Brouage is situated in a low, marshy region, on the southern bank of an inlet or arm of the sea, on the southwestern shores of France, opposite to that part of the Island of Oleron where it is separated from the mainland only by a narrow channel. Although this little town can boast a great antiquity, it never at any time had a large population. It is mentioned by local historians as early as the middle of the eleventh century. It was a seigniory of the family of Pons. The village was founded by Jacques de Pons, after whose proper name it was for a time called Jacopolis, but soon resumed its ancient appellation of Brouage.
An old chronicler of the sixteenth century informs us that in his time it was a port of great importance, and the theatre of a large foreign commerce. Its harbor, capable of receiving large ships, was excellent, regarded, indeed, as the finest in the kingdom of France. It was a favorite idea of Charles VIII. to have at all times several war-ships in this harbor, ready against any sudden invasion of this part of the coast.
At the period of Champlain's boyhood, the village of Brouage had two absorbing interests. First, it had then recently become a military post of importance; and second, it was the centre of a large manufacture of salt. To these two interests, the whole population gave their thoughts, their energy, and their enterprise.
M. Féret obtained this valuable document from a resident in Dieppe, where it has been for an unknown time; and it is more than probable that it had been in the possession of M. de Chastes, governor of the town and castle of Dieppe, who was Champlain's chief friend and protector, under whose auspices he had been employed in the war in Brittany against the League, and by whom, after his return from the West Indies, he was sent to Canada. To him, it is most likely that Champlain would present a narrative of his voyage. On M. de Chastes' death, the manuscript probably passed into the possession of the Convent of the Minimes at Dieppe, to which he was a great benefactor during his life, and by testament after his death. He was also, by his desire, buried in the church of the convent. The library of the Minime fathers was, with the rest of their property, and that of the other convents of the town, dispersed at the great Revolution; but most of the books remained at Dieppe, as may be seen by a reference to the numerous works which have gradually found their way, by gift or purchase, to the "Public Library" of that town, bearing inscriptions as having belonged to the convent.
The readers of Champlain's Voyages in New France, will remember the allusion to the expedition which is the subject of the following narrative: "Sur ces entrefaites," he says, speaking of the projects of Monsieur de Chastes for the Canadian voyage, "je me trouvais en cour, venu fraischement des Indes Occidentales, où j'avois été près de deux ans et demy après que les Espagnols furent partis de Blavet, et la paix foict en France, où pendant les guerres j'avais servi sa dicte majesté (Henry IV) souz Messeigneurs le Mareschal d'Aumont de St. Luc, et le Mareschal de Brissac."
The relation of this voyage was never published, and this should rather confirm the supposition that the manuscript had been presented to M. Chastes. It was evidently finished in haste; as the omission of several drawings, which are mentioned but not inserted, and the character of the writing, shews. Champlain returned from this voyage early in 1602, and before the autumn of the year was occupied in making preparations for his first voyage to Canada, before his return from which in the next year, 1603, M. de Chastes had died. Had Champlain kept the manuscript of his West India voyage, he would surely have published it in 1604, at the same time that the account of his first expedition to Canada was printed, and to none is it so likely that he would have given his "Brief Discourse" as to his best friend and patron, at whose death (he died at Dieppe) it would pass into private hands, or the Minime Convent, and be lost sight of.