Jacques Cartier (1491–1557) explorer
The French king Francis I’s (r. 1515–47) search for a seasoned mariner to lead his country’s challenge to Spain and Portugal in the recently discovered Americas brought to the forefront Jacques Cartier. Although Cartier found neither gold nor the Northwest Passage to Asia, his three voyages to the Americas between 1534 and 1542 firmly established French claims to Canada (see Canada—immigration survey and policy overview).
Cartier was raised in the bustling seaport of Saint-Malo in northern France, and had almost certainly traveled to the Americas as a young man, perhaps in the company of Giovanni da Verrazano. Cartier first sailed from Saint- Malo with two ships and 61 men in April 1534. Exploring the coasts of northern Newfoundland, Anticosta Island, and Prince Edward Island, he claimed the region for France and returned to a hero’s welcome. Freshly outfitted with three ships, in May 1535, he returned to the New World to explore the St. Lawrence River, certain that he had found the fabled western passage through the continent. Native tales of the fabulous wealth of “Saguenay” led him further inland, where he established French claims to the areas surrounding the future cities of Quebec and Montreal, in present-day Quebec province. With the kidnapped Huron chief Donnaconna personally conveying details of the mysterious land of Saguenay to Francis I, in 1541, the French king outfitted Cartier for a third journey, with five ships and 1,000 men. The settlement of Charlesbourg Royal was founded in 1542, but native opposition and infighting between Cartier and Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval, a late royal appointment as Cartier’s nominal superior, led to abandonment of the settlement in 1543. Although Francis I was disappointed to find no wealth in New France, Cartier’s explorations led to further development 50 years later.