Canadian History: New France (1598-1763)

Canadian history
Figure 1.--

France following the voyges of expolorations attempted to found permanent colonies. Early attempts failed. The Fur Craze rekindled interest in the colonization effort. The experiece of Wuropean fishermen on the Grand Banls alerted the French Criwn to the availability of valuavle furs in North merica. The French Crown attmted to interest French nobels in founding a colony by offering a fur monopoly. A young geographer named Samuel de Champlain became the founder if New France. His first experiebce was at Port Royal on Nova Scotia, but he went on to found Quebec which became the French stronghold. From an early stage control of North America became an issue in the on-going competition between England and France. The colonization effort developed along very different lines in the English and French colonies. The English colonists pursued agriculture and developed along democratic lines. New France was centered on the fur trde and copied the feudal and absolutist model of France. The major outcome was that the French population in North america was very small while the English population reached substantial numbers in the colonies along the eastern seaboard. French ijnterest in NewFrance waslimited and the supression of the Hugenots limited that interest. The French also recreated the French political system in New France. Unlike the English colonies there was no separtion from France at an early point. The English Civil War cut off the colonies and a trditoin of colonial parliaments developed ith little or no royal supervision. Nothing like a democratic system developed in New France. The King appointed a governor, the senior colonial figure and representative of the King. Like the French monarch, he had virtual absolute power. He was responsible only to the monarchy, not the people of New France that he governed. King Louis XIV created a new post with the appointment of an intendant (1665). His duties were finance and the judicial system. This change in the colonial administration did not work well. There was considerable overlap between the responsibilities of the governor and intendant. This generated friction and complicated cooperation as only the king could resolve disputes. The English and French alo pursued different policies toward the Native Americans. The French perhaps because of their small population znd limited lznd usage developed amicble relztions with the ntive Americans. They also lzunched a mjor missionry activity. There was a major problemn with the Iriquois.

Failed Colonization Efforts (1550s)

The first European penetration of the interior began through the St. Lawrence River was begun by Cartier (1535). The attraction was finding a possible passage to Asia, more than a desire to move inland. Carttier's fleet of three small vessels reached the Indian village of Stadacona, (close to modern Quebec City). He continued further upstream and 150 west encountered the Indian village Hochelaga (modern Montreal). This was as far up the St. Lawrence he could sail his vessels. He named the high ground beyound the village Mont Real. Here they wintered. Many perished in the cold before the survivors returned to France (Spring 1556). This was mny decadeds before the first permanent English colony was founded. Cartier led his third, and probably his last, expedition into the St. Lawrence (1541). A new post was established at Cap-Rouge, a few miles upstream from Stadacona. This time Cartier had company. He was followed by Jean Francois de la Rocque, sieur de Roberval, and with a party of colonists who intended to stay. Cartier moved further west, but again did not find a passage leading to the Pacific. This time stayed the winter. On the way back toward the Atlantic he met the Roberval's party 'in three tall ships' in the harbor of what is today St. John's, Newfoundland. Roberval was the senior officer and he ordered Cartier to accompany the colonizing party back up the St. Lawrence to Quebec. Cartier was, however, intent on returning to France and sailed under cover of darkness. Roberval without Crtier proceeded upstream and attempted to found a permanent settlement at the same location where where Cartier had wintered. The attempt was aisaster. Some 60 of the colonists died during the winter. Roberval abandoned the colonization effort and returned to France. Thus New France and the Canadian project would languish for another 60 years.

European Fishermen and Furs

The first economic exploitation of North America came from a diverse group of European fishermen who began to harvest the rich cod grounds on the Grand Banks. We do not know just when this began, but it seems likly that it as before Columbus' voyages. European fishing fleets made annual visits to the eastern shores of Canada off Newfoundland--the Grand Banks. Both Spanish and Portuguee fishermn were invollved, including the Basque. Some French Bazque were surely involved. It was an inportant economic activity throughout the 16th century. Some hundreds of ships were involved. They brought hime to Europe their catch if cod. Dried cod (bacalao) became an important trade good and an staple of diets in Western Europe. Dried cod became used in many popular duhes. The annual catch was enormous and probably seemed limitless to 16th and 17th century century fishermen of the day. Since the fishermen made landfall and encoubtered Native Americans, the first trading with the North Americans. The Europeans found they could obtain valuable furs for inexpesive trinkets.

European Fur Craze

The European fishermen dried their catch on the shores of Newfoundland so it could be preserved and transported. As a result, a trade in furs developed with the Native American people. At the same time in Europe, not only were improved methods of processing furs were being developed, but beaver hats were becoming very fashionable. At the time the major source of furs was Tsarist Russia. And France was one of the major purchaser of Russian furs. Considerable sums were involved. The trickle of furs from the Spansh and Portuguese fishermen, perhaos some French Basque fishermen were involvded, alerted the French court that furs were to be had in North America. Thus a new incentive developed to renew the effort to colonize North America. The opportunity for France to develop its own source of furs was a substantial economic incentive.

Fur Trade Incentives

Canada's history began on of all places sable island, named after a valuable animal fur. French King Henry IV awarded Troilus de Mesgouez, marquis de la Roche, a royal monopoly giving him the exclusive right to trade furs. He soon sailed for Canada and established a small settlement on Sable Island, essentially a sandbar southeast of Nova Scotia in the Atalantic on the Grand Banks. The settlement proved, however, another abject failure. It proved to be just the first of a series of efforts by France to persuade various nobels and adventurers o set up settlements in Canada by offering an official monopoly of the fur trade. The French monarchy might hvve had more sucesses had they not gone to great extnts to exclude Hugennots. Pierre Chauvin was the next to try. He established a trading post at Tadoussac along the St. Lawrence River. This post survived somewhat longer, nearly 3 years. King Henry next graned another fur monopoly to Pierre du Guast, sieur de Monts (1604). De Mont chose an an island site located near the mouth of the St. Croix River. This would senearly two centuries later become the international boundary between the United Atates and Canada (New Brunswick and Maine). Among his company was a young geographer named Samuel de Champlain who after he arrived explored the northeastern coastline to the south, what is now the United States. After wintering at the St. Croix site, de Monts moved to a new location across the Bay of Fundy (Spring 1605). This was along the shore of the Annapolis Basin, an protected inlet in western Nova Scotia. This would becomd Port Royal. Champlain called it the Habitation and prive to be France's most successful effort at colonization to date. The settlement would come to be called Acadia.

Champlain: Father of New France

King Henry canceled De Monts's fur monopoly (1607). This meant the end, at least temporarily of the Port Royal settlement. Champlain managed, however, to persuade de Mont to permit him to take the interested colonists and 'go and settle on the great River St. Lawrence, with which I was familiar through a voyage that I had made there.' It was thus Chmplain that founded France's first permanent North American Canadian colony (1608). The site he chose was the location of modern Quebec City. It was at the foot of a great rocky escapement on the northern shore of the river. It was a strategic natural site for a fort, blocking the the way furthe upstream into the interior. It was located at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Saint-Charles rivers. It is is the last deepwater port on the St Lawrence. Thus it could block naval expeditions, but was vulnerable to naval attack. The Quebec settlement encountered difficulties but unlike previous attempts, it survived. The population grew slowly. One of the major problems was that few French people wanted to leave France. The English Plymouth Colony was fojunded by religious disentes. The French monarchy made sure that this did not happen in New France, thus the population was limited from the beginning even though France had a much larger population than Englnd. The population of the Quebec colony grew very slowly. Champlain personally administered affairs. He was particularly interested in and oversaw an carefully planned exploration of the completely unknown interior. He did not personally conduct most of the exploratory expeditions, he sent others with detailed instructions. It was rather like the French version of the Lewis and Clarke Expedition. One of the men he chose was Etienne Brule, the first European to cross Pennsylvania and later the first to enter the vast Lake Superior. Champlain did personally discover what is now Lake Champlain (1609). He led a canoe expedition up the Ottawa River through Lake Nipissing (1615). They traveled down Georgian Bay to the heart of the Huron country, near Lake Simcoe. It was during these journeys that Champlain aided the Hurons in their battles against the powerful Iroquois Confederacy. Champlain could not provide many men, but he gave the Huron access to firearms. The Iroquois thus became mortal enemies of the French.

Anglo-French War/Third Bearnese Revolt (1627-1628)

The Protestant Reformation set in motion a series of religious wars, including a lengthy bitter conflict in France between Catholics and Protesrants (Hugenots) (1562-98). The French monarchy as part of the conclusion of those wars issued the Edict of Nantes (1598). This promised French Huguenots freedom to practice express their religion in and around several largely Protestant cities. The most important was La Rochelle, an important Atlantic-coast port. The city acquired the unofficial satus as the capital capital of France's Huguenots. The port city became the base for many French maritime expeditions. It became referred to as a 'Maritime Republic'. It was a city of substantial commercial importance. The Huguenot merchants of La Rochelle are generally recognized as the most enterprising in France. And along with their maritime interests were connected with commercial center around the world. The city had for centuries, even before the Reformation, been a semi-independent municipality, and had furing the Religious Wars resisted every royalist attack. As the French monarchy began to increasingly supress the Hugenots, Protestant England came to their aid. La Rochelle concluded a treaty with England which entailed landing English troops to defend the city (1627). French troops as expected laid siege to La Rochelle (August 1627). The English attempted to break the siege, but failed. King Charles I of England authorized Thomas Kirk a Hugenot and his brothers, Lewis, John, James and David, along with English merchants, to take possession of New France, an important source of furs. They intercepted two convoys of ships and settlers bound for New France near Gaspé. This effectively cut off Quebec. The Royal Navy was not at the time the important force it would become, but there were many armed merchant vessels. The Hugenots in La Rochelle after 14 months surrendered (October 1628). The population had declined from fallen from 18,000 to 5,000 inhabitants, mostly perishing from starvation. Another Hugenot city was Bearn. The conflict over Bern became known as the Third Bearnese Revolt. Here the fighting lasted until 1629. The Bearnese were led by Henri Duc de Rohan. The Hugenots at La Rochelle were led by Soubise. These battles proved to be the last of the French Religious Wars. The Huguenots ceased to be an important factor in French, to the detriment of the country. England and France signed a peace treaty (January 13, 1629). While the English failed to relieve La Rochelle, they had more suceess in New France. The Kirk taskforce appeared at Quebec and blockaded the city. The garrison faced starvation. Champlain was foreced to surrender (July 1629). The English took him to England as a prisoner. It turned out, however, that Champlain surrendered asfter the peace treaty had been signed. As a result, the English restored New France to French control.

French Colony and Early Settlements

The English released Champlain to France (1632). He returned to New France and spent his last years there. He was appointed governor of New France (1633). King Louis XIV made New France a royal province (1663). Quebec became the capital. The English who had established thriving colonies to the south continued to launch expedtions to capture New France, meanung Qubec City (1690 and 1711). The english colnies were nesetled aling the Atalntic seaboard and soon had a much karger population than New France. New France continued to grow only slowly. The fur trade developed as the major economic activity. This lead the French much further inland than the English ventured. The profitable fur trade, however, discourage the development of agriculture as well the lack of interested settlers. The small French population would be the key factor determining the future of North America. Settlers founded Trois-Rivieres, farther up the St. Lawrence (1634). Cleric Paul de Chomedy, sieur de Maisonneuve founded Ville-Marie as a mission post (1642). This settlement would become Montreal.

Mission Enterprise

De Chomedy's founding of Montreal was part of an extensive missionary movement. Thge French set out to convert the Ntive americans. Nothing like this occurred in the english colonies. Christian missionaries were Catholic friars and brothers of the differrent religious orders. It was a religious enerprise of enormous importance and sacrifice. These missionaries ventured fout into the wilds. It was different than that conducted by the Sapish, because the French missionaries worked with iunconquered people. After the founding of Quebec, missionaries established a dozen mission posts in the Huron country south of Georgian Bay.

Native Americans

Native American people for millenia before the arrival of the Europeans both trades and warred with each other. At the time of the arrival of the French, the Hurons were undr pressure from the other Iroquois tribes dwelling south and east of Lake Ontario. The Iroquois launched a final invasion of Huronia (1648). Several Jesuit priests were killed and died as martyrs. Within a year both the Hurons and the missionaries had been either killed or driven away. The resiastance of the Iroquois proved to b a major obstacle to the growth of New France. A kind of guerrilla warfare was waged for years on the outskirts of the colony. A seminal event was a stand by dam Dollard des Ormeaux who led a small group against a large Iroquois war party bent on destroying the Montreal settlement. When Iriquois counted their dead and wounded in a battle against such amall French force, they reconsidered their attack. Scattered attacks followed. The Canadians also had serious trouble with the The Meskwaki. The most serious18th century conflict was the Fox Wars. The Fox Wars were fought between the Meskwaki and the French, mainly the Native american allies of the French. The fighting took place in what is now the American Upper Midwest (Michigan and Wisconsin). The First Fox War (1712–16) occurred when the Fox numbered some 3,500 people. Much of the tribe was destroyed. The Fox were taken in by the Sauk. The Second Fox War (1728–33) reduced the Fox even more to about 500 people. They were taken in with the Sauk (Sac) and became bitter enemies with the French. The Fox controlled the Fox River system. The river was a vital conduit for the fur trade between the North american interior and the Frebch settlents ariund Montreal and Quebec. The Fox connected Green Bay in Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The French were determined to obtain control over the River to gain access to both the Mississippi and trade contacts with tribes in the western interior.

Feudal System

The French set up a kind of feudal system much as still The king made land grants to existed in France itself. The King made land grants and titles to nobels (seigneurs) in return for their oath of loyalty and commitment to support him in time of war. The seigneur in turn granted rights to work plots on his lestates to his vassals (habitants). The habitants were required as in France to pay certain feudal dues, work for the seigneur a certain number of days, and to have their grain harvest ground in the seigneurial mill. This tended to work better in New France than France itself, basically because New France was so underpopulated. The seigneurs needed the habitants much more in New France than France where land was so limited and there was a substantial landless peasantry. The New France habitants benefitted from the seigneurs obligation to build a mill. They had no military duties, except the common defense against the Native americans. Little money circulated un New France. There was little to buy because trade with France was so limied and means of transport so primitive. Taxes were paid in farm products. The habitants apparently did not find their obligations burdensome. If they were, they could simply move away. The seigneurs were wanted to keep their habitants so they would remain on their land as farmers. There werte essntially endless land, but aimited number of settlers to work the land. But what not develop in New France was an educated population that created men like Benjamin Franklin or the American founding fathers.

Colonial Government

The French also recreated the French political system in New France. Unlike the English colonies there was no separtion from France at an early point. The English Civil War cut off the colonies and a trditoin of colonial parliaments developed ith little or no royal supervision. Nothing like a democratic system developed in New France. The King appointed a governor, the senior colonial figure and representative of the King. Like the French monarch, he had virtual absolute power. He was responsible only to the monarchy, not the people of New France that he governed. King Louis XIV created a new post with the appointment of an intendant (1665). His duties were finance and the judicial system. This change in the colonial administration did not work well. There was considerable overlap between the responsibilities of the governor and intendant. This generated friction and complicated cooperation as only the king could resolve disputes.

Intendant Jean Talon (1665- )

Intendant Jean Talon was the first intendant. He had some sucess in growing the colony. He promoted agriculture, business, crafts, and exploration as well as stimulated needed immigration from France albeit from a small base. Talon ordered a census shortly after he arrived (1666). The French population was 3,215 among a much larger Native American population. Thiswas only a feaction of the large growing English population to the south. The English colonies were also more productive and self sufficient. coast to the south, and they had greatly exceeded New France in population and self-sufficiency.

Governor Count Louis de Frontenac (1672-1763)

King Louis XIV appointed Count Louis de Frontenac govenor of New France (1672). One of his first inituatives was to build a fort at Cataraqui, near modern Kingston. He forced the Iroquois Confederacy to make peace. He organized major exploratory expeditions into the interior. Among the most important were conducted by Louis Jolliet, Father Jacques Marquette, and Rene Cavelier, sieur de La Salle. The situation King Louis had created came to ah ead in the conlicts beten the givernor and iuntendant. King Louis recalled Frontenac and Itendant Jacques Duchesneau (1682). The King decided to return Frontenac (1689). Another war had broken out between France and England--the War of the League of Augsburg. Frontenac energetically pursued the war south into the English colonies. He ordered military expeditions overland into the English colonies during the winter. Sir William Phips led a British fleet into the Saint Lawrence reaching Quebec (1690). Frontenac was not intimidated. He rejected the English demand to surender, replying "I will answer your general by the mouths of my cannon!"

The Church in New France

The Vicar Apostolic, Francois Xavier de Laval-Montmorency, at the head of the clergy in New France was raised to the rank of bishop (1674). This created another powerful office in New France. Laval organized NewFrance's parish system. He supported the missionary effort. And he founded the Quebec Seminary to train candidates for the priesthood. He resigned his office (1684). He spent the final 20 years in the seminary he had established.

French-British Rivalry

The British and French claims to North America overlapped. They also persued very different colonial policies. The English planted largely agricultural settlments based on family settlement along a narrow coastal strip. The colonies were quite diverse, including religious disenters. They set up colonial legislatures and during the English Civil war essentially goverened themselves. New France from the beginning was strictly Catholic and goverened directly from Paris. The French moved into the interior, but with small numbers of mostly men seeking furs. La Salle explored the length of the Mississippi to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico (1682). This gave France a claim to a vast area of North America, but made no real effort to settle it. And few Frenchmen were motivated to settle the wilderness. At the same time, the much larger English population was huddled east of the Appalachians. It was thus only a matter of time before the two Empires came into conflict. And this conflict would come in the Ohio Valley. Furs attracted both the English and French. French control of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes gave them access to a vast wealth of furs. Henry Hidson had layed claim to Hudson Bay in the far north. He had been looking fir the Northwest Passage. The British founded the Hudson Bay Colony (1670). The French challenged the British claim and in a series of expeditions almost drove the English out. . France and England fought Queen Anne's War (1702). This merged into a major European War--the War of the Spanish Secession (1701-14). The English captured Port Royal (1710). Relatively minor provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht ending the War involved North America (1713). France regonized English control of the Hudson Bay Territory, Newfoundland, and Acadia. France retained Cape Breton Island as well as the interior of North American. The French to secure what was left of New France began building a powerful fortress at Louisbourg on Cape Breton. The French at the time were the most skilled military engineers in Europe. Louisbourg was a major military based and positioned to guard the entrance to the St. Lawrence River--the gateway to New France. Louisbourg became the most powerful fortress in North America. Louisbourg was not only a defensive instalation, but became a sanctuary for French privateeers preying on shipping from the English colonies in New England. Sir William Pepperell led a force of New Englanders organized a force of 90 vessels and 4,000 men to attack Louisbourg (1745). After a 3-month seige, the French garison surrendered. France and Britain fought a relatively small war, King George's War. It was ended by the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle (1748). Louisbourg was returned to the French. The British decided to build its own Atlantic bastion. Britain dispatched a fleet and 2,500 new settlers to constructv a city and fortress at Halifax on Nova Scotia (1749).

French and Indian War (1754-63)

What might be considered the first world war, the Seven Years War (1756-63), began in North America. The first engagement was fought by of all people George Washington. The North American phase of the War was the French and Indian War (1754-63). A Virginia militia unit commanded by Washington ventured into disputed territory in te Ohio Valley. The French and India War can be seen as part of the Seven Years War, but they are major differences. The Seven Years War was essentially a combined European War to limit the aggressions of Prussia's Frederick the Great. The French and Indian War was a war over colonial control of North America. They are related in that France was deeply involved in both wars and they occurred at roughly the same time. the French and India War was fought by Britain and its North American colonies against France and its Indian (Algonquian) allies. France's North American colonies had evolved differently than the British colonies. The more limited French emmigration and differing attitudes toward Native Americans enduced the Algonquians to fight on their side against the British. The French lost Canada, however, during the French and Indian Wars and in the peace neogitiations were more concerned with Caribbean sugar islands (1760s).


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Created: 1:52 AM 11/23/2014
Last updated: 1:52 AM 11/23/2014