New France

views updated May 23 2018


NEW FRANCE. For nearly two and a half centuries up to 1763, the term "New France" designated those regions of the Americas claimed in the name of French kings or occupied by their subjects. Early in the eighteenth century, New France reached its greatest extent. On official maps, it then stretched from Plaisance (presentday Placentia) in Newfoundland, through Acadia, Canada, the Great Lakes region (with a northern, recently conquered outlier on Hudson Bay), and the Mississippi Valley to the Gulf of Mexico. French settlers were concentrated in only a few parts of this vast arc of territory. The authorities laid claim to the rest by dint of a network of posts and forts, a minimal French presence made possible by an alliance with the Native nations whose land this was. While French power in this area tended to grow, it remained limited until the British conquest of 1759–1760 (confirmed, for the territory east of the Mississippi, in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris).

Early Settlement of New France

The idea of a new France situated an ocean away from the old gained currency after explorer Giovanni da Verrazano's 1524 voyage along the east coast of North America. If the notion contained an element of projection up to the very end, in the beginning, it was only that—a name on a 1529 map proclaiming eastern North America to be Nova Gallia. Other early New Frances were associated with exploration and, beginning in the early 1540s, short-lived settlements: in the St. Lawrence Valley, Brazil, and Florida. Only later would such efforts prove successful, as the trade with Native people, initially a by-product of the fishery, grew more intense after 1580. This both encouraged and permitted French merchant interests, official charter in hand, to establish permanent bases in the Northeast. The nuclei of the colonies of Acadia and Canada were created in 1605 and 1608, respectively, at Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal, N.S.) and Quebec. Neither of these mainly commercial establishments attracted many settlers in the early years. Be it with the Mi'kmaqs and the Abenakis in Acadia or the Innus, the Algonquins, and soon the Hurons in Canada, trade implied some form of military cooperation. Missionaries, who initiated exchanges of another, more unilateral sort, were a logical part of the bargain from the French point of view.

Such were the foundations of a long collaboration between the French and a growing number of Amerindian nations. Bringing together peoples of contrasting cultures and of opposing long-term interests, the arrangement was by no means preordained. Even after it became a tradition, much hard work on the part of intermediaries on either side of the cultural divide (and a few of mixed origin who were in the middle) was required to maintain it, and their blunders could threaten it. But for the moment, the two groups' interests often converged, for reasons that ultimately had much to do with demography. While the French colonial population would grow rapidly by natural increase, by British American standards a paltry number of immigrants set the process in motion. For the moment, the French posed a correspondingly limited threat to Native lands. Moreover, as conflicts among aboriginal nations and colonial and European rivalries gradually merged, both the French and a growing number of Native peoples, facing population decline, found an alliance to their advantage.

New France's Colonial Population

Meanwhile, a colonial population took root. Most of New France's colonists would live in the St. Lawrence Valley. With over 65,000 inhabitants in the late 1750s, Canada was France's flagship colony on the continent, its settlers accounting for some three-fourths of the total colonial population under French rule. Colonial development accelerated noticeably in the 1660s, thanks to a series of royal measures. These included substituting for company rule a royal administration headed by a governor-general and an intendant; sending troops to encourage the Iroquois to make peace; organizing the recruitment of emigrants, including some 800 marriageable women, in France; and permitting Jean Talon, the first intendant, to spend freely on various development projects, most of them premature. The emergence late in the decade of a new group, the coureurs de bois, illegal traders who soon all but replaced their Native counterparts in the trade linking Canada and the Great Lakes region, signaled growing specialization in the colonial economy. By the 1720s, licensed traders, who recruited canoemen mostly in rural areas and dealt with a handful of Montreal merchants, had largely replaced the coureurs. By then, the vast majority of "Canadiens" gained their livelihood on family farms or in artisan

shops, most of the latter concentrated in the colony's main towns of Quebec and Montreal. The colonial elite comprised the top government and church officials sent from France, as well as a local noblesse whose men usually served as officers in the colonial regular troops. They and the religious orders, active in education and hospitals, held most of the colony's seigneuries. Merchants, those in Quebec oriented more toward Atlantic markets and the Montrealers toward the interior, maintained a discreet but influential presence in this ancien régime society. Several groups of Native allies residing on a half-dozen reserves in the valley provided military aid; some helped carry out the Montreal-Albany contraband trade. With a few companions in misfortune of African origin, other, enslaved Natives generally performed domestic service for the well off.

Acadia in peninsular Nova Scotia, with smaller settlements in present-day New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, contained the Atlantic region's largest French population—some 13,000 by 1755. The Nova Scotia Acadians, most of whom grew wheat and raised livestock behind dikes in the Fundy marshlands, experienced both the advantages and the disadvantages of life in a borderland: trade with all comers (including Bostonians), a weak official or even noble presence, and extended periods of rule by the rival colonial power. The last of these began in 1710 with the British conquest of the peninsula. It would

be marked by the deportation and dispersal from 1755 to 1762 of the Acadians, whom the new rulers came to regard, no doubt erroneously in the vast majority's case, as a security risk. The Fundy marshlands having been reserved for New Englanders, Acadian fugitives, and returning exiles settled mainly in New Brunswick, now British territory, after the return of peace to the region.

Plaisance in Newfoundland, which had emerged in the 1680s as a year-round base for the French fishery, was by then but a distant memory; the French had ceded it to the British in 1713. Many of its inhabitants moved to Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Here, fishing villages sprang up and construction soon began on the fortress of Louis-bourg. In the town (its population of about 4,000 in 1752 counting for some three-fourths of the colony's), merchants set the tone. This port, strategically located for the intercolonial trade and the banks fishery, became one of eastern North America's busiest. As the eastern buttress of New France, Louisbourg was twice captured, in 1745 and again, for good, in 1758. The British demolished the fortress in the early 1760s.

At New France's other extremity, Louisiana, founded at Biloxi in 1699, would for some twenty years amount to little more than a shaky French foothold on the Gulf of Mexico. Mobile, established in 1702, was the main French base in this early period, marked by an expanding trade with the nations of the interior. From 1718 to 1721, at great human cost, a chaotic period of speculation and ineptly administered settlement laid the basis for a plantation society with newly founded New Orleans at its center. Indigo, tobacco, and rice headed the list of crops. By 1730, African slaves were in the majority among the colony's non-Native inhabitants, whose total number would reach about 9,000 by the end of the French regime. Distant from France, Louisiana maintained commercial relations with neighboring colonies, be they French, British, or Spanish, as well as with the metropole. New Orleans and the lands west of the Mississippi were ceded to Spain in 1762, and the rest of Louisiana to Britain the following year. Native people were not consulted.

The evolving modus vivendi with Native people both attracted French people toward the heart of the continent and increased the chances that even the settlers among them would be tolerated there. By the 1750s, some forty posts and forts in the Great Lakes region and beyond were supplied from Montreal and a few more from New Orleans or Mobile. Some were garrisoned, and many were entrusted to commandants interested in the fur trade and charged with conducting diplomacy with the Natives. While some French traders and their employees ended up remaining in the interior, often marrying Native women, only in a few places did substantial French settlements eventually emerge. All but one had non-Native populations of a few hundred people at the end of the French regime. At Detroit, a major center of the Canadian fur trade, migrants from Canada began arriving soon after the construction of the French fort there in 1701. Louisiana's major interior dependencies were situated at Natchitoches and in the Natchez country. Finally, the Illinois country, an offshoot of Canada but increasingly tied to Louisiana, offered fertile bottomlands, a mild climate, and a ready market downriver for agricultural produce. Here, the first settlers took root discreetly around 1700, nearly two decades before an administration arrived from lower Louisiana. They practiced a productive open-field agriculture increasingly reliant on slave labor. By the early 1750s, the population of the area's six colonial villages reached about 1,400, more than a third of them slaves.

Founded at different times in a wide range of environments and with varying degrees of official participation, the principal settled areas of New France were a study in contrasts. They formed an expanding, shifting archipelago of lands where colonists and sometimes their slaves outnumbered free Native people. Beyond, among tens of thousands of Native people, the French presence was much more tenuous. That contrast takes a different form in the early twenty-first century: old French family and place names are spread across the continent, while French-speakers are concentrated in a few regions, Quebec first among them.


Ekberg, Carl J. French Roots in the Illinois Country. The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.

Greer, Allan. The People of New France. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

Griffiths, Naomi E. S. The Contexts of Acadian History, 1686–1784. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1992.

Harris, R. Cole, ed. Historical Atlas of Canada. Vol. 1: From the Beginning to 1800. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987.

Ingersoll, Thomas N. Mammon and Manon in Early New Orleans: The First Slave Society in the Deep South, 1718–1819. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999.

Krause, Eric, Carol Corbin, and William O'Shea, eds. Aspects of Louisbourg: Essays on the History of an Eighteenth-Century French Community in North America. Sydney, N.S.: University College of Cape Breton Press, Louisbourg Institute, 1995.

Miquelon, Dale. New France, 1701–1744: "A Supplement to Europe." Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1987.

Moogk, Peter N. La Nouvelle France: The Making of French Canada: A Cultural History. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000.

Trudel, Marcel. Histoire de la Nouvelle-France. Montréal: Fides, 1963.

Usner, Daniel H., Jr. Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley before 1783. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

———. American Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley: Social and Economic Histories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.


See alsoExplorations and Expeditions: French .

New France

views updated Jun 27 2018

New France

The name New France was first applied to the northeastern portion of North America in a map prepared by the explorer Giovanni da Verrazano (1485–1530). It reflected the overseas ambitions of Verrazano's master, King François I (1494–1547), as well as the presence of Breton and Norman fishermen in the coastal waters of the region. The French navigator Jacques Cartier (1491–1557) staked a claim to the Saint Lawrence River in 1534, and later in the sixteenth century French and Basque fur traders established regular relations with the native peoples of the region. Only at the time of Samuel de Champlain (ca. 1570–1635), however, were year-round French settlements established, first in Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia) in 1604 and then in "Canada" (now Quebec) in 1608.

Through the first half of the seventeenth century, New France consisted of a few small posts owned by the Company of New France and allied to indigenous nations from whom the settlers purchased beaver and other furs. In 1663 King Louis XIV (1638–1715) dissolved the company and took over direct rule of New France, reorganizing colonial administration along the lines of a French province. France then provided Canada with a substantial injection of soldiers, settlers, and capital, with the result that the colony soon developed a European aspect, with the towns of Quebec and Montreal bracketing agricultural settlements along the banks of the Saint Lawrence.

The flow of immigration was numerically modest and almost exclusively French and Catholic; immigrants, drawn from across the western half of France, were mostly poor, predominantly male, and disproportionately urban in origin. A census in 1681 numbered the French-Canadian population at 9,742; by the end of French rule in 1760, it had risen to approximately 76,000.

Through the seventeenth century the French fully occupied only a small territory along the Saint Lawrence and around Port Royal in Acadia, but French influence extended over a vast and growing portion of the continent. Fur traders and missionaries traveled inland along canoe routes that led through the Great Lakes and into the Mississippi watershed. Cavalier de la Salle (1643–1687) reached the Gulf of Mexico from Canada in 1683, establishing a French claim that would later be followed up with the founding of Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico in 1699.

New France's inland empire, enveloping the British colonies by the early eighteenth century, was French only in a very special and limited sense, for this was really Indian territory, largely beyond the control of French sovereignty, law, and culture. A few hundred French maintained a degree of influence thanks, in part, to their commercial role making European goods available to avid native customers. Equally important—and inseparable from the economic connection—was the central role they played in the alliance system that emerged in the interior as tribes sought to maintain a common front, first against the Iroquois and later against the British.

By the early eighteenth century, it was becoming evident that, on purely mercantilist principles, the North American colonies were far less valuable to France than its booming sugar plantation possessions in the West Indies. After a disastrous attempt to finance colonial development through private investment, Louisiana became synonymous with speculation and waste. Canada, where settlers were free of direct taxation, generally cost the crown more than it produced by way of revenue from the fur trade. And Acadia, on the exposed Atlantic shore, proved impossible to defend in the long run.

The imperial logic shaping policy toward New France was of a different order in the eighteenth century—strategic rather than economic—and it had everything to do with the growing Anglo-French rivalry. The great arc of French territorial claims, from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, through the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, was designed at least in part to keep the much more populous and economically viable British colonies hemmed in along the seaboard. Taking the form of a great alliance system connecting hundreds of native nations to the French crown, this larger New France represented a valuable military resource in times of war.

Throughout its history, New France was intermittently at war, first with the Iroquois League between 1609 and 1701. In later struggles, against the Fox of the Great Lakes and the Natchez and Chickasaws of Louisiana, the French seemed determined to exterminate entire enemy nations, effectively giving the lie to any notion that France's approach to empire was entirely benign.

After 1689, the intensifying rivalry between Britain and France embroiled the North American colonies increasingly in Europe's dynastic struggles. Though the Anglo-American side enjoyed an immense superiority in numbers and economic power, the French-Canadians were more thoroughly militarized and, in the case of the fur-trade veterans, skilled in wilderness travel; furthermore, they could usually count on support from their network of native alliances. Accordingly, New France specialized in the techniques of "la petite guerre" (small guerrilla war) with parties of Indians and Canadian militia raiding vulnerable outposts on the frontiers of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. Ruthlessly targeting civilian settlers, this strategy succeeded for a time in keeping the enemy off-balance, but it contributed to a growing determination on the part of the British to defeat and utterly destroy New France.

After a series of French victories early in the Seven Years' War (1754–1763 in America, where it was known as the French and Indian War), Britain was persuaded by her American colonies to mount a major assault aimed at conquering Canada. With the Europeanizing of the struggle, Canada's native alliances and frontier raiding traditions became a marginal factor. While the navy sealed off approaches to the Saint Lawrence, a huge (by colonial standards) British and American army launched a three-pronged attack. While one force headed west to capture inland posts before doubling back toward Montreal, a second army made its way straight north along the heavily fortified Lake Champlain corridor. Meanwhile, a third, amphibious, army sailed in from the east to lay siege to Quebec in 1759. The famous battle on the Plains of Abraham brought a dramatic conclusion to the eastern campaign, but New France's fate was sealed, not so much by a single clash of arms, but by the relentless and convergent advance of three over-whelming forces. The British attackers met at Montreal, and there the governor of New France surrendered on September 8, 1760.

With the end of New France confirmed by the peace settlement at Paris in 1763, the French Canadians found themselves uneasy subjects of a Protestant monarch. The transition was more difficult for the native nations of the western interior, who lost much of the leverage they had maintained in a context of contending empires; without the support of the French alliance, they had reason to dread the onslaught of British settlers.

see also Company of New France; Empire in the Americas, French; Quebec City.


Eccles, W.J. The French in North America, 1500–1783. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1998.

Greer, Allan. The People of New France. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

Harris, R.C. Historical Atlas of Canada, 3 vols. Vol. 1, From the Beginning to 1800. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986.

Havard, Gilles, and Vidal, Cécile. Histoire de l'Amérique française. Paris, Flammarion 2003.

White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

New France

views updated May 23 2018

New France

New France refers to the areas held by France in North America during colonial times. At its peak, it extended from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains and from the Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The territory was ultimately divided into five colonies, each with its own administering body: Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, and Louisiana .

Early exploration

Around 1523, Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano (c. 1485–c. 1528) led an expedition commissioned by King Francis I (1494–1547) of France to find a western route to Cathay in Asia. Verrazzano crossed the Atlantic Ocean and explored the coast of the present-day Carolinas, then headed north along the coast and anchored in New York Bay. Although he was unsuccessful in his original quest, Verrazzano's exploration convinced the king to establish a colony on the land. This led to the 1534 voyage of Jacques Cartier (1491–1557), who planted a cross in the Gaspé Peninsula and claimed the land in the name of the king. He called it Canada.

Interest in colonization

By 1600, France had a strong king, Henry IV (1553–1610), who was interested in colonization . Samuel de Champlain (c. 1567–1635) led the successful exploration efforts; he would later become known as the “father of New France.”

Born in Brouage, a French port near La Rochelle, Champlain knew the sea from childhood. From 1598 to 1599, he visited Spain and its colonies, where he remained for more than two years, learning important lessons in colonization. Upon his return to France he reported to the king, and his observations roused the monarch's enthusiasm for following the fishermen who had been sailing for a century to Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence for fish and furs.

In March 1603, Champlain set out with royal approval for the North American coast. He sailed up the St. Lawrence River and made contact with the natives. He returned briefly to France to report to Henry IV, then went back to Canada in 1604 with three ships. In 1605, under his direction, a settlement was made first at St. Croix and then at Port Royal, Acadia, on the Bay of Fundy. This was the first permanent French settlement in New France.

Champlain and Quebec

In 1608, Champlain again ascended the St. Lawrence, this time with two ships, while a third ship reinforced the Port Royal Colony. On July 2, he landed at Stadaconé and erected buildings there, and the city of Quebec was born.

Champlain quickly allied himself with the Algonquin and Montagnais peoples in the area, who were at war with the Iroquois. He also established strong ties with the Hurons to keep the fur trade alive and arranged to have young French men live with the natives to learn their language and customs to help the French adapt to life in North America.

Champlain penetrated the interior of Canada (present-day Ontario) as far as Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. In this way, he extended French land claims westward.

In 1672, French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet (1645–1700) and French missionary Jacques Marquette (1637–1675) became the first Europeans to reach the upper part of the Mississippi River. Ten years later, French explorer René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle (1643–1687) followed the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. He claimed the river valley for France and named it Louisiana.

The majority of French settlers lived in the colony of Canada during the time when the French were expanding their North American claims. The fur trade was the major industry. The French called the colony a comptoir, meaning a warehouse for animal pelts. It was never very successful in attracting colonists, and eventually France lost the colony to Great Britain in the French and Indian War (1754–63). Louisiana changed hands numerous times before it finally was sold to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase ; it was France's last claim on the North American mainland.

The impact that France had in North America proved to be lasting. Today, French culture is seen in the former colonies of New France: A prime example of this is the French Quarter of New Orleans.

New France

views updated May 23 2018


New France refers to the collective holdings of France in North America during colonial times. At its height New France consisted of the colonies of Canada, Acadia, and Louisiana. The first land claims were made in 1534 by French explorer Jacques Cartier (14911557) as he sailed the St. Lawrence River in eastern Canada. In 1604 Sieur de Monts (c. 1568c. 1630) established a settlement at Acadia (in present-day Nova Scotia, Canada). French claims later extended the region to include present-day New Brunswick, Canada, and eastern Maine. Explorer Samuel de Champlain (c. 15671635) founded Quebec in 1608. He then penetrated the interior (present-day Ontario) as far as Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. In this way he extended French land claims westward. In 1672 French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet (16451700) and French missionary Jacques Marquette (16371675) became the first Europeans to reach the upper part of the Mississippi River. Ten years later French explorer Robert Cavelier (16431687) followed the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. He claimed the river valley for France and named it Louisiana. The majority of French settlers lived in the colony of Canada during the time when the French were expanding their North American claims. The fur trade was the major industry. The French called the colony a comptoir, a warehouse for animal pelts. It was never very successful in attracting colonists. France lost the colony to Great Britain in the French and Indian War (17541763). Louisiana changed hands numerous times before it was finally sold to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase; it was France's last claim on the North American mainland. French culture remained prevalent in the former colonies of New France during modern times.

See also: Louisiana, Louisiana Purchase, Maine

New France

views updated May 23 2018

New France Area of North America claimed by France in the 16th–18th centuries. It included the St Lawrence valley, the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi valley. Parts were lost during the Anglo-French wars of the 18th century, and the whole of New France passed to Britain in 1763.

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New France