The History of New France

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The First European Settlers in Canada

The Viceroyalty of New France was the area of North America colonized by France, starting with the first voyage of Jacques Cartier in 1534.

At its peak in the early 18th Century, New France stretched from Newfoundland, west to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Beginning of New France

Sometime in 1522, the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verazzano was commissioned by the King of France to command an expedition, whose goal was to find a sea route to Asia. He set sail in 1523 and eventually mapped the east coast of North America from the Carolinas to Newfoundland.

In 1534, Jacques Cartier planted a cross on the Gaspe Peninsula in the name of King Francis I. As a result, Gaspe became the first province of New France. Early attempts to settle New France met with failure. Despite this, the region was visited on a regular basis by the French fishing fleet, which fished off of Canada’s east coast. Over time, the French formed alliances with the First Nations. As they began to recognize the vast natural riches that New France offered, the French government began to make serious efforts towards colonization.

New France and the Fur Trade

French merchants soon realized that the area around the St. Lawrence River was rich in resources. They were particularly attracted by the area’s large beaver population. In Europe, beavers were on the verge of extinction, yet at the same time beaver pelt hats were the latest fashion.

Acadia and Canada were originally inhabited by the First Nations, mainly by Iroquois and Algonquin tribes. As word of the completely unexploited natural riches that existed in Canada filtered back to Europe, they aroused the interest of English, French and Dutch explorers and settlers.

By the 1580s, French trading companies began shipping Canadian beaver pelts back to Europe, which continued to fuel the demand for beaver pelt hats.

By the 1650s, however, New France was still severely under populated and in constant danger of being overrun. In 1660, New France nearly fell to hostile Iroquois tribes and was saved only by the heroic actions of Adam Dollard des Ormeaux. Ormeaux organized the French settlers and their Huron allies into a militia that was able to fend off a much stronger Iroquois force.

New France and Direct Rule

In 1663, New France became more secure, when the colony was turned into a French province by King Louis XIV. In 1665, the Carignan-Salieres Regiment was sent to New France to protect the colony from its enemies. Later that same year, Jean Talon was sent to New France to serve as the colony’s intendant by Jean Baptise Colbert, King Louis’s Minster of Marine. These appointments were made to off-set the growing power of the Bishop of Quebec, along with the Jesuits, who held the greatest amount of political power in New France following the death of Samuel de Champlain in 1632.

The Daughters of the King

A census taken in 1666, revealed that the colony had grown, but that there was a large disparity between the number of men and the number of women. To correct this, and to ensure the colony’s continued viability, King Louis XIV sent 700 women between the ages of 15 and 30 to New France, where they were to be married. These women eventually became known as the Daughters of the King.

New France and the Hudson Bay Company

Following the discovery of Hudson Bay by Hendry Hudson, British colonists began to settle in the northern areas, not yet claimed by the French. In 1670, with the assistance of the French explorers Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard des Grosillier, the British founded the Hudson Bay Company, ending the French monopoly on the Canadian fur trade.

The French and the English, along with their Indian allies, continued to stage attacks and counter attacks throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries. These skirmishes would eventually lead to the French and Indian War and the conquest of New France by the British in 1759.

Sources

Eccles, William John. The French in North America 1500-1763. East Lansing : Michigan State University Press, 1998

Greer, Allan. The people of New France. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1997

Twatio, Bill. Battles Without Borders: Rise and Fall of New France. Ottawa: Esprit de Corps, 2005

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