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The Americas

North American Colonial Settlements


French Colonies in the Americas
AD 1541 - 1763

Between 1534 and 1542, Jacques Cartier made three voyages across the Atlantic, claiming the land for King Francis I of France. Cartier heard two captured guides speak the Iroquoian word 'kanata', meaning 'village'. By the 1550s, the name 'Canada' began appearing on maps. Initial attempts to create a colony in what would become New France - centred on Quebec in modern Canada - were patchy, with two attempts being undertaken in 1541 and 1598. The second attempt took root and while each of the French provinces had its own governor, the lieutenant-general of New France, who was usually the most senior of the governors, was the ultimate authority in the colonies, answering directly to France between 1603-1627. After 1627 a permanent governor was appointed.

At its height, New France included Acadia (areas of eastern Quebec, the coastal territories, and claims to New England as far as Philadelphia, although these became increasingly impractical in the face of English expansion there), Canada (modern eastern and central Canada), and Louisiana (a vast territory stretching across much of the east half of modern Midwestern USA, most of which was still almost exclusively the domain of Native North American tribes).

(Additional information by Mick Baker, and also from Indian Tribes of the New England Frontier (Osprey No 428 Men-at-Arms Series), Michael Johnson, Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Discover Canada - Canada's History (Government of Canada).)

1522 - 1524

King Francis I of France is persuaded by the Italian explorer, Giovanni da Verrazzano, to allow an expedition to find a western route to China. At this time (and for a considerable period afterwards) it is believed that there is a land bridge between America and China. Instead, in 1524, Verrazzano explores the coast of what is now South and North Carolina, and then heads north to become the first European to explore the region of later New York.

Here he makes contact with a people who are most likely to be the Lenape, who refer to the strangers from across the sea as the 'Swannuken', the 'salt water people'. They are friendly and curious and would probably have remained so but Verrazzano tries to kidnap some of them before he departs. During the next eighty years, most of the coastal Algonquian speakers learn the hard way to beware the European ships that occasionally stop to raid their villages for slaves.


As a friend of the king of France, Francis I, corsair and adventurer Jean-François de la Roque de Roberval is appointed the first lieutenant-governor of New France, after being commissioned by the king to settle the province of Canada. An advance party under Jacques Cartier arrives in 1541 and founds a settlement at Charlesbourg-Royal, while Roberval arrives in 1542 and meets the departing Cartier off the coast of Newfoundland. Roberval continues onwards and resettles Charlesbourg-Royal, but the colony survives less than two years due to severe weather, disease, and attacks by the local tribe of Iroquois.

The initial French settlement of Charlesbourg-Royal survived for just two years and was abandoned twice even in that period - a much more suitable settlement quickly replaced it

1541 - 1543

Jean-François de la Roque de Roberval

First lieutenant-governor of New France.


The post of lieutenant-general falls vacant when the colony is abandoned.

1564 - 1565

The French create their first colony in south-eastern North America when they found Fort Caroline in Florida. The Spanish destroy it the following year.


Trading posts are being established in several parts of the territory which soon becomes Acadia, but generally these fail as permanent settlements.

1598 - 1603

Marquis de la Roche-Mesgouez


Pierre Dugua is granted exclusive rights to colonise lands in North America, expanding the various settlements which collectively form Acadia. The following year, a new settlement is founded on the modern Bay of Fundy: Ile-Saint-Croix. Just a year later it is moved to Port Royal.

1603 - 1610

Pierre Dugua

1608 - 1609

Just a year after Port Royal is abandoned, Quebec City is founded when three ships land from France at Tadoussac and their occupants proceed up river in boats to the site which they start fortifying. Samuel de Champlain, the eventual first governor of New France commands one of the ships. The following year, while striving to improve relations with the local native tribes after years of European slave raiding, Champlain and his small group encounter the Iroquois. The Europeans drive them off after killing their leaders, but the tone has been set for future Franco-Iroquois relations.

Also in 1609,French explorer Samuel de Champlain enters the territory that now forms Vermont on 30 July, claiming it for New France, and constructing a fort which is the first European settlement there.

1611 - 1612

Charles de Bourbon

First cousin of King Henry IV of France.

1611 - 1615

From the French settlement at Quebec on the St Lawrence River, Étienne Brulé visits the Huron villages on Georgian Bay in 1611. By 1615 he discovers that the Susquehannock are more than willing to ally themselves to the French and Huron in their war against the Iroquois league. Friendly relations with the Susquehannock are particularly valuable to the French, not only for the purposes of trade, but because they serve to trap the Iroquois between two powerful enemies.

Unfortunately, the new alliance alarms the New Amsterdam traders on the Hudson River, and they actively support the Mohawk against the Susquehannock. Although they are relatively few in number and isolated by their inland location, the Susquehannock manage to become an important trading partner with all of the competing European powers - an achievement unmatched by any other tribe.

1612 - 1613

Henry II

Prince of Condé.


Port Royal, which had been re-established in 1610, is destroyed. The surviving settlers move off to neighbouring areas to create new settlements within Acadia.


Étienne Brûlé leads an expedition into the territory that will become Michigan, but the first permanent settlement is not made until 1668, at Sault Sainte-Marie. Also during this century, French fur traders begin to enter into the territory that will later form Minnesota. In the same year, the Province of Maine (the far north-eastern corner of the modern USA) is founded as part of the British Colonies, its name perhaps originating from the French province of the same name to the north.

Governors of New France
AD 1627 - 1663

The position of governor in New France was the equivalent of a viceroyalty. The governor answered directly to the king's ministers in France, and controlled the territories of Acadia, Canada and Louisiana, although Acadia and Louisiana had their own regional governors. The capital was in Quebec City. It was this post which was later taken over by the British and survives today as the office of governor-general of Canada.

1627 - 1635

Samuel de Champlain

First governor of New France. Founded Quebec City.

1629 - 1633

Champlain is captured in an English attack and taken to London. Quebec is ruined, but when Champlain is able to return in 1633 he sets about rebuilding it. He also sets about attacking the Iroquois, intent on bringing them to heel.


Frenchman Jean Nicolet is the first European to explore what is now Wisconsin. He founds the Green Bay colony, which is settled mainly by fur traders.

1635 - 1648

Charles de Montmagny

1641 - 1645

FeatureThe Iroquois Wars begin, otherwise known as the Beaver Wars. Having exhausted the beaver in their homeland, the Iroquois are running out of the fur they need to trade for firearms from New Netherland. Otherwise, with European epidemics decimating their villages, it is only a matter of time before they are annihilated. Their enemies, of course, are well-aware of this problem and refuse permission for Iroquois hunters to pass through their territories. Faced with a blockade, the Iroquois are forced into a war in which they need either to conquer or to be destroyed. They concentrate their attacks on the Huron after 1640, and by 1645 had succeeded in isolating them from the Algonquin, Montagnais, and New France in the east. There follows a two-year lull in the fighting after the Trois-Rivieres truce that is agreed in 1645, thanks to the governor of New France, Charles de Montmagny.

1648 - 1651

Louis d'Ailleboust de Coulonge

1648 - 1650

The Iroquois launch massive attacks into the Huron homeland and destroy the Arendaronon villages. Sensing that the situation is becoming serious, Susquehannock warriors fight as Huron allies, while their ambassadors send to the Iroquois council flatly demanding a halt to the war. In 1648 New France's Governor Louis d'Ailleboust de Coulonge also strives to prevent the Iroquois massacre of the Huron people, which is partially in retribution for the latter becoming allied to the French. The attempts fail, and in the winter of 1648-1649, for some inexplicable reason, the Huron refuse further offers of help from the Susquehannock and are overrun by the Iroquois. Only small numbers of Huron survive the massacre.

1651 - 1657

Jean de Lauzon

Agreed peace with the Mohawk.

1650 - 1653

The Iroquois begin to launch attacks against the French, terrifying the French colonists with their ferocious and blood-thirsty warfare tactics. Whatever help the Susquehannock may be able to give to the Neutrals is cut short when the Mohawk attack the Susquehannock villages. With the Susquehannock unable, and the Erie unwilling to help, the Neutrals are quickly defeated. The Mohawk, however, find the well-armed Susquehannock a dangerous and stubborn foe. The war drags on until 1656 with the Mohawk (at great cost to themselves) slowly pushing the Susquehannock down the eastern branch of the Susquehanna River.

The Susquehannock suddenly find themselves alone. New France is powerless to help after Iroquois victories over the Huron and Neutrals, and the Erie soon face their own war of survival against the Western Iroquois (during 1653-1656). However, Governor Lauzon negotiates successfully with the Mohawk, agreeing a peace treaty which removes one of the more major threats to the colony.

1657 - 1658

Louis d'Ailleboust de Coulonge

Returned as acting governor.

1658 - 1661

Pierre de Voyer d'Argenson

1660 - 1669

In May an Iroquois force of one hundred and sixty warriors attacks Montreal and captures seventeen colonists. Following other such raids, the French retaliate with a small military force made up of French, Huron, and Great Lakes Algonquin to counter the Iroquois raids - there are heavy casualties on both sides.

The Iroquois strike the Delaware throughout the Delaware Valley and throughout the 1660s, effectively taking them out of the war. For the Susquehannock, the worst blow is a smallpox epidemic that strikes in 1661. Their population is devastated to a point from which it never recovers. A treaty is signed with the British Colony of Maryland, ending the lingering hostility with the English. The agreement provides firearms and ammunition, since the Maryland colonists are well aware of the value of the Susquehannock as a buffer against the New Netherland-allied Iroquois.

In 1663, with English help, the Susquehannock are able to turn back a major Iroquois invasion. In the following year the English take New York from the Dutch, and shortly afterwards form their own alliance with the Iroquois. In 1666 Maryland, however, does not feel entirely assured by this and renews its treaty with the Susquehannock.

The year 1667 coincides with another outbreak of smallpox, so the Iroquois make peace with New France and their native allies and this allows them to concentrate on their war with the Susquehannock. With the support of Maryland, the Susquehannock fight on in an increasingly bitter struggle, but by autumn 1669 they are down to only three hundred warriors and are forced to ask the Iroquois for peace. The Iroquois response to their offer is to torture and kill the Susquehannock ambassador who delivers it.

1661 - 1663

Pierre Dubois d'Avaugour


Given the fear and turmoil caused by the Beaver Wars, it is not surprising that the French government of Louis XIV reorganises the colonies. The duties of the governorship are divided and the more important military responsibilities are retained by the new position of governor-general.

Governors General of New France
AD 1663 - 1763

The Iroquois Wars, otherwise known as the Beaver Wars, changed things for the colonies. After two decades of sometimes extremely violent warfare between the Native Americans which sometimes also engulfed French settlements and even saw Montreal under attack at one point (1660), the old governorship was divided in 1663. The king, Louis XIV, took over the administration of New France from the Compagnie des Cent-Associés and created a more militaristic upper rank of government.

Responsibility for finance, justice, and the police was handed to a new position, the intendant. Control over diplomatic relations and military affairs was given to the new governor general, who held office in Quebec City. Professional soldiers were sent to the colony in the 1660s to fight the Iroquois, adopting a scorched earth policy in order to starve then out. At about the same time, the Dutch, who were allied to the Iroquois, found themselves evicted from New Netherland by the English. Together, those two events gave the French the upper hand in North America for the first time. At the point of starvation the Iroquois sued for peace and suddenly a much greater focus could be placed on halting the English expansion.

During the century of its existence, New France reached its greatest extent, stretching from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico via the later American Midwest.

1663 - 1665

Augustin de Mesy

First governor general of New France.

1665 - 1672

Daniel de Rémy de Courcelle

1665 - 1672

Daniel de Rémy de Courcelle establishes the first militias in New France, which will become an essential element in the wars against the English. In 1666, five hundred French led by de Courcelle, invade the Iroquois homeland in present day New York state. However, the French are greatly outnumbered and are forced to retreat. A second French invasion of 1,300 men led by Alexandre de Prouville, the 'Marquis de Tracy' and viceroy of New France, destroys Mohawk villages and crops. The Mohawk are forced to sue for peace.

In 1667 the Native Americans suffer a renewed outbreak of smallpox, so the Iroquois make peace with New France and their native allies and this allows them to concentrate on their war with the Susquehannock. With the support of the British Colony of Maryland, the Susquehannock fight on in an increasingly bitter struggle, but by autumn 1669 they are down to only three hundred warriors and are forced to ask the Iroquois for peace. De Courcelle, though, is able to negotiate with several of the native tribes to secure the French colonies some peace, and approves an expedition to the west in order to find the long-sought after land passage to China.


Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet travel along the Mississippi, documenting the native villagers. They are the first Europeans to enter the region.

René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, explored the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, and claimed the entire Mississippi basin for New France

1672 - 1682

Louis de Buade de Frontenac

1682 - 1685

Joseph-Antoine de La Barre

1683 - 1698

War between the Iroquois and New France is resumed due to the French encroaching on their fur trade. Violent conflict erupts against the French, with them supported by their Indian allies and the Iroquois launching sporadic raids against both. It takes the Iroquois until 1698 before they realise that they are the scapegoat in what is essentially an English-inspired war and they immediately sue for peace.

1685 - 1689

Jacques-Rene de Brisay de Denonville


Denonville arrives with intentions of having a great effect on the colony for the glory of France at the opening of the First French-Indian War. The colony has been continually hampered in its efforts to expand by the hostile attentions of the Iroquois, so after capturing British fur trader posts on Hudson Bay he marches against them, captures their leaders to be shipped to France as slaves, and lays waste to the lands of the Seneca. Retribution is swift, with the Iroquois destroying farms and burning towns. The violence ends with the Massacre of Lachine in which the town of that name is burned to the ground. Twenty-four colonists are killed and another hundred or so are captured, many of them to be burned alive and even eaten. Louis de Buade, comte de Frontenac is selected by the king to regain control in the beleaguered colony, and for a while he does, until ships from the British colonies in New England arrive in 1690.

1689 - 1698

Louis de Buade de Frontenac

Second term.


Due to the threat of French encroachment from Louisiana, New Spain establishes its first presence in Texas, although these early missions quickly fail. King William's War (1690-1697) sees Acadia captured by the British, but it is returned as part of the peace settlement.

1698 - 1703

Louis-Hector de Calliere

Governor of Montreal (1684-1698).


A colony is founded at Fort Maurepas, which is also known as Old Biloxi (now Ocean Springs in the state of Mississippi), the first in this territory.

1702 - 1713

The first European settlement in what will become Alabama is founded by the French at Mobile. In the same year, 1702, Acadia is recaptured by the British during Queen Anne's War and this time it remains in British hands, as confirmed by the Treaties of Utrecht in 1713, becoming part of the British Colonies territory of Nova Scotia. New France itself is split into five colonies which each have their own administrative bodies: Acadia, Canada, Hudson Bay, Louisiana, and Newfoundland.

Simultaneously, the Second French-Indian War kicks off in 1702 with the New England Raids against the Abnaki. The Battle of Deerfield or Deerfield Massacre on 29 February 1704 involves a force that is comprised of Abnaki, Kanienkehaka, Pocumtuc, and Wyandot, led by a small contingent of French-Canadian militia. They sack the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, killing fifty-six civilians and taking dozens more as captives.

1703 - 1725

Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil


New missions are established by New Spain in Texas to create a buffer zone between it and the French possession of Louisiana. These are followed in 1718 by the first European settlement in Texas, at San Antonio.

1726 - 1747

Charles de la Boische de Beauharnois


The French-Canadian trader, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, enters the territory that will become North Dakota with an exploration party that reaches the Mandan villages in the region. During this period, trading posts are also being set up in what is now Ohio and New France lays claim to what is now Oklahoma.

Quebec in 1700
By the start of the eighteenth century, French Quebec was a thriving colonial city

1744 - 1748

The War of the Austrian Succession is a wide-ranging conflict that encompasses the North American King George's War, two Silesian Wars, and the War of Jenkins' Ear, and involves most of the crowned heads of Europe in deciding the question of whether Maria Theresa can succeed as archduke of Austria and, perhaps even more importantly, as Holy Roman Emperor. Austria is supported by Britain, the Netherlands, the Savoyard kingdom of Sardinia, and Saxony (after an early switchover), but opposed by an opportunistic Prussia and France, who had raised the question in the first place to disrupt Habsburg control of central Europe, backed up by Bavaria and Sweden (briefly). Spain joins the war in an unsuccessful attempt to restore possessions lost to Austria in 1715.

The War of Jenkins' Ear pitches Britain against Spain between 1739-1748. The Russo-Swedish War, or Hats' Russian War, is the Swedish attempt to regain territory lost to Russia in 1741-1743. King George's War is fought between Britain and France in the French Colonies in 1744-1748. The First Carnatic War of 1746-1748 involves the struggle for dominance in India by France and Britain. Henry Pelham, leader of the English government in Parliament, is successful in ending the war, achieving peace with France and trade with Spain through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Austria is ultimately successful, losing only Silesia to Prussia.

1747 - 1749

Roland-Michel Barrin

1747 - 1749

Plans in the British Colonies for opening the area to settlement get underway in 1747 when Virginia grants a charter to the Ohio Company. Pennsylvania considers the Ohio tribes to be subject to the Iroquois, but when they refuse the league's orders to return to the Susquehanna, it is obvious that something needs to be done.

No longer able to ignore the defection of their 'women', in 1749 the Iroquois create a system of half-kings (special Iroquois emissaries) to represent the Ohio tribes (who number 10,000 by this time) in their councils. This seems to satisfy the Delaware and Shawnee and, when Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville leads a French expedition to the Ohio River in 1749 to expel British traders, he marks out the boundary of French territory with lead plates. His reception is unfriendly, with the Ohio tribes demanding to know by what right the French are claiming Iroquois land.

1749 - 1752

Jacques-Pierre de Taffanel


By this time, settlers from New France have drifted from the east side of the Mississippi into the area of what is now St Genevieve in the state of Missouri. St Louis is subsequently founded as the centre of the regional fur trade.

1752 - 1755

Michel-Ange Duquesne de Menneville


With traders of the British Colonies subverting the loyalty of their allies, and the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee defying its authority, New France decides to militarily enforce its claims to Ohio. It turns first to the Detroit tribes (Ojibwa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Wyandot), usually its most dependable allies, but the tribes are thinking of trading with the British themselves and do not want to fight the Ohio tribes. In June, Charles Langlade, a French-Ojibwe of mixed blood, leads a war party of 250 Ojibwa and Ottawa from Mackinac and destroys the Miami village and British trading post at Piqua, Ohio.

Logstown expedition 1749
As shown by this modern image, a French expedition visited Logstown in 1749 (location of the eponymous 1752 treaty), under the command of Pierre-Joseph Celeron de Blainville

Following the initial shock of this attack, the tribes of the French alliance fall into place, and the French follow up their success by building a line of forts across western Pennsylvania to block British access to Ohio. Most Delaware and Shawnee have no desire to be controlled by the French and therefore turn to the Iroquois for help. From the Iroquois perspective, the French and British seem like two thieves fighting over their land, but they decide that the French are the more immediate threat. The league signs the Logstown Treaty, which reconfirms their 1744 cession of land and gives the British permission to build a blockhouse at Pittsburgh. Before it is finished however, the French burn it.

1754 - 1758

In May a conference is held at Albany between representatives of the British Colonies and Iroquois League to prepare for war with New France. Unable to defend Ohio, the Iroquois cede it to Pennsylvania, but they fully intend to keep the Wyoming and Susquehanna valleys. Unfortunately, an Albany trader manages to get some of the minor Iroquois representatives drunk, and when they sober up they discover that they have signed an agreement with a Connecticut land company that opens up the valleys to settlement. Rather than achieve unity, the conference ends with the Iroquois furious with the British about this treaty, Pennsylvania protesting Connecticut's attempt to claim its territory, and the Delaware threatening to kill any whites who try to settle in the Wyoming Valley. Meanwhile, Virginia has decided to act on its own and sends an expedition commanded by a twenty-two year-old militia major named George Washington to demand the surrender of Fort Duquesne, the new fort built by the French at Pittsburgh. Major Washington gets himself into a fight with French soldiers and starts the French-Indian War.

The Fourth French-Indian War erupts, starting with the Battle of Great Meadows. Two more battles are fought in 1754, these being Fort Necessity and Braddock's Defeat, with Crown Point (Lake George) taking place in 1755 against the Mohawk and the Caughnawaga who are led by Hendrick, while in earlier battles the Mingo people are led by Half-King. In 1756, Oswego is the only battle.

In 1757 the siege of Fort William Henry involves the Upper Great Lakes Indians - generally Iroquois, Ottawa, and Abnaki from Canada. When the fort's red-coated British and blue-coated troops of the British Colonies are forced to surrender after days of bombardment, they are offered all the honours of war. The French General Montcalm allows them to march back to Fort Edward with their weapons and possessions intact. His native allies have other ideas, however. After rampaging through the fort to kill and scalp the wounded and dig up corpses for the same treatment, they charge into the assembled body of retreating British and massacre between seventy and one hundred and eighty of them. Colonel Munro and various other scattered survivors eventually reach the protection of Fort Edward (the massacre is portrayed with brutal realism in the 1992 film, Last of the Mohicans, although Munro is killed in this version).

The following year, 1758, sees battles take place at Louisburg and Fort Frontenac with little native involvement.

1755 - 1760

Pierre François de Rigaud

Son of Philippe de Rigaud (1703). Last governor.

1759 - 1763

In 1759 General James Wolfe claims New France for the British Colonies with victory over the French in the Battle of Quebec. In 1763, France cedes the vast and wild Louisiana Territory (stretching from modern Louisiana to Canada) to Spain where it forms part of New Spain (excluding southern Alabama which is appended to British West Florida). New France itself is formally handed over to Britain and renamed the province of Quebec, which in 1791 becomes part of Canada.

Proclamation of 1763
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 has long been debated by historians in reference to its influence on the later revolutionary war, but it was a genuine attempt to respect the territorial rights of the native Americans following the conclusion of the French-American War


The French take back the Louisiana Territory under the terms of the Treaty of San Iidefonso.


On 30 April, Napoleon Bonaparte, first citizen of France, sells Louisiana to the United States for 80 million francs. This marks the end of French involvement in North America, but France is responsible for creating the short-lived Second Mexican empire in 1864.