Jacques Cartier
French navigator

~1491 - 1557

Jacques Cartier was a French navigator whose explorations established the basis for France's claims to territory in what is now Canada. In 1535, he led the first European expedition up the St. Lawrence River.

Born in the seaport of St.-Malo he studied navigation in Dieppe, a French center for navigators. He may have sailed to Newfoundland with a fishing fleet in the early 1500's. Some historians believe he was with the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano on French expeditions to the New World during the 1520's.

In 1534, King Francis I of France sent Cartier to North America to search for gold and other precious metals. Leaving St.-Malo in April with two ships the expedition sailed into what is now the Gulf of St. Lawrence and landed on the Gaspe Peninsula, which Cartier claimed for France.

Cartier met a group of Iroquois Indians, who told him that precious jewels and metals could be found farther northwest. The French gave gifts to the Indians and established friendly relations with them. Their chief let two of his sons sail to France with Cartier in August. Cartier's men brought a supply of corn that may have been the first corn ever seen in northern Europe.

In May 1535, the king sent Cartier on a second expedition to Canada. The two Indian boys returned home on this voyage. On August 10, Cartier reached the northern coast of the Gaspe Peninsula and entered a nearby bay. He named the bay for Saint Lawrence because the expedition had arrived there on the saint's feast day. Cartier then saw the mouth of the great river that also became known for Saint Lawrence. Cartier sailed up the river to the foot of a mountain, which he named Mont Real (Mount Royal). It became the site of the city of Montreal. Cartier sailed back to what is now Quebec City for the winter. The expedition returned to France the next summer.

Attempts at colonization. In 1541, the king organized an expedition to establish a permanent settlement in Canada. He appointed a nobleman named Jean-Francois de La Rocque, Sieur de Roberval, in command over Cartier. However, Cartier sailed in May before Roberval had completed plans for his own voyage.

Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence River to what is now Cap Rouge, near Quebec City. Some of his men remained there and built a settlement. Cartier and the others continued to search for gold. They sailed to Mont Real and traveled farther west on foot but found no precious metals. He then returned to the settlement.

During the winter, the Iroquois became hostile and killed several Frenchmen. Roberval had not arrived by spring, and Cartier decided to sail back to France.

On his return voyage, Cartier met Roberval in Newfoundland. Roberval ordered Cartier to remain in Canada, but Cartier refused and warned the nobleman about the Indians. Cartier then returned to France. He was pardoned for disobeying Roberval and lived the rest of his life in and around St.-Malo.

Additional resources

Cartier, Jacques. The Voyages of Jacques Cartier. Ed. by Henry Percival. Univ. of Toronto Pr., 1993.

Humble, Richard. The Voyages of Jacques Cartier. Watts, 1993. Younger readers.

SOURCE: 1999 IBM World Book

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