Claiming the Wilderness
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Claiming the Wilderness
New France's expansion
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Ren�-Robert Cavelier de La Salle
On the morning of April 9, 1682, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, who came from a rich family in Rouen, France, had his moment of glory.
Ren�-Robert Cavelier de la Salle portrayed by Fran�ois Papineau in Canada: A People's History.
Ren�-Robert Cavelier de la Salle portrayed by Fran�ois Papineau in Canada: A People's History.
From early childhood, Cavelier de La Salle dreamed of becoming one of history's great explorers. From the moment he arrived in North America, he was obsessed with the mysterious Western Sea and the treasures of China. Cavelier de La Salle arrived in the colony at the age of 24, having abandoned the Jesuit priesthood because of, as he said himself, "moral frailties." Governor Louis de Buade, comte de Frontenac, formed a partnership with him. Together they defied their church and their King.

The Canadians learned to build alliances with powerful Indian nations and became masters of the west, keeping their New England rivals penned up along the Atlantic shore. La Salle was the first Frenchmen to reach the mouth of the great river, the Mississippi.
After four years of exploration, Ren�-Robert Cavelier de la Salle became the first Frenchman to reach the Gulf of Mexico over land. He claimed Louisiana in the name of France on April 9, 1682. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
After four years of exploration, Ren�-Robert Cavelier de la Salle became the first Frenchman to reach the Gulf of Mexico over land. He claimed Louisiana in the name of France on April 9, 1682. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)

"In the name of His Majesty I take possession of this land, Louisiana, he exclaimed, "with its adjacent harbours, ports, bays and straits and all its nations, peoples, provinces, cities, towns, villages, mines, fisheries, and rivers contained in Louisiana from the mouth of the great river called Ohio, and along the whole extent of the Mississippi River and the rivers that empty into it."

But La Salle had powerful enemies in Quebec and at court. Some considered him to be dangerous and others thought he was mad. And the King listened to them. He felt that la Salle's grand ambitions were at odds with France's colonial plans. Louis XIV wrote to the Governor at Quebec.

"I am convinced as you are that the discovery of Sieur de la Salle is quite useless and we must therefore prevent similar undertakings."

In 1682, Louis XIV had had enough and Frontenac was recalled to France.
Wandering two years without maps, Ren�-Robert Cavelier de la Salle led a disastrous expedition through the marshes of the Mississippi delta from 1685 to 87. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Wandering two years without maps, Ren�-Robert Cavelier de la Salle led a disastrous expedition through the marshes of the Mississippi delta from 1685 to 87. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
But when he returned to Quebec, he received the same order to return to France. But Cavelier de La Salle did not give up easily. In order to pursue his explorations, he resorted to fraud and lies. He even deceived his own King. He told the King that the land he had discovered was rich in silver mines. On his maps, he tampered with the location of the mouth of the Mississippi, putting it 250 leagues (1,200 kilometres) farther to the west. He then persuaded the King that it would be the ideal place to put a colony that would serve as a base to attack the Spaniards to the south.
According  to Henri Joutel, La Salle was murdered by his troops on March 19, 1687 because of his "haughty manner and harshness toward those who were placed under him." (As portrayed Alexandre Bisping in Canada: A People's History)
According to Henri Joutel, La Salle was murdered by his troops on March 19, 1687 because of his "haughty manner and harshness toward those who were placed under him." (As portrayed Alexandre Bisping in Canada: A People's History)
The fraud paid off. He was named commander of the entire territory that he had discovered and was put in command of 100 soldiers and a 36-gun warship.

Le Gallois de Beaujeu, one of his officers, did not trust him.

"There are very few of us who don't think he is a little crazy. I've talked to people who have known him for 20 years. Everyone says he's always been a bit visionary."

The expedition he undertook in 1687 was a disaster. La Salle sailed from France to the Gulf of Mexico but soon got lost. For two years he wandered, without maps, in the marshes of the Mississippi delta. Some of his troops died; others revolted.
Ren�-Robert Cavelier de la Salle, a close associate of Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, extended his trading network to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Ren�-Robert Cavelier de la Salle, a close associate of Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, extended his trading network to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
On the morning of March 19, 1687, Pierre Duhaut shot La Salle in the head. He and other members of the expedition then stripped him bare and took his possessions. Henri Joutel, a member of the expedition, stated that Cavelier de La Salle had the mind and the talent to succeed in his undertaking:

"Resoluteness, courage... and indefatigable labour, by which he overcame all obstacles, would have finally won him a glorious success, if all these fine qualities had not been offset by his haughty manner and harshness toward those who were placed under him, which made him the object of implacable hatred and was the cause of his death."

Between 1672 and 1682, the French took possession of an immense continent.
But Frontenac's policy had scattered the colony's resources, wreaked havoc with its native alliances, and upset the merchants, administrators, and clergy.

In less than 20 years, La Salle and others such as Louis Jolliet, Nicolas Perrot, and Daniel Duluth had flung back New France's boundaries and reached far into the interior of the continent. The governor of the English colony of New York, Thomas Dongan, could not get over their boldness. "Tis a hard thing that all countries a Frenchman walks over in America must belong to Canada."


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