(This story is republished from the Feb. 16 edition of The Sun, a community newspaper serving Addison County.)
Vermonters and New Yorkers know much about French explorer Samuel de Champlain from his brief exploits along the shores of the great lake that now bears his name. The French explorer made it at least as far south as the future sites of forts Crown Point or Ticonderoga; he most likely battled native people along the lakeshore, in 1609, somewhere near the sites of the famous 18th-century British citadels.
“On 29 July 1609, somewhere in the area near Ticonderoga and Crown Point, New York (historians are not sure which of these two places, but Fort Ticonderoga historians claim that it occurred near its site), Champlain and his party encountered a group of Haudenosaunee,” according to the Champlain Society of Canada. “In a battle that began the next day, 250 Haudenosaunee advanced on Champlain’s position, and one of his guides pointed out the three chiefs. In his account of the battle, Champlain recounts firing his arquebus and killing two of them with a single shot, after which one of his men killed the third. The Haudenosaunee turned and fled. This action set the tone for poor French-Iroquois relations for the rest of the century.”
Champlain has since been painted as a European invader, a devil-may-care explorer, and a harsh taskmaster; however, he was also a skilled geographer and mapmaker.
Champlain mapped out a path from the lake, through the North Country wilderness, and then on into modern Quebec and Ontario in Canada.
Champlain explored the Ottawa Valley of Canada as an overland means to get to what he called the “Northern Sea”, most likely frigid Hudson Bay. In fact, the Frenchman may have crossed close to the starving party of English explorer Henry Hudson after he was set adrift in 1611 by a mutinous crew on lonely James Bay. This Quebec bay, at the southern end of the great northern gulf which now bears Hudson’s name, is the source of much of Vermont’s hydro-sourced electricity.
According to the Canadian website “Ottawa Rewind”, Champlain’s trek up the Ottawa River took him to the site of the modern city of Ottawa.
Champlain’s long North Country trek was chronicled in his journal and he mapped it out, too, in as much detail as his skills could provide.
Along the Champlain Trail, the 1867 surprise discovery of a rust-encrusted French astrolabe, probably Champlain’s personal navigation tool, nailed it — at least as to how far north Champlain had roamed; this is where the great explorer reached after exploring the Lake Champlain region. Today, you can see the famous astrolabe artifact on exhibit in the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa.
But other than the rusty astrolabe, Champlain left no significant physical traces. Or might there another artifact to consider?
In 1953, two Canadian men discovered a giant glacial erratic stone near the Ontario town of Renfrew. Carved into the big rock was the following: “CHAMPLAIN JUIN 7 1613“. The inscription, on what would soon be dubbed the Champlain Stone, indicated that the French explorer traversed far up the Ottawa River. He left a marker to tell the tale to future generations.
But in the years following its discovery, both Canadian and American archaeologists dismissed the Champlain Stone as a hoax. In the intervening years, searches have been made from the Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont, and north up the Ottawa Valley, for more archeological clues of Samuel de Champlain’s expeditions.
“The Champlain Stone was never studied further or analyzed for authenticity, so it is unsure how long ago the letters were carved into the rock,” according to the Ottawa Rewind website. “Were they carved 400 years ago or were they carved 60 years ago? Without further study, we cannot definitively prove its age. The Champlain Stone remains a mystery as to why (and who would) make an inscription on a rock deep in the Renfrew woods. Possibly someday someone will come forward with more information on this oddity, but until then, it sits silently forgotten, slowly being enveloped by the woods from where it was discovered. It remains a piece of a… puzzle that may never be solved.”
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