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New France - La Nouvelle France

Updated on November 21, 2010

French Exploration (1524 - 1603)

New France or La Nouvelle-France is the name of the territory in North America, that was colonized by France between 1524 and 1763.

In 1500, Spain had become Europe's richest country, thanks to the great gold discoveries in South America. In its own quest for European supremacy, France was looking into a possibility to match these phenomenal gold discoveries.

In 1524, the French king François I sent the explorer Giovanni da Verrazano to explore the American east coast. He was the first to use the (Latin) name Nova Francia or "La Nouvelle France" for the territory.

In 1530, François I sent the explorer Jacques Cartier to explore the northeast of North America in search of gold, and to claim the entire region for France.

In 1534, Cartier landed on the Gaspé Peninsula, and in the following year he explored the Gulf of St. Laurent. He reached the Indian villages Ascona City (Quebec) and Hochelaga (Montreal), and met the Huron Indians.

French Trade

The French didn't establish a true colony in the area, but they gradually occupied it on a temporary basis. These so-called "colonies-comptoir" (comptrol-colonies) were only used for fishing and the fur trade.

The French only lived there temporarily, and after concluding their business, they returned to France. In 1603, Louis Hébert was the first French settler who lived permanently in La Nouvelle France.

France never really continued to colonize the area, since at that time it was embroiled in several European wars. Only 70 years later, more explorers were sent out, as the fur trade was fast becoming a tremendous source of income.

French Colonization (1608 - 1650)

In 1608, "La Nouvelle France" continued colonization when Samuel de Champlain founded a trading post in Quebec City, where the Indians could exchange their pelts.

Champlain negotiated alliances with the Huron, the Algonquin and Montagnais, and promised them military assistance against their enemies, the Iroquois. Thus began a bitter and almost one-hundred-year-long struggle between the French and the Iroquois.

La Nouvelle France grew tremendously during the rest of the 17th century, from the Hudson's Bay in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, and from the St. Lawrence River to the Rocky Mountains in the west.

The other major powers looked with envy at France's activities in almost all of North America.

Population Increase New France vs. New England

Although the lucrative fur trade attracted many French adventurers, it was difficult to attract farmers.

In 1628, Cardinal Richelieu, prime minister of Louis XIII, founded "La Compagnie des 100 Associés", that would grant large "seigneuries" (estates) to those who would manage to develop the country. However, he also prohibited access to New France to any non-Roman-Catholic !

The new "Seigneurs" would further divide these estates, and find farmers who would work the land for a small fee. The target was to find 4,000 colonists in 15 years time.

The plan failed however, and even before 1650, seventy-five percent of the colonists returned to France.

Population Increase

New France
New England

The Fur Trade (1650 - 1670)

After 1650, the fur trade developed very strongly, and more than half of the immigrants remained in the colonies, usually around Quebec, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal.

The colonies Quebec and Montreal grew strongly, and by their control of the St. Lawrence River, they managed to trade with Indian tribes, that lived deep in the interior.

However, they got involved in many battles with the Iroquois about the control of the lucrative fur trade. The Iroquois almost destroyed all of the French trade with the Huron Indians.

Since his revenues were in danger, Louis XIV ended "La Compagnie des 100 Associés" in 1663, and returned La Nouvelle France under the supervision (and into the pockets ...) of the French crown. He sent troops to fight the Iroquois, and instituted a form of local government.

The Hudson's Bay Company
The Hudson's Bay Company

French - English Rivalry (1670 - 1713)

In 1670, England wanted its share of the cake, and Charles II granted the Hudson's Bay Company a trading monopoly for the entire territory around the Hudson Bay, regardless of any claims by other countries...

Actually, two French nobles, Médard Chouart des Groseillers and Pierre-Esprit Radisson were the originators of the idea of this company, but the French king Louis XIV did not want to allocate any resources, given that the French treasury verged on bankruptcy, and that all resources were needed for the Franco-Dutch war.

They contacted prince Rupert, cousin of the English king Charles II, who finally obtained the latter's support.

The territory was called Rupert's Land, and it was further explored by the Hudson's Bay Company.

England also began to incite the Iroquois against the French.

To secure its near-monopoly on the fur trade, France began to build a series of forts to the west. During thirty years there was strong fighting between the French and the Iroquois, but in 1701, finally a peace treaty was signed.

Thereafter began the fighting with Britain for control of Quebec, which was of strategic importance for the fur trade.

Queen Anne's War (1702-1713) ended with the Treaty of Utrecht, whereby large areas were ceded to England ; the Hudson's Bay territory, Newfoundland and Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and parts of Quebec and New England).

New France 1712
New France 1712

New France in 1712

At its peak in 1712, New France's territory stretched from Newfoundland to Lake Superior, and from the Hudson's Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. It included five colonies, each with its own government.

  • Canada : most of the current provinces of Quebec and Ontario
  • Acadie : also called la Nouvelle Écosse, with current Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, eastern Quebec, and most of New England
  • Terre Neuve : current Newfoundland
  • La Baie d'Hudson : the Hudson Bay
  • La Louisiane : the entire basin of the Mississippi

The French and Indian War (1754 - 1763)

Until 1750, things remained relatively quiet, and La Nouvelle France continued to develop, although only very few new settlers immigrated. In France there was plenty of farmland available, and the country needed many soldiers to continue its European wars.

In 1754, England again aspired to its dream of an Empire, and it started the French and Indian War (1754-1763). This war ended in 1759, with the fall of Quebec and the capitulation of Montreal.

By 1760, the British completely controlled La Nouvelle France. In 1763, by the Treaty of Paris, France ceded "La Nouvelle France" to Britain.

*** Read my hub about the French and Indian War ***


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    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

      I enjoyed reading this along with the maps! very informative. so many forget America is a country of immigrants.

    • slusterbubble profile image

      slusterbubble 6 years ago from Florida

      Thank you, dear. I suppose it helps when you're looking into history from the outside, instead of being born in it. And almost inevitably, when you start wondering about the motivation of the men who "created" this history, one tends to become somewhat skeptical of historical "slants", according to who wrote them...

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 3 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      I love history, especially this exploration period. I have mostly heard about the English and Spanish immigrations and not so much about the French. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania where so many of the old settlements and rivers still have the French names.

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