This map is part of a series of 7 animated maps showing the history of European Colonies in North America.
The foundation of a first European settlement by Jacques Cartier in the Saint Lawrence Valley – in today’s Quebec City – was a failure. The harsh winter conditions and difficulties in living close to Indians discouraged the settlers who were repatriated to France in 1543.
The difficult political situation in France during the Wars of Religion meant that no further attempts were made for another half-century.
Demand for furs and the continuing hope that a trading route to China could still be found led to French monarchs taking a new interest in exploration during the early 17th century.
Samuel de Champlain was appointed Royal Geographer by Henri IV and commissioned to explore the region around the Saint Lawrence River and its tributaries.
He sailed along the coast of Acadia, where he allowed the first settlers to disembark. Four years later, he decided that Quebec would serve as a base for future French settlements in the Valley of Saint Lawrence.
In 1634 and later in 1642, two new settlements were founded in this Valley, the first at Trois-Rivières and the second at Montréal.
This colony, now named New France, was established through a series of complex alliances with several Indian nations, including the Montagnais, the Algonquins and the Hurons. Meanwhile, as a result of activities by the Jesuits and trappers, exploration continued westwards into the region of the Great Lakes, which was called the “Pays d’en Haut”.
In 1673, the Mississippi river was discovered.
In 1682, Cavelier de La Salle travelled down the Mississippi River to its estuary and took possession in the name of the King of France for all the regions along the great river, including the Illinois country and Louisiana.
Territorial and commercial difficulties brought the French and English colonies into conflict in three areas:
- Hudson Bay, an important centre for fur traders,- Newfoundland, a major fishing area,- Acadia, which lay next to the English colonies of New England.
In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of Spanish Succession and France was required to surrender these three areas to Great Britain.
In order to protect its access to the Saint Lawrence River, France built a fortified town on Ile Royale, to be named Louisbourg, but this immediately led to further conflicts with the English.
Over the next decades, France gradually extended its area of influence. New settlements were established around New Orleans, while explorers and traders penetrated further and further into the North American interior.
This period of peace ended in the mid-1750s. Further conflicts between the French and the British led to the surrender of Montreal to the British in September 1760. The Seven Years War, involving several European powers, ended with the Treaty of Paris. France was required to give up its possessions in North America. A large part of New France was handed over to Great Britain and the left bank of the Mississippi was transferred to Spain which already held territory in Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico.