French Exploration and Settlement
French Exploration and Settlement
Spain dominated southwestern and southeastern North America until the late seventeenth century. Within twenty years of that time, however, Spanish influence had gone into decline as a result of English expansion into present-day South Carolina and Georgia (see Chapter 4). Native Americans came to rely on English trade goods and formed alliances with the English settlers against the Spanish. During this time, France had been establishing New France in present-day Canada. Like the Spanish and English, the French were attracted to North America by promises of great wealth in gold, silver, and other precious metals. Like the Spanish, the French also wanted to convert the "pagan" (one who is not Christian, Muslim, or Jewish) Native Americans to Roman Catholicism, thus combining conquest with a Christian mission. (Roman Catholicism is a Christian religion based in Rome, Italy, and headed by a pope who has supreme authority in all church affairs.) Although France did not establish permanent settlements in the territory that became the United States, French explorers extended the frontiers around the Great Lakes (a chain of five lakes along the border of present-day Canada and the United States), along the Mississippi River valley, and around the Gulf of Mexico. The French presence became an obstacle to English expansion in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Tensions came to a head during the French and Indian War (1754–63), which marked the end of French power in North America.
Verrazano explores Northeast
French efforts at colonizing North America began in the early sixteenth century. In 1523 a group of Italian merchants in the French cities of Lyons and Rouen persuaded the king of France, Francis I, to sponsor a voyage by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano (also spelled Verrazzano; c. 1485–1528) to North America. They hoped to find the Northwest Passage, a direct sea route to Asia via the Pacific Ocean. The king commissioned Verrazano to chart (to make a map of) the entire Atlantic coast of North America, from modern-day Florida to Newfoundland (an island off the coast of Canada). Accompanied by his younger brother Girolamo, a mapmaker, Verrazano set sail aboard the ship La Dauphine in early 1524. The expedition reached the coast and sailed south to Florida. Then, turning north, Verrazano anchored at what is now Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks, a sandbar separated from the mainland by Pamlico Sound. Unable to see the mainland from this vantage point, he assumed the body of water on the other side of the sandbar was the Pacific Ocean. He concluded he had found the route to China because Girolamo's maps showed North America as a vast continent tapering to a narrow strip of land near the coast of North Carolina.
Discovers New York Harbor
Verrazano could not find a passage to the mainland, so he continued north to the upper reaches of present-day New York Harbor. He anchored La Dauphine at the narrows, which was later named in his honor. (Today the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge spans the entrance of New York Harbor from Brooklyn to Staten Island.) Leaving the harbor, he sailed up the coast to the entrance of Narragansett Bay. He found some islands in the bay and named one of them Rhode Island because it was shaped like Rhodes, the Greek island in the eastern Mediterranean. More than one hundred years later, religious dissident Roger Williams would take the name Rhode Island for new colony he founded on the mainland off Narragansett Bay (see Chapter 4). Verrazano's exploring parties went as far inland as the site of modern Pawtucket. From Rhode Island, Verrazano led his expedition up the coast of Maine to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland before returning to France in July 1524.
Meets death in West Indies
Immediately after landing in France, Verrazano wrote a report on his expedition for King Francis I, in which he gave one of the earliest firsthand descriptions of the eastern coast of
Giovanni da Verrazano was born in 1485 into an aristocratic family in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy. Pursuing a career as a seaman, he moved in 1506 or 1507 to Dieppe, a port on the northwestern coast of France. From Dieppe he sailed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea and may have traveled to Newfoundland in 1508. In 1523 a group of Italian merchants in the French cities of Lyons and Rouen persuaded the French king, Francis I, to sponsor Verrazano's voyage to North America. They hoped to find a more direct sea route to Asia, which was becoming a profitable trading partner. Although Verrazano did not fulfill this mission, in 1524 he became the first European to sight New York Harbor as well as Narragansett Bay and other points along the northeastern Atlantic shore. He made two other voyages to North America. On the final trip, he was killed by members of the hostile Carib tribe in the West Indies. Verrazano did not found any permanent settlements, but he opened the way for French explorers who came to the northeast part of North America in the early seventeenth century.
North America and the Native Americans who lived there. Verrazano's next expedition in 1527 was sponsored in part by Philippe de Chabot, admiral of France, because the king was preparing for war in Italy and could not spare any ships. On this trip Verrazano traveled to the coast of Brazil and brought back a valuable cargo of logwood for use in making textile (cloth) dyes. In 1528 he undertook another voyage to North America to renew his search for a passage to the Pacific, which he still thought could be found just south of Cape Fear, North Carolina. Leaving France in the spring of 1528, his party apparently reached the West Indies (a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea), where they followed the chain of islands north. After landing on one of the islands, probably Guadeloupe, Verrazano was captured and killed by members of the hostile Carib tribe. His ships then sailed south to Brazil, where they obtained another cargo of logwood and returned to France.
"the greatest delight on beholding us"
After heading an expedition along the eastern coast of North America in 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano wrote a letter to King Francis I of France about his discoveries. The letter is considered an important document in the story of the exploration of North America. In his account Verrazano gave one of the earliest firsthand descriptions of native peoples living in North America. The excerpt below describes his party's initial encounter with Native Americans, near Cape Fear, North Carolina.
Captain John de Verrazzano [Giovanni da Verrazano] to His Most Serene Majesty, the King of France, Writes:
... .[Around January 18, 1524] we reached a new country, which had never before been seen by any one, either in ancient or modern times. . . . Many people who were seen coming to the sea-side fled at our approach, but occasionally stopping, they looked back upon us with astonishment, and some were at length induced, by various friendly signs, to come to us. These showed the greatest delight on beholding us, wondering at our dress, countenances and complexion. They then showed us by signs where we could more conveniently secure our boat, and offered us some of their provisions. That your Majesty may know all that we learned, while on shore, of their manners and customs of life, I will relate what we saw as briefly as possible. They go entirely naked, except that about the loins they wear skins of small animals like martens [carnivorous animals related to the weasel] fastened with a girdle of plaited grass [a type of belt made with braided grass], to which they tie, all around the body, the tails of other animals hanging down to the knees; all other parts of the body and the head are naked. Some wear garments similar to birds' feathers.
Reprinted in: Elliott, Emory, ed. American Literature: A Prentice Hall Anthology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991, pp. 48–49.
Cartier continues search for passage
Although Verrazano did not find the Northwest Passage, he opened the way for other French explorers in North America. The first was Jacques Cartier (1491–1557), who was determined to find a natural waterway to Asia. In 1532 the bishop of Saint-Malo proposed to Francis I that the king sponsor an expedition to the New World (a European term for North and South America) and that Cartier, who had already been to Brazil and Newfoundland, be chosen to lead it. In April 1534 Cartier set off from Saint-Malo with two ships and sixty-one men. His mission was "to discover certain islands and lands where it is said that a great quantity of gold, and other precious things, are to be found." Cartier's fleet sailed to the northern tip of Newfoundland, entering the Strait of Belle Isle, which was known to lead to a large gulf. In order to avoid the barren northern coast in reaching the gulf, Cartier headed south along the western shore of Newfoundland, naming many rivers and harbors. The party continued along the western coast until they came to the channel (strait) that is now called Cabot Strait (in honor of Italian explorer John Cabot, who claimed the area for England; see Chapter 4).
Sailing through the Strait of Belle Isle, Cartier became the first European to explore the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. He was also the first European to report on the Magdalen Islands (Îles de la Madeleine) and Prince Edward Island. He then sailed on to the coast of New Brunswick, where he explored Chaleur Bay. Heading north along the coast to Gaspé Bay, he claimed the Gaspé Peninsula for France. From Gaspé, Cartier continued as far as Anticosti Island. After he went ashore in present-day Canada, he claimed the land for France. He also encountered the Iroquois chief Donnacona. When Cartier left, he took two of the chief's sons with him as guests (some historians say as prisoners) on the return trip to France.
Begins second voyage
Upon arriving in Saint-Malo in September 1534, Cartier received a grand welcome. Although he had not found gold, he brought reports of a warm climate and fertile land in New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula. The region had previously been considered suitable for fishing but certainly not for settlement or commercial trade. Intrigued by Cartier's report, the king began planning a second voyage. The following year he provided Cartier with three ships for a return trip to North America. Cartier left Saint-Malo in 1535, taking with him Donnacona's two sons, who had learned French in order to serve as translators.
This proved to be Cartier's most important voyage. Guided by the two Iroquois, he sailed west from Anticosti and entered the great river, which the French later called the River of Canada (now the Saint Lawrence River). It became the main gateway for French exploration of Canada for the next two centuries. Cartier went up the Saint Lawrence past the Saguenay River to the village of Stadacona, on the site of present-day Quebec City. After meeting with Donnacona he traveled on to the village of Hochelaga, where the city of Montreal is now located. When Cartier encountered rapids, he did not travel any farther. He was informed by the Iroquois, however, that the Saint Lawrence River extended west to a region that contained gold and silver.
Iroquois help cure epidemic
During his stay in New France, Cartier climbed Mont-Royal to view the Saint Lawrence valley. He also sighted the Lachine Rapids and the
Constitution Embraces Equality for All
Jacques Cartier was born in 1491 in the French port of Saint-Malo in the province of Brittany. Little is known about his early life, but it is clear that he made several sea voyages. According to some accounts, he may have been a crew member on expeditions led by Giovanni da Verrazano (sailing for France) to North America in 1524 and the West Indies in 1528. Cartier headed three expeditions to North America (1534, 1535, and 1541), during which he discovered the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Saint Lawrence River. Although he is one of the best-known explorers in American history, historians cite three factors that could diminish his stature. First, Cartier did not thoroughly explore the Saint Lawrence River valley, thus failing to recognize the potential of rich natural resources such as fur-bearing animals. He also had questionable dealings with the Iroquois, whom he reportedly mistreated. For instance, it is debatable whether he took members of the tribe back to France as guests or as prisoners. Finally, Cartier deserted Jean-François de La Rocque, sieur de Roberval, a French nobleman and explorer, who had been commissioned to found a colony in present-day Canada. When Cartier met Roberval in Newfoundland in 1542, he was instructed to join Roberval's expedition. Instead, Cartier secretly returned to France, where he apparently hoped to get rich from "precious" metals he had found (the metals proved to be of little value). Even though he was not punished for leaving Roberval behind, France never again granted him an exploring commission. Cartier spent his remaining years in Saint-Malo as a prosperous businessman. His book about his second voyage to Newfoundland was published in 1545. He died in Saint-Malo in 1557.
Ottawa River. Cartier's party then returned to Stadacona, where they settled for the winter. They were the first Europeans to spend the winter in Canada, and they were surprised at the extreme cold. Although the Iroquois were becoming less friendly, they nevertheless helped the Frenchmen survive an epidemic of scurvy (a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C). In February 1536, Cartier wrote an account of the difficult winter, describing the rapid decline of his men:
In the month of December we understood that the pestilence [a devastating contagious disease] was come among the people of Stadacona [the Iroquois], in such sort that before we knew it, according to their confession, there were dead above 50; whereupon we charged them neither to come near our fort, nor about our ships, or us. And albeit [even though] we had driven them from us, the said unknown sickness began to spread itself amongst us after the strangest sort that ever was either heard of or seen, insomuch as some did lose all their strength and could not stand on their feet; then did their legs swell, their sinews [tendons] shrink as black as any coal. Others also had all their skins spotted with spots of blood of a purple colour; then did it ascend up to their ankles, knees, thighs, shoulders, arms, and neck; their mouth became stinking, their gums so rotten that all the flesh did fall off, even to the roots of the teeth, which did also almost all fall out.
Fortunately, there was good news for the survivors of the epidemic. During a meeting with the Iroquois, Cartier obtained a cure—the juice and sap of the ameda tree (possibly a sassafras tree)—and all of the men recovered.
Iroquois Cure for Scurvy
After many men in Jacques Cartier's party had died from scurvy, Cartier met an Iroquois named Domagaia, who appeared to be cured of the disease. When questioned, Domagaia responded "that he had taken the juice and sap of the leaves of a certain tree and therewith had healed himself, for it is a singular remedy against that disease." The ingredients of the remedy are the bark and leaves of the ameda tree, boiled together into a concoction to be consumed every other day. After cutting down a huge tree, the Frenchmen were able to prepare enough of the remedy to cure all of them. Cartier remarked on the effectiveness of the simple cure, observing that all the doctors in the modern world could not "have done so much in one year as that tree did in six days."
Embarks on final voyage
When Cartier left Stadacona for France in May 1536, he took Donnacona back with him. They arrived in France in July.
Cartier's second voyage had been a great success. He had found a major waterway that might be the sought-after route to Asia, and he even brought back a few pieces of gold. Francis I wanted to send Cartier back to New France, but a war between France and the Holy Roman Empire prevented any plans for exploration. In the meantime, the rights to colonize New France had been granted to a nobleman, Jean-François de La Rocque, sieur de Roberval (1500–1561). Finally, in 1540, Cartier was assigned to conduct reconnaissance (survey of a land's terrain) work for Roberval's voyage the following year.
The expedition reached Stadacona in August 1541. While building a camp at the present-day town of Charlesbourg, north of Quebec, Cartier found some stones he thought were diamonds. After spending a harsh winter at Hochelaga, Cartier decided to head back to France. He had not seen Roberval on the entire trip, but the two men finally met as Cartier was preparing to sail from Saint John's, Newfoundland. Cartier received instructions to return to New France with Roberval and help him found the new colony. However, he ignored the orders and sailed for France. When he arrived in Saint-Malo, he found that the "gold" he was carrying was iron pyrite and the "diamonds" were quartz crystals. Cartier was not punished for deserting Roberval, but when Roberval returned without starting a new colony, the king decided to abandon plans for settling New France.
Huguenot settlement fails
Twenty years later French Protestants, called Huguenots, attempted to start a settlement off the coast of present-day South Carolina. (Protestants are members of a Christian faith that formed in opposition to Roman Catholicism.) At that time the Huguenots and Roman Catholics were engaged in a bitter struggle over such issues as Protestant freedom of worship and the power of the Catholic nobility. In 1562 the Protestant leader Gaspar de Châtillon, comte de Coligny sent five ships carrying 150 male settlers under the command of Jean Ribault (c. 1520–1565) to the Carolina coast. Their plan was to start a refuge for Huguenots. They sailed into the Saint Johns River, which Ribault called the River May, and went ashore in Florida (at present-day Brevard County). Ribault claimed the land for France and then led the party north to Port Royal Sound, off the coast of South Carolina. On an island in the sound (now Parris Island) they built Charlesfort, a small fort. Shortly afterward Ribault left for France, expecting to return to Charles-fort. Instead, he fled to England when he found France engulfed in the first of the Wars of Religion (also known as the Huguenot Wars; 1562–98), which lasted for the rest of the century.
While Ribault was in England, Queen Elizabeth I tried to persuade him to join an English colonizing expedition to Florida. She then accused him of planning to escape to France on English ships and imprisoned him in the Tower of London. In the meantime, the stranded colonists deserted Charlesfort and made their way back to France. In 1564 another Huguenot leader, René Goulaine de Laudonnière (d. 1682), led a second expedition to the Atlantic coast, founding Fort Caroline near the mouth of the Saint Johns River. Shortly before Laudonnière was to return to France, Ribault showed up with supplies and reinforcements for Fort Caroline. By now the Spanish had become aware of the French presence, and Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived from Saint Augustine with ships to drive them out. Ribault's fleet pursued the Spanish, planning to attack their fort at nearby Saint Augustine. This move left Fort Caroline undefended, so Menéndez led his troops overland and slaughtered most of the French colonists. Laudonnière managed to survive, however, and escaped to France. During this time Ribault's ships wrecked on an island south of Saint Augustine, where he and his men were captured by Menéndez. Nearly all of the Frenchmen, including Ribault, were killed.
Champlain sees potential in New France
The Protestants were ultimately victorious in the Wars of Religion, bringing an end to the conflict in 1598. The Protestant king, Henry IV (1553–1610), once again turned France's attention toward North America. In 1603 he commissioned an expedition, headed by François Gravé Du Pont, to the Saint Lawrence River. The navigator on the voyage was Samuel de Champlain (c. 1567–1635), who had been loyal to Henry IV during the war. The expedition landed at Tadoussac, a summer trading post where the Saguenay River runs into the Saint Lawrence. Champlain sailed up the Saint Lawrence past the sites of present-day Quebec, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal. He immediately realized that these lands could be colonized and made a source of wealth for the French king. Champlain also learned of the existence of the Great Lakes. The French found the land sparsely inhabited by Native Americans, some of whom were friendly while others were often hostile. Champlain wrote about the customs of the Native Americans he encountered in Voyages de la Nouvelle France (Voyages of New France ), a report that was later published in France in 1632.
Returning to Tadoussac in July, the expedition sailed around the Gaspé Peninsula into a region Champlain called Acadia (probably named for Arcadia, the mythical paradise of the ancient Greeks). Champlain urged the French government to explore Acadia, now known as Nova Scotia. The region reportedly had rich mines, and some speculated it might even be the key to finding the elusive Northwest Passage.
Explores present-day New England
As a result of his efforts in New France, Champlain was chosen in 1604 to be the geographer on an expedition to Acadia. It was led by Lieutenant-General Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts, who had been granted the rights to fur trade in the region. Traveling down the coast of New Brunswick, they stopped at the Saint Croix River and built a small fort on a site that is now almost exactly on the border between the United States and Canada. The first winter was disastrous; ten of the eighteen men in the party died of scurvy. The following year they moved across the Bay of Fundy to Port Royal, now called Annapolis Royal, in Nova Scotia. This was to become the center of settlement for the French Acadians.
Samuel de Champlain was born in the small seaport town of Brouage on the west coast of France in about 1567. It is thought that he was born a Protestant and at some point converted to Roman Catholicism; this was during the period of bitter rivalry between Protestants and Catholics over which religion would control the French government. Champlain went to sea at an early age, learning navigation and cartography (mapmaking). Until 1598 he fought as a sergeant on the side of Protestant King Henry IV in the Wars of Religion. He then made a voyage to the West Indies. Although Champlain was born a commoner, his reputation as a navigator earned him an honorary title in Henry's court. In 1603 and 1608 he went to New France. Within four years he had convinced the French government that the land in North America had potential for settlement and commercial development. Now considered the father of New France and the founder of Quebec, Champlain made twelve journeys to New France to explore and consolidate French holdings in the New World. He wrote six books about his expeditions and the importance of the new French settlement. Serving for a time as the king's lieutenant in New France, Champlain lived to see Quebec established on both shores of the Saint Lawrence River. He died in Quebec in 1635.
During the next three years Champlain traveled on his own, trying to locate an ideal site for colonization. He sailed along the coast of present-day Maine and journeyed 150 miles inland. On another trip, he sailed down the coast of New England to the island that is now Martha's Vineyard, off Cape Cod. Although the English were exploring in the same area and eventually established the Plymouth Colony in 1620, Champlain was the first European to give a detailed account of the region. He is credited with discovering Mount Desert Island as well as most of the major rivers in Maine. Since the Frenchmen could not find a suitable area for settlement, they returned to Acadia to build a more permanent fort at Port Royal. Monts returned to France, and Champlain stayed with the settlers in Acadia. In 1607, when Henry IV canceled Monts's trading privileges, the entire colony was forced to return to France. Before he left, Champlain had accurately charted the Atlantic coast from the Bay of Fundy to Cape Cod.
Founds Quebec City
By 1608 Champlain had secured backing for his most ambitious project in the New World, the founding of a permanent settlement called Quebec. Arriving in July, the party, which included thirty-two colonists, built a fort and prepared to face their first hard winter. Only nine people survived to welcome the reinforcements who arrived the following year. Champlain continued his exploration of New France by traveling up the Saint Lawrence and Richelieu Rivers to the lake that now bears his name. In 1609 he joined the Huron tribe and their allies in a great battle against a band of Iroquois raiders on Lake Champlain near present-day Crown Point, New York. The French and Hurons defeated the Iroquois, thus turning the Iroquois, one of the most powerful tribal nations in North America, against the French.
Named lieutenant in New France
In 1612 Champlain returned to France. On the basis of his report, the king decided to make Quebec the center for French fur trading in North America. During the next few years, Champlain frequently traveled back and forth between New France and France. While in New France he pursued his explorations and tried to nurture the colony of Quebec, but political schemes in France demanded most of his attention. When the fur trade faltered, he had to gain new support for the colony. He came out of this predicament the victor, having been made a lieutenant in New France by the new king, Louis XIII.
When Champlain returned to New France in 1613, he explored the Ottawa River to present-day Allumette Island, opening what would become the main river route to the Great Lakes for the next two centuries. By this time the French had made favorable treaties with many Native American tribes, and the fur trade was prospering. Champlain then concentrated on governing the colony. In 1615 he returned from France with the first Roman Catholic missionaries, who came to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. During that summer he saw the Great Lakes for the first time.
Position threatened by politics
The Iroquois presence continued to be troublesome to the French colonists. When the French, in alliance with the Hurons and Algonquians, unsuccessfully attacked an Iroquois stronghold at a site in modern-day New York State, Champlain was seriously wounded. He spent the winter recuperating among the Hurons. When he returned to France in 1616 he found his position once again weakened, and he lost the rank of lieutenant in New France. In order to regain his status he proposed an ambitious plan to colonize Quebec, establish agriculture, and search for the Northwest Passage. He gained the king's support and spent part of 1618 in Quebec.
Champlain Describes Torture
In Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, 1604–1618 Champlain provided a detailed account of the aftermath of the battle the Hurons and their allies waged against the Iroquois in 1609. He wrote about the torture of an Iroquois prisoner by the Hurons, a common practice among Native Americans in the seventeenth century. Champlain listed the various techniques they used, including branding, scalping, and mutilation. He admitted that it was difficult to watch another human being suffer, but he also spoke of the strength of the victim, who displayed "such firmness that one would have said, at times, that he suffered hardly any pain at all."
When Champlain turned his back on the torture, the Hurons allowed him to kill the prisoner with a shot from a musket. Afterward, they performed ritualistic mutilations of the dead body, including cutting off the head, legs, and arms. Champlain noted that following the ritual "we set out on our return with the rest of the prisoners, who kept singing as they went along, with no better hopes for the future than he had had who was so wretchedly treated." Champlain concluded his account by saying that when the French, Iroquois, and Hurons went their separate ways, they parted "with loud protestations of mutual friendship."
But Champlain's problems in France were not yet over. Plagued by lawsuits and political manipulations, he again appealed to the king. This time he was appointed commander and spent the following years trying to strengthen the colony. His authority gained momentum when Armand Jean du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, the king's chief minister and the most powerful man in the French government, formed the company of One Hundred Associates to rule New France with Champlain in charge.
Quebec becomes stable
In 1629 Quebec was attacked by a party of English privateers (pirates licensed by the government) and forced to surrender. Champlain sought refuge in England, where he spent the next four years defending the importance of New France and writing accounts of his life. Champlain regained his position in 1632 when a peace treaty with the English returned the province to France. Two years later he sent Jean Nicolet (1598–1642), a French trapper and trader, west to extend French claims in the region that is now Wisconsin. Westward expansion was made possible through Champlain's friendly relations with the Hurons. Even though expansion to the south was still impossible, Quebec was a stable French settlement. It was stronger, in fact, than the English colony at Jamestown (see Chapter 4). Before Champlain died in 1635 he was able to witness the success of his efforts as an explorer and diplomat.
Jolliet and Marquette explore Mississippi River
The Catholic missionaries who accompanied Champlain to New France were Jesuits (members of the Society of Jesus). They were known throughout the world for their ability to adapt to foreign cultures and thus draw in converts to Catholicism. Attired in distinctive black tunics, the priests were called the "Black Robes" by the Hurons. The Jesuits ministered to French settlers and Hurons until the fall of Quebec in 1629. They then moved south into territory around the Great Lakes, which is now the United States.
As the French combined colonization with religion, some of the Jesuits became explorers themselves. One of the most prominent was Father Jacques Marquette (1637–1675), who had settled in New France in 1666. Becoming proficient in six Native American languages, he founded a mission at Saint Ignace (in present-day Michigan) in 1671. The following year the governor of New France, Count of Frontenac (Louis de Buade; 1622-1698), announced plans to send an expedition through Native American country to discover the "South Sea [Gulf of Mexico]" and to explore "the great river they call Mississippi, which is believed to discharge into the sea of California [Gulf of California]."
Jean Nicolet Makes Peace
Jean Nicolet was a Frenchman who had been living among the Huron, Algonquian, and Nipissing tribes since 1618. He was an interpreter and negotiator between Native American fur traders and French companies. In 1634 French explorer Samuel de Champlain sent Nicolet on a diplomatic mission to the Winnebago tribe, who lived on the shores of Green Bay in the present-day state of Wisconsin. Because the Winnebago were enemies of the Algonquians, the French feared that they would begin trading with the English. Since the theory was that the route to the Great Lakes might also lead to China, Nicolet wore a Chinese robe embroidered with flowers and birds.
Nicolet began his journey in July 1634 and traveled via the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing, and the French River to Lake Huron, where he passed through the Straits of Mackinac to Lake Michigan, then proceeded southwest to Green Bay. He was the first European to follow this route, which eventually became the passage to the west for French fur traders. One of the great scenes of North American exploration is Nicolet coming ashore in Green Bay dressed in his flowery Chinese robe. Impressing the tribe with his elaborate costume, Nicolet successfully completed his mission by signing a peace treaty between the Winnebago and the French.
Frontenac chose Marquette to accompany the leader of the expedition, the French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet (1645–1700). Jolliet had studied for the Jesuit priesthood in France, but by 1671 he had returned to New France and entered the fur trade. He was also one of the signers of a document in which the French claimed possession of the Great Lakes region. Jolliet's party, which included five Native American guides, left Quebec in October 1672. By early December they reached Saint Ignace, where Marquette joined them. The following May the seven men embarked in two canoes, going west along the north shore of Lake Michigan to present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin, then up the Fox River. From there they portaged (carried boats overland) to the Wisconsin River and descended to the Mississippi on June 15, 1673.
Louis Jolliet was born in the town of Beauport, in the colony of New France, in 1645. He was the son of a craftsman who died while Jolliet was still a child. At the age of eleven Jolliet entered the Jesuit college in Quebec, where he studied philosophy and prepared to enter the priesthood. He also studied music and played the organ at the cathedral in Quebec for many years. In 1666 he defended a thesis before Bishop François Xavier de Laval of Quebec, who was so impressed by Jolliet's work that he became one of the young man's principal patrons (financial supporter). In 1667 Jolliet gave up his seminary studies and borrowed money from Laval to spend a year in France. During his stay he studied hydrography (mapping bodies of water). Upon his return to Quebec he entered the fur trade, which was the main business in New France. In 1673 he and Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette were the first Europeans to travel down the Mississippi River. Jolliet also conducted extensive explorations of Labrador. In 1692 he was named royal professor of hydrography at the Jesuit college in Quebec, where he died in 1700.
First Europeans to explore Mississippi River
During the voyage Jolliet and Marquette traveled down the Mississippi past the Missouri and Ohio Rivers. They stopped at the mouth of the Arkansas River, about 450 miles south of the mouth of the Ohio and just north of the present boundary between Arkansas and Louisiana. Here they stayed among the Quapaw tribe, from whom they heard reports of the Spanish approaching from the west. Fearing the Spanish and concluding that the Mississippi must run into the Gulf of Mexico, the explorers turned back before reaching the mouth of the Mississippi.
"monstrous fish" and "hideous monsters" During the journey Marquette kept a detailed journal. The following excerpts describe some of the sights they encountered along the way:
We met from time to time monstrous fish, which struck so violently against our canoes, that at first we took them to be large trees, which threatened to upset us. We saw also a hideous monster; his head was like that of a tiger, his nose was sharp, and somewhat resembled a wildcat; his beard was long; his ears stood upright; the color of his head was gray; and his neck black. He looked upon us for some time, but as we came near him our oars frightened him away....
As we were descending the river we saw high rocks with hideous monsters painted on them, and upon which the bravest Indians dare not look. They are as large as a calf, with head and horns like a goat; their eyes red; beard like a tiger's; and a face like a man's. Theirtails are so long that they pass over their heads and between their fore [front] legs, under their belly, and ending like a fish's tail. They are painted red, green, and black. They are so well drawn that I cannot believe they were drawn by the Indians. And for what purpose they were made seems to me a great mystery.
Make important contribution
The explorers had made an important contribution to knowledge about North America, and their discoveries opened the way for future expeditions. Jolliet and Marquette, however, went their separate ways after the Mississippi trip. Jolliet returned to Montreal to report on their discoveries. Marquette had become ill, so he made his way back to Saint Ignace. On the Thursday before Easter 1673, Marquette preached a sermon to a gathering of two thousand. members of the Illinois nation. He died shortly thereafter, never reaching Saint Ignace. He was buried at the mouth of the river that was named for him, on the site of present-day Ludington, Michigan. Marquette had partially fulfilled his goal of establishing missions around the Great Lakes and in the Mississippi valley. Yet modern historians conclude that the Jesuits ultimately had little impact on Native American life.
Jolliet continued his explorations. In 1679 he led an expedition on an overland route to the rich furtrading regions of Hudson Bay, which the English were exploiting. When he reached Hudson Bay he encountered English traders and learned the extent of their activities. Upon his return to Quebec, Jolliet wrote a report warning that the French risked losing the fur trade if they allowed the English to remain in the area. As a reward for his success, Jolliet was given trading rights and land on the north shore of New France. He was also awarded the island of Anticosti. In 1694 Jolliet was commissioned to map the coastline of Labrador. He drew the first maps of the area, described the landscape, and gathered information about the Inuit (Eskimo) inhabitants. In October 1694 he returned to Quebec, only to discover that the British had seized Anticosti during his absence.
René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle
René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, was born into a well-to-do family in Rouen, the capital of the French province of Normandy. He chose a religious calling as a boy, but as an adult he became an explorer and was later vital as a builder of New France. After the French government granted La Salle permission to explore, trade, and construct forts in New France, he and his men set out across the Great Lakes in a specially built ship called the Griffon. During their journey between 1679 and 1681 they established the sites of many present-day cities in the Midwest, and La Salle became the first European to sail down the Mississippi River to its mouth. He also established the only French settlement in Texas. Yet in spite of La Salle's success, he was responsible for several misadventures and disasters that led directly to his being killed in cold blood by his own men in 1687.
La Salle begins explorations
French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle (1643–1687), continued exploring the Mississippi valley, eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico. He made important discoveries in the Great Lakes region, but he was constantly involved in controversies that overshadowed his accomplishments. La Salle began his exploring career when he left the Jesuit priesthood in France and moved to New France in 1667. Through family connections, he was granted land on the island of Montreal (located on the Saint Lawrence River in Canada), which he sold two years later for a profit. With this money La Salle organized an ill-fated expedition to find the Ohio River, which he thought would lead to the South Seas and eventually to China. There is no record of his travels from 1669 to 1670, but many supporters claimed he discovered the Mississippi River. Evidence shows, however, that Jolliet and Marquette first found the Mississippi in 1673.
Explores Great Lakes
La Salle made other unknown trips from 1671 to 1673. In the fall of 1673 he returned to Montreal, where he took the side of Frontenac, the governor of New France, in a dispute that was then going on in the colony. As a result La Salle was rewarded with a title of nobility (sieur de La Salle) and command of Fort Frontenac at the site of present-day Kingston, Ontario. In 1677 he went back to France, and the following year he received permission from King Louis XIV to explore North America between New France and Mexico.
Louis Hennepin was a Franciscan priest who served as a chaplain to René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, on an expedition down the Mississippi River in 1678. Like many other French priests who came to North America, Hennepin was also an explorer. In addition to being the first European to describe the Niagara Falls, he claimed to have traveled the length of the Mississippi River in 1680—two years before La Salle's historic voyage. Although evidence proved Hennepin's claim was false, he stood by his story. When he returned to Europe he published an account of his adventures in Description de la Louisiane (Description of Louisiana; 1682). It was an immediate success, becoming a best-seller in several languages. His career flourished until 1687, when he was expelled from his monastery and forced to go to Holland. Hennepin blamed these events on a plot by La Salle, who supposedly feared what the priest would reveal about the discovery of the Mississippi. The rest of Hennepin's life was filled with turmoil, as he became involved in various disputes in Holland, France, and Rome.
La Salle started the expedition by constructing a fort on the Niagara River, on the border between present-day Ontario, Canada, and New York State. He was accompanied by several other notable explorers, including Italian adventurer Henry de Tonti (1650–1704) and Franciscan priest Louis Hennepin (1626–after 1701). After spending the winter of 1678 to 1679 at Fort Frontenac, La Salle discovered that his men had built a ship, the Griffon, especially for exploring the Great Lakes. They sailed in August 1679, traveling across Lake Erie into Lake Huron and then to Mackinac, a strip of land that separates Lake Huron from Lake Michigan. They went south on Lake Michigan in canoes. In the middle of winter they reached a village of the Illinois tribe near the present-day city of Peoria, Illinois. Discouraged by Native Americans from continuing, several of La Salle's men deserted the expedition. But La Salle built a fort called Crèvecoeur in the area to serve as a supply center for future explorations. He sent Hennepin to lead an advance party to the Mississippi and then headed back to New France.
Sights Ohio River
La Salle's return trip to New France was beset by several disasters. The Griffon got lost; then La Salle discovered that the fort on the Niagara had been burned down and a supply ship had sunk. At Fort Frontenac he learned that Crèvecoeur had also been burned. Making matters even worse, many of his men had deserted and were making their own way back to New France, robbing his supply posts along the way. Setting an ambush, La Salle managed to capture them. In 1681 he finally returned to Montreal, where he tried to calm his creditors as well as his enemies, who were spreading rumors about his mismanagement of the expedition. He then headed into the wilderness with a party of forty men, reaching Crèvecoeur in January 1682. From Crèvecoeur they descended the Illinois River onto the Mississippi, passing the mouth of the Missouri. La Salle finally sighted the Ohio River, which had been his goal when he set out on his first expedition thirteen years earlier. On the site of present-day Memphis, Tennessee, he also built a fort called Prud'homme.
Reaches Gulf of Mexico
In March a war party from the Arkansas tribe threatened to attack La Salle and his men. He managed to avert a conflict and took possession of the country in the name of Louis XIV. The Frenchmen then continued down the river and passed the farthest point reached by Jolliet and Marquette. La Salle and his men spent time among the Tensas and Natchez tribes before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. He claimed the territory for France, calling it Louisiana. In the meantime Frontenac had been replaced by a new governor, who believed the charges that La Salle had mismanaged his expedition and mistreated his men. On the governor's orders, La Salle was sent back to France in 1683 to report on his conduct. He found little support in France for his ideas on developing the Mississippi valley. He did learn, however, that an influential group was trying to interest the French government in sending an expedition to the mouth of the Rio Grande on the Gulf of Mexico. Their plan was to seize valuable mines in New Mexico and New Spain (Mexico). In order to be a part of these schemes, La Salle purposely falsified his discoveries, making a map that moved the Mississippi River much farther to the west so that it emptied into the Gulf of Mexico from Texas rather than Louisiana.
Misses mouth of Mississippi River
La Salle succeeded in convincing the king and rich French merchants to sponsor an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. He left France in 1684, heading a party of four ships and 327 men and women. As a result of bad planning and La Salle's ongoing quarrel with the naval captain, the ships were overloaded, and there was not enough water. The party was forced to stop at the French colony of Haiti (an island in the Caribbean Sea). There they learned that one of their ships, which had been following with most of their supplies, had been captured by the Spanish. Leaving Haiti with the three remaining ships in November, La Salle headed toward the Mississippi delta (a deposit of sand, gravel, clay, and similar material). On December 27 and 28, they saw muddy waters that indicated they were near the mouth of the great river. La Salle had made miscalculations in his navigation, however, and chose to believe unreliable Spanish charts. Therefore, instead of investigating, he headed west.
Sails off course to Texas
By the time La Salle realized his mistake, the ships were off Matagorda Bay, south of the site of present-day Houston, Texas. After one of the ships ran aground while sailing into the bay, local Native Americans tried to ransack the wreckage. The Frenchmen shot at them, and from then on the two groups were enemies. In March 1685 the naval captain returned to France with one of his ships, leaving La Salle with only one vessel.
In May 1685 La Salle constructed a fort at the mouth of the Lavaca River on Matagorda Bay. It was the only French colony to be established in the Southwest. With the fort as a base, La Salle and several members of the party made exploring trips into the surrounding countryside. In April 1686, when a drunken captain wrecked the last ship, the little colony was left with no means of escape. La Salle decided the only way out was to travel overland to the Mississippi and then head up the river to the Great Lakes, where they could find French missions and traders. The party of twenty men left at the end of April. As a result of various mishaps, the number was reduced to eight by October. La Salle was forced to return to the fort on the Lavaca.
In 1717 John Law (1671–1729), a Scottish adventurer and financier, started the French Company of the West. It was granted exclusive development rights in the Mississippi River valley and around the Gulf of Mexico. Soon Law and his partners controlled the tobacco and African slave trades in the Louisiana Territory. A year later they requested that Louisiana Governor Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville, establish the city of New Orleans. In 1719 the company changed its name to Company of the Indies and embarked on an elaborate program called the Mississippi Bubble to encourage settlement in Louisiana. Promoters brought in German and Dutch immigrants, promising them property and supplies if they agreed to farm the land. The plan attracted thousands of immigrants to New Biloxi, Natchez, and other settlements. The company also managed to monopolize French trade in the colonies, but by 1720 the scheme had triggered a buying frenzy that inflated company shares to more than thirty times their actual worth. Profits could not keep pace with stock values, causing a stock-market crash in France. As a result, nearly everyone involved in the company was financially ruined. Although the Mississippi Bubble was a failure, it had boosted the population of Louisiana and prevented England or Spain from gaining a foothold in the region.
Killed by his own men
La Salle set out again in January 1687 with seventeen companions, leaving twenty-five behind at the fort. By this time the men hated La Salle for causing them such misery. On the night of March 18, 1687, a mutinous (rebellious) group killed his nephew, servant, and guide. The next morning, at a spot just north of the present-day town of Navosta, Texas, they shot La Salle in cold blood and left his body to be eaten by wild animals. The remaining members of La Salle's expedition reached Montreal in July 1688.
Le Moynes settle Louisiana province
The Mississippi valley was now opened to French settlement in two principal areas: Illinois country (le pays des Illinois) around the Great Lakes and Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico. The Illinois country stretched from a French settlement at Cahokia (across the river from present-day Saint Louis, Missouri) fifty miles downriver to another settlement at Kaskaskia. Cahokia was founded in 1699 as a mission for the conversion of Native Americans, and Kaskaskia was a fort established in 1703. Both attracted coureurs de bois (woods runners), French trappers and traders who lived among the Native Americans.
The French also began settling Louisiana in 1699, under the leadership of Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d'Iberville (1661–1706) and his brother Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville (1680–1747). Along with two hundred French colonists, they established Old Biloxi on the site of present-day Ocean Springs, Mississippi. In 1701 Iberville returned to Montreal, while Bienville remained at Old Biloxi, which had been made the capital of the Louisiana Territory. Bienville was named governor of Louisiana. The French founded other settlements, such as Fort Louis, on the site that is now Mobile, Alabama. In 1718 Bienville established the city of New Orleans, which became the capital of Louisiana in 1722.
The population of Louisiana boomed from 1718 to 1720 as a result of the failed Mississippi Bubble scheme (see box on page 76), which resulted in Bienville being forced out of office. When he began his third term as governor in 1733, more than eight thousand people lived in Louisiana. Over the years the province served as a penal colony (settlement for convicted criminals), a temporary home for indentured servants (laborers contracted to work for a master for a specified period of time), and a slave import center. Yet death rates were high: by 1763, when France surrendered most of Louisiana to the Spanish at the end of the French and Indian War, the inhabitants included 3,654 Europeans and 4,598 African slaves.
France defeated in French and Indian War
The French and Indian Wars, which lasted from 1689 until 1763, were a series of conflicts between the French, their Native American allies, and the British over territories bordering the British colonies in North America. Both sides blocked seaports, attacked forts, and raided frontier settlements. The colonial wars were directly linked to French and British struggles for worldwide dominance. Therefore, three major European conflicts—King William's War (1689–97), Queen Anne's War (1702–13), and King George's War (1744–48)—are usually considered part of the French and Indian Wars. However, the French and Indian War of 1754 to 1763 had the most direct impact on France. Throughout this complex and prolonged confrontation, the French and Native Americans resisted westward expansion of British settlers. Hostilities began at the end of King George's War, in 1748, when the British-owned Ohio Company wanted to claim the area around present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers join to form the Ohio River. The English started building a fort on the spot but were driven out by the French, who then built Fort Duquesne in 1754.
Soon thereafter a young Virginia militia officer, George Washington (1732–1799; later first U.S. president), led a skirmish against the French and their Native American allies. Although Washington and his men were victorious, they withdrew and built Fort Necessity near the site of present-day Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Leaders of British colonies then assembled the Albany Congress at Albany, New York. They coordinated their defense against the French and tried to sign a treaty with the Iroquois, who soon sided with the French. The French and Indian War began when the British attempted to seize not only Fort Duquesne but also Fort Frontenac in New France and French forts at Niagara and Ticonderoga near the New York colony. The war continued, with victories on each side, for the next five years. A decisive battle took place in 1759 on the Plains of Abraham, a field outside the city of Quebec, between French general Louis Joseph de Montcalm and British military leader James Wolfe. Both Montcalm and Wolfe were killed, and Quebec fell to the British. The following year the British took Montreal, and the war was over. The Treaty of Paris (1763) gave control of Canada and all territory east of the Mississippi to the British (see Chapter 5), thus ending the French presence in North America. Yet the French enjoyed a bit of revenge: in the Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762), France secretly gave the area west of the Mississippi and the "Isle of Orleans" to Spain to prevent the British from gaining control of the entire Louisiana Territory.
"French Exploration and Settlement." Colonial America Reference Library. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 27, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/french-exploration-and-settlement
"French Exploration and Settlement." Colonial America Reference Library. . Retrieved August 27, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/french-exploration-and-settlement
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