A Short History of the NEW FRANCE COLONY, now Canada

When the news of Christopher Columbus' early trip and discoveries in the new world in 1492 spread through the courts of Europe, England and France see the opportunity to claim for themselves some of the potential vast wealth that these new lands have to offer.

Jacques CartierFrance's earliest thrust to claim some of the new world for itself is in the Spring of 1534, when Francis I sends a French sailor, Jacques Cartier, from St. Malo, France, April 20, with sixty-one men. Arriving in less than three weeks to Canada, Cartier disembarks and plants a 30 foot wooden cross to which he has attached a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis and on which he has carved the words Vive le Roy de France (Long Live the King of France). He does not linger long in the new land, leaving quickly for France, bringing back with him two young Indian braves, sons of the local chief.

The following year, on May 19,1535, Cartier leaves France with three ships. He leaves with 110 men and the two Indian braves he had brought to France the previous year.

Cartier's mission is to spend the winter in the new land. He arrives at the mouth of the St-Lawrence River in July, and begins the journey up the great river in search of new routes to China and India. When he arrives at the Indian village of Stadacona, built on the high promontory of what is now Quebec, Cartier is warned by the local Indian chief of the perils that await him farther up the river. Cartier decides to proceed on another river, leaving the other two ships at Stadacona. Toward the end of September, Cartier nears the important Indian trading center at Hochelaga, now Montreal, and the Lachine Rapids that prevent any farther advance along the St-Lawrence. Cartier and his party go ashore at Hochelaga, visit with the local Indian tribe, exchanging trinkets for safe passage in the area and gaining information about the land beyond the Rapids. By mid-October Cartier is back at Stadacona to prepare for the winter stay. The winter proves disastrous for the French; many die of scurvy and are buried in the drifted snow. In the Spring of 1536, Cartier leaves for France because so many of his sailors have been lost during the bitter winter.

Cartier makes a third trip to the new world in 1541, with the hope of establishing a permanent French colony. He returns to the area of Stadacona and establishes a settlement, Charlesbourg Royal. The attempt at colonization at Charlesbourg is a failure due to the discord among the settlers, many of whom are misfits, and to the disagreements between Cartier and the Lord of Roberval, who had been named to head the settlement by the King. Cartier returns to France the same year, and the settlement is finally abandoned the following year.

No other serious attempt at colonization is made by France in the 16th century, although fishing and fur trading expeditions continue.

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain is born near La Rochelle in France and spends his early years in the army. After the death of Philip II of Spain and peace between Spain and France, Champlain finds employment on a French ship in the service of Spain. In 1599, he sails to the Spanish colonies, visits Mexico City, makes his way to the Pacific Ocean, all the time keeping notes and plotting numerous maps.


In 1601, Champlain returns to France where he seeks and receives an audience with the Calvinist king of France, Henry IV. Champlain describes to the king the greatness and the wealth that he has seen in the Spanish colonies. Henry IV is so impressed that he keeps Champlain at court as the royal geographer, gives him a pension, and makes him a noble


In 1603, Champlain is sent by Henry IV to chart the territories that France claims in the northern part of the new world. Champlain executes his mandate faithfully, bringing back to the court and to the commercial sponsors detailed charts of the territories from the mouth of the St-Lawrence River to Montreal.


The following year, in March of 1604, Champlain leaves leaves France with two ships and 120 workmen to establish a permanent colony for France. The expedition is sponsored financially by the king. The ships make their way to the coast of Nova Scotia where Champlain begins to look for the best site on which to establish the settlement. The convoy finally enters the Bay of Fundy where Champlain finds a spacious and landlocked harbor he calls Port Royal. In June, at the end of the bay, at the mouth of the St-Croix River, Champlain founds the colony on a small island that provides security from any sudden attack. The colony endures until it is destroyed in May 1613, by Samuel Argall who sails up the eastern coast from the English Protestant colony at Jamestown, Virginia seeking out French Catholic settlements. Argall captures some settlers and sails away with them after destroying Port Royal. Other settlers scatter into the woods.


Later they would gather again with more men at what is now Quebec, protecting from the English because it is far inland and on high cliff. Champlain rules in the manner of an Indian chief and deals with the natives in this manner.

A Deadly Blow

Champlain loses one of his major financial supporters when the Protestant King Henry IV is assassinated by a Catholic fanatic. This event places a strain on Champlain's ability to keep the budding colony at Québec growing. Champlain makes numerous trips across the Atlantic to seek financial support for Québec.

Many missionaries come to the new world in those early days. Both Jesuit and Recollet missionaries come to the territories claimed by France with the "mission" of converting the "savages" to Christianity. Missions are scattered from the shores of the St-Lawrence River to those of the Great Lakes.
The First Fall of Québec City

No supplies reach Québec the following winter due to the persistent raids by the English privateers known as the Kirke brothers. Finally, in July 1629, the Kirkes land at Québec with a hundred and fifty men. The English capture the capital of New France on July 20th. They drive out the settlers and the missionaries, burn the habitation, and build a fort on the cliffs of the Cap-aux-Diamants overlooking the St-Lawrence River. Champlain is carried off as a prisoner of war and lands in Plymouth, England on October 24, 1629. It is then that learns that England and France had signed a peace treaty on April 24, 1629, before the capture of Québec, a fact the Kirkes were well aware of at the time of their attack. Champlain crosses over to France and convinces the King that France has lost a vast and rich empire. France demands from England the return of New France and Champlain returns to Québec City on May 23, 1633, as Governor of New France. With him come two hundred new colonists recruited by the reactivated Company of New France, Jesuit missionaries, and soldiers to defend the renewed French colony.

The Western Frontiers - The Spread of Catholicism and the Fur Trade

France has two main interests in the new world, exploiting the land for monetary gain, principally through the trade in furs, and converting "the pagan savage souls" to Catholicism. As mentioned earlier, missionaries had come with Champlain to New France as early as 1615. The priests make contact with the Huron Indians. Later it was the Jesuits priests who direct their attention to the converting of the Hurons to Catholicism. The most famous example of these endeavors is the establishment of the mission to the Hurons. The mission, referred to as Sainte-Marie au Pays des Hurons, reaches its zenith in the late 1640's when it includes stables, workshops, medical facilities and lodgings. At one time it houses as many as 66 Europeans as well as visiting Hurons.


In 1648 and 1649 the Iroquois from Upper New York State, the dreaded enemy of the Hurons and the French Americans, begin a systematic destruction of Huron villages in what is now southern Ontario, killing the inhabitants and torturing and killing the French missionaries. On June 14, 1649 the Jesuits set fire to Sainte-Marie to avoid its desecration by the Iroquois. It is during this Iroquois reign of terror that six of North America's eight martyrs are killed, among them St-Jean de Brebeu. The remaining Hurons flee to Champlain’s capital in Quebec City, to the islands in Georgian Bay, to the northern shores of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and even to Wisconsin.


 Forgetting for the moment the desire for empire and land, the other motivating force for opening up the frontiers of the new world is the lure of profits from the fur trade and from providing supplies and services to the French colonial regime and its military. In particular, trading furs offers the opportunity for enterprising individuals to obtain wealth not otherwise available from the trades or in farming. The quest for this wealth and perhaps the quest for the greater individual freedom to be enjoyed on the frontiers lead to the establishment of a vast empire on the "western frontiers" of New France. Voyageurs and fur traders from the St Lawrence settlements, principally Québec City, Trois Rivières and Montréal, first open up much of the continent by following the northern water routes through much of the northern great lakes of Superior, Huron and Michigan. By the late 1600's they establish a trading network which extended westward to the prairies of Canada and the United States, some say as far as the Rocky Mountains, and northward to Hudson's Bay.

Marquette, the priest & Jolliet, the fighter discover opportunity in Illinois

Louis Jolliet was born in Quebec in 1645. He was the first important explorer born in North America from European descent. He was taught at the Jesuit seminary in Quebec, but for unknown reasons left the order in 1667, and journeyed to France, probably studying cartography there. The next year he returned to Canada, became a fur trader and met Father Jacques Marquette.


Marquette was born in 1637 in Laon, France. He became a Jesuit priest, and, on his own request, was sent to Quebec in 1666. In 1668 he set up a new mission, at Chequamegon Bay near the western end of Lake Superior. When the Huron Indians that he worked among fled after Sioux attacks, he followed them and moved the mission on the northern shore of the Straits of Mackinac.


Rumours had been heared about a large river in the south (the Mississippi), and the French hoped that this river would lead them to the Pacific and China. Louis Jolliet was sent out to search for this river, and Marquette was chosen to be the missionary of the expedition.


In 1673 Jolliet, Marquette and five others left on their journey to the Mississippi. They followed Lake Michigan to Green Bay, canoed up the Fox River, crossed over to the Wisconsin and followed that river downstream to the Mississippi.


The first Indians they encountered were the Illinois, who were extremely friendly to the explorers. They expressed their great happiness to have the French visiting them, and provided them with a peace pipe or calumet to use for the remainder of the journey.


As they went further on along the river, they grew more and more convinced that it flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, and not the Pacific. Yet they pushed on until almost the mouth of the Arkansas near present-day Memphis. Here the Indians told them that the sea was only ten days away, but also that hostile Indians would be found along the way. They also noticed the presence of Spanish trade goods among the Indians. Not wanting to be captured by Indians or Spanish, they decided to return. They used an easier route now, shown by the Indians, up the Illinois and then by way of the Chicago River to Lake Michigan.


In October 1674, Marquette went back to the Illinois, intending to live and preach among the Illinois people. However, he did not manage to reach the village that year, and had to winter near present day Chicago (Harlem Avenue). Arriving around Easter 1675, he preached to a large number of Indian chiefs and braves. However, his health was deteriorating. He decided to return north, but died of dysentery before reaching the mission where he intended to spend his last days.

Jolliet's journal and map got lost when his canoe overturned on the Montreal rapids. The only remaining record of the expedition is an unfortunately rather short diary, reputedly written by Marquette. For some time he clashed with the authorities about the proceeds of his trip, but in 1679 he travelled up the Saguenay and Rupert rivers to spy on the British positions around the Hudson Bay, and received Anticosti Island as a reward. In 1694 he made another journey, exploring the coast of Labrador and visiting the Eskimos. He died in 1700, being lost on a trip to one of his land holdings.

Following military campaigns against the Iroquois in 1667, a period of peace ensues between the French and the Iroquois nation. By the mid 1700's primary trade routes are firmly established linking the French settlements on the St Lawrence River to a string of forts and trading posts located on the western plains, the northern lakes and south along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. These include colonies at St. Louis, Kaskaskia, Illinois, and a trading post at Chicagou.



1.)     What were the goals of France in North America? Were these goals achieved? Explain.


2.) Was Champlain a success or a failure? Explain.