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Renewed Efforts and Progress

When Talon arrived at Quebec, New France had again just escaped an Indian war. A party of Iroquois hunting near the country of the Outaouais met two men of their nation who had been prisoners of the Outaouais and had succeeded in escaping. These informed their fellow-tribesmen that the Outaouais village was undefended, almost every warrior being absent. The Iroquois then attacked the village, destroyed it, and brought with them as prisoners about one hundred women and children. The Outaouais warriors, when apprised of the raid, started in pursuit, but did not succeed in overtaking the raiders. However, receiving a reinforcement of another party of allied Indians, they invaded the Seneca' territory. These hostilities aroused the temper of the Iroquois, and a general Indian war threatened, into which the French would unavoidably be drawn. At that moment Garakonthie, the Iroquois chief who had always been friendly to the French, advised the Five Nations to send an embassy to the governor of Canada asking him to compose these differences. The Five Nations agreed, and Iroquois and Outaouais delegates, many hundreds in number, came to Quebec. A great council was held lasting three days, and Courcelle succeeded in bringing about an understanding between the rival tribes. After the meetings Garakonthie asked to be baptized, and Laval himself performed the ceremony.

It was but a few days after these events that Talon arrived, and, notwithstanding the improvement in the situation, he does not seem to have deemed peace perfectly secure, for he wrote to the king that it would be advisable to send two hundred more soldiers. He added that the Iroquois caused great injury to the trade of the colony by hunting the beaver in the territories of the tribes allied with the French, and selling the skins to Dutch and English traders. In another letter Talon set forth that these traders drew from the Iroquois 1,000,000 livres' worth of the best beaver, and he suggested the construction of a small ship of the galley type to cruise on Lake Ontario, and that two posts manned by one hundred picked soldiers should be established, one on the north, the other on the south shore of that lake. These measures would ensure safe communication between the colony and the Outaouais country, keep the Iroquois aloof, and favor the opening of new roads to the south. It was a broad and bold scheme. But could it be executed over the head of M. de Courcelle? Talon had foreseen this objection and had begged that the governor should be instructed to give support and assistance. But once more the intendant was going beyond his authority. Such an undertaking was clearly within the governor's province. Talon was told that he should lay his scheme before M. de Courcelle, so that the governor might attend to its execution.

This incident sheds light upon the relations that existed between Courcelle and Talon. The former was valiant, energetic, and intelligent; but he felt that he was outshone by the latter's promptness, celerity in design, superior activity, wider and keener penetration, and he could not conceal his displeasure.

After the great councils held at Quebec, the Seneca again assumed a somewhat disquieting attitude. The governor, they said, had been too hard on them. He had threatened to chastise them in their own country if they did not bring back their prisoners. Perhaps his arm was not long enough to strike so far. Evidently they had forgotten the expedition against the Mohawks five years ago. They were convinced that distance and natural impediments, such as rapids and torrents, protected them from invasion in their remote country south of Lake Ontario. Courcelle resolved to shake their confidence. Early in the spring he went to Montreal and ordered the construction of a flat-boat. In this he set out from Lachine (June 3, 1671) with Perrot, governor of Montreal, Captain de Laubia, Varennes, Le Moyne, La Valliere, Normanville, Abbe Dollier de Casson, and about fifty good men. Thirteen canoes accompanied the flat-boat. After considerable exertion, the governor and his party passed the rapids and continued up the St Lawrence; nine days later they entered Lake Ontario, to the amazement of a party of Iroquois whom they met there. The governor gave these Indians a message for the Seneca and the other nations, stating that he wished to keep the peace, but that, if necessary, he could come and devastate their country. The demonstration had the desired effect and there was no further talk of war.

It will be inferred from Talon's proposals and schemes already mentioned that his thoughts were now occupied with the external affairs of the colony. This indeed was to be the characteristic feature of his second administration. When in Canada before he had concentrated his attention chiefly upon judicial and political organization, and had directed his efforts to promote colonization, agriculture, industry, and trade--in a word, the internal economy of New France. But now, without neglecting any part of his duty, he seemed desirous of widening his sphere of action by the extension of French influence to the north, south, and west. On October 10, 1670, he wrote to the king: 'Since my arrival, I have sent resolute men to explore farther than has ever been done in Canada, some to the west and north-west, others to the south-west and south. They will all on their return write accounts of their expeditions and frame their reports according to the instructions I have given them. Everywhere they will take possession of the country, erect posts bearing the king's arms, and draw up memoranda of these proceedings to serve as title-deeds.'

Of these explorers one of the most noted was Cavelier de la Salle. He had been born in 1643. After pursuing his studies in a Jesuit college he came to Canada in 1666 and obtained from the Sulpicians a grant of land near Montreal, named by him Saint-Sulpice, but ultimately known under the name of Lachine. In 1669 Courcelle gave him letters patent for an exploring journey towards the Ohio and the Meschacebe, or Mississippi. By way of these rivers he hoped to reach the Vermilion Sea, or Gulf of California, and thus open a new road to China via the Pacific ocean. At the same time the Abbes Dollier and de Galinee, Sulpicians, had prepared for a remote mission to the Outaouais. It was thought advisable to combine the two expeditions. Thus it happened that La Salle and the Sulpicians left Montreal in 1669 and journeyed together as far as the western end of Lake Ontario. There they parted. The Sulpicians wintered on the shores of Lake Erie, and next spring passed the strait between Lakes Erie and Huron, reached the Sault Sainte-Marie, and then returned to Montreal by French river, Lake Nipissing, and the Ottawa river. Their journey lasted from July 4, 1669, to June 18, 1670. In the meantime La Salle had reached the Ohio and had followed it to the falls at Louisville. He also returned in the summer of 1670. The itinerary of his next expedition, undertaken in the same year, is not very well known. According to an account of doubtful authority, he went through Lakes Erie and Huron, entered Lake Michigan, reached the Illinois river, and even the Mississippi. But a careful study of contemporaneous documents and evidence leads to the conclusion that the Mississippi must be omitted from this itinerary. In our opinion La Salle did not reach that river in 1671, as has been asserted; he probably went as far as the Illinois country.

Another of Talon's resolute explorers was Simon Francois Daumont de Saint-Lusson. Accompanied by Nicolas Perrot, the well-known interpreter, he left Quebec in September 1670, and wintered with an Outaouais tribe near Lake Superior. Perrot sent word to the neighboring nations that they should meet next spring at Sault Sainte-Marie a delegate of the great French Ononthio. [Footnote: This was the name given by the Indians to the king of France; the governor was called by them Ononthio, which means 'great mountain,' because that was the translation of Montmagny--mons magnus in Latin--the name of Champlain's first successor. From M. de Montmagny the name had passed to the other governors, and the king had become the 'great Ononthio.'] On June 14 representatives of fourteen nations were gathered at the Sault. The Jesuit fathers Dablon, Dreuillettes, Allouez, and Andre were present. A great council was held on a height. Saint-Lusson had a cross erected with a post bearing the king's arms. The Vexilla Regis and the Exaudiat were sung. The intendant's delegates took possession of the country in the name of their monarch. There was firing of guns and shouts of 'Vive le roi!' Then Father Allouez and Saint-Lusson made speeches suitable to the occasion and the audience. At night the blaze of an immense bonfire illuminated with its fitful light the dark trees and foaming rapids. The singing of the Te Deum crowned that memorable day.

The intendant was pleased with the result of Saint-Lusson's expedition. He wrote to the king: 'There is every reason to believe that from the point reached by this explorer to the Vermilion Sea is a distance of not more than three hundred leagues. The Western Sea [the Pacific ocean] does not seem more distant. According to calculation based on the Indians' reports and on the charts, there should not be more than fifteen hundred leagues of navigation to reach Tartary, China, and Japan.'

Talon showed his high appreciation of Saint-Lusson's services by immediately giving him another mission--this time to Acadia, for the purpose of finding and reporting as to the best road to that colony. In 1670 Grandfontaine had taken possession of Acadia, which had been restored to France by the treaty of Breda. He had received from Sir Richard Walker the keys of Fort Pentagouet, at the mouth of the Penobscot river, and had sent Joybert de Soulanges to hoist the French flag over Jemsek and Port Royal. It was therefore incumbent on the intendant to see to the opening of a road between Quebec and Pentagouet. His letters and those of Colbert written in 1671 are full of this project. A fund of thirty thousand livres was appropriated for the purpose. The intendant's plan was to erect about twenty houses well provided with stores along the proposed route at intervals of sixty leagues. He also had in mind the establishment of settlements along the rivers Penobscot and Kennebec, to form a barrier between New France and New England. With the object of establishing trade relations between Canada and Acadia, he sent to the French Bay (Bay of Fundy) a barge loaded with clothes and supplies, and was extremely pleased to receive in return a cargo of six thousand pounds of salt meat. In 1671, for Colbert's information, he drew up a census of Acadia.1 But, as we shall see, the great intendant was not to remain in Canada long enough to bring his Acadian undertaking to full fruition.

Let us follow him in another direction. He had tried to extend the sphere of French influence towards the west and south, and was doing his best to strengthen Canada on the New England border by promoting the development of Acadia. His next attempt was to bring the northern tribes into the French alliance and to open to the colony the trade of the wide area extending from Lake St John to Lake Mistassini and thence to Hudson Bay. For an expedition to Hudson Bay he chose Father Albanel, a Jesuit, and M. de Saint-Simon. They left Quebec for Tadoussac in August 1671, and ascended the Saguenay to Lake St John where they wintered. In June 1672 they continued their journey, reaching Lake Mistassini on the 18th of the same month and James Bay on the 28th. After formally taking possession of the country in the name of France, they returned by the same route to Quebec, where on July 23 they laid their report before the intendant.

One of the last but not the least of the explorations made under Talon's auspices was that which he entrusted to Louis Jolliet, and which resulted in the discovery of the upper Mississippi. Jolliet left Montreal in the autumn of 1672 and wintered at Michilimackinac, where he joined Father Marquette. Next spring they set out together, and by way of Lake Michigan, Green Bay, Fox river, and the Wisconsin they reached the giant river, the mighty Mississippi, which they followed down as far as latitude 33 degrees. Thus was discovered the highway through the interior of the continent to the Gulf of Mexico. One result of the discovery was the birth of Louisiana a few years later.

Talon's patriotic enthusiasm was justified when he wrote to Louis XIV: 'I am no courtier and it is not to please the king or without reason that I say this portion of the French monarchy is going to become something great. What I see now enables me to make such a prediction. The foreign colonies established on the adjoining shores of the ocean are already uneasy at what His Majesty has done here during the last seven years.' This confidence was probably not shared by the king and his minister, for, in a letter to Frontenac some time later, Colbert remonstrated against long journeys to the upper St Lawrence and outlying settlements, and expressed his disapproval of discoveries far away in the interior of the continent where the French could never settle or remain. Undoubtedly it was wise to advise concentration, and Talon himself would not have differed on that score from the minister. He was too sagacious not to see that Canada with a small population should abstain from remote establishments. His policy of exploration and discovery did not aim at the immediate foundation of new colonies, but was only directed towards increasing the prestige of the French name, developing trade, and thus preparing the way for the future greatness of Canada. It was a far-sighted policy, not seeking impossible achievements for to-day, but gaining a foot-hold for those of to-morrow. That the political fabric of France in America was doomed to fall in no way dims the fame of the great intendant. Under his powerful direction New France, through her missionaries, explorers, and traders, stamped her mark over three-quarters of the territory then known as North America. Her moral, political, and commercial influence was felt beyond her boundaries--west, north, and south. She had hoisted the cross and the fleurs-de-lis from the sunny banks of the Arkansas to the icy shores of Hudson Bay, and from the surges of the Atlantic to the remotest limits of the Great Lakes. Her unceasing activity and daring enterprise, supplementing inferior numbers and wealth, gave her an undisputed superiority over the industrious English colonies confined to their narrow strip between the Alleghanies and the sea; and her name inspired awe and respect in a hundred Indian tribes.

What was Courcelle's attitude towards the extraordinary activity displayed by Talon? Evidently the intendant often acted the part of the governor; and the real governor, out-shone, could not conceal his ill-humor, and tried to assert his authority. There were several clashes between the two high officials. The governor frequently lost his temper, while Talon complained of Courcelle's jealousy and harshness. It must be admitted that the great intendant, in his fervid zeal for the public good and his passion for action, was not always careful or tactful in his behavior to the governor.


1 The figures were--Port Royal, 359; Poboncoup, 11; Cap Negre, 3; Pentagouet, 6 and 25 soldiers; Mouskadabouet, 13; Saint-Pierre, 7. Total 399, or, including the soldiers, 424. There were 429 cultivated acres, 866 head of cattle, 407 sheep and 36 goats.]


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Chronicles of Canada, The Great Intendant, A Chronicle of Jean Talon in Canada 1665-1672, 1915

 

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