Champlain's Dream

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Overview

In this sweeping, enthralling biography, acclaimed historian David Hackett Fischer brings to life the remarkable Samuel de Champlain ? soldier, spy, master mariner, explorer, cartographer, artist, and Father of New France.

Born on France's Atlantic coast, Champlain grew to manhood in a country riven by religious warfare. The historical record is unclear on whether Champlain was baptized Protestant or Catholic, but he fought in France's religious wars for the man who would become...

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Overview

In this sweeping, enthralling biography, acclaimed historian David Hackett Fischer brings to life the remarkable Samuel de Champlain — soldier, spy, master mariner, explorer, cartographer, artist, and Father of New France.

Born on France's Atlantic coast, Champlain grew to manhood in a country riven by religious warfare. The historical record is unclear on whether Champlain was baptized Protestant or Catholic, but he fought in France's religious wars for the man who would become Henri IV, one of France's greatest kings, and like Henri, he was religiously tolerant in an age of murderous sectarianism. Champlain was also a brilliant navigator. He went to sea as a boy and over time acquired the skills that allowed him to make twenty-seven Atlantic crossings without losing a ship.

But we remember Champlain mainly as a great explorer. On foot and by ship and canoe, he traveled through what are now six Canadian provinces and five American states. Over more than thirty years he founded, colonized, and administered French settlements in North America. Sailing frequently between France and Canada, he maneuvered through court intrigue in Paris and negotiated among more than a dozen Indian nations in North America to establish New France. Champlain had early support from Henri IV and later Louis XIII, but the Queen Regent Marie de Medici and Cardinal Richelieu opposed his efforts. Despite much resistance and many defeats, Champlain, by his astonishing dedication and stamina, finally established France's New World colony. He tried constantly to maintain peace among Indian nations that were sometimes at war with one another, but when he had to, he took up arms and forcefully imposed a new balance of power, proving himself a formidable strategist and warrior.

Throughout his three decades in North America, Champlain remained committed to a remarkable vision, a Grand Design for France's colony. He encouraged intermarriage among the French colonists and the natives, and he insisted on tolerance for Protestants. He was a visionary leader, especially when compared to his English and Spanish contemporaries — a man who dreamed of humanity and peace in a world of cruelty and violence.

This superb biography, the first in decades, is as dramatic and exciting as the life it portrays. Deeply researched, it is illustrated throughout with many contemporary images and maps, including several drawn by Champlain himself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Champlain's Dream is a comprehensive, exhaustively researched, yet always lively biography. Besides narrating a life it also, as its title suggests, tells the story of Champlain's vision for North America, which, Fischer maintains, was one of tolerance and humanity and remains worthy of admiration today." — Boston Globe

"To the 'father of New France' [David Hackett] Fischer applies his signature blend of social history and classic narrative." — The Wall Street Journal

"A lucid portrait of a man given too little attention in standard American textbooks. Fischer's work should make it impossible to ignore Champlain's contributions henceforth." — Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

"The definitive biography of Samuel de Champlain...Fischer once again displays a staggering and wide research...[an] epic story [and] outstanding work." — Publishers Weekly (Starred)

"Narrating Champlain's activities in North America is where Fischer excels, both in his chronicle of events and his analysis of Champlain's leadership, political and commercial backing, and diplomacy with the native peoples. Fischer's comprehensive, incisive portrayal will enthrall the Age of Discovery audience." — Booklist (Starred)

Max Boot
Is there a finer student of American history writing today than David Hackett Fischer? If so, I don't know who it would be…Fischer is not a prose stylist to rival the great popular historians—the Barbara Tuchmans, Shelby Footes and David McCulloughs. Arguably he is not a popular historian at all but simply an academic who has reached a wide audience. Yet even when he writes books of doorstop heft, as he invariably does, his plain, unadorned style is never dry or boring, in part because he so often sprinkles intriguing ideas into the narrative.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Fischer, Pulitzer Prize-winner for Washington's Crossing, has produced the definitive biography of Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635): spy, explorer, courtier, soldier, sailor, ethnologist, mapmaker, and founder and governor of New France (today's Quebec), which he founded in 1608. This extraordinary and flawed individual was a man of war who dreamed of establishing a peaceful nation in the New World. Fischer once again displays a staggering and wide research, lightly worn, including no fewer than 16 fascinating appendixes covering everything from the "Indian Nations in Champlain's World, 1603-35" to Champlain's preferred firearm. The bibliography is equally impressive, and the same should be said of Fischer's literary skills and approach. He does not have "a thesis, or a theory, or an ideology," but instead answers questions ("Who was this man? What did he do? Why should we care?") to weave together his epic story. With 2008 the 400th anniversary of the foundation of New France, the time is ripe for this outstanding work. 16 pages of color photos; b&w photos, maps. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize winner Fischer (Washington's Crossing) writes here of French explorer Samuel de Champlain, looking not just at the events of his life but at the type of man he was and at the commendable work he did. Tony and Emmy Award winner Edward Herrmann's (edwardherrmann.net) storytelling skills are splendid, his pronunciation of French flawless; he perfectly conveys Fischer's painstaking research and sparkling description. Highly recommended for all audiences. [The S. & S. hc received a starred review, LJ10/1/08.-Ed.]
—Susan G. Baird

Kirkus Reviews
Master historian Fischer (History/Brandeis Univ.; Washington's Crossing, 2004, etc.) heads north of the border to document the life of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec. Champlain, as Fischer immediately shows, was an impossibly accomplished man of parts: a scholar and writer with an athlete's body, a soldier and sailor, an ethnographer and linguist, a mapmaker and explorer. When he established Quebec in 1608, he did so amid a campaign of extensive reconnaissance "through what are now six Canadian provinces and five American states," having already traveled and battled throughout Europe and the Caribbean. Though his noble sponsor back in France favored a different site for a new colony, Champlain successfully argued that command of the St. Lawrence River far in the interior would help France forge alliances with the native peoples there. By Fischer's account, one of Champlain's most notable successes-and there were many-derived from his view that whites and Indians, as well as Europeans of various religious beliefs, could live side by side in peace. His design for New France, Fischer writes, "combined the best of the old world as [Champlain and King Henri IV] understood it, with an expansive idea of humanity that embraced people different from ourselves." That plan for "Acadia" would suffer following Henri's assassination and the ascent of Marie de Medici, whose counselors "had no liking for an expansive New France in North America." Champlain's subsequent successes, born of ethnic sensitivity and skillful soldiering alike, were done at risk of offending the unsympathetic French throne, which was much enriched, in the end, for the next century and a half, until French rule inCanada was broken with the Seven Years' War. France's legacy remains all the same, Fischer concludes, in the "francophone populations and cultures" of Canada. A lucid portrait of a man given too little attention in standard American textbooks. Fischer's work should make it impossible to ignore Champlain's contributions henceforth. First printing of 125,000. Agent: Scott Moyers/Wylie
The Barnes & Noble Review
Notwithstanding the familiar rhyme "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," a quarter of American teenagers in a recent survey thought that Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World sometime after 1750. Without benefit of a national holiday to rival Columbus Day, French explorer Samuel de Champlain's name and exploits are surely unfamiliar to many more, young and old alike. Among historians, however, he is no obscure footnote. Even before Champlain's death in 1635, much ink was devoted to him in accounts of the founding of New France in North America.

Champlain's Dream, David Hackett Fischer's enormous and often enthralling biography, reflects the author's acute awareness of the weight of history resting on his subject, and a desire to reclaim him from both hagiographers and the "popular debunkers and academic iconoclasts" who, particularly with respect to Champlain's dealings with American Indians, have painted him darkly. Fischer, the author of several fine American histories, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for Washington's Crossing, his account of the period surrounding George Washington's traversing of the Delaware River in 1776. He turns the same exhaustive research and narrative flair he exhibited in that work to his tale of the "Father of New France," a man with the tenacity of a pit bull, the grace and eloquence of a courtier, and the astonishingly good luck (much of which he manufactured himself) to live through several brushes with death as he kept his dream of a permanent colony afloat. The descendants of the settlers he brought to Quebec live throughout North America today.

Little is known of Champlain's early life in a small town on France's Atlantic coast. The year of his birth, which Fischer pegs as 1570, is disputed. Fischer suspects that Champlain was baptized a Protestant, but he emerged a Catholic, and his faith was a driving motive in his work to colonize New France and convert its natives to Christianity. Champlain's family were flourishing merchant seafarers, and Champlain took to the water at a young age, learning to sail so well that he made 27 transatlantic voyages in his lifetime without losing a single ship. "All his life," Fischer writes, Champlain "had an optimistic way of thinking about the world, an attitude that comes easily to people whose families have been moving up."

Some have speculated that Champlain was actually an illegitimate son of King Henri IV, the hard-loving monarch who was for Protestantism before he was -- nominally -- against it, and who as a Catholic established a policy of religious tolerance that restored peace to France after decades of cruel religious wars. In any case, Champlain had a close relationship with the king and fought for him as a young soldier, witnessing the bloodshed that resulted from forcing faith. His tolerant design for New France enjoyed the support of Henri (until the king's assassination in 1610) and of Louis XIII when the boy came of age. But Queen Regent Marie de Medici and the powerful Cardinal Richelieu did not back him, and, in Fischer's account, Champlain is always rushing back from the New World to the Old (each voyage lasting a few weeks at the least) to rebuild coalitions among the powerful and the wealthy. Champlain's was by no means a solo act -- there was always a figurehead viceroy back in France, and others played key roles; still, Fischer places Champlain at the center of New France.

Champlain got his first glimpse of the New World in 1599, after seizing the opportunity to travel to the Spanish empire as a spy of sorts. He appears to have been profoundly affected by the abusive treatment of American Indians and African slaves he saw in the West Indies and Mexico. Once he returned home, Champlain studied France's several failed 16th-century settlements in the New World. He was compulsive about collecting information, a trait that served him well in an occupation in which bad preparation was a leading cause of death. When in 1603 a French exploratory expedition formed, Champlain secured an invitation to go along as an observer for Henri.

For the next three decades, Champlain founded and oversaw settlements in the area then known rather fancifully as Acadia -- which included the coasts of present-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and some of Maine -- as well as Quebec, which he established on the St. Lawrence River in 1608. In 1629 the English captured Quebec, threatening everything Champlain had built. Until a treaty restored New France, Champlain was outraged to see the English disregard the region's French place names -- he himself christened numerous landmarks, including the lake that still bears his own name.

Getting any kind of permanent purchase on American soil was extraordinarily difficult. Scurvy decimated the inhabitants of Sainte-Croix Island, the first settlement Champlain collaborated on. Winters were brutal, and whatever settlers needed had to be laid in beforehand or done without until a relief ship arrived in the spring with supplies (everything from live sheep and pigs to table salt and enough wine for generous daily rations). Rogue fur traders and fishermen constantly imperiled the trade monopoly that was the colonies' main source of funding: French merchants invested in Champlain's New World settlements on the promise of having the whole pie to themselves.

Central to the American project was France's relationship with the vast domain's many Indian tribes. The overarching theme of the book is Champlain's dealings with them, and here Fischer betrays himself. He is not the disinterested historian he paints himself in the introduction, his inquiry untainted by "a thesis, or a theory, or an ideology," but a passionate -- and mostly convincing -- advocate for Champlain against those who have charged him with ethnocentrism and exploitation. From the start, Champlain set a policy of tolerance and amity toward the Indians that was no mere show -- he admired and enjoyed them, even as he sought to convert them to Christianity and bemoaned their horrific torture of captives and their lack of effective authority, which was especially puzzling to a man loyal to God and king.

Fischer makes much of the fact that immediately after Champlain arrived in New France in 1603, he and his ship's captain visited a large assembly of Indians celebrating a victory over the Iroquois. It was the first of many occasions throughout Champlain's career when he walked into Indian camps without fear or an agenda more specific than making friendly contact. He frequently arranged for exchanges of Frenchmen and Indians so that each could spend months, even years, learning the language and ways of the other. (Champlain himself never learned more than pidgin speech, and relied on translators.) This approach was sharply at odds with that of the Spanish, the English, and his own more rigid countrymen. Indians rewarded him with their trust, their trade, and, on his death, moving tributes.

But in forming alliances with some, Champlain became the enemy of others -- notably, the fierce Iroquois, against whom he fought in three major campaigns in an effort to draw a line in the sand that would keep the peace (he bore scars on his ear and neck from an Iroquois arrow). Fischer argues that Champlain's efforts were in large degree successful in creating, for a time, an uneasy order, and were not so misguided as they have been painted by skeptics.

Only at a few uncomfortable moments does Fischer come off as an apologist for his subject. Champlain may only have meant "forest-dweller" when he referred to New France's native inhabitants as "savages," but it's hard to see "nothing racist in his thinking" in his reflection on their retaliatory code of justice: "They have one evil in them, which is that they are given to revenge, and are great liars, a people in whom it is not well to put confidence, except with reason and with force at hand. They promise much and perform little." It is possible to admire Champlain -- perhaps even all the more -- if we concede that, as enlightened as he was, he may not have been entirely free of the prejudices that infected his age.

Always mindful that his efforts in America were only as good as their publicity, Champlain published several detailed written accounts and exquisite maps of the New World. Fischer uses these rich sources to dramatic effect as he retraces Champlain's journeys. His biography moves along swiftly, providing history lessons where necessary, but hewing to the suspenseful and engaging tale of how this man who charmed Indians and aristocrats alike persevered in his dream of creating a peaceful new world.

As Fischer notes, we know little of Champlain's private ruminations or personal life, including his late marriage to a young girl of an influential family. His papers were lost after his death. What history has preserved is a man of action, who didn't live to see the wars he had sought to avoid and the diseases settlers spread change the human geography of New France, a land so full of promise that his imagination seemed forever expanding to fathom it. --Sarah L. Courteau

Sarah L. Courteau is literary editor of The Wilson Quarterly.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416593331
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 848
  • Sales rank: 188,671
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.58 (d)

Meet the Author

David Hackett Fischer, University Professor at Brandeis University, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for Washington’s Crossing, which was also a New York Times bestseller. His other acclaimed books include Albion’s Seed and Paul Revere’s Ride.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

A professor at Brandeis University, David Hackett Fischer is the author of several noted books on history, including Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement, The Great Wave: Price Movements in Modern History, Paul Revere's Ride, and Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. He is co-editor, with James M. McPherson, of the Pivotal Moments in American History series published by Oxford University Press. A graduate of Princeton and Johns Hopkins Universities, he divides his time between homes in Massachusetts and Maine.

Author biography courtesy of Oxford University Press.

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    1. Hometown:
      Wayland, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Education:
      A.B., Princeton University, 1958; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1962

Read an Excerpt

Introduction
In Search of Champlain

His activities, which were revealed mainly through his writings, were always surrounded by a certain degree of mystery. -- Raymonde Litalien, 2004

An old French engraving survives from the early seventeenth century. It is a battle-print, at first glance like many others in European print shops. We look again, and discover that it shows a battle in North America, fought between Indian nations four centuries ago. The caption reads in old French, "Deffaite des Yroquois au Lac de Champlain," the "Defeat of the Iroquois at Lake Champlain," July 30, 1609.

On one side we see sixty Huron, Algonquin, and Montagnais warriors. On the other are two hundred Iroquois of the Mohawk nation. They meet in an open field beside the lake. The smaller force is attacking boldly, though outnumbered three to one. The Mohawk have sallied from a log fort to meet them. By reputation they are among the most formidable warriors in North America. They have the advantage of numbers and position, and yet the caption tells us that the smaller force won the fight.

The print offers an explanation in the presence of a small figure who stands alone at the center of the battle. His dress reveals that he is a French soldier and a man of rank. He wears half-armor of high quality: a well-fitted cuirass on his upper body, and protective britches of the latest design with light steel plates on his thighs. His helmet is no ordinary morion, or crude iron pot of the kind that we associate with Spanish conquistadors and English colonists. It is an elegant example of what the French call a casque bourgignon, a Burgundian helmet of distinctive design that was the choice of kings and noblemen — a handsome, high-crowned helmet with a comb and helm forged from a single piece of metal. Above the helmet is a large plume of white feathers called a panache — the origin of our modern word. Its color identifies the wearer as a captain in the service of Henri IV, first Bourbon king of France. Its size marks it as a badge of courage worn to make its wearer visible in battle.

This French captain is not a big man. Even with his panache, the Indians appear half a head taller. But he has a striking presence, and in the middle of a wild mêlée he stands still and quiet, firmly in command of himself. His back is straight as a ramrod. His muscular legs are splayed apart and firmly planted to bear the weight of a weapon which he holds at full length. It is not a conventional matchlock, as historians have written, but a complex and very costly arquebuse à rouet, a wheel-lock arquebus. It was the first self-igniting shoulder weapon that did not require a burning match, and could fire as many as four balls in a single shot.

The text with this engraving tells us that the French captain has already fired his arquebus and brought down two Mohawk chiefs and a third warrior, who lie on the ground before him. He aims his weapon at a fourth Mohawk, and we see the captain fire again in a cloud of white smoke. On the far side of the battlefield, half-hidden in the American forest, two French arquebusiers emerge from the trees. They kneel and fire their weapons into the flank of the dense Iroquois formation.

We look back at the French captain and catch a glimpse of his face. He has a high forehead, arched brows, eyes set wide apart, a straight nose turned up at the tip, a fashionable mustache, and a beard trimmed like that of his king, Henri IV. The key below the print gives us his name, the "sieur de Champlain."

This small image is the only authentic likeness of Samuel de Champlain that is known to survive from his own time. It is also a self-portrait, and its technique tells us other things about the man who drew it. A French scholar observes that "its style is that of a man of action, direct, natural, naive, biased toward exact description, toward the concrete and the useful." This is art without a hint of artifice. It tells a story in a straightforward way. At the same time, it expresses the artist's pride in his acts, and confidence in his purposes. It also points up a paradox in what we know about him. It describes his actions in detail, but the man himself is covered in armor, and his face is partly hidden by his own hand.

Other images of Champlain would be invented after the fact. Many years later, when he was recognized as the father of New France, he was thought to require a proper portrait. Artists and sculptors were quick to supply a growing market. Few faces in modern history have been reinvented so often and from so little evidence. All these images are fictions. The most widely reproduced was a fraud, detected many years ago and still used more frequently than any other.

Historians also contributed many word-portraits of Champlain, and no two are alike. His biographer Morris Bishop asserted from little evidence that "Champlain was, in fact, a lean ascetic type, dry and dark, probably rather under than over normal size...his southern origin is indication enough of dark hair and black eyes." Another biographer, Samuel Eliot Morison, wrote from no evidence whatever: "As one who has lived with Champlain for many years, I may be permitted to give my own idea of him. A well-built man of medium stature, blond and bearded, a natural leader who inspired loyalty and commanded obedience." A third author, Heather Hudak, represented him with bright red hair, a black panache and chartreuse britches. Playwright Michael Hollingsworth described Champlain as prematurely gray, as well he might have been, and an anonymous engraver gave him snow-white hair. Champlain's biographies, like his portraits, show the same wealth of invention and poverty of fact.

Champlain himself was largely responsible for that. He wrote thousands of pages about what he did, but only a few words about who he was. His published works are extraordinary for an extreme reticence about his origins, inner thoughts, private life, and personal feelings. Rarely has an author written so much and revealed so little about himself. These were not casual omissions, but studied silences. Here again, as in the old battle-print, Champlain was hidden by his own hand. He was silent and even secretive about the most fundamental facts of his life. He never mentioned his age. His birth date is uncertain. Little information survives about his family, and not a word about his schooling. He was raised in an age of faith, but we do not know if he was baptized Protestant or Catholic.

After all this uncertainty about the man himself, it is a relief to turn to the record of his acts. Here we have an abundance of evidence, and it makes a drama that is unique in the history of exploration. No other discoverer mastered so many roles over so long a time, and each of them presents a puzzle.

By profession Champlain was a soldier, and he chose to represent himself that way in his self-portrait. He fought in Europe, the Caribbean, and North America, bore the scars of wounds on his face and body, and witnessed atrocities beyond imagining. Like many old soldiers, he took pride in his military service, but he grew weary of war. Always he kept a soldier's creed of honor, courage, and duty, but increasingly did so in the cause of peace. There is a question about how he squared these thoughts.

At the same time, Champlain was a mariner of long experience. He went to sea at an early age, and rose from ship's boy to "admirall" of a colonizing fleet. From 1599 to 1633 he made at least twenty-seven Atlantic crossings and hundreds of other voyages. He never lost a ship under his command, except once when he was a passenger aboard a sinking barque in a heavy gale on a lee shore, with a captain who was unable to act. Champlain seized command, set the mainsail, and deliberately drove her high on a rocky coast in a raging storm — and saved every man aboard. There are interesting questions to be asked about his leadership and astonishing seamanship.

Champlain is best remembered for his role as an explorer. He developed a method of close-in coastal exploration that he called "ferreting," and he used it to study thousands of miles of the American coast from Panama to Labrador. He also explored much of North America through what are now six Canadian provinces and five American states. He was the first European to see much of this countryside, and he enabled us to see it through his eyes. His unique methods raise another question about how he did that work, and with what result.

Champlain also mapped this vast area in yet another role as a cartographer. He put himself in the forefront of geographic knowledge in his era. His many maps and charts set a new standard for accuracy and detail. Experts have studied them with amazement. They wonder how he made maps of such excellence with the crude instruments at his command. He also embellished his maps with handsome drawings. In his own time he was known as an artist. When rival French merchants opposed his appointment to high office, they complained that Champlain was a "mere painter," and therefore unfit for command. In his drawings he left us a visual record of the new world, which alone would make him an important figure. To study the few originals is to discover the skill and refinement of his art. But nearly all his art survives only in crude copies that challenge us to recover the spirit of his work.

Champlain was a prolific writer. He is most accessible to us through his published books, which exceed in quantity and quality the work of every major explorer of North America during his era. A close second was the work of Captain John Smith, but Champlain's published writings were larger in bulk. They covered a broader area, spanned a longer period, and drew deeply on the intellectual currents of his age. The problem is to find the mind behind the prose.

In his books Champlain played a role as a pioneer ethnographer. He left an abundance of first-hand description about many Indian nations in North America. During the late twentieth century some scholars criticized him for ethnocentrism. That judgment is correct in some ways, but Champlain's work remains a major source of sympathetic description. A challenging problem is to sort out truth from error.

He was also a naturalist. Champlain loved plants and animals, gathered information about the flora and fauna of the new world, and studied the climate and resources of the places he visited. He planted experimental gardens in four colonies and did much descriptive writing about the American environment before European settlement, and how it changed.

Especially important to his posterity was Champlain's role as a founder and leader of the first permanent French settlements in North America. A major part of his life was his economic association with many trading companies that paid for New France. This was Champlain's most difficult role, and his least successful. Wealthy investors often defeated him, and many companies failed. But in his stewardship, New France somehow survived three decades of failure — which is not only an unknown but a mystery.

Through those same three decades from 1603 to 1635, Champlain also returned to France in most years. He had another busy career as a courtier and a tireless promoter of his American project. Four people ruled France in that era: Henri IV until 1610, Marie de Medici as queen regent after 1610, Louis XII from 1617, and Richelieu as "first minister" from 1624. Champlain worked directly with all except the queen regent, argued vigorously for New France, and prodded them so forcefully that one wonders how he stayed out of the Bastille. During that long period, six highborn French noblemen and "princes of the blood" served as lieutenant general or viceroy or "cardinal-admiral" of New France. All but one of them were absentees who never came to America. Each of them without exception chose Champlain to be his chief lieutenant and commander in the new world. He got on with all those very difficult people — another puzzle.

One of Champlain's most important roles was in the peopling of New France. For some reason the French have always been less likely to emigrate than were millions of British, Germans, and other Europeans. And yet in thirty years Champlain did more than any other leader to establish three French-speaking populations and start them growing in North America. In a pivotal moment from 1632 to 1635 when he was acting governor, they suddenly began to expand by sustained natural increase, and they have continued to do so, even to our own time. Champlain had a leading hand in that, and even subsidized marriages and families with his own wealth. Each of these three populations developed its own distinct culture and speechways which made them Québécois, Acadien, and Métis. Today their descendants have multiplied to millions of people. Something of Champlain's time survives in their language and folkways. They are chief among his many legacies.

Champlain also played a role in the religious history of New France. He worked with Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, Recollets, Jesuits, and Capuchins. His Christian faith was deeply important to him, increasingly so as he grew older. But he struggled to reconcile an ideal of tolerance with the reality of an established Church -- a problem that he never solved.

If nothing else, his life was a record of stamina with few equals. But always it was more than that. Champlain was a dreamer. He was a man of vision, and like most visionaries he dreamed of many things. Several scholars have written about his dream of finding a passage to China. Others have written of his dream for the colonization in New France. But all these visions were part of a larger dream that has not been studied. This war-weary soldier had a dream of humanity and peace in a world of cruelty and violence. He envisioned a new world as a place where people of different cultures could live together in amity and concord. This became his grand design for North America.

Champlain was not a solitary dreamer. He moved within several circles of French humanists during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. They are neglected figures of much importance in the history of ideas — bridge-figures who inherited the Renaissance and inspired the Enlightenment. They were not of one mind, but they had large purposes in common. One group of French humanists centered on the person of Henri IV and were guided by his great example. Another was an American circle in Paris who never crossed the Atlantic but were inspired by the idea of the new world. In a third group were many French humanists who came to North America with Champlain — men such as the sieur de Mons and the sieur de Razilly. In the beginning they were his leaders. By the end he became theirs.

Champlain traveled in other circles among the leaders of Indian nations, who also were great dreamers. He knew them intimately, and they live as individuals in the pages of his books. Champlain had a way of getting along with very different people, and he also had the rarest gift of all. In long years of labor, he found a way to convert his dreams into realities. In the face of great obstacles and heavy defeats, he exercised his skills of leadership in extreme conditions. Those of us who are leaders today (which includes most of us in an open society) have something to learn from him about that.

Champlain was a leader, but he was not a saint. We do not need another work of hagiography about him. He was a mortal man of flesh and blood, a very complicated man. He made horrific errors in his career, and some of his mistakes cost other men their lives. He cultivated an easy manner, but sometimes he drove his men so hard that four of them tried to murder him. His quest for amity and concord with the Indians led to wars with the Mohawk and the Onondaga. His private life was deeply troubled, particularly in his relations with women. Champlain lived comfortably as a man among men, but one discovery eluded this great discoverer. He never found the way to a woman's heart. It was not for want of trying. He was strongly attracted to women, but his most extended relationship ended in frustration.

His ideal of humanity was very large, but it was also limited in strange, ironic ways. Champlain embraced the American Indians, but not his own French servants. He had deep flaws and made many enemies, responded badly to criticism, and could be very petty to rivals. But other men who knew this man wrote of him with respect and affection. Even his enemies did so.

Just now, we have an opportunity to study this extraordinary man in a new light. In the early twenty-first century, three nations are celebrating the 400th anniversary of his achievements. Something similar happened in the early twentieth century, for his 300th anniversary. The literature about Champlain is like a century plant. It blooms every hundred years, then fades and blooms again.

At the start of the twentieth century, a very large literature ran heavily to hagiography, and celebrated Champlain as a saintly figure. After 1950 the inevitable reaction set in. Popular debunkers and academic iconoclasts made Champlain a favorite target. These attacks were deepened by a fin-de-siècle attitude called political correctness, with its revulsion against great white men, especially empire-builders, colonial founders, and discoverers.

Incredibly, some apostles of political correctness even tried to ban the word "discovery" itself. Historian Peter Pope met this attitude on the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's northern voyages of discovery. He recalls: "I was asked by a servant of the P.R. industry in June 1996 to summarize Cabot's achievement without using the term discovery. She told me it had been banned.... Any talk of 'discovery' is understood as an endorsement of conquest." Pope was ordered to "describe what the Venetian pilot did without using the D-word."

As these attitudes spread widely during the late twentieth century, Champlain began to fade from the historical literature. He all but disappeared from school curricula in France, Canada, and the United States. Many still remember him, but when the subject came up in France, we heard people say, "Connais pas, never heard of him." In the United States, one person asked, "Champlain? Why are you writing a book about a lake?" In 1999, Canadian historian W. J. Eccles wrote that "there is no good biography of Champlain." For twenty years from 1987 to 2008, there was no full-scale biography at all.

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, attitudes have been changing yet again. Historians are returning to the study of leaders in general, and to Champlain in particular. With the inspired leadership of Raymonde Litalien and Denis Vaugeois, five volumes of collected essays appeared in Canada, France, and the United States from 2004 to 2007. Together these books prompted more than a hundred new studies of Champlain and his world.

They built on the foundation of a new historiography that had been growing quietly since the 1960s through all the Sturm und Drang of political correctness. Archaeological research has been taking place on an unprecedented scale. A new historical ethnography has deepened our understanding of Champlain's relations with Indians. A major school of Canadian social history led by the great scholarship of Marcel Trudel has wrought a revolution in our knowledge of Champlain's New France. Much important work has happened in demographic and economic history. Geographers led by Conrad Heidenreich have studied his cartography in detail. Archival scholars such as Robert Le Blant have turned up much new material on Champlain and made those findings more accessible to others.

The new scholarship of the early twenty-first century is becoming more mature, more global, more balanced, more empirical, more eclectic, and less ideological than before. A result of this new scholarship has been to undercut the writings of iconoclasts. Two generations ago, the dominant source for Champlain's life was his own writing, which inspired skepticism. Today in every chapter of his life, we can test his own accounts against the evidence of archaeology, archival materials, other narratives, complex chronologies, and interlocking sources in great variety. Many small errors and some larger ones have been found in Champlain's work, but the main lines of his writings have been reinforced by other evidence. An example is René Baudry, who worked with Le Blant to make much new archival material available to others. He writes of Champlain, "It is much to his credit that information from other sources almost always confirms the accuracy of his accounts."

In this recent work, old methods are being used in new ways. One of them is the method of Herodotus, and his idea of history as a genuinely free and open inquiry — the literal Greek meaning of history. Another way forward was the school that taught historians three lessons about their work: "First, go there! Do it! Then write it!" To read Champlain's many books in that spirit, to explore the places that he described, and to follow in his track, is to make an astonishing discovery about our own world. Many of the places that Champlain described in the seventeenth century can still be seen today, not precisely as he saw them, but some of them are remarkably little changed. This is so in large parts of the St. Lawrence Valley and the magnificent Saguenay River. It is so along the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Maine, the forests and waterways of Canada, the harbors of Acadia, and the coast of Gaspésie. It is so in the United States on Mount Desert Island, the Isles Rangées, the Puffin Islands, and Ticonderoga. It is that way again in the rolling ground of the Onondaga Country, and the natural meadowlands of Cap Tourmente.

Champlain's places of discovery are a world that we may be losing, but they are not yet a world we have lost. It is still possible to explore them by car and plane, by canoe and kayak, by sailboat and zodiac boat, by snowshoe -- and some of the best places are accessible only by foot. At all these many sites we can rediscover this great discoverer by going there, and doing it, and traveling through his space in our time.

Other sites in Champlain's life are accessible in a different way. Archaeologists have been hard at work on the sites where he lived and worked. Many traces of what he did have been coming out of the ground in a most extraordinary way. That is so at Sainte-Croix Island, Port-Royal, Quebec, Pentagoet, Cap Tourmente, Ticonderoga, Huronia, and Iroquoia. On the other side of the water, it is the same at Brouage, Crozon, Blavet, Honfleur, Quimper, Fontainebleau, the Marais district of Paris, even the basement of the Louvre. Many of these places that were important to Champlain have preserved much of their character even as the world has changed around them. This book builds on all that physical evidence.

It also seeks a path of understanding between hagiographers on the one hand and iconoclasts on the other. In that regard, one of the most important opportunities of this inquiry is for us to get right with both Champlain and the American Indians. Two generations ago, historians wrote of European saints and Indian savages. In the last generation, too many scholars have been writing about Indian saints and European savages. The opportunity for our generation is to go beyond that calculus of saints and savages altogether, and write about both American Indians and Europeans with maturity, empathy, and understanding. Many historians are now doing that, and this book is another effort in that direction.

After the delusions of political correctness, ideological rage, multiculturalism, postmodernism, historical relativism, and the more extreme forms of academic cynicism, historians today are returning to the foundations of their discipline with a new faith in the possibilities of historical knowledge, and with new results. This inquiry is conceived in that spirit. It begins not with a thesis, or a theory, or an ideology, but with a set of open questions about Champlain. It asks, who was this man? Where did he come from? What did he do? Why did he do it? What difference did he make? Why should we care? The answers to all these questions make a story. It begins where Champlain began, in a small town on the coast of France, looking outward across the Bay of Biscay toward America.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: In Search of Champlain 1

A Leader in the Making 15

Explorer of Acadia 105

Founder of Quebec 227

Builder of New France 345

Father of French Canada 445

Conclusion 525

Memories of Champlain 533

App. A Champlain's Birth Date 569

App. B Champlain's Voyages: A Chronology 574

App. C Champlain's Brief Discours: Problems of Accuracy and Authenticity 586

App. D Champlain's Published Writings: A Question of Authorship 593

App. E Champlain's Traitte de la Marine: An Essay on Leadership 595

App. F Another Self Portrait? 600

App. G Champlain's Superiors: Viceroys and Generals of New France 601

App. H Trading Companies and Monopolies in New France, 1588 1635 604

App. I Indian Nations in Champlain's World, 1603-35 608

App. J The Battle with the Mohawk in 1609: Where Did it Happen? 614

App. K The Attack on the Iroquois Fort in 1615: Which Fort? What Nation? 615

App. L Champlain's Favored Firearm: The Arquebuse a Rouet 616

App. M Champlain's Ships and Boats 619

App. N Champlain's Weights and Measures 627

App. O Champlain's Money 632

App. P Champlain's Calendars 633

Notes 635

Bibliography 745

Map Sources 787

Index 801

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 17, 2009

    Champlain's Dream by David Fischer and published by Simon and Shuster is one of the best books I have ever read. It is arguably one of the best books ever written and published

    Dr. Fischer has used past and recent historical evidence coupled with ethnographic, economic, political, and archaeological data to weave a wonderful account of Samuel Champlain and the early French efforts of colonizing North America. Previous to this effort, the most popular account of Champlain was Samuel E. Morison's book written almost a half century ago. While Morison's book was very good, Fischer's effort not only relates the geographic ventures but delves into the psyche of Champlain the man. <BR/><BR/>No stone is left unturned and although Fischer has his own opinions he goes out of his way to present alternative viewpoints. His book draws on numerous sources and is complemented by outstanding maps, plates, charts, etc. The bibliography is is very extensive, there are copious notes and in addition, the appendix covers various tribes, personalities, ships, and weapons pertinent to the epic.<BR/><BR/>Dr. Fischer delivers a first rate look at Champlain's beginning, the area and circumstances surrounding his actions and thoughts. In the book Champlain is presented as a determined, unselfish, loyal, modest, and wise individual totally dedicated to establishing a colony for France in the the New World. He succeeds only after 30 years of struggle and hardships all of which he endured for no personal gain but for the glory of France. He does all this treating the native populations with respect and dignity. They were his partners not his subjects thus the French settlements were entirely different from their English and Spanish counterparts.<BR/><BR/>From beginning to end, Fischer's Champlain is a book packed with adventure, discovery, intrigue, ethnography, failures, and finally success. Whether Chapmplain is plotting the coasts, establishing settlements, at war, or just plain exploring, the reader will feel like he/she is there. In short, although its a biography/history it reads like a novel. One will find it quite difficult to stop turning the pages. <BR/><BR/>I should also mention that the publishers did an outstanding job in the production of the book itself. There are excellent end paper maps, the binding is solid and will not tend to disengage after a couple of readings, and the dust jacket is bright and lively. Furthermore, Simon & Shuster are to be commended for allowing Dr. Fischer to include all his notes etc, since the trend in publishing is to eliminate most data that are not pertinent to the story and put out what I consider to be an incomplete product.<BR/><BR/>All in all, I cannot think of another book that has all these attributes and I highly recommend this book to both the general reader and to those of a more scholarly interest.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2013

    great history

    great history

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  • Posted February 6, 2011

    Enlightened Explorer

    I consider the author, David Fischer, to be America's best writer of non-fiction. He does not disappoint here though this work is not quite the equal of "Washington's Crossing", Fischer's Pulitzer Prize winner. Champlain's life and times are fascinating. We are treated to a long introduction about one of Europe's most able rulers, King Henry IV. Henry IV used religious tolerance to unify France. One of the pleasures of this work is getting to know Henry IV. To a certain extent Champlain was mentored by the king and clearly influenced by his ideas of tolerance. We see a young Champlain disgusted by Spain's cruelty to the natives in Mexico. In a unique opportunity to visit the Spanish colonies, he determines to treat the natives as equals. The stories of Champlain's relationship with native tribes in New France are fascinating. He is a skilled explorer, carefully mapping unchartered waters. He is an able, if reluctant, fighter against the enemies of friendly native tribes. These are exciting stories. Despite his leadership, New France barely holds on by a thread. When Henry IV is assassinated by a religious zealot, the surviving Queen shows little interest in New France. Perhaps Champlain's greatest accomplishment is keeping French interest in the new world alive after Henry IV's death. To do this he must be in France to deal with the court intrigue. Throughout it all he perseveres to keep the dream of New France alive. His life is full of exciting adventures and dreams ultimately followed in the end by sadness. Do not be put off by the over 800 pages in this work. Over 300 of them are appendixes and footnotes. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted September 23, 2010

    Great Read!!

    Anyone who likes history would love this book. There is history within history. I have learned a lot about King Henri IV of France. I expected reading about the indian tribes of North America and his journey. I was happy to learn more what was going on at Europe at the time. It is all interesting, never dry and easy to read. I enjoyed seeing Champlain's drawings and maps. He was an amazing artist.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2010

    Must read to understand Canada

    This book combines superior scholarship with an easy-read style. It flows very logically, is well-organized, and is objective. Typically, we Americans have very limited information about our neighbors to the north. There is no longer an excuse. If there was only one book to read about Canada, it should be this. The foot notes and appendices recognize all the scholarly thought surrounding this subject for the last four hundred years. The format helps those who want to further study Champlain and Canada's heritage. The work more than satisfied my curiosity especially in describing Canada and France in Champlain's lifetime. An excellent point is made that Champlain was a product of a remarkable up-bringing in a very unique part of France. Once again we have an example that we are the product of our roots and experience. The author was convincing in arguing that Champlain lived to make his dream come true of a New France. This book is for the ages or at least as long as man dreams for a better world and does something about it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting contrast

    I found it very interesting to see the contrast between French and English in the colonization of North America. I also have "Empires of the Atlantic World" by J.H. Elliott and you see three separate approaches: The French tried to get along, The English tried to get rid of the natives, and the Spanish enslaved them.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A great work, but . . .

    This is a pleasant book to read. One can place oneself in Saintonge as the seventeenth century began. One can place oneself on Champlain's early voyages to the Caribbean and the Bay of Fundy. One can place oneself in the court of Henry IV and Louis XII. In this manner one can learn a lot about France and about the St. Lawrence River valley and its inhabitants at that time.

    There are two things that bother this reader. One is that once Champlain becomes an adult, there isn't a page in the text wherein we are not reminded that Champlain's feces didn't stink. The other is that if you look at the end notes, a large majority refer back to a collection of Champlain's own writings, no wonder his feces doesn't stink!

    That aside, this is a wonderful piece of literature. I am about to order another work by this author.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    Great Book

    I purchased this book due to my interest in the history of the Great Lakes area. I found it to be much more than a history of the northern US and Canada. Champlain's Dream is multifaceted. It is simultaneously a biography of Champlain, a book on leadership, a history of France and North America, as well as an adventure story. There are many stories told within the story of Champlain's Dream, such as Champlain's struggles with the King's court in France to keep his dreams alive for New France; the race to stay ahead of the British in the St. Lawrence River area; and Champlain's relationship with many Indian nations that he sought to live with in harmony...and would go to war with them to do so. This is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Champlain, the history of North America, or would just like to read a good adventure story set in the 1600s.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Champlain: the Father of New France and Quebec.

    Perhaps the NY Times best captured the essence of David Fischer's book about Samuel de Champlain by observing "They Didn't Name That Lake [after him] for Nothing." Fischer a trained historian and professor at Brandeis University, argues that Samuel de Champlain was at heart a man of the Enlightenment, before that era dawned in Europe. Champlain was a writer, artist, natualist, ethnographer, mariner, and professional soldier. Fischer maintains that Champlain was as success at Versailles in maintaining royal support for the nascent French colony in North America, as he was in establishing its settlements and probing its seemingly limitless boundaries. Importantly, Fischer credits Champlain's respect for and cooperation with American-Indians, as his greatest accomplishment. Unlike the English, Spanish, and Portugese colonizers to the south who brutalized and butchered the natives, Champlain and the French were much more magnaminious toward the native peoples. Even though Champlain's dream turned to nightmare with the defeat of Montcalm by Wolfe at Quebec in 1759, among his descendants it lived on to become vindicated in a modern tolerant Quebec.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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