French Frontier Forts

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FRENCH FRONTIER FORTS. While the Spanish, Dutch, and English struggled to establish footholds in North America, the French built a powerful domain in the Saint Lawrence River valley in the seventeenth century. By 1672, New France had more than five thousand colonists. Then, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet discovered the Mississippi River the following year. In 1682, Sieur de La Salle reached the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the Mississippi Valley for Louis XIV.

Forts figured importantly in France's imperial strategy. Bases at Kingston, Ontario (1673), and Saint Joseph, Michigan (1679), along with Fort Saint Louis and Fort Crèvecoeur in Illinois (1680–1682), safeguarded economic and military control of a growing empire. Fort Biloxi (Mississippi) was founded in 1699, Mobile in 1702, and New Orleans in 1717. Between 1701 and 1721, the French occupied strategic points at Fort Pontchartrain (Detroit), Fort Michilimackinac (Michigan), Fort de Chartres (Illinois), and Fort Niagara (New York).

As the eighteenth century progressed, the Ohio Valley emerged as a danger point for the French. English settlers had found routes through the Allegheny Mountains and forged competing alliances with Native Americans. In quick succession, the English established numerous forts in Pennsylvania, including Presque Isle (Erie), Le Boeuf (Waterford), Machault (near Venango), Venango, and Duquesne (Pittsburgh). The French and British rivalry quickly accelerated from protests to blows. The French and Indian War began in this area and ended in the complete downfall of New France. French frontier forts passed into English hands or into oblivion. In the struggle for the mastery of the continent, forts had played a significant role; in many cases, great cities—Pittsburgh, Detroit, Saint Louis, New Orleans—occupy the sites of their vanished stockades.


Eccles, William J. The French in North America, 1500–1783. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998. McDermott, John F., ed. The French in the Mississippi Valley. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965.

M. M.Quaife/a. r.

See alsoDuquesne, Fort ; Fur Trade and Trapping ; Jolliet Marquette Explorations .