Unearthing North America’s First French Colony

Unearthing North America’s First French Colony

Cartier-RobervalIn 1541, France established Fort Charlesbourg-Royal in what is now Québec City. Two years later, it was abandoned. The site was discovered in 2005, and archaeologists are trying to understand what took place at the settlement.

On a forested outcrop at the western limit of Québec City, Gilles Samson makes his way across an archaeological site quilted with sheets of plywood and plastic. The coverings protect 16th-century stone walls from the sometimes harsh Canadian elements. He grips the edge of one of the boards and lifts, revealing a strip of neatly stacked grey stones. “We’re following the walls to get a clearer picture of the fort,” he says. Samson is in the midst of uncovering one of Canada’s most important archaeological discoveries: the charred remains of the first French colony in North America. The walls and other artifacts the archaeologists have unearthed are the remnants of Fort Charlesbourg-Royal, a settlement established by Jacques Cartier in 1541 and occupied by Jean-François de la Rocque de Roberval from 1542 to 1543, along with several hundred colonists.

An archaeologist with Québec’s National Capital Commission and the project’s co-director, Samson reasons that the site ranks with Jamestown, the first English colony in the New World. Cartier-Roberval (as it is now called, after its founders) predates Samuel de Champlain’s founding of Québec City and New France and England’s establishment of Jamestown by more than 60 years.

:: coming soon in American Archeology ::