French Settlement Patterns in North America

The 270-year presence of the French in continental North America began with the landing of Jacques Cartier along the St. Lawrence River in 1534. It ended in 1803 with the selling of the Louisiana Territory to America. In between there was fur trading, and Jesuit missionary/adventurers, and Indian wars.

The settlement patterns of New France, as the French holdings were called, were dominated by water. Hundreds of trading settlements were scattered along rivers and lakes throughout the northern reaches of North America. Actual French settlement was affected by development of fur trading rather than agriculture as the primary purpose of settlement. The fact that the fur trade was also called the Indian trade gives some indication about the importance of maintaining hunting grounds for Native Americans, unlike the pattern which emerged in English and Spanish areas of settlement, where Native Americans were either displaced to make way for farms or utilized for labor.

Fur trading depended upon cooperation with the Native Americans (known as First Nations in Canada), and the maintenance of habitat for the animals whose pelts were most valued: the beaver, whose hair was used to make durable felt for hats and other pieces of apparel. Therefore, much of the French domain in North America, particularly near the Great Lakes and throughout the watershed of the Mississippi River contained only scattered small villages, at best, usually along waterways to facilitate the shipping of furs out of the continental interior toward European markets. Some sizable French settlements in North America included Quebec, Montreal, St. Louis, and, eventually, New Orleans. Except for anabortive attempt to establish a settlement for French Protestants (known as Huguenots) at Fort Caroline, Florida (currently Jacksonville) that lasted less than a year before being destroyed by the neighboring Spanish, French settlers were Roman Catholic, as demanded by royal advisor Cardinal Richelieu

Quebec’s founding in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain initiated the largest and one of the most successful of French settlements in the area now known as Canada. Champlain realized the importance of good relations with the indigenous people of the area, and encouraged young Frenchmen, known as coureurs de bois, to live among the Indians and learn their ways. Champlain also facilitated good relations with the Huron and Algonquian Indians, and in doing so, the French took the Hurons’ side in their struggles against the Iroquis Confederacy. This decision eventually led to the Iroquois’ alignment with the British and with an outbreak known as the Iroquois Wars (or the Beaver Wars, after the resource that provoked all the fighting) in the mid-17th century. These wars nearly drove the French out of North America, and resulted in the panicked exodus of Native Americans from the Ohio Country.

The warfare among Indian tribes which had always existed became even more brutal as Indians received firearms through the fur trade. Paradoxically, the use of firearms also pushed the beaver to extinction, intensifying competition among the Native tribes for access to the pelts that made getting more firearms possible. From their homebase in what is now New York state, the Iroquois began pushing westward as their access to beaver declined, displacing and often conquering other tribes as they moved.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by gabrielle on January 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    i am doing a project on this for school. can u send me a map of where they sellleted?

  2. Try this website:

    There is a map in our textbook, The American Pageant. If you locate a copy of this textbook, you could use that It is a bit more detailed than the one on the website.

  3. Posted by Nikki on September 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    This is awesome for my school project! o. .o

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: