Page images
PDF
EPUB

The gal

of Virginia were equally unfortunate. lant Raleigh barely effected a landing for his colony, on the shores of North Carolina; even the indefatigable William Penn, several years after the settlement of Pennsylvania, speaks of the Delaware as a “glorious river;" but is wholly unacquainted with its extent and character. The unsuccessful attempts of British travelers, stimulated by the highest rewards of ambition and avarice, to penetrate the continent of Africa, are well known. The Spaniards penetrated South America, only by force of arms. We read, therefore, with a surprise bordering on incredulity, of the adventurous voyages of the French. Small parties, and even single individuals, explored the shores of the St. Lawrence, and its mighty chain of tributary lakes, inhabited by the most savage of the Indian tribes. While the whole American continent was yet a wilderness, and it was an unsettled point among christian nations, to whom the honor of its conquest should belong, the French priests ascended the Mississippi, from its mouth to the Falls of St. Anthony, a distance of three thousand miles, and explored the Arkansas, the Ohio, the Wabash, the Illinois, and other large tributaries. Not only did they pass with impunity, but were received with hospitality, and entertained with marks of distinguished respect; the fat hump of the buffalo was dressed for them; and

h troops of beautiful Indian girls stood around them, waving the golden plumes of the paroquet over their heads, to keep the uncivilized musquitoes from biting them as they slept.

It is difficult, at this day, to determine to whom

cross.

[ocr errors]

should be awarded the honor of having discovered this country. That the materials for an accurate history of its first exploration and settlement, are in existence, we are well aware; and there is reason to believe, that, in addition to what is already known, there is a vast deal of documentary evidence remaining unpublished, or inaccessible to the English reader. The missionaries, who were always men of some literary acquirement, and often possessed considerable learning, accompanied the first French explorers. So far as their characters can now be ascertained, they seem to have been amiable and zealous men, earnestly bent on spreading the doctrines of the

Unlike the Spanish priests, who were avaricious and blood-thirsty, and who were always foremost in subjugating or destroying the Indians, we find them invariably conciliating the natives, and endeavoring to allure them to the arts of peace. The only departure from this policy, on their part, is found in the practice, which they doubtless sanctioned, and which was pursued by both French and English, of arming the savages in the colonial wars.

The French missionaries, therefore, wrote with less prejudice than most of the early adventurers to America; and their accounts of the country are the result of accurate personal observation. They had fewer insults to resent than others; and their statements are more candid, because, in general, they were intended only for the perusal of their superiors. True, their writings are imbued with exaggerations. Ardent in their temperament, and deeply tinctured with the superstition which at that time pervaded Christendom, they hastily adopted the marvelous tales of the natives, and have transmitted some curious fictions to posterity. But all history is liable to the same objection; and the writings of the persons to whom we allude, being now the only records of the early settlement of our country, are as valuable as they are interesting. Some of them have been published, but, doubtless, there yet remain in the public depositories of France, and in the monastic institutions of this country, a mass of reports and letters, in manuscript, which might shed additional light on this portion of our national history. For the present, we must content curselves with the few but precious morsels of this ancient lore, which have been rescued from oblivion. But we hope that the day is not far distant, when those who rule our nation, instead of spending month after month, and million after million, in the discussion of worse than useless questions, tending only to the gratification of personal ambition, will consult the true honor of the country, by expending a portion of its treasure in the development of its history and moral resources. Whenever that time shall arrive, we hope to see an effort made for the recovery of these invaluable memorials of a past age. There is one distinguished individual in the national cabinet, whose pen has been successfully employed on these subjects, to whose researches into Indian and French colonial history, the national literature is largely indebted, and from whose influence, should it be equal to his zeal and merits, we may expect much.

We shall not trace the adventurous footsteps of

a

[ocr errors]

Jacques Cartier, the first European explorer of Lower Canada, who ascended the St. Lawrence to the island of Montreal, in the year 1535, nearly three centuries ago. Nor shall we attempt to follow the heroic Champlain, who planted and sustained, on the shores of the St. Lawrence, the infant colony which was destined to people that extensive region. But a few years elapsed, after the French had gained a foothold upon the continent, before we find them pushing their discoveries towards the most remote tributaries of the St. Lawrence. The Indian birch canoe, which they adopted, and in the management of which they soon acquired unrivalled skill, afforded remarkable facilities for these long and painful journies; for these little vessels combine so remarkably the properties of strength and lightness, that while they are capable of transporting heavy burthens, and of making long and dangerous voyages, they can, when unladen, be carried with ease upon the shoulders of men. They are propelled by oars, through the water, with astonishing swiftness, and when the stream is impeded by any impassable obstacle, they are unloaded, carried over land to the nearest navigable point, and again launched in their element. The principal trade of Canada was carried on in these frail boats for two centuries; and it is interesting to observe, in an invention so simple, and so apparently insignificant, an illustration of the important aid which may be afforded by the mechanical arts, to political and moral power. The birch canoe was to the French, not only what the steamboat is to us, enabling them to navigate the lakes and rivers of Canada, and to ascend the Mississippi, and all its tributaries, but it also afforded the means of surmounting the most dangerous rapids; of passing from river to river; of penetrating into the bosom of trackless forests; and of striking into the recesses of inhospitable mountains. It was this simple boat which afforded to the French the means of traversing tủis vast region, securing its trade, cultivating the friendship of its inhabitants, and gaining a power, which, if ably wielded, must have permanently subjected the whole of this country to their language, their customs, their religion, and, perhaps, to their dominion.

In the year 1632, seven years only after Quebec was founded, the missionaries had penetrated as far west as Lake Huron. The Wyandots and Iroquois were at that time engaged in an exterminating war, and the priests, following their converts through good and evil fortune, and tenaciously adhering to the altars which they had reared by perilous exertion in the wilderness, shared all the privations and dangers which usually attend these border feuds.

In their intercourse with the Indians on the shores of the northern lakes, the French became informed of the existence of a river flowing to the south, and desired to ascertain its character. Father Marquette, a priest, and Joliet, an inhabitant of Quebec, were employed to prosecute this discovery; and having ascended Fox river, crossed the portage, and descended the Ouisconsin, entered the Mississippi on the 17th June, 1673. They pursued the meanders of the river to its confluence with the Arkansas, and on

a

« PreviousContinue »