Marc Lescarbot was born in Vervins in the Picardy region of France, in about 1570.

A local bishop took him under his wing and subsidized his education. Lescarbot took lessons in classical studies, such as learning Latin and Greek.

In 1598, Lescarbot graduated from law school (civil law) and moved to Paris. A record exists of his apparently minor participation in the negotiations of a peace treaty between France and Spain in that same year.

In 1599, he was called to the bar and appointed to the Paris court called Parlement de Paris.

One of his clients, Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt, was a North American explorer and invited Lescarbot to join him on an upcoming expedition to the New World. Lescarbot took only one day to make his decision.

On May 13, 1606, he gave up his practice and was at La Rochelle. Aboard the ship Jonas, he then crossed the Atlantic Ocean, arriving at Port-Royal, Acadie (now Annapolis, Nova Scotia) in July 1606.

While in l'Acadie, Samuel de Champlain, the senior French explorer, took what ships he could and went north looking for, and finding, the Saint Lawrence River.

By July, 1607, Lescarbot had this new information. He returned to France with his patron de Biencourt de Poutrincourt and wrote a history of the French settlements in North America entitled Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, to popular acclaim, and many re-prints.

It remains the first written history of what is now Canada.

Marc Lescarbot's 1609 map of New FranceIn it, according to the John Carter Brown University:

"He painted a glowing picture of the potential of the country and scolded Frenchmen for distracting themselves with religious discord and fruitless searches for imaginary golden cities, when they could instead be reaping the benefits of the fertility and the vast resources of New France."

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography assessment of Lescarbot's work:

"Lescarbot devoted the whole of the last part of his Histoire to a description of the natives. He was keenly interested in the Indians, and frequently visited the Souriquois (Micmac) chiefs and braves; he observed their customs, made a collection of their remarks, noted down their chants. In many respects he judged them more civilized and virtuous than Europeans, but, like a good Frenchman, he pitied them for their ignorance of the pleasures of wine and love!"

As an amateur musician, Lescarbot set to music some of the melodies of the Indian songs he had heard. He also drew the first map of New France (and of what is now Canada), which included one of the first references to Kebec (pictured, now Quebec), and maps of Port-Royal and Florida.

He also wrote a play called Le Théâtre Neptune en la Nouvelle France, which is still produced. He was a member of the first social club of North America, which Champlain organized in 1606, the Ordre de Bon Temps.

Lescarbot tried to ease back into professional work to pay his bills, but his constant political writings eventually landed him in the holding cells at the Grand Châtelet, Paris. Once released, he moved to Switzerland in about 1613 to act as secretary to the French Ambassador, returning to France in 1615.

Although he had several opportunities, Lescarbot was never again able to visit North America.

Canada's first lawyer died in 1641 at Presles, France.

But his legacy was substantial. Lescarbot contributed not only towards an understanding of the New World by French landlubbers. His work and opinions sparked the interest of the common French citizen in the exploration of North America.

REFERENCES:

  • English, John, Ed., Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, information retrieved from http://www.biographi.ca/index-e.html on May 8, 2009
  • Lescarbot, Marc, Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, 1609
  • Pioffet, Marie-Christine, Voyages en Acadie, 1604-1607; Suivis de La Description Des Moeurs Souriquoises Comparées à Celles D'autres Peuples (Québec: Presses de Université Laval, 2007).
  • Reid, J., "Marc Lescarbot", The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2nd Ed., Volume II (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988), page 1202.
  • The Early French Exploration & Settlement: Inventing New France, The John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, information retrieved on May 8, 2009 from brown.edu/Facilities/John_Carter_Brown_Library/Champlainexhib/Pages/Inventing+.html.