Quebec Studies

"Un Remedde Contre Toutes Maladies": Travel Writing and the Scurvy Incident in Cartier's Second Voyage

Quebec Studies (2012), 54, (1), 3–16.

Abstract

3 "Un Remedde Contre Toutes Maladies": Travel Writing and the Scurvy Incident in Cartier's Second Voyage Micah True University of Alberta In the winter of 1535, French explorer Jacques Cartier and his crew endured a perplexing and lethal outbreak of a mysterious disease that would later be identified as scurvy. As crew-members slowly died over the course of sev­ eral months, Cartier attempted to no avail to treat the strange illness with the familiar remedies of Europe, before finally stumbling upon a miracu­ lous Iroquoian cure that saved the remainder of the crew and allowed the expedition to return safely home to France. This article examines the cap­ tain's account of this harrowing episode — one of the best-known passages from the Brief Récit of his second voyage — in relation to Cartier's place in the historiography of the French exploration and colonization of North America. The Malouin captain has been portrayed in a variety of ways since his belated rise to prominence in the nineteenth century, perhaps most often as either a heroic trailblazer of French North America or as a material­ istic treasure hunter. In light of a careful reading of this famous passage, this article proposes another possible frame in which to understand Cartier's contributions, one that may better do justice to the rhetorical features of his text, and that avoids an exclusive focus on what the captain did or did not do in the New World, without accounting for his relationship to the Old Country.1 As early examples of the récit de voyage, a literary genre popular­ ized in France during the following century, the texts served not only to document Cartier's successes and failures, but also to minimize the figura­ tive distance between the New World and Cartier's home. Cartier's description of his crew's encounter with and eventual tri­ umph over an unknown illness during the second voyage is richly detailed, so much so that scholars have had no difficulty identifying it as scurvy.2 The trouble began in December of 1535. A deadly disease arrived among the Iroquoian inhabitants of the village of Stadaconé, on the present-day site of Québec City, prompting the French visitors to isolate themselves inside their nearby fort and forbid entry to the Stadaconans. Despite this protec­ tive measure, the Frenchmen soon began exhibiting signs of sickness them­ selves: swollen and blood-speckled legs, infected and rotting mouths, and loss of teeth. By mid-February, fewer than ten of the 110 members of the crew were still healthy. Cartier instructed his crew to pray for deliverance from the disease, and organized a procession toward a portrait of the Virgin Mary, where he promised during the recitation of mass to make a pilgrim­ age to Notre Dame de Rocamadour if God would allow him to live long enough to return to France. On the day Cartier made this promise, a twenty-two-year-old member of the crew named Philippe Rougemont died of the still unidentified malady. Dissection of the corpse yielded detailed Québec Studies, Volume 54, Fall 2012/Winter 2013

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True, Micah