Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
July 14, 1892


Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.


[Champlain’s narrative, with notes by W. F. Ganong, M. A.]

5.-The Terrible Winter.

‘The snows began the 6th of October.  On the 3d of December we saw ice pass, which came from some frozen river.  The cold was sharp, more severe than in France, and of much longer duration: and it scarcely rained at all the entire winter.  I suppose this is owing to the north and north-west winds passing over high mountains always covered with snow.  The latter was from three to four feet deep up to the end of the month of April; lasting much longer, I suppose, than it would if the country were cultivated.

‘During the winter, many of our company were attacked by a certain malady, called the mal de la terre; otherwise scurvy, as I have since heard from learned men.  There were produced in the mouths of those who had it great pieces of superfluous and dreivlling [sic] flesh, (causing extensive putrefaction,) which got the upper hand to such an extent that scarcely anything but liquid could be taken.  Their teeth became very loose, and could be pulled out with the fingers without its causing them pain.  The superfluous flesh was often cut out, which caused them to eject much blood through the mouth.  Afterwards, a violent pain seized their arms and legs, which remained swollen, and very hard, all spotted as if with flea-bites; and they could not walk on account of the contraction of the muscles, so that they were almost without strength, and suffered intolerable pains.  They experienced pain, also, in the loins, stomach, and bowels, and had a very bad cough and short breath.  In a word, they were in such a condition that the majority of them could not rise nor move, and could not even be raised up on their feet without falling down in a swoon.  So that out of seventy-nine who composed our party thirty-five died and more than twenty were on the point of death.  The majority of those who remained well also complained of slight pains and short breath.  We were unable to find any remedy for these maladies.  A post mortem examination of several bodies was made, to investigate the cause of their disease.  In the case of many, the interior parts were found mortified, such as the lungs, which were so changed that no natural fluid could be perceived in them.  The spleen was serous and swollen.  The liver was legueux (?) and spotted, without its natural color.  The vena cava, superior and inferior, was filled with thick coagulated and black blood.  The gall was tainted.  Nevertheless, many arteries, in the middle as well as lower bowels, were found in very good condition.  In the case of some, incisions with a razor were made on the thighs where they had purple spots, whence there issued a very black clotted blood.  This is what was observed on the bodies of those infected with this malady.

‘Our surgeons could not help suffering themselves in the same manner as the rest.  Those who continued sick were healed by spring, which commences in this country in May.  This led us to believe that the change of season restored them to health rather than the remedies prescribed.

‘During this winter all the liquors froze, except the Spanish wine.1  Cider was dispensed by the pound.  The cause of this loss was that there were no cellars to our storehouse and that the air which entered by the cracks was sharper than that outside.  We were obliged to use very bad water, and to drink melted snow, as there were no springs nor brooks; for it was not possible to go to the mainland in consequence of the great pieces of ice drifted by the tide which varies 3 fathoms between low and high water.  Work on the hand mill was very fatiguing, since the most of us having slept poorly and suffering from insufficiency of fuel, which we could not obtain on account of the ice, had scarcely any strength, and also because we ate only salt meat and vegetables during the winter, which produced bad blood.  The latter circumstance was, in my opinion, a partial cause of these dreadful maladies.  All this produced discontent in Sieur de Monts and others of the settlement.

‘It would be very difficult to ascertain the character of this region without spending the winter in it; for on arriving here in summer everything is very agreeable, in consequence of the woods, fine country, and the many varieties of good fish that are found here.  There are six months of winter in this country.

1Champlain’s entire account shows that the winter was one of unusual severity.

Correction: Article Additions and Corrections, between Articles XXXVII and XXXVIII, contains the following correction to this one: "The sentence in lines 4 to 7, (misprinted in a part of the edition,) should read, ‘The cold was sharp, more severe than in France, and of much longer duration; and it scarcely rained at all the entire winter.’"