Jacques Cartier


Jacques Cartier, a French navigator and the discoverer of the river St. Lawrence, was born in 1491, and was sent on two exploratory expeditions to North America by King Francis I. In his first voyage, he discovered the mouth of the river St. Lawrence, and in his second, he penetrated up the river as far as where Montreal now stands. Despite his efforts, however, he was neither able to accomplish his mission of discovering a western route to Asia nor equipped enough to establish a permanent French settlement in Canada.

In 1534, when King Francis I commissioned Cartier to find a western passage to China and the Asian spice markets. Cartier set out but halted his mission when he came to present-day Canada, believing China to be nearby. Here he encountered the Iroquois Indians, and, kidnapping the native captain’s two children, returned to France with the boys and a promise to return with riches to trade. When he did revisit several months later, he brought with him three large ships carrying 110 men and sailed upriver on the St. Lawrence River as far as Montreal, still convinced that China lay just ahead. Unfortunately, Cartier and his crew were forced to stay the winter in the Canadian city and many passed away, whether from the cold or from scurvy. In the spring, before departing for France once more, he was told tales of a northern city filled with gold and rubies—the “Kingdom of Saguenay”—and he was convinced that he might return to seize this treasure.

On his third voyage, Cartier acted as chief navigator under a friend of the king. A fortified settlement, named Charlesbourg-Royal, was built in Montreal near the river he had explored earlier. The men immediately began collecting what they believed to be diamonds and other rare minerals but which were later revealed to be quartz and iron pyrites, with no monetary value. Cartier tried and failed to find the fabled Kingdom of Saguenay, and upon his return to the settlement he found that the Iroquois had grown hostile toward the French. Aware that he lacked the manpower to either protect the settlers or go in search of the city of gold, he returned to France under the cover of darkness and spent the remainder of his life in his hometown as a translator before passing away in 1557.

Key events during the life of Jacques Cartier:

Born on the eastern coast of Brittany
Cartier was believed to have accompanied Giovanni de Verrazano in exploring the American coast from South Carolina to Nova Scotia
Commissioned by king to find a western passage to Asian spice markets, sailed to Canada but then returned
Went on a second voyage to modern-day Montreal, beleiving China to be nearby
Set out on third voyage, this time to search for a fabled city of riches and to create a permanent French settlement
Returned to France
Died from an epidemic

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Early European Intercourse with the Indians  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis S. Drake
The French in Canada  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  H. A. Guerber
Early Dicoverers  in  Canada: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
Founding of Quebec  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge
Jacques Cartier Explores Canada  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Jacques Cartier
 in Indian History for Young Folks

Jacques Cartier erects a cross
 in Indian History for Young Folks

Jacques Cartier's arrival in the St. Lawrence
 in Canada: Peeps at History

Jacques Cartier (1491-1557), Discoverer of the St. Lawrence
 in Canada: Peeps at History

Jacques Cartier
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Jacques Cartier
 in A Book of Discovery

Short Biography
Francis I of France King of France who was a patron of the arts, and was involved in the Italian Wars.