As Cartier sailed away from Stadacona with his ten captives, he left behind 25 dead crew members in the land he’d come to call Canada. Five years later, as he sailed away from France to return on his third and final trip, he left behind nine dead Stadaconans in the land he called France. His tenth victim, a young girl, was the only one still alive when Cartier returned to her home. He did not take her with him. Cartier intended to lie about the deaths of the others, and couldn’t have the survivor with him in case she revealed the tragic truth. We do not know her name.
Instead, five ships carrying a mixture of “alleged members of the nobility” and “condemned felons” left St. Malo on May 23, 1541 on a mission not just of exploration, but for the first time, of colonization. It took them three months to cross the Atlantic and reach Stadacona, which today is the amount of time it takes for a ship to get a third of the way to Mars.
As Cartier anticipated, Agona was now the leader of Stadacona. When asked about the kidnapped Stadaconans who Cartier had promised to return by now, he informed Agona (without the use of interpreters, since his interpreters were among the dead) “that Donnacona was dead, but the rest had married and were living in France as great lords, for which reason they did not wish to return to Canada.” As far as deceptions go, this one was not very plausible. Over the coming decades, as more and more people from this world visited the other, it was almost unheard of for anyone to prefer life in France, even when they were treated well. Here Cartier was perhaps lying not only to Agona, but also to himself. If he was deceiving himself about his culture’s superiority in order to rationalize his colonial actions, he wouldn’t be the last to do so.
Cartier expected that Agona would be pleased to learn of Donnacona’s death, having mistakenly believed the two were rivals for the leadership of Stadacona. Not only was Agona not pleased, he immediately suspected Cartier was not telling the truth about the survival and willful emigration of the others. But Agona did not want to make a scene, so instead he made a show of welcoming Cartier, and filed his anger and distrust away for future use.
What the French did next very quickly made their relationship with their reluctant hosts even worse. Already “outraged by Cartier’s failure to honour his promise to return Donnacona” and the others, Agona and the Stadaconans now watched as the French headed fifteen kilometers upriver and brazenly began constructing a settlement for their 400 colonists, which they named Charlesbourg-Royal. They planted crops and built buildings and forts without asking permission or making any effort to “[acquire] use of the land” from the Stadaconans. The actions left Agona “with no alternative but to view Cartier as his enemy.” The French had made it clear that they were an invading, occupying force.
These invaders would therefore have to be driven out. The Stadaconans “concluded that Charlesbourg-Royal was too strong to be attacked directly,” so instead they waged “a war of attrition.” They picked-off the invaders whenever they were vulnerable, like when they left their fort to cut wood. In that first winter the Stadaconans killed thirty-five colonists. The neighbouring people of Achelacy and Hochelaga also joined the military alliance against the French. After about one year (and, more significantly, one winter), the French surrendered and retreated in June 1542, the Indigenous alliance having successfully repelled their invasion. But there was little time for Agona and the others to celebrate. A second wave of French ships led by the dread pirate Roberval were already sailing their way.
I mentioned before that the French had two names, a Christian name and a family name. That was somewhat of an oversimplification. The French believed that some people were superior to others based on their lineage, and French culture therefore had a rigid hierarchical system that included a set of people who were “noble” and had titles in addition to Christian and family names. In that way, a man named Jean-François de La Rocque came to be known to history primarily as Roberval, because by noble inheritance he was the “sieur de Roberval.”
The trip described above — what historians now call “Cartier’s third voyage” to what he had just started calling “Canada” — was not actually Cartier’s, but Roberval’s. The French King had given Roberval command of the expedition, with Cartier as navigator. But Roberval “was having financial difficulties,” so before he left he felt it necessary to first spend some time pirating in the English Channel. Cartier went on ahead, and as we now know, established and abandoned his colony before Roberval even showed up. However, as Cartier retreated, he ran into Roberval’s three ships in a harbour on the far east side of a large rocky island that reached out into the Atlantic, a finger outstretched towards France, which we currently call St John’s, Newfoundland. Witnessing his retreat from military defeat, Roberval ordered Cartier to return with him to the front lines. But Cartier, not willing to face his enemies again, and believing his ship was full of gold and diamonds, disobeyed the order and snuck away under the cover of darkness.
Cartier’s first voyage ended with the kidnapping of Taignoagny and Domagaya. His second, with the re-kidnapping of those two men, their father Donnacona, and 7 more. And now his third had ended with a retreat both from the Stadaconan people and from his own commander, in a ship full of nearly worthless treasure. One of the first clear accomplishments of these three trips therefore was the inspiration for a popular new French expression, faux comme des diamants du Canada: as false as Canadian diamonds. “Cartier was never again entrusted with the command of an important expedition.” By his own primary objectives — establishing a colony, amassing wealth, and finding a route to China (lol) — Cartier had failed. Regardless, in the coming centuries the people in charge of naming bridges, parks, and schools would give him an A for effort.
A month after they’d expelled Cartier and his would-be colonists, the Stadaconans watched as Roberval’s ships sailed past them without stopping, heading straight for the site of the abandoned French colony further upriver. Roberval and his 150 colonists reestablished Charlesbourg-Royal, but renamed it France-Roy, because the French were always renaming everything, even their own things. That winter at France-Roy 50 people, or about a third of the population, died. When the ice turned back to water, another eight people drowned in a boating accident. So in 1543, just a year after he’d arrived, Roberval too decided to abandon this world. As the first Lieutenant General of New France, Roberval had held his title for less than two years, and had no immediate successor, because he’d left behind no New France to govern.
What a strange alien invasion this had been. As suddenly as the foreigners had appeared they were gone again, lacking the technology and skills to survive in the land of the Stadaconans, Hochelagans, and others, who began to tell stories and try to understand what they had just experienced. Rumours of these “unsettling, alien forces” spread deep inland to nations who had never seen the foreigners first-hand, but who now knew something of their strange culture and hostile intentions. For decades the French didn’t dare venture so far inland, but Agona and the nations of the Kaniatarowanenneh “continued to hear rumours” of redirected invasions further east and south, by the French and other Christians, and of the epidemics they left in their wake. Maybe the French invasion of this particular part of the world had been successfully repulsed, and they wouldn’t return. Or maybe not.
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Note: Due to an editing error, a photo of the Dread Pirate Roberval was mistakenly replaced with a photo of (spoiler alert) the Dread Pirate Roberts. I regret nothing.