Nearly 60 years separate Cartier and Roberval's first settlement
in Canada to the next successful attempt. During these years,
French interest in colonizing was severely curtailed by the
civil war between Catholics and Protestants in France. Moreover,
the disappointing experience of winters in the Saint Lawrence
Valley prompted France to seek a place with a milder climate for
founding a colony.
1555, an attempt sponsored by Admiral Gaspard de Coligny was
made to colonize a bay on the coast of Brazil, near present-day
Rio de Janeiro. It failed due to severe dissention between the
Catholic and Protestant colonists, as well as attacks by the
Portuguese. Fort Coligny was abandoned and in 1565, the
Portuguese founded Rio de Janeiro. In 1564, another attempt at
establishing a French Huguenot colony, once more sponsored by
Admiral de Coligny, was made in Florida. The colony was almost
immediately lost to Spanish attacks.
fate of these southern colonies explains that the French withdrew
further north for their next attempts, to the area at about
45° latitude, which was not coveted by the Spanish or the
Portuguese, and where it could be hoped that winter would not
as be as harsh as on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. As
early as 1563, the French founded a trading post in Acadia in
the Baie Française (Bay of Fundy), from where a profitable trade
in furs was conducted. In the years that followed, the French
became very familiar with the area through fishing and
conducting the fur trade.
April 1598, the signing of the Edict of Nantes ended the wars of
religion in France, allowing King Henri IV to turn his attention
once again to America. By then, the fur trade had become
increasingly profitable and the promise of a fur trade monopoly
thus became the main engine of French colonization.
In 1603, the King named Pierre du Guast, seigneur de Monts, a
gentleman of the King’s Chamber,
his lieutenant general in North America and
granted him a trade monopoly and jurisdiction over a vast area
of land on the Atlantic coast and the St Lawrence, on condition
that he establish a colony.
Monts and his Catholic assistant Samuel de Champlain chose an
island near the Sainte Croix River in the Bay of Fundy, and
settled there with 78 colonists. Again the winter was a
disaster, despite the help of neighbouring Micmac tribes.
Champlain chose a new location that he named Port Royal. The
first Jesuit missionaries arrived in 1611. The colony was named
Acadia and led a precarious existence, since France and England
were at war from 1618 to 1648; as a result the colony was seized
three times by the English.
1608, Du Guast's monopoly was
renewed, thus allowing him to plan another expedition, this time
up the Saint Lawrence. The new settlement was also to serve as a
trading post with Aboriginal peoples, a base for exploring
mineral resources and river or land routes providing access to
the “western sea” and to China. The ambitious settlement program
had to cover the entire continent. In France, the agent was
Pierre Du Guast de Monts, a “gentleman of the King’s Chamber”
acquainted with the King and the Court; in America, Champlain
applied the terms of the mandate.
Champlain sailed from France in April 1608 for the Saint
Lawrence and established a settlement in the present site of Quebec. Only 9 out of 25 men survived the first
winter in 1608-1609. Champlain controlled the fate of the colony
until 1629 when English raiders seized the village, then
returned it to France in 1633. He worked to make Quebec an agricultural
rather than simply a fur-trading post. Champlain died in the
colony in 1635; at the time, the total population was 15
The French territory was in fact under
Algonquin and Huron control, and the French obtained their consent for
exchange of an alliance against their Iroquois enemies. The first
confrontation took place in 1609, another one in 1615. The French
and the Hurons
sought to control
the fur trade, in opposition to the alliance of the Iroquois
with the Dutch merchants.
The French were also interested in spreading
Catholicism and thus cementing their alliances with native
Americans. The first mission in 1615 was carried on by the Recollets,
success because of their open contempt of Huron culture. In
1625, the Jesuits began arriving and quickly supplanted the Recollets.
They were far more successful because they were more flexible.
They learned native languages
and lived among the tribes, accepting syncretic religious practices. But
it is difficult to know if conversions are authentic or
accepted to further trade links. The Jesuits showed remarkable
persistence, and even desire for martyrdom, which they found
when they tried to convert the Iroquois.