Jacques Cartier: World Famous Explorers

Jacques Cartier was born in Saint Malo, Brittany, France, in December 31st, 1491. Little is known of Cartier’s early years, but it would have belonged to a middle class family, and Cartier’s early education would probably have been in mathematics , astronomy and navigation, as it was later known as an important navigator. He became so respected in the industry that men no less than the bishop of Saint Malo and the abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel presented him to King Francis I of France. In 1520, Cartier further increased his social status when he married Mary Catherine des Granches.


King Francis I was interested in further exploration of the east coast of North America, and learned that Cartier was a good navigator. In April 1534, the monarch commissioned Cartier to find a new sea route to Asia via North America, and it is hoped that it would bring gold from the New World. In fact, the French king sent Cartier in three expeditions to North America for France. There were many obstacles and difficulties during these explorations, as Cartier lost some of his men during his travels, and also lost settlers to Indian attacks. The harsh winter season was another factor that hindered some Cartier attempts to further explore the new lands.


During his explorations on the east coast of North America, Cartier gave the name to Canada, taken from “kanata”, a Native American word meaning “village”. Cartier became the first European to penetrate continental Canada, doing so by exploring the inland eastern regions of Canada along the St. Lawrence River. Therefore, the reputation and importance of Cartier as a good navigator should not be underestimated. In all three of his trips, Cartier completed them with only minor problems and all his ships remained intact. In fact, Cartier has sailed his convoy of ships safely in almost all the unknown ports of 50, many times through dangerous, previously unexplored waters. He also stated that North America was not connected to Asia or Europe.

The challenges

Cartier faced serious challenges during his travels. After meeting the Iroquois Indians in what is known today as Quebec on his second journey, his opinion of Indians was not positive. However, when scurvy decimated the Iroquois Indians 50, and later also struck his men, Cartier was able to save 85 of 110 of his men from death with the help of Indians. The Iroquois told him of a cure made from the bark of a native tree called the Annedda . However, on his third expedition, Cartier met deadly attacks from the Iroquois and chose to abandon the settlements that had previously been established and returned to France.

Death and inheritance

Returning to France after his third and last expedition to the New World, Cartier returned home in October with a load of quartz and pyrite instead of diamonds and gold. The king was disappointed and Cartier was never again in charge of another trip to the new world. Cartier was now a broken man, returned to his estate in Saint-Malo and spent his last days as an interpreter, as he spoke Portuguese fluently. On September 1st, 1557, Cartier died of an illness resulting from exposure to an epidemic in Saint-Malo. He was 65 years old. Cartier left the world with the rediscovery of the St. Lawrence River Waterway, which allowed many successive Europeans to establish new settlements and trade in the New World.


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