The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
History of Michigan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton





The first white men to century into the region of the Great lakes were the French, who, early in the seventeenth century, extended their discoveries from the regions lying around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, inland along the great valley of the St. Lawrence river. As early as 1615, Champlain, in company with the Franciscan friar, Joseph le Caron, and other Frenchmen, discovered the Georgian bay of Lake Huron. Samuel de Champlain, born in 1570 at Brouage on the bay of Biscay, a poor boy, the son of a fisherman, had received his early education from the parish priest. From these influences he had come to young manhood with a hunger for knowledge, a love for the sea, and devotion to his Catholic friends and to his sovereign. Before coming to Canada he had served in the French army and navy and conducted a successful exploring expedition to the West Indies. When, in 1603, merchants of Rouen, France, formed a great colonizing and fur-trading company tot he New World, the command of the expedition was given to the experienced and energetic Champlain.

In 1608 Champlain founded Quebec, and in the following year discovered the beautiful lake which bears his name. Unfortunately in that year he won, through the superiority of European methods of warfare, a great victory over one of the tribes of the powerful Iroquois, which, gaining for all the French explorers and settlers to come after him the unrelenting hostility of these tribes through a period of a hundred and fifty years, must be counted as one of the principal causes of the failure of France in America. In 1611 Champlain established a trading post on the site of Montreal, and in 1612 he went to France. On his return to the site of Montreal he displayed his zeal for the faith, bringing with him four Recollect friars, of the order of St. Francis, who might bear the knowledge of the Cross to the benighted savages of the western wilderness.

In 1615 Champlain accompanied by an interpreter, Etienne Brule, one other Frenchman, and ten Indians, made an expedition to the Huron region of Lake Manatouline. In two canoes the group ascended the Ottawa river, crossed the portage to Lake Nipissing, and thence paddled their way down the French river tot he waters of Georgian bay, along whose eastern shore they coasted for a hundred miles, landing finally at Thunder bay. It was only a little distance from there that they found Le Caron, one of Champlain's four Franciscan friends, who, on august 12, 1615, surrounded by hordes of wondering savages at the Indian village of Carhagouha, had the honor of saying the first mass celebrated in this portion of the New World.

Champlain exercised his noble influence as governor of New France for a quarter of a century, until his death at Quebec in 1635. The historian Dionne, in his "Samuel Champlain," pays the following tribute to the memory of "The Father of New France."

"In his conduct, as in his writings, Champlain was always a truly Christian man, zealous in the service of God and actuated by a child-like piety. He was wont to say, as we read in his 'Memoirs,' that 'the salvation of a single soul is worth more then the conquest of an empire, and that kinds should never extend their dominion over idolatrous countries except to subject them to Jesus Christ'."

The Rev. T. J. Campbell, s. J., from whose "Pioneer Laymen of North America" the above translation is quoted, says in the same volume, in substance:

"One scarcely knows what to admire most in the multitude of splendid qualities, which gave him such a distinctive place among the world's heroes. There was, for example, his amazing courage; nor was he an explorer or a discoverer of the ordinary kind. He went among the people, lived with them, shared in their filthy meals with as much grace and dignity as if he were at the table of Richelieu, adjusting their difficulties, settling their disputes, remonstrating with them for their barbarous practices and always endeavoring to instill into their hearts some idea of God, of religion and morality. The purity of his morals was marvelous. His country, it greatness and its glory, were ever in his mind. His amazing serenity of soul in the midst of multiplied disasters was almost preternatural. He is the realization of the old roman poet's dream of

'The upright man, intent upon his resolve,
Were all the world to crash about his head,
Would stand amid its ruin undismayed.'

He was more than that. He was what he insisted even a captain on the high seas should always be to his crew: a man of God."

Lanman, in his "History of Michigan," says: "With a mind warmed into enthusiasm by the vast domain of wilderness, which as stretched around him, and the glorious visions of future grandeur which its resources opened, a man of extraordinary hardihood and the clearest judgment, a brave officer and a scientific seaman, his keen forecast discerned, in the magnificent prospect of the country which he occupied, the elements of a mighty empire, of which he had hoped to be the founder. With a stout heart and ardent zeal, he had entered upon the prospect of civilization; he had disseminated valuable knowledge of its resources by his explorations, and had cut the way through hordes for the subsequent progress of the French toward the lakes."


History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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