FOR NEARLY TWO HUNDRED YEARS after Columbus, most Europeans who came to found colonies in America ended up rotten with scurvy or dead of starvation: only by slow degrees did men learn to wrest a living from the land itself. Down to Penn Philadelphia ( 1682), nearly every colony in North America presents the same doleful tale.
New France was no exception to the rule. In 1535, Cartier starved at Stadacona. In the fifteen-sixties, French Huguenots starved in Florida. In 1605, Champlain's Frenchmen starved and died of scurvy on the Ste. Croix river, and in 1608-1609 at Quebec, his men once again were starving or dying. About the same time in the much more genial climate of Virginia, few Englishmen came through the winter. It was not until they had been on the St. Lawrence for thirty or forty years that the French passed beyond immediate danger of starvation.
The men who starved and died while getting Europe transplanted to America were just as intelligent as we are, just as brave, and probably a good deal hardier. Why then all the misfortune? Every schoolboy will stand ready with an answer, and the sum of the answers will be--lack of the technical progress we have made since those days. Among the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth in 1620, some there were who had brought with them a scarce and novel commodity--soap. When the accounts were reckoned up at the end of the first winter, it was asserted that mortality had been much greater among those who had washed with soap than those who had gone dirty in the good old-fashioned way. Soap, nevertheless, was to become one of the main pillars of our North American civilization.
The French at Quebec had no excessive prejudice in favour of soap. By our fastidious standards, their cleanliness left much to be desired, but they were more particular than the Indians. The accounts they left behind them are full of the disgust they