|A Year of Colonial American Frontier History|
Pleased with Cartier's report on the first voyage, King Francis I approved a second voyage. Jacques Cartier and a crew of 110 men set sail on three ships, Grande Hermine (the Great Stoat), the Petite Hermine (the Lesser Stoat) and the Émérillon (the Merlin) on May 19, 1535. The two Amerindian boys they had kidnapped the year before, Dom Agaya and Taignoagny, accompanied them. The boys would serve as interpreters and guides on this voyage.
Settling in for the Winter
After a voyage of fifty days, the small fleet reached the St. Lawrence River on July 8, 1535. The boys guided them up the river to their village, Stadacona, the Iroquios capital. The Canadian city of Quebec now stands on the site. They established a post at the mouth of the St. Charles River and settled in after deciding to spend the winter in the new land. This spot provided a natural haven for the ships. High bluffs sheltered the ships from strong winds and the currents kept the ships from drifting downstream. They had only stocked provisions for a 115-day voyage. Cartier thus set men to the task of salting fish and stocking provisions for the winter. Cartier and some of the crew continued exploring upstream in the smallest ship, Émérillon. They had adapted it for shallower waters for river travel.
Sailing upriver, the Émérillon reached the Amerindian village of Hochelaga on October 2. Montreal now occupies this site. The Jacques Cartier Bridge marks the spot that historians are confident is his landing place. This city was much bigger than Stadacona, and well over a thousand natives met his ships. These natives told him tantalizing stories about a sea that occupied the middle of the land further to the west. They also assured him that great riches of gold lay to the west, also. However, rapids blocked his forward progress. Convinced that this was the fabled Northwest Passage and that China lay just beyond those rapids, he named them the Lachine Rapids and the river the Lachine River. Lachine is the French word for "China."
Since their settlement lay south of the latitude of Paris, the Frenchmen expected a mild winter. No Europeans since the Vikings 500 years earlier had experienced a North American winter. What they experienced shocked and almost killed them. From the beginning of November until May the river froze, locking their ships in a thick layer of ice. In addition to the cold and privation, scurvy soon afflicted both the Amerindians and the Europeans. The disease began killing Cartier's crew.
Insufficient supplies of Vitamin C cause scurvy. Early, the disease causes appetite loss, diarrhea, rapid breathing, fever, irritability, swelling, bleeding, and paralysis. Later stages include bleeding gums, loosened teeth, protruding eyes, anemia and finally, death. It is a long, painful death. The cure for the disease is simple. Just consume sources of Vitamin C. The disease at this time was well known. It was mostly associated with sailors who would go long periods with no fresh fruits or vegetables. No one at the time knew the cure.
The French noticed that the Amerindians also suffered from the disease, but would recover after a time. The French, not recovering, grew desperate for a cure. They implored the Amerindians for the cure. However, the natives were hesitant to share their medicine with outsiders. At length they told them that a tea made from the boiled bark from the white cedar tree would cure the disease. The French gathered some of the bark, prepared it and drank the tea. It provided almost immediate relief and in a few days, they had stripped the bark off one whole tree. But they lived.
By May, the ice had thawed and the ships were free. With twenty-five less men than he started, Cartier sailed for France in mid-May
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
© Paul Wonning 2016