Original Account of the Voyage of Jacques Cartier to Canada in 1534


In the 16th century, exploration and settlement of the New World was not a high priority of the French monarchy, which was primarily concerned about rivalry on the European continent with the powerful Habsburg Empire. Moreover, France was weakened by the Wars of Religion (1562‒98). The first official voyage of exploration sponsored by France was undertaken in 1524 by an experienced Italian navigator, Giovanni da Verrazano (1485‒1528), whom King Francis I (reigned 1515‒47) commissioned to discover a new route to Cathay (China). Financed by Italian bankers established in France at Lyon and Rouen, Verrazano departed from Dieppe on the ship la Dauphine and explored the eastern coast of America from Cape Fear (North Carolina) to Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia). He carefully reconnoitered every opening that gave hope for a passage to Asia, and he named the future site of New York New Angouleme. Ten years later, the king instructed Jacques Cartier (1491‒1557), a Breton navigator from Saint-Malo, to undertake another expedition to the New World. Cartier left Brittany on May 10, 1534, with two ships and 61 crew members. He took 20 days to reach the coast of Newfoundland, and then explored the coast of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, where he encountered the Micmac Indians, who were friendly and wished to trade. At Gaspé Bay on the Gaspé Peninsula (in present-day Quebec), Cartier and his men erected a nearly 10-meter high cross. Cartier returned to France in September. With him were Taignoagny and Domagaya, two young Indians who Cartier either kidnapped or who were allowed to depart with him on the condition that the French would return with European goods (historians differ on exactly what happened). Testimony by Taignoagny and Domagaya about the existence of a fabulously rich “Kingdom of Saguenay” convinced King Francis to finance a second voyage in 1535‒36, which Cartier led, bringing with him Taignoagny and Domagaya as guides. He also made a third voyage in 1541‒42. Presented here is Cartier’s account of his first voyage, published in an edited 19th century edition.

Last updated: November 20, 2015