I am Canadian – the French Connection – Part 3 – The Little King of Tadoussac


The Little King of Tadoussac, Nicolas Marsolet, my 8th great grandfather.


To recap, according to Cyprien Tanguay:


In 1600 a merchant of St. Malo, named (I)-Francois Grave Du Pont ( Pontgrave) (1554-1629), with (I)-Pierre Chauvin de Tonnetuit (d-1602), and Pierre Du Gua, Sieur De Monts (1558-1628) and with four ships and sixteen colonists, established a settlement at Tadoussac (meaning nipples or breasts). Pontgrave led the colony only because he had been there a number of times before and knew the people. The French called the natives Montagnais, the residents called themselves Innu meaning the people. They built a trading house. Tadoussac is a well-established fur trading and wintering site at the mouth of the Saguenay River. The Montagnais had 2nd and 3rd generation Metis at this time. About 1,000 Algonkin, Etchiman and Montagnais descend on Tadoussac each year to trade. Pontgrave and Chauven returned to France in the autumn with a cargo of furs, leaving sixteen men at Tadoussac. Eleven died that winter, and the rest went to live with the savages (native people) who were called the Montagnais Naskapi. Others suggest the Montagnais saved the remaining 5 men. The Montagnais had been trading with the Europeans for over fifty years. It is interesting that people who provide refuge during a time of need are classified as savage. This over used, European term ‘savage’ carried a powerful hidden meaning. On the surface it means an uncultivated, untamed, barbarous, crude, cruel person who is without civilization. Its hidden meaning is that a savage is less than human and therefore has few, if any, inherent rights. The Iroquois harassed the Montagnais over the years.

Early and often, casual unions between European fishermen, traders, lumberjacks and Native women from Acadia to Labrador produced uncounted progeny who matured as Natives among their maternal relatives. Many would become known as Malouidit because so many of the fathers originated from St. Milo on the Brittany coast of France. Many others would become known as capitaines des sauvages.

Cyprien Tanguay identifies that there were countless offspring from European and Native unions for 2 and 3 generations before any sort of documentation.


French fishermen and their families settled the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland. The islands remain French territory in Canadian waters.

the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon remain French territories in Canadian waters
the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon remain French territories in Canadian waters

 The Fishing Industry

A note about the fishing industry in the 16th century from Newfoundland’s Heritage website:

A strong demand for fish existed in France, where a sizable Roman Catholic population could not eat meat for up to 153 days a year for religious reasons; many people instead turned to fish as an alternative source of protein. Fresh fish, however, was expensive and not always available in large quantities at the marketplace. As a result, salt fish grew in popularity as a cheaper and more readily available foodstuff for meatless days.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s plentiful cod stocks provided an important supplement to fisheries in European waters. Cured cod not only sold better than the less tasty herring, but preserved well and was easy to handle and transport. France, with its sizable domestic market for salt fish, was one of the earliest nations to engage in the fishery at Newfoundland and Labrador. The first documented French fishers arrived in 1504 and by the 1520s French ports regularly dispatched between 60 and 90 vessels each year. Involvement in the fishery steadily grew in the coming decades and by the mid-18th century up to 10,000 French fishers migrated to the island annually.

Most came from Brittany and Normandy, where numerous merchants engaged in the fish trade. Norman ports involved with the fishery included Rouen, Dieppe, Honfleur, and Granville, while Breton ports included St. Malo, and St. Brieuc.


Brittany and Normandy were the two main regions that fished for cod
Brittany and Normandy were the two main regions that fished for cod

Cyprien Tanguay writes about Tadoussac:

(I)-Pierre Du Gua de Monts (1558-1628) and (I)-Pierre Chauvin de Tonnetuit (d-1603) visited Acadia to determine a location for the first permanent French Huguenot settlement in America. They founded a Huguenot base at Tadoussac, Quebec.

Pierre Chauvin de Tonnetuit was born in Dieppe, Normandy and is known as the founder of Tadoussac in Quebec. He was a French naval and military captain and lieutenant of New France. He was from a wealthy merchant family and owned four ships: the Don-de-Dieu, the Esperance, the Bon-Esoir, and the Saint-Jean.

The Ships

Ship travel in the 1600s was a harrowing experience. The merchant ships, as opposed to the military ships, were usually a frigate, brigantine or schooner style. They went through a lengthy process of getting ready to take the Atlantic route to Canada. The crossing was an uncertain journey. No one knew what exactly would happen as they depended on winds, mostly, to propel them and cartography was not too well developed. There were enemy ships  and piracy to contend with too. The journey from France to New France took about 7 weeks. Some rules while on board: (This list is from Acadian-Cajun.com who in turn quoted it from Between France and New France: Life Aboard the Tall Sailing Ships by Gilles Proulx)

1. Everyone must be on time for prayer, or lose their ration.
2. Smoking under the mainmast without a lidded claypipe … lose rations.
3. Urinating on the gangway … lose 1 day’s rations.
4. Defecating between-decks … 50 lashes while tied to the cannon.
5. Miss a watch … lose a day’s rations.
6. Fighting … tied to a cannon in irons and fed bread/water for 4 days.
7. Shooting a gun … 50 lashes while tied to a cannon, then 8 days in irons on bread/water.
8. Stealing … run the gauntlet and lose his ration for 15 days.
9. Insulted by someone … lodge a complaint with the officer on watch.
10. If you don’t bring your drinking mug when called for rations, you won’t get any.
11. Complaint about rations … talk to the officer of the watch.
12. Smoking a pipe between-decks … no bread for 4 days, then put in irons on bread/water.

Wow, these captains were tough customers!


The First house in Tadoussac


Pierre Chauvin was regularly engaged in the fur trade and cod-fishery of Canada and Newfoundland. When he received a monopoly of the fur trade from King Henri IV, he also received the responsibility to colonize and evangelize. He left Honfleur the spring of 1600 with his four ships and the intended colonists. He chose Tadoussac as his destination as it was strategically located at the junction of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence rivers. It was the Indian trading route to the interior and had been the Montagnais’ summering place for barter and had already been used for 50 years as a fur-trading and fishing by Europeans. Although it was a good spot for trading it was not so good for settlement because of rough terrain, poor soil and the infamous winters. However, Pierre built a house at Tadoussac, which Champlain wrote about, described, and his map from 1608 depicts it on the east bank of a stream.


Champlain's map of Tadoussac showing Chauvin's house
Champlain’s map of Tadoussac showing Chauvin’s house


There is a reconstruction of this house, which is used as a museum, on the spot where Pierre likely located the building.


Replica of Chavin's trading post house in Tadoussac
Replica of Chauvin’s trading post house in Tadoussac


They left 16 men to face the winter and only 5 survived of which and probably they returned to France the next year. Although the colonization experiment wasn’t a success, Tadoussac continued to play an important role in the fur trade and this is where Nicolas Marsolet wound up starting his career as an interpreter for/to the Montagnais First Nations people. He was also a merchant/fur trader and reportedly father of many Metis children.


In 1608 Cyprien Tanguay writes:
April 13: (I)-Nicolas Marsolet de Saint-Aignan (1587-1677) is appointed by King Henry IV as drogman (interpreter) to La Nouvelle France. He arrived with (I)-Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) who disliked Nicolas because he reported directly to the King. To ensure he didn’t interfere with his domain he assigned him to Tadoussac where he stayed from 1608 to 1635. He took a country wife and fathered Metis children. It is noteworthy that Tanguay was well aware of Nicolas Metis children but made no mention. His second marriage 1636, Kebec to Marie Lebarbier age 16 was well noted with their 10 children.

June 3: (I)-Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) arrived Tadoussac, Quebec. Some suggest (I)-Etienne Brule (1591-1633) is on this ship but others suggest he didn’t arrive until 1610. Basque traders are working Tadoussac, Quebec at the mouth of the Saguenay River when the de Monts Trading Company arrived. Some suggest (I)Nicolas Marsolet (1587-1677) and (I)-Etienne Brule (1592-1633) were on this ship with (I)-Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) and became the best of friends. (I)-Nicolas Marsolet (1587-1677) reported to the King of France and was not subject to Champlain. (I)-Nicolas Marsolet (1587-1677) remained at Tadoussac from 1608 to 1635 remaining even during the English occupation. (I)-Nicolas Marsolet (1587-1677) lived in a building in 1600 by (I)-Pierre Chauvin, d-1602 and lived among the Montagnais and Saguenay peoples as interpreter/trader. (I)-Nicolas Marsolet (1587-1677) was called the Little King of Tadoussac and he fathered a number of Metis children among the Montagnais.


Do you have French-Canadian ancestry? Are you a descendant of Nicolas Marsolet?


Note: Cyprien Tanguay was born 1819 in Quebec. He was a Roman Catholic priest with a special interest in the French-Canadian genealogy. He wrote the Genealogical Dictionary of Canadian Families from the Founding of the Colony to Our Time.


















6 thoughts on “I am Canadian – the French Connection – Part 3 – The Little King of Tadoussac

  1. Darcy such an interesting post. Those captains meant business!
    You may be interested to know that yesterday we visited Batoche which is a Parks Canada site in Sask. It was here that that the Battle of Batoche occurred in May of 1885 between the Métis and the Canadian military. Louis Riel was called in by the leader Gabriel Dumont to assist in leading. You likely know all of this better than I. At any rate we enjoyed exploring the site very much.

    1. Thank you for your great feedback Sue! Isn’t that cool you visited an historical site related to this article? Sounds very interesting. I love the Parks Canada sites. Actually, I don’t know very much at all about a lot of Canadian history. That’s why I’m writing these posts to force myself to learn about it. I’m find it all intriguing, but it is very time consuming sorting through all of the information. I’m learning a heck of a lot though. When we return to Canada I’d like to make it a goal to visit all the National Historic Sites across Canada. I wonder if I’ll live that long? 😀

      1. Good for you to sort through all of the history Darcy. So much to absorb. I hope you get to fulfill your goal of visiting the sites. Put Batoche on your list!

  2. Lisa

    Hello Darcy, my name is Lisa and I too am a direct descendant of Nicolas Marsolet and come from the lineage of his daughter Louise Lemire. I live in Calgary, Alberta. We have a rich family history and like yourself, I really enjoy learning about it. Thank you for your post it is so interesting. Would love to know where you are currently living? Your distant relative, Lisa

    1. Hello Lisa. Thank you for writing. I’m so glad to know about another cousin next door to me. I’m in BC north central near Prince George.it’s great to be in touch! Take care,

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