Jacques Cartier's Second Voyage - 1535
Winter & Scurvy

As winter of 1535 approached, Cartier set sail from Hochelaga (present-day Montreal) and tried to make it back to the Atlantic before ice blocked the river, which the Iroquoians had told him would happen. Unfortunately, he made it only as far as Chief Donnacona's village of Stadacona (present-day Quebec) and was forced to spend his first winter in the New World. A rudimentary fort had been built by the men Cartier had left behind as he had ventured to Hochelaga and he quickly learned that Donnacona resented its presence. Their friendship deteriorated quickly.

Over the winter, Stadacona was hit by disease and scurvy. Whether or not the sickness was brought on by the French is unknown, but the French were blamed nonetheless. Donnacona ceased all contact. By December, 50 natives had died and Cartier's crew were also suffering terribly from scurvy. Many became too ill to be of any service, but still managed to make enough noise by banging walls with tools to convince Donnacona that all was well when, in fact, it was not. Supplies were low and many of his crew were near death from the cold and starvation.

Cartier had noticed the symptoms of scurvy in the Iroquoians and was surprised to see the chief's son, Dom Agaya, healthy and fit within only a few days. Realizing that, without help, he and his crew had little chance of surviving the winter, Cartier finally told Dom Agaya of the scurvy and asked his assistance.

Hoping to get some help from the French strangers for the sickness which still plagued the Iroquoians, and not wanting to make permanent enemies, Donnacona finally allowed Dom Agaya to share their secret medicines. Cartier watched with interest and curiosity as Dom Agaya stripped a few leaves from a near-by white cedar tree and proceeded to boil the leaves into a tea. Dom Agaya offered the tea to Cartier to drink. It would heal them, he said. Cartier declined, still apprehensive that it was a plot to poison them, but a few desperate men eagerly volunteered and drank it anyway. Better to die quickly from poison than to suffer the prolonged and horrendous death of scurvy. Surprisingly, they felt better almost immediately. More tea was made and, within 8 days, one tree had been stripped bare, but the Frenchmen were cured of scurvy. To thank them for their help, Cartier did what he could to aid the stricken natives. Eventually the sickness left them and relationships improved.

Cartier had discovered a simple cure for scurvy, but, for reasons unknown, had merely mentioned the cure in his journals, but not the means. Scurvy would continue to take its toll on the future explorers. (see Champlain, 1609)

With friendships renewed, Donnacona told Cartier of the land of Saguenay which was rich with gold and jewels, where white men lived and grew spices of many varieties. Cartier asked the chief to return with him to France and tell the King, thus ensuring a third voyage, but Donnacona declined and gave Cartier a 'gift' of 4 children to go in his stead.

Cartier, however, would settle for nothing less than the chief and would take potentially dangerous measures to ensure that Chief Donnacona accompanied him back to France.

Cartier Kidnaps Chief Donnacona

In May of 1536, Cartier forcibly kidnapped Chief Donnacona, his sons Dom Agaya and Taignoagny, and 3 other natives. The natives on shore were understandably outraged, but Cartier managed to convince Donnacona that the King of France would present him with great gifts and promised him his return the next year. With little choice, Donnacona relented and said his 'goodbyes' to his people from the deck of Cartier's ship and assured them of his return. As his home disappeared in the distance behind him, Donnacona could not know that he would never set eyes on the land again.

In France, Donnacona met with the King and told him of 'the land of Saguenay beyond the towering waterfalls' where the land was filled with wealth and where white men lived and spices grew in abundance. Cartier doubted the story since it was unlikely that spices could grow in Canada, but both he and the chief needed each other to get back. He said nothing.

Cartier was granted his new commission, but the commission was revolked before preparations could be completed and a new commission was arranged with a completely new agenda. Cartier would preceed Jean-François de la Rocque de Robertval and begin expansion of the fort at Stadacona in preparation for settlement. De Robertval would follow with supplies, reinforcements, artillery, and approval of the Vatican to convert the natives to Catholicism.

With the return journey delayed several years, Cartier and the captive Natives were forced to remain in France. Before Jacques Cartier could return the Iroquoians to Canada, all of them except for one of the young 'gift' girls died. Chief Donnacona died in either 1540 or 1541 and was buried in France.


First Voyage 1534 - First Encounters & Chief Donnacona
Second Voyage 1535 - Stadacona & Hochelaga
* Second Voyage 1535 - Winter & Scurvy *
Third Voyage 1541 - Settlement of Charlesbourg-Royal
Third Voyage 1541 - Failure, Retirement & Suspension