French colonization of the Americas

French colonization of the Americas

French colonization of the Americas began in the 14th century, and continued in the following centuries as France established a colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere. France founded colonies in much of eastern North America, on a number of Caribbean islands, and in South America. Most colonies were developed to export products such as fish, sugar, and furs.

As they colonized the New World, the French established forts and settlements that would become such cities as Quebec and Montreal in Canada; Detroit, St. Louis, Mobile, Biloxi, Baton Rouge and New Orleans in the United States; and Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien in Haiti.

North America

Early exploration and attempted settlement

The French first came to the New World as explorers, seeking a route to the Pacific ocean and wealth. Major French exploration of North America began under the reign of King Francis I. In 1524, Francis sent Italian-born Giovanni da Verrazano to explore the region between Florida and Newfoundland for a route to the Pacific Ocean. Although he failed to find such a route, Verrazano became the first European to explore much of the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada. Later, in 1534, Francis sent Jacques Cartier on the first of three voyages to explore the coast of Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence River. Cartier's first two voyages had been focused on finding a passage to the Orient, but his third, which began in 1541, sought to find the legendary "Kingdom of Saguenay" and to establish a permanent settlement along the St. Lawrence River. In August 1541, his group established a fortified settlement, named "Charlesbourg-Royal", on the site of present-day Cap-Rouge, Quebec. A second fort was built on a cliff overlooking the settlement for added protection. Having set tasks for everyone, Cartier left with the longboats for a reconnaissance in search of "Saguenay" on September 7. However, bad weather and rapids prevented him from journeying up the Ottawa River. Cartier returned to Charlesbourg-Royal and found the colony struggling to survive. Following a difficult winter, Cartier became convinced that he lacked the manpower and resources to protect the fort and search for Saguenay, and left for France in June 1542. The Sieur de Roberval took command at Charlesbourg-Royal, but it was abandoned the following year after disease, foul weather and hostile natives drove the would-be settlers to despair. The precise site of this colony was a mystery to historians until remains - including a plate that may have belonged to Roberval - were discovered in August 2006 by archeologists [] . A second French attempt at establishing a North American colony came in 1562, when King Charles IX sent Jean Ribault and a group of Huguenot settlers to found a colony in North America. They explored the St. Johns River in what is now Jacksonville, Florida and attempted a failed colony at Parris Island, South Carolina, but eventually returned to the St. Johns, where Ribault's second in command René Goulaine de Laudonnière established Fort Caroline on June 22, 1564. Fort Caroline struggled over the next year until Ribault returned with reinforcements from Europe. In 1565 the Spanish under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established the colony of St. Augustine 35 mi (60 km) to the south, and became a major threat to the fledgling Fort Caroline. Ribault attempted to dislodge them in the August of that year, but was surprised by a sudden storm that wrecked his fleet. Menéndez marched his troops over land and sacked Fort Caroline on September 20, 1565, and killed most of the settlers. The Spanish victory effectively ended the French presence in the area.

Canada and the Great Lakes

After its failed attempt at a colony in the 1540s, for a time France limited its colonial interests in what would become Canada to fishing in the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland. By the beginning of the 17th century, however, the French had become very interested in the fur trade, and this led them to push inland to better trade with American Indian tribes. French interest in the area began with the founding of Tadoussac in 1599. In 1603, Samuel de Champlain made his first trip to North America on a fur trading expedition. Champlain would prove instrumental in creating New France. In 1608, he created a fur trading post that would grow into the city of Quebec, a settlement that later became the capital of French North America. At Quebec, Champlain forged alliances between France and the Huron and Ottawa against their traditional enemies, the Iroquois. Champlain and other French traders then continued exploring North America, using the birch bark canoe to move quickly across the Great Lakes and their tributary rivers. By 1634, French explorer Jean Nicolet had pushed as far west as present-day Wisconsin.

Although the French claimed a large territory in Canada and the Great Lakes region, actual settlement of the area was limited. For example, Ville Marie (the present Montreal), after existing 10 years had a mere 50 or so inhabitants. In 1653, one hundred recruits bolstered and saved the small colony which would have been abandoned had the recruitment efforts not been successful. [] New France had just over 3,000 European settlers in 1666. The colony had grown slowly because France had emphasized the fur trade, which required the assistance of local tribes, and not colonization. In 1663, when Louis XIV declared New France a royal colony, this strategy began to change. He immediately sent ships containing 775 women ("les filles du roi") to become wives for the French colonists serving in the fur trade posts; a large majority of settlers had been male prior to this. In ten years, New France's population more than doubled, to 7,000 inhabitants. It reached 15,000 in 1689, and 85,000 by 1754. Even so, throughout its history New France's population was dwarfed by that of the Thirteen Colonies of Great Britain.

In the wake of the French traders and "voyageurs" came several French Jesuits who attempted to Christianize many native groups through the establishment of missions, such as Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. In the meantime, French Huguenot refugees, part of a large Huguenot migration to the nominally Dutch New Netherland, established self-governing colonies beyond the control of the French state. For example, Huguenots led by Louis Dubois founded New Paltz, New York in 1678, "governed by a kind of corporation called the Duzine, referring to the twelve partners who acquired the royal patent. That form of government continued well past the time of the American Revolution, by special action of the New York State legislature." [] [This governing body] made treaties with the local Native Americans to purchase land from the Hudson River to the mountains, and otherwise prospered even after the English took control of the Hudson River and New York. (The village today boasts the oldest street in the United States with its original stone housesFact|date=August 2007).

New France began to grow south and west of the Great Lakes after 1673, when Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet canoed across present day Wisconsin via the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway to discover the Mississippi River. From here, they followed the river south to the mouth of the Arkansas River. Afraid that they were drawing too near to areas of Spanish influence, the explorers turned north in Arkansas and returned to the Great Lakes, this time via the Illinois and Chicago rivers through present day Chicago.

Mississippi Valley and Louisiana

Following the journey of Marquette and Jolliet, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle traveled the Mississippi to its delta, claiming the river's entire watershed for France in 1682 and naming the territory "Louisiane" in honor of Louis XIV. This gave France control of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Plains in addition to their holdings in the Great Lakes and Canada, and soon Frenchmen such as Nicholas Perrot were establishing trading posts and forts in the new territory.

In 1684, La Salle attempted to solidify French control over the Mississippi Valley by establishing a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. La Salle left France with four ships and 300 colonists, but the expedition was plagued by pirates, inhospitable Indians, bad weather and poor navigation which led the would-be colonists to miss their mark (the mouth of the Mississippi) by several hundred miles. They set up Fort Saint Louis, near the site of present-day Victoria, Texas. The colony lasted only until 1688, when local Indians overpowered the 20 remaining adults, and took five children as captives. The colony of Louisiana was ultimately founded in 1699 at Biloxi, Mississippi. In 1718 the city of New Orleans was founded; it soon became the colony's capital, surpassing the earlier Louisiana settlements of Nachitoches (1714) and Natchez (1716). France soon came into conflict with Great Britain, whose colonies bordered French colonies in several places. This led to a series of conflicts known in the United States as the French and Indian Wars.

End of New France

Following the French defeat in the French and Indian War, the Treaty of Paris of February 10, 1763, divided French territory on the North American continent between the British and the Spanish. The sole exception was the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the Canadian coast, retained as a fishing outpost. The islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon were France's only remaining possessions north of the Caribbean.

France was able to briefly regain some of their former possessions in North America from the Spanish in 1800, during the Napoleonic Era, under the Treaty of San Ildefonso. However, after his troops were defeated in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Napoleon abandoned plans for a North American empire and sold the entire Louisiana territory to the United States, a sale referred to as the Louisiana Purchase.

West Indies

France has settled and ruled many islands in the West Indies. French efforts at colonization began in 1538, when a group of French Jesuit refugees founded the town of Dieppe on St. Kitts. However, their colony was found and destroyed by the Spanish within a year. France did not attempt to colonize the Caribbean again in the 16th century, but established a number of colonies the following century.

Chief among these was the island of Hispaniola, where France established the colony of Saint-Domingue on the western third of the island in 1664. Nicknamed the "Pearl of the Antilles," Saint-Domingue became the richest colony in the Caribbean before a 1791 slave revolt, which began the Haitian Revolution, led to freedom for the colony's slaves in 1794 and, a decade later, complete independence for the country, which renamed itself Haiti. France briefly also ruled the eastern portion of the island, which is now the Dominican Republic.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, France ruled much of the Lesser Antilles at various times. Islands that came under French rule during part of all of this time include Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, Martinique, St. Barthélemy, St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Vincent and Tobago. Control of many of these islands was contested between the French, the British and the Dutch; in the case of St. Martin, the island was divided in two, a situation that persists to this day. Great Britain captured some of France's islands during the Seven Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars. Following the latter conflict, France retained control of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Marie-Galante, St. Barthélemy, and its portion of St. Martin; all remain part of France today. Guadeloupe (including Marie-Galante and other nearby islands) and Martinique each is an overseas departments of France, while St. Barthélemy and St. Martin each became an overseas collectivity of France in 2007.

In Martinique, unlike Saint-Domingue, slavery was not abolished during the French Revolution. Meanwhile, in Guadeloupe slaves gained their freedom from 1795 (due to pressures by the French Revolution, the convention in Paris performed this task and sent Victor Hugues to implement the new law) but then faced the reinstatement of the institution of slavery by Napoleon in 1802.

outh America

From 1555 to 1567, French Huguenots, under the leadership of vice-admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, made an attempt to establish the colony of France Antarctique in what is now Brazil, but were expelled. From 1612 to 1615, a second failed attempt was made in present-day São Luís, Brazil.

French Guiana was first settled by the French in 1604, although its earliest settlements were abandoned in the face of American Indian hostility and tropical diseases. The settlement of Cayenne was established in 1643, but was abandoned. It was re-established in the 1660s. Except for brief occupations by the English and Dutch in the 17th century, Guiana has remained under French rule ever since. From 1851 to 1951 it was the site of a notorious penal colony, Devil's Island ("Île du Diable"). Guiana is presently an overseas department of France.

In 1860, a French adventurer, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens proclaimed himself king of Araucania and Patagonia.His claim was not accepted by foreign powers and Chile and Argentina took firm control over the regions, treating him as insane.

ee also

*Atlantic World
*French and Indian Wars
*French colonial empire
*New France
*French in Canada
*French in the United States
*Illinois Country


*The French Founders of North America and Their Heritage, Sabra Holbrook, Atheneum, New York, 1976, hardback, ISBN 0-689-30490-0

Note: As the "French and Indian War" started two years earlier, and continued until the signing of the peace treaty, the name "Seven Years' War" is more properly applied to the European phase of the war.

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