Who was the first explorer from France to reach North America?
Jacques Cartier was a state-funded Frenchman who is credited with exploring Canada and claiming it for France. He was born December 31, 1491, in Saint-Malo, France. He died September 1, 1557, after having returned to Saint-Malo.
He had already made several voyages to the Americas, mostly to explore Brazil, when in 1534 King Francis I of France contracted with him to explore the northern part of the Americas.
On April 20, 1534, he set sail for a three-week voyage to what is now Canada. His first voyage consisted of two vessels and 31 crewmen. He made it to Newfoundland, a large island off the east coast of Canada. From there he entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and discovered Prince Edward Island and Anticosti Island. He returned to France to report to King Francis I his findings.
The king decided to send Cartier on a second voyage, the following year.
The second voyage was in May of 1535. It consisted of three ships and 110 crewmen. Cartier also brought along two Indians he had captured on his initial journey. They were to serve as guides. Upon returning to North America, the fleet navigated down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec. The men set up a base there and remained until September. At that time, the explorers set out along the river again. They made it as far as modern-day Montreal when the cruelty of the weather forced them to stop and stay until spring of 1536. During that time, they encountered the Iroquois Indians who ruled that area. They also learned of other rivers toward the west that led to places where precious metals and spices could be found. After the spring thaw, Cartier took several Iroquois chiefs hostage and returned to France. There, he told the king the tales of the 2000 mile long river that lead to a land of riches. This impressed King Francis I into planning a third voyage. His hopes were that this new river would prove to be a passageway to Asia.
In May of 1541, Cartier set out for his third, and final, voyage. The idea of sailing down the St. Lawrence to the Orient had been abandoned. He was now instructed to set up a base camp, near Quebec, for ships full of colonists who would follow along in a few months. While waiting for the arrival of the colonist’s ships, he set up camp and began to explore the area. He found gold and diamonds, which he gathered for his impending return to France. He grew weary of waiting for the colonist and commandeered a ship to return home. On the way, he stopped at Newfoundland. There he found the colonist. He explained that they had not yet made it to the base camp. They decided to stay and set up camp where they were. He explained that he was returning to France. Once the harshness of winter set in, the colonist also made the decision to return to their motherland.
Upon returning to France, it was determined that Cartier’s treasures were actually worthless. Then the colonist returned and described the harsh, cold weather. The new world had lost its appeal to King Francis I, and he decided not to fund any more expeditions for a while.