Cartier’s First Voyage
After John Cabot’s 1497 voyage to North America, it wasn’t until 1534 and Jacques Cartier that a major expedition was sent out to the northern part of of North America.
King Francis I of France commissioned the sailor, born in St. Malo, in Brittany on the French coast, to cross the Atlantic in search of riches and a route to China.
The King hoped Cartier would find a new passage to the Orient, by a route around or through the North American continent. If that proved unsuccessful, at least he might find gold, as the Spanish had in South America.
This official voyage may not have been Cartier’s first excursion across the Atlantic — it’s possible that he had gone to Newfoundland as a sailor before his voyages of discovery. But on April 20th, 1534, Cartier left St. Malo on a sure course for Newfoundland.
Arriving on May 10, he passed through the fishing waters off its shores, then went north, through the Straits of Belle Isle. Cartier was in new territory now, searching for a waterway that he presumed would deliver him to Asia, but he could barely penetrate Northern America’s eastern coast.
Cartier — shown in profile in one portrait, as hawk-nosed, dressed as a nobleman, almost scowling — had a poor opinion of the new land. “I am rather inclined to believe that this is the land God gave to Cain,” Cartier wrote in his first, famous, impression of the country. He couldn’t see a cartload of soil; it was a barren, unwelcoming place.
Cartier meticulously marked each new bay and promontory on his charts: Baie des Chasteaux, Ile de l’Assumption, Baie du St. Laurent. He also noted the native people he met at each new place.
“There are people on this