Jacques Cartier first set sail for the New World in 1534, when King Francis
I of France commissioned a voyage to search for gold, spices and a
Northwest route to Asia. With two ships and 61 men, Cartier explored the
St. Lawrence Bay and returned to France with two Native Americans as
trophies for the king. A pleased King Francis sent Cartier back the following
year with more ships and a bigger crew. Guided by the same two Native
Americans he had seized, Cartier explored the St. Lawrence River as far as
modern-day Quebec and established a base near a friendly Iroquois
village, where his party camped when winter set in. In September, Cartier
led a short expedition to what would become Montreal.
The severe North American winter shocked Cartier's crew, who had
expected mild temperatures since Quebec was further south in latitude
than Paris. Cartier lost 25 men to scurvy and, when the climate improved,
he hastily headed back to France.
War in Europe postponed Cartier's next voyage until 1541, when he was
assigned to accompany a nobleman, Jean-François de La Rocque de
Roberval, to establish a French colony and counter Spanish North
American claims. Though Roberval was delayed for a year, Cartier
returned to Quebec and, briefly, to Montreal. But when Cartier's crew
settled at a new base north of Quebec, they again aroused the anger of
Shortly after another harsh North American winter ended, Cartier gathered
what he believed to be an abundant stash of gold and diamonds found by
his crew and abandoned the base. He likewise ignored his orders to wait
for Roberval and returned to France without him. There, he discovered his
"treasure" wasn't treasure at all — it was worthless fool's gold. His colony a
failure, Cartier received no further royal charters. In fact, French interest in
the New World in general deteriorated after Cartier's mission; it was more
than a half-century before France again showed interest in its claims to
A headstrong adventurer and explorer, Henry Hudson undertook four major
expeditions in his lifetime that would guide his followers through the New
World. In his search for a passage from Europe to the Orient, Hudson
inadvertently drew European attention to the vast resources of North
America and helped set the stage for a century of exploration.
In his youth, Hudson studied navigation and spent time with fishermen and
others whose livelihoods came from the sea. His navigational skills became
so well recognized that, in 1607, the English Muscovy Company took him
at his word that there was an ice-free sea that would lead from Europe to
China and financed an expedition. Hudson sailed north until he reached icy
seas and the Svalbard archipelago. A year later, a voyage to the islands of
Novaya Zemlya, located in the Arctic Ocean north of Russia, was also set
back by ice fields.
Hudson undertook a third northeast voyage in 1609 for the Dutch East
India Company. While he received orders and supplies in Amsterdam, he
heard rumors of a northwest route to the Pacific through North America.
When his northeast path was again blocked by ice, Hudson ignored his
agreement to return to Holland and sailed west toward the New World.
Months later, Hudson found a large waterway in what is now New York —
the modern-day Hudson River — that he thought could be his ticket west,
but he concluded near present-day Albany that the river would not take him
to the Pacific.
Hudson was intercepted at a British port on his way back to Amsterdam
and told to cease his work for the Dutch. He was commissioned by the
British East India Company to sail further north than his last voyage, in an
area earlier explorers said could hold the key to the fabled Northwest
passage. In 1610, Hudson sailed through the strait that now bears his
name and into the giant Hudson Bay. Hugging the bay's eastern coast,
Hudson sailed deep into its southernmost extremities, spending months
sailing aimlessly through its vast expanse. With winter setting in and no
passage to the Pacific in sight, Hudson's crew grew restless. They grew
weary of prodding the North American coast, and suspected their captain of
hoarding rations. Finally, fed up with Hudson's leadership, the crew
mutinied in 1611, forcing the explorer, his son, and those sick with scurvy
onto a small lifeboat and setting them adrift in the bay. Hudson's crew
returned to England, but Hudson was never heard from again.