French colonization of the Americas
The French colonization of the Americas began in the 16th century, and continued on into the following centuries as France established a colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere. France founded colonies in much of eastern North America, on a number of Caribbean islands, and in South America. Most colonies were developed to export products such as fish, sugar, and furs. As they colonized the New World, the French established forts and settlements that would become such cities as Quebec and Montreal in Canada; Detroit, Green Bay, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Mobile, Biloxi, Baton Rouge and New Orleans in the United States; and Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien (founded as Cap-Français) in Haiti, Cayenne in French Guiana and São Luís (founded as Saint Louis) in Brazil.
The French first came to the New World as explorers, seeking a route to the Pacific Ocean and wealth. Major French exploration of North America began under the rule of Francis I, King of France. In 1524, Francis sent Italian-born Giovanni da Verrazano to explore the region between Florida and Newfoundland for a route to the Pacific Ocean. Verrazzano gave the names Francesca and Nova Gallia to that land between New Spain and English Newfoundland, thus promoting French interests.
In 1534, Francis I of France sent Jacques Cartier on the first of three voyages to explore the coast of Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence River. He founded New France by planting a cross on the shore of the Gaspé Peninsula. The French subsequently tried to establish several colonies throughout North America that failed, due to weather, disease, or conflict with other European powers. Cartier attempted to create the first permanent European settlement in North America at Cap-Rouge (Quebec City) in 1541 with 400 settlers but the settlement was abandoned the next year after bad weather and first nations attacks. A small group of French troops were left on Parris Island, South Carolina in 1562 to build Charlesfort, but left after a year when they were not resupplied by France. Fort Caroline established in present-day Jacksonville, Florida in 1564, lasted only a year before being destroyed by the Spanish from St. Augustine. An attempt to settle convicts on Sable Island off Nova Scotia in 1598 failed after a short time. In 1599, a sixteen-person trading post was established in Tadoussac (in present-day Quebec), of which only five men survived the first winter. In 1604, Saint Croix Island in Acadia was the site of a short-lived French colony, much plagued by illness, perhaps scurvy. The following year the settlement was moved to Port Royal. Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec (1608) and Montreal (1611) and explored the Great Lakes. In 1634, Jean Nicolet founded La Baye des Puants (present-day Green Bay), which is one of the oldest permanent European settlements in America. Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette founded Sault Sainte Marie (1668) and Saint Ignace (1671) and explored the Mississippi River. At the end of the 17th century, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle established a network of forts going from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence River. Fort Saint Louis was established in Texas in 1685, but was gone by 1688. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit (modern-day Detroit) in 1701 and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville founded La Nouvelle Orléans (New Orleans) in 1718. Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville founded Baton Rouge in 1719.
The French were eager to explore North America but New France remained largely unpopulated. Due to the lack of women, intermarriages between French and Indians were frequent, giving rise to the Métis people and to a usually peaceful existence between both groups. As the 19th-century historian Francis Parkman stated:
"Spanish civilization crushed the Indian; English civilization scorned and neglected him; French civilization embraced and cherished him"—Francis Parkman.
"The descendants of the French who are accustomed to this country [New France], together with all the Indians who will be brought to the knowledge of the faith and will profess it, shall be deemed and renowned natural Frenchmen, and as such may come to live in France when they want, and acquire, donate, and succeed and accept donations and legacies, just as true French subjects, without being required to take no letters of declaration of naturalization."
Louis XIV also tried to increased the population by sending approximately 800 young women nicknamed the "King's Daughters". However, the low density of population in New France remained a very persistent problem. At the beginning of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), the British population in North America outnumbered the French 20 to 1. France fought a total of six colonial wars in North America (see the four French and Indian Wars as well as Father Rale's War and Father Le Loutre's War).
The last French and Indian War resulted in the dissolution of New France with Canada going to Britain and Louisiana going to Spain. Only the islands of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon remained in French hands until today. In 1802 Spain returned Louisiana to France, but Napoleon sold it to the United States in 1804. The French left many toponyms (Illinois, Vermont, Bayous...) and ethnonyms (Sioux, Coeur d'Alene, Nez Percé...) in North America.
A major French settlement lay on the island of Hispaniola, where France established the colony of Saint-Domingue on the western third of the island in 1664. Nicknamed the "Pearl of the Antilles", Saint-Domingue became the richest colony in the Caribbean due to slave plantation production of sugar cane. It had the highest slave mortality rate in the western hemisphere. A 1791 slave revolt, the only ever successful slave revolt, began the Haitian Revolution, led to freedom for the colony's slaves in 1794 and, a decade later, complete independence for the country, which renamed itself Haiti. France briefly also ruled the eastern portion of the island, which is now the Dominican Republic.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, France ruled much of the Lesser Antilles at various times. Islands that came under French rule during part or all of this time include Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, Martinique, St. Barthélemy, St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Vincent and Tobago. Control of many of these islands was contested between the French, the British and the Dutch; in the case of St. Martin, the island was divided in two, a situation that persists to this day. Great Britain captured some of France's islands during the Seven Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars. Following the latter conflict, France retained control of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Marie-Galante, St. Barthélemy, and its portion of St. Martin; all remain part of France today. Guadeloupe (including Marie-Galante and other nearby islands) and Martinique each is an overseas department of France, while St. Barthélemy and St. Martin each became an overseas collectivity of France in 2007.
From 1555 to 1567, French Huguenots, under the leadership of vice-admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, made an attempt to establish the colony of France Antarctique in what is now Brazil, but were expelled. From 1612 to 1615, a second failed attempt (France Équinoxiale) was made in present-day São Luís, Brazil.
French Guiana was first settled by the French in 1604, although its earliest settlements were abandoned in the face of hostilities from the indigenous population and tropical diseases. The settlement of Cayenne was established in 1643, but was abandoned. It was re-established in the 1660s. Except for brief occupations by the English and Dutch in the 17th century, and by the Portuguese in the 19th century, Guiana has remained under French rule ever since. From 1851 to 1951 it was the site of a notorious penal colony, Devil's Island (Île du Diable). Since 1946, French Guiana has been an overseas department of France.
In 1860, a French adventurer, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens proclaimed himself king of Araucania and Patagonia. His claim was not accepted by foreign powers and Chile and Argentina took firm control over the regions, treating him as insane.
- Atlantic World
- History of Canada
- Former colonies and territories in Canada
- French and Indian Wars
- Franco-Indian alliance
- French colonial empire
- French in Canada
- French in the United States
- Illinois Country
- List of French possessions and colonies
- List of French forts in North America
- Military of New France
- 1524: The voyage of discoveries, Centro studi storici Verrazzano
- Quoted in Cave, p.42
- Acte pour l'établissement de la Compagnie des Cent Associés pour le commerce du Canada, contenant les articles accordés à la dite Compagnie par M. le Cardinal de Richelieu, le 29 avril 1627 
- "Hispaniola Article". Britannica.com. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- "Dominican Republic 2014". Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Rodriguez, Junius P. (2007). Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-313-33272-2.
- As the French and Indian War started two years earlier, and continued until the signing of the peace treaty, the name Seven Years' War is more properly applied to the European phase of the war.
- Holbrook, Sabra (1976), The French Founders of North America and Their Heritage, New York: Atheneum, ISBN 0-689-30490-0