Helene Desportes and The Last Will and Testament of Samuel Champlain

Famed explorer Samuel Champlain, often referred to as the 'Father of New France', founded New France and Quebec City in July 1608.

Baptized on 13 August 1574 in the Protestant Temple of St. Yon in La Rochelle, France (Department of Charente Maritime), Champlain reportedly grew up in the nearby town of Brouge. He began exploring North America in 1603 under the guidance of François Gravé Du Pont. In addition to founding New France, he is acredited with creating one of the first maps of the eastern coast of (what is now) Canada, participating in the exploration and settlement of Port Royal, Acadia (1605) and was the first European to explore and document the exploration of the Great Lakes. One of the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, was named in his honor.

Click here for more information about Samuel Champlain

In 1610, 36-year-old Champlain entered into a marriage contract with twelve-year-old Parisian Hélène Boullé. The contract called for Boullé to travel to New France two years later at the tender age of fourteen although Boulle did not arrive in New France until 1620. The marriage, however, was disappointing for Champlain. His wife decided to return to France after only four short years.

Shortly after her 1620 arrival, Boullé was named as the godmother of my ancestor, Helene Desportes. Helene, now believed to be the first white child born in Quebec, was the child of Pierre Desportes and his wife, Francois Langlois. This family was related to two other early settlers - Abraham Martin dit L'Ecossais and his wife, Marguerite Langlois. Marguerite was the sister of Francoise. These families were two of only seven families that lived in Quebec in 1620.

Samuel Champlain died on Christmas Day of 1635 after (likely) suffering a debilitating stroke in October of that year. Although his will was written in November 1635 (not in his own hand), its whereabouts were unknown for 324 years until August 1959 when is was discovered by a historian and archivist in Paris.

The will mentions a number of early settlers including Helene Desportes. It states that his gift of three hundred pounds to Helene Desportes was in recognition of the fact that she was the godchild of Champlain's wife, Hélène Boullé.

Here is a transcription of Champlain's last will and testament:

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I, Samuel de Champlain, of sound mind and reason, knowing that there is nothing less certain that the hour of death, not wanting to die without declaring my last wishes, I leave this document, so that they are clear and known to all.

So, my God, in your presence and the presence of your court in High Heavens, I declare that I want to live and die according to the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman faith and religion and receive all sacraments that the Church grants her children. I am ready to sign with my blood and death all the truths it holds and obey your holy commandments.

I forgive with a good heart all those who offended me and this for your love, Ô God who wants it this way and humbly beg forgiveness from all whom I have offended. You gave me a reasonable soul, Ô my God, I put it in your hands begging you to use it for your glory. As for my body, I leave it here to rest until Resurrection so that you will reunite it to my soul in beatitude.

Knowing that I am only the repository of what you put in my hands, here is how I dispose of the temporary goods that you gave me. I then wish, Ô my God, that the very Holy Virgin Mary, your mother inherit what I possess here in furniture, gold and silver.

I therefore give to the chapel of this place dedicated in her name and named Nostre-Dame de Recouvrance everything found here that belongs to me, except for what follows and for which I ask her permission to give to a few people.

So, with her permission, I give Marin the mason, who lives near the house of the Fathers Recollects, the last outfit made with the cloth bought from the store.

To Poisson, my manservant, in addition to the unfinished outfit I ordered for him, I give wool breeches and a shirt of grey and red cloth.

I give Bonaventure, my godson, a garment of English cloth, a doublet, and breeches of the same color.

I ask Father Charles Lalemant to send to my wife the Agnus Dei that I have, with a skin of grey fox and two otter skins and a gold ring in which there is a diamond embedded.

I give Helene, wife of Monsieur Hebert, a pair of undershirts of white cotton.

I give to Marguerite, godchild of Pyvert's wife another shirt of the same cloth with hairpins and ribbons of silk that she is to share with her cousin Heleyne. I give to Madame Giffard the painting of Nostre Dame which is in my bedroom.

I give to Father Charles Lalemant the painting of our crucified Lord which is also in my bedroom as well as my compass and the copper astrolabe with the sextant imploring him to take all my papers and bring them to my wife and so I ask Monsieur Gan (who will make sure that everything in this document is executed) as I said, I ask him to make sure that the mentioned papers are put in the hands of the said Father.

As for the rest of my assets in France, if my death takes place before my wife's, I cannot dispose of them having donated it to her in full would she survive me, as she donated her assets in the event of her death before mine. And so, assuming that at the time I write this will my wife is dead, here is how I dispose of everything I own in France.

I give to the Mission of the Fathers of the company of Jesus in Kebec the three thousand pounds that I own in the Compagnie générale and nine hundred pounds that I own in the Compagnie particulière, wishing that they use five hundred pounds of it to decorate the chapel of Nostre-Dame de Recouvrance located in Kebec, with tapestries or other furniture for the altar. Beyond that, I give the so named mission four hundred pounds, asking the fathers and brothers who live there to keep me in their prayers and beg them in the name of the friendship they have for me to say every year on the day of my passing a mass for my soul's rest.

I give Abraham and his wife six hundred pounds to be used to buy and clear some land in this country of New France for their sustenance.

I give Marguerite, daughter of Abraham, six hundred pounds for her dowry to marry a man resident of this country of New France and from no other place and to Hélène his other daughter, my godchild, three hundred francs.

I give three hundred pounds to Helene des Portes, my wife's godchild.

I give three hundred pounds to Marguerite Couillard, my godchild, for her dowry.

I give Pyvert two hundred francs.

I give one hundred pounds to La Caille's wife.

I give to the hospital of the Charity located in the Faubourg Saint Germain in Paris four hundred pounds.

I give to the Hospitalières of Paris who live near the Minimes of the Place Royale four hundred pounds.

I give six hundred pounds to the Fathers of the Doctrine Chrestienne de Paris on the condition they pray God for me and say a few masses for my soul's rest.

I give four hundred pounds to the poor of the great hospital of Paris.

I give six hundred pounds to the paupers who only subsist from the charity of generous people, wishing that the designated six hundred pounds be put in the hands of monsieur Sirou or of mademoiselle his wife to distribute them according to my intention and, if this is not possible, I wish that they be put in the hands of Father Jarry of the Compagnie of Jesus to distribute them to this end.

I give one hundred pounds to the church of Sainct-Esprit near La Greve on the condition that thirty masses be said for me.

I give five hundred pounds to the Minimes Fathers of the Place Royale in Paris on the condition that they say one hundred masses for my soul's rest.

Everything else that I own, whether in furniture or real estate, I demand that it be given to my cousin, daughter of the dead Captain George Camaret now married to sir d'Arsant who lives in La Rochelle.

I name for executor of my will for the assets that I have in France Monsieur Sirou asking him humbly as a sign of his friendship for me, to do this knowing that there will be no obstacle.

Done on the seventeenth of November in Kebec, one thousand six hundred thirtyfive in the presence of the following
(Followed by the signatures of Champlain and all witnesses)

Click to see Samuel Champlain's Will (Note: See images 38 through 46)

(Note: There is also another statement in the will that appears to be related to Helene Desportes. "I give Helene, wife of Monsieur Hebert, a pair of undershirts of white cotton" appears to refer to Helene who was married to Guillaume Hebert at the time of Champlain's will/death. However, this has not been confirmed.)

Interestingly, although his will gave much of his French property to his wife Hélène, he made significant bequests to the Catholic missions and to individuals in the colony of Quebec. However, Marie Camaret, a cousin on his mother's side, challenged the will in Paris and convinced the court to nullify the will on 15 March 1639. Part of the basis for her complaint was that, despite the fact that Champlain's wife, Hélène Boullé, made no objection to the terms of the will, Champlain had set aside (in the will) the provisions of the marriage contract he signed with Boullé. While recognizing the authenticity of the will, it was declared invalid by the Judge as contrary to the marriage contract. Unfortunately, the final outcome of the court judgement is unknown and it is unknown if Marie Camaret benefited from this judgement.

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