American History and Genealogy Project


Along the Maine Coast with Champlain

It was right away after Poutrincourt's return to France that Champlain started ont on an enterprise of his own. He had long cherished an ambition to search ont the fabled city of Norumbega, which, he reckoned, could not be many leagues from St. Croix, and find out for himself how much truth there was in the glowing reports of David Ingram.

I may as well tell you now that in this Champlain was disappointed. He confessed that there are none of the marvels which some persons have described, "although he visited the precise location of Pentagoet. He recorded with some disgust, "I will say that since our entry where we were, which is about twenty-four leagues, we saw not a single town nor village nor the appearance of one having been there, but only one or two huts of the savages where there was nobody. "

Samuel Champlain
Samuel Champlain

Marc Lescarbot, also, wrote in his usual blithe style: "If this beautiful town ever existed in Nature, I would like to know who pulled it down, for there is nothing but huts here made of pickets and covered with the bark of trees or with skins."

It was the second or third day of September that Champlain set out with, some historians say, twelve, and some say seventeen men of the colony and two Indians as guides, in his "patache." This big, open boat, fitted with a lateen sail and oars, is pictured in Champlain's drawing of the St. Croix settlement.

The second day out they passed an island some four or five leagues long. "The island is high and notched in places so that from the sea it gives the appearance of a range of seven or eight mountains. The summits are all bare and rocky. The slopes are covered with pines, firs and birches. I named it Les Isles des Monts Deserts," Champlain wrote. And this is the first account of the naming of Mount Desert Island, on which is Bar Harbor, the now famous summer resort.
"On the third day the savages came alongside and talked with our savages. I ordered biscuit, tobacco and other trifles to be given to them. We made an alliance with them and they agreed to guide us to their river of Peimtgouet, so called of them, where they told us was their captain, named Bessabez, chief of that place."

The river was the Penobscot we know so well, and the stopping place, where the council with the Indians was held, was the present site of Bangor.

Champlain, continuing on his voyage of discovery, sailed down the river, passed out by Owl's Head and westward to the Kennebec, which he called Qinnibequy. He arrived at St. Croix, having been away just a month. They did not reach the settlement any too soon. Snow fell that year as early as the 6th of October, and by Christmas, as you have already seen, winter had set in with unusual severity.

Champlains Sketch
Champlain's Sketch of St. Croix Settlement

''Hoary snow-father being come," as the poetical Lescarbot expresses it, ''they were forced to keep much within the doors of their dwellings."

When the north winds swept down the river and whistled through the rows of cedars, the sole protection of the island against the wintry blasts, the poor Frenchmen did not venture out-doors, but shivered around their fires and Champlain remarked that "the air that came in through the cracks was colder than that outside.'' There were no cellars under the houses so vegetables and every liquid froze. Champlain mentions dealing out the frozen cider by the pound.
Their fare, too, was scanty. They ground their grain, as they needed it, in a hand mill, a tiresome process. They had salt meat only. This soon began to affect the health of the men. Scurvy broke out. The colony physicians had all they could do, but it is not likely that they had the proper medicines, and out of the seventy-nine men, thirty-five died before spring and others were bloated and disfigured.

It was not until the fifteenth of June, as the guard went his rounds a little before midnight that Pont-Grave, so long and anxiously awaited, came in a shallop, with the news that his ship was but six leagues away, lying safely at anchor. There was great rejoicing at the settlement and little sleep for anyone for the rest of the night.

Two days after the arrival of Pont-Grave's ship, Champlain set out on a second voyage down the coast. With him were M. Simon and several other gentlemen and twenty sailors to man the boat, also the Indian, Panounais and his squaw, as guides.

It was an eventful voyage and Champlain writes fully and entertainingly about it.
Near Prout's Neck more than eighty of the savages ran down to the shore to meet the strangers, "dancing and yelping to show their joy.''

The Indians believed there was some magic about Champlain and his companions, who, they said, "must have dropped from the clouds." When Champlain was invited to a feast of the Indians, he was told by his Indian guide that he must not refuse. So he took his place among them, "squatted on the skins spread for the guests of honor, around large kettles of fish, bear's meat, pease and wild plums, mixed with the raisins and biscuits they had procured in trade with the white men, the whole well boiled together and well stirred with a canoe paddle."

When Champlain showed great hesitancy in eating the portion set before him, we are informed in the chronicles that his hosts tried to tempt his appetite with a large lump of bear's fat, a supreme luxury in their estimation, whereupon he took a hasty leave, stopping only to exclaim, "Ho, ho, ho," which his guide informed him was the proper way of saying "please excuse me," to an Indian host.

On July twelfth, Champlain and his party left the Front's Neck vicinity and steered their course ''like some adventurous party of pleasure," we are told, by the beaches of York and Wells, Portsmouth Harbor, Isles of Shoals, Rye Beach and Hampton Beach, and into Massachusetts Bay, which they explored at their leisure. Champlain was the most troubled by the mosquitoes, which ''pestered him beyond endurance," to use his own words.

DeMonts found no place on the Massachusetts coast more suitable for his colony than St. Croix and by July 29 they were back at the mouth of the Kennebec, where they had an interview with the Indian chieftain, who gave them news of another European ship on the coast. From their description it must have been the Archangel, commanded by George Weymouth, who was navigating the New England coast at that time. It is the only reference made to Weymouth in any of Champlain's writings.

Provisions were getting low, so they steered once more for St. Croix. Aside from the killing of the sailor by the Indians, but one other tragedy marked the year of 1605. It was the killing, by the Penobscot Indians, of their faithful guide, Panounais. The body of the dead Indian was brought from Norumbega to his friends in St. Croix, where an imposing funeral was held. You may like to read Champlain's description of the savage ceremony. He writes:

"As soon as the body was brought on shore, his relatives and friends began to shout by his side, having painted their faces black, which is their mode of mourning. After lamenting much, they took a quantity of tobacco and two or three other things belonging to the deceased and burned them some thousand paces from our settlement. Their cries continued until they returned to their cabin. The next day they took the body of the deceased and wrapped it in a red covering, which Mambretou, chief of the place, urgently implored me to give, since it was handsome and large. He gave it to the relatives of the deceased, who thanked me very much for it.

"And thus, wrapping up the body, they decorated it with several kinds of malachiats; that is, strings of beads and bracelets of divers colors. They painted the face and put on the head many feathers and other things, the finest they had, then they placed the body on its knees, between two sticks, with another under the arms to sustain it. Around the body were the mother, wife and other of the relatives of the deceased, both women and girls, howling like wolves.

"While the women and girls were shrieking, the savage named Mambretou made a speech to his companions on the death of the deceased, urging all to take vengeance for the wickedness and treachery committed by the subjects of the Bessabez, and to make war on them as speedily as possible. After this the body was carried to another cabin and after smoking tobacco together, they wrapped it in an elk skin likewise and binding it very securely, they kept it for a larger gathering of savages, so a larger number of presents would be given to the widow and children."

Soon after this, DeMonts and Champlain moved the whole settlement to Port Royal. DeMonts soon sailed for France. The indomitable Champlain volunteered to brave another winter in the wilds and we are glad to read in his journal that "We spent the winter very pleasantly."

And now that you have followed Champlain's adventures along the Maine coast, you may want to trace them further, among the Indians of Vermont, New York and the Great Lakes region, and to learn how he became the father of Canada; how his blithe courage planted the fleur-de-lis on the rock of Quebec. There, on Christmas day of 1635, just thirty-one years after his Christmas celebration in Maine, he died, striving to the last for the welfare of his colony, "for the glory of France and the church."

As for St. Croix, which he first helped to settle, it was never after deserted for long at a time. It remained the most southern foothold of the French until the cession of Canada to the English in 1763.

Emmie Bailey Whitney.


Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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