Tag Archives: New France

A New Biography of Samuel de Champlain


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David Hackett Fischer‘s new biography of Samuel de Champlain is out. He will be at the New York State Writers Institute on Thursday to discuss the work, and there’s a review in the Albany Times Union by Paul Grondahl:

Published this month to capitalize on planned 2009 quadricentennial celebrations of Hudson and Champlain, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian has written a comprehensive, magisterial biography, Champlain’s Dream. It is intended to resurrect the extraordinary accomplishments of a protean figure largely overlooked in today’s history courses…

That dream of creating a French colony in North America began circa 1570 on the Atlantic coast of France, where Champlain grew up tolerant of religious differences in an era of brutal sectarian warfare. It is unclear whether Champlain was baptized Catholic or Protestant and much of his lineage remains murky. Fischer does not entirely discount historians who have suggested that he was an illegitimate son of the illustrious French king Henri IV — who gave financial support to Champlain’s explorations, granted him special access and provided a pension for him.

“The hard evidence to support such an idea is zero,” [Fischer] said.

Regardless of his paternity, Champlain went to sea as a youth and acquired exceptional sailing and navigation skills. In his jam-packed career, he was a soldier, spy, explorer, cartographer, author, artist and, above all, a conciliator among warring Indian tribes in the New World.

Unlike other agents of imperialism, Champlain did not go in search of gold or conquest, but rather to spread the culture of France, to discover new places and to bring together diverse people in a spirit of harmony.

His travels are prodigious. He made at least 27 Atlantic crossings between 1599 and 1635 without losing a ship; traversed six Canadian provinces and five American states by land and water; created maps more detailed and accurate than his contemporaries; wrote in-depth accounts of his trips that fill six large volumes. Oddly, he never learned to swim.

It is as the father of New France that Champlain deserves the most recognition, according to Fischer. As the founder and leader of the first permanent French settlements in North America, he went so far as to subsidize new families with his own money.

Although Champlain had some stains on his character, including shabby treatment of his French servants and an inability to absorb criticism, by the time of his death in 1635 he had succeeded in permanently planting French culture in the New World.

New Netherland Institute’s Rensselaerswijck Seminar


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The New Netherland Institute has announced its 31st Rensselaerswijck Seminar, “Neighbors in the New World: New Netherland and New France,” a one-day conference to be held on Saturday, September 13, 2008, in the Kenneth B. Clark Auditorium of the Cultural Education Center at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.

The theme is the relationship between the Dutch and French in 17th-century North America. Major attention will focus on interactions of these European powers and their respective Indian allies. The following speakers will explore various aspects of this relationship, including direct and indirect contacts between these two European trading powers both in Europe and in the New World:

James Bradley, ArchLink, Boston, MA
“In Between Worlds: New Netherland and New France at Mid Century”

José António Brandão, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI
“An Unreasonable Offer: Iroquois Policy towards their Huron and Mahican Neighbors”

Willem Frijhoff, Free University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
“Jesuits, Calvinists, and Natives: Attitudes, Agency, and Encounters in the Early Christian Missions in the North.”

Joyce Goodfriend, University of Denver, CO
Introduction and presentation of the Hendricks Manuscript Award

Conrad Heidenreich, York University, Ontario, Canada
“The Skirmish with the Mohawk on Lake Champlain: was Champlain a ‘trigger-happy thug’ or ‘just following orders?’”

The conference program and registration information can be found online [pdf].

The New Netherland Institute is the friends group of the New Netherland Project, which, according to their website:

Was established under the sponsorship of the New York State Library and the Holland Society of New York. Its primary objective is to complete the transcription, translation, and publication of all Dutch documents in New York repositories relating to the seventeenth-century colony of New Netherland. This unique resource has already proven invaluable to scholars in a wide variety of disciplines. It also serves to enhance awareness of the major Dutch contributions to America over the centuries and the strong connections between the two nations. The Project is supported by the New York State Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New Netherland Institute.

The New Netherland Institute (formerly Friends of New Netherland) seeks to increase public awareness of the work of the New Netherland Project and supports the Project through fund raising. The Institute assists authors of scholarly and popular material; disseminates information to educators, researchers, historians, curators, genealogists, and anthropologists; develops collaborations with academic institutions and other organizations interested in early American history; provides learning opportunities, such as internships, as well as research and consulting services pertaining to New Netherland; and sponsors activities related to the work of the New Netherland Project.