Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562

Author: Jacques Cartier  | Date: 1534

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Cartier Discovers the St. Lawrence

AFTER Sir Charles of Mouy, knight, lord of Meylleraye, and vice-admiral of France had caused the captains, masters, and mariners of the ships to be sworn to behave themselves truly and faithfully in the service of the most Christian King of France, under the charge of Cartier, upon the twentieth day of April, 1534, we departed from the Port of St. Malo with two ships of three-score tons apiece burden, and 61 well appointed men in each one….

The next day, being the last of the month save one, the wind blew south and by east. We sailed westward until Tuesday morning at sun rising, being the last of the month, without any sight or knowledge of any land except in the evening toward sunset, that we discovered a land which seemed to be two islands, that were beyond us west southwest, about nine or ten leagues. All the next day till the next morning at sun rising we sailed westward about forty leagues, and by the way we perceived that the land we had seen like islands, was firm land, lying south-southeast, and north-northwest, to a very good cape of land called Cape Orleans. All the said land is low and plain, and the fairest that may possibly be seen, full of goodly meadows and trees. True it is that we could find no harbor there, because it is all full of shelves and sands. We with our boats went on shore in many places, and among the rest we entered into a goodly river, but very shallow, which we named the river of boats, because that there we saw boats full of wild men that were crossing the river….

Upon Thursday being the eighth of the month, because the wind was not good to go out with our ships, we set our boats in readiness to go to discover the said bay and that day we went 25 leagues within it. The next day the wind and weather being fair, we sailed until noon, in which time we had notice of a great part of the said bay, and how that over the low lands, there were other lands with high mountains; but seeing that there was no passage at all, we began to turn back again, taking our way along the coast; and sailing we saw certain wild men . . . and by and by in clusters they came to the shore where we were, with their boats, bringing with them skins and other such things as they had, to have of our wares . . . till they had nothing but their naked bodies; for they gave us all whatsoever they had and that was but of small value.

We perceived that this people might very easily be converted to our religion. They go from place to place. They live only with fishing. They have an ordinary time to fish for their provision. The country is hotter than the country of Spain, and the fairest that can possibly be found, altogether smooth and level. There is no place be it never so little, but it has some trees (yea albeit it be sandy) or else is full of wild corn, that has an ear like unto rye: the corn is like oats, and small peas as thick as if they had been sown and plowed, white and red roses, with many other flowers of very sweet and pleasant smell. There be also many goodly meadows full of grass, and lakes wherein great plenty of salmons be…. They call a hatchet in their tongue cochi, and a knife bacon; we named it the bay of heat . . . and with such prosperous weather we sailed onwards, that upon the tenth day of May we came to Newfoundland, where we entered into the Cape of Buona Vista…. But because of the great store of the ice that was along the said land, we were constrained to enter into a haven called St. Katherine’s haven, distant from the other port about five leagues toward south southeast . . . there did we stay ten days looking for fair weather; and in the meanwhile we mended and dressed our boats.

In the year of our Lord 1535, upon Whitsunday, being the 16th of May, by the commandment of our Captain, Jacques Cartier, and with a common accord, in the cathedral church of St. Malo, we devoutly each one confessed ourselves, and received the sacraments: and all entering into the choir of the said church, we presented ourselves before the Reverend Father in Christ, the Lord Bishop of St. Malo, who blessed us all, being in his bishop’s robes. The Wednesday following, being the 19th of May, there arose a good gale of wind, and therefore we hoisted sail with three ships, that is to say, the great Hermina being in burden about a hundred, or a hundred and twenty tons, wherein the foresaid Captain Jacques Cartier was general, and Master Thomas Frosmont chief master, accompanied with Master Claudius de Pont Briand, son to the Lord of Montcevell and cup-bearer to the Dauphin of France, Charles of Pomeraies, John Powht and other gentlemen…. All this coast is full of shoals and very dangerous, albeit in sight many good havens seem to be there, yet is there nothing else but shelves of sands.

We stayed there and rested ourselves in the said haven, until the seventh of August being Sunday on which day we hoisted sail, and came toward land on the south side toward Cape Robast, distant from said haven about twenty leagues north-northeast and south-southwest: but the next day there rose a stormy and a contrary wind and because we could find no haven there toward the south, thence we went coasting along toward the north, beyond the above said haven about ten leagues, where we found a goodly great gulf, full of islands, passages, and entrances, toward what wind soever you please to bend: for the knowledge of this gulf there is a great island that is like to a cape of land, stretching somewhat further forth than the others, and about two leagues within the land, there is a hill fashioned as it were a heap of corn. We named the said gulf Saint Lawrence his bay. The twelfth of the said month we went from the said Saint Lawrence his bay, or gulf, sailing westward, and discovered a cape of land toward the south, that runs west and by south, distant from the said Saint Lawrence his bay, about five and twenty leagues.

And of the two wild men which we took in our former voyage, it was told us that this was part of the southern coast, and that there was an island, on the southern part of which is the way to go from Honguedo (where the year before we had taken them) to Canada, and that two days’ journey from the said cape and island began the kingdom of Saguenay, on the north shore extending toward Canada; and about three leagues athwart the said cape there is above a hundred fathoms of water.

Moreover I believe that there were never so many whales seen as we saw that day about the said cape. The next day after being our Lady day of August the fifteenth of the month, having passed the strait, we had notice of certain lands that we left toward the south, which lands are full of very great and high hills, and this cape we named The Island of the Assumption….

There is between the southerly lands, and the northerly about thirty leagues distance and more than two hundred fathoms deep. The said men did moreover certify unto us, that there was the way and beginning of the great river of Hochelaga and ready way to Canada, which river the further it went the narrower it came, even unto Canada, and that then there was fresh water, which went so far upwards, that they had never heard of any man who had gone to the head of it, and that there is no other passage but with small boats. Our captain hearing their talk, and how they did affirm no other passage to be there, would not at that time proceed further, till he had seen and noted the other lands, and coast toward the north, which he had omitted to see from St. Lawrence his gulf, because he would know, if between the lands toward the north any passage might be discovered.

The next day being the 19th of September, we hoisted sail, and with our pinnace and two boats departed to go up the river with the flood, where on both shores of it we began to see as good a country as possibly can with eye be seen, all replenished with very good trees and vines laden as full of grapes as could be all along the river, which rather seemed to be planted by man’s hand than otherwise . . . also we saw all along the river many houses inhabited of fishers, which take all kinds of fishes, and they come with as great familiarity and kindness unto us, as if we had been their countrymen, and brought us great store of fish with other such things as they had, which we exchanged with them for other wares, who lifting up their hands toward heaven, gave many signs of joy….


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Chicago: Jacques Cartier, "Cartier Discovers the St. Lawrence," Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562 in America, Vol.1, Pp.239-245 Original Sources, accessed February 25, 2024,

MLA: Cartier, Jacques. "Cartier Discovers the St. Lawrence." Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562, in America, Vol.1, Pp.239-245, Original Sources. 25 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Cartier, J, 'Cartier Discovers the St. Lawrence' in Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562. cited in , America, Vol.1, Pp.239-245. Original Sources, retrieved 25 February 2024, from