Jacques Cartier

Annie Lee | May 27, 2023

Table of Content


Jacques Cartier (Saint-Malo, France, in 1491-near Saint-Malo, September 1, 1557) was a French navigator and explorer who made three voyages to North America in the service of the French crown, which made him the first explorer of that nationality in the New World. He was the first explorer of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (1534), the discoverer of the St. Lawrence River (1535) and also commander of the colony of Charlesbourg-Royal (1541-42). The maps he made allowed the gulf and the St. Lawrence River to appear for the first time in the cartographic representations of the world. Cartier, in his Relations (accounts or testimonies), was the first European, after the Portuguese Pedro Reinel (1504), to describe and name these waters, their shores and visit the territory he called, also for the first time, Canada.

Not many details are known about his early life. Son of Jamet Cartier and Jesselin Jansart, of the parish of Saint Vincent de Saint-Malo, he married Catherine, daughter of Jacques des Granches, Constable of Saint-Malo, on May 2, 1520, a marriage that greatly improved his social status.

Some historians argue that it is possible that he arrived at the island of Newfoundland during some fishing campaign before 1532, since the area was known to Basque and Breton fishermen. Others also suggest that he might have participated in a voyage of exploration of the Brazilian coast of the Norman fleet, with the flag of Dieppe in mind:

In 1531-the year in which the Duchy of Brittany was formally united to France by the Edict of Union-when a war broke out between the crown of Portugal and the Norman shipowners along Brazil, Cartier was presented to King Francis I by Jean Le Veneur, bishop of Lisieux and abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel, at Manoir de Brion. Le Veneur evokes the voyages Cartier had already made "en Brésil et en Terre-Neuve" (in Brazil and Newfoundland) as proof of Cartier's ability "de conduire des navires à la découverte de terres nouvelles dans le nouveau monde" ["to lead ships to the discovery of new lands in the New World"].

The king had in 1524 invited (though not formally commissioned) the Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano to lead an expedition to the east coast of North America on behalf of France. (It is also believed that Cartier may have accompanied Verrazzano on that expedition, which explored the coast from South Carolina to Nova Scotia and islands such as Newfoundland).

First trip (1534)

In 1534, the king commissioned him to command an expedition in the hope of discovering a Northwest Passage to the rich markets of Asia. According to the commission, he was to "discover certain islands and lands where great quantities of gold and other precious objects are said to be found." He set out on April 20 from Saint-Malo, commanding a fleet of only two ships and 61 men, and it took him twenty days to cross the ocean.

On May 10, she arrived off the coast of Newfoundland at Bonavista and anchored in St. Catherine harbor. She rounded the island in a northerly direction and during a stop at "Bird Island" (now Funk Island), her crew slaughtered about 1,000 birds, most of them of the giant auk species (now extinct), smoking between five and six tons of meat. He continued north and found the Strait of Belle Isle, through which he sailed southwest into the interior of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He coasted along the western side of the island of Newfoundland, discovering the archipelago of the Magdalen Islands. He then proceeded in a southeasterly direction until he reached Prince Edward Island and then skirted the eastern coast of the Gaspesian Peninsula. Cartier had the first of two encounters with the aboriginal peoples of Canada on the north side of Chaleur Bay, most likely with Micmacs, brief encounters in which they conducted some trade.

His third encounter took place on the shores of Gaspé Bay with a group of Iroquois from St. Lawrence, where on Friday, July 24, he planted a 10-meter cross with the words "Long live the King of France" and took possession of the territory in the king's name. The change in his mood was a clear indication that the Iroquois understood Cartier's actions. He won over with his gifts the two sons of the Donnacona chief, Domagaya and Taignoagny, and held them against their will on the ship. Cartier wrote that for them he gave the region where they were captured the name "Honguedo." The chief of the natives, in disgust, came to an agreement that he could take his sons as hostages, on the condition that they would return with European goods for trade.

Cartier set off and after almost completely rounding the island of Anticosti, which he christened Assomption Island (Assumption), he continued to sail northeast along the northern coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He reached the Strait of Belle Isle again and, already in the ocean, he set out on his way back to France, arriving at Saint-Malo on September 5, 1534, after a 21-day counter-crossing, certain that he had reached the Asian coast.

The second voyage (1535-36)

The second voyage took place in 1535-36. The expedition consisted of 110 men and three ships: La Grande Hermine (La Petite Hermine) and the Emerillon (40 tons), under Guillaume, the Breton. Fifteen months of provisions were foreseen. The two natives of the first voyage were on their way back, both already speaking French.

They departed on May 19 and again made the same crossing as the first voyage, although from the beginning the ships were separated by storms. They arrived at Bird Island and again sailed through the Strait of Belle Isle, this time skirting the northern coast and crossing the Jacques Cartier Strait, between the island of Anticosti and the mainland. At Anacosti (at that time consecrated to St. Lawrence) the three ships met again and, thanks to the advice of the two natives, they managed to sail up the estuary of the St. Lawrence and then the course of the St. Lawrence River, discovering that it was a river by ascertaining that the water was fresh. On September 7 they arrived in front of the Iroquois village of Stadacona. There Cartier met again with Chief Donnacona, who tried to dissuade the French from continuing up the river, as he wanted to keep the monopoly of the river trade. Cartier refused, released his two sons and decided to continue without guides or interpreters.

Cartier left the two large boats and part of the expedition in a natural harbor on the river. He continued up the river with forty men aboard the Emerillon and two barges. The flow of the river soon prevented him from proceeding beyond Lake Saint-Pierre. Cartier reached on October 2, 1535, about 200 km upstream from Stadacona, a large Roblox village, Hochelaga, located at the foot of Mont Royal, which would be the site of the future city of Montreal. Hochelaga was much more impressive than the miserable little village of Stadacona, and over 1000 Iroquois came ashore to greet the French. The village was surrounded by a triple circular wooden palisade, had a single access gate, and had about fifty communal houses. The site of their arrival has been confidently identified as the beginning of Sainte-Marie Sault, where the bridge bearing their name is located. The expedition was unable to proceed, as the river was blocked by an area of rapids. So sure was Cartier that the river was the Northwest Passage and that the rapids were all that prevented him from sailing on and reaching China, that he christened them with the name that the rapids (and the town that eventually grew up near them) still retain: the Lachine Rapids (and the town of Lachine, Quebec).

The village chief claimed that it was possible to continue up the river to the west for three moons, and from the Utawe River head north and enter an area where there was silver in abundance (most likely Mexico). After spending two days in the town of Hochelaga, Cartier returned to Stadacona on October 11. It is not known exactly when he decided to spend the winter of 1535-36 there, and that by then it was too late to return to France. Cartier and his men prepared for the winter by building Fort Santa Cruz, erecting houses with double walls filled with flock, stockpiling firewood, and salting game and fish. That camp would be the origin of Quebec City.

Relations with the Iroquois were good, despite a few minor disagreements that never led to violence. During that winter, Cartier compiled a sort of gazetteer including several pages on the customs of the Indians, in particular their habit of wearing only loincloths and leggings, even in the dead of winter. Cartier discovered the first scalps scalped at the Donnacona house, which belonged to members of another rival tribe, and he also tasted tobacco. The natives collected and dried the leaf in summer and then reduced it to powder, a powder they carried in small pouches around their necks which they then smoked. The natives considered it very beneficial for health and Cartier agreed to try it, but after the aspiration, he almost died of asphyxiation.

The onset of winter surprised the French ships at the mouth of the St. Croix River (now the St. Charles River, on the Quebec Rock, well prepared, with a wooden icebreaker ahead of them. From mid-November to mid-April 1536, the French fleet remained trapped in the icy river. The ice was more than a fathom (1.8 m) thick on the river, and the snow fallen on land more than four feet (1.2 m).

The men fell ill with scurvy, first the Iroquois and then the French. In his diary, Cartier notes in mid-February that "of the 110 of us, only ten were well enough to help the others, a pitiful thing to see." Cartier notes that more than fifty natives died, but that some managed to heal. One of the natives who survived was Domagaya, the chief's son, who had been taken to France the previous year. During a friendly visit to Domogaya from the French fort, Cartier asked him cautiously, lest they should learn of his weakness, and learned that a preparation of leaves from a tree known as annedda (probably Arbor vitae) could cure scurvy. This remedy possibly saved the expedition from destruction by allowing 85 Frenchmen to survive that winter.

In March, the great caribou migration arrived and the entire Iroquois population set out to hunt them down with spears, spear guns and arrows. In the spring, in April, the hunts ended and the Iroquois returned. Cartier began to fear them and prepared to march. On May 3, he raised with great ceremony a cross on the fort, 35 feet high, with the inscription: "Franciscus primus Dei gratia Francorum Rex regnat". He artfully captured Donnacona, his two sons and seven other Iroquois so that they, in person, could tell the story of that country further north, called the "kingdom of Saguenay," which they said was full of gold, rubies and other treasures. Taking advantage of the thaw, on May 6 he set course for France, abandoning La Petite Hermine, for which they no longer had any crew. After an arduous voyage up the St. Lawrence River and the estuary, they returned through the Strait of Honguedo (leaving the island of Anticosti to the north) and after crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence they sailed out into the Atlantic through the Strait of Cabot, this time leaving the island of Newfoundland to the north. They continued on and after christening the archipelago of St. Pierre and Miquelon on their passage, and after three weeks of crossing the Atlantic, Cartier and his men arrived at Saint-Malo on July 15, 1536, ending their second voyage 14 months after departure, the most profitable voyage of all that Cartier would make and convinced once again that he had explored part of the eastern coast of Asia.

The third voyage (1541-42)

Donnacona understood what the French were looking for, gold, gems, spices, and described to them what they wanted to hear, the mythological kingdom of Saguenay, and Francis I, despite his military concerns over disputes with Charles I, allowed himself to be persuaded to launch a third exploratory expedition, but at no time did the French seem determined to establish a colony. Donnacona died in France around 1539, as did other Iroquois, others married and none returned to their homeland.

However, Francis I changed his strategy and on October 17, 1540 ordered Cartier to return to Canada to initiate a colonization project of which he would be "captain general", with two main objectives: colonization and the spread of the Catholic faith. However, on January 15, 1541 Cartier was replaced by Jean-François de la Rocque de Roberval, a Huguenot broker and personal friend of the king, who was appointed first lieutenant general of French Canada. Roberval was charged with leading the expedition with Cartier as chief navigator. While Roberval waited for artillery and supplies, he gave Cartier permission to sail ahead with his ships: the expedition was prepared, five ships were armed, cattle were loaded, and convicts were released to become settlers.

On May 23, Cartier set sail from Saint-Malo on his third voyage with those five ships. This time, any idea of finding a passage to the East had been forgotten and the objectives were now to find the kingdom of Saguenay and its riches and to establish a permanent settlement along the St. Lawrence River. After a calamitous crossing he managed to reach Stadacona in August, arriving back in the village after three years of absence. The reunion was warm despite the announcement of Donnacona's death, but then relations deteriorated to the point that Cartier decided to settle elsewhere. He sailed under sail a few miles upriver to a place he had observed on the previous voyage, and decided to settle at the confluence of the St. Lawrence River with the Cape Rouge River, the site of present-day Cap-Rouge (Quebec). The convicts and the other settlers were landed, the cattle that had survived three months aboard the ships were set free, and small gardens were planted with cabbage, turnip and lettuce seeds. The settlement, which was named Charlesbourg-Royal, was fortified, and another fort was also erected on the cliff overlooking the settlement for further protection.

Winter arrived without the presence of Roberval or the rest of the expedition. In the meantime, Cartier was accumulating what he believed to be gold ore and diamonds in his dealings with the Hurons, who claimed to have collected them in the vicinity. Two of the ships were sent home with some of these minerals on September 2, and once they arrived, the experts reported that they had brought back only pyrite and quartz, of no value. Their disappointment gave rise to the French expression that it is "false as Canada's diamonds" ("faux comme des diamants du Canada").

Having set tasks for all, Cartier left the fort on September 7 and set out with a boat in search of the kingdom of Saguenay. Having reached Hochelaga again, bad weather and numerous rapids prevented him from continuing to the Ottawa River.

Back in Charlesbourg-Royal, Cartier found the situation ominous. The Iroquois no longer paid friendly visits and sold them fish and game, but prowled around in a sinister manner. There are no records of the winter of 1541-42 and information must be gleaned from the few details told on the sailors' return. The Indians apparently attacked and killed about 35 French settlers before they could retreat behind the fortifications. Although the scurvy was cured with the natural remedy (the infusion of "Thuja occidentalis), the impression is one of general misery and Cartier feels the growing conviction that there were not enough hands either to protect his base or to go again in search of the kingdom of Saguenay.

Cartier decided to return to France in early June 1542, and on the return voyage encountered Roberval and his ships along the coast of Newfoundland as Roberval was leaving Marguerite de la Rocque. Despite Roberval's insistence that he accompany him back to Saguenay, Cartier disappeared under cover of darkness and continued on to France, convinced that there was a large quantity of gold and diamonds on his ships. He arrived there in October, on what turned out to be his last voyage. Meanwhile, Roberval took command at Charlesbourg-Royal, but the colony was abandoned in 1543, after disease, bad weather and hostile natives drove the would-be colonists to despair.


Disappointed, Cartier retired to his residence in Limoilou, near Saint-Malo, where he was considered a wise man who was consulted on many things and whose knowledge of Portuguese was used. He died of the plague that struck the city in 1557, probably at the age of 65 or 66. His remains, rediscovered in 1944, rest in the cathedral of Saint-Malo.

Cartier ships

The caravels on which Cartier made his voyages were:

Cartier, having located the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence on his first voyage, opened the largest waterway for European penetration into North America and made an intelligent estimate of Canada's resources, both natural and human, albeit with considerable exaggeration of its mineral wealth. While some of his actions with the Iroquois on the St. Lawrence River were dishonorable, he attempted at the same time to establish friendship with them and with the other indigenous peoples living along the St. Lawrence River, an indispensable preliminary to French settlement of their lands.

Cartier was the first to use the name Canada in documents to designate the territory along the St. Lawrence River. The name derives from the Huron-Iroquois word for "kanata," or village, which was misinterpreted as the native term for the lands discovered.Cartier used the name to describe Stadacona, the surrounding land and the river itself. And Cartier called the inhabitants (Iroquois) he had seen there "Canadiens" (Canadiens). Thereafter the name Canada was used to designate the small French colony on those shores, and the French settlers were called Canadiens until the mid-19th century, when the name began to be applied to the Loyalist colonies on the Great Lakes and later to all of British North America. Cartier is not strictly the European discoverer of Canada, as this country is understood today, a vast federation "a mari usque ad mare" (from sea to sea). The eastern parts had already been visited by the Norse, as well as by Basque, Galician and Breton fishermen, and perhaps by the Corte-Real brothers and by Juan Cabot (in addition, of course, to the Indians who first inhabited the territory). Cartier's most important contribution to the discovery of Canada was to be the first European to penetrate the continent, and, more precisely, the eastern interior region along the St. Lawrence River. His explorations consolidated French claims to the territory that would later be colonized as New France, and his third voyage produced the first documented European attempt at settlement in North America since those of Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526-27.

The rapids that seemed to be blocking the way to China ("La Chine" in French) are known as the "Lachine Rapids" even today.

Cartier's professional training is easy to determine. Considering that Cartier made three voyages of exploration in dangerous and previously unknown waters without missing a single ship, and that he sailed in and out of some 50 unknown ports without serious mishaps, he can be considered one of the most conscientious navigators of the time.

Cartier was also one of the first to formally recognize that the New World was a separate land mass from Europe and Asia.


Cartier has been reinvented and numerous monuments, streets and squares have been named in his honor. The most prominent are:

Popular references

In 2005, Cartier's book, Bref récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en MDXXXV et MDXXXVI [Brief narrative and succinct description of the navigation made in MDXXXV MDXXXVI] was considered by the Literary Review of Canada as the most important book in Canadian history.

Jacques Cartier Island, located at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador, in the town of Quirpon, is said to have been named by Jacques Cartier himself on one of his voyages through the Strait of Belle Isle during the 1530s.

Travel Relations Manuscripts

No original manuscript of Cartier's accounts or testimonies (Relations) has survived, or it has not been possible to identify with certainty the authors of the manuscripts found.

The account of Cartier's second voyage (1535-36) was published from 1545 in Paris and there are only three known copies of that printing. Later, the accounts of the first and second voyages were translated into Italian by Giovanni Battista Ramusio and published several times since 1556. The Italian texts were translated into English by John Florio in 1580, and then into French in 1598 by Raphael du Petit Val. The lost manuscripts, the accounts of the third voyage and of Roberval's voyage are known only through Richard Hakluyt's English translation published in 1600. Cartier's voyages are then reviewed in the Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (widely distributed), by Lescarbot (1609-17) and Charlevoix (1744). The texts (according to Hakluyt) of Cartier's three accounts and that of Roberval were first collected in Quebec in 1843. It was at the time when Jacques Cartier was rediscovered.

There are other documents that were found in European archives in the second half of the 19th century, providing new information and corrections: three manuscripts of the account of the second voyage were studied in an edition of 1863; a manuscript of the account of the first voyage was published in 1867. Henry Percival Biggar made a critical study of the texts in 1924.

Travel Relations

On August 18, 2006, Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced that Canadian archaeologists had discovered the exact location of the first lost Cartier colony of Charlesbourg-Royal. The colony was built where the Cap Rouge River flows into the St. Lawrence and is based on the discovery of burnt wood remains that have been dated to the mid-16th century, and a fragment of a decorative istoriato plaque made in Faenza, Italy, between 1540 and 1550, which could only have belonged to a member of the French aristocracy in the colony. This was most likely the Sieur de Roberval, who replaced Cartier as leader of the colony. This colony was the first known European settlement in present-day Canada since the Viking village of L'Anse aux Meadows, in the north of the island of Newfoundland, from about AD 1000. Its rediscovery has been hailed by archaeologists as the most important find in Canada since the rediscovery of L'Anse aux Meadows.


  1. Jacques Cartier
  2. Jacques Cartier
  3. Estas cartas se han perdido, pero el sobrino de Cartier, Jacques Noël, habla «of a certaine booke made in manner of a sea Chart, which was drawn by the hand of my said uncle [...] well marked and drawne for all the River of Canada» [de un cierto libro hecho a la manera de una carta marina, que fue dibujada por la mano de mi tío [...] bien marcada y dibujada por todo el río de Canadá.] Carta a John Growt de 1587, publicada con la tercera relación de Cartier The Principal Navigations [...], por Richard Hakluyt, Londres, G. Bishop, 1600.
  4. Véanse las de Pierre Desceliers (~1500 ~1558), considerado el padre de la hidrografía francesa.
  5. Jacques Cartier pensaba que estaba en Asia. La palabra «canada» deriva de la voz «Kanata», un término iroqués que se usaba en la región para designar la aldea iroquesa de Stadacona, y que significaría en su idioma «grupo de chozas», «pueblo» o «aldea».
  6. Ou en 1493. Voir paragraphe sur ce point infra.
  7. Patrimoine canadien, « Origines du nom « Canada » », sur aem, 15 août 2017 (consulté le 27 mars 2019)
  8. Les cartes qu'il a dressées sont perdues, mais le neveu de Cartier, Jehan Nouel, parle « of a certaine booke made in manner of a sea Chart, which was drawn by the hand of my said uncle[…] well marked and drawne for all the River of Canada ». — Lettre à John Growte, 1587, publiée avec la troisième relation de Cartier par Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations[…], Londres, G. Bishop, 1600.
  9. https://trahir.wordpress.com/2018/02/10/vallieres-cartier/
  10. Meeting place — Montreal. Bi-weekly newspaper выпуск 20(62)  (неопр.). Дата обращения: 1 октября 2009. Архивировано из оригинала 4 марта 2016 года.
  11. ^ Wells, John C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  12. ^ Jones, Daniel (2011). Roach, Peter; Setter, Jane; Esling, John (eds.). Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (18th ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-15255-6.

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?