interest in the permanent upbuilding of the colony; they sent out very few settlers, and gave him little in the way of funds. The traders who came to the St. Lawrence each summer were an unruly and boisterous crew who quarreled with the Indians and among themselves. At times, indeed, Champlain was sorely tempted to throw up the undertaking in disgust. But his patience held out until 1627, when the rise of Richelieu in France put the affairs of the colony upon a new and more active basis. For a quarter of a century, France had been letting golden opportunities slip by while the colonies and trade of her rivals were forging ahead. Spain and Portugal were secure in the South. England had gained firm footholds both in Virginia and on Massachusetts Bay. Even Holland had a strong commercial company in the field. This was a situation which no far-sighted Frenchman could endure. Hence Cardinal Richelieu, when he became chief minister of Louis XIII, undertook to see that France should have her share of New World spoils. "No realm is so well situated as France," he declared, "to be mistress of the seas or so rich in all things needful." The cardinal-minister combined fertility in ideas with such a genius for organization that his plans were quickly under way. Unhappily his talent for details, for the efficient handling of little things, was not nearly so great, and some of his arrangements went sadly awry in consequence.

At any rate Richelieu in 1627 prevailed upon the King to abolish the office of viceroy, to cancel all trading privileges, and to permit the organization of a great colonizing company, one that might hope to rival the English and Dutch commercial organizations. This was formed under the name of the Company of New France, or the Company of One Hundred Associates, as it was more commonly called from the fact that its membership was restricted to one hundred shareholders, each of whom contributed three thousand "livres". The cardinal himself, the ministers of state, noblemen, and courtesans of Paris, as well as merchants of the port towns, all figured in the list of stockholders. The subscription lists contained an imposing array of names.

The powers of the new Company, moreover, were as imposing as its personnel. To it was granted a perpetual monopoly of the fur trade and of all other commerce with rights of suzerainty over all the territories of New France and Acadia. It was to govern these lands, levy taxes, establish courts, appoint officials, and even bestow titles of nobility. In return the Company undertook to convey to the colony not less than two hundred settlers per year, and to provide them with subsistence until they could become self-supporting. It was stipulated, however, that no Huguenots or other heretics should be among the immigrants.

The Hundred Associates entered upon this portentous task with promptness and enthusiasm. Early in 1628 a fleet of eighteen vessels freighted with equipment, settlers, and supplies set sail from Dieppe for the St. Lawrence to begin operations. But the time of its arrival was highly inopportune, for France was now at war with England, and it happened that a fleet of English privateers was already seeking prey in the Lower St. Lawrence. These privateers, commanded by Kirke, intercepted the Company's heavily-laden caravels, overpowered them, and carried their prizes off to England. Thus the Company of the One Hundred Associates lost a large part of its capital, and its shareholders received a generous dividend of disappointment in the very first year of its operations.

A more serious blow, however, was yet to come. Flushed with his success in 1628, Kirke came back to the St. Lawrence during the next summer and proceeded to Quebec, where he summoned Champlain and his little settlement to surrender. As the place was on the verge of famine owing to the capture of the supply ships in the previous year, there was no alternative but to comply, and the colony passed for the first time into English hands. Champlain was allowed to sail for England, where he sought the services of the French ambassador and earnestly advised that the King be urged to insist on the restoration of Canada whenever the time for peace should come. Negotiations for peace soon began, but they dragged on tediously until 1632, when the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye gave back New France to its former owners.

With this turn in affairs the Company was able to resume its operations. Champlain, as its representative, once more reached Quebec, where he received a genuine welcome from the few Frenchmen who had remained through the years of Babylonian captivity, and from the bands of neighboring Indians. With his hands again set to the arduous tasks, Champlain was able to make substantial progress during the next two years. For a time the Company gave him funds and equipment besides sending him some excellent colonists. Lands were cleared in the neighborhood of the settlement; buildings were improved and enlarged; trade with the Indians was put upon a better basis. A post was established at Three Rivers, and plans were made for a further extension of French influence to the westward. It was in the midst of these achievements and hopes that Champlain was stricken by paralysis and died on Christmas Day, 1635.

Champlain's portrait, attributed to Moncornet, shows us a sturdy, broad-shouldered frame, with features in keeping. Unhappily we have no assurance that it is a faithful likeness. No one, however, can deny that the mariner of Brouage, with his extraordinary perseverance and energy, was admirably fitted to be the pathfinder to a new realm. Not often does one encounter in the annals of any nation a man of greater tenacity and patience. Chagrin and disappointment he had to meet on many occasions, but he was never baffled nor moved to concede defeat. His perseverance, however, was not greater than his modesty, for never in his writings did he magnify his difficulties nor exalt his own powers of overcoming them, as was too much the fashion of his day. As a writer, his style was plain and direct, with, no attempt at embellishment and no indication that strong emotions ever had much influence upon his pen. He was essentially a man of action, and his narrative is in the main a simple record of such a man's achievements. His character was above reproach; no one ever impugned his honesty or his sincere devotion to the best interests of his superiors. To his Church he was loyal in the last degree; and it was under his auspices that the first of the Jesuit missionaries came to begin the enduring work which the Order was destined to accomplish in New France.

On the death of Champlain the Company appointed the Sieur de Montmagny to be governor of the colony. He was an ardent sympathizer with the aims of the Jesuits, and life at Quebec soon became almost monastic in its austerity. The Jesuits sent home each year their "Relations", and, as these were widely read, they created great interest in the spiritual affairs of the colony. The call for zealots to carry the cross westward into the wilderness met ready response, and it was amid a glow of religious fervor that the settlement at Montreal was brought into being. A company was formed in France, funds were obtained, and a band of forty-four colonists was recruited for the crusade into the wilderness. The Sieur de Maisonneuve, a gallant soldier and a loyal devotee of the Church, was the active leader of the enterprise, with Jeanne Mance, an ardent young religionist of high motives and fine character, as his principal coadjutor. Fortune dealt kindly with the project, and Montreal began its history in 1642.

A few years later Montmagny gave up his post and returned to France. With the limited resources at his disposal, he had served the colony well, and had left it stronger and more prosperous than when he came. His successor was M. D'Ailleboust, who had been for some time in the country, and who was consequently no stranger to its needs. On his appointment a council was created, to consist of the governor of the colony, the bishop or the superior of the Jesuits, and the governor of Montreal. Henceforth this body was to be responsible for the making of all general regulations. It is commonly called the Old Council to distinguish it from the Sovereign Council by which it was supplanted in 1663.

The opening years of the new administration were marked by one of the greatest of forest tragedies, the destruction of the Hurons. In 1648 a party of Iroquois warriors made their way across Lake Ontario and overland to the Huron country, where they destroyed one large village. Emboldened by this success, a much larger body of the tribesmen returned in the year following and completed their bloody work. A dozen or more Huron settlements were attacked and laid waste with wanton slaughter. Two Jesuit priests, Lalemant and Brebeuf, who were laboring among the Hurons, were taken and burned at the stake after suffering atrocious tortures. The remnants of the tribe were scattered: a few found shelter on the islands of the Georgian Bay, while others took refuge with the French and were given a tract of land at Sillery, near Quebec. To the French colony the extirpation of the Hurons came as a severe blow. It weakened their prestige in the west, it cut off a lucrative source of fur supply, and it involved the loss of faithful allies.

More ominous still, the Iroquois by the success of their forays into the Huron country endangered the French settlement at Montreal. Glorying in their prowess, these warriors now boasted that they would leave the Frenchmen no peace but in their graves. And they proceeded to make good their threatenings. Bands of confederates spread themselves about the region near Montreal, pouncing lynx-like from the forest upon any who ventured outside the immediate boundaries of the settlement. For a time the people were in despair, but the colony soon gained a breathing space, not by its own efforts, but from a diversion of Iroquois enmity to other quarters.

About 1652 the confederated tribes undertook their famous expedition against the Eries, whose country lay along the south shore of the lake which bears their name, and this enterprise for the time absorbed the bulk of the Iroquois energy. The next governor of New France, De Lauzon, regarded the moment as opportune for peace negotiations, on the hypothesis that the idea of waging only one war at a time might appeal to the Five Nations as sound policy. A mission was accordingly sent to the Iroquois, headed by the Jesuit missionary Le Moyne, and for a time it seemed as if arrangements for a lasting peace might be made. But there was no sincerity in the Iroquois professions. Their real interest lay in peaceful relations with the Dutch and the English; the French were their logical enemies; and when the Iroquois had finished with the Eries their insolence quickly showed itself once more.

The next few years therefore found the colony again in desperate straits. In its entire population there were not more than five hundred men capable of taking the field, nor were there firearms for all of these. The Iroquois confederacy could muster at least three times that number; they were now obtaining firearms in plenty from the Dutch at Albany; and they could concentrate their whole assault upon the French settlement at Montreal. Had the Iroquois known the barest elements of siege operations, the colony must have come to a speedy and disastrous end. As the outcome proved, however, they were unwise enough to divide their strength and to dissipate their energies in isolated raids, so that Montreal came safely through the gloomy years of 1658 and 1659.

In the latter of these years there arrived from France a man who was destined to play a large part in its affairs during the next few decades, Francois-Xavier de Laval, who now came to take charge of ecclesiastical affairs in New France with the powers of a vicar apostolic. Laval's arrival did not mark the beginning of friction between the Church and the civil officials in the colony; there were such dissensions already. But the doughty churchman's claims and the governor's policy of resisting them soon brought things to an open breach, particularly upon the question of permitting the sale of liquor to the Indians. In 1662 the quarrel became bitter. Laval hastened home to France where he placed before the authorities the list of ecclesiastical grievances. The governor, a bluff old soldier, was thereupon summoned to Paris to present his side of the whole affair. In the end a decision was reached to reorganize the whole system of civil and commercial administration in the colony. Thus, as we shall soon see, the power passed away altogether from the Company of One Hundred Associates.

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