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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Gloria
- Bartolomé
de las Casas
- Bernal Díaz
del Castillo
- Samuel
de Champlain
- Christopher
- Adriaen
Van der Donck
- Americo
- John Smith
- Álvar Núñez
Cabeza de Vaca
- Garcilaso
de la Vega
- Suggested
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•  Activities

Authors: Samuel de Champlain (c. 1570-1635)

Illustration from  Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain
[2846] Samuel de Champlain, Illustration from Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain Capitaine Ordinaire pour Le Roy en la Nouvelle France es Années 1615 et 1618 (1619), courtesy of the Robert Dechert Collection, Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.

Samuel de Champlain Activities
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Often called the "Father of New France," Samuel de Champlain was a leader in exploring and claiming vast areas of North America for France. Born in the town of Brouage on the Atlantic coast of France, Champlain learned the arts of seafaring, navigation, and cartography early in his life. Because he was passionately interested in, as he put it, "obtain[ing] a knowledge of different countries, regions, and realms," Champlain accepted a post as commander of a Spanish trade ship that sailed to the West Indies and to New Spain in 1599. After returning to France, he was named "geographer royal" to the king and was sent to Canada as part of a 1603 expedition commissioned to confirm and further the North American discoveries made in the mid-1530s by Jacques Cartier. On this trip, Champlain and his party sailed up the St. Lawrence River to the site of present-day Montreal, where they helped establish the valuable fur trade with Native Americans that would become the central commercial enterprise of New France. In 1604, Champlain returned to Canada to explore the coastal areas that make up the present-day Maritime Provinces and New England. On another journey on the St. Lawrence in 1608, Champlain founded Quebec City, which eventually became the French capital in North America.

Champlain was soon appointed lieutenant general of the colony. Hoping to further French land claims and commercial interests, he sent delegates to explore as far west as the Great Lakes region. His scouts learned Native American customs and languages and established friendly relations with the Huron and Montagnais Indians in particular. The French eventually joined with these Indian allies to fight their traditional enemy, the Iroquois, in sustained conflict. Champlain recorded his experiences in New France in four books, which combine illustrations, maps, personal narrative, geographical and natural description, history, and ethnographic insights into Native American life. His combination of pictorial and verbal description lends his work an unusually vivid quality that literary critic Gordon Sayre has described as a "distinctive narrative story-board effect."

In 1629, invading British troops unexpectedly captured Quebec and Champlain was taken to England as a prisoner. When a diplomatic treaty returned Canada to the French in 1632, Champlain was reinstalled as lieutenant general. He died three years later in Quebec on Christmas Day.

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