(Host) Sixteen years after Elvis Presley died, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor.
It’s taken a bit longer for the postal service to get around to honoring Samuel de Champlain, but this week, a stamp devoted the French explorer goes on sale.
As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, Champlain’s achievements are still noteworthy, even four hundred years later.
(Zind) In 1606 Samuel Champlain sailed the north Atlantic seacoast from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia.
The new stamp bears the image of Champlain’s ship off the coast of New England. But for reasons both political and historical, Fort Ticonderoga was chosen as the site for its ceremonial unveiling.
Champlain didn’t arrive in these parts until 1609, after sailing up the Saint Laurence and Richelieu rivers. On July 4, 1609 his small party entered Lake Champlain.
(Nick Westbrook) “When Champlain sets foot on these shores he changes the world. It’s nothing less dramatic than that.”
(Zind) Nick Westbrook is Director of the Fort Ticonderoga, New York National Historic Landmark.
Westbrook says Champlain carefully mapped his travels and recorded his observations. In that sense he embodied the best qualities of an explorer.
(Westbrook) “He’s providing us a tremendous body of material that other explorers were much more casual about capturing.”
(Zind) Champlain wrote volumes of journals about the native peoples and the flora and fauna he encountered.
Jim Millard has written two books on Lake Champlain history. Millard reads a section of Champlain’s journals that describes the lake’s once plentiful sturgeon
(Champlain) “I saw some five feet long which were as large as my thigh, with a snout two feet and a half long and a double row of very sharp and dangerous teeth.”
(Zind) Millard says Champlain was more than a casual observer, though. His mission was to claim new territory for France and bring back valuable furs.
It was during his time on Lake Champlain that he and his Algonquin guides came face to face the Algonquin’s traditional enemies of the Iroquois nation. In a battle near what is now Fort Ticonderoga, Champlain raised his rifle against the Iroquois, giving the Algonquin a lopsided victory and starting a chain of events that would change the history of the region.
(Millard) “It was pivotal in that for the first time the Europeans had taken sides in battles that had taken place between the native peoples. So it really incurred the enmity of the Iroquois. They ended up allying themselves with the British later on and it set the scene for a very, very nasty series of battles.”
(Zind) Millard says it’s important to view North American explorers like Champlain in a realistic light. Their explorations were the first steps in creating Canada and the United States. But they also ultimately led to the end of a world and a traditional way of life that had existed for millennia.
After a month on the lake, Samuel Champlain continued his journey west. He never returned, but the lake must have impressed him. In all his travels it’s the only place he chose to attach his name to.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.