New France

While John Smith and the Jamestown settlers were setting up camp in Virginia, France was building permanent settlements of their own. Samuel De Champlain led a group of French colonists through the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to Quebec in 1608. The fur trade led fortune seekers deeper into North America. French Jesuit Missionaries boldly penetrated the wilderness in the hopes of converting Native Americans to Catholicism. By 1799, France had laid claim to a territory that ranged from Newfoundland in the Northeast, down across the Great Lakes through the Ohio Valley, southward along the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and as far west as the Rocky Mountains.

There were profound differences between New England and New France. The English colonies were smaller in area but dwarfed the French colonization in population. Louis XIV was a devout Catholic and didn’t tolerate other faiths within the French empire. French Huguenots, the dominant religious minority, therefore found no haven in New France. Land was less of an issue in France than England, so French peasants had less economic incentive to leave. The French Crown was more interested in its holdings in the Far East and the sugar islands of the Caribbean, so the French monarchs did little to sponsor emigration to North America. The sparse French population would be no match for the numerous British colonists as the war raged on.

Unlike the English colonies where self-rule was pursued immediately, the people of New France had no such privileges. There were no elected assemblies. Decisions were made by local magistrates on behalf of the French king. Trial by jury did not exist, nor did a free press. The French citizenry depended on the Crown for guidance. The English colonists depended on themselves. So, despite huge claims to North American lands, the French would be overwhelmed by the more numerous, self-directed subjects of Britain.

French cultural contributions are still felt in the modern United States. Cajun and Creole food draw from French culinary traditions.

Source: New France
Copyright ©2008-2016 ushistory.org, owned by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942.

Back to top