map of Native American villages along the Mississippi River/Gulf Coast, reflecting explorations of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in the 1680's
Source: Library of Congress, Les costes aux environs de la rivière de Misisipi: découvertes par Mr. de la Salle en 1683 et reconnues par Mr. le Chevallier d'Iberville en 1698 et 1699
Long before the English arrived in Virginia, the French had tried but failed to establish a colony on the eastern edge of North America.
The first attempt was by Jacques Cartier in 1541 on the St. Lawrence River, but it lasted only two years. The French settlement at Charlesfort (1562) collapsed on its own; after a mutiny, the soldiers constructed a boat and sailed back across the Atlantic Ocean. The building of Fort Caroline (1564) in what is now Jacksonville, Florida triggered the Spanish to respond. In 1565, the Spanish established a base at St. Augustine and destroyed the French colony.
In 1604, about the same time English "adventurers" were starting to consider investing in a colony in the New World, the French tried a second time to create a permanent settlement in Canada. They chose St. Croix Island, so far to the north that the threat of the Spanish was minimized.
The weather turned out to be the greatest problem, not European rivals. The colonists moved to Port Royal on Nova Scotia after the bitter winter of 1604-1605. The settlement was abandoned in 1607, after the king of France revoked his grant of a fur monopoly that had justified the settlement in the first place, but more French occupants returned in 1610.
In 1608, just one year after Jamestown, Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec. Like St. Augustine and Sante Fe in New Mexico (also founded in 1608) - and unlike Jamestown - Quebec has survived to the present day.
The English gained political and military control over Quebec in 1759 after the Conquest (known as the French and Indian War in the English colonies to the south). Despite the transfer of authority to the Eglish, the culture of Quebec has remained stubbornly French.
The next settlement by the French in North America was in 1613, six years after the English unloaded their first three ships at Jamestown. Father Pierre Biard led three other Jesuit priests and about 40 other Frenchmen to occupy Mount Desert Island. They settled in what is now Southwest Harbor at Acadia National Park.
Mount Desert Island suffered the same fate as Fort Caroline in Florida; North American representatives of France's European enemies soon destroyed it. The Virginia Company was responsible for the end of the French colony at Mount Desert Island. The company protected its claim to territory, granted in the Third Charter by King James I, by expelling the rival French.
In 1613, Samuel Argall sailed north from Jamestown, after capturing Pocahontas in a visit to the Patawomeck tribe. His intent was to capture the French colonists, who:1
if Virginia had been settled by the French, land would have been surveyed in "arpents" with each settler provided river access though long and narrow lots (as was done in Louisiana)
Source: Library of Congress, Norman's chart of the lower Mississippi River, by A. Persac
After Argall surprised and captured the settlement at Mount Desert Island, the English lacked room for all of their new captives. Most of the French colonists were allowed to sail back to France, but two Jesuits priests were carried back to Jamestown.
Argall brought those two priests with him when he sailed north from Virginia on a second expedition that year. He found and destroyed the French settlement that had been re-started at Port Royal in 1610.
On his return to Jamestown, a storm blew Argall's ship east into the Atlantic Ocean. He landed at the Azores and then sailed on to England. The Jesuit priests that were captured at Mount Desert Island had been taken to Jamestown, brought north again to Port Royal/St. Croix, diverted to the Azores, and then carried to England. From there, the two well-traveled priests were returned safely to France.2
The French strategy for settling Canada, the Gulf Coast, and the Mississippi River watershed was to create trading stations to acquire furs from Native Americans, and to support French shipping. A small number of French Catholics living in New France would acquire resources and create wealth for sponsors back in Europe. That, at least, was the plan.
The French strategy was similar to the Spanish approach, in that both relied upon the local residents to supply the colonies. The Spanish Law of the Indies in 1573 detailed a planned settlement pattern that was based on religious missions, military presidios, and civilian pueblos.3
the French expected the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to provide a water-based corridor for linking colonies in Louisiana and Quebec
Map Source: Library of Congress, This map of North America, according to ye newest and most exact observations (1715)
French officials and entrepreneurs explored widely across the North American continent. The use of French as an official language in Quebec, the Napoleonic legal code of Louisiana, and the pattern of land survey in Quebec/Louisiana are modern indicators of the French government's colonial successes in creating New France in the New World.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, traveled down the Ohio River to the site of modern Louisville, Kentucky in 1670. After establishing contacts throughout the Illinois country, La Salle traveled in 1681-83 from Quebec down the Mississippi River to the Gulf Coast and then back to New France.
Virginia officials at that time were just discovering the distance to the crest of the Blue Ridge. Governor Berkeley finally sent John Lederer across the Virginia Piedmont in 1670. The French discovered the geography of the Ohio River watershed, and made contact with the Native Americans living there, before the Virginia colonists became familiar with the Shenandoah River watershed.
the French claimed Louisiana by Right of Discovery, in part thanks to La Salle's explorations in 1682, and sold it to the United States in 1803
Source: National Gallery of Art, La Salle Claiming Louisiana for France. April 9, 1682 (by George Catlin)
Exploration by La Salle and others allowed French leaders back in Europe to claim wide parts of North America by the "Right of Discovery." However, France did not invest heavily in sending people to North America to build towns or to finance creation of a new society in the St. Lawrence River or Ohio River valleys.
French traders chose instead to operate in the backcountry through Native American allies. Their main trading posts were Montreal and Quebec, with forts in the backcountry to steer Native Americans with furs and deerskins to the St. Lawrence River.
Frenchmen lived in Native American towns, establishing families, learning the languages, and creating alliances. Priests sought to create converts, but the French adopted the lifestyle of the Native Americans. Around the Great Lakes in particular, the French were able to cultivate the "middle ground" between Native and European cultures.
the French established trading posts between Montreal and the Mississippi River, but did not send large numbers of colonists to New France
Source: Wikipedia, New France
The French government minimized the development costs of New France. Profits were expected to flow to France without substantial investment in the lands on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
French kings initially created proprietary colonies, granting seigneur rights to land in exchange for recruiting colonists. Permanent settlement started after 1603, when Henry IV gave Pierre Du Gua de Monts a 10-year monopoly over the fur trade between the 40-46th parallels, roughly from the mouth of the Delaware River north to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
During the first 50 years of colonization, the French failed to establish colonies on the Atlantic seaboard south of the Saint Lawrence River. The created only a minimal presence on the Gulf Coast and in the Mississippi River valley, and were slow to expand the population of settlements on Nova Scotia and in the St. Lawrence River watershed.
Immigration from France to the settlements on the St. Lawrence River was limited to Catholics. Religious restrictions were looser for colonization efforts at Charlesfort and Fort Caroline in the 1560's, but a century later King Louis XIV repressed French Protestants (Huguenots) as he created a centralized state.
1650 map by Nicolas Sanson, showing the lands of the Erie - N[ation] du Chat - between Lake Erie and Virginia
Source: Library of Congress, Amérique septentrionale
There were still less than 100 French settlers at Quebec in 1627 when Cardinal Richelieu consolidated different entrepreneurial initiatives into the Compagnie de la Nouvelle France (Company of One Hundred Associates). That charter was revoked in 1663.
After 1663, Louis XIV retained ownership of land in New France (Canada) and simply licensed its use. There were only 3,500 French "habitants" in New France along the St. Lawrence River in 1663, in contrast to the 90,000 settlers in the English and Dutch colonies to the south.4
Louis Joliet's 1674 map of large New France dominating land south of Great Lakes, and tiny Virginia constrained to Atlantic coastline
Source: Library of Congress, Joliet's map, 1674
The English strategy for control of North America was to flood the colony with Protestant immigrants who would be loyal to England in any fight with Spain/France, even if those immigrants were not Anglicans. The British crown did not finance that immigration. Many of the colonists were transported across the Atlantic Ocean at their own expense, which was often paid through a commitment to provide labor as an indentured servant for up to seven years.
The other key group of immigrants were slaves. Investors, rather than the British Crown, funded their transport to the New World.
English immigration into North America was slow in the first 20 years after Jamestown was settled in 1607. Religious conflicts in England triggered a great migration between 1630-1660, in which the English colonial population far surpassed the number of colonists in New France:5
Immigrants from France and England disrupted Native American societies from the beginning, but North America was a huge place. It absorbed colonists from rival European countries for many decades before those groups found themselves seeking to occupy the same territory.
in 1718 French cartographer Guillaume De L'Isle highlighted the 1562 French settlement of Charlefort on the Carolina coastline, though Charles Town was named in 1670 by the English settlers to honor King Charles II of England rather than King Charles IX of France
Source: Library of Congress, Carte de la Louisiane et du cours du Mississippi (1718)
It took about 250 years after Columbus discovered the New World for the international rivalry between France and England to affect Virginia. When the French finally threatened Virginia, the danger came from the Ohio River rather than from warships raiding the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
In the 1600's and 1700's, French officials had created numerous trading stations around the Great Lakes and in the Ohio River/Mississippi River watersheds. The "forts" enhanced the fur-trading business with different Native American groups, and gifts from French officials resulted in pledges of loyalty from different tribes.
French officials claimed the entire Mississippi River watershed as part of Louisiana, including the Ohio River and Tennessee River tributaries
Source: Library of Congress, A Map of Louisiana and of the River Mississippi (John Senex, 1721)
in 1702, the French claimed Nouvelle France extended to the head of the Chesapeake Bay, including the territory of the Susquehannocks
Source: New York Public Library, Le Canada, ou Nouvelle France, la Floride, la Virginie, Pensilvanie, Caroline, Nouvelle Angleterre et Nouvelle Yorck, l'Isle de Terre Neuve, la Louisiane, et le cours de la riviere de Misisipi (Nicolas de Fer, 1702)
French cartograhers emphasized French land claims to the Ohio River and Mississippi River valleys
Source: Library of Congress, Novissima tabula regionis Lvdovicianae gallice dictae La Lovgsiane iam olim quidem sub Canadae et Floridae nomine in America Septentrionali (Guillaume de L'Isle, 1716)
While in office in 1710-1722, Virginia's Governor Spotswood feared the French and/or their Native American allies would move south from Lake Erie into the Potomac River watershed. He and his replacement, Governor Gooch, encouraged immigration of Scotch-Irish and German settlers to the Shenandoah Valley and further south. The maps of the day suggested the French on Lake Erie could quickly march to the Blue Ridge.
Lake Erie was thought to be close to the Blue Ridge in the early 1700's
Source: Wikipedia, Antoine Hennepin's colorized map of North America (Friar Hennepin, 1698)
Those governors wanted to build a buffer of loyal-to-Virginia colonists on the western side of the Blue Ridge, following the example of Gov. Frances Nicholson in 1700. When King William III sent Huguenot refugees to Virginia, Gov. Nicholson ignored the king's direct instructions to settle them in the Norfolk area. He placed them instead on the James River above the Fall Line, at the site of a deserted Monacan village that became known as Manakin Town.
French and English disputed ownership of lands west of the Allegheny Front, and Virginia's governors feared the French might attack settlers in the valleys west of the Blue Ridge
Source: Wikipedia, French and Indian War
The settlers who crossed the Potomac River and walked up the Shenandoah Valley in the 1730's and 1740's were not Anglicans. Many did not even speak English; the immigrants were often German-speaking refugees fleeing the constant warfare in Europe.
The newcomers were different, but still welcome. The presumption in Williamsburg was that if land was provided by Virginia officials, then the new settlers would be dependent upon the colonial government and would serve as a barrier against expansion of French influence.
Control of western land was a key part of the Virginia gentry's strategy for getting and staying rich. In the 1740's, the gentry created new syndicates to extend land speculation westward across the Allegheny mountains into the Ohio River watershed. The Ohio Company started to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio (modern Pittsburgh).
The French responded to the land claims of the Virginians. Officials in Quebec sent military expeditions down the Ohio River to assert control over that land and to maintain trade with the Mingo, Shawnee, Delaware, and other resident tribes.
resolution of French and English wars in Europe with the 1713 Treaty of Utrech and the 1748 Treaty of Aix-le-Chappelle failed to reconcile which nation would control the lands west of the Allegheny Mountains in North America, but the 1763 Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Years War (French and Indian War) ended French efforts to occupy the Ohio River valley and the Upper Mississippi
Source: Library of Congress, A general map of the middle British colonies, in America (Lewis Evans, 1755)
When the French built a fort near Lake Erie, Virginia's Governor Dinwiddie sent George Washington to direct them to leave the region of the Forks of the Ohio. Washington's visit in the winter of 1753 failed to intimidate the French.
The French sent a military expedition downriver and seized the Ohio Company's fort at the Forks of the Ohio in 1754. At the time, Washington was leading a body of men to reinforce that fort. He arrived too late and his expedition ended in disaster. With his Native America allies he attacked a small number of French troops, but quickly retreated and built a fort for protection.
Washington was inexperienced and Fort Necessity was poorly located. It survived only one day under attack. In the surrender document, Washington admitted to "assassinating" the French ambassador at Jumonville Glen, perhaps due to a misunderstood translation from French into English.
The English responded by sending two regiments to North America under General Edward Braddock. In 1755, his expedition to recapture the fort also ended in disaster.
The conflict in the Ohio River territory claimed by Virginia sparked the Seven Years War in Europe. The Acadians living in Nova Scotia refused to fight for England and were considered to be a potential threat, so the English deported them.
Ships with Acadians were sent to Virginia, but colonial officials there refused to accept the refugees and they were redirected to England. Some of the expelled Acadian colonists were sent to Louisiana, where the "Cajun" (Acadian) culture developed a distinct identity.6
The French were unable to send enough ships and troops to defend their claims in North America. In 1759 the great fortress at Quebec was captured. Montreal surrendered in 1760, and French political and military authority in North America ended.
The Treaty of Paris in 1763 formally ended what the Europeans called the "Seven Years War," and the English colonists in North America Virginians called the "French and Indian War." In Quebec, it became known as "The Conquest" because France surrendered its claims to almost all lands in North America. Great Britain took control over Quebec and all lands claimed by France in Canada except for two small islands at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
As part of the 1763 peace treaty, France transferred its rights the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi to Spain. Napoleon established French control over Spain in the First Empire, so France re-assumed control over a vast estate in North America. After the successful revolt in Haiti, Napoleon decided to abandon imperial ambitions in North America. He arranged for the sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States of America, ending French land claims to territory now part of the United States.
the French, Dutch, and Swedes were all competitors for colonizing lands between the Chesapeake Bay and Lake Ontario
Source: Library of Congress, A mapp of Virginia discovered to ye hills (by John Farrer, 1667)
after the end of the French and Indian War, France retained control of only two islands (Saint Pierre and Miquelon) in North America
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
1. "The History of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island," National Park Service brochure, Acadia National Park, p.3-105, http://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/upload/history.pdf (last checked July 2, 2014)
2. Reuben Gold Thwaites (editor), The Jesuit Relations: Volume 4 and Allied Documents, Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610—1791, The Burrows Brothers, 1898, p.29, p.49. p.61, p.67, http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/relations/relations_04.html; W. Austin Squires, "Argall (Argoll), Sir Samuel," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/argall_samuel_1E.html (last checked July 2, 2014)
3. Andro Linklater, Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy, Walker and Company, NY, 2002, p.42
4. "Champlain Anniversary Timeline," CBC News Online, March 5, 2004, http://www.cbc.ca/news2/background/champlainanniversary/timeline.html; Marcel Trudel, "Champlain, Samuel de," Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/champlain_samuel_de_1E.html; Louis H. Roper, Bertrand Van Ruymbeke, Constructing Early Modern Empires: Proprietary Ventures in the Atlantic World, 1500-1750, Brill, 2007, pp.119-123, https://books.google.com/books?id=Yn7XCAVIqbMC (last checked August 2, 2015)
5. Thomas L. Purvis, Colonial America To 1763, Facts on File, 1999, p.163, https://books.google.com/books?id=BZRJS
6. Dr. Don Landry, "The Ships of the Acadian Expulsion," Acadian-Cajun Genealgy and History, http://www.acadian-cajun.com/landryships.htm (last checked August 5, 2015)
English cartographer Herman Moll highlighted the threat of French land claims west of the Blue Ridge in 1732
Source: Library of Congress, A new map of the north parts of America claimed by France under ye names of Louisiana, Mississipi, Canada, and New France (Herman Moll, 1732)