13 From Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, Volume 3

Samuel de Champlain


Volume 3

During the winter, which lasted four months, I had sufficient leisure to observe their country, customs, dress, manner of living, the character of their assemblies, and other things which I should like to describe. But it is necessary first to speak of the situation of the country in general and its divisions, also of the location of the tribes and the distances between them.

The country extends in length, in the direction from east to west, nearly four hundred and fifty leagues, and some eighty or a hundred leagues in breadth from north to south, from latitude 41° to 48° or 49°[1]. This region is almost an island, surrounded by the great river Saint Lawrence, which passes through several lakes of great extent, on the shores of which dwell various tribes speaking different languages, having fixed abodes, and all fond of the cultivation of the soil, but with various modes of life, and customs, some better than others. On the shore north of this great river, extending westerly some hundred leagues towards the Attigouantans[2], there are very high mountains, and the air is more temperate than in any other part of these regions, the latitude being 41°. All these places abound in game, such as stags, caribous, elks, does[3], buffaloes, bears, wolves, beavers, foxes, minxes[4], weasels[5], and many other kinds of animals which we do not have in France. Fishing is abundant, there being many varieties, both those which we have in France, as also others which we have not. There are likewise many birds in their time and season. The country is traversed by numerous rivers, brooks, and ponds, connecting with each other and finally emptying into the river St. Lawrence and the lakes through which it passes. The country is very pleasant in spring, is covered with extensive and lofty forests, and filled with wood similar to that which we have in France, although in many places there is much cleared land, where they plant Indian corn. This region also abounds in meadows, lowlands, and marshes, which furnish food for the animals before mentioned.

The country north of the great river is very rough and mountainous, and extends in latitude from 47° to 49°, and in places abounds in rocks[6]. So far as I could make out, these regions are inhabited by savages, who wander through the country, not engaging in the cultivation of the soil, nor doing anything, or at least as good as nothing. But they are hunters, now in one place, now in another, the region being very cold and disagreeable. This land on the north is in latitude 49° and extends over six hundred leagues in breadth from east to west, of parts of which we have full knowledge. There are also many fine large rivers rising in this region and discharging into the before-mentioned river, together with an infinite number of fine meadows, lakes, and ponds, through which they pass, where there is an abundance of fish. There are likewise numerous islands which are for the most part cleared up and very pleasant, the most of them containing great quantities of vines and wild fruits.

With regard to the regions further west, we cannot well determine their extent, since the people here have no knowledge of them except for two or three hundred leagues or more westerly, from whence comes the great river, which passes, among other places, through a lake having an extent of nearly thirty days’ journey by canoe, namely that which we have called the Mer Douce. This is of great extent, being nearly four hundred leagues long. Inasmuch as the savages, with whom we are on friendly terms, are at war with other nations on the west of this great lake, we cannot obtain a more complete knowledge of them, except as they have told us several times that some prisoners from the distance of a hundred leagues had reported that there were tribes there like ourselves in color and in other respects. Through them they have seen the hair of these people which is very light, and which they esteem highly, saying that it is like our own. I can only conjecture in regard to this, that the people they say resemble us were those more civilized than themselves. It would require actual presence to ascertain the truth in regard to this matter. But assistance is needed, and it is only men of means, leisure, and energy, who could or would undertake to promote this enterprise so that a full exploration of these places might be made, affording us a complete knowledge of them.

In regard to the region south of the great river it is very thickly settle d, much more so than that on the north, and by tribes who are at war with each other. The country is very pleasant, much more so than that on the northern border, and the air is more temperate. There are many kinds of trees and fruits not found north of the river, while there are many things on the north side, in compensation, not found on the south. The regions towards the east are sufficiently well known, inasmuch as the ocean borders these places. These are the coasts of Labrador, Newfoundland, Cape Breton, La Cadie, and the Almouchiquois[7], places well known, as I have treated of them sufficiently in the narrative of my previous Voyages, as likewise of the people living there, on which account I shall not speak of them in this treatise, my object being only to make a succinct and true report of what I have seen in addition.

The country of the nation of the Attigouantans is in latitude 44° 30′, and extends two hundred and thirty leagues[8] in length westerly, and ten in breadth. It contains eighteen villages, six of which are enclosed and fortified by palisades of wood in triple rows, bound together, on the top of which are galleries, which they provide with stones and water; the former to hurl upon their enemies and the latter to extinguish the fire which their enemies may set to the palisades. The country is pleasant, most of it cleared up. It has the shape of Brittany, and is similarly situated, being almost surrounded by the Mer Douce.[9] They assume that these eighteen villages are inhabited by two thousand warriors, not including the common mass which amounts to perhaps thirty thousand souls.

Their cabins are in the shape of tunnels or arbors, and are covered with the bark of trees. They are from twenty-five to thirty fathoms long, more or less, and six wide, having a passage-way through the middle from ten to twelve feet wide, which extends from one end to the other. On the two sides there is a kind of bench, four feet high, where they sleep in summer, in order to avoid the annoyance of the fleas, of which there are great numbers. In winter they sleep on the ground on mats near the fire, so as to be warmer than they would be on the platform. They lay up a stock of dry wood, with which they fill their cabins, to burn in winter. At the extremity of the cabins there is a space, where they preserve their Indian corn, which they put into great casks made of the bark of trees and placed in the middle of their encampment. They have pieces of wood suspended, on which they put their clothes, provisions, and other things, for fear of the mice, of which there are great numbers. In one of these cabins there may be twelve fires, and twenty-four families. It smokes excessively, from which it follows that many receive serious injury to the eyes, so that they lose their sight towards the close of life. There is no window nor any opening, except that in the upper part of their cabins for the smoke to escape.

This is all that I have been able to learn about their mode of life; and I have described to you fully the kind of dwelling of these people, as far as I have been able to learn it, which is the same as that of all the tribes living in these regions. They sometimes change their villages at intervals of ten, twenty, or thirty years, and transfer them to a distance of one, two, or three leagues from the preceding situation[10], except when compelled by their enemies to dislodge, in which case they retire to a greater distance, as the Antouhonorons, who went some forty to fifty leagues. This is the form of their dwellings, which are separated from each other some three or four paces, for fear of fire, of which they are in great dread.

Their life is a miserable one in comparison with our own; but they are happy among themselves, not having experienced anything better, and not imagining that anything more excellent is to be found. Their principal articles of food are Indian corn and Brazilian beans[11], which they prepare in various ways. By braying in a wooden mortar they reduce the corn to meal. They remove the bran by means of fans made of the bark of trees. From this meal they make bread, using also beans which they first boil, as they do the Indian corn for soup, so that they may be more easily crushed. Then they mix all together, sometimes adding blueberries[12] or dry raspberries, and sometimes pieces of deer’s fat, though not often, as this is scarce with them. After steeping the whole in lukewarm water, they make bread in the form of bannocks or pies, which they bake in the ashes. After they are baked they wash them, and from these they often make others by wrapping them in corn leaves, which they fasten to them, and then putting them in boiling water.

But this is not their most common kind. They make another, which they call migan, which is as follows: They take the pounded Indian corn, without removing the bran, and put two or three handfuls of it in an earthen pot full of water. This they boil, stirring it from time to time, that it may not burn nor adhere to the pot. Then they put into the pot a small quantity of fish, fresh or dry, according to the season, to give a flavor to the migan, as they call it. They make it very often, although it smells badly, especially in winter, either because they do not know how to prepare it rightly, or do not wish to take the trouble to do so. They make two kinds of it, and prepare it very well when they choose. When they use fish the migan does not smell badly, but only when it is made with venison. After it is all cooked, they take out the fish, pound it very fine, and then put it all together into the pot, not taking the trouble to remove the appendages, scales, or inwards, as we do, which generally causes a bad taste. It being thus prepared, they deal out to each one his portion. This migan is very thin, and without much substance, as may be well supposed. As for drink, there is no need of it, the migan being sufficiently thin of itself.

They have another kind of migan, namely, they roast new corn before it is ripe, which they preserve and cook whole with fish, or flesh when they have it. Another way is this: they take Indian corn, which is very dry, roast it in the ashes, then bray it and reduce it to meal as in the former case. This they lay up for the journeys which they undertake here and there. The migan made in the latter manner is the best according to my taste. Figure H shows the women braying their Indian corn. In preparing it, they cook a large quantity of fish and meat, which they cut into pieces and put into great kettles, which they fill with water and let it all boil well. When this is done, they gather with a spoon from the surface the fat which comes from the meat and fish. Then they put in the meal of the roasted corn, constantly stirring it until the migan is cooked and thick as soup. They give to each one a portion, together with a spoonful of the fat. This dish they are accustomed to prepare for banquets, but they do not generally make it.

Now the corn freshly roasted, as above described, is highly esteemed among them. They eat also beans, which they boil with the mass of the roasted flour, mixing in a little fat and fish. Dogs are in request at their banquets, which they often celebrate among themselves, especially in winter, when they are at leisure. In case they go hunting for deer or go fishing, they lay aside what they get for celebrating these banquets, nothing remaining in their cabins but the usual thin migan, resembling bran and water, such as is given to hogs to eat.
They have another way of eating the Indian corn. In preparing it, they take it in the ear and put it in water under the mud, leaving it two or three months in this state until they think it is putrefied. Then they remove it, and eat it boiled with meat or fish. They also roast it, and it is better so than boiled. But I assure you that there is nothing that smells so badly as this corn as it comes from the water all muddy. Yet the women and children take it and suck it like sugar-cane, nothing seeming to them to taste better, as they show by their manner. In general they have two meals a day. As for ourselves, we fasted all of Lent and longer, in order to influence them by our example. But it was time lost.

They also fatten bears, which they keep two or three years, for the purpose of their banquets. I observed that if this people had domestic animals they would be interested in them and care for them very well, and I showed them the way to keep them, which would be an easy thing for them, since they have good grazing grounds in their country, and in large quantities, for all kinds of animals, horses, oxen, cows, sheep, swine, and other kinds, for lack of which one would consider them badly off, as they seem to be. Yet with all their drawbacks, they seem to me to live happily among themselves, since their only ambition is to live and support themselves, and they lead a more settled life than those who wander through the forests like brute beasts. They eat many squashes[13], which they boil, and roast in the ashes.

In regard to their dress, they have various kinds and styles made of the skins of wild beasts, both those which they capture themselves, and others which they get in exchange for their Indian corn, meal, porcelain, and fishing-nets from the Algonquins, Nipissings, and other tribes, which are hunters having no fixed abodes. All their clothes are of one uniform shape, not varied by any new styles. They prepare and fit very well the skins, making their breeches of deer-skin rather large, and their stockings of another piece, which extend up to the middle and have many folds. Their shoes are made of the skins of deer, bears, and beaver, of which they use great numbers. Besides, they have a robe of the same fur, in the form of a cloak, which they wear in the Irish or Egyptian style, with sleeves which are attached with a string behind. This is the way they are dressed in winter, as is seen in figure D. When they go into the fields, they gird up their robe about the body; but when in the village, they leave off their sleeves and do not gird themselves. The Milan trimmings for decorating their garments are made of glue and the scrapings of the before-mentioned skins, of which they make bands in various styles according to their fancy, putting in places bands of red and brown color amid those of the glue, which always keep a whitish appearance, not losing at all their shape, however dirty they may get. There are those among these nations who are much more skilful than others in fitting the skins, and ingenious in inventing ornaments to put on their garments. It is our Montagnais and Algonquins, above all others, who take more pains in this matter. They put on their robes bands of porcupine quills, which they dye a very fine scarlet color[14]. They value these bands very highly, and detach them so that they may serve for other robes when they wish to make a change. They also make use of them to adorn the face, in order to give it a more graceful appearance whenever they wish particularly to decorate themselves.

Most of them paint the face black and red. These colors they mix with oil made from the seed of the sun-flower, or with bear’s fat or that of other animals. They also dye their hair, which some wear long, others short, others on one side only. The women and girls always wear their hair in one uniform style. They are dressed like men, except that they always have their robes girt about them, which extend down to the knee. They are not at all ashamed to expose the body from the middle up and from the knees down, unlike the men, the rest being always covered. They are loaded with quantities of porcelain, in the shape of necklaces and chains, which they arrange in the front of their robes and attach to their waists. They also wear bracelets and ear-rings. They have their hair carefully combed, dyed, and oiled. Thus they go to the dance, with a knot of their hair behind bound up with eel-skin, which they use as a cord. Sometimes they put on plates a foot square, covered with porcelain, which hang on the back. Thus gaily dressed and habited, they delight to appear in the dance, to which their fathers and mothers send them, forgetting nothing that they can devise to embellish and set off their daughters. I can testify that I have seen at dances a girl who had more than twelve pounds of porcelain on her person, not including the other bagatelles with which they are loaded and bedecked. In the illustration already cited, F shows the dress of the women, G that of the girls attired for the dance.

All these people have a very jovial disposition, although there are many of them who have a sad and gloomy look. Their bodies are well proportioned. Some of the men and women are well formed, strong, and robust. There is a moderate number of pleasing and pretty girls, in respect to figure, color, and expression, all being in harmony. Their blood is but little deteriorated, except when they are old. There are among these tribes powerful women of extraordinary height. These have almost the entire care of the house and work; namely, they till the land, plant the Indian corn, lay up a store of wood for the winter, beat the hemp and spin it, making from the thread fishing-nets and other useful things. The women harvest the corn, house it, prepare it for eating, and attend to household matters. Moreover they are expected to attend their husbands from place to place in the fields, filling the office of pack-mule in carrying the baggage, and to do a thousand other things. All the men do is to hunt for deer and other animals, fish, make their cabins, and go to war. Having done these things, they then go to other tribes with which they are acquainted to traffic and make exchanges. On their return, they give themselves up to festivities and dances, which they give to each other, and when these are over they go to sleep, which they like to do best of all things.

They have some sort of marriage, which is as follows: when a girl has reached the age of eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen years she has suitors, more or less according to her attractions, who woo her for some time. After this, the consent of their fathers and mothers is asked, to whose will the girls often do not submit, although the most discreet and considerate do so. The lover or suitor presents to the girl some necklaces, chains, and bracelets of porcelain. If the girl finds the suitor agreeable, she receives the present. Then the lover comes and remains with her three or four nights, without saying anything to her during the time. They receive thus the fruit of their affections. Whence it happens very often that, after from eight to fifteen days, if they cannot agree, she quits her suitor, who forfeits his necklaces and other presents that he has made, having received in return only a meagre satisfaction. Being thus disappointed in his hopes, the man seeks another woman, and the girl another suitor, if it seems to them desirable. Thus they continue to do until a favorable union is formed. It sometimes happens that a girl thus passes her entire youth, having more than twenty mates, which twenty are not alone in the enjoyment of the creature, mated though they are; for when night comes the young women run from one cabin to another, as do also the young men on their part, going where it seems good to them, but always without any violence, referring the whole matter to the pleasure of the woman. Their mates will do likewise to their women-neighbors, no jealousy arising among them on that account, nor do they incur any reproach or insult, such being the custom of the country.

Now the time when they do not leave their mates is when they have children. The preceding mate returns to her, renews the affection and friendship which he had borne her in the past, asserting that it is greater than that of any other one, and that the child she has is his and of his begetting. The next says the same to her. In time, the victory is with the stronger, who takes the woman for his wife. Thus it depends upon the choice of the woman to take and accept him who shall please her best, having meantime in her searching and loves gained much porcelain and, besides, the choice of a husband. The woman remains with him without leaving him; or if she do leave him, for he is on trial, it must be for some good reason other than impotence. But while with this husband, she does not cease to give herself free rein, yet remains always at home, keeping up a good appearance. Thus the children which they have together, born from such a woman, cannot be sure of their legitimacy. Accordingly, in view of this uncertainty, it is their custom that the children never succeed to the property and honors of their fathers, there being doubt, as above indicated, as to their paternity. They make, however, the children of their sisters, from whom they are known to have issued, their successors and heirs.

The following is the way they nourish and bring up their children: they place them during the day on a little wooden board, wrapping them up in furs or skins. To this board they bind them, placing them in an erect position, and leaving a little opening for the child to do its necessities. If it is a girl, they put a leaf of Indian corn between the thighs, which presses against its privates. The extremity of the leaf is carried outside in a turned position, so that the water of the child runs off on it without inconvenience. They put also under the children the down of certain reeds that we call hare’s-foot, on which they rest very softly. They also clean them with the same down. As an ornament for the child, they adorn the board with beads, which they also put on its neck, however small it may be. At night they put it to bed, entirely naked, between the father and mother. It may be regarded as a great miracle that God should thus preserve it so that no harm befalls it, as might be expected, from suffocation, while the father and mother are in deep sleep, but that rarely happens. The children have great freedom among these tribes. The fathers and mothers indulge them too much, and never punish them. Accordingly they are so bad and of so vicious a nature, that they often strike their mothers and others. The most vicious, when they have acquired the strength and power, strike their fathers. They do this whenever the father or mother does anything that does not please them. This is a sort of curse that God inflicts upon them.

In respect to laws, I have not been able to find out that they have any, or anything that approaches them, inasmuch as there is not among them any correction, punishment, or censure of evil-doers except in the way of vengeance, when they return evil for evil, not by rule but by passion, which produces among them conflicts and differences, which occur very frequently.

Moreover, they do not recognize any divinity, or worship any God and believe in anything whatever, but live like brute beasts. They have, however, some respect for the devil, or something so called, which is a matter of uncertainty, since the word which they use thus has various significations and comprises in itself various things. It is accordingly difficult to determine whether they mean the devil or something else, but what especially leads to the belief that what they mean is the devil is this: whenever they see a man doing something extraordinary, or who is more capable than usual, or is a valiant warrior, or furthermore who is in a rage as if out of his reason and senses, they call him oqui, or, as we should say, a great knowing spirit, or a great devil. However this may be, they have certain persons, who are the oqui, or, as the Algonquins and Montagnais call them, manitous; and persons of this kind are the medicine-men, who heal the sick, bind up the wounded, and predict future events, who in fine practise all abuses and illusions of the devil to deceive and delude them. These oquis or conjurers persuade their patients and the sick to make, or have made banquets and ceremonies that they may be the sooner healed, their object being to participate in them finally themselves and get the principal benefit therefrom. Under the pretence of a more speedy cure, they likewise cause them to observe various other ceremonies, which I shall hereafter speak of in the proper place. These are the people in whom they put especial confidence, but it is rare that they are possessed of the devil and tormented like other savages living more remote than themselves.

This gives additional reason and ground to believe that their conversion to the knowledge of God would be more easy, if their country were inhabited by persons who would take the trouble and pains to instruct them. But it is not enough to send to them friars, unless there are those to support and assist them. For although these people have the desire to-day to know what God is, to-morrow this disposition will change when they are obliged to lay aside and bring under their foul ways, their dissolute manners, and their savage indulgences. So that there is need of people and families to keep them in the way of duty, to constrain them through mildness to do better, and to move them by good example to mend their lives. Father Joseph[15] and myself have many times conferred with them in regard to our belief, laws, and customs. They listened attentively in their assemblies, sometimes saying to us: You say things that pass our knowledge, and which we cannot understand by words, being beyond our comprehension; but if you would do us a service come and dwell in this country, bringing your wives and children, and when they are here we shall see how you serve the God you worship, and how you live with your wives and children, how you cultivate and plant the soil, how you obey your laws, how you take care of animals, and how you manufacture all that we see proceeding from your inventive skill. When we see all this, we shall learn more in a year than in twenty by simply hearing you discourse and if we cannot then understand, you shall take our children, who shall be as your own. And thus being convinced that our life is a miserable one in comparison with yours, it is easy to believe that we shall adopt yours, abandoning our own.

Their words seemed to me good common sense, showing the desire they have to get a knowledge of God. It is a great wrong to let so many men be lost, and see them perish at our door, without rendering them the succor which can only be given through the help of kings, princes, and ecclesiastics, who alone have the power to do this. For to them alone belongs the honor of so great a work; namely, planting the Christian faith in an unknown region and among savage nations, since we are well informed about these people, that they long for and desire nothing so much as to be clearly instructed as to what they should do and avoid. It is accordingly the duty of those who have the power, to labor there and contribute of their abundance, for one day they must answer before God for the loss of the souls which they allowed to perish through their negligence and avarice; and these are not few but very numerous. Now this will be done when it shall please God to give them grace to this end. As for myself, I desire this result rather to-day than to-morrow, from the zeal which I have for the advancement of God’s glory, for the honor of my King, and for the welfare and renown of my country.

When they are sick, the man or woman who is attacked with any disease sends for the oqui, who visits the patient and informs himself about the malady and the suffering. After this, the oqui sends for a large number of men, women, and girls, including three or four old women. These enter the cabin of the sick, dancing, each one having on his head the skin of a bear or some other wild beast, that of the bear being the most common as it is the most frightful. There are three or four other old women about the sick or suffering, who for the most part feign sickness, or are sick merely in imagination. But they are soon cured of this sickness, and generally make banquets at the expense of their friends or relatives, who give them something to put into their kettle, in addition to the presents which they receive from the dancers, such as porcelain and other bagatelles, so that they are soon cured; for when they find that they have nothing more to look for, they get up with what they have secured. But those who are really sick are not readily cured by plays, dances, and such proceedings.



Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, Vol. 3, Samuel de Champlain, Public Domain


  1. . Champlain is here speaking of the whole country of New France.
  2. This sentence in the original is unfinished and defective. Au costé vers le Nort, icelle grande riuiere terant à l'Occident, etc. In the ed. 1632, the reading is Au costé vers le nort d'icelle grande riuiere tirant au suroust, etc. The tranlation is according to the ed. of 1632. Vide Quebec ed., p. 941.
  3. Champlain here gives the four species of the cervus family under names then known to him, viz, the moose, wapiti or elk, caribou, and the common deer.
  4. Fouines, a quadruped known as the minx or mink, Mustela vison.
  5. Martes, weasels, Mustela vulgaris.
  6. The country on the north, &c. Having described the country along the coast of the St Lawrence and the lakes he now refers to the country still further north even to the southern borders of Hudson's Bay. Vide small map.
  7. Almouchiquois, so in the French for Almouchiquois. All the tribes at and south of Chouacoet, or the mouth of the Saco River, were denominated Almouchiquois by the French. Vide Vol II p 63, et passim.
  8. The country of the Attigouantans, sometimes written Attigouautans, the principal tribe of the Hurons, used by Champlain as including the whole, with whom the French were in close alliance, was from east to west not more than about twelve leagues. There must have been some error by which the author is made to say that it was two hundred and thirty leagues. Laverdière suggests that in the manuscript it might have been 23, or 20 to 30, and that the printer made it 230.
  9. The author plainly means that the country of the Hurons was nearly surrounded by the Mer Douce; that is to say, by Lake Huron and the waters connected with it, viz., the River Severn, Lake Couchiching, and Lake Simcoe. As to the population, compare The Jesuits in North America, by Francis Parkman, LL.D., note p. xxv.
  10. Vide antea, note 172, for the reason of these removals.
  11. Febues du Brésil. This was undoubtedly the common trailing bean, Pliaseolus vulgaris, probably called the Brazilian bean, because it resembled a bean known under that name. It was found in cultivation in New England as mentioned by Champlain and the early English settlers. Bradford discoursing of the Indians, His. Plymouth Plantation, p. 83, speaks of "their beans of various collours." It is possible that the name, febues du Brésil, was given to it on account of its red color, as was that of the Brazil-wood, from the Portuguese word braza, a burning coal.
  12. Vide antea, note 101.
  13. Sitrouelles, or citrouilles, the common summer squash, Cucurbita polymorpha. Vide Vol. II. note 128. For figure D, vide p. 116.
  14. The coloring matter appears to have been derived from the root of the bedstraw, Galium tinctorum. Peter Kalm, a pupil of Linnæus, who travelled in Canada in 1749, says, "The roots of this plant are employed by the Indians in dyeing the quills of the American porcupines red, which they put into several pieces of their work, and air, sun, or water seldom change this color." Travels into North America, London, 1771, Vol. III. pp. 14-15.
  15. Père Joseph Le Caron, who had passed the winter among the Hurons.


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